- GETTING STARTED
The link above will take you to two sample videos created as examples, and mentioned at various points in this tutorial. You may want to start by watching them.
About this tutorial
The bulk of this tutorial was written by David Larreina (who writes in the first person), with minor edits by Marcos Martinon-Torres. Any users are welcome to make further additions and modifications. It was created as a guide for students in the process of creating a video as one of the two assessments for the Archaeometallurgy (ARCL3001) course at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, but it is hoped that it may be of use for others seeking guidance on how to create basic documentary videos. The practical examples discussed in the various sections are based on two separate sample videos created by David Larreina for this purpose. You can find a link to them at the very beginning of this tutorial.
The aim of this tutorial is to provide some basic guidance on how to create relatively simple videos, mostly by inexperienced people. There are no long explanations concerning filming or editing techniques but basic notes and links to further information in case this is needed. This is not about how to become a professional video maker but about giving you some tips about how to create successfully a short documentary. Therefore these notes are strongly focused on the first of the three basic steps (planning, shooting and editing) of every video making process.
There is another reason for this: planning is by far the most important part when creating films. I know you are anxious to go out and start shooting but let's make a point very clear: shooting requires considerably less time than planning and also a shorter time than editing. To give you an example, the pre-production of Jurassic Park lasted for 25 months whereas the other two tasks together were solved in 9 months, with uniquely 3 months and one week devoted to the shooting (DVD production notes).
As a matter of fact and for the aim of this exercise, shooting and editing are 'simple' tasks (although time consuming!) in comparison to planning. We can get very decent image recording with a smartphone or a photographic camera, and several free software packages are available, uncomplicated to use without any previous experience. The difficulty does not remain in the technical process but in getting a good final result -having images recorded does not make a documentary-, and to get a good result you need a strategy and previous work. It is not so different from writing an essay, only the format changes and this change will increase greatly your possibilities of being creative.
I basically used three sources to compile this tutorial, although several more are indicated along the text: the primary one are my own notes and experience, the second one is Directing the documentary by Michael Rabiger and the last one is a short book in Spanish titled Quiero hacer un documental by Manuel Gómez Segarra (an equivalent to the last reference in English could be How to make a documentary script by Trisha Das).
About documentary videos
You can think of this exercise in a similar way as when composing any essay, although of course there are some differences as well. Don't forget to check the marking criteria given by the course co-ordinator, to get a better sense of the benchmarks you will be marked against.
Unlike an academic essay, one of the great possibilities allowed by a video is that you can include not only educational or academic aspects but some dramatism. Actually, if you want to produce an interesting podcast you better include some dramatic elements.
You need an argument to make a documentary but a documentary does something in addition to informing or explaining: it tells a story. The same argument can lead to very different stories. For example, if the main argument is how bronze battle axes were cast during the Bronze Age, a story can trace the evolution throughout the Bronze Age and the huge variety in types of axes in contrast with the somewhat more limited repetitiveness of the casting technique; or it can tell the whole technological process from the mining to the casting of a particular specimen; or highlight the advantages of a particular type for warfare (especially considering the relatively simple casting techniques); or it may compare European axes to the Chinese ones, its different shapes, uses and production; or; or; or; ...
So you are going to tell a story, but this does not mean that you are going to tell a fiction story. If you look up 'documentary' in a dictionary you will find something similar to this:
A documentary is linked to reality and therefore your data must be truthful and absolutely accurate. Don't forget that you are going to be assessed not only by your creativity but also, especially, by the educational content.
The objective of this particular exercise is to create a short educational documentary based around an archaeological metal object from any museum or collection,or an archaeometallurgical problem, project or site. Pretty much anything relevant to the syllabus of the course is allowed, with substantial flexibility as to the angle. The audience is made of educated people - but not experts on archaeometallurgy - and the duration must be between 3 and 6 minutes (excluding credits).
Since a documentary consists of, or is based on, reality it might seem that there is not much space for creativity. Quite on the contrary, a documentary is a very flexible format that supports practically any type of composition, the way in which the facts are presented is extremely diverse.
As a somewhat extreme but very illustrative example, take a look at this video clip. The information given regarding Stonehenge is largely correct, it is engaging, memorable, and it raises suitable questions. If we were to judge it as an educational video, the main problems are that surely all the data comes from the same source, that the information is superficial and not up to date with the latest research, and that there is no balance between the facts and the fictional elements since the purpose here is to amuse the audience (which, in my opinion, is achieved brilliantly) not to educate. However, if the emphasis is on the historical data supported by a good corpus of references there is no rule saying that a documentary cannot be presented as a musical video clip. See the possibilities?
Apart from the video, you will also need to write a 200 word abstract and a list of all the sources used.
A successful podcast (after media players international):
Meets online expectations: specific, chunk-sized information, delivered quickly
Is pitched perfectly to a intended audience
Tells a good story
The first thing you need to do is to identify what you want to achieve with your podcast, who are you presenting to, and what level of understanding they have. Watching is a tiring attitude therefore to pitch to the audience you need to empathize with them, asking the questions that they would want to be answered, not merely present to them a video podcast but accompany throughout it.
