5 Tricks I Learned About Doing Video on the Cheap
edited: Wednesday, May 19, 2010
By Steven Gaskin
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Wednesday, May 19, 2010
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For producing good-quality video on a zero budget.
Two friends and I have been working on the video and audio for an author interview we recorded a couple of weeks back. We're in the final stages of editing, polishing and bleeping out the swearing, and the video will be online before the end of the month, so now seems a good time to share what we learned. This was our first "proper" video (as in, something more involved than an amateur wedding video) and we learned by doing. The budget extended only as far as food and beer, so renting a camera and basic lighting wasn't an option (despite my techno-fetishistic nature trying to tell me otherwise). That left us with one main camera (recording DV to tape), two extra cameras (recording compressed MPEG2 to hard disk or flash ram), a condensor mic (recording via an audio interface to a laptop), and whatever lighting our chosen location provided.
We decided to film at Travelling Man in Manchester, after hours, for three reasons: space, the visual appeal of walls of comics as a backdrop, and lighting. We turned up as the shop was closing on a Friday, unpacked the gear, and then tried to work out what the hell we were doing.
Thing is, with modern digital editing, you can make a video look semi-professional after the fact, but you have to have good, clean, well-lit footage to start from, and it was that requirement that guided our choices on the night. I hope we succeeded (I haven't seen the edited footage from the main camera yet), but either way, I learned 5 tips that I want to share that I know will set you off to a good start in making an interview video of your own.
- Lighting. This is THE MOST IMPORTANT resource available to you. Modern video cameras, even (especially) consumer ones, are adept at trying to make your subject look good. You know when your final footage is all grainy and orange-coloured? that's your camera fighting for light, and boosting the light levels artificially. Give the scene enough light and your camera will do the rest. You don't have to hire lights, and you don't have to use daylight-equivalent bulbs; just get lots of overhead lighting, and if the scene comes out too yellow-orange, colour-correct it to "cool it down" afterwards in your chosen editing software. If too much overhead lighting is causing shadows under your subject's eyes, add some low-level lamps to fill in the dark patches.
- Makeup. Seriously. If you followed the previous point about lighting, you now have two problems: you're sweating like a pig and the lights are reflecting off your shiny head. This is nothing a touch of face powder won't fix. Remember - you're not trying to change the colour of someone's face or make it look like they're in drag, you're just taking the shine off.
- Camera(s). I bought a video camera about 6 years ago for about £500; it records to tape and has become completely outdated by modern camera developments. Or so I thought... Cameras that record to hard disk or flash ram typically compress the footage to fit more on. That extra recording capacity is very convenient, but the quality of the footage does suffer. It's only a tiny amount of image degradation, but it's noticeable, and as with all digital creative activities, it's important to keep the data quality as high as possible for as long as possible; compress for output, not while you record. You can get a video camera for £100, but if you can stretch your budget to get one that records digital video (.dv) and has a higher quality sensor, your footage will be the better for it.
- Sound. If at all possible, don't use the built-in mic of your video camera. It's too far away from the subjects, it's possibly pointing the wrong way, and it's probably low quality. If you can afford/borrow a shotgun mic for your camera, perfect, otherwise get any half-decent mic you can, mount it near your subjects, and record the audio separately to be stitched onto the video later. To synchronise the audio with the video, get someone in front of the camera to clap their hands together at the start of each shot (make sure you can see the point their hands connect).
- Timing. Work out how long you want the unedited to footage to be (shoot lots of content to ensure you have enough material; we shot 90 minutes with a view to editing it down to one or two ten-minute videos) then double that time and add an hour. That's how long the filming will take. Minimum. As you get more experienced, you can start to shave that extra hour off, but don't underestimate how long you'll need and end up rushing or missing content you wanted to film.
So there are my tips, but there's also one warning I wanted to add:
- Framing. Don't assume that the view you're seeing on the fold-out screen of the camera is showing everything the camera is recording. Take some test footage, rip it to a computer, and check it carefully. I made that assumption, and objects I thought were out of shot, aren't. For me it's ok, but for you it might ruin all of your work.
You'll have to wait to see if what we captured came out okay (I'm interested to find out myself) but I'll blog the video and you can see for yourself if we did a good job and if these tips are worth following.