“So Johnny, this is a pretty good package, but why are you sitting on that shot for so long?
Also, why didn’t you cover any of the interviews with your b-roll?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer. What is the answer he gives? “I didn’t have anything else,” Johnny says.
My reply to Johnny is “next time, shoot like an editor.” I don’t think this comes naturally for student videographers. They go out with a camera, shoot a couple of interviews, grab a couple of shots and they don’t think about how they are going to put the piece together until they sit down in front of the edit computer. By then, it’s too late. A good videographer starts thinking about the edit as soon as they arrive at the location. In filmmaking it’s known as coverage but for this article I will be addressing news or sports stories and features where it is known as b-roll.
The first rule of shooting b-roll, BRING A TRIPOD! Yes they are bulky and a pain to carry and setup, but no one is the “human Steadicam.” Unless you have to shoot off of your shoulder, such as the sidelines of a sporting event where someone could get hurt running into a tripod and camera, don’t. Nothing says amateur like shaky video.
The second rule of shooting b-roll applies before you even turn the camera on. Look around. See what looks interesting or can help tell the story and make mental notes to shoot it. You would be surprised by how many things you can miss if your face is buried in a viewfinder. As a former news videographer, I quickly learned that when shooting, for example, a house fire, don’t just point the camera at the fire. The really interesting stuff and “the story” is behind you.
Another rule to follow before you turn the camera on is TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE! Whoever is texting you or calling you can wait. Nothing says that “I am just videotaping you for a class project and I really don’t care about your story” more than to keep checking your cell phone every 30 seconds. If they perceive you don’t care, then your subject won’t care and won’t be willing to spend the time necessary to help you get a good story.
So, now finally to the actual shooting. Think “wide–medium–tight.” Well, that’s it. Thanks for coming, please tip your waiters and waitresses.
Yes, if you can get your students to remember “wide-medium-tight” it’s a good beginning and you’ve won the first battle. When getting each of those shots remember, use your tripod, set the shot, press record, hands off the camera and count to ten. Set the camera for the next shot and repeat: record, hands off camera and count to ten. Why hands off? If you are touching the camera, you are moving the camera. The camera will shake or move ever so slightly. You will even notice your breathing. Look carefully at some of your students recently shot video, you’ll see what I mean.
When getting your W-M-T shots remind your students that the camera is not nailed to the floor. Move it to get a different angle between each shot or you risk the edited video looking like a “jump cut.” What is a jump cut? According to Walter Murch in his book In The Blink Of An Eye he gives the example “Cutting from a full-figure master shot, for instance, to a slightly tighter shot that frames the actors from ankles up. The new shot in this case is different enough to signal that something has changed, but not different enough to make us re-evaluate its context. The displacement of the image is neither motion nor change of context, and the collision of these two ideas produces a mental jarring – a jump – that is comparatively disturbing.”
Another good rule of thumb is don’t just get one medium or tight shot of each scene. One wide and a couple of medium shots of a scene may suffice, but on the tight shot get at least four or five. This will give you more choices in the final edit. Also, to get the tight shots zoom with your feet. In other words get the camera in there, it will also help you pick up the important natural sound, or nat-sound.
When moving the camera, keep in mind the 180-degree rule. The 180-degree rule in video or filmmaking is a basic rule that the camera should never cross an imaginary axis drawn across your scene. (See Wikipedia Link Below) This can also be visually jarring to the viewer and can be a real problem in the edit.
What should you shoot? If you do the interviews first, listen to what your subject talks about and make mental notes to shoot it if possible. Try to get your subjects in their environment. If you are talking to the robotics club for example, go in their lab/room and ask them, “Could you show me how this thing works?” or “When we talked, you mentioned that you had to devise a special wheel with spikes on it. Could you show that to me?” Then shoot them showing you the gizmo. Also, if you have a wireless mic or a lavaliere this is where you can get some great nat-sound and sound bites, another help in the edit.
When shooting your b-roll, don’t pan or zoom unless you need the move to tell the story, i.e. to reveal something. When you are editing your story and all you have are a bunch of pans and zooms, let’s just say it will be a challenging edit. It’s hard to cut out of a pan or zoom and not having it look “funny.” Also, unless your student has a tripod with a good fluid head and a good zoom lever, the pan and zoom will probably look “amateurish” without a lot of practice.
Finally, when shooting the story, remind your students to not wear out their welcome. Fortunately, people like to be on TV (unless they’re a crooked politician) and they usually are very giving of their time. Be respectful and chances are they will call you when they have another good story to tell.
Albert Dupont has been the Advanced TV Broadcasting Facilitator (Teacher) at the Satellite Center in Luling, Louisiana since its opening in 2005. The Satellite Center is a “satellite” facility of Hahnville and Destrehan High Schools. The schools are a part of the St. Charles Parish Public School System located near New Orleans.
Before becoming a teacher, Mr. Dupont was a news and sports videographer for WVUE-TV in New Orleans for twelve years and news producer at WAFB in Baton Rouge and KATC in Lafayette for five years. As a sports photographer, Mr. Dupont was a field videographer at the New Orleans Saints games from 1994 to 2009. He also was a videographer at two Superbowls and numerous college national championship games in a variety of sports. He is an Avid Certified Instructor in Media Composer 6.
Wikipedia 180 Degree Rule
In The Blink Of An Eye by Walter Murch
B-Roll.net Television Photography Website
National Press Photographers Association
Aim For The Heart by Al Tompkins