rules

Internet, Video Work

Good Videography Rule #1: All Shots Must Add


No Comments

ChevroletCommercialMaddie-Timeline

All shots must add to the narrative direction of your videos.

In writing, if a sentence does not add to the story, say, for example, its existence is based on how pretty it sounds or how it smartens the writing, then it gets cut. Think of each sentence as a line connecting the previous sentence to the next one. In “good” writing, a reader would ride down an entire paragraph, whole pages even, without getting caught or slipping off the line.

A necessary sentence continues the one before it and prepares the one after it. A superfluous sentence breaks that line. A reader gets caught, pulled away, distracted by the workings of the person behind the curtain.

In videography, every shot is a sentence. Every shot is a line. Every shot must add to the video’s narrative direction. Any shot that does not add takes the viewer away from the video’s message. This message could be about being happy, remembering a wedding, a company’s mission, a product’s benefits, etc. You do not want to wager the impact of a video on a few unnecessary shots.


A good example is the Chevrolet commercial “Maddie” directed by Lloyd Lee Choi. The 42 shots and 12 scenes in this 1:13 length commercial sketch the life of a girl as she grows up alongside her golden retriever, Maddie. Every shot carries the narrative forward.

The first scene takes place in a gloomy, sterile environment. The overhead lamp casts a sickly white glow over Maddie. Most of the woman’s head is left in shadow. Maddie is the subject of this gloomy room here, and given the metal lamp and gauge in the background, I think of the vet. My main question is immediately about if this scene is a goodbye. Is she looking at Maddie for the last time? Paired with a sad piano score, this scene brings on the onions.

s1-1

The following two shots in the scene support the first shot. We catch her face looking down at her dog in shot 2, and then her hand as it passes over her dog in shot 3. These two shots tell the viewer that she is thinking about her dog. And the location tells the viewer that she is doing all of that thinking at the vet.

What is also important is that these shots concentrate the focus on both the woman and the dog. This is about the woman just as much as it is about Maddie.

What I love about this commercial, and why I chose it for this example, is how the scenes connect. They join on primary movement, cutting on the action of what’s happening in front of the camera. Scene 1 connects to scene 2 with the movement of the woman’s hand.

Scene 2 and scene 3 connect with their shared lack of movement and similar subject distance.

Scenes 3 and 4 are joined by walking shots.

Scenes 5 and 6 connect on two shots of her parents.

We get cuts-on-action 9 times throughout the commercial. Choi and writer Chris Cannon may have intended to¬†create the smooth flow of memory with these cuts. If so, then these shots are essential to making the woman’s memory smooth.

s1-4

Scene 1 is also shown again in the second to last shot. In the writing process, Choi and Cannon must have wanted to use scene 1 as the sandwich buns between all the middle scenes to give the viewer a grounding point for their emotions. They wanted to highlight that loving relationship.

Each shot in scene 2, 3, and 4 reinforce the present loving relationship between the woman and Maddie. She pets her on the couch and takes her for walks in these initial scenes.

The scenes after the fourth are not as present as in the first four, but they still reinforce that loving relationship of scene 1. The woman arrives at college in scene 5. Scene 6 takes us to her graduation. She breaks up with her boyfriend in scene 7 and tries to kiss him in scene 8 (we are going back in time here. Forward would be awkward). She learns to drive in scene 9 and blows out candles on her eighth birthday in scene 10. We see her reading with Maddie as a puppy in scene 11.

s12-3

The final scene, number 12, takes us all the way back to when she first picks out Maddie from the litter of puppies. She runs out of the Chevy van, parents following behind. She hurdles down the hill to the lone basket of puppies (it is not the best spot for a basket of puppies, but it makes for a good commercial). She reaches into the basket and lifts one of them up. It is at this moment that we are taken back to scene 1 at the vet.

Why did the writers choose to bring back a shot from scene 1 in scene 12? When thinking about how all shots must add, this shot from scene 1 returns us to the present. We see her hello with how she names and then kisses Maddie in scene 12 and we see her goodbye with how she kisses her at the vet in scene 1. The kiss in the shot in scene 1 completes the narrative arc of the commercial. Without it, we would be left wondering why she is at the vet with a vague feeling that this is Maddie’s last day. The kiss seals it, makes certain that this is the end (at least that is my interpretation).

ChevroletCommercialMaddie-Timeline

If you scan through all 42 shots in this commercial, you will find that each one serves to advance the narrative. Choi kept out shots that did not add. If this commercial were in writing, it would be one continuous line right to the end.


