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How to Shoot Video That Doesn't Suck

The True Story of How Tattoos Got Us a Digital Series on Comedy Central

Comedy Central Tattoo Gnarnia

Did Izak’s tattoo get us a show on Comedy Central? It didn’t hurt (much)!

Our new digital series for Comedy Central, Gnarnia went up on Youtube last week.  It’s about 4 guys in a heavy metal band who live together behind a used record store in Los Angeles, who’ll do just about anything to avoid growing up.

We took it to several networks last year. The pitch included a very funny sizzle reel (a 4 minute demo of the project) and an explanation of our plans for the show.The quick pitch was “stoner Monkees”, which caused everyone in the room under 45 to go “Like, actual chimps?” (If you don’t know the Monkees, you can enjoy them here.) Once we explained it as “a lot like Workaholics, except they’re stoned and in a band” everyone nodded.

The series looks kind of like a reality show, but it’s actually an improvised comedy– think Curb Your Enthusiasm, with stoner 28 year-olds. (Once you start pitching “It’s like…” other shows, you can do it all day.) The show has a loose, Dazed and Confused documentary feel (another one!) And not all the networks quite got it.

Our dream network was Comedy Central, but we knew that while the show is really funny (good) it’s also pretty loose. Most Comedy Central shows are super tight, with a lot of rapid fire laughs. After our pitch meeting with the network it was clear that they liked it– but not clear they were ready to buy.

On the way out of the meeting we called the Gnar guys and asked them to think of something they could do fast that would make an even bigger impression.  They over-delivered. Not only did they wrote an incredibly catchy song, Comedy Central, Please Buy our TV Show, that they edited into a video, they also tattooed the Network logo on their arms on screen. For real. As icing on the commitment cake, they silkscreened a couple of customized t-shirts and sent them over to the network execs.

Did the tattoos put the show over the top? It’s hard to say. Commitment works to help launch any entertainment project. Your passion– for the project, the talent, and the outlet– is a huge motivator in getting someone else to believe in what you’re doing. Tattoos may not always be the way to show that commitment, of course. But in the case of this show, as you’ll see, they’re perfect. And luckily Izak and Rikky will have a great story for their grandchildren about their wrinkly Comedy Central tattoos.

Check the series out!  If you’re a fan of dumb humor, bad language and nudity (and who isn’t?), you’ll enjoy all three episodes. And if you could watch each one, say, 250,000 times, that would be a huge help.

WARNING: The theme song is an insane ear worm. I’ve been humming it for months. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

The Youtube version is censored. For the less sensitive, here’s a Facebook Watch uncensored look at the show:

Day 3: White Fang’s Big Gig – Gnarnia – Uncensored

The Gnar Tapes crew tries to raise money with a gig at a bar mitzvah.

Posted by Comedy Central Central on Friday, July 13, 2018

10 Tips for Doing Better Marketing Video

You write a lot about movies, home video, story, etc. It’s all great, and I use it when I shoot stuff. But I need to convince my company to do better marketing videos and I’m not shooting those.

Any advice?

-Jackson D., Denver

The only thing worse than shooting awful marketing video is paying someone else to shoot awful marketing video for you.

Critical in this age of video overpopulation: A crash course in video literacy for companies. The more you know about how video really works, the less likely you are to waste money and time on something nobody is going to watch.

Here are 10 tips to run through before your company’s next foray into video marketing, whether it’s on YouTube or network TV. Good luck!

  1. Entertain or Die: Whether it’s on the web or TV, nobody watches bad video. There are too many instantly available alternatives.

 

  1. Never confuse what you want with what the audience wants. You may have sales goals, but they have their own needs. Their needs determine how they behave, not yours.

 

  1. The Entertainment Transaction: The audience pays (with time or money) the entertainment must deliver (with an experience). More on entertaining videos here.

 

  1. “Should it Entertain or Sell?” is a fool’s argument. It has to do both. If it doesn’t entertain, it CAN’T sell. And if it doesn’t sell at all, why bother?

 

  1. A Viral Video is a “hit”—and it’s as tough to make as a hit record, hit TV show, or hit movie. A strategy that depends on a single hit is no strategy at all.

 

  1. Video done right works. It can increase the size of your loyal audience, or increase the participation/affiliation of your existing audience. Or both.  Video that’s done wrong vanishes, taking your time and money with it.

 

  1. Make sure what you have to say is really a video. Video does motion and emotion well. Charts and facts are not a video, they are Powerpoint. Bad Powerpoint.

