“The audio is more important than the video.” This is a common refrain I deliver to my students when we’re talking about shooting an interview. If you had a choice: super bad video with good sound, or super bad audio with good picture, the choice is obvious when it comes to shooting an interview. Content is definitely king. But you may as well shoot a beautiful image and make the person look great while you’re at it. This blog post will cover a simple approach to acquiring professional audio when a person is talking on camera. Look for other installments of this series where I discuss ‘The Shot,’ Lighting and Interviewing Techniques.
Rule One for professional sound is “proximity;” get the microphone as close to the source as possible. Using a lavalier, or clip-on, microphone is the simplest way to mic an interview. You’ll want to run the cable inside the clothing and dress the cable at the mic. If you want to hide the mic, you can wrap tape around it so the sticky side is facing out, and stick it to the inside of the garment. This is risky because of the chance that the clothing will make a rustling sound on the mic as the interview subject moves. Some mics come with a “vampire” clip, which is a pin that attaches the mic to the inside of a garment. I prefer the safer and simpler technique of clipping it on the outside and letting the mic be seen.
Another way to hide the mic is to use a shotgun microphone on a boom pole. Often, sound techs will use BOTH a lavalier and a shotgun, so the editor can choose the best sound in post-production. The shotgun is much more directional than a lavalier, so pointing it directly at the mouth is critical. It’s attached to a boom pole, which is held by a boom operator or mounted on a stand. A boom operator will obviously be necessary if the subject is moving. For a stationary interview, mounting it on a C-stand with a boom-pole holder is the most common technique. The cable is attached to the pole to keep it from dangling into the shot, and the microphone – usually coming in from the top – is positioned just out of frame, getting it as close to the subject as possible. Remember: PROXIMITY!
The mic can also be positioned from underneath, but you will almost always get better sound pointing it downward, because the sound gets baffled or cushioned better into the floor than with the empty space up to the ceiling. You also pick up more sound from a heater or an air conditioner when the mic is pointing upwards.
Always monitor the audio with your headphones to make sure everything is working correctly, there are no buzzing sounds or connectivity issues, and that you’re listening to the correct microphone. Set the audio level so that the person’s voice peaks at about minus-12 on the digital audio meter.
For the editor, you should record about 15 or 20 seconds of “room tone,” which is the sound of the environment where the interview is taking place. That way, you can fill the gaps in your editing timeline with the ambient sound. If you don’t do that, the final audio will cut between voice-with-ambience and the absolute silence of an empty audio track.
That’s it for basic sound techniques. Look for the other parts of this series, where I discuss ‘The Shot,’ Lighting and Interviewing Techniques.
Lighting an interview can obviously be handled in a lot of different ways. Your approach will depend on your expertise, the scope of the project, the equipment you can access, and the time you have to set up. This blog post will cover a simple lighting setup for an indoor, single-camera interview. You can see the video companion to this blog here. Look for other installments of this series where I discuss, ‘The Shot,’ sound and interviewing techniques.
Standard three-point lighting starts with a Key light - the strongest light - which in film making establishes the main light source for a scene, but in an interview is usually the light the subject looks toward.
The Back light helps separate the subject from the background, giving the shot a third dimension: depth (more on that later). It also gives the subject a rim or halo of light on their hair and shoulder. This is especially nice for people with big, dark hairdos. To keep the Back light from shining into the lens, you’ll want to put black wrap on the barn doors, or use a flag on a C-stand. Black wrap is a heavy-duty aluminum foil material that’s very malleable, and really great to have for keeping light from spilling where you don’t want it. When the Back light is rotated slightly around to the side of the subject, it becomes what’s called a “kicker.” That puts just touch of light raking across the side of the forehead, the cheek, and/or the neck. It can be a nice modeled look.
The Fill light is self-defining: it fills in the opposite side of the Key light. If it’s the same intensity as the Key, that’s flat lighting… very boring, in my humble and experienced opinion. Often, the Fill light is not a light at all, it’s a white surface (usually foam core) to reflect light. OR... you could just go without a Fill light for a more dramatic look. Large sheets of foam core (also called foam board) can be purchased at framing stores and most office supply chains.
Regardless of how you choose to light your interview subjects, here are a few rules of thumb I like to live by:
Don’t use the overhead lighting at your location. Top light is ‘fugly,’ and you have no control over where it goes. You should be controlling all the light, so turn everything off before you start the lighting process.
