I watch a lot of videos by, shall we say “non-professionals”. With the rising quality and low price tag on video equipment and editing software, anybody can make a video and post it on the web. Our world is increasingly crammed with webisodes, shorts, and DIY feature films. You can post ’em on Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, and probably eventually LinkedIn and Twitter. The problem is nobody knows what they’re doing. It’s a cacophony of monkey shit assaulting my soul. But fear not, I have a few tips on how you can improve your crappy video. Let’s run down…
THE MOST COMMON MISTAKES
I’d like to put these in descending order so as to build to something, but let’s face it, you’re probably not going to read all of it anyway, you lazy bastard. Let’s just start.
This is by far the largest problem. These are the most common editing mistakes.
When I say pacing I’m talking about the rhythm and flow of the piece. Your 5 minute short can feel like an eternity if the pace is horrible. This starts at the script level but the editor bears the burden too. The speed at which you’re delivering information, or jokes, helps contribute to the overall mood of the piece and how you’ll feel about it afterward. Typically you want to keep it moving.
When I say timing I’m actually talking about two things: the timing in which you cut to and from shots, and the total runtime of the piece. Poor timing on your cuts can make it look amateurish. The more common offender is editing that is too loose: shots or scenes that linger too long. There’s a cadence and feel that good editors develop over time. Tight editing can help make a poorly shot piece better, or a well-shot piece worse. As for total runtime, I’ll go over that in a bit.
If you expect to ever show your video to anyone, throw a pair of headphones on while you’re editing. Expect that your video will be listened to on headphones or pumped through professionally kick-ass speakers at some point. This means you need to get a baseline for your audio. No static. No erratic levels. Music shouldn’t be screaming at one point and then you can’t hear what someone is whispering the next. And you should never ever hear an audio cut between takes, shots, actors, whatever. If the wind was whipping in one take and not the next find a way to mask that. Use a crossfade between the two audio tracks to help minimize how jarring it is or lay down a consistent level of room tone for the scene (wind in this case) to help mask it. If you’re not wearing headphones you won’t catch this. But we will.
#2 Get a mic!
Never use the onboard camera mic. Ever. That omni-directional piece-of-shit mic is going to pick up people closing doors, the wind, papers shuffling, a cat farting – and yeah, your dialogue too – but it’s going to sound like shit. It’s going to be filled with reverb and echoes. I can tell inside of two seconds if someone used the on-camera microphone. This is a very common error. I can’t stress this enough. If you’re not going to use a proper microphone don’t bother writing a script, getting a bunch of actors together, or finding a camera; you’re wasting everyones’ time; don’t shoot, don’t edit, don’t bother.
Rent a quality shotgun microphone. Or buy a cheap one. This isn’t going to break the bank. You can rent a pro shotgun mic for about $35 a day. I don’t care what you’re shooting: a movie, a short, a cooking video. The audio is more important than the video. Audiences will forgive a lot visually but they have little tolerance for shitty audio. Get a mic!
#3 What is it?
Someone once gave me a thirty-minute short. A what? A sitcom is only 22 minutes minus commercials. What is this thing? First and foremost you have to know what you’re shooting and why. What’s the format and what do you intend to do with it? This is important from a script standpoint as much as a marketing one. If you’re just making a short as masturbation that’s fine. But most people hope to get “discovered” or something.
- short film (2-10 minutes)
- webisodes (5 minutes)
- sitcom (22 minutes)
- feature film (90-120 minutes)
These are not rules etched in stone. These are my personal beliefs based on my career.
Short film. It needs to be short. You’d think this was obvious but like I said I was handed a thirty-minute short film. If you make a short film it’s probably evident you want to make full-length films. So if you’re worried 10 minutes isn’t enough time to showcase your amazing directorial talents, I assure you, it is. The truth is nobody wants to watch your short film. No one. But if it’s short they’re more likely to give it a chance. Nobody is eager to give up thirty minutes of their life to watch a video full of no-name actors do whatever. But who wouldn’t give 5 minutes? Short. Sweet. I want more. And I encourage you to make more. Five short films are better than one long one. You have more chances to disseminate your work and get noticed. And you’re building a body of work. Not just one piece. And honestly, it hones your storytelling skills.
Webisodes. Start each one with a bang. End with a hook to bring me back. Find a way to make each one accessible to new viewers.
Sitcom. Congratulations, you’re making a pilot for a show that no one will ever see. I mean, sure, this is how TV shows get made all the time. I’m being sarcastic because you never see the amateur production on television. But in all honesty, there have been shows that eventually had pilots shot (professionally) because someone saw their original amateur pilot. I think It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Workaholics are two. But I literally did no fact-checking on that. Let’s just assume it’s true. As far as timing goes 22 minutes is pretty standard.
Feature Film. 90-120 minutes. But really 90. We only give up two hours of our life for Brad Pitt fighting sexy aliens in 3D. If you only have one ‘D’ and no Brads do yourself a favor and keep a short runtime. Shorter scripts lead to shorter shooting schedules lead to cheaper costs to make your movie.
It’s important to know what format you shooting for because people need to manage their expectations for it. We have mental checkboxes that need to be filled.
No one wants to watch your shitty video! But guess what? If they do watch it, and they love it, they’re going to share it like the goddamn bubonic plague. People love finding treasures and sharing them. It’ll be Facebooked so hard your fucking face will fall off.
- Know what the hell you’re shooting
- Take your audio seriously
- Keep the editing tight
Now get out there and create that turd.