 

  1. “See Something, Say Something” They use it in airports to remind people to report things that are suspicious to keep us all safe. Same in marketing meetings. If your campaign strikes you as a little, um, “suckish”– speak up. It’s not going to get better by itself. And the cost of production may be high, but it’s NOTHING compared with the cost of media. Or embarrassment.

 

  1. Keep your video short. That trailer for a new movie—the one you hate because it shows the whole story? It’s 2 minutes and 30 seconds long. You don’t need a ten minute sales video. Two minutes will be just fine—and even then, it better be good.

 

  1. Welcome to the Entertainment Industry. Like it or not, your marketing video is competing with all videos for attention. Make sure your videos are worth watching.

 

Thanks for the question, Jackson. Do you have a question? I bet you do.  Click here to ask it!

Shoot Just Enough and No More

Throughout your book you talk about cutting, trimming, deleting, editing until you’ve removed all of the bad, redundant, boring parts of your project.

What happens when you cut out all of the bad stuff and then you realize that you don’t have enough good material to complete the project? Are there strategies to make sure you shoot enough great material to edit?

It’s too late to fix my first project (a music video), but I’d sure like to make sure it doesn’t happen on my next one.

–Fred

Knowing how much to shoot may be the second biggest issue a director faces on the set (the first: hiring the right actors.) Clients, studios and networks all frown on delivering your movie (or video) with  a huge hole in it because you didn’t get enough good footage. But they also frown on blowing your budget.

Unfortunately the decision point on when to stop shooting is, by definition, at the end of a long day– just when you’re tired and having trouble remembering what you shot this morning. As a result, directors often shoot until a producer pries our cold dead fingers from around the trigger of the camera. Many people think that’s the way it should be. They’re right to an extent: You’re certainly more likely to be forgiven for a budget overrun than for not finishing the job.

But the best directors work smarter than that. They know their job is to always shoot more than they really need, but not a stupid amount more. Dragging your crew and budget into massive overshooting because you can’t decide when you’ve got the shot won’t win you friends- or more jobs.

Want to learn to shoot just enough and no more? Here are the steps to remember: (1) do your prep, (2) be ready to triage and (3) trust yourself.

Prepping your shooting day means thinking in advance about what you need to finish your video if everything on set goes to hell. What shots are the must-gets? I shot a music video last week, and I knew that if I covered a complete performance of the song in 3 different locations– in this case on stage, in a boardroom and in a car– I would have an editable performance that covered the length of the entire video.

Because they were my priorities, I had my producer schedule those shots early in the day. We blocked out how long we thought they should take, and laid out a day-long schedule.

Next we scheduled in the second-tier shots. For me, these were shots that told the video’s secondary story, with and without lip-sync from the band.

Finally, I made a list of all the stuff that was quick, semi-improvised, and would make the video come to life.  Shots without a lot of lighting, maybe that could be assigned to one of my 2 camera people to pick up while I did something else. We scheduled those too, weaving them in and around our locations.  Just after we were in the car, for example, we added some “exiting the car” stuff that was less important but easy to grab.

We shared the day-long schedule with the crew. The shots were arranged as much as possible in order of priority. If the schedule worked there would be time to improvise and be creative in each location. And if we had a great improvisational idea on set, we could easily see what happened to the schedule if we made time for it.

A printed version of the schedule became my checklist. I crossed it off each shot as we finished and moved on. That way I could reassure myself if I suddenly felt like I forgot something, or spot when I really did (which may have happened once or twice.)

Now for the triage: At lunch, I went over what we had shot with the producer and re-prioritized. Some shots I now knew I didn’t need– I’d shot something better already. And some we’d invented that had eaten time. We rearranged the schedule and went back to work.

Trusting yourself and your process may be the hardest part. When you’re tired, you’ll want to second-guess everything. Don’t. If you did your prep and liked what you shot when you were shooting it, you’re done. You’ve done a professional job to the best of your abilities. Let the past be the past (even if it was 40 minutes ago!)

As the day wound down, I re-triaged one last time, trying to picture the edit in my mind. I dumped stuff I could live without and made sure I got coverage on the stuff that I couldn’t. The day ended about 30 minutes late, which was fine because my producer lied to me about how much time I had so I would go faster. (Note: you want a producer who lies a little about schedule, especially if it’s your money she’s saving.)

It’s that simple.  Of course, prep can get more complicated- you can storyboard your shots or do a shot board out of cell phone stills shot on set. On big effects shows they’ll “pre-visualize” the many digital layers as a full-motion animation so you can see how what you’re shooting fits in live on set. Prep can also be simpler- just a list of shots in priority order.

