Video Production: What Works

So for this posting I’d like to talk about what works, and contrarily what does not work well in videos. This topic is complicated by one small fact – there are about 7 billion opinions on what is good and what isn’t when it comes to watching motion on screens.

That said, we can look just a little at target audiences to get a better sense of what kinds of images, style and pacing. Most of this is just good common sense [which I don’t find that common these days].

If you’re creating a wedding video, for example, you want to ‘read’ the type of client you’re working for to get a sense of how tame or wild they might want the viewing experience to be. If the idea is to build an ‘elegant’ video, steady camera work, slow dissolves and some slow motion shots, a pace that doesn’t mind sitting on the same shot for a while, etc. are good things.

In contrast, if your wedding client likes extreme sports [and their parents just want what the younger folks want], you’ll want quicker cuts, antics, funny faces, extreme camera angles and similar touches which create a lot of energy, but in terms of elegance, not so much.

And that’s just with wedding content. For corporate sales and marketing, there needs to be a similar sensibility about what your client thinks is best, and what your client’s customers are going to find compelling. This is especially true if there’s a call to action at the end [hurry, these items are going fast!].

MTV ushered in [or leveraged] a trend where quick edits and discontinuous visuals became the norm, often showing us imagery that wasn’t designed to feel cohesive. Of course their audience is/was young, and their management knew that wild shots and quick edits would hold these young eyes. Eventually that prominent trend joined a host of other techniques, but some of you will recall how ‘Video killed the Radio Star’ back in the early 1980s.

A key point to recognize is that we humans love movement – it’s in our DNA from a very long evolution of scouting for food and keeping watch for safety. So, this simple visual stimulation is important. But of course it’s not the only kind of stimulation that’s important to understand.

Folks are also stimulated by thoughts, emotions and those ‘aha’ ideas that change one’s perspective. Which is why we find so many movies and TV shows today that work to provide lots of visual movement, scenes that challenge your thinking and especially tap into your emotions.

Any good sales type will explain how we love to think we make decisions based on our thinking, and yet in truth it’s the emotional content of what we’re experiencing that truly indicates how our decisions will be made. And so it is emotional content, perhaps more than anything else, that drives ‘What Works’.

Understanding how we humans relate to each other and our environment helps us understand how we consume video as well, which is why so much research is done with new movies anymore to see how audiences react to this or that. And while you likely can’t afford a focus group for your next project, you can certainly afford to think about how your audience will react to your efforts – and your video will be all the stronger for it!

Jim Prues


Video Production: Basics of the Good

In these times of smart phones, nearly everyone is a videographer [or at least one waiting to blossom]. As we humans so love to track movement with our eyes, video is a fabulous communication and entertainment tool. Folks like Rachel Maddow have even commented that if there’s a TV in the room she’s in, she can’t take her eyes off of it. The human body has evolved to track motion.

With this backdrop, there are some simple considerations for you to shoot better video. We’ll divide this into three main categories – composition, lighting and audio.

Composition simply describes what a particular scene consists of.  If someone talking is primarily what we see, the scene can be described as a ‘talking head’. If it’s a wedding there are probably lots of crowd footage. Nature footage will usually have a featured element – a tree, mountain, flower or stream. Composition is the framing  you choose to capture the content you desire.

It can be surprising to see how a few steps forward or back can  effect a scene, or changing the angle so you have a more pleasing background. Another huge consideration, that leaks into the lighting category, is to consider the amount of light the background has, especially indoors [below].

One other thing about composition – that shaky cam thing. Directors will use this technique to add drama to a scene or imply instability. In general, however, folks are far too casual in how they hold their cameras and pay too little attention to keeping the shot somewhat steady. At least be conscious of how you’re ‘playing it’.

And one last thing on composition for those using smart phones. Use the camera horizontally, not vertically. TVs, phones, computer monitors are all horizontally oriented. Make the most of the real estate available. If you shoot vertically and want to use the footage horizontally, you must stretch the footage to fit reducing its visual crispness.

Lighting is an art, with all sort of options to create all sorts of looks. For folks who have been in the biz a while, we often talk about whether the lighting should be more for video or more for film. What we called lighting for video meant things were nice and bright, like a news set. For film we create much more nuanced lighting, with pockets of darkness and contoured faces.

