Category Archives: Video production

Encore! Stop With The Effects!

Stop With The Effects! Have you noticed an annoying trend? Every videographer from “Cousin Harry” in Saskatoon to the BBC in London is causing our eyes and ears  to bleed with cranked up sound and tightly edited, over-the-top visual effects. Today, even the simplest home editing software  has a myriad of “bells and whistles”. You can use the “Ken Burns” effect to pan or  zoom in and out of photos. You can have dazzling titles and credits not to mention fancy dissolves … Read More


From the Archives: Do You Make These 5 Common Video Composition Mistakes?

Do You Make These 5 Video Composition Mistakes? Poor composition makes a video interview look  amateurish. If you don’t take time to set up your interview properly, it won’t matter how much you spent on your camcorder. Here are the five most common mistakes… Read More

The #1 Secret to Creating an Engaging Video Life Story.

What makes a video biography memorable?  Is it the person being interviewed? Or is it the inclusion of archival photos and movies? Or could it be the clever use of audio and visual effects? All of these are significant but the most important factor – the #1 secret to a first rate video biography is good story telling.

Basically your video biography needs to have the same narrative structure  that goes into creating a good feature film – pacing, suspense, and character development.  It’s true that your production isn’t for broadcast and will only be seen by your client’s  family and friends. But that’s no excuse to make it boring!

Here are a few ways you can improve your story telling.

Launch your story with A compelling opening.

And I don’t mean flashy effects. That’s window dressing. A good feature film captivates you in the first few minutes of the story. Edit a clip from the main interview that establishes your subject’s character. It might be something that’s funny, heavy with portent, sad, or revealing.  Cut that into your opening. Later decide what visuals (e.g family photos, home movies, etc.) you might want to accompany this opening segment.

Keep the story moving.

It’s not enough to string together the chronology of a life.  You need to use  techniques that will give the narrative energy and create momentum. One  approach is  to shift the emotional tone. For example, after your subject has recounted a sad story fade to black and then come up on an account that’s happy. Or if your subject has been railing at the world, jump to a more tender story. Trust me it works.

Another way to keep the story moving is to create a jump in time. This can improve your storytelling immeasurably by eliminating material that’s lackluster. For example, the story of a woman who struggles to get an education during the Depression and eventually goes on to university is riveting. But her university years are less interesting. What’s really intriguing is how she gets her first job after graduating. So find a clip from her interview that can be used to jump directly to her first job. It might be something she says like, ” I had great fun at university but it was my first job that really tested me.”

Create suspense.

Suspense is the principal engine that  drives your story. Suspense is created by your audience asking and getting answers to such basic questions as, “What is the subject’s quest?  How does the subject resolve the challenges along the way? Will the subject reach a goal?  What happens when the dream is achieved or not achieved?”

Here’s the bad news. Unless you’ve asked these questions in your interviews you’ll likely have little to help you create suspense.

Keep your editing tight.

As  Sheila Curran Bernard, an  an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning writer, said, “In documentary, as in drama, you have to collapse real time into its essence.” Believe me, not everything your subject says is worth including in your video. Eliminate anything that doesn’t  support  your main story. For example, an anecdote about “Aunt Flo” might be interesting but unless it somehow illuminates some facet of your main subject, Aunt Flo should go! To give you some perspective on this, I shoot an average of six to seven hours of interview for a one-hour video biography.

Provide A Good Closing.

Your ending should provide a satisfying resolution to the central journey. It must be short and not introduce any new story lines.  The final scene can be in the form of a simple summary statement from your subject. Or it can be some end cards that bring the story up-to-date. Whatever you choose, don’t make the mistake of creating multiple endings.

Photo by Steev Hise

My Top 10 Posts of 2010.

In the past twelve months these are the posts that have ranked as the most popular with  readers.  If you’ve missed some of these, now’s  your chance to catch up over the holidays. Enjoy!

