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How to Shoot Footage Your Editor Will Respect

COW Library : Broadcasting : David Allison : How to Shoot Footage Your Editor Will Respect
CreativeCOW presents How to Shoot Footage Your Editor Will Respect -- Broadcasting Editorial


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As an editor with over 25 years of experience in film and video, I've seen more than my share of horrible shots. Happily, I've also been privy to a few good ones as well. What makes one shot good and another bad? It's not always as obvious as some might think.

There are many factors that determine a shot's value, yet, amazing as it may sound, the most obvious is often overlooked. Stated plainly, this factor is usefulness. Given the project at hand -- be it a news production, commercial, corporate video, feature film, or documentary -- the shooter should always pause to ask the most basic of questions, "Am I providing footage that is compelling enough, appropriate enough, flexible enough, efficient enough, editable enough -- to be useful in post-production?"

All too frequently, the answer is no. While I'll grant that "usefulness" is a relative term (even the worst swatches can usually be sewn together to make a quilt), the fact remains that when editors receive poorly conceived and executed footage, costly overages are often looming around the corner.

As one example, I recently edited a project that was to culminate in a five minute video. To cut costs, the producers had hired a shooter who came with an excellent camera package, but minimal experience. The result? I received four and a half hours of material, 25 minutes of which was useable.

Let me repeat that: I received four and a half hours of material to edit a five-minute video -- bad enough -- yet only 25 minutes of it was even remotely useful!!! (Fade-up scream SFX.)

To say that the decision to hire an inexpensive shooter cost more money than it saved would be an understatement. Without going into too much detail, just ponder the extra time I spent making data space for 4 ½ hours of material, ingesting 4 ½ hours of material, reviewing 4 ½ hours of material, culling shots from 4 ½ hours of material, dealing with system sluggishness brought on by 4 ½ hours of material etc., etc. so on and so forth, multiplied by seventeen days of editing.

Is it any wonder why I eventually decided to put gripes like this down on paper?

In addition to being an editor, I've also experienced what it's like to be a director, producer, writer, and, yes, a shooter. I've studied under people who've studied under Orson Welles. I've worked in the realm of the avant-garde with figures of varying quirkiness, such as Peter Kubelka and P. Adams Sitney. I've logged long hours with A-list, commercial directors who've agonized over the best way to sell donuts and cottage cheese.

Through it all, I've developed a reasonably good feel for The Big Picture: Why are we all doing what we are doing? What particulars help (or hurt) the process that leads to the end goal?

When it comes to shooting, my experience in the editing room has helped me develop parameters that lead to better footage. While I tend not to think of these parameters as rigid or static (we're not talking "The Ten Commandments" here), a list of common problems -- and common solutions -- has naturally taken form over the years. I eventually gathered the list under one umbrella, which I fondly call: How to Shoot Video Your Editor Will Respect In the Morning.



QUITTERS NEVER WIN (except in production)
Imagine for a moment that you are in the editing room, watching your editor pore over some footage you shot. (You should always imagine this, by the way). Now let's say you arrive at a series of tabletop product shots. In the first shot, you accidently "miss the landing pad" (or as Mary Lou Retton would say, you didn't "stick it").

This is harmless enough. No shooters are automatons, and "sticking the landing" can be tricky business. The editor watches in silence as you stay with your final position for the traditional five seconds.

Shot 2 comes along. Again, you don't quite nail the final position, but dutifully stay with it -- hoping that something salvageable might result.

Shot 3 represents a variation on the theme: you miss the landing, but proceed to sneak back with the camera until you arrive at a flawlessly composed, final position.

After ten similar attempts, just when evidence is developing that you're getting closer and closer to the Holy Grail, the editor turns to you and says, "You know what your problem is? You never quit."

Hunh??! What's that about?! You were always taught that quitters never win! Well, what's going on here is that your well-mannered (and no doubt good-looking) editor is politely telling you that you are wasting valuable post-production time, and probably costing someone money, to boot.

You see, unlike in the Olympic world of Mary Lou, if you don't "stick" the landing, you can't simply fling up your arms, arch your back, and hope the judges like your spunky exuberance. Dude, you repeatedly missed your mark (no sin), and then chose to hang with the shot for five agonizingly long, utterly worthless seconds!

While our example only demonstrates the loss of a minute of time, you should never lose sight of how quickly these wasted minutes add up. The cumulative effect these types of decisions can have on an edit session can be significant. What's more, your reputation as a camera op will never be enhanced if you continually provide lengthy useless shot after lengthy useless shot.

The same trouble can surface with a simple, rackfocus. If you miss your destination, immediately quit on the shot. I mean, c'mon, tenacity may be a virtue, but addictive stubbornness surely is not. Efficiency is what results from common sense and determination, not super-human abilities. No shooter would ever be able to produce footage that leads to a 1:1 ratio, but every shooter is capable of eliminating those senseless frames of abject uselessness.


