Run ‘N Gun Videography book cover (survey)

Posted in Uncategorized on August 26, 2014 by Video Whisperer

Video Whisperer:

Update: Text editing complete.

Originally posted on The Video Whisperer:

For those of you have read the various chapters of ‘Run ‘N Gun Videography–The Sole Shooter’s Survival Guide’  I’ve previewed here on the blog, I thought I’d show you my first attempt at cover design and solicit comments/feedback.

This is the second revision taking some good advice from the comments:

Realised why I liked the the sort of ghostly halo that I accidentally came up with at the early stages of messing around…he’s the Video Whisperer! (You’ll have to read the book to totally get that, but to be fair, I have covered it in earlier blog articles)

25 August update: Just completed a full text edit of the 43,000+ words with the invaluable assistance of a very smart friend of mine. He’s a great word smith, but a complete technophobe, yet he was fascinated by the material and even got interested in this highly technical subject.

That’s sayin’ something.


View original 26 more words

Run ‘N Gun Videography book cover (survey)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on August 13, 2014 by Video Whisperer

For those of you have read the various chapters of ‘Run ‘N Gun Videography–The Sole Shooter’s Survival Guide’  I’ve previewed here on the blog, I thought I’d show you my first attempt at cover design and solicit comments/feedback.

This is the second revision taking some good advice from the comments:

Realised why I liked the the sort of ghostly halo that I accidentally came up with at the early stages of messing around…he’s the Video Whisperer! (You’ll have to read the book to totally get that, but to be fair, I have covered it in earlier blog articles)

25 August update: Just completed a full text edit of the 43,000+ words with the invaluable assistance of a very smart friend of mine. He’s a great word smith, but a complete technophobe, yet he was fascinated by the material and even got interested in this highly technical subject.

That’s sayin’ something.

Still have interior photos and stuff to shoot and insert, then the daunting task of formatting for Kindle. Anyone out there provide Kindle formatting as a service?

Run 'n Gun cover photo


Preview, Chapter 8 Lighting, from ‘Run ‘N Gun’ Videography

Posted in B) TUTORIALS, F) Resources with tags , , , on August 8, 2014 by Video Whisperer

Ok,  I can’t stand it anymore.

My broadband has been down for a month (now fixed) and I’d been wanting to publish another preview to ‘Run ‘N Gun Videography–the Sole Shooters Survival Guide’, but I’m hung up on the one I wanted to publish as I can’t yet publish the video that goes along with it.

Thanks all for the great feedback on the chapters I’ve released so far. There will be over 25 chapters, so no worries yet about pre-publishing the entire book on this blog like this. But I will do at least two more.

This one is in its entirety (minus illustrations which is what I have to work on next along with the design, cover, etc.). I did however drop in one picture here that will be in the book.

I’ve been being asked how to order the book. There will be a link here, of course, but that will come once it’s actually published to Amazon as an eBook for about £20 (or should it be £19.95?). I believe you will be able to order it as a hardcopy as well, but I’ll know more once I get into that part of the process.

Anyway, here’s a chapter that can be put to immediate effective use in your run ‘n gun corporate videos (or whatever else you do!)


Chapter 8  Lighting

Lighting is considered the lifeblood of cinematography.

In Hollywood, the ‘Director of Photography’ or ‘Cinematographer’ is primarily concerned with the lighting and exposure of the scene, not the camerawork.

To be fair, the two are practically inseparable. But then, so are all the other departments. Yet there is a very personal relationship between camera and lighting.

You’ve all seen dramatizations of the stereotypical Director of Photography walking around a set or through life holding his fingers in front of his eyes in such a way as to frame the world that he sees.

On the set, as far as camera goes, the frame that is arrived at is vital. It tells everyone in every other department, what will be seen and from what perspective. It also tells them what will not be seen.  How it will be seen or perceived is largely due to lighting.

The screen upon which the film or video will eventually be viewed (and probably for a long time to come, despite the rapid advance of technology) is FLAT.  Ok, there are curved screens now to further the illusion of depth, but they are still 2 dimensional. For all intent and purposes, it’s a flat screen.

You are all familiar with types of art in the world of painting that are essentially two-dimensional line-art. While there are many examples, possibly the most familiar is what you would see on the walls in your favorite oriental restaurant.

On the other hand there is art that specializes in great depth and perspective, lending a very convincing 3 dimensional effect to what is clearly a 2 dimensional plane.

Rembrandt was one of the first to truly popularize this illusion of 3 dimensionality achieved through the simulation of light and shadow, and indeed, one of the most enduring types of portrait lighting used in cinematography, videography and photography today is called “Rembrandt Lighting”.

It is lighting, possibly more than anything else, that creates atmosphere, mood and depth in photography, cinematography and videography. That is to say, it has the potential of doing so.

To be sure, there is “bad lighting” and “good lighting”. You know it’s good when you see it. And when it’s bad, you might not realize it’s the lighting at fault, but you’ll probably be unimpressed by the film.

In the early days of TV, video cameras required a relatively high light level for proper exposure and weren’t very good at rendering contrast either. TV studios were typically flooded by light from all directions and this became known as “TV lighting” which is not a flattering term.  There was little or no lighting direction, little or no shadows, and little or no separation of subject to background. It also made it easy to shoot from multiple cameras all over the set at the same time. It was the “MacDonalds” of film production, also not a flattering description when it comes to good cuisine.

Motion pictures, on the other hand, were done (and are still done) shot by shot, each shot a completely different set-up with everything tailored to the particular camera angle.

If you recall some of the early Hollywood black and white classics, you would at once notice a dramatic difference in the lighting compared with “TV lighting”. Next time you see one, take a moment to study the complexities of light and shadow in any given scene and compare that with any modern TV sit com.

It was more than that though. Because they were shooting in Black and White, tonal separation was achieved solely through a total command of the subject of reflectance.  A theoretical ‘total white’ would reflect back 100% of the light hitting it. Conversely, a theoretical ‘total black’ would reflect back no light. In between there is a theoretical infinite range of different reflectances of all colors as rendered in black and white film. Therefore the masters of black and white films did extensive testing of all fabrics and paints before committing anything to film. It was at that point that lighting took over to complete the look that we all recognize as classic black and white.

Interestingly, when color film came into being, lighting suffered somewhat as now it was easy to achieve tonal separation of subject from background with color alone.

So some of the early color films were pretty crappy, technically speaking.

Crap quality, however, does not endure, and it was not long before great lighting was married up with color film. Most of the good films of the last three decades have a great director of photography on board whose principle job—as mentioned earlier—is lighting design.

It wasn’t until some Hollywood film crews brought the discipline of cinematography to television that the bad habit of TV lighting began to change.

I think in the U.S. one of the first televisions shows to do this was “Hill Street Blues” in 1981, an award winning and long running series following daily life in a New York police precinct. That was a Hollywood film crew. Not only was the lighting good, but they introduced a choreography of moving camerawork within the busy police precinct that was truly impressive—all the more so because moving cameras following moving actors put great strain on the lighting crews. But they pulled it off so successfully that it’s become the norm for television police dramas throughout the world ever since.

In my opinion, the Danish series “The Killing” is the pinnacle of filming excellence in all departments, but many other similar shows in the UK,  Europe and the US have attained similar cinematic excellence, and ALL of them have great lighting.

Ok, let’s get down to earth. I know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with run ’n gun videography? You’re obviously not going to be running around with a huge lighting crew with 85,000 watts at their disposal.

I used to and now I travel with three fluoro lights totaling a whopping 375 watts. So what’s the point?

First of all, there will be no attempt in this chapter to cover the intricacies of lighting. There is a massive text on the subject called “Techniques of Lighting for Television and Film” by Gerald Millerson, whose book on lighting is probably the original lighting bible for Hollywood.

Interestingly it was not written by a person who had ever lit a set in his life. It was written, however, by a consummate researcher who studied the subject of film lighting over several decades and codified the subject. If ever there was a definitive book on the history and technology of cinematic lighting, this book was it.  While I would encourage any serious film maker or corporate videographer to read it, what I want to accomplish in this chapter for the run ’n gun shooter is two things:

  1. A realization and appreciation of the fact that lighting is a vitally important element of any production.
  2. What you can and should do to with minimal kit and resources to maximize the potential of lighting in any given run ’n gun circumstance.

So let’s draw out two important elements of lighting that can be applied no matter the circumstances:

  1. It is the relationship between light and shade in a two dimensional plane that creates the illusion of 3 dimensionality;
  2. Lighting contrast ratio from subject to background is as important a factor in the creation of depth and 3 dimensionality as the modeling and contrast ratio of the subject.

Practically speaking, in most corporate shoots, with the exception of interview lighting, most of the B roll that you will shoot will be with existing lighting whether it’s overhead fluorescent lighting, skylights, windows, open loading dock doors or a combination of any of these.

Sometimes when shooting a plant or office interiors, it’s helpful to have at least a single light that can be used to give some lighting direction or effect to a foreground subject. It’s not too difficult to have a single lightweight lamp at hand. But in truth, most of the time, due to the speed you will be shooting at and due to the fact that most of what you will be shooting will have little screen time, you’ll deal with existing lighting conditions.

Most modern cameras are sensitive enough to make just about any scene look good.

Furthermore, the sole shooter simply won’t have enough horsepower, in terms of lighting, to create any advantage with supplemental lighting in a medium or long shot. You can’t really compete with sun coming through windows or skylights in a medium or long shot with anything less than a set of 5 or 10 thousand watt lamps and those are not things you’re going to be carrying around.

But as most corporate shoots involve some sort of interview shots, be it representatives of the company or testimonials of customers that give you your narrative content, this is the one area you do have control over in terms of lighting because you’re dealing with a relatively small frame size. And this is the one area you can make look much more polished and professional than those who don’t even bother with lighting interview shots.

In my opinion, it is the lighting of interview shots that separates the professionals from amateurs in any corporate video I have ever seen.

Amateurs use whatever is there, and often don’t even use what’s there to the best advantage. The results are rather drab looking shots where the featured talent is not separated from the background, has no facial modeling, no lighting direction, no mood and no pizzaz at best. At worst, steep overhead lighting from existing fluoros create dark eye sockets or other ambient lighting sources create distracting shadow patterns on the subject or a host of other problems that result in an unattractive looking image or even a revolting one.

But that doesn’t mean any lighting is better than no lighting, because lighting can also be done so poorly that it creates the same effect as no lighting.