Then is time to focus on how are we going to satisfy those three expectations addressing three fundamental concepts: these are Idea, Story and Topic. They are fundamental because they are going to make the foundational stone for the script, that is responsible in a 75% of the success of a video.
In principle any idea is acceptable, there are no constraints about the planning of your video other than it must be relevant to archaeometallurgy #See Aims, simply choose something that is of your interest - in case of doubts about the suitability of a certain idea, you can discuss it with the course co-ordinator. However, you should pose some probing questions when getting inspiration: e.g. what lies in a documentary about furnaces? Would you watch a documentary about ancient furnaces? If the answer is not a definite yes, then what should it contain to attract you to watch it? How do you think this should be created? These questions will help you check the suitability of your idea and decide from which angle it seems more interesting to build it. In addition, there are two important aspects that you will have to deal with: structure and ending.
You've got an idea (great!) but an idea is nothing if is not framed within a bigger structure to support it. To create this support there are two crucial tasks: research to create the background, and development of the idea (which also needs the previous research).
- Research: There is nothing different between the research required here, and that you do before you write an essay. Go through you sources and take notes until you are satisfied with the information gathered, and then select the data that you really want/need to use.
- Development: The development of an idea involves decisions about how exactly you want to narrate your facts, and from which angle you are going to do it, according to the information gathered. We can illustrate this with an example: let's say the idea is to create a video about the famous Terracotta Army of Xian in China. Now, what is your main argument? Ask the basic questions:
- What: Practically everybody knows more or less what is the Terracotta Army so a long explanation for this question is nonessential, unless you are introducing something unusual and less known.
- Why: Why was it done? There are many examples of impressive funerary monuments built as a demonstration of power, e.g. the Khêops Pyramid, Taj Mahal, Mausoleum of Hadrian, etc. Again, not much needed here unless you're providing something extra.
- When and Where: At the end of the third century BC in Central China. When and where do not seem to require a long development unless you look deeper e.g. what was happening at that time in the rest of the world? Is there any condition that makes China the only place where this army could have appeared? Is there anything controversial about the dates?
- Who: The main character is the First Emperor of China. A lot of historic information about him is available, and there is general knowledge spread by the media about how he was a ferocious warrior and despotic governor.
- How: How was it made? Well, using terracotta, wasn't it? But how do you go from terracotta to the First Emperor's Mausoleum?
In my view (and you may have a different one!) the most complex question seems to be the How. Actually, a good deal of the popular fascination created by the warriors stems from the perfection and details of the features and the question that every visitor asks in Xian is 'How did they manage to do this with the available means?'. For me, this would be the aspect requiring more development. Mull over your idea and also try to visualise how are you going to maintain the interest, and where you are going to place the stress (at the beginning, at the end, throughout the story?) How many arguments are you going to introduce? Make a list of all your main points of interest.
Frequently there is no much thinking behind the ending of a video. This is quite peculiar because when we write a story a lot of care is put in finding an appropriate end - J.R.R. Tolkien devoted two whole chapters just to close all the arguments opened in The Lord of the Rings, even when the main plot (the ring) was already resolved!-.
When filming, a lot of people just press stop and the screen goes black. This is a huge mistake. You must know or forecast from the beginning how you want to end your story, e.g. with a summary of your arguments, an interview, launching new questions, symbolic images, music and text? A bad video is one that finishes simply because the allocated time is over, with the result that arguments remain unsolved and the viewer does not realises it is the end until the credits appear.
I mentioned before that you need to tell a story if you want to make your video interesting. You will need to manage a certain amount of information, build your story and transmit it in a way that impresses your public. This may be further complicated by the fact that some of your viewers are already familiar with your arguments; that is the reason why they are watching, but they will expect something extra. When watching a video we expect to feel some emotion: curiosity, amusement, surprise… This is relevant because when you read an academic article the only think you typically expect is accurate information - not necessarily to enjoy the reading as you enjoy a novel. Although this would be ideal, very few scholars pay attention to creating and maintaining interest in their readers: they take interest in the topic for granted and expect readers to go through the article no matter how arid it is.
If you don't engage with your audience they will stop watching, so you need to tell a story.
Framing the Story
Any story will have Setup, Conflict and Resolution. Any story needs the support of a structure or it will collapse. Even if the pictures are attractive, a video without structure fails.
Establish a beginning, a body and an end may reveal as embroiling tasks. Often you need to begin with something that requires no previous explanation: your spectators should recognise what they are watching and then you introduce the variable, an aspect that intrigues them and leads them to ask …and what's next? . Curiosly, however, one trick to attract your audience is doing the opposite: presenting to them something challenging so they want to know what are you going on about. This beginning must lead to somewhere else that expands the initial offer (I had no idea that the terracotta warriors were fully equipped with real weapons!, So, each warrior has a unique face, hair-style and their clothes were painted in different colors?, They started to built the warriors 35 years before the Emperor died when he wasn't even Emperor!) but arguments have to be presented harmoniously, so leading to an ending that settles all the questions formulated.
