This is the beggining of a series of posts I’m going to make on shooting video.
As a way of teaching what to shoot when making videos I will explain my thought process and why I captured each shot in a few different videos.
For starters there is my Under the Big Top Circus Camp video I shot back in August 27, 2008.
Here is my formula for something like this.
#1. Get my A-Roll (someone explaining the story)
#2. Get a secondary A-Roll (someone else explaining story)
#3. B-roll B-roll B-roll. You need 10X the B-roll than your A-roll. Visuals to backup what the A-roll is saying.
Think of it like this. The A-roll stimulates the communication side of your brain. B-roll stimulates the visual side of your brain. If either side is boring then the video fails.
My process for a video like this:
I get to the event and immediately find someone of authority that I can ask to “tell me what is happening today.”
Frame the person nicely using Rule of thirds. Looking into the frame.
-Would you please spell your name for me? (pieces of paper get lost. get them to spell it out on tape)
-Please tell me your name and title.
-Tell me what is happening today AND what is the funnest thing about it?
-Tell me what the kids say about it.
-Tell me why it is important.
-Anything else you would like to add?
-Please spell your name one more time. (has saved by but several times. can’t hurt to get it twice incase the tape drops out of something goes wrong the first time)
-Do you have a cell phone you could be reached at if I have any other questions?
Okay now I have my main interview. I’m safe. I just need to talk to one or two kids to ask them about the camp and I’ll be golden.
Bam! That’s it for A-Roll. #1. Get a person of authority to talk about what’s happening today #2. Get one or two other people to talk about what’s happening today
Now I just need some interesting B-roll a.k.a. “visual sequences” a.k.a. “coverup shots” to go with my A-Roll.
During the interview I payed attention to keywords:
Physical theatre. Puppetry. Magic. Concentrate. Professionals teaching. Happy kids. Tight-rope walking. Juggling. Stilts. Confidence. Skills.
A simple rule to remember for video. Say it and show it. If your interviewee talks about something then you have to SHOW or ILLUSTRATE that idea.
I know I need shots to go with each of those keywords in the interview.
Two things to remember for B-Roll
A great rule to remember when shooting B-roll is wide-medium-tight. You can triple your B-roll by shooting a whole scene, then come in tighter on part of the scene, then really tight on the most interesting part.
Now instead of one shot that you can only use for 3-seconds you can go 3-seconds wide, 3-seconds medium, 3-seconds tight.
Not only have you tripled your B-roll but your B-roll is also more interesting!
Don’t just stand in one place and get a one-minute clip of a person doing something. That is boring.
Instead get short, tight clips of each portion of what they are doing and build a sequence of events. MUCH more interesting.
I break down individual shots below. Watch the video again and look for each of these elements.
Tight Shots from various angles are important. I start the video off with this frame because it is tight and interesting. The visual side of your brain is immediately interested. Always start your video off with the most interesting shot you have. People decide if they are going to stay on a video in the first 10-seconds so it must be impactful.
A wide overall shot of all the kids. It is good to start out with a wide shot to show perspective and give the viewer an idea of where they are. If you shoot everything wide-medium-tight, wide-medum-tight, wide-medium-tight you will always triple your B-roll and make it more visually interesting. Bring your viewer into the scene.
Now I go tight on an interesting element of the previous overall. Notice I have my lens set to wide-angle and I simply moved my camera low and close to the cylinder. It is always better to "zoom with your feet" than to simply use your zoom lens. You will have less shaky video as well it makes for a more visually interesting frame.
A "peak moment" B-roll shot where the kids throw their wands in the air. This becomes a generic b-roll shot that I can use to coverup the a-roll.
Nice tight shot of a kid. Tight faces and eyes show emotion. It never hurts to have a few tight faces for use as B-roll. They show emotion in the video. If you are always wide-wide-wide-wide then viewers never feel engaged in the story as much. This frame grab was actually front page main art of the Edmonton Journal newspaper the next day.
Okay here I show the instructor and frame it with the kids feet. I could have shot this wide and shown the whole kid. But do I need the whole kid? No. It is more about the instructor and keeping just the feet makes it more interesting.
Outdoor scene setter. This is a B-roll shot that you can always get and always use. Simply show the viewer where you are. You can grab this on your way there or your way out. Can never hurt to get a shot of the building and it always comes in handy for B-roll in your video.
A tighter shot of the same building. Signs are always useful B-roll. If you see a sign, shoot it!