But the bottom line is the same: Prep, triage and, if you’ve done that, trust yourself..

Shooting Crew-Free

I make educational videos for computer enthusiasts on YouTube, but I have to do everything myself. Lighting, sound, script, talent, editing, posting, video description, video thumbnail, marketing…  Problem is, without a crew, shots have to stay static. I can use digital zoom, but it gets ‘blocky.’

I had a friend help me with this video (one static camera, one my friend is holding). What I can do to make a better video?

Thank you!

–Carey Holzman

Nice video, Carey. I rushed right out to buy some old parts and built a cool gaming computer for my guest bathroom. Okay, I didn’t, but after watching I totally wanted someone else to build one and give it to me. And thank you for not using your digital zoom. Ever.

Your situation is not at all unique– most film, narrative television and commercials are shot with a single camera. Static camera isn’t the problem- most of the shots in the Psycho Shower scene are static! You just need to let your imagination flow a little as you get into the world of multiple takes and detail close-ups.

In film, everything is done in multiple “takes,” meaning we do the same material over and over. The director uses various camera angles, movements and lenses so that each take has a different point of view. One might be wide, including all the action, another might be very close on an actor’s face, a third in between. The editor combines the footage in a way that feels natural while deleting mistakes, bad performances and whole sections of scenes that turn out more boring than you thought they would be.

You can do the same, repeating your talk to your single camera from different perspectives. For starters, try a few takes as a wide shot, then one of you waist-up. Do multiple takes of each, then cut between them to find your best performance.

You can also try different angles- as many as you can think of! How about a medium-wide of you fixing a motherboard, then the same scene with the camera where the motherboard was, looking at you from it’s point of view– then a third view of your hands in close-up doing the work? For more motion you could shoot yourself in “selfie” mode as you walk, or wear a camera on your head. You’re limited only by your imagination and what feels right when you cut it.

For your “how to” project, be sure to include tight, detail-focused close-ups of your work. Some would call this “b-roll.” I wouldn’t- this is “a” material, and important to your viewer. Let’s see your hands building a part, or the computer screen when you hit a command, or smoke wafting up from a soldering iron. Editing in these detail close-ups gives you another way to cut, condense and polish your material.

Editing is, of course, a lot of work. Keep it simple at first– maybe just add another angle and a few close-ups. But once you get a sense of how this cutting works for you, I’d encourage you to try getting wild with it. Eventually you’ll find the work/reward sweet spot for your videos.

Let me know how it goes!

More on How-To Videos

Do you have a question? Why not? Please think of one, and ask it here.

5 Killer Halloween Video Tips

Halloween PrincessGoing out to shoot memorable video of your kids?  Here are five Halloween Video tips that will help:

1) It’s dark out at night.  I know you knew that, so let me be more specific:  outside at night away from any light, it will be too dark to see the kids.  The obvious solutions: use your phone’s built-in light, position the kids under streetlights or shoot at the pre-show party indoors.  Less obviously- have another parent light the kids with their cellphones from off to the side. You’ll get much prettier looking footage. Above all, remember– if you can’t see them in the viewfinder now, you won’t be able to see them later either.

2)  Get down on kid level. Shooting at their height instead of yours pulls you into their world, which is where all the scary action is.

3) Plan Your Shots. You know the drill: Kids run up ahead and ring the bell, parents stand on the sidewalk and shout helpful things like “Say Thank You!”.  Normal parent video position on Halloween is following them up the walk to the next house. Unless you want an all-butt video, use what you know to plan your shots.  Jog up the walk ahead of your kids, then shoot them coming past to ring the doorbell.  Or jump past them on the porch and shoot them as they interact with whoever answers.  Bonus:  The porch light will shine on their faces and you’ll be able to see them.

4) Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.  What will you want to remember in 20 years– vague shapes ahead of you in the dark, or your daughter’s face as she bravely rings the bell for the first time?  Fill the frame with their little faces at least half the time, and you’ll have video you’ll cherish for years.

5)  Don’t forget the prep:  Getting ready for Halloween is part of the story, and makes great video.  Carving pumpkins, getting the costume on, eating the candy you’re supposed to be giving out.  All great memories.

Bonus tip:  The post-game interview amidst piles of candy is great too!

More tips for great Holiday shooting here!

New Edition of the Book in Stores Now!

How to Shoot Video that Doesn't SuckWorkman Publishing has just released an updated and revised new edition of How to Shoot Video that Doesn’t Suck!