Tips to create interest
The key to making a story attractive to a potential public is that your story must be well thought and built: from established premises to a solid argumentation that resolves satisfactorily all your points at the end. You can construct a good story from the documentation stage while you search for references and develop your idea, but if you don't go further you will obtain a good educational product (which is a good achievement) but one that may lack of passion or originality, resulting in something a bit boring to watch. To avoid this you need to add some dramatism. Here I list some of the most important tips but you can find more in this blog.
- Stories occur to people: we empathise better with persons than with objects. As a matter of fact, we are interested in what happened to a city, a mountain, an old painting, etc… usually not because of the element itself but because of the people involved. Think of Pompeii: our fascination emerges not so much from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius freezing the city but by the ashes that surprised the lovers in bed, the blacksmith holding his hammer... or because we can see the petrified groceries that the citizens consumed. If your main character is an object, you may try to personify it, try to give it human-like attributes like in the wild animals documentaries (vicious alligator, athletic cheetah, loyal 'Hachiko' dog).
- Create a conflict: try to contrast opposite ideas: new and old, black and white, peaceful and violent, etc. Introducing contradictory arguments is a powerful way to develop a story at the same time that you attract the spectators with them (while Pompeii citizens were running away in panic from the eruption, Pliny the Elder walked steadily towards it).
- Make your story flow: the main argument in your story must evolve, it starts at one point and should end at another. Something in your story needs to suffer some modification (a piece of copper becomes a mirror after mining, smelting and casting)
- Disorganise your story: you don't need to follow a straight line when telling a story. One of the best advantages of the video format is the wide flexibility; you can start by the end or middle but keep a clear structure so you can present your story in a coherent way no matter in which order your arguments are introduced.
- Play with the initial premises: Start with a question that your video is going to answer and introduce elements that make it complicated to resolve it. This usually engages and guides the public during the viewing (a piece of charcoal is needed to obtain C14 dating but they know the age without any charcoal? How did they manage to date it?)
- Imprint your pulse on it: It is really difficult to find a topic that has never been addressed, thus in order to be original you need to give your own version of it. The originality will be on the way of telling it. Maybe you have watched some of the 'Lonely Planet (Globe trekker)' documentaries. There are thousands of travel documentaries and guides and all of them deal with the same places (British Museum, Great Wall, Mexico city, etc.). Why did these in particular become so successful overnight? Because Ian Wright and his team offer another angle of traveling, not merely visiting a place but doing as the locals do.
Finally, it is advisable to write an abstract of your documentary. Writing will oblige you to find the originality, the essence of your work: What is your story? What is the main contention? Why is that interesting? Who/What is your main character? What is the conflict, the core of your story? How does it start and end? What is your topic? What do you want to tell with your story?
The topic is the aim of your work, what your video is truly about. It supports and guides the story. The complication with the topic is that often it is not evident, sometimes not even for the very author! Take Romeo and Juliet as an example: I do not know what Shakespeare had in mind when he started writing the drama but let's say that the original idea was to write about two star-crossed lovers. The story is telling their relationship throughout the formidable enemity of their respective families. The topic, however, is about the whims of fate and how a minor change (failure to send a messenger by Friar Laurence) can lead to tremendous consequences (deaths of Paris, Romeo and Juliet).
Another example is in the sample video 'Crucible: the Hot Pot'. My original idea was to explain what a crucible is. The story originally was going to be its evolution from the inception of metallurgy to modern times. When I had the script written I realised that actually my topic was about innovation of technology, how people with different necessities resorted to the same solution, modified according to their particular circumstances, it was much more interesting to see examples of uses of crucibles in space and time than my original story about the evolution of the instrument!
Do not struggle to come up artificially with a topic. In my experience this appears usually at advanced stages of the process. However, there is an important reason to be conscious about the topic of your documentary: when reading an essay, the reader has a lot of clues to follow all the details or changes in the arguments: indexation, titles, paragraph layout, calls to 'see above', etc. and it is possible to stop the reading and go back to previous points again and again. You don't have these possibilities when making a video and rarely - not to say never - is the watching interrupted to see a scene again. The topic is the element that is going to link all your scenes and give coherence to the video: if somebody gets lost in one sequence the attention can be recovered in the next one since it is still dealing with the same topic although within a different moment in the story.
The correct term to refer to this part is pre-production, however I entitled it as 'planning' since I wanted to differentiate the script from the more technical steps (equipment, location, shoot plan, etc.) and highlight its importance.
During the process of creating a video the pre-production is the moment with maximum creative options. At this stage all your options are open, just keep in mind your idea, story and topic and play with them imagining scenes, e.g.: What about including scenes with only images and music? What if I lead the story in front of the camera all the time as Michael Moore does? What if I introduce an interview with somebody impersonating a historical character? Make all the documentary based on interviews? etc. Then, take a while to think about them, some of your ideas will be more convenient than others to resolve the conflicts and questions of the story, others may not be feasible, and further ones could be beyond your skills, time schedule or equipment capacity.
Take control of your documentary. You can write the whole plot seated on your desk. Use your research notes and the abstract, outline which arguments you develop and which images and sounds are going to illustrate them. Think about locations where you need to film (essentials, optional, alternatives) and the people to involve - what do you want to ask them and which are the expected points to be cleared throughout the questions? There will be changes, no doubt, at the times of shooting and editing but you can have beforehand a very close idea of your images, sounds and duration.
