How we made… pro videos in lockdown

Lockdown’s hard enough without having to assemble a pro crew to shoot your videos. So how did we get three clips in the can without selfie shakes and shoddy edits? Here's how. 

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Ridley’s self-isolating in Ireland. Marty’s only working with Netflix these days. And Stanley isn’t returning your calls.

Lockdown’s hard enough without having to assemble a pro crew to shoot your videos. So how did we get three clips in the can without selfie shakes and shoddy edits?

Alan shows us how… with some tips from John at Social Animal Films.

1. Write and practice your scripts

This isn’t an article on getting your messaging right. So we’ll skip that part.

Instead, we’ve got some tips on script layout and length.

First, let’s talk timings.

I can read around 150 words in 60 seconds. And most talking heads videos are one or two minutes.

So guess what – you’re going to need somewhere between 150 and 300 words to fill your clip.

Now take a look back at this section – the one starting ‘write and practice your scripts’.

I’ve taken a fresh paragraph for almost every sentence. Do the same when you write your script.

Short paragraphs are easy to read. They allow you to take a breath and vary your pace.

They give me space for pauses and emphasis when I read.

PRO TIP FROM JOHN –

It’s tempting to ‘do what feels natural’ when you read your script aloud. (Yes, you need to read it aloud to get the words just right. There are no shortcuts.)

But this isn’t a conversation with your friends.

Take your time. Give each word the space it needs. You’ll sound natural, even if it feels a bit weird.

2. Read, don’t memorise

This is when you start recording.

If you fudge a line five seconds from the end, you will hate yourself. Rely on memory alone and you’ll waste hours like this, starting over. Again. And again.

Instead, download a teleprompter app. Paste your script from your cloud storage of choice. Play with the type size and prompter speed. Take a deep breath – then click ‘record’. Your phone screen will scroll the script, and your selfie camera will capture your performance.

There are plenty of selfie teleprompter apps. For iPhone, try Video Teleprompter Lite. If you like it, you can upgrade to remove the ‘hey, I’m a cheapskate’ watermark. For Android, Selvi does the same job.

PRO TIP FROM JOHN – “We shoot with a Canon EOS M50 4K mirrorless camera; no smartphone teleprompters for us. So we use a ‘magic glass’ teleprompter called the Prompt-It Maxi. This is a budget version of the teleprompters you see in TV studios. Ours sat on a separate tripod, right in front of the camera lens. The Prompt-it is easy to use – although it’s a slight faff to get the anti-reflection hood in place. We used a background clip to hold the hood snugly over the lens.”

3. Keep it steady

If you’re going for a truly informal look, a bit of shakiness is fine.

But know this: even the casual videos you see on YouTube were probably filmed with a gimbal like the DJI Omso Mobile 3 to steady the image. (Note from John – I have one for my personal shoots. It’s fantastic.)

To get a professional shot, you’ll need a tripod. Don’t even think about rigging together a ladder or a pile of books. Unless you hate your phone, that is.

If you’re shooting with your smartphone, you’re going to need something to attach your phone to the tripod.

We used a Vanguard Alta Pro tripod, and a Manfrotto smartphone clamp. Manfrotto also make great tripods.

PRO TIP FROM JOHN – “Our tripod has a fluid head, which makes for really smooth pans. You might also want to consider a tripod with a spirit level. This saves lots of setup time.”

4. Lighting

For a studio look, you’ll need studio lighting. Or at least a budget-friendly alternative.

Place one light near your subject. And the other a little further back. Experiment until the shot is lit evenly – and the shadows are banished.

Even cheap lights give you a decent result. We used a Neweer 700W kit. It’s adjustable and light, and fine for our needs. As you’d expect from cheap kit, it’s not built for the punishment doled out by pros.

PRO TIP FROM JOHN – “For perfectionists, three-point lighting is the way to go. This setup kills annoying shadows, and looks fantastic. It’s a little more expensive, but the real investment is in watching some tutorials online. This setup demands you know what you’re doing.”

5. Sound

Your phone’s microphone isn’t going to cut it. Unless you’re recording in an anechoic chamber, the sound is going to be awful.

It will pick up all sorts of background noise and reflected sound. At the very best, it will sound ‘boomy’. This is horrible, and makes your voice difficult to hear.

The first thing you could try is recording your voice with a pair of wireless earbuds. You know, like Apple Airpods. It’s worth a try if you already have a pair.

But what you really need is a simple clip-on microphone. This is known as a lavalier – or ‘lav’ – mic. The mic clips onto your clothing, and points at your mouth. It will sound great.

Go for one with a long lead to attach to your phone. The Rode Smartlav is a good choice, although you’ll need an adapter for most iPhones. Rode sell adapters for just about every phone and camera you can imagine. They also sell extension cables, which is the next best thing to a wireless lav mic.

PRO TIP FROM JOHN – “For the vlogs, we started off with a mini boom mic mounted on our camera. It sounded good, but it was picking up the ‘bouncy’ sound of the room. We switched to a wireless lav mic – the Rode Filmmaker. It sounds far better than the boom mic, and gives us complete freedom. Rode also make a cheaper wireless mic called the Wireless Go.”

6. Shoot back-to-back

You’ll spend a while getting your lighting, sound and camera setup just right.

So make the best use of your time – and shoot a batch of clips in one session.

You’ll soon get into the rhythm. You could easily shoot six clips in an hour.

Your vlog will thank you.

7. