A conversation came up on Twitter the other day about things that shooters do that drive video editors crazy. In my years of shooting video, I’ve learned that there are two ways to shoot – one if I’m doing the editing, and one if someone else is. When I’m shooting, I usually know how the finished piece is going to cut together. I may rule out shooting some B-roll because I know it won’t be needed, or I may shoot more takes of something just from different angles because I have something in mind I’d like to do in post.
But when I’m not the editor for something, I shoot different – I shoot much safer. I try and talk with the editor to see what they need or want, but that’s not always possible. So when I can, I always try and think what I would want as an editor and make sure that they get what they need to tell the story. And I try to give them the best looking footage I can.
Unfortunately, not all shooters are also editors, and over the years I’ve been handed some stuff that took quite a bit of work to get right. So in the spirit of offering advice, here are some basic (and a few not so basic) things that I as an editor wish shooters remembered when they’re out on location. All of them are things I’ve had to deal with – maybe you too.
White Balance – I shouldn’t even have to mention this…I mean, really. But you’d be amazed how often I get footage that’s blue, orange, or some other color in between. With the powerful color correction tools out there, it’s sometimes an easy, quick fix. But come on – take the extra minute or so and white balance. I carry a small white card with me on every shoot, and I use it every time the lighting changes. I was once handed b-roll footage that was tinted dark yellow…seriously – dark…yellow. How could anyone look through their viewfinder and think this was okay?
Exposure – Much like white balance, this is a no brainer. But again, I’ve been amazed at what I been given. I recall one project where there was a VERY complex shot –they had one chance to get this really great shot. And you know what – it was completely blown out (and not white balanced either). I tried my best to color correct, but with some of today’s more compressed codecs, you can only push so far before things start realty heading south. When the client asked why I didn’t use that shot, I showed them the footage and all that I was able to do to try and fix it, but it just didn’t look good enough. It was really too bad – had it come out, it would have been a really dynamic and great shot.
Quantity of B-roll – There’s nothing worse than needing to cover a 5 minute interview with four b-roll shots, or even ten b-roll shots that are different angles of the same thing. If you’re shooting b-roll, variety is the name of the game. I know that sometimes your hands are tied and you’re limited to what and where you can shoot. But whenever possible, shoot as much b-roll as you can. Shoot as much variety as time permits. I once worked with a producer who wanted me to shoot the building of a machine as b-roll. I asked what shots he wanted, and he gave me great advice- “Think of it as a story – tell me that story.” And I carry that over to everything I shoot now. If someone’s doing something, get coverage for it. If they’re working a machine, shoot the machine, them working it, CU on their face, CU on the machine parts – get creative, and please give me something to be creative with. And give me as much as you can.
Hold on Shots – Another pet peeve…camera operator’s with ADD. If you’re getting a shot of something, hold on it…not for a 3 count, but a 10 count. You don’t know how I’m going to want to use it as an editor, and I’d rather have too much then not enough. I get so annoyed when I find that perfect shot of something only to see the camera swish pan away too early to something else when I still needed that object or person on screen. Have patience – find your shot, count to at least 10, and then move on.
Focus – I don’t shoot with a DSLR…I prefer a real video camera. However, many do shoot with them, and those that do occasionally give me footage that’s just slightly (sometimes not so slightly) soft. I know that shallow depth of field is all the rage right now, but if you’re shooting with it then make sure you’re getting things in focus. Until Adobe creates a plugin for After Effects or Premiere that can sharpen out of focus footage, your hip style of shooting is useless if the subject is out of focus.
Time-Code – This is your friend – use it, know it, and embrace it. If you’re doing a multicam shoot then get those camera’s timecode in sync. I’ve cut too many multicam projects where I had to sync the cameras by audio waveforms, people in frame applauding, or other random ways. I once was handed a large multicam shoot and some of the cameras had audio and some didn’t, the timecode was different on each camera, and one of them started and stopped recording at various points making me have to re-sync multiple times. This isn’t tough folks – most pro cameras allow you to jam sync timecode…please, PLEASE do this.
Hit Record – Think I’m kidding? I’m not kidding. Make sure it says REC in that viewfinder or on that deck. I’ve seen clips that start right as the action finishes, and then is followed by 3 minutes of nothing, or even better – 3 minutes of nothing but the ground and sky as the person walks with the camera to the next location. Once, someone didn’t hit record on their deck, and an entire feed wasn’t recorded during an event. Because of that, I had to find a quick way to create 700 lower 3rd titles for graduating students.
Audio – This one is simple…use headphones. If you can’t hear anything and you should be, something is wrong. I was given interview footage once and all the interview audio came from the on-board camera mic. None of it came from the handheld mic the people were speaking into.
Don’t Transcode The Footage – I don’t edit with Final Cut Pro, so please don’t do me the favor of transcoding all that tapeless media to ProRes or some other codec that may not work in my NLE. Give me the footage straight from the camera. And while we’re on this topic, copy over the ENTIRE folder structure from the camera card. I appreciate that you’re trying to help me by pulling out those .MTS or .MP4 files, but honestly you’re just going to possibly make my job harder by doing that. I need everything off that card, and I need it just as it is on the card.
So that’s my list. Although it may seem like I’ve been handed lots of difficult footage to work with over the years, truth is most of what I’m handed is really great. I’ve been lucky to work with some really great shooters, and their great work makes my job as an editor easy. And the times I have been handed difficult footage have made me a better shooter. When I’m out shooting video I always try and think, “What would I want as an editor.” I try to shoot footage that not only helps tell the story, but also gives the editor something to work with to allow him (or her) the freedom and creativity to shape it into whatever their vision is.
If you’re an editor, what would you want shooters to know?