The point is, with knowledge of basic lighting, there are things a lone shooter can do easily and quickly make a scene look better with correctly and judiciously place lights or by turning off, blocking or changing the character of existing light.

“Lighting” is as much placing lights to create an effect as it is preventing unwanted light from hitting the subject or background.

So let’s look a little closer at the fundamentals of lighting.

Contrast Ratio

This is something I’ve rarely seen covered in lighting tutorials, yet it is a fundamental building block of all lighting, so it’s worth knowing. It’s also fun.

Please bear with me on this. I’m not a mathematician and I’m not trying to impress you with numbers. This is simply the language of lighting exposure. It’s not hard to understand, but it is important that you do understand it. Once you do, a lot of things make sense and you’ll find it very easy to create just about any effect or mood you want to.  So if in what follows you feel at any time that you’re starting to lose the plot, slow down, read it over again, think of real examples or whatever you need to do to realize the simplicity of what I’m talking about here. Deal? (And those of you already familiar with these principles, there still may be a trick or two following that may be helpful).

For simplicity, let’s first consider a single, focused halogen light hitting a human face from the side in an otherwise dark room.

“Contrast ratio” refers to the ratio between the lit part of the face and the shadowed part.

For purposes of example, let’s consider that we’re shooting in a black room. Because there is no ambient light from any other source, the only light that will hit the shadowed area would some light bouncing off the walls from the main light source which would be very little as there will be very little bounce light in a black room. Therefore the ratio between light and shadow is likely to be 32:1 or greater.  The bright portion will be at least 32 times brighter than the shadowed portion. The shadowed portion will be at least 1/32nd the brightness of the lit portion.

This would be a very dramatic looking scene.

In actual fact, at a ratio of 32:1, the shadows would render totally black on both film and video. No detail in the shadow at all.

Film and video cannot render detail in a contrast range much beyond 8:1. At least that was the case in the 1990s when I was shooting film and just starting to shoot video. It may be better now, but not much compared with the human eye.

The human eye is capable of detecting detail in a contrast range as great as 1,000,000:1.

In other words, if the shadowed area is 1/1,000,000 the brightness of the lit portion, the human eye is still capable of detecting details in the shadows. Not so with film and video.

Here’s a real example anyone can relate to as it has nothing to do with film, video, or artificial light sources.

Outside on a clear day (clear blue sky) with bright sun, the contrast between light and shade is between 16:1 and 32:1 depending on altitude and other environmental factors. Yes, the sun is BRIGHT, but that big bowl of clear blue sky acts as a shadowless fill, so the contrast won’t be much greater than 16:1.

Anyway, that is why “fill lights” are used to fill the shadows cast by the main light.  Without “fill”, facial shadows would always be inky black on film or video.

So how come on exterior shots in film or video with a 16:1 contrast ratio the shadows cast by the sun on the actors faces are not inky black?  Ah ha!  That’s what the lighting people and director of photography are doing with their lights and other equipment on exterior shoots, and it’s all quite variable.

In Westerns (Cowboy and Indian movies) shot under clear blue sky, those actors had a hell of a lot of light being pumped onto their faces by multiple 12,000 watt arc lamps and or “sunny boards” (which are large boards covered with shiny tin foil that reflect the full intensity of the sun back onto the scene).

This is probably why John Wayne had a permanent squint.

Other methods to reduce that contrast involve flying huge white translucent screen above the actors to cut the intensity of the sun by 50% or so, reducing the contrast ratio to maybe 8:1, then using lights to reduce it down to 4:1 to give a better approximation of what the human eye would see.

I mentioned other variables. They include hazy skies whereby the sun is diffused by a thin layer of clouds—which reduces the contrast ratio. Etc.

Of course most of the time they just put the sun behind the subject and exposed the shadowed faces to appear as it would to the human eye resulting in a slight, but acceptable over-exposure of the background. If that background was a low reflectant one (a forest, the shadowed side of a mountain, dark storm clouds or house, etc.) you’d have a pretty good looking scene. And that bright sun on the hair and shoulders of the subject would separate him nicely from that darkened background.

Next point: The degree with which you fill the shadows determines the mood of the shot. That applies whether it’s an exterior shot or an artificially lit interior shot.

You video guys instantly see the contrast when you look at the LCD screen of your video camera.

Film people won’t see it until the film is developed. So they have to use light meters to determine and set the contrast ratio with their fill lights in order to control the eventual effect they will see once the film is developed and screened. (I know, they use ‘video assists’ these days, but they also still use light meters to expose film)

How much fill they add depends on the mood they want. It goes roughly like this:

Low Key Lighting (High Contrast)

For a dramatic look they’ll go for a contrast ratio of 4:1-6:1.  Night scenes would generally have such a contrast ratio as it’s what the human eye expects. There is no big blue bowl of sky to fill the shadows.  Remember, once you go to about 8:1, neither film or video will see much detail in the shadows. So if an even more dramatic look is wanted, the director of photography may set the contrast to 8:1 or even 12:1 to make the shadowed areas deliberately black.

On most interior night scenes, contrast ranges will probably by set to about 4:1 or 6:1 because, unlike a daylight interior scene where light may also be coming in through windows to fill those shadows, a night interior scene will normally be more contrasty. Lighting is set to create the appropriate illusion or mood. High contrast scenes like these are called “high contrast”.

