Learn all about lighting, sound, composition and film makers eye as James Schramko discusses Video production with Ryan Spanger from DreamEngine.com.au….
In this episode:
01:12 – Why Web video has become very important
01:39 – The importance of good quality video
03:50 – The essentials of improving technical video quality
04:27 – Film maker’s eye
08:16 – The importance of sound
10:44 – External microphones
13:19 – Being aware of background noise
19:26 – Natural light versus artificial light
24:10 – Using automatic camera functions
26:07 – Hard lights and soft lights
27:31 – 3-point lighting
30:56 – Composition
32:45 – The rule of thirds
34:22 – The use of diagonal lines
34:56 – Using composition to tell your story better
41:35 – Film making as an ongoing process
James: James Schramko here from SuperFastBusiness.com and this episode is going to be all about web video and when it comes to web video, you’ll look for a web video expert so I actually have a really good friend called Ryan and he’s been making films for over 15 years. He’s got lots of industry experience, he’s been to the film school, he’s set up his own corporate video production business called DreamEngine and he worked with people to connect their audience better using videos, so he’s the perfect person for this.
The thing that I like about Ryan is that he has really good video standards and he’s been instrumental in helping me improve my video and I’ve still got a long way to go so I’ve got plenty more questions and we’re going to cover those today. Ryan also has a web video marketing show on the iTunes platform so make sure you look out for that. Welcome Ryan.
Ryan: Hi James, good to be here and great to be chatting about one of my favorite topics.
James: Well you know, it’s just becoming more and more important. We know how popular YouTube is, we all have the ability to film ourselves with technologies sitting in our pocket but I do want to cover things like whether we should be using the technology that’s in our pocket or whether we should be hiring a professional firm like yours to come out and make videos. So probably my starting point with this is assuming that video is important, and I don’t think many people would argue that, why do you think good quality video matters versus just getting the content out there?
Ryan: So with the explosion of video productional things like YouTube and some of it being a different source of quality, there is a bit of a trend at the moment of people saying “don’t get hung up on the technical side”, “it’s all about the content” , “Just get out there and shoot some stuff and get it out there and don’t worry if the quality is a little bit rough” and I mean I agree only so far as to say “don’t let perfectionism hold you back from implementing but what I would say is avoid thinking of the technical side as a limitation of your creative expression because as you progressively master the creative side, it’s actually going to enhance your creativity. It’ll improve the pallet of what you have to work with and you’ll have more of a creative vocabulary to express yourself and I think of it this way.
Would you prefer a well designed contemporary website or a logo designed by a graphic designer or on the other hand would you be happy with a few squiggles on the back of serviettes because the truth is branding really matters and design really matters so the way I think of it is having a dodgy video it’s like going to a meeting wearing an old shirt with a bit of food spilled down the side. You’re still saying the same stuff but your message is just not going to penetrate as well because you’re going to be judged on your physical appearance. It’s just human nature. So that’s why I think the technical side is really important as well.
James: Love it! Yeah, I really came to cover the technical side because as someone who’s putting out a video every few days, I’ve been through those phases, I look at my videos from a year or so ago and there’s wind noise, impossible to listen to, I’m right in the middle of the screen.All the rookie errors. What I want to do today is I want to just cut it down to the most absolute essential things that can help a home-based or small operator with some basic or medium equipment, get good quality videos out there like lift the quality. What are the things that we need to do to get that quality up in a short easy method.
Ryan: Okay cool, so we’re going to just concentrate on the filming side. We’re not going to look at things like content or distribution or script writing or all of that sort of stuff like you know what you cover in things like Content Assault and Own the Racecourse. I would divide the most important things to focus on into four sections and they are firstly, developing the eye of a film maker, sound, lighting and then composition so let’s go through those.
Seeing Like A Film Maker
James: Ok, I got to ask you what is film maker’s eye?
Ryan: You know I think of the film maker’s eye as opposed to the normal eye, you know your normal eyes that you see the world with.There’s another way of looking at it and that’s through the eye of a film maker. This is to me one of the most exciting things about making videos is that once you get into it, you’ll never see the world in the same way again because you become much more tuned in to the visual world around you. You start to notice how light works and you start to see how a camera sees which is different to the way that your eye sees.
So when you’re in a place where you’re going to do some filming, tune in to your physical environment and think about what the light’s doing. Is it a bright sunny day with harsh shadow inducing light, is it a cloudy day with soft flattering light? If you’re inside, where’s the light coming from? Are there down lights shining down creating a bit of an orange glow on people’s faces and shadows under their eyes?
Start to tune in to the visuals around you. And once you start to understand how light is working around you, you can set up your shot in a way that’s going to get you the best results.