There are several models to write a script. I propose here the one I find easier to work with but there are many more of possibilities, you can find more examples in these suggested links (simplyscripts, write-movie-scripts), both of them are focused on movie scripts but several of the tips are valid for a documentary as well.
This script model is based on two columns, the actions (image) appear on the left and the sounds to the right. An optional third column is one with the estimated duration. I find this particularly useful because when filming I can control better the footage for every sequence and also estimate the number of scenes needed. This is part of the first script I wrote when producing the sample video about crucibles:
Wide shot image of the experimental archaeology group blowing the blowpipes or manipulating the crucibles.
Ambiance sounds of the experiment, sound vanishes and Miljana starts speaking
Office of Professor Thilo Rehren, wide shot of him and close up of the crucibles
Thilo: Gives a definition of crucible / far more use than during the inception of metallurgy / variety in morphology in function of the goal
Sample preparation lab, wide shot of cutting machines, liquids, polishing machines, etc. Harriet with the background of the lab.
Harriet: Explains why a sample is needed to study a crucible, and how to prepare it
Optical Microscope lab, Rahil is seated operating the microscope, there is a box with samples and some specimens next to her.
Rahil: Explains her collection, speaks about crucible steel and the diference with Damascus steel
SEM laboratory, Fred is operating the EPMA
Fred: Explains his project and which data can be obtained using EPMA.
As you can see the script describes the action without any adornments. Try to keep it like that, you don't need to note what is on Thilo's desk or if the samples and crucibles of Rahil are to her right or to her left. Also note that when I wrote the script I could not know what my interviewees were going to say but I knew reasonably well the type of information I needed to get out of them according to the story that I planned to tell. Do not be afraid to direct your interviews, as a matter of fact I strongly recommend that you explain very clearly to your contributors what you are doing, what you need them for and how they can help you best. They will be happier to collaborate if they understand what that is for, and how long it is going to take.
Just in case: 'directing' the interview is nothing remotely similar to 'manipulating' the interview: your contributors are totally free to express their opinions, contradict you and organise the answer in the way they desire. They may come up with things you couldn't have envisaged, and while re-structuring your whole documentary around a new idea may not be advisable, you should certainly remain open to the unexpected!
The script is a powerful tool at your service,
Another good advantage that a script offers is that it builds up the structure and your plan of action. Once you have the script you know how your story starts and ends, its development, the number of sequences needed to tell it and how many scenes are necessary to complete a sequence. At this point you can write a list of sequences. This is known as the step-outline.
The step-outline consists essentially of adding words to the documentary structure. It is extremely useful to know how many sequences you need because you can play with them, organising in the way you consider is more convenient to present an intelligible and attractive story. Try first a linear, conventional structure and later move this or that, play with different structures. Each sequence should make full sense, the step-outline is also useful because you will see clearly how many scenes you need to compose a sequence, the best way of linking (transition) different sequences, which music, sound, subtitles, divisions, etc to accompany them... About the scenes, you can write for each sequence something similar to the script but in 5 columns:
Order of sequence and scene
Sample preparation lab
Harriet (spotlight) is seated holding a polished block with the sample lab as background
Harriet voice, grinding machine?
Sample preparation lab
Harriet moves along the laboratory explaining the procedure to prepare a block
Sample preparation lab
Crucible and sample
Close up of the original specimen (crucible) and the polished block after the preparation
To be honest, preparing this detailed column-schedule may not always be necessariy, although this is good practice and it will help you a lot. The factor given by the step-outline that you cannot ignore is to have a purpose for every shoot. When you get out your video camera, instead of thinking "This will look good on video" and starting to shoot whatever happens, you will already know "Why do I want this on video?". Furthermore, a detailed step-outline is useful as a checklist of things you need to shoot or prepare for. Needless to say, the order in which you film things may not be the same order in which they will appear, and this list will be useful for you to make sure you are not missing anything essential.
Elements of the story
Any story depends upon three accentuated moments -Beginning, Middle and End- that must be perfectly recognisable by the audience. Here I describe briefly which are the more common elements expected to be there. For a more detailed explanation and good advice I suggest the reading of Trisha Das's paper, pages 24-31. This is a very recommendable reference that deals with the pillar aspects about writing of a documentary script and its screenplay.
- The Beginning: The main use of the beginning is to set out, for the viewers, what this is about. You should make your proposal clear and advance the main idea(s) to develop through the documentary. The beginning should contain some attractive elements since if you connect with the audience now, they will likely follow you until the end - but if you don't...
- The Middle: This is surely the most difficult part. It is not uncommon to find brilliant beginnings ruined in the following sequences because those do not accomplish what the beginning promised. The safest way to avoid this problem is sticking to your story, which is the reason why we put so much effort in the building of a solid structure. Think of each sequence as a a complete story that makes total sense by itself -ideally it can be watched separately and be understandable- with a beginning and an end, but at the same time one that contributes and supports the main story, in perfect coherence with the rest of the sequences and adding interest to the plot. It sounds complicated but in simple words it means that if the original proposal has created some interest, your audience wants to know more. Therefore keep the schedule: give information to the viewers + introduce a contrasting factor + create expectations or 'Really? So that's the explanation?' + …and what's next?'