NOT STICKING THE BEGINNING EITHER
An inversion of the Quitters Never Win (except in postproduction) motif occurs when the beginning of a shot is flubbed, but the camera rolls on obliviously. I call this the "I Didn't Quite Catch the Beginning, But Let's Roll With It Anyway" Syndrome.

That 12 year-old genius who is happily flourishing in the local med school is your assignment du jour, but as she holds a hypodermic needle up to the natural light for a quick tap, you're late establishing focus. No matter, you tell yourself, you'll just keep following her as she strolls over to her patient and swabs down his arm.

CUT to the post-pro suite, where your editor, upon viewing this near-miss of a spectacular shot, is screaming at the monitor, "Would it have killed you to ask her to stop and do it again?!!!!"

Here, your stunningly-handsome editor is merely trying to remind you of the most important tool a shooter has at his or her disposal: A VOICE! Even when a director is calling the shots, your professionalism is elevated when you exhibit some responsibility for addressing small failures such as this.

REWIND: you're back in the hospital. You pull your eye away from the lens and interrupt the medical prodigy, "Excuse me, Dr. Jennifer-In-Training, but would mind terribly if I asked you to go back over to that window and tap that needle-thingy again? I missed it..."

Jennifer obliges, the director nods approvingly, and soon, your editor will be salivating over the marvelously useful shot you just helped to manufacture.

Another incarnation of the Quitters Never Win (except in post-production) motif is what I call The "I Know There's a Drunk Peeing In the Background, But The University President Is Still Welcoming The Famous Actress Back to Campus" Dilemma. While shots like this may gain you infamy when you upload them onto YouTube, they certainly won't help your editor create a piece that will make the client happy (especially if the client is the university). The longer you persist with your compromised shot, the longer the peeing drunk will persist. This is bad.

Not long ago, I was editing material from a military grocery store. In a memorable clip from the raw footage, a female soldier approached a long and colorful array of produce. For a moment, I marveled at the shot's perspective beauty; the tight rows of fruits and veggies perfectly receded into a distant, softly-focused vortex.

Then, all hell broke loose! Just beyond my happy, little, background-y vortex, the doors to the meat locker swung wide open. Men in bloody smocks and bloody yellow boots were suddenly traipsing around in my beloved vortex -- only now the vortex was the only part of the shot commanding attention!

What was the reaction of the shooter? NOTHING! He rolled on for 20 additional seconds! I can still see the female soldier sniffing a melon -- blissfully unaware of the carnage ensuing just under her well-focused nose and chin.

Needless to say, the shooter missed a classic opportunity to quit on the shot. I don't know about you, but I find that sort of hazy-headed, brain-dead, gum-chewing laziness the antithesis of what I'm looking for in a shooter.

So what am I looking for? Well, sticking to the confines of this discussion, I'm looking for someone who knows when to quit on a shot. I've even created an imaginary character, Shooter-X, who embodies all the lean, serene, and sensible values of this efficient shooter (an homage to Speed Racer and Racer-X, perhaps?).


Shooter X, an homage to Speed Racer and Racer-X
Shooter X, an homage to Speed Racer and Racer-X



Comments

Re: How to Shoot Footage Your Editor Will Respect
by Fernando Tavares
when I teach/train or just coffe table talk with shooters, I always tell them to go to edit room, stay put, don't speak and watch what editors are doing with footage. Play attention to what they use and what they don't. Play especial attention to what is regected. When appropriate, ask why if it is not obvious.

I'm 52, shooting since I was 18. I shoot and I edit. When soooting, I still say, please, can we do it again, sorry, you'r perfect, it was me who missed. So simple, so, natural, so PRO. And yes, when a shot has at the same time, moving camera, zoom, focus, actor moving, light, sound, and (the worse nigthmare for shooters of 8/1 ratios) a script, yes, we do it a lot for the same take. Over and over untl it is a "respectable" take.

Great post.
Best.
Fernando
Re: How to Shoot Footage Your Editor Will Respect
by Daniel DeCarli
Hi. I have some questions to ask... Was it his first (first) time shooting? And - what kind of thing did he shoot (or tried to) ? Because I have some experience shooting (like 4 months) for myself and I think I would have shooted from like 1h and a half to 2 hours, having 25 min. usable. I have also edited 2 hours of footage to make a 12 min. video and I know how it is boring. But good article. Thanks.
How to Shoot Footage Your Editor Will Respect
by David Allison
Daniel, Sorry it has taken me a YEAR to respond! Work, work, work, you know...

It is not a crime to shoot a lot of footage. After all, everyone needs to "cover their butts" in certain circumstances (such as when filming a live event). However, there are many, many more instances when you, the shooter, should ask yourself: "Is what I am about to shoot TRULY ADDING something for the editor to use, or am I merely shooting for the sake of shooting...?" You should never be afraid to put the camera down for a moment and think. Thinking, planning, composing in one's mind... these are things you should never shy from doing.

In a nutshell, I think the point of my article is that blanket/scattershot/all-encompassing footage will not win you many friends in the edit suite. Far better to bring home footage that is thoughtful, precise, and rich with potential...

Hope that helps to answer your question.