Soft light is better than hard light. Direct light is harsh and glaring; it creates hard shadows, which are not flattering when lighting a face. Direct light also can create ‘hot spots’ on the forehead or cheek. Ugly for sure.
If you’re using open-faced lights (the lamp on the light is not covered by glass) you’ll need to put diffusion on the light or place a silk or net (attached to a C-stand) in front of the light to soften it. A better solution is to use a Fresnel light, the type that has glass in front of the lamp. These lights have ‘spot/flood’ capabilities. The spot/flood mechanism slides the lamp forward and backward within the body of the light, making the light beam wider and narrower.
There are several thicknesses of diffusion, so you have the flexibility to cut the light down a little or a lot. If you Google ‘lighting diffusion,’ you can see the options and how it’s used. I also show you the options in the accompanying video to this blog. Some other softening options include umbrellas, which many light kits have. They’re attached directly to the light. Some light kits have soft boxes that mount on the front of the light. If you have C-stands and a silk, that’s also very good for softening the light. Bottom line for interviews: When the light beam gets spread out (diffused), it provides a much nicer aesthetic. When using an umbrella, heavy diffusion or a soft box, you can move the light in very close. It’s a great option for tight spaces, and it won’t be too blinding for your subject.
To add depth to the shot, I mentioned the Back light separation, but you should also use a BackGROUND light. Splashing a little light on the background helps create that third dimension, and you’ll certainly want to do that if the background is relevant to the subject material.
These same principles can be used in outdoor setups as well, you’ll just need bigger lights to compete with the sun, and you’ll obviously want to use the sun as a Key or Back light, using a 4x4 silk on a C-stand with a 35-pound sand bag.
Look for the other parts of this series, where I discuss ‘The Shot,’ sound and interviewing techniques. And check out the results of this lighting approach here.
[click here to see a video version of this blog]
The first order of business on ANY shoot, is to figure out what the shot is. For an interview, that usually means, “What is the background?” So with that in mind, figure out where the person will sit or stand. Don’t do anything else until you’ve found “The Spot” for “The Shot.” You’ll need to ask yourself whether you want the background to be in focus or out of focus. If its relevant to what the person is talking about, you may want to showcase the background. If you don’t want the viewer to be distracted by it, you’ll want the classic “shallow depth-of-field” look, so the background becomes a design element.
The depth of field is controlled in several different ways. If you want to learn more about that, google it or take my video production class.
If the subject is talking to the camera, you may want to frame them in the center of the screen, unless you’re leaving room on the side for a relevant piece of background or some kind of graphic or text information. Most documentary or news-style interviews are “off-camera” setups; the subject is talking to an interviewer, who is next to the camera. In that case, you want to frame the shot with “nose room” (aka: “look room” or “look space”) to the side the subject is facing.
The rule of thirds for interviews applies with framings from as tight as extreme close-ups, all the way out to a medium close-up. And that rule is: the eyes should lie on the top third line; there should be little or no “head room.” In fact, sometimes you need to let the very top of their head go out of frame. It’s the most aesthetically pleasing look, in my humble and experienced opinion.
Once your interview is framed wider than about the top of the rib cage, the rule for the eyes no longer applies. Because as your frame gets wider and wider, the head room would be WAY too much if you put their eyes on the upper third line.
Another rule I like to follow for aesthetics is a bit awkward to talk about, but it’s very valid: The older the person, the wider the framing should be. Young people’s beautiful skin can handle close-ups better than wrinkles.
In future parts of this series I discuss lighting, sound and interviewing techniques. See “Part 5: The Result” here.
[click here to see a video version of this blog]
If you’re like me, you have commercial clients who need video footage of their products: electronics, sporting equipment, shoes, pens and pencils, food, compost buckets… the list is as endless as the shelves at Mega Lo Mart. But how do I make these inanimate objects look interesting? Here are a few simple tips:
Obviously, your techniques will depend on the equipment and space you have access to, but even shooters on a shoestring budget shooting shoestrings can use these principles to get some nice shots. First of all, use soft light. Hard light creates hard shadows, which can be ugly on almost anything you shoot. Second, don’t forget the back light. Just because you’re not shooting a person, doesn’t mean you don’t need a halo of light to separate the object from the background. Third, top light is OK – as long as you don’t have hands coming into the frame. If you do, you’ll need to change the angle of that light to more of a 45-degree angle. And BTW, top light for people is fugly, but if you’ve ever seen a car commercial, that beautiful shot of the gleaming car in the studio is lit mostly from a humongous soft box above the car (along with bounce cards on the deck to “glow up” the fenders and doors).