Don’t worry about these numbers.

High Key Lighting (Low Contrast)

At the opposite extreme, however, there’s something called “high key” (low contrast), where the relationship between light and shade is very little.

An upbeat or “happy” scene would generally be shot with low contrast; very little difference between light and shade.

“Flat lighting”, as discussed early in relation to early “TV lighting” would have little or no shadows at all.

In any case, the deliberate use of varying degrees of contrast is for creating specific “moods” for any given scene.

Now let’s get back to how this relates to “run ’n gun” videography mainly for people shooting corporate videos, and most specifically to the shooting of interviews.

Subject to Background Contrast

If you think about it, the whole idea of a posh looking interview close-up comes from the Hollywood close up.

Most people assume the main difference between a video shot and a film shot is depth of field. In other words, the film shot has that nice out-of-focus background.  While that is a factor, it is less important than the lighting of the film shot.

The director of photography not only ensures nice modeling and contrast on the actor’s face (suitable to the message of what’s being shot), but also the contrast of the actor to the background.

In a typical daytime scene, for a nice looking shot with good depth, the contrast ratio is set to around 3:1. That means the main light is 3 times brighter than the wall behind the actor. You could also look at it as the wall  being 1/3 the brightness of the main light on the actor, but the first way is the correct way to define 3:1..

For a night scene, that contrast will increase to 4:1 or greater.

Now let’s leave Hollywood and move on over into a typical corporate interview.

You’re in an office. What color are the walls?  That’s right, white (more often than not).

What’s the light source? Overhead fluorescent lamps, most likely. And what do they do?  —The give a pretty much overall even illumination to the entire room, but since they’re directly overhead, they tend to cast eye socket shadows on your talent.

If you were to use the overhead fluorescents to light the interviewee (god forbid), guess what the contrast ratio from interviewee to the background is going to be.  That’s right, about 1:1 which is no difference. The background is the same brightness as the subject. Worse, the subject’s facial tone will be less reflective than the white wall, so the background will appear to be brighter.

And right there is a typical scenario that any corporate videographer runs into routinely.

What can you do about it?

You can do more or less the same thing that the Hollywood crew would do on location. You reduce the light hitting that back wall. That’s the first thing they’ll do, because it is the brightness of that background that will determine the brightness of the main light hitting the actor.

Sure, you could leave the wall and just pump up the light on the actor and create your desired contrast ratio that way. But two things are wrong with that. a) you’ll fry the actor (and he’ll sweat), b), you’ll increase the f stop (iris) on the lens and increase your depth of field.

There’s an advantage to shooting at low light levels. The set is cooler (in terms of ambient temperature) and the iris of the camera lens is wide open or close to it which means your depth of field will be shallow (which is what you want in a close up).

Ok, let’s go back to the corporate shoot scenario with our videographer.  If you’re like me, you travel light with fluoro soft boxes (or LEDs) rather than halogens. Not a lot of horsepower there, even with the biggest ones. So you can’t compete with sunlight coming in through the windows very well.

A sequence of actions for lighting a corporate interview

1) Frame the interview shot including composing the background (which normally involves moving a few things around)

2) Now reduce the light hitting the background by any of or a combination of the following:   a) turn off the overheads, or a portion of them, even if it means unscrewing the bulbs or taping some black foil over an offending lamp, b) close the blinds wholly or partly, c) cover the windows wholly or partially with black cloth.

This is not a robotic exercise. Perhaps there is a light pattern created from a window source you’d like to have in there for a little background modeling. The point is not to simply cut out all or most of the light. The point is to bring down the light level while retaining as much as possible of any directional lighting pattern that may be there that will enhance the overall shot.

If you want to use some of the sun effect, you can put some neutral density gels on the offending window which will knock down the intensity without changing the pattern.

3) Now you’re ready to light the subject, preferably with some nice modeling by proper placement of the main light (called the “key light), but certainly brighter than the background.

4) Add a backlight, and now you will have a corporate interview that has a nice “filmic” look by lighting alone because you will have a nice contrast ratio from subject to background with a nice backlight that further separates subject from background and a nice contrast ratio on the subject’s facial lighting.

If you also happen to be shooting with a DSLR or a full sensor shallow depth-of-field video camera, you will have that nice filmic look everyone wants.

Remember, it’s not just depth of field that makes up the “filmic look”. The better part of that filmic look is lighting and contrast.

Here’s a video frame from a recent video I did that illustrates my point.

Jennie's Journey interview lighting

Let’s evaluate it:

1. We have some nice facial modeling from the main light which was placed above and to the right of the person.

2. We have a nice backlight on her hair and the plants behind her which separate both from the background and give the scene a rather polished look.

3. We have good separation of subject to background (approximately 3:1 contrast ratio).

Note: There is a “romantic filter” on the scene which caused the outer edges to appear as a slightly blurred vignette; something I don’t normally do, but in this particular case the interview was with a cancer survivor and I felt it added to the spirit of the interview which was very upbeat.

Here’s the good news for the lone shooter:

That scene was lit with a single softbox fluoro!

How did I do it?

Exactly as I outlined in 1-4 above.

In this case, the one thing I did not and could not change was the brightness of the sunlight coming through the window. Instead I limited it by the amount I closed the curtains.

So I set exposure to make the backlight that hit the subject (created by the sun) appear correct.