  1. How Much Should You Pay A Personal Historian?
  2. Your Photo Restoration Resource List.
  3. 15 Great Memoirs Written by Women.
  4. 5 Print-On-Demand Sites You’ll Want to Consider.
  5. #1 Secret to Getting More Clients.
  6. 5 Top Sites for Free Online Videography Training.
  7. How to Interview Someone Who Is Terminally Ill: Part One.
  8. How to Salvage a Damaged Audio Cassette.
  9. Warning: Using Copyright Music Without Permission Is Illegal.
  10. How to Make Your Life Story Workshop Memorable.

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Stop With The Effects!

Have you noticed an annoying trend? Every videographer from “Cousin Harry” in Saskatoon to the BBC in London is causing our eyes and ears  to bleed with cranked up sound and tightly edited, over-the-top visual effects.

Today, even the simplest home editing software  has a myriad of “bells and whistles”. You can use the “Ken Burns” effect to pan or  zoom in and out of photos. You can have dazzling titles and credits not to mention fancy dissolves and fades.

Now I’m not against effects. Don’t get me wrong. I use them myself. Applied judiciously to enhance a story they can be a valuable tool.  The problem arises  when they’re overused and distract you from the story being told.

I’ve watched many a video  ruined by a filmmaker adding endless ramped-up motion to their photos. After a while I want to shout out, “For God’s sake stop with all the motion! I’m getting seasick!” Nothing spells amateurish more than the overuse of visual effects.

Life story videos  are not rock videos.  Unless of course you’re producing Bryan Adams’s  life story.  The effects should work with the subject being documented. We don’t need  MTV “razzle-dazzle”. What we need are well-edited sequences that tell a compelling story with  a beginning, middle, and end. We want to see  pathos and joy, gravity and humor.  We want, as with a good feature film, to be entertained.

If you’re about to begin editing a video biography,  stop! Keep your hands off the  effects buttons.  Only when you’ve got a strong storyline in place – only then – consider using effects. Think of them as the icing on the cake.

Maybe, if we’re lucky, we can begin a movement back to thoughtful, elegant storytelling. And maybe my ears and eyes will stop bleeding.

Photo by Matt Reinbold

5 Top Sites for Free Online Videography Training.


If video personal histories appeal to you but your experience with video production is limited, help is just a click away! You’ll find a wealth of valuable resources in these five sites.

  • Videomaker: “This is the place to start for videography training. Here you will find hundreds of articles about audio/video software, video editing hardware, and help with video lighting techniques.”
  • Video 101: “Offers tutorials on the fundamentals of film and video production. Includes video clips, flash animations, and explanations.”
  • VideoUniversity. “Hundreds of free articles for new and advanced videographers. Here’s a sample:  50 Ways To Improve Your Video Business; Video Art – An Introduction;  Audio for Video — Part 1 Tape Formats and Hardware;  Audio For Video – Part 2 Microphones & Techniques;  Audio For Video – Part 3 Audio Production Techniques.”
  • MediaCollege. “… a free educational website for all forms of electronic media. We have hundreds of exclusive tutorials covering video & television production, audio work, photography, graphics, web design and more.”

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5 Reasons You Should Consider a Video Life Story.

videoMost people when they consider a life story project think of a book. There are a lot of good reasons for producing a book. But I’ll be honest. I have a video bias because producing video personal histories is my specialty. I also produce books  but video is my passion. To see a sample of my work click here. So why should you consider a video for your or someone else’s  personal history? Here are five good reasons.

  1. Video conveys the emotional content of a story. Watching someone choke up over a sad memory or laugh heartily at an embarrassing childhood moment powerfully captures a person’s innermost feelings.
  2. Video shows a person’s special little traits. One of the great strengths of video is that you can see and hear the person being interviewed. We are reminded of their uniqueness by the twinkle in their eye, their infectious smile, or their easy laugh.
  3. Video harnesses a rich array of  media elements. Videos weave together interviews, photos, family movies, archival stock footage, music, sound effects, and graphics to produce a seamless and rich tapestry of an individual’s  life.
  4. Videos are highly portable and easily duplicated. A DVD weighs ounces and can be shipped inexpensively anywhere in the world. Now with a high speed connection you can send your video to someone through the Internet. DVDs can also be easily and inexpensively duplicated.
  5. Videos appeal to a media savvy younger audience. Your children and your children’s children have grown up with computers, videos, and text messaging. If you want to get them to sit down with a family member’s life story, chances are they’ll watch a sixty-minute video before they’ll read a lengthy book.

