Get Ready, Get Set, Shoot

If you think editing doesn’t begin until you’ve captured your footage to a hard drive, think again. Once you’re sitting at your edit bay, your footage has already been shot and your fate has already been sealed. The way you gathered your footage will have a big impact on how you edit. If you forgot to get adequate coverage of a scene or neglected to log each shot, your job as editor will be that much tougher. The only sure-fire way to get the best footage is to take precautionary measures in pre-production and to shoot with the edit in mind. There is a lot to be said for planning ahead. Many headaches can be avoided with a little bit of forethought and planning.

1) Prepare a Shot Sheet

SCUBA divers have a saying that has saved many lives through the years: plan your dive and dive your plan. If you go out in the field without any clue as to what footage you will need, you will end up with a stack of tapes with no continuity, little resemblance to organization and a lot of heartaches.

Make a list of all of the major shots you will need and reminders of the types of cutaways you might want to use to transition between scenes. With a shot list in hand, your shoots will go quicker, your talent will stay happy, your clients, friends and loved ones will be extremely pleased with all the time you’ve saved, and you will have all the pieces you need to assemble your masterpiece when it’s time to edit.

2) Check Your Equipment

It is embarrassing to have to delay or cancel a shoot because you forgot to check the batteries in your wireless mike or have a blown bulb in your only light. Always check your batteries, lights and cables before you leave for a shoot. It takes no time at all to check the little details that will make for a successful shoot, and a little time up front can save you a lot of time later.

Not only should you check to make sure all of your equipment works, check to make sure you have everything, as well. Make a list of all of the equipment you will need for your shoot and put it on the inside of your camera case. Then check it before you leave. Don’t forget gaffer’s tape, extension cords, extra videotape and adapters. For a more extensive list, see Camera Bag Essentials on page 90 of this issue.

3) Label Your Tapes Clearly

Without labels all of your tapes look exactly the same. How will you know which of the five tapes you filled for the instructional video you’re working on has the shot you need? The easiest way to label tapes is to create an acronym for your productions and number the tapes. For example, the United Way might be UW 1 and UW 2; the Bahamian Field Station might be BFS 1 and BFS 2, etc. Placement of this acronym is very important. By writing it at the top of the spine label, you should be able to see it after you put your tape in your tape machine. Most VCR doors open at least part way so that you can see if a tape is in or not. By placing the label on the spine and writing on the top half of the label, you can easily identify the tape (just in case you forgot which one was in the machine).

Once you are on location, write a few words on the tape label that will remind you what treasures each tape holds. You don’t have to be very specific; Tip #7 will help to identify contents.

4) Record Black

If you plan to capture your footage for editing on a computer, it’s a good idea to black your tapes before you begin shooting. This will guarantee that there are no gaps in time code, a condition that can prevent you from being able to batch capture when it’s time to edit. Leave the lens cap on, press record and let it run until the entire tape has a black signal.

Before you roll tape, it’s important to set up your equipment properly. Failing to do so can cause headaches when you sit down to edit your footage.

5) Check Your Audio Cables and Connections

A loose connection or a bad cable can ruin your soundtrack. Before rolling tape, take a minute to do a sound check. Looking at meters (if your camcorder has them) is not a good way to evaluate your audio. The only way to know if your soundtrack has a buzz is to listen using a pair of headphones.

6) Check White Balance

Every time you change the location of your camera, check your white balance. White balancing is the electronic way your camcorder makes sure that what it sees as white, is really white. In different lighting conditions the color of the light may be blue (outdoors) or yellow/orange (indoor). By white balancing your camera, you are making sure the white is right for the light in which you are shooting. To set white balance, just point your camcorder at something white and press the WB button.

Not all camcorders have manual white balance control. If you’re camcorder doesn’t allow you to manually set white balance, don’t panic. Some camcorders have a setting for indoor or outdoor lighting. Others have an automatic white balance setting that will probably do a pretty good job of identifying and compensating for each type of light. If this is your only option, shoot a quick 15-second shot at each location before you begin your actual shoot. This will allow the camera time to adjust to the proper lighting before you shoot any essential footage.

Now that the prep work is done, you’re ready to roll tape. But don’t just shoot haphazardly. It is important to shoot with the edit in mind.

