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Old April 4th, 2009, 05:35 PM   #1
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The Things I've Learned

A couple of years ago I bought an XL1, a tripod, spiffy notebook and threw it all into my VW bus. I quit my job and took off to shoot a travel documentary geared mainly to the VW community but with content of interest to other travelers as well. I was on the road for 4 months and traveled about 10,000 miles. All the footage has just sat here until recently when I decided to start editing something together.

What I thought would be simply a matter of throwing some voice overs onto groovy footage turned into a monster but I have learned a few things and am continuing to pick up all sorts of useful information from this forum.

My first mistake. My first week on the road was shot without sound. I know, I can see all your eyes rolling right now. I had all this beautiful footage of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state and no sound so I had to dig through my other clips in order to pilfer sound of the bus running, waves crashing, wind blowing etc. What did I learn? Always check your audio settings.

In California I had some great shots of sandpipers on the beach with about a half dozen gulls flying through the shot. The light was nice and it looked great. It would have sounded great too because you could hear the birds chirping and the gulls squawking...and Rage Against the Machine playing from my stereo in the bus. Again, I pilfered some sounds from other shots. What did I learn? Turn off the damn stereo when you're shooting. You don't want Lars coming after you for hearing a Metallica song in the background now do you?

I was always really self conscious when narrating into the camera. I don't like to be on camera but I got used to it and seeing as I'm the only one along for the ride then it's gotta be me. Two mistakes I often made were:

1) Walking towards the camera right after I finished speaking. There's no pause to take you into the next scene.

2) Reviewing the footage right away and actually listening to it. That little bit I did in San Francisco in front of the Golden Gate bridge came out really really well...except I called it the Lions Gate Bridge. (a bridge in Vancouver)

Other little things. Clean the windshield if you're shooting through it or better yet find a way to mount the camera outside. Turn off the auto focus. Interview more people. Keep a diary cam if you can.

So much to learn and I'm only getting started. I didn't post this to teach anyone anything as I'm sure you're all very qualified film makers. I am not. It was my first time out but a photographer once told me that if I wanted to take good photos then I would have to go out and take lots of photos. During the trip I learned a lot about shooting and picked up lots of little tricks on my own. Now that I'm editing I'm seeing all sorts of other things that are missing as well. My next shoot will be even better but first, I have to clean up this one. :)

Does anyone else have any common, first timer mistakes that they often see?
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Old April 6th, 2009, 05:02 PM   #2
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I can relate to the audio issues. On one of my first shoots, I was so nervous that I didn't pay any attention to the audio. It was basically bad. I read somewhere that one wouldn't shoot video without looking through the viewfinder so why would one attempt to capture audio without listening to it? This is a special challenge for me because I am a freelance, all-alone reporter for the local media. So, I have to do video, audio and interview questions. Sometimes those earbuds or headphones seem strange while I'm asking someone questions. But, I think one has to do it to get it right.

On another shoot, I was interviewing someone, listening through my headphones, getting all things right ... or so I thought ... until I reached for the record button to turn it off and discovered it was never on in the first place. What did I do? Made a joke about what a great interview it was and weren't they glad the practice session went so well! We just laughed it off and redid the interview. By the way, it wasn't as good the second time around but that taught me to pay attention to the "recording" indicator in the viewfinder or LCD panel.

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Old April 14th, 2009, 05:33 PM   #3
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I've learned to monitor the audio of a wireless mic through the headphones jack on the camera, instead of the headphone jack on the receiver unit. Even though I knew to do this in the first place, I was in a slight panic to troubleshoot the audio levels issue and plugged in to check the receiver unit itself. And promptly forgot to revert back to the camera once the issue was sorted.

And then on another occasion I was shooting an event and had the headphones monitoring the camera instead of monitoring off the DSR-45 type deck which I was feeding via firewire. Yes, when you lift the camera up off the tripod to catch a balloon release from the crowd and the mini-firewire connector comes out of the camera, you'll pick it up straight away ... if only you are actually monitoring the audio from the tape deck.

Fortunately, I survived both of these instances.
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Old April 15th, 2009, 08:19 AM   #4
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David: thanks for sharing the interview story. I've done that once (working for the Canadian national broadcaster I may add...) in an interview and a couple of times shooting B-roll. Now I keep ALL the text on in my viewfinder. Kinda cramped but you get used to it...

