Remember that editing video is only one small part in the creation of a memorable and entertaining video production. You can do a lot of magic in post-production, but you'll be ahead of the game if you come to the desktop with a good supply of well-shot video footage from which to assemble your masterpiece.
Although it's beyond the scope of this book to teach you production as well as post-production techniques, there are a couple of key principles to keep in mind as you shoot your video. After all, you might spend weeks assembling your video in a variety of waysbut you'll only get one chance to capture that precious moment on tape. Make sure you get the material you need now so you'll be able to use it later.
Here are 10 tips, plus 1, for making great videos:
Take control of light, white balance, and focus.
These settings are automatic on most camcorders, so we tend to neglect them. But you can only fix so much in post-production! If you can manually adjust these settings, definitely do. If not, do what you can to remedy the challenging lighting situations when you shoot (for example, don't shoot someone standing in front of a window and watch out for mixtures of fluorescent lighting and daylight). Professional cinematographers are masters of painting what you see on screen with light. Few things give life and dimension to a video or movie like a well-lit picture.
Pay attention to sound.
Sound is another aspect of video we often neglect. I guess we tend to get comfortable with the way those microphones are so conveniently mounted on the top of our camcorders. But people tend to speak very softly, especially when they're on camera, and background sounds and crowd noise can render some important conversations pretty much unintelligible. If your camera can support an external microphone, definitely invest in a wireless lavaliere (a shotgun microphone with a very focused pick-up pattern) or, at the very least, a clip-on microphone with a long extension cord, and use it whenever the dialogue is important. You'll be amazed how much good sound presence adds to a well-shot video.
Don't shoot scenery.
Okay, do shoot scenerybut don't expect it to look good. Scenery looks great on film and even in photographs. But for some reason, it looks flat and dead on video. It doesn't seem to matter whether it's the Great Wall of China, the Grand Canyon, or Mount Kilimanjaro. Video just doesn't seem to capture landscapes well. (Even stranger is the fact that if you load a photo into Premiere Elements and pan-and-zoom around it, the effect is more powerful than shooting video of the actual scenery in the photo. It doesn't make sense, but try it and you'll see!)
If you must shoot scenery (and you usually must), try to interact with it or get your cast to interact with it or talk about it. Bring it to life. Don't just show sceneryshow people in the scenery. Walk through it or drive around it to give it depth and dimension. Maybe even describe it in a voiceover. But scenery for scenery's sake just doesn't work. Trust us on this.
Establish every scene.
Give every scene context. Never shoot a wedding without getting a shot of the church from the outside. Never get a close-up without grabbing a few long shots of the room, too. Every moment has a context. Get as much footage as you can that tells your audience where it's happening, at what time of day, what the weather is like, who is present. Otherwise it all seems to be happening in some nameless limbo.
Get the necessary coverage.
This point is related to the previous point: Every great film director knows first and foremost how to get the coverage. Coverage is a Hollywood term for "way too much footage." Getting coverage means getting a good mix of long shots, close-ups, and reaction shots. Don't just show the event; show who was there watching it happen. Getting lots of footage of the bride and groom at a wedding, for instance, is vitalbut so is getting shots of the guests, the tear in the father-of-the-bride's eye, the organist, the flower girl who can't seem to stand still, a reverse shot looking back at the church from the altar. Never sit still. Run around as much as you can. Catch your scene from every possible angle and at every possible distance, even if it means you're so busy shooting that you don't get to enjoy the event itself. When you sit down to edit you'll be grateful for the wealth of material you have to work with.
Find a story to tell.
Just as no scene happens without a context, neither does any event happen without its context. Footage of a birthday party for your 90-year-old grandmother is just a home movie. But make it a celebration of her 90 years of life, and it becomes a story! Look for the unique angle, the story behind the event. Gather old footage and photos. Interview people. Catch some candid footage. Think like a newspaper reporter. It's not enough to merely report the facts; look for the story behind the facts. Tell your audience why we're here and what's really special about these people at this place at this time, and you'll win their hearts and minds.
Learn to see what the camera sees.
This is what really separates the home movie maker from the true videographer. Look through the viewfinder. Teach yourself to see only what the camera sees (because, after all, that's all that's going to be captured on your tape). In film school, they call it mise en scene. It's everything that composes the shot. Consider every video clip you shoot as if it were a photograph. Consider what's in the background, what's in the foreground, how the subject fits into the shot, and how the picture is composed. Never just point and shoot. Think about the image that's ultimately going to end up on your tape.
Tell stories with pictures.
A video of someone telling a story is not a very interesting video, no matter how interesting a story they have to tell. Find ways to help him or her tell their story with pictures. Listen carefully to what's being said and then look for ways to bring it to life with pictures. If Dad is talking about his beloved old '55 Chevy, do your best to find an old home movie or a snapshot of Dad with that car. Find the images that can bring those words to life! Master the cutaway, the J-cut, and L-cut (described in 38 Create an L-Cut or a J-Cut). Make everything as visual as possible. Remember, movies move! The audio may tell us what's going on, after all, but it's the visuals that will leave the lasting impression.
Don't be afraid to speak directly to your audience.
For some reason, video reaches us on a more personal level than any other medium. Think about how much television programming features people talking directly to us. So don't be afraid to speak directly to your audience in your video. Have the people on camera address the camera directly. It adds a level of interactivity to your video. Narration is also a very effective way to draw your audience into your video and help them discover meanings in the images you're showing them. We enjoy watching people do things on videobut when someone in a video addresses the audience directly, we feel much more a part of the event we're watching.
Keep it moving.
Every shot has a lifespan. Learn to watch your videos objectively. Learn to recognize when a shot or scene has gone on too long and cut it or cut away from it. Keep it lively. Use more of that coverage you shot back in point 5. Cut from close-ups to long shots, from long shots to reaction shots. Most visuals shouldn't last more than a few seconds before we're on to the next. The continuous audio that plays as we cut around with the video shots will help keep it all together. Music can even offer you a beat to cut to. But keep it fast. Keep it interesting. Keep it fun.
Editing is about throwing away.
Learn to be ruthless when it comes to what you use and what you throw away. Cut everything that isn't necessary to tell your storyand then come back later and tighten it a little more. (Remember, this is a non-destructive process so, if you cut too much, you can easily put it back in later.) Better to have your audience complaining that you left them wanting more than to have them squirming in their seats, wondering when this over-long thing is going to wrap up.
And if your audience really insists on more, there's always that special features section on your DVD….
By all means, learn to watch television and movies more objectively. Notice how the pros make use of their media. Even those awful reality shows have an artistry to them. Notice how they establish a scene and create characters and conflicts. Watch how quickly they move from shot to shot. And certainly take note of the way they use sound, music, L-cuts, and J-cuts to unify sequences and to tell a story.
Premiere Elements gives you the tools to do the same things to similar effect.
Good luck, have fun, and happy moviemaking.
Chuck and Steve