Over the last three decades, I have served as both a Camera Operator on various shoots in San Diego and as a Video Editor. It is good to have experience in both realms because as an Editor you know what to shoot, and as a Shooter you keep in mind all the shots that the Editor will want. “Tape is cheap” is an adage popular during the digital tape days meaning that the camera operator shouldn’t feel constrained about shooting a lot of footage. Strive to be the camera op whose every clip is usable.
Many times in my work as an Editor, the client will bring me video clips to string together that they themselves or a camera operator from another town or company have shot. Many times these clips are such good examples of “101 Things Not to Do While Videotaping Something” that I really have to work hard to creatively come up with ways to edit a decent video. Another old adage comes to mind which has been bandied about in the industry for many years: “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.”
Yet another adage is: “Fix it in Post.” But any true professional is NOT going to launch into a video production doing shoddy work just because they think it can be fixed in post. That is not the way to conduct or stay in the Video Production business. Ready for one more adage? “Crap In is Crap Out.” So get it right, right when you get it. With proper lighting, sound and camera work, you will keep the editor happy. Think of the editor as a beast that needs to be fed footage that is quality versus quantity. These days, disk space may be cheap but that does not give you the license to shoot crap.
As an erstwhile editor, I figured I would share “The Editor’s Wish List” for any shooter out there who may be starting out or maybe needs a refresher course.
1. Deliver a wide variety of shots. If shooting an establishing shot of an office building, for instance, use your “sticks” (tripod) and get a steady Long Shot, Medium Shot and Close ups. Tilt and/or pan. Get Dutch angles, blur in and blur out. Once you have the “utility shots” get creative. What I call shaky-cam is really not a good idea when shooting buildings or interviews. But if you want to do it, make sure you have the LS, MS and CU from a tripod, so the editor has a choice of scenes to use. Invest in a good tripod, such as a Sachtler carbon fiber one so your moves are smooth and creamy. The last thing an editor wants to see is herky-jerky tripod movements. Sure sign of an amateur.
2. When shooting an interview, I know that some people like the hand-held style. But it’s nice to give the editor some creative leeway here and because over the last few years cameras have come down in price while delivering sensational quality, just set up a second camera on a tripod for a wide shot and then you can shoot the main angle hand-held. Make sure both cameras’ picture quality match. I recommend using an Easyrig while shooting hand-held because it takes the camera’s weight off of your shoulders and back, and sets it on your hips, thus alleviating the camera’s curse of back pain. When using two cameras, make sure to get two different angles.
3. This is a personal quirk of mine and many others, too. You may be shooting an interview using only one camera. With the 4K format, an editor is thrilled to be able to vary the shots by zooming in on the timeline without losing quality; that’s great. But please don’t make it a profile interview. That is disconcerting for the viewer and it’s so un-engaging. I’ve seen the rules on this broken so many times and have wondered “Why?!” If it’s a news cast, the profile shot is from the news reporter who got there late and couldn’t get a good spot. There is no reason to do it on purpose. Don’t start breaking the rules until you are very familiar with them; this typically takes 15 years of shooting experience or more. I have also seen rules broken in regards to talking space. It was on a documentary about NFL football players and at first this style was off-putting because as an editor and shooter I kept wondering why the producer had decided to do it. It was mixed in with so many other action shots and a second interview angle that I slowly began to accept it. But straying from acceptable shooting styles in the opposite direction without prior feedback from the client is a decision that could upset a client and get you canned.
4. You wouldn’t think this needed to be stressed, or even said, but after working with so many lipsticked pigs over the years, I guess it does. Good lighting and good sound are equally important. If the lighting is too blown out, there is little the editor can do to save the footage. If the lighting is too dark, an editor could probably somewhat fix it. Get the lighting just right and make sure your client approves of the picture you show him or her in the monitor. Make sure you white balance for interior or exterior because it’s a nightmare to color clips that were shot incorrectly. Again, look at your monitor and make sure you all like what you see. As for sound, it has to be clean. Use a lav and/or boom. I generally use a lav on channel one and boom on two when I go out as a Sound Mixer. Depending on the situation, maybe there’s no time to lav someone, so then use your boom and pan it to both channels. Do not rely on the camera mic, especially if the camera is set up across the room. Sure sign of an amateur. Also, make sure to get 30 seconds of room tone. Point your camera at the boom pole or lavalier mic so the editor can quickly locate the room tone clip.
5. Try to get some good Depth of Field in your interview shot. The new DSLR cameras can deliver this automatically but then you have to set it up Frankenstein-style to import sound, or you need a Zoom with separate audio track. Do not set up the talent immediately in front of a wall or a bookcase. Give as much space between the talent and the background as possible.
6. Are you going to use a green screen? Learn how to light it properly or keying it out will become a massive headache for the editor. Don’t place the talent too close to the green screen or a green haze will spill on them. Don’t let them wear anything green as it will be impossible for the editor to fix in Post.
7. B-Roll is where you can get creative. When shooting B-Roll to implement your interview footage, there are many ways to approach it. Say it’s a doctor. After the interview, get footage of them sitting in their office working on their computer maybe looking at lab results. Make sure you get close ups of their hands, their face, shooting from various angles around them. Get them to walk down the hall with a clipboard in their hand, or they could perhaps chat with a client. Make sure you have gone back to the camera mic for natural sound or “wild sound” as the Brits like to call it.
8. Exterior shoots offer up a plethora of problems you have to overcome. Your sound person has to be really certain that each take is clean, that is, there’s no traffic, no airplanes flying over, no weedwackers, no lawnmowers, no lumbering work vehicles backing up in the vicinity. Your editor may be able to remove some of these sounds but it’s going to take more time in Post, which is exactly like hiring a taxi and then making it pull over for a long time with its meter running. Your grip will have to set up a silk on a C-stand to soften the harsh rays of the sun, and/or hold a reflector to offset the changing light on your talent as the sun moves. If you’re dealing with intermittent clouds, that’s going to be an issue, too. To fix lighting in Post will also take time. Eliminate the need for the editor to do much except string your scenes together, transition, add graphic elements, equalize the audio and maybe add a musical sound track.
9. For each corporate or nonprofit video I edit, it is good to be provided with graphic elements such as company logo, chapter points, end credits and call to action.
I recently edited a piece for a local hospital group with footage shot by a kindly volunteer. He was a photographer who figured he could easily cross into the territory of videography. Wrong. He never used a tripod. He would start the camera and then focus. Wrong. Focus and THEN start shooting. There was a very important interview he failed to capture because he was using a camera mic and not a lavalier. He was standing eight feet away so all you could hear was the murmuring of the patient and the staff. Such a shame, because for the hospital to coordinate six staff people in the room with that patient, it was a pretty big deal. I had to use it as B-Roll with a narrator speaking about it. The existing shots were so sparse that I had to either stretch them out or turn them into stills so I could pull a Ken Burns move on them. I also had to supplement these shots with – shudder – vertical video from someone’s cell phone. The client was happy with the results but I was sad that the video could have been ten times better if the person who had shot the video actually knew what they were doing.
The video production business is constantly changing. We all need to stay abreast of these changes if we want to stay relevant. Always be willing to learn, always communicate with the client, always try to excel. And don’t forget to have fun!
Patty Mooney is the VP and San Diego video producer at award-winning video production company Crystal Pyramid Productions since 1981.