As well, I use ear buds almost exclusively for shooting. You can pull one out for conducting solo interviews and you seem less disconnected. As well, if they get ripped out of your ears during fast paced shooting and get destroyed, they are cheaper to replace (destroyed two nice sets of Sennheiser cans before I figured that one out). Just don't get CHEAP earbuds. I buy Sonys at about $20 each. If you wedge them in there JUST right, they are reasonably accurate for interview style field work (NOT for use in music...) and can be quite comfortable for long periods of time.
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Old July 29th, 2009, 06:32 AM   #5
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Well these are all such good learning experiences. There must be more of them!! How about some of the old seasoned pros telling a few tales... don't keep them just for your grand kids.
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Old July 29th, 2009, 07:46 AM   #6
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The one thing that I wished I had done on my first video trip - to New Zealand on my honeymoon - was to look at each day's footage at the end of each day. At least I could have seen what I had missed, or made a mess of, and perhaps still had the chance to shoot it again. I guess I was still mentally in the age of stills film cameras (I didn't upgrade my stills cameras to digital until a couple of years later) when I wouldn't see the results until the films were developed long after I got home. I didn't occur to me to take a lead so I could plug it into the TV when we were in places with TVs so we could watch it together - hard to do that on the LCD screen. So this is a reminder to myself to get that lead out before we go to South Africa in September!
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Old July 29th, 2009, 01:33 PM   #7
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Lesson number one - don't go out and buy a bunch of equipment and set off to make your big dream project straight away. Instead, take some time to shoot a bunch of short throwaway mini docs about whatever is available to you first. That way you can make the mistakes that you'll learn from first on things that aren't as important to you as the big project.
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Old July 30th, 2009, 04:55 AM   #8
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To add to Evan's comment - don't leave home on a long trip unless you've had some practice at editing short videos. That was another thing I didn't realise until I got home. I'd had the camera for six months, but not had a computer capable of doing any editing. I had looked at the footage on the TV and I knew there were some good bits and some bad. But until I actually tried editing something, I didn't realise how inappropriate some shots were, how many I didn't have, how I couldn't tell a story through lack of suitable clips, etc.

Things I'd tell a newbie -

1) use a tripod or solid support where possible
2) make your clips about 10 seconds long
3) get wide, medium and close shots of each subject
4) keep your mouth shut while filming (much better to add the VO later)
5) avoid zooming while filming

There are others, but I think I'd put these first.

If only I'd discovered this site way back then . . . . . .
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Old July 30th, 2009, 09:20 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Annie Haycock View Post
Things I'd tell a newbie -

1) use a tripod or solid support where possible
2) make your clips about 10 seconds long
3) get wide, medium and close shots of each subject
4) keep your mouth shut while filming (much better to add the VO later)
5) avoid zooming while filming

There are others, but I think I'd put these first.

If only I'd discovered this site way back then . . . . . .
Ahhh... retrospect, the trick is to employ it before you start!
Good points Annie.
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Old July 30th, 2009, 10:07 PM   #10
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When I was a kid, I had a fantastic time with my first camcorder. Really had fun with it, and didn't care what anyone thought about the video I took. So when I used it, I took video of stuff that I thought was really interesting or compelling to me. And in the end, that video ended up being interesting and compelling to other people as well.

But then I got "into it". And started worrying about what people thought about the video, and worrying about all the funny little technical things you do to make it all look good - and I did get good looking video. But it wasn't as interesting or compelling anymore because I got sidetracked by those other issues. So as a gear-head it was interesting & absorbing, but it sucked the fun and point out of taking the video which was to communicate something interesting, compelling, and entertaining.

Then I actually started working as a videographer & photographer. Suddenly with a time limit, I had to focus on what was important again. And I had to re-discover how to find what was most interesting, compelling, and entertaining about my subject.

The rest of the story is still a work in progress ...
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Old August 3rd, 2009, 06:47 AM   #11
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The one that still haunts me is white balancing off a white background that had a pink gelled light shining on it. A whole days footage was rather off colour. No amount of colour correction would get it back to normal without effecting something else.

Oh and we also didn't record any sound as we were going to do a voiceover later. Problem is nobody had the heart to tell the MD who spent an hour giving verbal descriptions to the product demonstrations he was doing. At first we thought it was for our benefit then we sussed that he thought we were recording sound (not that there were any mics anywhere). We ended up with lots of footage with a moving mouth but no noise coming out.
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Old August 3rd, 2009, 10:55 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Annie Haycock View Post
To add to Evan's comment - don't leave home on a long trip unless you've had some practice at editing short videos.
I'd actually extend this even further - whatever it is you ultimately want to do, learn to edit first if possible. Writing, shooting, directing - you'll be better at all/any of these if you know how to edit because it teaches you to think about and visualize how the finished project will come together. The better you are at visualizing the end result the more effective/efficient you'll be up front during production.
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Old August 11th, 2009, 03:07 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Alex Wren View Post
We ended up with lots of footage with a moving mouth but no noise coming out.
Hilarious and sad at the same time.
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Old August 11th, 2009, 03:59 AM   #14
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At the start of each and every doco sequence actually clearly say what it is on cam, date time etc. and (when you're new) what cam settings you're using, like a vocal clapperboard.

The secret is using a verbal shorthand so you keep it very short and don't miss anything. The only extra inclusions would be location on cam talents/interviewees names and contacts.

Keep a concise prompt card in your top pocket, use it every time, don't ever wing it ever.

It can wake you up and help get your brain into gear in run and gun situations.

Cheers.
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Old August 23rd, 2009, 11:06 PM   #15
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My experience of having equipment in time for the event order light years ahead. I have 4 days left (now just short of 5 weeks). Lead time was 2 weeks originally. Aaargh.
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