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Do You Make These 5 Common Video Composition Mistakes?

Poor composition makes a video interview look  amateurish. If you don’t take time to set up your interview properly, it won’t matter how much you spent on your camcorder. Here are the five most common mistakes.

framing - poor lighting

Subject placed against a blank wall.

Placing your subject up against a blank wall.

There are several problems with this. The first is that most blank walls are really unattractive. It creates the impression that your subject is being interrogated in a police holding cell. The other problem, if you’re not careful with lighting, is that your subject casts an ugly shadow on the wall.  Always pay attention to the background.

 

 

bad framing - air space

Background is too busy.

Losing your subject in background clutter.

This is the opposite of the blank wall syndrome. Be careful to place your subject in such a way that he isn’t visually overwhelmed by the background. Try for an interesting but somewhat neutral backdrop for your interview.

Too much space around subject.

Too much space around subject.

 

 

 

Too much “air” space.

You don’t want a lot of space around your subject. It creates the feeling that the space is more important than your subject.

 

Having  “odd” forms growing out of your subject’s head.

This can create unintended humor. Check for wayward plants, ornaments, or other items that appear to have taken root on your subject’s head.

Head growths.

Head growths.

Not sufficient lead space.

Not sufficient lead space.

Leaving too little “lead” space.

If your subject is facing left or right, you want to frame him so there’s more space in front of him than behind. This creates a natural flow from your subject’s eyes to what he’s looking at off screen.

Blank wall photo by Paul
Backgound clutter photo by Mikel Daniel
Too much space photo by Laurie
Head growths photo by Jehane
Too little lead space photo by Gianpaolo Fusari

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Ten Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Your Camcorder.

camcorder mistakes

For those of you who are new to doing video interviews for a life story, here are some common mistakes to avoid.

  1. Failure to read the manual. First and foremost know how to use your camcorder.  Read the manual.  Practice, practice, practice.  And then practice some more!
  2. Failure to use the color balance. Don’t want blue or green looking skin?  Learn how to set the color balance, which will improve your picture color.
  3. Dead batteries. Make certain your batteries are fully charged and that you have an additional back-up battery.
  4. Failure to check electrical outlets for AC hum. If you’re using an electrical outlet to power your camcorder, check to make certain that you’re not getting an electric “hum” on your audio.
  5. Dirty lens. Nothing marres a picture more than a spot or smudge.  Always clean your camera lens with a lens cleaning solution and lens tissue.
  6. Out of focus. Check to make sure your subject is in focus. Use the manual rather than the auto focus.
  7. Incorrect exposure. Make certain to check your exposure so that your subject is neither over or under exposed.
  8. Incorrect Recording Mode. You can choose from SP (standard play) and LP (long play). Use SP mode. It allows for downloading to computer and provides a better picture.
  9. Failure to monitor audio quality. Use a good quality lavaliere microphone if your camcorder has an external mic terminal. If it doesn’t, then make sure that you place the camera no more than 4 feet from your subject. Also try to record in a room that is quiet, one with rugs, drapery and padded furniture.
  10. Leaving a cassette in the camcorder. Rewind your tape when you’re finished and remove it from the camcorder. Failure to do so can cause the tape to become slack or damaged.

In future posts I’ll be talking about proper composition and lighting for your interviews.

Photo by Aleksi Aaltonen

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Put Some “Zip” into Your Next Video Life Story.

For some professional polish or a light-hearted touch, consider using some royalty free stock footage in your next video life story. I found a great list of stock footage sites that Apple – QuickTime assembled.  These providers charge a fee for downloading clips, which ranges from $10 to $60 and up.  For more information click here.

If your  budget is really tight be sure to check out The Internet Archive. They have over 2,000 public domain films and they’re all free!

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