Improving Videos – Get a Tripod Pt. 2

Well, I guess it's time to get back to improving our videos. I was thinking about this the other day as I was going through the footage our student ministries team took on their recent missions trip to New York City (disclaimer: I've already talked to the person who shot the video, so I'm not talking behind anyone's back...). Since it was student ministries, we sent them off with a small, Digital-8 camcorder. As I scanned through the 2 hours of footage, looking for a shot (yup, a shot), I thought about the need for a tripod. You see, all the footage was shot with the camera moving. It never stopped. Just watching it gave me vertigo. Out of 2 hours, I found less than 3 minutes of usable footage. Now, this is not to pick on our intrepid camera man here, but let's talk about how to avoid this.

Here's the deal - watch some TV, or a few films and here's what you'll find (save the "reality shows"): You'll find well composed, static shots. Most of the time, the camera doesn't move, and if it does, it's on a tripod or dolly or crane. If and when it does move, it moves slowly and smoothly. Doing this takes practice and good equipment. A while back, I wrote a post called, Being Excellent with Less. In that post I suggested that if we don't have the personnel or equipment to do a certain task, we should scale the task back to the point where we can achieve excellence. Don't have a $50,000 Chapman crane for your camera? Then put it on a tripod and work with what you have. Don't have a tripod? Get creative - the most usable footage we got from the students was when the camera was set on a table and the students shared their experiences.

If you don't have a tripod, you really should get one. They're not that expensive in the grand scheme of things, and I would suggest it will make the second biggest improvement in your videos (microphones are #1).

I'm guessing a lot of the readers of this blog don't have a bunch of professional experience shooting videos, yet you are being asked (or are volunteering) to make them for an audience ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand. If that's the case, how can you go about improving your work? First, realize that there is very little truly original video out there. For the most part, there are accepted rules, and methods that generate good results. So watch some professionally produced programs (they're free on TV!). But don't watch them for the story line (at least not for this exercise), watch them for the technical production details. How did they frame the shot. How does the camera move? What angles did they use? How is it lit? Where was the camera placed in the scene? How do the people in the program interact with the camera?

I'll let you in on a secret: professionals do this all the time. I recently cribbed a really cool visual effect from CSI: Miami for use in a video for one of our students. I was watching a show on Discovery channel and saw a lower third title treatment I liked and copied it for another video. When I watch a film with really good cinematography, I will watch it again and study what the cinematographer did. Then I look for opportunities to copy it.

Here's the why: The people sitting in our churches every week watch TV too, and they have high expectations. Imagine a couple coming into a church for the first time in many years only to see a poorly produced video that bounces all over the place, with poor audio, bad color and is poorly projected. Will that keep them from returning? I don't know - but it can't help. If they are on the fence, they may say, "See, I knew church was irrelevant - this a joke." Remember, our job in the Technical Arts is to remove all barriers to an authentic worship experience. That's why it matters.

Your thoughts?