Of course the casual videographer doesn’t have the advantage of professional lighting and years of experience, but they can still look at the lighting situation. As mentioned above, don’t shoot folks in front of windows unless you want that dark look. You can also move a subject a few feet this way or that to enhance the shot within the existing lighting. Move the subject a few feet so they’re not directly under a fluorescent light, for example, or closer or farther from a window. Removing a lampshade can add quite a bit what that source puts out.

If you’re outdoors and your subject is against dark green vegetation, and you have a lot of blue sky in the background, your subject will darken as the camera compensates for the bright sky. Similarly, if your subject is indoors in front of a window or patio doors, the subject will be too dark. You must either add light to the foreground or lose light in the background to make your shot effective. Often you can mitigate this by changing your composition [less sky in the shot, no windows or lamps behind].

Watching TV/video/film with an eye towards how it was lit can be a fun learning experience as well. Such attention will no doubt enhance your ability to create scenes that are more enjoyable to watch.

Audio can make or break your shooting event. Garbled audio will ruin your shot, even if it looks beautiful. Short of using professional audio technicians and gear, here are a couple of things to bear in mind. First, if there’s loud ‘ambient’ noise around, like motors or fans or traffic or crowds, try to find a quieter place. If that isn’t an option, at least face the subject away from the noise so that their body blocks the offending sound somewhat. This may compromise your ‘look’, but bad audio hurts more than bad backgrounds.

Another tip – get as close to your subject as possible when not using a separate mic. The closer you get with your camera/phone/recording device, the less ambient noise you’ll have, and the stronger the audio signal of what you want will be. It may be mildly uncomfortable to have a phone two feet from your subject’s face, but they will sound tremendously better than if you’re 8 feet away.

These pointers are just that – pointers. Creating videos/films/motion pictures is a tremendously creative process. There are no absolute rights and wrongs. As we continue down the road with this blog, we’ll get more detailed into many aspects of video production. Still, such details need to come from a firm foundation, which is why we’re hitting the fundamentals here.


Jim Prues


Video Production: The Changing Face

Video Production: A Changing Face

The first motion picture was created in 1878 – a racehorse running, by shooting a series of fast still photos. This chemical process initiated the motion picture industry, which held until the1930s when video cameras came online. These cameras were analog, meaning the image and sound were recorded similar to how old phonographs played music. It was no longer chemical, but it was still ‘mechanical’, being an analog process.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that digital sensors led us to digital cameras, and soon tape formats were left behind as we now find a world where the process of capture and manipulation is all digital.

So that’s the history lesson. We now live in a digital video world, with cameras capable of incredible detail and frame rates. And with every smartphone, there’s another video camera online. Remarkable.

The production and post production tool set today was almost unimaginable 20 years ago. Not just the phones, but GoPro, RED, DSLRs, video drones and ubiquitous cameras for monitoring and security have transformed our ideas about video. Video r us. For those of us who have been video professionals in these times, it has been some ride.

The bad news is that everyone is a videographer. The smartphones have nice cameras, and there are plenty of simple tools for editing footage. We ‘pros’ suddenly have far more competition. The good news is that the same characteristics that were true in the early days of film – composition, lighting, acting, etc.- are still true today. Styles have changed dramatically, the pace of a typical production is much faster, but creating beautiful pictures still requires an eye and practiced skill.

As dramatic as these changes have been on the production side, post production has seen even more dramatic change. Editing went from ‘flatbed editors’ that mechanically cut film strips and spliced them, to early video editors which would snyc two video playing machines and then record to a third. First there was 2” tape, followed by 1”, the ¾” cassettes and more recently to ½ cassettes, the most popular being Sony’s Betacam.

It was not until the mid 1990s when ‘non-linear’ editing systems, that actually used digitized footage on a computer, created the editorial revolution. [And you thought the history was over.]

The editorial tool set today is vast, with money being the only limitation to creating any look imaginable. Along with robust editing software options, there are powerful compositing programs available today, the best known being Adobe’s After Effects.

The power of these tools is evident today in everything from Hollywood motion pictures to Skype avatars, that replace your face with some cartoon character during a video call.

Next time we’ll take a look at some of the more astounding possibilities for production and post production that are available to ‘filmmakers’ today. And yes, we’ll touch on tools for actually changing faces…:)

Jim Prues
Director, Panoptic Media
Cincinnati, OH, USA