How to Shoot Video That Doesn't Suck

Back to School Video

At my house we have a back to school video tradition.  Every year on the first day of school, my wife makes the kids pose on the front porch for pictures.  They’ve complained and whined about it since they were 3, but they also like to look back and see how they’ve changed.

Now let’s take the tradition a little farther—how about a quick video interview on the first day of school every year?  You can not only see, but hear how they’ve changed.

The passage of time in video is its own story.  What other video traditions can you create for your family?

Limited Resources for Shooting Video

I am an absolute video newbie and am now filming my Church’s small service on Sundays.

I have a basic camcorder, but our resources are few.  There is lots of movement and many things/events happening unexpectedly that are important to capture. I can’t position my self centrally in front of the speaker due to the arrangement of the chairs, so I have been filming him from the side.

I want to do a good job of this.  Any advice?


Limited resources.  If I had a dollar for every time I heard a filmmaker whine about limited resources, I still wouldn’t have all the money I wanted for my next project.

Nobody does.  Resources are always limited.  There isn’t a filmmaker alive who doesn’t wish for more money, more equipment, or more time than they’ve been given.  A director on a $10 million film wishes she had another million.  A teacher in a video class wishes for an aide and two more cameras for the big student project.  James Cameron probably even has days when he wishes he had more money.  Okay, maybe not James Cameron.  But for everyone else, we can’t always get what we want.

In your case, there’s no money. There’s only one camera. Chairs are in the way. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. You can’t always be in the right place at the right time.

Start by prioritizing. Think about why you’re doing the video.  For example, if you’re shooting so that those physically unable to come to church can see the service, your priorities are different than if you’re trying to make short segments to promote the church on YouTube.

Next, do what filmmakers have done since time immemorial: produce resources out of thin air.  Sit with the speaker the day before to get a better sense of the schedule.  Ask a few big guys to help move the chairs so you can get as close to the speaker as possible. Beg a friend for a tripod. Put an article in the church newsletter about your work, and ask who in the congregation shoots video. Team up to shoot with two or more cameras, then find the congregation’s resident geeky editor and edit the result.

Great producers can always figure out a way.  It’s one of the jobs of filmmaking.  The more you practice asking for what you need, based on key priorities, the better your work will become.

Brew Dogs is Back!

Another 10 episodes of our hit show Brew Dogs starts this Wednesday, June 25 at 9pm on the Esquire Network.  If you like beer, travel, food or amusing Scottish people, this is your show.

Please tell all your friends immediately.  And if you’d like to show them how hip you truly are, you can watch the premiere episode early– right here, right now!

*******UPDATE:  There was a free preview here at the beginning of the season.  But it’s gone now.  You can still catch up on all things Brew Dogs here – including complete episodes for free if you have Esquire on your cable net.********

It’s a great show that I’m really proud of being a part of.  Hope you enjoy it!

Every Video Needs a Hero

When somebody asks you what a movie is about, you probably say something like this:  “It’s about a guy who decides to say ‘Yes’ to everything he’s asked to do” or “it’s about a girl who gets flown to another world in a tornado.”

Great movies are about someone.  So are great videos.  The person your video is about is your hero.  By hero I don’t mean that they have to kill bad guys or become a vampire—rather, they’re simply the focus of your video.  They’re the person who does something, or that something happens to.

Why are you shooting your daughter’s fifth birthday party?  To remember her at age 5.  She’s the hero.  Instead of random birthday party shots, make the video about your daughter and how she experiences her party.  Stay physically close to her.  Shoot from her eye-level instead of yours.  Shoot her greeting her guests, opening her gifts, talking on the phone to grandpa, spilling cake on her dress.  In a series of short, focused shots, you’ll have a lot to remember.

Instead of pointing the camera at the soccer field and rolling, make all your shots about your son’s experience of the game.  A music video should probably be about the lead singer.  A sales video might be about a particular customer’s experience, or it might be about the sales manager training the team.  A stunt video is about the stunt performer.

Whenever you pick up your camera, just before you roll, ask yourself:  Who is this shot about?  The focus of choosing a hero for your video will make it much stronger– almost by magic.

Writing better Video Scripts: The Rewrite

At my school, we have a weekly show called Bobcat Television. We write scripts and film all around the school.  I am one of the students involved. I was wondering if you have any advice on how we can improve our show.  Here is a sample script:

H: As many of you Bobcats may know, there is something out there called autism.

M:You may have heard your parents talking about it…

G:You may have seen something online or in the newspaper…

H: Or you may have seen an advertisement somewhere.

M: But do you really know what autism is?

G: We are here to inform you about autism and it’s effects.

M: Some of the commonly asked questions about autism are…

H: What is autism?

G: What does autism do to people affected?

M: What are some of the characteristics of a person with autism?

H: Here are your answers.

–Gabrielle Bartlett

Thanks for boldly sharing your script, Gabrielle (or should I call you “G”?)

Great videos start with great video scripts whether you’re in high school or Hollywood. You can make a decent movie with a great script and fair cast– but you can’t make a decent movie with a lame script even if you have Oscar winners (see half the Al Pacino movies of the ’90s.  You may have to imdb him, G.)

Scripts need to cut to the chase.  Every word has to mean something, because it’s going to take up your audience’s time.  If you bore them, they will tune out literally– by clicking away– or figuratively, by paying attention to something else.

Your script is good for a first draft. But in rewrite, you need to prune away every word that doesn’t give us more information, entertain us, intrigue us, or make us feel emotion.  An improv teacher of mine called the extra words “weasel words”– the words of someone trying to kill time to avoid getting to the point.  We do this in conversation to be “softer” in our approach.  In video, “soft” is usually boring.  Instead, say what you mean and get out.

Let’s try rewriting, and I’m going to be extra tough on you just so you can see the point:

H: As many of you Bobcats may know, there is something out there called autism.

You are already talking to us Bobcats.  And we already know that you’re talking to us.  Just start with the main point: the word “Autism.”

M:You may have heard your parents talking about it…
G:You may have heard about it something about it online or in the newspaper…


H: Or you may have seen an advertisement somewhere.

Do people really advertise for autism? Regardless, we get the point already– autism is a word you may have heard without knowing what it means.  Let’s cut this.

M: But do you really know what autism is?

Everything is real.  “Really” is a word you almost never need.

G: We are here to inform you about autism and it’s effects.

Just tell them.  You don’t need to tell them you’re going to tell them.

M: Some of the commonly asked questions about autism are…

Ditto.  Let’s just ask the questions.

H: What is autism?

Already asked in this version.

G: Or how it affects people?

Rewritten shorter and cleaner.

M: or how autism is treated?  What are some of the characteristics of a person with autism? 


H: Here are your answers.

Instead of saying, just do it. Go right to the answers.

When we take out the edit notes, the new version is about half the length of what you had before.  Just by cutting here and there, we’ve made this quicker and more interesting:

H: Autism.

M:You may have heard your parents talking about it…

G:You may have heard about it online or in the newspaper…

H: But do you know what autism is?

G: Or how it affects people?

M: or how autism is treated? 

Now you’ve introduced your topic, asked questions to intrigue, and the audience is hanging on– ready for answers.