James: Awesome, yeah I know what you mean. I’ve looked at some of my videos I have like skeleton eyes like they’re black sockets when you’ve been punched in the eye. I didn’t know anything about that stuff and my videos are still nowhere near where I want to be but what I found fascinating is when something like a Woody Allen documentary comes out, I think how is someone filming about a filmmaker going to make that film and I have a look at the shots that they take and I go in to YouTube and I have a look at the popular channels. Is that something we can do to educate ourselves about film maker’s eye?
Ryan: I think that the best way to do it is to look at what other people are doing and look at things like film and TV around you with more of a conscious critical eye. So for instance, when I first started working on video, I go to the DVD store and just hire a pile of videos and sit and watch my way through all of them with a notebook and a pen. And I would write down all the cool ideas that I’d see and I think about how I can implement them in my own work.
So when you watch TV, don’t just lose yourself in an escapist way. I would say watch the show consciously and start to think about what kind of lighting that they’re using, where are the lights placed, where are the shadows and what sort of emotional or psychological context is that lighting creating. And it’s not just film and TV that you can look at. Things like painting and photography will inspire plenty of ideas that you can build on.
James: I love it. I’ve formed a conclusion looking at some of these TV shows that they can’t afford a tripod. Because some of them have like a really shaky style happening.
Ryan: Yeah that’s true and I suppose when you’re watching ask yourself, I always say to people ask yourself questions like I wonder why they’re doing it that way, what effect is it and with the hand-held thing it’s more of a realistic, immediate documentary style thing that might capture a more realistic sort of feel. So when people make films or videos, they’ve consciously made decisions about why they filmed something a certain way and that’s going to get the best results.
So this stuff about the film maker’s eye there’s probably people out there who might think that’s not really necessary, I just need to set up the camera and go for it, but I can tell you that these are things that I’ve used to really make my work stand out and by doing or thinking about these sort of things you can really set your work apart from your competitors and become a better story teller.
James: I love it. I’m really interested in film maker’s eye. Thank you for sharing that. Now I’ve heard you tell me before that sound is important. In fact, anyone I’ve spoken to about video tells me that it’s more important than the images, which sounds strange when you’re talking about a visual medium but maybe you can expand on that for me?
Why Sound Quality Is Important
Ryan: Yeah, the reason why I say that is because if your content is great, people are going to forgive poor quality pictures. And this gets proved on things like YouTube everyday and that’s the reason why you’ll see really horribly shot footage on the news if there’s some really compelling content in there. But if your sound quality is poor,if people can’t hear what you’re saying properly,they can’t understand you.
They’re going to switch across to something else. They’ll disengage and you’ll lose them. So if you’ve got a good story to tell, it’s vital that you can be clearly heard and understood.
James: Nice. Okay, so I took onboard your information and I actually started using an external recorded and investing a little bit more into quality microphones. And the interesting thing is that if I do go a bit ghetto or whatever, people notice it. They say, and in fact yesterday someone said, hey this video doesn’t look like your normal videos. I’m like, yeah well spotted.
Because I might have had a technical glitch or whatever. And I must admit it’s damn frustrating when you’re starting to learn about this stuff, getting the right settings and whatever. If you haven’t been to film school.You haven’t filmed a hundred documentaries, there’s a bit of a steep learning curve to get the mix right.
But maybe you could tell us about the typical scenario where you sort of break away from just using that built-in mic. What is the step we should take and make it easy on ourselves?
Improving Your Sound
Ryan: Okay sure. So there’s a microphone built into your camera. And often, it’s a fairly poor quality microphone. Usually, the camera manufacturers haven’t spent a lot of money on it to keep the cost of the cameras down. And the way that those microphones work is that it captures the general sound around the camera, so they’ll all just as much record what’s behind the camera and in front of the camera.
It’s not isolating the sound of the person speaking, and you can usually tell when someone’s using a built in microphone because it might sound a little bit tinny, a little bit thin, there’s quite a bit of a background noise, and often there’s quite a bit of hiss as well.
You end up competing with all of the sounds around you which can be quite distracting for the viewer. That’s why you’d use something like an external microphone which basically as the name implies just means a microphone outside of the camera. And the most common microphone that I think your listeners would be using for face to camera videos and interview videos are lapel microphones.
James: That’s the one you clip on to your shirt.
Ryan: That’s right, that’s a little microphone with a clip that you clip on to your shirt that sometimes you might see a news presenter or a reporter using.
James: I’ve got this cool one, it’s called a pin mic and you snap the top of it off, you stick pins through your shirt then pop the top ones and all you see is this tiny black thing if you notice it at all.