Main A-Roll interview. Get there, ask for a person of authority to talk to. Move them close to a window with nice light. Choose an interesting but-not-too-distracting background. Frame them using the rule-of-thirds and looking into the frame. Lock your tripod. Put a mic on them. Ask them to "Tell me your name and title. Tell me what's happening today. What's the most important thing? Why does this matter? Anything else you would like to add? Spell your name one last time. A phone number if I have any questions? Thank you"
Wide shot of all the kids. I've shown the viewer where we are. If I stay on this frame though it will get boring.
Bam! Go tight on a kid. Get him reacting to something.
Bam. Go tight (or medium) on two other kids interacting and reacting with something. I've made three interesting shots by showing the room wide and then showing some tighter elements from within the room.
Wide shot of kids in the room.
Tighter shot of one kid. Shoot from down low to eliminate distracting elements and focus on him.
Bam! Show what he is doing! I could have just kept the camera on the whole kid for 5-seconds but instead I show the whole kid, show the top of him, show what he is doing. More interesting than a locked-off wide shot of the whole kid.
Tight face. Faces show emotion and connect the viewer with the story. When your interview subject in the A-roll says "the kids are happy" you have a face to show that.
Another interview for my A-roll. Frame him using the rule of thirds. Try and find a quiet, clean background that is not-too-distracting. Lock the tripod. Move to the side and ask "Whats your name and title? Tell me what is happening today? What is the best thing about it? Why do you come here? Anything else you would like to add? How do you spell your name and how may I contact you if I have any other questions? Thank you."
Sequence sequence sequence. Don't just shoot a wide-angle of the kid walking across the tight rope. Show them getting on, tight shot of the top of her balancing....
Tight shot (with my wide angle lens) of her feet. If I had just showed her whole body it would be boring. If I shoot her wide-medium-tight and get a sequence of her getting on, balancing and walking then I have more interesting shots.
Golden Moments. This is more of an editing than shooting decision but sometimes it is good to just show a few seconds of natural sound and natural action. Here the teacher and the puppet are talking and high five eachother. It's cute. You don't need A-roll talking over it. You can just show this cute moment and give the viewer a break from the interview to experience what it was like to be there.
The kid surprised me when he picked up his puppet and started talking with it. Sometimes kids are really lame to talk to and other times they amaze you with golden moments.
Sequence 1 of 7. I could have stayed back 10-feet and shot a boring wide-shot of the instructor and the kid but instead I went tight on his hands....
Sequence 2 of 7. Shot down low to clean the background and emphasize these two subjects interacting.
Sequence 3 of 7. Get a tight shot of him tightening the straps.
Sequence 4 of 7. Back up and get a shot of the instructor helping the kid up.
Sequence 5 of 7. Wide shot showing perspective and them interacting.
Sequence 6 of 7. Detail shot. Get down low and show the feet and stilts.
Sequence 7 of 7. Reaction reaction reaction! I would have liked to have shown the kid's reaction but the instructor was actually more excited than the kid so I showed that.
Third A-roll interview. I had the last two people facing left so I get this kid to face right. Switch it up and make it more interesting. There weren't any interesting backgrounds around so I just moved him into the hallway (where it is also quieter) and use a clean white wall. Rule of thirds. Looking into the frame.
Sequence. Show the instructor talking to the kid.
Show what the kid is doing....
Show him doing his thing. If I had just stayed back 20-feet and got a long clip of him doing this it would be boring. Going in tight each element makes it more visually interesting and you can build a sequence that tells a story.
Use your zoom to compress the image. A super-wide image of the whole classroom would be boring because you aren't focusing in on anyone. Going medium-tght on just a few kids makes them larger and more interesting.
Tight shot of a kid practicing. You've got to pick certain people and focus in on them or else your video is general shots of general people. Find characters for your video and focus on them.
Another overall shot. Here I kept the camera low and locked in one place and just let the kids walk out of the frame. Starting out people always move the camera to follow the subject. Instead keep the camera steady and let the subject move in and out of the frame. It is more interesting.
Shoot from up high. Just like with still photography you don't want to suffer from "5-foot 9 syndrome" and shoot everything from the same perspective. Shooting up high or down low can clean your backgrounds and make it more interesting.
Peak action shot of kids practicing for generic B-roll. I just stood in one place and waited for the kids to do something rather than constantly moving the camera around looking for action.
My end shot. Just showing the kids applauding. Seemed like a relevant ending.
Nameplate. It is important to have branding when your videos are published in multiple platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, your website, etc.