- The End: Usually when we think of the ending we imagine an astounding end with scenes that make an impact on the spectators, profound dialogs and epic music. This is excellent if you manage to achieve it, but a good end does not require but one thing: close all the proposals raised throughout the story offering a satisfactory resolution. Other important aspect of the end is that it has to be clear that the documentary has finished: some documentaries include at the end scenes that do not fit anywhere else, usually good material that the director wants to include maybe because it took great effort to obtain, visuals are dramatic or the content shocking. Such a final sequence may be extremely interesting but it ruins your documentary if you cannot make it not clear why those scenes are there - you will be confusing the spectators and destroying the climax. A typical way to end this type of documentary is to offer a summary, remind where it did start and how far it has gone. Another quite recurrent practice is, at this stage, to launch a transcendental aphorism or an insoluble enigma that emerges from your film. This is not terribly original but it does work and there is space for innovation in the exposition of the concluding arguments.
Pre-production concerns to all the necessary steps to arrange previous to filming. Apart from the script, it typically includes people, equipment and locations.
People: In this exercise you will work on your own most of the time but still you need to set up schedules for your interviews or involve somebody else for a particular scene to assist you. Approach any contributor in advance, do not leave it for the last minute so you will avoid surprises.
Equipment: Although the only equipment you really need is a recording device, you must consider that the technical possibilities of a smartphone are limited when compared to those that a camera (even a photographic camera) offers, for example the smartphone typically records good quality images but integrates sounds and pictures in a single file whereas a camera usually records image and sounds in separate files, which is very convenient for editing. Other pieces of equipment quite convenient to consider are a tripod, a microphone and a lamp. The photographic department of the Institute can lend you pocket video cameras and other devices.
Locations: Think of where and when are you going to film. Consider that both for exterior and interior images you may want a particular moment of the day for different reasons: e.g. to avoid or to catch rush hours inside a museum or to picture a street at dusk. Also keep in mind that museums policies can vary and you may have to request permission for filming objects. When recording people, if they are going to appear as an important part of your shoot and can be recognised, courtesy is mandatory and you must ask them if they mind (most of them do not but - still be polite). In general, take some minutes to familiarise yourself with the place to film, which elements you are interested in framing. Considering if you want to set up the scene or go for a natural, spontaneous look, where the light is coming from, etc.
This tutorial is intended to be applicable to any type of recording device, therefore here I give only basic principles common to image capturing techniques. I merely highlight the fundamental aspects based largely on the web media college video, which I recommend you to visit for further information. This web offers very clear explanations about technical issues like shot types, rules of framing, camera movements, transitions or (simple) special effects. In general, the non-professional digital hardware and software are straightforward to use and rather than a handbook with instructions they require some practice. Learn what all the indicators mean, you need to get familiar with your device, instead of being afraid of pressing a button because you do not know what it is going to happen, you should press it and understand what it does. Play with your camera at home to avoid dramatic situations in front of the museum showcase, do not learn how to deal with an excess of light or brightness, or how to get the best out of scant lighting, when you are in front of your objective and creating a queue of furious museum visitors behind you. If your device has a lot of functions, it is a good idea to take quick notes that you can check at the moment of the real shooting.
Remember, the time for shooting is considerably shorter than the time employed for planning. All the previous work has a main aim: do not reach the post-production with a pile of footage randomly shot that you will try to collate desperately. Video making works exactly the other way around: there is a reason for every shot, you know perfectly why - its role in your story - and how - angle, light, framing, etc.- you want it.
This does not mean that there is no space for spontaneity: sometimes you just stumble upon something 'magical' that fits perfectly with your plan, or something curious which you do not know if it will be of any use... but better take it. In most cases you will end up discarding it but you never know.
Take your time to take the scenes (shots): choose the best angle, position the camera, frame your shot and check that your camera is recording. After taking it, watch it and consider if you want to try again with a different composition (you may end up combining the two shots), if you need to improve the audio quality, etc.
Make sure you have plenty of supplies of battery and memory... and don't forget to back up at the end of every filming session!
Framing and Composition
The frame is the picture you see in the screen of your device, whereas the composition is the layout of the elements withing the frame: e.g. the subject, the foreground, lighting, etc. There are several shots that you can use to frame a picture, the four basic ones that you are likely to use are these:
- Very wide shot: Shows the subject's environment.
- Wide shot: Shows the subject and its immediate backdrop
- Close up: Shows a feature of the subject
- Extreme close up: Shows a detail of the subject
Decide which shot you want and how you are going to get it. How are you going to move the camera? Side-to-side (Pan), up-and-down (Tilt), in-and-out (Zoom)?
Position yourself and your camera and rehearse the movement to make before recording, to make sure that you can make it comfortably. It is not easy to get a stable image when you move.