Ryan: That’s pretty cool because it’s disguising the microphone and so it’s not taking people’s attention away. I mean that being said, I think these days people are so used to seeing those little lapel microphones that it’s not even a distraction.
James: You know if someone’s even holding a mic it could almost look like they’re professional.
Ryan: Yes that’s right because that’s also something people see on TV all the time and the most important thing is just getting that microphone in really close to the source of the sound so it’s concentrating on your voice. If you don’t have a lapel microphone, if you have got a handheld microphone, you can use that or you can even hold the microphone just out of the shot. The key is getting that microphone in nice and close. And the thing with something like using external microphone like a lapel mic is it just becomes an essential tool.
I think of it like a surfer needing a wet suit or a runner with running shoes. It’s just part of the gear that you need to do your job properly.
James: You’re right. You know we’re recording this call at the moment and I’m using a quality microphone because I want to make it easy on the listener, and I’ll put some effort into making sure that it sounds good. Something that you taught me as well, when I got a better quality microphone, I also got a shotgun microphone and you taught me that you have to be conscious about whatever is behind you when you use those because it’s very sensitive and it can even pick up a computer power in the background.
I can hear a computer whining so I have to go and turn the computer off and unplug it if I want to use that type of microphone, if I don’t have a boom and I can’t point it to the carpet or whatever. There’s all these little things to be aware of I guess.
Ryan: Yes that’s right. I mean the way that we are recording now is that we’ve consciously chosen a fairly quite space to record where there’s not a lot of competing sounds, and that’s the same process that people should go through when they’re recording video. It’s interesting the way the human brain works. It’s almost like our brain has made some kind of pact with our ears to filter out competing sounds.
Dealing With Background Noise
You may think that there’s not a lot of noise around you but if you just sit quietly for a minute and start to tune in to your environment, you can start to notice all sorts of sounds that your ears filtered out. So things like a bit of a hum from the computer, or birds chirping, or the distant rumble of traffic, or the sound of the winds blowing leaves, there’s all these little sounds that all can add up to just diminishing the quality of the sound a little bit.
James: As you’re talking I can hear a propeller airplane going over my house, and I’m using a microphone that is fairly directional so it sort of focuses on where I’m talking and hopefully it’s going to filter out a lot of the other noises. If the airplane is still in there, is there anything I can do about it?
Ryan: There are ways of adding filters and stuff like that later on to improve the sound quality. There’s an old saying in the film industry which is sort of a bit of a joke where people say “we’ll fix it in post” which means we’ll fix it in the editing.
Sometimes people think that it’s just a case of applying a sort of magic filter and all the noise in the background is going to disappear and you’re going to end up with great sound. But it’s not really true. A really highly skilled audio technician can do stuff to improve the quality of sound but of course that’s going to be expensive and time consuming.
Just to give a bit of a background about the way these audio filters work is that they remove a small part of the audio frequency, so they might remove the part of the frequency of the background noise but it’s also removing a little bit of your voice as well and it’s going to kind of diminish the depth. I would say that this idea of “I’ll fix it in post”, forget about that, get it right the first time and save yourself a lot of time and hassle down the track.
Sound is a massive topic, there’s so much there but really just those two things, using a lapel microphone and thinking about the sounds that are around you and choosing a place that diminishes background noise is just going to make a massive difference to the quality of your sound.
James: Yes that certainly saved me because I sort of realized that if you have a messy recording and inputs then it takes ages to edit and if it’s the end of the day and I’m tired I tend to just not want to do it. So now when I film something, if I realize there’s something tragic happening, I usually just stop and then start again. I want to get it as close to the end product in the first shoot.
Ryan: Exactly, because we’re not doing live TV here, you can go back and edit. But particularly for people who are doing things like your regular news broadcast, you want to limit the amount of time that you’re spending on it so you can work it into your routine and it’s not taking up a massive part of your day. So getting these technical things right are going to save you or your team plenty of time down the track.
James: Something else you taught me which is absolutely golden is that you can put them into different sequences when you’re finished so sometimes I’ll just run, record the whole thing and then I’ll replace the part where there was a terrible noise afterwards and now I can just chop that part back in instead of having to try and play around with filters or whatever. I just cut it out and move that new piece in.
Ryan: You can do that and I suppose if you are thinking about editing later on, the key is to not record any poor background noise. For instance, if you’re recording and there’s a plane in the background and then you cut and suddenly the plane is gone that’s going to be really obvious and that cut is going to be distracting. It’s not just about having something glossy and shiny and impressive for the sake of it, it’s about not diverting your audience’s attention away from you and on to the sound.