Equipment Purchasing Tips

This post is designed to provide some guidance when you are thinking of purchasing new video equipment.

Considerations

The key to finding good equipment is to do your research and find something that fits your specific needs. Don’t get talked into something just because it is the biggest, newest, or most complicated.

Assess what you are looking for in video equipment. What will you be shooting movies for—youtube, the evening news, Hollywood? Will you need a camera that is highly mobile and good on the go, works well in low light, outdoors, in inclement weather? Develop a short list of what you might want and need in a camera.

Video equipment is constantly evolving and it is impossible to stay totally current all the time, don’t try to. Find a system that is new-ish, preferably in the last 2-3 years at most. The very newest camera is likely to have some quirks especially in terms of software.

Some basic characteristics to look for:

  • Shoots HD
  • Shooting file format is universal (as opposed to proprietary to one company)-preferably for both windows and mac (avoid .TOD files)
  • Has an input for a separate mic
  • Records to some type of solid state memory (ie hard drive, SD card, compact flash card, P2) not tape
  • Has some manual control options
  • Battery life and type

Secondary Considerations

  • Zoom quality
  • Hotshoe on the top
  • Special low light mode
  • Accessories available

A good place to start doing research is cnet.com they have reviews of almost anything technology, video, and computer related. A particularly great function is there camcorder finder tool, where you can input many of the parameters mentioned above to find current cameras that fit your needs. If you have access to consumer reports they are another great source. Google for top 10 lists that can help narrow the field. Be sure to look at the manufacturers webpage for the specific camera and compare the specifications with the suggestions above, don’t worry if you don’t understand all of the jargon, look for the highlights.

Final Thoughts

Especially for cameras, plan to buy a new camera unless you have a specific reason for buying used. For other equipment follow the same procedure. Bear in mind that for things like lighting, tripods, sound gear, and accessories the pace of new technology is much slower. You can get away with used or refurbished equipment if it is in good shape and older equipment is fair game for accessories.

If in doubt please consult with me and I can assist in research and decision making. Bear in mind that you should budget for a camera and some accessories such as a tripod and mic, don’t put all your money into a camera alone.

Fair use, copyright, and the complexities of using other peoples film video and music in your creations (part 1)

The crux of the issue

While I fully intend to fill this blog with helpful film production tips and other useful links I think it is useful to discuss some of the larger issues surrounding film and video production.

One of these issues is the use of other peoples video and audio materials in your own film. In most cases this material is copyrighted to someone else and it is on you the filmmaker to sort this out.

This is where things get complicated and I will do my best to help sort through the mess, but let’s start with just a single link, something happy that actually benefits video producers.

2009 Educational Exemption to the DMCA (digital millennium copyright act)

Please feel free to comment, start a discussion, or otherwise contact me about these issues.

I will post further on these topics from time to time.

Editing Basics

Introduction

This page is designed to introduce the basics of video editing. It is important to remember that although editing is the last step in the video production process it is where your story actually comes together. You should try to think about how you might edit your film throughout the pre-production and production process, this will make editing easier and it will ensure you get the proper footage to make the film you want to make.

If you haven’t shot a particular sequence or interview you can’t make it magically appear during editing.

Equipment

Computer with appropriate editing software and adequate memory, storage space and speed, camera with footage on it, proper cables to connect camera and computer (recommend firewire [aka 1394] or usb).

Software

Camtasia is recommended

How To

Thinking of editing as a puzzle you are putting together to create a coherent story can be useful. Try to keep the big picture of your film in mind and gather details that will support this picture. Refer to your treatment throughout the editing process, but remember to be flexible.

Organization

The first step is to gather all the content you plan to use; download the footage from the camera to the computer, collect and organize still images you plan to incorporate, find all the audio including music you might need, gather graphics and documents.

Try to keep a well organized folder structure that makes sense to you. You will be dealing with a large number of individual files that need to remain organized in a consistent structure for your editing program to understand.

Transfering Footage

Download the video files from your camera to your computer, organize them, and import them into your editing program. Next you should watch the footage, make some notes about good shots, and transcribe the interviews.

Interview transcription means typing out the interviews word for word with the associated time in the video where the statements occur. While it can be time consuming, interview transcripts allow you to edit on paper and make edits based very specifically on how long a particular statement might take. A transcript also helps if you are working on a video as a group so that group members don’t need the video clips to make edits and suggestions.

Once you’ve looked at the footage and perhaps made transcripts its time to begin editing.

Rough Cut

The standard layout/interface of a video editing program.

Think of the editing process as a hierarchical building process. Individual shots are the building blocks, they are built into sequences, then sections and up to a complete video. Each level should give you an opportunity to tell a story and convey information, be conscious of this building process and make sure that each level fits your goals for the video.

The first draft or rough cut should be large chunks/sequences that serve as an outline or framework for your story. As the term editing implies you will go through many iterations. With each successive rough cut you should add b-roll (supporting images) and begin to tell your story in more detail. Once you have a version of the film that contains all the images, stills, and audio you hope to use get some feedback, see if the movie makes sense to others and fulfills the purpose you intended.

