How to Shoot Video That Doesn't Suck

Teaching Video: Summer Stars 2019

Summer Stars campers perform live August 2019

Summer Stars Campers perform live to this year’s video

I do a lot of speaking and consulting on video, but by far the most rewarding is teaching I’ve done almost every year since 2000 at Summer Stars Camp for the Performing Arts. It’s the camp’s 20th Anniversary this year, and I’ve managed to attend 17 sessions, teaching music video classes to 12-17 year-old disadvantaged kids from New York and Boston who pay nothing to attend. Most of my book comes out of my work teaching those kids.

(I’m also on the camp board, so now must insist that you get more info and donate at

This year in our first class meeting we listened to the song we were going to turn into a music video, a pop masterpiece by Andy Grammer called “Don’t Give Up” from the angsty teen-romance movie Five Feet Apart.  Our goal was to have the students re-interpret the song in a way that had nothing to do with the movie or Grammer’s video so that we would create an original piece. We talked about what the song felt like. “Yearning” “defiance” “I’m not going to stop” “I’m coming for you” were the responses from campers.

Then we talked about the fact that you can’t shoot emotions— our job would be to shoot images that we hope will make people feel emotions. We played the song again, and talked about what images came to mind.

A 14-year-old boy from New York raised his hand. “It made me think of my Grandfather, and how he was deported last month.” This is so far out of my personal experience that I would never have come up with it, but the class felt it, and that’s the image we started with to develop our video. The kids not only suggested the theme, they crewed the video and performed in it.

We shot and edited the video from Tuesday to Saturday– 4 1/2 days. In the real world, I would have quoted a job like this as a couple weeks of prep, 2 12-hour shoot days (we shot it in 7 hours) plus a 3 week edit (our edit: 3 days.) Dp/editor Wes Diaz, our only other professional crew member, delivered it to the projection booth for the Saturday show with 20 minutes to spare.

During the show, the entire camp sings a choral arrangement of “Don’t Give Up” live, while the video plays above them, on-screen in perfect sync. The audio you hear was recorded live during that performance.

Once again I learned so much from teaching.

Technical note: The video was performed and edited (as most music videos are) to a click-track, which is a rough track laid down for timing. The kids sang to the click track during shooting, and the editor edited to it. In live performance, the click track played in the ears of the conductor and the band’s rhythm section for tempo and timing reference. So the band synced to the track,  the kids sang in sync to the band, which kept them in sync to the video, which was also synced to the track. You might call this “the transitive property of performance sync.” Make sense?

This is a fairly simple live performance trick, but the effect of 125 kids singing live while kids on screen sing in perfect sync is amazing to watch. You can see the live performance with the kids in the picture here at minute 33:40.



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