David Allison

http://www.davidallisonconcepts.com
Re: How to Shoot Footage Your Editor Will Respect
by Adam Farver
While we are talking about using your voice when shooting, I would add, knowing when to shut up. In editing documentary/corporate style interviews and b-roll, the thing that always gets me is background noise. Our stuff is rarely shot with closed set but shooters would try to get a "composition" shot and just talk while the camera is running on the tripod.

As editors, we know that audio is a HUGE part of what we do. Don't blab over what could be our natural soundtrack.
Re: How to Shoot Footage Your Editor Will Respect
by Brian Struble
David:

An excellent article for a new shooter like me... I certainly will keep your points in mind on my next production day.

Brian
Re: How to Shoot Footage Your Editor Will Respect
by judy davis
Loved it! Very informative and helpful! I hope you continue to write and give your insight on the editorial aspect of blending the art form of story telling in a visual format. Thank You!

Judy Davis
Chief Creative DIrector
Art DIrector
http://www.egads-it.com
http://www.kozmokadtz.com
Re: How to Shoot Footage Your Editor Will Respect
by Neal Pruitt
Great article. I too have poored through years of footage looking for useable shots to place next to each other. Your suggestions are well written. Bringing your camera people into post production process is crucial for a smooth process.
When shooting I also think about three shots in one when panning or zooming. Counting at least 5 seconds on one well composed shot then making the pan or zoom and holding on another well composed shot at the end. It is the editors choice on what part he or she wants. But if you got it move on.
I tell new shooters to look to comic strips for inspiration on framing. The most important frame is in each panel. Keep it simple with a wide establisher with mediums and close ups to form a sequence of shots that make sense together. Wild shooting is a big waste, I agree.
One problem I've also run across as a editor has been with the audio captured from those shots. Being a shooter doesn't mean you only worry about what you see if a you're the only member of the crew. The word "ACTION" yelled at the top of your lungs is great when you have an audio engineer and a foley artist lined up for your feature. If your budget is less use a 5-4-3-then silent 2-1-point countdown. Your shots will edit together much easier. Don't forget to shoot audio room tone to help with dialogue. And when shooting cutaways have the talent vocalize the same part of the script to obtain more natural movement.
Best wishes for long lasting friendships between shooters and editors. We make a great team when we're on the same page.

Neal Pruitt
Content Creator with
EDUCATED VISION
...for the Highest Degree of Media Production
Atlanta,GA
Re: How to Shoot Footage Your Editor Will Respect
by William Ammerman
Great points. Usefulness is a terrific rule of thumb and it applies broadly to a wide range of video projects. Shoot with the editing process in mind, and you will make yourself much more valuable…and in demand.

Nice article David. Thanks.
Re: How to Shoot Footage Your Editor Will Respect
by Mike Jeffs
While I mostly agree with this article, I think there is a happy middle. There have been plenty of times that a great shot came because of a miskate the camera op made. Had he stop and redone his origanal shot I might never have gotten something truly unique. Does that mean he need to commit to every shot and roll hours of useless footage. NO!!! But I will say I would rather have 4 hours of footage with only 20 minutes of useble stuff then having to tell the client that they need to go out and shoot more becasue I don't have enough to work with.

Lastly I want to SAY Amen again to the camera man using his greatest tool. the all important VOICE. Say something, if you missed it ask them to do it over again. The only time i think it is excuseable to stay slient is if your'r 007 and your on a super secret spy mission. Most people are more then happy to do-over.

ps I am not Shooter-X

Mike Jeffs
Video Coordinator
BYU-Idaho
How to Shoot Footage Your Editor Will Respect
by David Allison
Mike, I understand your point. In some cases, it is essential to let the camera roll and roll and roll, as you might be afraid to miss something crucial. In other instances (i.e. more controlled situations), failing to turn off the camera is just a waste of time. Long story short: 10 well-planned shot will always trump 500 lousy ones.

Hope that makes sense,

David Allison
http://www.davidallisonconcepts.com
Re: How to Shoot Footage Your Editor Will Respect
by Rob Grauert
Man, this is a great article! I can't tell you how many times I've taken on a freelance project on the side from a producer whose shooter seemed to just let the camera roll rather than actually shoot and operate the camera. It may make it sound like I have a bad attitude, but it's hard for me to care about the project when it's clear the shooter doesn't care. I also value a shooter who knows to give me what I NEED before he attempts risky creative shots.

You made a great point when you wrote, "I can literally sense what was in the mind of this caring professional with each pan of the camera." I LOVE that! That's what gets me psyched to work on a project because then I'm already editing in my mind before you've even started to cut.

Good article. I hope a lot of camera operators read this.

Rob Grauert, Jr.
http://www.robgrauert.com
command-r.tumblr.com
How to Shoot Footage Your Editor Will Respect
by David Allison
Thanks, Rob. I appreciate your kind words. As you can tell by how long it's taken me to respond, I've been fairly busy. Maybe now that I've a moment to catch my breath, I'll be able to author something new. We'll see...

Thanks again,

David Allison
http://www.davidallisonconcepts.com


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