That left me with a near silhouette of the person.

Next I added a main light (key light) and positioned it for best modeling. I had to get it really close to achieve enough brightness (which wasn’t enough), so I compromised and opened up the aperture to get my exposure which made the backlight (the sun) brighter than it should have been, but acceptable.

As the “softbox” fluorescent lamp has a broad source, it tends to cast soft shadows. Nevertheless, with no other light source in the room I would have needed a fill light to fill in those shadows a bit or they would have appeared too “dark” or “dramatic”. And this was an upbeat interview, so fill was required.

Fortunately the ambient sunlight bouncing off the walls in the small white room gave me sufficient fill light on her face for the modeling I wanted.

But the key light (though it was deliberately positioned at an angle to minimize background spill,_ being a diffuse source was still lighting the wall behind her to a degree causing the subject to background contrast to be nearly 1:1 (probably about 1 ½:1).  Flat looking, no depth.

To handle that I suspended black foil from a light stand just above her head to order to block most of the spill light that was hitting the back wall. But I allowed a little of the light to escape around the right side of the foil so it would still  hit the edge of the bookshelf in the right background, thus cheating on the atmospheric lighting. If I had blocked all the light the background would have appear flat and dull back there.

Result: By utilizing and controlling existing ambient light, and adding a single key light I was able to produce a scene that looked like a portrait shot or a “Hollywood close up” lit by a director of photography and team of gaffers using anywhere from 3 to 6 lights or more.

To be fair, they probably would have made it look better, but remember, I’m addressing the lone shooter or small production company in this book and the point I will continue to make is that if you minimally understand the basics of what I’ve described in this chapter, and take that little bit of effort to deal with basic lighting and contrast, your shots will definitely look better than most of your competitors. I know because I have looked. And that’s why I am writing this book.

Lighting basics

To be fair, I haven’t at all covered the basics of lighting which are aptly covered in great detail in Gerald Millerson’s ‘The Techniques of Lighting for Film and Television’, and which can also be found in one form or another in many internet tutorials on lighting.

I really do think it’s wise for any videographer to study and understand these basics so that he or she can then use the tools he has to hand (actual lighting kit plus extant ambient lighting conditions at the site) to optimize lighting. While a thorough study of the subject is beyond the scope of this book, I want to cover the rock bottom basics in brief so that anyone unfamiliar with the subject will have some idea of its make-up.

If one were to light a Hollywood set inside a studio somewhere, there are 5 types of lights which are used to create the illusion of atmospheric lighting.

  1. Key lights (the main lights that hit the actors or subject)
  2. Fill lights (the soft light used to fill the shadows cast by the key lights to the desired contrast ratio)
  3. Set lights (which independently light the set, including walls, furniture, etc without hitting the actors or subject.)
  4. Effect lights (supplemental to set lights to create effects such as sunlight or moonlight streaming through a window, off-scene lightning flashes, car headlights, etc. and even lights used to bring out detail on surfaces, fill dark shadows or simulate the effects of off-scene lamps from adjacent rooms)
  5. Practical lights (which are actual lamps visible in the scene, such as table lamps, wall lamps, chandeliers, etc.

There are typically multiples of each of these types of lights to light any given scene. Indeed, a seemingly simply lit scene may have dozens of lights totalling 80,000 watts or more creating that illusion.

Obviously, that’s a bit out of the league of the run ‘n gunner.

But if you understand the basics of how these illusions are created, you’d be surprised how well you can adapt to make the best of what you have and what is otherwise available to create lighting illusions far better than the amateur who just comes into the room and turns on his camera with no understanding or regard for lighting.

Remember, lighting is considered the “lifeblood” of cinematography. It deserves some attention.

#               #                 #

If you’d like to watch the video that the still frame above is from, here it is. This is one of those rare cases where all I had to do was turn on the camera. She talked non-stop for 14 minutes.

Nice little video

Posted in Uncategorized on June 25, 2014 by Video Whisperer

Just wanted to share a recent video with the followers of this blog. For some reason, it’s one of my favourites.

As you know I’ve been writing a book called “Run ‘N Gun Videography–the Sole Shooters Survival Guide”. There are over 25 chapters and this video ticks a lot of the boxes covered in that book, not because it’s fancy, but because it gets the message across.

It’s simple.

It was a one-camera shoot (though I had a second locked-off camera on the podium which I didn’t use for this edit).

The Sony HXR NX30 did all the grunt work.

Audio was off the house board through a neat little transmitter I have which was plugged into the board and received by a radio receiver on my camera.

It wouldn’t have been as good a video if it were not for the strong narrative delivered by 3 celebrities in attendance, and that strong narrative made it easy to edit.

One of the most interesting chapters in the book has to do with how to choose and use stock music in a way that it seems to have been written for the video rather than just schlocked on.

This choice of music was a home run for me.

For you Americans and other non-English (as in England) people out there, the two celebs in the beginning are UK television presenters who have their own show and who are also internationally renown voice coaches.

The third one is a new celebrity. He’s actually a head teacher at a school who became an overnight sensation when he invited Channel 4 into his school to do a reality show, “Educating Yorkshire”.

Apparently he’s a heart throb receiving dozens of marriage proposals every day. He’s a nice guy too.

Anyway, enjoy!

