Cool Shots and Visual Storytelling

I’m currently wrapping up a project with a client who had a lot of “cool shots” in his head.  He had an idea of some interview stories we were going to tell, and also some shots in his head that we could use for the video.  This happens occasionally, where the client has ideas in their mind of shots they want.  This is totally fine as long as the shots in their mind help communicate the story we’re trying to tell.

My typical mode of storytelling with interview-style videos involves shooting the interview first, and then creating a list of storytelling shots I’ll need based on what the interviewee said.  I typically come in with some ideas of what to shoot since I’m usually familiar with the story they’ll be telling.  But interviewees typically give me content that wasn’t expected, and in turn I come up with visual ideas to communicate that.

Sometimes I’ll even wait until I have a first edit of the interview before shooting the B-roll footage to be used.  Kind of like writing the script before choosing the shots.

So now that I’m finishing up this video, it turns out that my client had several cool shots in mind that don’t fit anywhere in the story.  He’s right they are cool shots.  But a cool shot that has nothing to do with the story is an unnecessary shot.

3 Steps to Creating a Company’s Video

I recently met with a new company about creating a video for their website.  The video is for their homepage and will explain what the company does.  I typically have 3 questions that I walk through with companies or people looking to create this type of video.  They are as follows:

1. Who’s the target viewer?
This question helps weed out content that doesn’t need to be in the video.  The great pitfall of creating a company video is putting too much information in the video.  If we’re looking to land at 2.5 minutes or less for a web video, then we need to be laser-focused on who it is we’re talking to.  And once we know who we’re talking to, it separates what the video should say from what other communication methods should say (website, customer service reps, brochures, etc.).

2. What’s your main message for the video?
There will be more messages in the video than just one, but if you could only pick one message that would be in the video, what would it be?  This helps give the overall video direction and purpose, kind of like a thesis statement gives a term paper purpose.

3. What are five adjectives you would use to describe how the final video should feel?
This speaks to the packaging…the style.  High energy vs low energy, touching vs funny, informative vs eye candy, etc.  This helps me decide what and how to shoot, whether to add movement to my shots, what kind of music to use, and other considerations as to the style and feel of the video.

Anything I missed that you would add?

The Thing that Scares Me

I recently read somewhere to accept projects that scare you, and then figure out how to accomplish them.  Ironically, I just did this past weekend.

I got a call about doing a time-lapse video shoot of an installation of satellite equipment on an airplane in Detroit, MI.  While I have done some time-lapse shoots before, I hadn’t done any for longer than 2 hours, and not with multiple camera angles.  On top of that, I was ignorant about what I should even shoot because I didn’t know anything about satellite installations on planes.

But I took the job, and decided I would learn what I needed to learn in order to do the shoot.  I was perfectly comfortable with much of the process: shooting B-Roll, setting up camera angles and locations, setting correct exposures.  But there were some things I needed to learn:

-How often should the camera take a photo?
-What size photos should I shoot?
-When will I run out of space on my cards?
-How often should I change angles?
-How should I shoot time lapses with GoPro cameras and how are they different than DSLRs?

So I spent a few hours browsing the web and watching videos getting as much info as I could, and did my photo interval calculations during the 5 hour car ride.

I was admittedly a little nervous about this job.  But it went well.  And I learned some stuff.  And I’m better off for it.  And I just returned from another 4-day plane installation shoot that was much bigger in scope than the first one.

 

Seems that it pays off to do what scares you. 

8 Tips for Shooting Video Interviews

In the video world, interviews are the most common type of shoot.  So I thought I’d share some tips for people who find themselves shooting interviews occasionally or frequently.

1. Make Your Interview Person Comfortable
This starts way before shooting.  Your interviewee is going to be nervous.  Sitting in front of cameras and lights and talking about something is akin to public speaking.  Very nerve-racking and intimidating.  There are several ways you can get them to relax:

• Joke with them and find something in common to talk about before shooting.
• Make sure they know they look good.  Compliment their hair, makeup, shirt, whatever.  Also be sincere.  If they need to add makeup or fix their hair, have them do it and then compliment it.
• Explain that it’s ok if they mess up.  Everyone does.  Just start their sentence over if they need to.  You’ll fix it in editing.
• Genuinely listen to them as they talk.  Don’t be distracted by cameras, audio, etc.  Give them your full attention.
• Ask follow-up questions out of curiosity.  Sometimes giving a random follow-up question gets them to relax because talking about a specific detail is less intimidating than telling a whole story.

2. Have Your Interview Person Re-State Your Question in Sentence Form
When I ask “What’s your favorite cereal?” don’t just answer “Cocoa Puffs”.  Answer “My favorite cereal is Cocoa Puffs.” 

3. Use at Least 2 Camera Angles
This makes your editing much easier as you can cut to another angle when skipping a portion of their answer.  I use a 50mm lens as my main front lens (either on crop sensor or full-frame), and then shoot a tighter angle (100mm on crop-sensor) on one side of them.  Sometimes I glide the side angle, sometimes not.  I also sometimes use a 24-105 lens for the side angle and change the focal length from medium to tight in-between questions.  If you only shoot with 1 camera, you’re limited to jump-cuts unless you have tons of B-Roll footage to put overtop the interview.  And if you have only 1 camera, I would at least change up your focal length in-between questions for visual interest.

