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Video marketing Part 2: Production tips for video marketing

By Jim McAnally

Our first video marketing article, sought to dispel common misconceptions about the time and cost required to make a great video. Although countless viral videos prove content triumphs over production quality, we still want to cover basic filming techniques. Should your crew have more time to prepare, follow these tips to enhance your efforts.

Congratulations, you are “it”!

Does this scenario sound familiar? You serve on a committee, and the committee decides to or is asked to create a video to help market a church program or ministry. As the committee starts to divide the work, everyone remembers the wonderful video you posted on Facebook of the children’s choir last Christmas. You are “nominated” to be in charge of creating the new video.

Perhaps you have no experience producing a video with original content, as opposed to merely recording an event. Before you panic, read our tips below for creating a good video. You can do this!

1) Be prepared!
Like most things, adequate preparation makes creating a good video easier. It helps reduce mistakes and stress. Here are a few things you can do to be prepared:

  • Bring the necessary equipment.
    - A smartphone or video-capable digital camera, preferably one that can take HD video.
    - Lighting and/or audio gear. If you have or can borrow professional lighting systems, do! That will make your job a lot easier. If not, bring several lamps or lights of varying types and sizes (floor lamps, table lamps, desk lamps and so forth). If you must use nonprofessional lighting, bring white poster board and waxed paper to “bounce” light where needed, block light or diffuse it. Tape is handy, too (see below). Borrow a microphone and get an adapter that will allow you to plug it into your smartphone/digital camera.
     
  • Know your equipment. Take time to familiarize yourself with the equipment you will use. This includes smartphones/digital cameras, software, lighting and audio equipment. Do a practice setup before the day of the project so you can identify any areas in which you may lack knowledge or experience.
     
  • Get an assistant(s). Do not try to do everything by yourself. You need people on hand to help set up, retrieve and position things while you shoot. This is virtually a requirement if you do shoots at multiple locations or with different scene setups.
     
  • Inform your “actors.” The people who will be in front of the camera must know what you expect of them. They need a solid script in advance. The “talent,” as they are called in the business, need to practice together and with you. Supply their wardrobe or tell them what to wear.

2) Shoot horizontally! 
Video displays (TVs, monitors, tablets) are built for showing horizontally shot videos. Orienting your device this way is easy if you use a digital camera or camcorder, but when shooting with a smartphone, it is easy to forget this.

3) Upgrade your app! 
If you are taking video with a smartphone, your built-in video camera software may not be the best option. Here is what we have found:

  • Android devices. The “camcorder” app that comes with the device is quite good. Alternatives offer some user-interface changes, but many apps still use the standard camcorder app engine to take the video.
     
  • iOS devices. The video camera software that comes with iPhones is good, but better alternatives exist. One of the most highly recommended video apps for iPhones/iPads is FiLMiC Pro.

4) Stabilize your phone/camera! 
One of the quickest ways to fail at making a good video is to have a shaky camera. Fortunately, you can solve this problem easily with a tripod. Tripods give you stability while offering the flexibility to shoot at different heights quickly.

However, most tripods are built for cameras that have built-in screw mounts to attach the camera to the tripod. You can find adapters for attaching smartphones and digital cameras without built-in mounts. Many people just use simple solutions such as tape and rubber bands to hold their devices onto a tripod.

What if you lack a tripod or shoot on the move? The next best thing to a tripod is any firm, stationary surface on which you can rest your smartphone/digital camera while you shoot.

Holding your phone/camera is sometimes required but not ideal. The best position for holding a phone/camera is with two hands and bringing your elbows to your sides. This limits arm movement and fatigue. However, the motion of your breathing can be obvious unless you breathe slowly and compensate for the movement of your chest. A better way would be to position yourself so your elbows can rest on a surface while holding the camera.

You can easily make a “monopod” with some ingenuity and wooden dowels, broomsticks or PVC pipe. These will limit vertical movement completely and reduce lateral movement significantly with a practiced hand.

Use your software’s “image stability” function (if available) to reduce the shakiness.

If you shoot a scene that requires the camera to move, here are some tips:

  • When recording someone who is walking, synchronize your steps to theirs to reduce movement caused by the uneven speed of walking.
     
