Gaining experience in every discipline of filmmaking is essential to doing your best work in the production hierarchy. Becoming a good editor will help your shooting, and vice versa. Once you’ve pulled these skill sets into a well rounded expertise, you’ll be better equipped to begin writing, producing, and directing, where you can craft productions from the top down. Based on my own mistakes and experiences in the field and the editing room, there is a kind of “rule book” in my head that I haven't written down until now. So here is my manual for shooting in the field and bringing home the prettiest, most versatile footage possible.
Part One: Working with the Camera
1. BUILD A SCENE: Always be thinking in terms of scenes and always be thinking about the coverage you’ll need to build that scene with a beginning, middle and end. Think of each scene as a little short film, where your subject needs to have a clear goal, motivation and a conflict standing between him or her and the goal.
This requires a variety of assets, so you should be running through this checklist in your head every time you’re involved a scene:
-Capture Tight, Medium and Wide shots throughout every scene to create edit points and dynamic imagery
-Sound Bytes (get your audio systems dialed!)
-Slow Motion coverage of poignant action
-Subjects entering and exiting the setting or at least a basic establishing Shot
-Detail shots (close ups)
-Moving shots mixed with static shots - do some run and gun, then set up a few static shots or pans. Stay fluid.
-Get various angles to use as edit points, moving around the perimeter of your subjects to cover different subjects.
-Interviews should be shot after the scene when you have the benefit of hindsight and the scene concept has coagulated in your mind. During the interview, return to the scene and let the subject describe what happened.
All of these combined assets will allow you to effectively construct a story-driven scene that doesn’t feel like montage with a voiceover. Of course, there is a time and a place for montage scenes, but that is an entirely different mode of story-telling and should be used sparingly, like when moving quickly through time within your narrative.
2. MOVE SLOWLY! Especially when you’re shooting handheld; nothing ruins a shot like jittery motion. Tripod motions should also be intentionally slow and the same goes for slider or jib shots as well.
3. DON'T TRY TO DO SMOOTH ZOOMS with your lens rack. Either move the camera with your body position to get a tighter shot of your subject, or do a “The Office” style whip zoom. Try to use your zoom between shots, setting up your frame, composing your shot, focusing, and then executing. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stop rolling footage while you’re composing your shot, in fact try to keep it running so you don’t miss a key sound byte. Just mentally register when your take is beginning and ending.
4. KEEP ROLLING AND HOLD YOUR SHOTS! I can’t stress this enough. One second will feel like ten when you’re hustling to keep up with a production, but center yourself and count in your head: five seconds on the front and back of every shot. This doesn’t mean you have to actually stop rolling between “shots”, just that you should be thinking like an editor about when the beginning and end of a take should look like. This will make your editing experiencing way more enjoyable.
5. IF YOU'RE SHOOTING SLOW MOTION, ITS OKAY TO BE HANDHELD. You can easily simulate crane or slider shots when shooting slow-motion handheld because it's much more forgiving to camera motion. For this reason, you could also switch to slow-motion when you know it will be difficult to stabilize the camera, like out the window of a moving car or while chasing after a subject in the field.
6. If you don’t have your tripod or time to set it up, just set the camera on something. NOT EVERY SHOT NEEDS TO HAVE MOTION IN IT.
7. When shooting with a JIB or SLIDER, remember that these tools work best when your composition has LAYERS in it - that way, when the camera moves through space it creates a PARALLAX EFFECT. It helps to have at least one layer very close to your camera. Otherwise, you won't even be able to tell that the camera is moving through space in your footage and you've wasted the time it took to set up the crane.
8. If you're IN A PINCH, use WHATEVER CAMERA you can get your hands on. I don't care its it GoPro, iPhone, or whatever, just get the coverage.
9. OBVIOUS STUFF:
-Keep batteries charged and charging
-Always download cards at soonest opportunity and back up IMMEDIATELY
-Keep equipment dry
-Don’t put anyone in unnecessary danger
Thanks for reading and check back soon for Part Two: Working with Subjects.