7) Pad Your Shots

Get in the habit of always recording 10 seconds of tape before the primary action starts and five seconds after the action stops. If you are using a linear editing system, this is essential. When the edit controller backs up for its preroll, it wants to do so over good clean video. If there is a break in the picture, the editor will stop. Many frustrated videographers couldnt use their favorite shot because they got in a hurry and said action as soon as the camera began to roll.

Those of you who are editing in the computer-based world are probably chuckling to yourselves because you don’t have to worry about preroll. However, it is still important to pad your shots. Sometimes these padded shots make great cutaways and by shooting a little extra, you find yourself with little jewels that may come in handy later. You can also use the padding of your shots to loosen up an edit if things get a bit frantic. Longer dissolves slow down action and if your shot is padded, you have the ability and flexibility to change things in the edit suite. Chop your shots too short in the camera and you may find yourself without an option in the edit bay.

8) Log and Slate Your Shots

We have all seen pictures or film of the assistant director on a movie set standing in front of the camera holding a slate with a moveable bar attached and yelling out, "Scene 6, shot 22, take 5," and immediately clapping the bar down on the slate. Slating a shot helps to identify the scene as well as sync up the audio and video later. You can do this verbally from behind the camera before each shot, but it is better to slate each shot visually so you can identify takes while fast forwarding or rewinding through your footage.

What you usually don’t see in the movie footage is the script supervisor. He sits with the director and logs every shot as it is taken, noting the starting point, the stopping point, the length and if it was a good or bad take. Most of us don’t have the luxury of having a script supervisor, however, but make it a habit to log your shots immediately after you yell cut. This will save you hours in the editing suite later, when you’re looking for a particular shot.

9) Shoot Lots of Cutaways

A cutaway is a shot that’s related to the main action but does not contain all of the elements of the action. The cutaway can be used to help the editor condense time and space. With cutaways, you can have a character walk five miles in thirty seconds. Using shots such as a pan of a building, the character’s feet walking on the sidewalk, a passing car, the character’s face reflected in a storefront, interspersed between long shots of her walking, will allow you to move her through time and space while maintaining a sense of continuous time.

The cutaway can be a transitional shot. It allows you to change from scene to scene without worrying about cutting between very similar shots. Cutaways can also be used to cover jump cuts. If, for instance, you edit a sneeze out of the middle of a speech, a cutaway to the listening audience can cover your edit, masking the jump.

10) Get Lots of Coverage

Coverage is a film term used to describe the myriad of angles and sizes of shots a director might use for each scene. Don’t just shoot medium shots or close-ups. For each scene, shoot multiple angles and sizes of shots. Some recommend shooting as much as 10 minutes of footage for each minute you will use. If shooting a documentary, this average will go up to 20:1 or more. Editing is all about options. Shoot lots of footage from multiple angles to give yourself plenty of options when it is time to edit the final project together.

11) Be Still

If you have to move your camcorder, move it between shots. Hosing and tromboning are two major causes of home-video-related nausea. Hosing is panning left and right much like a firefighter hosing out a fire. Tromboning is zooming in and out much like the slide on a trombone. Too much of either of these will have your audience reaching for the Dramamine. Even if you are sure you want movement in your shot, shoot a still version of it. You will thank yourself when it’s time to edit.

Good video means solid video. When checking and collecting your equipment, remember to include a tripod. Nothing separates good video from bad video like the shake of a hand-held shot.

12) Move with a Purpose

If you are panning, tilting, zooming, dollying or moving in any other way, keep the movement at a consistent speed. A tilt and pan moving at the same speed look awesome when edited together. Change the speed of one of the shots and the transition between them won’t look as good. By keeping the speed of movement the same in specific points of the production, you ensure the shots will cut together smoothly. This takes some planning, but you will reap the rewards in the edit suite.

Shoot all movements in both directions. If you tilt up, also tilt down. If you pan right, pan left. When you dolly in, dolly out. By providing shots moving in both directions, you will give yourself more options in the editing suite.

13) Record Ambient Sound

Recording 30 seconds of room tone or natural (ambient) sound while at each location will provide you with sound clips that you can use to fill the gaps that sometimes occur in a soundtrack. Complete silence can be very startling when not expected. If you fill the silence with the natural sound of a room or location, you will avoid the empty spaces in the sound track.

So there you have it. A baker’s dozen of tips to help you shoot efficiently. Follow these tips and you’ll enjoy a faster, easier post-production experience. Whoever said 13 was an unlucky number must not have been a videographer.

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