Thanks for reading! Liked it? Give it a star or consider following for more content like this, Or, you know, you can leave a comment below. What do you think about this rule? Is Maddie at the vet? Is this goodbye?
Video Work

25 Rules and Tips to Follow on Your First Freelance Video Shoot


No Comments



Lights. Without them, videographers are at the mercy of the sun. That is why one week prior to my first shoot for my first freelance client outside of college I drove 2 hours to Trumbull to pick up a Dracast Pro 1K LED from a friend. I had no idea what the lighting conditions would be like at the client’s location, and this single light would have saved me when shooting the interviews.

I did a lot of preparation like buying this light for the shoot. Needing audio gear, I picked up a Zoom H6 and a Shure lapel mic. I purchased XLR cables and a white balance card. I practiced with everything before the day, bugging my housemates to use them as stand-ins for my shot. I did all of this while leaving my old job to pursue freelancing full time.

Was it going to be freelancing or a slow fall into unemployment?

The shift from full-time wage worker to freelance did not solidify as real until, just 1 day after leaving my job, I stepped out of my car at the entrance to Land Warrior CrossFit with camera gear slung across my shoulder.

The realness of my new freelance occupation hit while I unloaded my trunk of the lighting and audio gear. It hit as I dropped the equipment into a pile in the corner of the gym and looked up to see the big glass windows letting in a soft, even light. It hit as I switched on the camera, and it hit when I raised the light and hooked up the audio and set off to find out who I needed to interview. It was great. There is a thrill to be found in communicating with new people and working with unique composition and lighting challenges.

The huge garage glass windows took the place of the Dracast light as the key light. I used the Dracast as a kicker behind the interviewees to help separate them from the background. I gathered the footage of the class after conducting the interviews. An hour later, I was on my way home to back up and begin the edit. The video would be finished 1 week later. The video is at the top of this post if you would like to watch it.


I learned a lot on this first freelance job. Through mistakes and repetition, the list below highlights the things that I needed to remember when setting up for this first job. Some of these, like setting white balance, can be no-brainers. But, when on your first shoot, you might be overwhelmed and forget to set something else when setting white balance. It is like learning to juggle. While it is not hard to juggle one ball, only experienced jugglers can keep 5 balls in the air at a time.

Before shoot date

  1. Create a calendar event with the location and drive time included. Do this as soon as you finish the call or get the confirmation email.
  2. After the phone call with the client, send a recap email detailing what both of you agreed on. Include the date and time. This is so both parties are on the same page.
  3. Discuss payment and agreement details at the beginning.
  4. Write up a clear statement of the work that will be done.
  5. Research similar companies. What content do they produce? What is similar? How can you learn from their content?
  6. Save screenshots of camera angles and types of b-roll from videos that fit your style. Have them with you at the shoot in the case that you need them. In the past, I have gotten so swept up in one aspect of a camera shoot, like camera placement, that I forgot to check for white balance. Having properly-shot examples at the ready can be a quick way to check for mistakes.
  7. Practice the shots that you think will be useful.
  8. Practice setting up and taking down your equipment.
  9. Pack extra of whatever you have. Harddrives, batteries, SD cards, microphones, and extension cords can all become instantly useful when another fails.

During the shoot

  1. Format your memory cards. I learned this the hard way when one of my SD cards corrupted. Formatting them resets the file structure, clearing out errors in an existing one.
  2. Set white balance, picture profile, iso, etc. and then save it all as a custom profile on your camera.
  3. Match white balance on the lights to your camera.
  4. Focus on the pupils of your subject.
  5. Check for distracting objects in the background and messy shirts or hair or makeup in the foreground.
  6. Test audio by asking the interviewee for more than “say something.” Ask them for their name and how to spell it. Record this as they talk in the case that you need the spelling of their name.
  7. Check audio levels.
  8. Check the eyeline of the interviewee. Are they looking above, below, or in line with the lens?
  9. Actually hit record.
  10. Do not stop recording until the microphone has been removed from the interviewee and is in your hand. Some of the best things have been said when the interview is over, as the interviewee is more relaxed than during the “actual” interview.

After the shoot

  1. Back up everything to at least 2 harddrive locations.
  2. Create a consistent back up folder structure. I do “yearmonthday-FirstnameLastname-Organization/Company-detailofshoot” so “20171214-JohnDoe-ESPN-BasketballDonationDrive”.
  3. Create a consistent folder structure for your workflow as you edit. All of my projects have these 5 folders in the main project folder: Assets, Audio, Exports, Footage, Premiere.
  4. Label your exports by version number, not “final” or “finalfinal” or “ReallyFINALYESFINAL.” Version numbers look more professional because the client will not think that you think you are done when they have changes in mind.
  5. Check your renders before you send them off. You are the first to know if you left the audio too high at one point, left a track on mute, or did not drag the adjustment layer to the end of clip. You do not want to be the second to know.
  6. Follow up with the client about leaving a review or giving feedback.