Final preview of the book “Run ‘N Gun Videography”

Posted in B) TUTORIALS, C) Corporate Videos, F) Resources with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2014 by Video Whisperer

For anyone interested who has been following this, I’ve been writing an ebook entitle “Run ‘N Gun Videography–the Sole Shooter’s Survival Guide”.

I’ve now finished the first draft of the book which sits currently at 40,000 words and 25 chapters. I suspect there may be one or two more chapters added, but besides that I’m in editing mode and starting to think about graphics and layout. Should be finally published some time this summer.

Thought I’d share one more sneak preview, this one of Chapter 10. (most of it anyway. Hey! I can’t give away all the punch lines!)

Any feedback would be appreciated.

P.S. For the moment my Video Whisperer website is down for unknown reasons, so you may get an error message if you click that link. I’ve been wanting to re-do the whole thing and move it over to WordPress. Maybe it’s a sign….

Chapter 10, Corporate Shoot-outs

The Video Whisperer Approach to Corporate Videos

I’m using the term “corporate videos” loosely here. I am referring to the full range of business videos likely to be produced by a lone shooter or small production company. In my case, that ranges from home business owners, shop owners, small business owners and on up to multi-national corporations.

Clearly, when you start getting into the big name global corporations, they’re probably not going to be taking you on as a lone shooter.

So we’re not competing here with video production companies that are essentially small film studios with a full complement of specialized personnel.

“Corporate Shootouts” is probably an apt title. The bigger they are, the more people you have to please, the more meetings you have to have, the more planning you have to do and get approved (and modified ‘till everyone’s happy), the more back and forth on your edit, the more unwanted input from executives that want their stamp on your good ideas…and those larger video production companies have people that deal with all of that.

At any rate, I don’t play that game anymore, and if you’re reading this book, you probably don’t play it either. I like to keep it simple.

I travel light.

I don’t go into a corporate shoot like a swat team.

I walk in alone with a 6 shooter.

But I have a strategy.

And the funny thing is, even in that corporate environment I’ve walked into a conference room full of harried scriptwriters and producers and won with this approach, so don’t get the idea that because it’s simple, it can’t be effective.

Are you ready for this?

1)  I don’t script it.

2)  I don’t storyboard it.

3)  I don’t rehearse it.

So far that sounds pretty lame, doesn’t it?

Let me clarify it starting with a little story.

I used to be sent out to various parts of the globe to do a mini documentary on some interesting character by a corporation who had already fully pre-conceived the story and had it scripted by the “very best scriptwriters” based on glowing PR reports from the “very best research personnel”, right on down to the expected content of the interviews and testimonials.

The only trouble was, the real scene on the ground was never what the script said it was. So I used to get beat up about this pretty regularly by the corporate people for “not following the script” because I found real life far more interesting than their imaginary version of it.

One day it dawned on me why it was that the reports sent in to management from the field always understated the actual scene.

The real heroes on the ground that we were sent in to do stories on were too busy (and too humble) to waste much time on paperwork and bragging themselves up to the higher ups. So in the 25th hour of their day, they probably just didn’t spend much time sending their obligatory reports to management.

It was only when I tossed the interview questions and started really chatting these people up that I began to realize that they were too humble to know how extraordinary they really were. They had far more interesting stories to tell than anyone who sent us there knew about.

How ironic. Those “higher ups” were so damned concerned with their own PR that they chose the certainty of false reports based on faulty research over the actual truth which was far more interesting and better PR than they ever dreamed of.

Ok, this is a personal story and won’t have much to do with what most people will run into, but it did teach me a very important lesson that later formed the simplistic approach I started taking toward corporate videos summarized in #1-3 above.

And that lesson was: Real people are far more interesting, sincere and believable than imaginary ones.

I learned this by watching one director interviewing someone in quite a different and remarkable way…

The Secret of Interviews

Let’s face it. We’ve all seen standard, run-of-the-mill TV news interviews.

And we’ve all seen those high-end journalists who make the big bucks because of the compelling stories they supposedly draw out of people.

I’ve seen these things from the back end too. I’ve seen Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame (one of those supposed high end investigative journalists) doing a story. He arrived in a limo with a full entourage and large crew. “Intimidating” comes to mind. But this time he left in a big huff with his tail between his legs because the people he was doing a story on decided to run their own 5 cameras on the 60 Minutes interview so that 60 Minutes wouldn’t have the freedom pull off their usual skewed agenda-driven story through the magic of editing. That’s right. You can make people look like fools or criminals or worse just by the way you edit the footage—and I’m afraid that’s probably done more often than not depending on who is financing the story.

Anyway, that’s one extreme. But generally speaking, reporters are after controversy because that’s what sells. They’re after tears on camera and true confessions. They’re after salacious material and confrontations. They either have an agenda or their editors or producers do. That’s the world of journalism for the most part.

Documentaries can also be agenda driven with a similar approach to conducting interviews.

Tell me if I’ve gotten this right:

An interview consists of someone asking a list of prepared questions and getting responses to those questions.

Seems to be a reasonable definition, but it’s about as idiotic as it gets. I wouldn’t even call it simplistic. Not only that, it gets worse.