4. Use a Boom Mic
I’ve used boom, wireless lapel, and condenser mics for interviews.  The boom is the best because it cancels out any noise not directly in front of it.  Other mics work fine, but the boom sounds the best.

5. Wear Headphones for Audio
Make sure you or an assistant is monitoring the audio level at all times.  I’ve had mics completely cut out in the middle of an interview for random reasons.  If I didn’t have headphones on to catch it, I would have been screwed. 

6. Choose a Quiet Location to Shoot
If possible, avoid rooms with running air conditioning, fans, people walking by, dogs barking, children crying, etc.  Also let everyone in the vicinity know you’re shooting so they remain quiet.

7. Shoot with a Deep Background
If possible, have the background of the interviewer be as deep as possible.  This gives a stronger blur or “bokeh” behind your interview person, which is a nice bump in visual quality.  Don’t put them with a wall or bookshelf right behind them.  Bring them somewhere else if your room is too small.

8. Light Your Interview Person
This doesn’t necessarily mean with lights.  Window light does a very nice job of lighting a person.  I’ve done interview shoots with no lights at all, just using window light as my main light source and adjusting the subject as necessary.  But if you do use lights, I recommend lighting them at a 45-degree angle either straight on or slightly to the side of them.  There are many other ways to light, but this is my main way of lighting, and I usually only use one light to do it.

Hope this helps.  Let me know if I missed anything you can think of. 

How to Catch Your Big Break

While I was in college we had a guest speaker come speak to our film class.  Turns out he was the co-creator of the TV shows Home Improvement and Roseanne, and was somewhat of a “player” in the Hollywood scene.  He said many insightful things, but the statement I remember most was this…

“Success is when Opportunity meets Preparedness.”

He explained that it doesn’t matter what opportunities come your way if you aren’t prepared for them.  You should be continually practicing your craft, honing your skills, improving yourself, making mistakes, working on your chops.  Then when an opportunity shows up, you’re prepared for it.

This was encouraging to me as a young whipper-snapper and I took it to heart.  I decided to continue doing what I loved at the time without pay…theater.  I decided to keep performing, writing, producing, playing, and trying newer, harder, bigger projects.  Eventually I went on to make my living at Theater for several years until I transitioned into video production.  It turns out that many of the things I learned doing theater are the very things that make me unique, valuable, and competitive in my video production.

I’ve had many breaks come my way since those college days.  Some I was prepared for, others I was not.  I’ve learned that if big breaks come at you, you have to be able to catch them.  Otherwise they’re just missed opportunities because you weren’t prepared.

The Thing, the Package, and the Delivery

The THING is your product or message.  It’s either good or it’s not.  It has a target demographic, a target audience, and it’s made specifically for them.

The PACKAGE is how your product or message looks.  Products have physical packaging or boxes.  Messages are packaged in graphics, video, audio, colors, stories, etc.  There are many ways to package.  The packaging is where the creative people live and bring value.

The DELIVERY is how the thing gets to the person who needs it.  Products can be mailed.  Messages can be emailed, presented live on stage, strategically placed online, delivered in person.

Ideally all three of these are well-done.  You’ve got a good THING that has a great PACKAGE and an effective DELIVERY method.

But there might be a kink in your armor.  Either your thing is lame or not targeted, your packaging is boring, or your delivery method is flawed.

Hopefully you’ve got all three in line if there’s something you’re trying to say or sell.

Re-Discovering Your Magic

Have you ever felt like you’re past your prime?  That your best work is behind you?

My improv group is entering its 14th year performing improv, and I understand this feeling.  Across the last several years, we’ve done hundreds of improv shows, plays, musicals, and videos.  We’ve had many ups and downs in audience attendance, morale, inspiration, and financial bottom lines.  And we’ve also weathered a recession, something that took down many other small theater companies.

Through all of this, I’ve reflected on our challenge to balance these two things: doing what’s sustainable vs. doing what’s magical.

As a business and as a person, some things are not sustainable; you can’t keep doing them if you wish to survive and thrive.  On the other hand, some things are not magical after awhile.  They lose their pixie dust from long-term use.  The tight rope we walk is to continue to do sustainable things without losing the magic.  By magic I mean things that are exciting, inspiring, and a little scary.

In the context of our improv show, this could mean performing a good mix of improv games that are tried and true while mixing in some new games that we’ve never performed before.  The new games create some magic while the tried and true games maintain our sustainability of a consistently good show.  In the context of a theater company, this could mean stopping the production of some musicals or plays to focus on the company’s unique competitive advantage.  In our case this is improv, and that’s exactly what we’ve done this past year.  Halting the production of plays and musicals has made us more sustainable, and refocusing that effort into our improv shows has reinstated the magic into those shows.

So how about you?  What things should you continue to do to be sustainable?  Is there anything you should stop doing in order to be more sustainable?  And finally, what should you start doing doing to re-discover the magic?