  • Create your own “rig” for smooth mobility. This could be as simple as taking the aforementioned broomstick-monopod and putting it on a skateboard (this works best indoors on smooth floors). Better yet, use a wheelchair to allow for an even smoother shot and less noise.
     
  • Ride atop something with wheels while someone else controls your motion (i.e. a bicycle, a wagon, a wheelchair — remember safety is paramount with any of these ideas). Shooting from inside a motorized vehicle works great for outdoor scenes.

5) Think like a photographer! 
Choose a series of “moments” that you want to tell the story. Set up where you can best capture the shot. Start recording a few seconds BEFORE the actual shot you want to capture and stop recording a few seconds afterward to provide leeway for transitions during editing. Move onto next shot and repeat.

6) Shoot up close and personal.
You want viewers to feel what your storytellers feel. The story will evoke much more emotion if you highlight a person’s face, particularly the eyes and mouth, which are the natural attention grabbers. Be sure to get up close and capture as many expressions as possible.

7. Shoot over the shoulder. 
Viewers like to see what the main characters see. A classic technique to capture the character’s point of view is to shoot right on top of their shoulder (or as close as you can without the actor feeling uncomfortable). If the scene calls for dialogue between two people, shoot at least one take over each character’s shoulder. The resulting footage will better connect viewers to the characters and increase the impact of dialogue. Always keep point-of-view shots in mind.

8) Light your scene! 
Professional crews use most of their setup time creating natural looking light and relatively little time shooting the actual scene. This is the biggest factor separating professional and amateur. Be sure to study the three-point lighting technique. This technique uses a main light (called the key light), fill light to fill shadows created by the key light and hair light, which, as the name suggests, lights the hair.

Avoid backlighting. You do not want the primary light source to be behind your subjects, as your camera/smart phone will adjust the video darker to compensate for the light from the light source. This makes your subjects, who are already in shadow from the backlight, even darker.

9) Don’t get crazy with zooms and pans!
Frame your shots by starting wide to create the setting and then do the same scene closer for tighter shots. Be very particular about zooming and panning. Professional crews rarely zoom unless it is for an intended or artistic affect. You do not want to force your viewers constantly to adjust their attention through frequent, fast and/or unexpected camera moves. When in doubt, set up the shot exactly how you want it in terms of closeness and angle.

10) Use B-roll to set up scenes and hide flaws. 
It is always a good idea to get close-up shots of anything in the room that is visually arresting or that the actors may mention in the script. These shots are the "B-roll.” B-roll — secondary footage that adds meaning to a scene or disguises the elimination of unwanted content. Use B-roll to cutaway or edit over unwanted zooms or verbal or physical tics that the editor or director find distracting (e.g. “uhs,” sniffs, coughs). Similarly, remove contextually irrelevant parts of an anecdote to construct a more effective, succinct delivery.

11) Be heard!
If you are using the built-in microphone in your device, have your phone/camera close enough to your subject to pick up clear conversation. An external microphone is ideal as it gives you more flexibility in positioning your camera. Reduce background noise by choosing quiet locations, turning off things that make noise like HVAC systems and buzzing fluorescent lights. Close off your filming area by shutting doors or set up temporary sound barriers by hanging blankets just outside of camera view. Professional editing software can eliminate some buzz by eliminating certain sound frequencies, but this effect can make voices sound metallic. It is best to avoid as much background noise from the start.

12) Work as a team!
Often when creating videos for your church, your on-screen “talent” is a church member volunteer. Put them at ease by preparing them before the day of the shoot. Tell them what you expect them to do/say on-camera and your timeline and plan.

Honor their effort and time by being punctual. If you are a novice, add 25 percent more time to how long you think each scene will take. If you are at ease and appear professional, others will be at ease. The best way to achieve that is to do most of the setup, testing and technical trouble-shooting before others arrive. You do not want to appear panicked or poorly prepared. Inspire confidence and calm.

This is not a comprehensive list. Shooting video is a creative endeavor. You can always learn more and improve your skills.

Fire up your creativity, master your technology and enable your church to use one of the most accessible mediums to reach audiences and spread your church’s message!