Typically the interviewer almost never acknowledges the answer before asking the next question. (wouldn’t that make you feel uncomfortable? You’d be wondering, “Did he hear what I just said?”) Worse still: (and I’ve seen this countless times) “that’s great, but could you give that to me again with a smile?” or “great!, but I need you to mention (_________)”, or “don’t bring up (__________)”, or any of an infinite number of other ways to introvert the interviewee because of some stupid pre-conceived idea that the interviewer has in regards to what he thinks the interviewee should say. After a short while the interviewee, convinced that you’re not interested in what they might want to say, spends the rest of the time trying to figure out what you want to hear, and the more he or she apparently “gets it wrong”, the more introverted he or she gets.

If anyone ever asked you a bunch of questions and never once acknowledged anything you’d said, you’d get the idea he wasn’t really very interested in what you had to say and you’d be right. If you had any integrity at all, you’d end the interview and tell the guy to buzz off. But too many people forge on and try to please the interviewer. They cease communicating about their own interests and passions and try to second guess what it is they’re supposed to say to make the interviewer happy.

I don’t care if it’s a news interview or a corporate interview. You get the same results; a dull, lifeless, stilted interview that forwards a supposed news agenda or marketing agenda.

It is so prevalent as a style that too many novice directors fall into the same “reporter mode” because they think that’s the way it’s supposed to be done.

I know I’m generalizing and I know there are exceptions to the rule. There have been truly great and memorable interviews and biographies, but I’m making a point that it is a pretty common approach to corporate videos by small productions companies and lone shooters who “learned it” by watching some of the “big guys”. It probably came about simply because some of these journalists who were on a deadline just didn’t have time to actually talk to someone, or (more likely) had orders from producers to obtain specific content.

A good interviewer puts his or her interviewee at ease and then engages in friendly conversation that makes the person happy and willing to talk. That should be the easy part—like riding a bicycle. The hard part is at the same time steering the interview to the end of obtaining quality, usable material for the purpose intended—like fixing a flat tire. Not very hard really.

The secret to interviews is getting people to talk about what they want to talk about, not what you think they should talk about.

But how to do know what they want to talk about?

You don’t.  You just don’t.

It’s no different than meeting someone for the first time.

So you start off with the minimum of what you have in common, even if very little. Well, you’re at their company, right. That’s a start. You’re both aware of the company and what it does. (It goes without saying that you will have done your homework and have some idea of the content or marketing message you are after). Nothing wrong with starting off with “So how long have you been working here?” Easy enough to answer and gets things off on an informal foot. The guy relaxes. He thought you were going to ask a tough question.

And you go on from there finding out about his specialty, his knowledge, his contribution to the company.

Just don’t make the mistake of getting caught up in the brilliance of your own questions. And don’t assume that you know what the ideal response should be, regardless of what the marketing people think.

Your questions are meant to be a good guess at what might get them going and what they want to talk about. And presumably you’re talking to them because they have some intimate knowledge of the subject at hand.

So start chatting. Keep it real. Keep it light and conversational.

And watch their eyes.

When those eyes light up, you’ve just found the entrance to the subject of what they like to talk about, what their passion is, etc. I don’t mean start talking about fishing or motorcycle racing. Obviously he knows what you’re there to talk about that’s relevant. What I’m saying is that when you’re in that area you’re probably going to find a hot spot that lights up his eyes. That’s the subject that’s going to get you some good material. Chat it up from all directions. He may start brief, but due to your interest, he may open up and dump a whole load of great stuff on your lap. It’s your sincere interest that will get him talking.

Listen to what they say. Really listen. Really be interested. Acknowledge what they’re saying by smiling or nodding or whatever is appropriate. Don’t cut them off.

When they seem to be finished, ask them more about what they just said. Better still, ask them something specific about something that they seem particularly interested in or emotive about. You don’t even have to ask a new question. Simply commenting on, agreeing with or otherwise acknowledging some aspect just mentioned will be enough to get them to continue talking about it.

And let them talk.

Of course you also ask all the perfunctory questions. But ideally you first establish a great rapport by talking about their interests. Then all the rest of the stuff will come off great too.

You can talk to anyone about anything that THEY are interested in.

When you find those topics, all their inhibitions disappear–so long as you do your part by listening, acknowledging and not cutting them off.

If it all goes wrong and you can’t seem to get off on the right foot, be humble enough to realize that you’re the one that introverted them and got them to stop talking. There is still an out.  I’ve done it many times to miraculous results.  It goes something like this:

“Forget about everything I just said or asked. Forget about what you think you should say or what the company thinks you should say or what you think I want to hear.  What is it about this subject that interests YOU the most? What about it are you most passionate about? Go ahead, let your hair down.”

Sometimes after 30 minutes of interview, I’ve gotten the greatest percentage of my editable narrative after making that statement alone.

Look at it this way. It’s really simple.

An interview is simply a directed conversation.

But it’s still a conversation.

It’s not formal. It’s relaxed. It’s fun. It’s interesting. It’s something you’ve done naturally all your life.

If you’re shooting a corporate interview or a testimonial, the only difference is that you are a director and you know the sort of content that is required to fulfill the marketing angle (or instructional angle—or whatever kind of video you’re doing). It doesn’t matter how long it takes to accumulate that information. It doesn’t matter a hoot what you say or how much you banter with the interviewee. All that gets cut out. But as you go along you will be making mental notes, “that was a good bit”, or “that’s a great opener”, or “that will work great in the wrap up”, etc.

