When it comes down to it, whether you’re white-knuckling your cup of Pepsi through the latest cinematic masterpiece or busting your gut through a recent viral YouTube hit, all video consists of two basic elements: sight and sound.
Now, what you do to achieve that sight and sound is a whole different pickle. If you were to distribute all of your production budget into five key areas, what would they be? How would you choose? Allow me to help you break it down:
Content is king. Do you realize that the most viral videos on YouTube were shot using the integrated camera on a mobile phone? However, they are watched over and over because of what was shot, not how it was shot. Be sure to put time into your content.
Sometimes, empty space is just as important as the most complex of special effects. Think about using space to tell the story—allow the viewer to fill in the blanks. Find the line between telling too much and too little. Know your audience and build your content to suit them.
Light speaks just as much about your scene as talent on camera. Making a scene dark is more than just removing light. Use highlights, back-lights, and edge-lights to set a mood. Pay careful attention to the color of light you are casting. Warmer lights typically convey a warmer, friendlier scene, while cooler lights can make a scene darker and more harsh. Don’t be afraid to use warm and cool together to enhance your story.
Use a histogram to control your light levels, and be very sensitive to using too much light. It is much easier to retrieve data that is too dark than data that has been blown out. Try to keep the levels neutral and add contrast in post-production.
Even Charlie Chaplain had sound. Find a way to provide your audience with clean audio. Well placed shotgun mics, lavalier mics, and digital recorders can all provide a nice, crisp sound. Be sure to position your recording device as close to the sound source as possible. Watch your footage closely for events that may need more sound in post-production. If something falls over on screen, your audience will expect to hear an impact. Make a very strong point to eliminate noise such as the drone of an air conditioner or a busy highway when you record. If these items are essential, add them in as an accessory in post-production. This way you have total control over their level.
Nothing is worse than someone who can’t act pretending that he/she can. Seriously. If you are telling a story, you want the best person possible to deliver it. Don’t put tireless effort into your gear just to emphasize a poor performance. Whether you are shooting a live presentation, corporate training video, interview, or television sitcom, get involved with your talent and be their coach. Make them do what they need to do to ensure your story is told well.
Now, take everything I just said and throw it out. Really. The best thing about filmmaking is that you can do absolutely anything you want. Your shot is your shot. Period. Nothing new ever came from someone who simply followed the rules (except, of course, the rules of physics).
What kind of shots appeal most to you? Leave a comment below.