I’ve got a YouTube video that shows you a simple limbo background set-up for a product shot. Limbo is a black background so the product is not shown in any particular environment. It’s a demo shoot, because there will be a person in the scene operating the product. The key light is a 1K with a soft box, flagged off the background. It’s positioned immediately to the right of the wide shot camera position, at a slight angle to the product (not straight on). The close-up camera is just to the left of that camera position. I recommend you “spike” the floor (marking positions of objects, cameras and lights) in case you need to move around or bring in multiple products. The back light is a 300-watt Fresnel through a silk, flagged off the camera and the ground. If you hang that light from the ceiling, you can put it 180-degrees from the key light. If it’s on the floor, I usually place it on the same side as the key light, but just out of the right edge of the frame.
You can shoot the product or process twice, or use two cameras (one wide, one tight). I like to put one camera on a slider. This makes it easy to make minute adjustments side to side for the close-up camera, and you can shoot the “hero” shot trucking right and left. One item I suggest (but do not have in this example) is a lazy susan. Depending on the size of your product, it’s real nice to be able to spin the product around, especially if it has shiny pieces that can pick up a glint from the lights.
When you’re shooting, keep in mind you will be editing between the wide and tight shots, so you don’t have to nail each take from beginning to end. The process can be broken down into each step and then pieced together. If there’s no “process” to shoot, then play around with different angles, different heights and different lenses. Sometimes a well-composed, 10mm, handheld, “swing around” shot can end up being the image your client loves the most.
I covered the most common question (cost) in my last blog, so let's move on to other issues. One question I often hear is, "How does it work? Who does what?" Certainly all of the technical and aesthetic concerns are handled by the video crew, but what about the script, the location or the "actors?"
I say actors in air quotes because sometimes you need people to simply be in the shot or operate a device; they're not really acting, but they are being directed. The production company can book those people - and the peace of mind is usually worth the cost. If you don't want to pay for "actors," just keep in mind that it's a process to manage them -- and you may want to pay them for their time, even if they work for you. The production company should be able to provide you with a talent release form.
The script is a relatively complicated aspect of video production. Most producers don't want to
move too far until they have a "final" script. There are those air quotes again. I don't think I've ever pressed the red button with a final, final script - but you want to be very, very close before you commit the resources to gathering assets. One of the first things I ask my clients is, "What do you think your video will look like and sound like?" In other words, who is speaking, what are they saying, and what are we seeing? That answer can be the beginning of a script. Often, a script is simply an outline - a rundown of the content to be covered, chapter headings, bullet points... whatever you want to call your clear idea of what the video will contain. I feel the creation of that guideline or road map should be a collaborative effort. The client points the way, the producer turns those ideas into on-screen elements.
The locations for shooting can be vital or not important at all. That's usually something that doesn't take long to figure out, but it can have a grand effect on production management. Obviously, the most convenient locations are the ones you can control, but if the client is providing the location, they need to be educated on the extent to which a crew "invades" and takes over the work space. Sometimes, paying for a studio is well worth the expense.
Whether it's these three aspects of production - or all the other parts for that matter - a key thing to consider when choosing a video production professional is their level of attentiveness. Are they listening to you? Do they have suggestions? Aspects like locations, actors, script development, and even shooting style should be things the client provides input on, and the production company should be able to not only adapt to the client's desires, but communicate the ramifications of those choices.
If you’re considering video to promote your business, one of the first questions you will ask is, "How much does it cost?" And the most common answer will be, "It depends."
Since I’m a teacher at two community colleges, I run into a lot of people looking for very cheap or free video production. For some reason, people are willing to let a trainee shoot their video, but they wouldn’t dream of hiring an apprentice to fix their plumbing. It kind of makes sense, I suppose: low risk. But mostly, people who are not “in the business” don’t understand what goes into producing a video of substance and shelf life. And what I mean by that gets us to the crux of video production cost.
Stories that matter take thought. When you hire a person to do a video for you, you’re not just paying for the shooting and editing time. You’re paying for expertise, equipment and the production management it takes to plan and execute to the message. AND you’re paying to have a director help you formulate your ideas, your delivery strategy, and how it all ties together. It’s designing creative content for your custom narrative.