With experience you’ll know when you have enough material to be able to edit the interview and achieve your objective.

The main point is, that the best of your material in that interview will be honest, sincere, passionate, and believable. But better still, you might well turn up with some great material that no scriptwriter or marketing person could ever have dreamed up for the very best actor or presenter to deliver with all the right hand gestures.

The intended audience for your video can see marketing hype a mile away.

But the real guy, warts and all, speaking from the heart is also something they can see from a mile away. And that’s they guy they’ll listen to.

Ok, that’s a basic overview. I’ll cover some more on this subject later, but for now, let’s get back to what this has to do with shooting corporate videos, or more specifically, how I do it in terms of “the Video Whisperer approach”….


Run ‘N Gun Videography, sneak preview

Posted in B) TUTORIALS with tags , , , , , , on May 15, 2014 by Video Whisperer

Almost done with the ebook “Run ‘N Gun Videography–the Sole Shooter’s Survival Guide”.  Looks like it will be about 42,000 words in about 25 chapters. A few weeks ago I published the introduction here.

I won’t publish all the chapters on the blog, but here’s Chapter 1 (first draft) for your perusal:


Chapter 1   Run ’N Gun

What does that mean anyway?

Funny enough, if you look this up you’ll find it’s a term used in the video gaming industry. As the name implies, it’s a rather brash and unconsidered approach to winning—sort of an AK47 approach to getting somewhere.

Speaking of guns, I’ve shot the AK47 and I must say it’s a gun that’s meant to be shot on full automatic in a spraying motion because it’s not very useful in single shot mode for hitting a target. The bloody thing is so nasty in its kickback that once you’ve fired it, you have no idea where the bullet just went–and you don’t care either because your ears are ringing so bad. (The US AR15 is much better on that score).

But I digress.

I doubt any of this is what anyone in the field of videography means when using the term.

For the purposes of this book, however, I thought I’d better define what I mean by the term, lest anyone start off with the wrong idea.

Since I have a gun theme going (for a bit of fun), it’s not an AK47 or AR15 approach either. More like a 38 police special (short barreled pistol) and you have to be pretty good to hit anything with that.

Let me couch it this way:

After years of working in the regimented, scripted approach to film and video production with production crews (nothing wrong with that), I became a video documentary director/cameraman. That meant I traveled around with a small team—usually one other person and sometimes two—to shoot short documentaries of people or events around the world. Because there was little time allotted for each production, and each production had a looming, unalterable deadline, it was necessary to develop a shooting style that was very direct and economical without compromising on quality. This also extended to kit, which I’ll detail in a later chapter. In short, I had to be quick on my feet and quick of wit while being as thorough as possible.

Despite the fact that these productions had scripted narration to be added later, my job was to produce material that would stand on its own without the need for narration. What dictated the content for me was the material obtained in the interviews I did with key people on the ground.

I learned some very important things early on about interviews. While this will also be the subject of a detailed chapter, it bears mentioning now that the most important thing I learned was that everyone has a story. Getting them to tell it is the trick. Part of the trick is to be willing to find out what the story is. And to do that you pretty much have to knock out of your head whatever you think the story might be (forget about the stupid interview questions) and just start engaging in normal human conversation.

Once you’ve go the story you have some idea of the B roll (relevant and related shots) you need to shoot so that the interview and/or greater story can be edited.

And that’s all there is to it basically.

It applies to documentaries, biographies and corporate videos alike.

Knowing what to shoot, how to see it and doing it quickly, professionally and thoroughly is “run ’n gun”.

By definition, “run ’n gun” will never be perfect. You’re bound to make mistakes. You’re bound to get home and find a shot out-of-focus or with any of an almost infinite number of potential technical flaws. But if you “shoot the hell out of it” in the process, and to the best of your ability, you will walk away with editable video footage that will achieve whatever its intended purpose was.

I always make the time to light important interviews and obtain the best sound possible. That doesn’t mean one could necessarily tell that the shots were lit because, in my case, I tend to employ “atmospheric lighting” which appears to be natural. But it looks a hell of a lot better than the “real world” looked.

On the other hand, it’s not always possible to light an interview, particularly “vox pox” (latin for “voice of the people” and meaning the “man-on the-street type interview). But in these cases one still tries to get the best possible lighting and camera angle possible.

Sound recording is another vital element. Using an on-camera mic (and the resultant high ambient sound levels) is the mark of an amateur. Close, present-sounding audio recording for any type of interview is vital – a fact which apparently many videographers do not give adequate importance to.

That said, there are unexpected circumstances when something is happening that simply can’t be stopped to allow proper microphone placement, so you’d be daft to not record it anyway with your on-camera mic. If the content turns out to be precious, the value of the content will over-ride the technical flaws.

And so it goes. It’s a constant exercise of judgment while seeking to obtain the best technical quality in the process under varying circumstances.

It takes practice.

It takes experience.

You have to be willing to learn from your mistakes.

You have to be pretty good to pull it off.

And that’s what I mean by “run ’n gun”



Jennie’s Journey | Ovarian Cancer

Posted in Uncategorized on May 4, 2014 by Video Whisperer

Honoured to be a friend of Jennie Allen. Less than a year ago she faced the hooded man with a scythe. Friends and family feared the worst, including me. But Jennie smiled at the man…


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