Final Cut

If you are satisfied with your rough cut move to fine cutting. At this step you should be looking at nuances, timing, and the feel of your film. Make small cuts or additions and smooth the edges of your film. Once you have a complete fine cut you are at picture lock. The timing and imagery shouldn’t be changed.

From here you will put on the finishing touches; record final narration, add titles, add additional graphics, mix and balance the audio, add music and credits. It’s a good idea to have someone look at the film again just to be sure everything is coming together.

Once you have a final cut be sure to output your movie so everyone can enjoy it. Consider using youtube or DVD as your primary distribution, but be sure to tailor distribution to your intended audience.

Field Production Basics

Introduction

This post is designed to introduce basic field production techniques that can be used with any camera to improve the overall quality of your images. If you are interested in operating procedures for specific cameras please search for other posts on specific camera models or let me know and I can gather some information. For more advanced production techniques see the posts pertaining to lighting and sound recording specifically.

Equipment

Camera, tripod, microphone, lighting devices, extra batteries, extra recording space (SD cards, hard drives, etc) notebook, contact information for crew and talent, release forms.

Before you go to the field

Basic field production begins with good planning and pre-production, please see the pre-production post before you run into the field and start rolling camera.

Once you’ve got your video planned out double check your scheduling of equipment, talent, and crew; if logistics run smoothly your shoot will go well.

On Set

Whether it’s in the field or the laboratory stay focused and on task, but be flexible and watch for opportunities you may not have planned for but might enhance your video. Be aware of cast and crew safety at all times.

Give yourself plenty of time to set up your gear, particularly for interviews. A few extra minutes will ensure you get quality sound and lighting. Fifteen (15) minutes is a minimum setup time, and you will probably feel rushed. Especially is you plan to light the space give yourself an hour, this may seem long, but this will give you plenty of time to assess a space and place your equipment accordingly, it also gives you time to move to a better space if need be and prep your talent for an interview.

A good order of operations is:

  • setup your tripod and camera
  • set your lighting
  • prepare your microphones and audio equipment

Having an extra set of hands is invaluable on set throughout the production process.

Setting up the Shot

Once you’ve got your camera setup turn it on and start looking at potential frames within the space. For interviews you want consider how to position the subject for the best possible lighting and sound quality. Try to find an interesting background if you can.

wind experiment interview

Not the most interesting background, but the whole room was white, try to spruce it up if you can; the poster helped.

For lighting you want the subjects face to be bright and visible, try to orient them so light is shining on their face, rather than backlighting them. Use natural light to your advantage. Ask your subject to remove their hat and sunglasses so we get a good view of their face.

For documentary and educational film sound quality is critical, we need to hear what our interview subject is saying, because a lot of information is conveyed in the audio track. Use an external microphone (preferably a lapel mic), do not rely on the built in mic on the camera, as it is not designed for interview recording. Place a lapel mic about 2 buttons down from the top and try to hide the microphone cable as best you can. If your outdoors try to place your subject with their back to the wind so their body helps block wind noise across the mic.

Interview with lavalier/lapel microphone

Interview with on camera microphone

As you’re getting ready to record try to minimize all unwanted noise and movement; clear your background of distractions, close doors, turn off all electronics and appliances that you can. Don’t forget to silence cell phones on set.

Double check that your camera settings, lighting, and audio are all set properly before you begin recording and monitor these functions throughout your shoot. Don’t be afraid to cut in and make adjustments, you can always edit, and the talent can always repeat themselves.

 

While You’re Shooting

A reasonable medium shot

Think about how you might edit your footage together later. Try to get shot variety during your interview, meaning get some wide shots, some medium shots, and some close ups. While a question is being asked is a good time to adjust your framing, but try not to move the camera while the talent is giving answers.

A reasonable close up shot

During interviews it helps if you can have one person asking questions while another person operates the camera equipment, that way each can focus on the specifics of their task.

At the end of an interview be sure to get the talent to sign a release and get their contact info for follow up if you haven’t already.

Additional Footage

Don’t forget to shoot some b-roll, plan some extra time for this step. Since video is a visual medium you want specific images that illustrate the topics you discuss in your movie, this is b-roll. Quality b-roll will greatly enhance your video and allow much more flexibility when editing interviews. B-roll gives you something to cover cuts in an interview, or hide camera moves and interview clips that don’t look good.

The importance of b-roll:

Click on the picture to find out why b-roll is important

When shooting b-roll, again think about how you might use the footage while editing, get shot variety from wides to close ups as wells as pans and tilts; avoid zooms unless you have a very specific reason for shooting this way. Remember to keep using your tripod as you gather b-roll.

Be sure to double check that you collect all your gear as you leave the area.

And so it begins

Here’s the beginnings of the video blog from the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service Media Production Services. Hopefully this is useful for anyone in Extension interested in video production as an educational tool to expand their outreach potential.

I’m starting off by posting my powerpoint presentation from EPIC 2011, this provides a good overview of documentary film and the documentary production process.

Video Production Process PowerPoint EPIC 2011

Specific how to modules will follow soon and remember don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or comments and I will respond here so that everyone has access to this information.