The ubiquity of the smart phone has put video production into the hands of billions. We have in
our hands technology that can produce and transmit pictures and sound that are higher in quality
than the finest professional cameras, editing, and graphics equipment could deliver even twenty
years ago. And we use it: about 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every second.
But there's video… and then there's video. There is production value that is appropriate for your
funny cat, and production value that is appropriate for your CEO. There is technical
quality—such as 4K resolution—and there is the effectiveness of the message. While there are
examples of powerful and artistic video produced by amateurs without a budget, they are one in
a billion. That's why there are still video professionals, and why there are times when you need
to pay them to do what they do well. Just because you can produce a video with your
smartphone doesn't mean you always should.
Video professionals may study and apprentice for years. So what do they know that you don't
know? What can they do that you can't do? Here are a few notes that might help you improve
your own video making—or convince you that it is worth seeking out a professional crew or
production company when the effectiveness of the final product is an important consideration.
Lighting. That, of course, is the classic answer to the question "What distinguishes art from
pornography?" It also frequently distinguishes good video from bad. No camera made can
record a scene the way a human eye sees it, and in many cases (for example, pornography—just
saying for a friend) we want a scene to look different or better than it really does. Professional
lighting directors ("gaffers" and "grips") will spend hours lighting a set, creating an artful blend or
light and shadow and mitigating distracting reflections and glare. They can create soft, flattering
lighting for the people on screen. You can achieve some of the same quality by choosing where
and when you shoot. Avoid placing your subjects against windows, up against walls under
fluorescent lighting, or outside in the direct sun. Early morning or late afternoon sunlight makes
anyone look good.
Directing. There are many aspects to directing other than shouting "Action." A professional
director (or director of photography) pays a lot of attention to how each shot is framed: how
close up the camera should be, and how one scene will properly "cut" with another in the final
product. A good director is making real-time judgments about whether a shot will still look good
when played back, and ensuring that all the required scenes and takes are completed while
expensive crew and actors are still present. You can make up for some of the director's skill by
"overshooting"—that is, by doing a lot more video than you think you need. Experiment; keep
the best, and trash the rest.
Scriptwriting. Writing for video is very different than writing for other mediums. The writer has
to think in multiple dimensions: what will get the message across, what is practical in the video
format, and how the written word interacts with the pictures. Brevity is paramount. Not many
more than 120 words can fit in a video minute, so if you can't deliver a message in a few pithy
sentences an audience is unlikely to stay with you. Documentaries and corporate videos are
often "written" by stitching together the words of interview subjects. Considerable effort is
required to juxtapose "sound bites" in a way that makes sense, while editing around the
inevitable ums, uhs, and digressions.
Interviewing. Part of writing and directing is knowing how to coax a good interview out of non-
professional subjects. It is an art to devise open-ended questions that are specific enough to
generate the answers you want but not so specific that the subject parrots them back in a stilted
or inauthentic fashion. The director then needs to keep a subject relaxed and engaged while
probing for interesting answers while watching for beads of sweat, ties askew, and eyes that dart
to the camera lens.
Audio. The picture gets all the attention, but it is the sound—including music—that often
supplies the emotional punch. A skilled audio recordist can capture distinct, intelligible audio
with a minimum of background noise and—like the director—judge audio quality in real time.
A good video editor often devotes more time to manipulating voices, and adding sound effects,
ambience, and music, than to the video itself. As with lighting, you can improve your audio
results by avoiding reverberant or noisy environments and taking time to place quality
microphones as close to the source as possible.
Editing. Editing may be the least glamorous but most important part of professional
videomaking. Editors can be miracle workers, creating a meaningful, engrossing program from a
mélange of undistinguished footage and sound. All of the basic tools for video editing are
available to anyone; it is the eye and sense of timing that enables a great editor to piece together
an impactful video program.
No, you don't need a team of video professionals to shoot that video of your brother doing a face-
plant after falling off of his skateboard.
But if you want consistent, effective results from the video introducing your new product…
asking your donors for contributions...or engaging your employees...consider the statement
that quality and artistry in the final product will make. Yes, you could make that video yourself.
But you should take advantage of what video professionals know that you don't know.