A tripod will avoid the camera trembling, which is always quite annoying and substracts quality to the final result (unless you have a good reason for that 'spontaneous feel'). If you cannot find a tripod, just set your camera in a fixed position but check that is framing what you want to frame before you start shooting!
Bear editing in mind when you are shooting, try not to cut abruptly your shoots but take 1 or 2 seconds extra to facilitate the transition. Also think about which transtitions are going to link scenes or sequences. Consider taking some extra scenes just as 'backup' material.
Press stop record before moving, a lot of unwanted movement cannot be avoided when you are not using professional equipment, but certainly you can suppress those jerky movements.
It is hard to get the perfect shot at the first try, be ready to repeat and experiment with your device.
Avoid superfluous images: if your subject is the Rosetta Stone, it may not be necessary to shoot a very wide shot of the British Museum exteriors. However, your script may dictate that you want some kind of 'establishing shot' to show where you are, or to facilitate the transition between sequences.
If shooting people do not forget to ask for permisson, and to thank them once you have finished.
When recording for the sample video 'Crucible: the Hot-Pot' I realised that the smartphone I was using registered the sound very low. Photographic and video cameras usually offer a better quality of sound. Another trick is using separate devices to record the sound: put one next to the speaker for the sound, and then mount the voice with the image when editing or add the voice in 'off'. If the sound in a scene is not clear (especially in an interview) and you cannot repeat it, you can use subtitles at least for the most important commentaries. In case of doubts about the quality of the sound ask someone for a second opinion.
Light can be other problem, normally the smartphones and other device cameras are not too powerful and tend to under-illuminate unless there is plenty of natural light. Try to focus from different angles and/or programs (if available) and move around the space you are interested to check the most convenient point. Your positioning has really different results in terms of lighting. Get extra light if you need it, often opening curtains or switching on artificial lights may be enough.
Interviews are specific material within a documentary and require some special attention. There are two types of possible interview likely to be used in this format: casual opinion and expert opinion. In the first case usually you look for spontaneity, e.g. to a visitor in a museum: why did you stop to look at this picture? whereas the second one you look for an authoritative voice, somebody with knowledge on the matter.
A very easy technique is to launch a question and edit a variety of voices answering it (people of different ages, nationalities, gender, etc.). The contrast of reactions to the same question gives a broad view and can be entertaining. I already mentioned that you should direct the interview for the second case (#The Script). In order to do so you must first research on the topic and (obviously) find out who can answer your questions.
In both cases you should normally tell your interviewees what you expect from them, possibly including their corporal language: where they have to look, if you want them to point at something, etc. Some directors, however, prefer a much more natural outlook, where the position of the interviewee, their reactions, body language... are not prepared at all. This often brings more spontaneity, but at the expense of poorer image quality and answers that may or may not be relevant to your topic. Prepare a battery of questions and adapt this questionnaire when doing the interview. You will use some of the prepared questions, discard others and launch new ones on the spot but be sure that you get the material you wanted to obtain. Finally, do not forget to set the camera first, do not interrupt filming to check if everything is OK.
This is the step in which you really feel that you are producing a video. Finally you check if your idea is valid; mount your scenes; add music, transitions and titles; and control if the sequences work and in which other. Frequently you discover that scenes that you were sure you would use, in the end do not look that good in the video or that part of them are simply not necessary.
The first step is checking all the material you have filmed, take your time to watch all the clips recorded. Usually you reach this point with a good number of shoots so is important to keep them organized, create folders (e.g. according to the sequences) and name the files, is much easier to manage them as “labscene1” than as “MVI_66293.THM”.
The goal is to know exactly how much and how long footage you have, and to assess it. Taking short notes will help you during the edition: what they contain, beginning and end, which scene you definitely want to include, where you need to cut, transitions that you can use from one to another, etc., for the interview scenes, it is very convenient to transcribe the whole dialogue.
All the previous efforts focused on the script and the building of a solid story are important because when editing you have to stick to your story, and cut anything superfluous. The key question is to know which parts should be omitted, but in general this is straightforward: if you have any doubt about the convenience of including a scene, it is because is not a mainstay of the story. They may be interesting because they introduce a different point of view or because they are beautiful visuals, so save them for posterior possible use.
When deciding which parts to include and which ones to discard it is fundamental to have your ending clear: keep in mind that your audience does not know where you are leading them but you do, you direct them. Therefore when gauging the material be sure that the arguments are clear, expose and resolve the conflict(s). Be sure that all that you want to tell is there and that your story flows. Once you finished watching all the footage and have a clear idea of the product to be created, it is time to mount the video.
My experience comes from the linear edition (tapes) which is substantially different, so when I started to edit the first sample video about crucibles I was not familiar either with the editing software packages.
In case you do not have any previous experience the good news is that most of them are non-complicated to use. Laptops usually integrate some software that enables video editing, just be aware that frequently in these cases the software is limited and only reads files compatible with the computer maker. This is not a problem, there are other software packages to convert the file extensions into other format (for example I used the free software Videolan to do it) just be aware that extra time (and effort) is required,
If you need to download one take into account this possibility and double check that the software is compatible with your recording device. My advice is that you download a free amateur software, obviously the characteristics of these are limited in comparison with those offered by professional ones but still allow the production of good quality movies, frequently they are free to download and most important are considerably more simple to operate.