It’s available now wherever you buy your paper or pixel books. Look to your right for handy links!

This new edition is mostly a touch-up.  It turns out that even if you try not to use terms that might become dated, they sneak in somehow.  And for fans of my Do It Yourself Film Graduate School list of movies that you really must see, there are new additions.

New Edition FAQs:

Do I need to run out and get this edition if I already own the book?

Yes! Please buy a dozen. I still have kids in college.

Really?

No, not really.  I mean I really do have kids in college, but the changes in the book are minor.

Like what?

I made an offhand comment in one chapter about shooting video with an iPod Nano. Someone argued on Amazon that you couldn’t shoot video with an iPod Nano. He was totally wrong (the early Nanos were like early iPhones without cell connections and dammit, they had a camera) but I took out the mention anyway because the iPod Nano in any form is ancient history.

I deleted a few other anachronisms (it turns out 6 years is a long time in any tech-related field, even if you’re trying not to write much about video equipment), and rewrote a few paragraphs that begged to be polished. Authors just can’t help themselves sometimes– see pointless Nano argument, above.

Anything else?

Yes. I originally forgot to thank my sister and sister-in-law in the end notes. They read early drafts and had good comments for which I am very grateful. I am hoping they will now allow me back into Thanksgiving dinner. Turns out even a warm turkey leg is cold comfort when you’re sitting on a porch alone in Washington DC, shivering.

So this edition isn’t groundbreaking. Who should buy it?

If you don’t own the book yet, this is a totally up-t0-date, recently-reviewed-and-touched-up edition. You’ll love it. But if you own the book and want another edition for your bookshelf, you’ll probably want to buy the Russian version. Or maybe the audio book, which technically doesn’t go on your bookshelf unless you download it to your ancient iPod Nano and put it there. Did I mention that it had a camera?

Wedding Video Blues: 5 Tips for Better Wedding Videos

I’ve never used a video camera, however my daughter will be getting married this October and I will be filming for the VERY first time. I’m scared stiff ! ! !

Can you please advise me on the best way to capture this special moment.? I would be so very grateful to you.
Thank You,
Lucy Wilson

Wait, you’re shooting video at your daughter’s wedding?

First piece of advice:  please re-consider.

Weddings are an emotional ride for any parent-of-the-bride, and whether you wind up blubbering like a 2-year old, dancing on tables or falling-down drunk, holding a video camera will surely be a burden. It’s also not fair to your daughter.  She’ll want to remember what you were like at her wedding.  If you’re shooting, you won’t be in the video.

May I suggest passing this to a cousin? Cousins are likely to be bored enough to welcome the distraction, and it’s a great way to meet photogenic members of the opposite sex.  But I digress…

You asked for help.  Here are 5 tips for someone– anyone– shooting a wedding video:

1)  There’s a reason they call it a ritual:  Weddings follow a familiar format.  Walking guests down the aisle, the bride entering, the “I do” moment, Aunt Sally hitting the Pink Squirrels a little too hard at the reception– you’ve been there, you remember.  Many of them even hand out a shot list–er, program– to help you plan!  Rituals are, well, ritual. And that’s great for you, because it means you can…

2)  Scout Your Locations:  Since you always have some idea of what’s going to happen next, you can get there first.  If you want to shoot Grandma being helped down the aisle, pick a spot in the chapel with a great aisle view and get there when you see the organist warming up– before the ushers start ushing VIP guests to the front row.

3)  Think about Backgrounds: In the reception hall do you want to shoot facing the plain cinderblock wall or the festively decorated buffet table?  Wherever you’re standing to shoot, turn to look around.  You’ve got 360 degrees of backgrounds to choose from without moving from that spot. Choose well.

4)  Use Interviews: In 10 years you’ll want to remember the people at the wedding.  What were they thinking? How did they look way back then?  Short interviews will bring the guests to life.  No “yes or no” questions.  “How do you feel about Jenna and Sally getting married?” is great.  “Are you having fun?” is a dead end.

5) Edit Before you Post: Editing in this case just means cutting out the boring and/or horrible parts. Rambling interviews get cut to one or two great sentences.  You don’t need the WHOLE father/daughter dance.  You may want to cut anything embarrassing that has no redeeming entertainment value.  People loose enough to sing for the camera?  Perfect.  People so loose they have to be propped up to keep from falling into their entree? Not so much.

Shooting a Wedding need not be a monstrous experience (Did he really just write that? Apparently so.)