In general, videographers, editors and other video production professionals (e.g. sound and lighting) make about $30-$60 per hour. Higher level directors, etc. will make $100 or $200 per hour. It’s common to charge an upfront producer fee, writing fee, creative fee, or other general pre-production charges. Production days are normally based on ten-hours, so the hourly rate you pay for a person, piece of equipment or location (like a studio) can be easily calculated. Half-day rates (much hated in the production community) are usually based on 4.5 hours or less, and cost about 60% of the full-day rate.
The fees may go up based on a person’s experience or a project’s complexity, and they may come down to some extent based on your budget. There are often two- or four-hour minimums for a video shoot. A typical video shoot takes about 30 to 60 minutes to set up and another 30-60 to break down – and that time is included in the day rate. So obviously, the more setups you have, the less you can get done in ten hours.
Editing is another creature altogether. Some editors are very fast, so they will naturally make more per hour – and will most likely charge a flat fee. Editors who aren’t as sure about how much time it will take to edit a piece, may want to charge by the hour. I recommend you ask for a flat editing fee with clear parameters on program length, client changes, and contingency if the scope of the project is altered. The level of graphic design or special effects that people want will greatly affect the editing price.
The volume of footage and the length of the video will obviously influence the cost across the board, so try to ascertain what level of complexity you’re going for before you approach a production company. If it's basically a straightforward edit, where you’re cutting down some dialogue and adding supportive footage (aka “B-roll”) that’s relatively simple. But if you have numerous locations, spread out over lots of days, and there are many critical moments to capture for your high-energy, grandiose production that looks like a Lady Gaga music video, expect to pay more – unless, of course, you can get a student to do it…
I did a Google search for "corporate video San Diego," and I got 2,110,000 hits. So which production company should I hire to do video for my business?
You can believe the Google analytics and take the companies that are listed first, which means they paid for that right or they're good with metadata and keywords. You can trust Yelp, which will list the companies that have a lot of people writing Yelp reviews for them. Or you can browse websites, read descriptions, watch sample reels, and see if someone fits what you're looking for – if you happen to know that. Understanding what your budget is and why you want to do video production is a really good place to start. Since I certainly don’t know the former, let’s talk about the latter.
So why do I want to do video production for my business? And why can’t I just do it with my cell phone?
Let’s answer the second question simply and easily: The same reason you don’t do your own plumbing, legal representation or cabinetry. If that’s not what you do, you shouldn’t trust your future self to do it right. Sure, fix a leaky faucet, fight a traffic ticket, or build a simple shelf in a backroom closet – you’re up for that. Low risk if you get it wrong. So if you’re going to squeeze off a quick video with your phone to post on social media – an "in-the-moment" post to keep your FaceLinkInstaTwitChat live and relevant – go for it! No editing, no audio concerns, lighting and camera movement are not an issue. It’s just fun and "now." But if you’re motive for creating a video has a bigger picture – like the pipe under your house, you’re facing jail time, or you need a centerpiece for your living room – don’t hesitate; hire a professional.
Any business messaging that needs to be useful for a long time is an investment, and you should treat it as the important asset it will be. A quality sound track is one of the first differentiators between amateur and professional video storytelling. An editing flow that does not detract from the message… appropriate lighting that flatters people and places, and creates a three-dimensional feel… mature, elegant composition and camera movement… these are all elements of professional video production that any reputable company can articulate and present.
The production company will most certainly ask you what you want. You may or may not really know. You may say, “Straightforward… just show what we do.” You may say, “Branding is huge, so a 3D animation of our logo is critical.” You may want “edgy, cinematic storytelling with deep subplots.” Funny, Hard-hitting, Dramatic, Impactful, Ironic, Meaningful, Shocking… I’ve heard clients ask for all these things, some of which I do well, some of which I send them elsewhere for.
When you’re looking for a video production company, watch several of their samples – they may do everything the same (or close to it). If they have a variety of approaches and content, they may be better to work with. Their demo reel can be a good indication of the scope of their styles and genres. But regardless of which production company you consider, remember two things: They will all need to work from a script – which will most likely need to be (at least initially) written by you – and they will all be hesitant to give you a price. And that’s the topic for my next blog. Stay tuned.