To make the sample videos I used Windows Movie Maker and the best advantage is that it is indeed very simple to use with very acceptable final results in image and animations. One weakness is that the edition of the sound is quite limited so I used another free software (Wafe editor) to edit the sound separately and then mount it with the visuals. If your recording device records image and audio in the same file, Videolan is also useful since you can create an audio file (mp3) and edit it separately.
Apart from these basic pieces of advice, the choice is totally up to you. You can find short reviews of several available possibilities for both Windows and Mac in the webs techradar and yahoo answers.
When editing you need to go back to the script and ask yourself some questions: Is the beginning enthralling? Does the story go from less to more? Are the questions/arguments exposed properly and answered afterwards? Did the video offer everything it promised? Is the end satisfactory?
Ask as well questions concerning the video and experiment with the edition: Does the video flow? What is the effect if changing the order of this sequence? Which is/are the best scene(s)? Is there something special for the end? Which are the strongest points? How can it be improved?
Once you have all images mounted and you are happy with the result it is time to add all the effects: transitions, music, off voice, credits, captions, etc. Any video making software allows multiple effects: play with the software, take any clip and experiment with it integrating sound, cutting, inserting transitions, assembling clips and pictures, etc.
About transitions: avoid the cheesy ones. They can be tempting but the result is, most frequently, excessive (think of those Powerpoint presentations full of annoying annimations).
If you insert text, this should be legible before any considerations about it being eye-catching.
Check that volume and tone are audible and maintain the same levels throughout all the video.
Music & Images
Music is often constrained by copyrights therefore it is crucial to be sure you have the right to use it without violating the law. There are several online resources that you can use safely. Freesound, youtube/audiolibrary or Freemusicarchive contain collection tracks of licensed songs that you can add to videos for non-comercial purposes. For a range of other media also licensed I recommend creativecommons
In the credits you have to establish clearly who is the video author, contributors and any resource (images, music, etc.) utilised. You should also note the year of production.
Many editing software packages work with low quality files so you can make the edition quickly. It is therefore normal if e.g. captions are seen blurred during the edition. When saving the cuts to a different format the volume increase considerably (the first video sample goes from 7.35KB to 658MB)
Video formats with good quality are heavy.
Digital video requires approximately 200 MB per minute of footage (VideoFormatsGuide)
3gp is a really light video format in contrast with .avi, mp4 or .mov, but it is only suitable for smartphones or very small screens, in any other device the image will appear pixelated and the audio faltering. My advice is that you pay more attention to the quality, edit our video in HD and save it in the most common formats - .avi,.mpg, .mov or .wmv- (the most common formats to upload videos in Youtube). One recomendable tool to convert videos in several formats is freemake, free download and easy to use.
Improving the final result
Once the post-production is finished you should watch the video carefully to identify the weaknesses, pause the recording and take notes about any fault regarding the sound, images, story, etc.
Here I listed some of the most common mistakes that any beginner but also most experienced people is likely to commit, the majority of them are easily avoidable and typically demand more attention at the planning stage and -especially- more editing work. There is no a particular line-up from less to more important or vice versa since all of them can affect negatively to the quality of your video. However, my personal opinion is that the pre-production errors are more severe than the edition errors because the formers will require a more serious endeavour, but even at this final stage these can be satisfactorily solved.
Along the notes I refer to the video samples several times: some of the faults were intentionally made with the aim of showing that small mistakes do not affect seriously to the production; others I simply committed them either because there was a situation that I was not capable of correct when filming or because I miscalculated the abilities of the editing tools, and I couldn’t help but maintaining them.
- No clear separation between beginning, body and ending: This is surely the worst of all the possible mistakes. Some videos start suddenly with an off voice that do not stop till the end, the sound goes off and the video stops abruptly. As mentioned you have to tell a story and delivering a monotone speech like reading an entry on a dictionary, without pausing it, introducing drama, music, giving the audience time to digest the information or structuring your information is exactly the opposite of what is needed to connect with the audience. If you feel that your podcast lacks of a clear structure you should consider to add extra material, edit again some parts or even film new sequences. Remember the basic concept: any story needs a setup, conflict and resolution or it will fail.
- Inclusion of superfluous material: Do not deviate the action from your story and topic or your risk to break the climax and confuse the audience. Take a look at the sample video ‘Chinese bronzes: the mystic vessels’. It is clearly stated in the introduction that the video regards to why these were so important to the ancient Chinese people and how they managed to produced them. However, I included The Animal Mask sequence that deals with a particular decoration motif of the vessels and that deviates from the mainstay of the topic, linking the why (cosmology) and the how (piece-mould casting) without contributing to any of them. It is curious and shows a different aspect of the vessel but superfluous to the story. Despite ultimately is a matter of the viewer personal taste the danger is that better than pitching the audience may cause a loss of interest.
