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Everybody’s a critic

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March 3, 2009 by falcon7204

"I can do that." How many times have you watched a TV show, movie, or even somebody’s home movie, and said that to yourself?

Well, with a little bit of patience, even with the least expensive gear, you can.

Let me back up a bit. I’ve been producing and directing videos for nearly twenty years. Before that, I wrote and edited news stories for three different television stations for almost ten years. The central theme to my career is the ability to tell a story. And most folks think it’s quite easy to do.

I always joke, my clients watch TV, so that makes them experts in how it’s done. But, to be honest, it doesn’t have to be hard. My hope is that, through this blog, I can help people learn to tell better stories with their cameras.

The biggest mistake many people make is to simply wave the camera around as if it were a sponge, designed to soak up all of the life going on in the room. Or they treat it like a firehose, soaking down the entire environment. When the video is played back, it looks like it was shot from the deck of a ship pitching in heavy seas. It’s enough to make you nauseated.

The second biggest mistake most people make is that, when they turn their camera on, they have no goal in mind. They have no story. There is no "once upon a time," no start, no end. It’s just random images on a random tape, and there is no context for the pictures on the screen.

Part of the problem is the relative smallness (is that even a word?) and affordability of video cameras these days. Even high definition cameras (yes, full 1920 by 1080 resolution) can be had for less than a thousand dollars. Stephen Spielberg meets Vladimir Lenin, and filmmaking comes to the masses. And people have no clue as to what to do. They know what end of the camera is up, they probably know how to load the tape (or "film"), and they might know how to use the zoom controls (in fact, in many amateur videos, the zoom control is the one feature people seem to be most comfortable with).

But when they screen their footage for friends and family, the general reaction is, "Um, that’s nice."

Even with the advent of cheap or free video editing tools, like Windows Movie Maker and Avid FreeDV, people screen raw video as if it were the final product. And the features on many cameras (fade up/fade out, titles, "posterizing," for example) make it easy for people to do really bad video.

A couple of minutes of pre-planning can help turn those disasters-in-the-making into relatively eye-pleasing footage.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have done many of the same things myself. I’ve been doing this for a long time, yet when I’m shooting family videos I tend to forget all of those rules. And I shouldn’t. I can shoot like a professional even when I’m on personal time. But I’m lazy. I’d rather just point the firehose and shoot.

But in writing this blog, not only can I help you produce better videos, but perhaps I can remind myself why I love this business so much, and why it sometimes seems more like a hobby.

In the next few days and weeks, I’ll have some tips based on personal experience, not so much "industry-standard" education. And I’ll also offer links to other locations where you can get more information. After all, I’m not the final authority on all things video. I just hope to be able to provide some inspiration and some places to start for people who would like more from their video camera than raw footage.

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