- Repetition of images: Do not use the same image more than once since repetition immediately creates a negative feeling of boredom. Charles M. Schulz (Charlie Brown and Snoopy creator) commented about his profession that ‘one cartoonist has to draw the same thing over and over again without ever repeating’. A podcast works a bit like that, you cannot repeat an image and expect the audience to be impressed. If you need to back to something previously shown get new images, if this is not possible introduce variations, e.g. approach to the object from a different angle (from the left if you did it from the right), start with a very close up zoom and then open it, use a filter to change colour to black and white, etc., anything but repeating exactly the same.
- Trembling image: An image that is shaking continuously is extremely annoying. The most likely effect is to irritate and make your audience dizzy. Although one or two jerky movements are tolerated (taking into account the use of non-professional equipment) do your best to supress these completely since the quality of the video decreases considerably. If you cannot get a long shot without shaking the camera then take shorter ones and edit them, it is more time consuming but the result is certainly worthy.
- Low resolution images: Despite the highest resolution is not compulsory, if your images shows pixelation or you cannot read the names on a map then clearly those are not good enough. Play with the format video or aspect ratio to improve it or increase the resolution with any digital software package for pictures (e.g. Photoshop). If the problem persist then you need to get new material.
- Different format images: If you shoot with different devices is very likely that they will be reproduced with different aspect: larger (widescreen 16:9) or smaller (standard 4:3), and the same problem with photographs (3:2, 5:3, 1:1, etc.) meaning that at the end you are going to have images vertical or horizontal, rectangular or squared, and that occupy the entire or just a section of the screen. Give unity to all your images and try to display them always with the same ratio. If this is unavoidable play with animations, e.g. introduce colour in the background, captions, etc. trying to minimize the differences.
- Out of frame and blurred images: This problem is easily solved paying attention when shooting and checking the shoots immediately after taken them. The first scene inside the British Museum in the sample video ‘Chinese bronzes’ is blurred but do not affect dramatically to the sequence. On the other hand, when speaking about the silver smelting crucibles in China in the other sample video I didn’t realised that the bottom of the crucibles were out of frame until the production stage. The first case is intentional, as a matter of fact I filmed the same scene perfectly clear but I liked best the blurred one. The latter case is an elemental mistake motivated by the fact that I never checked the recording in situ, thus I couldn’t take a second shoot. Other situation sometimes difficult to avoid is your own reflection on the surface filmed, I tried several angles and lights when filming in the British Museum one shot of the 'Chinese Bronzes' but I wasn't able to eliminate my reflection on the showcase.
- Irregular volume: All the narration, interviews and music must be at the same volume without alterations from one scene to another. This is extremely easy to adjust using any editing software. The general volume must be the appropriate and audible under normal circumstances, without the need of regulating it to a maximum or a minimum. For background sounds be aware that these serve to the main speech and not the opposite. If the music or effects are too load and the narration cannot be listened then you’ve failed in delivering the information.
- Low quality sound: When filming it is normal to register unwanted noises (wind, traffic, pedestrian’s conversations, etc.). Normally these are going to disappear when editing and sometimes are even convenient since they confer to the video positive characteristics such us credibility, spontaneity, etc. However, occasionally can contribute to ruin the scene. One of the sequences in ‘Crucible: the Hot Pot’ is filmed in a laboratory with machinery working very load and I thought it was positive to have some ambient sound, however, I overestimated the possibilities of the editing software thinking that the contributor voice and the background noise could be aisled. The editing tools are limited therefore to avoid cases like this one better use a microphone or a second sound recording device close to the speaker and edit image and sound separately. Also do not forget to edit the narrations, deleting breaths or choppy speeches, and record them again if necessary.
- Transition mistakes: Even if you managed to obtain outstanding quality scenes if you do not link them conveniently your video can collapse, not in vain there is an Oscar Academy Award for Best Film Editing. Introduce transition images, music, silences, captions, off-voice, noises or whatever effect to link sequences, do not merely collage them. Transitions make sequences to run smoothly, flowing without abrupt changes. One of the main points of the transtions is that your material gains coherence, and also serves to prepare the audience for the following point or to highlight or make more memorable the previous one.
- Animation and caption mistakes: Avoid cheese animations and do not make those the most attractive point of a sequence, although crucial they are only a secondary element to the podcast. Do not forget to include captions for contributors or sequence titles. These must be readable without efforts using an appropriate size and font, it is much better to use a bland but clear font than a fancy illegible one.
- Credit mistakes: A very common practice is not paying enough attention to the credits to the extent that frequently these do not appear at all. Nobody would submit an academic essay without references and equally nobody should submit a documentary video without credits. Contributors must be named as well as licenses, copyrights and references. Other convenient information to include in the credits are acknowledgements, places of filming, resources employed and year of production. Credits must be readable and flow in an appropriate speed, do not concentrate in 5 seconds information that needs 40 to be read. Finally, add some music or sound in the credits.
- Music, sound and silence mistakes: There has to be a balance between speech and silence. Although the former is predominant, silences are fundamental to allow the audience to digest the information (remember than listening is a tiring attitude). Instead of silences you also can give a break using music or sound effects. When using music try not to make abrupt changes (e.g. from Mozart to Lady Gaga) unless there is an intentional good reason for it otherwise you risk to provoke unintentional laughs derived from strident and/or ridiculous contrasts.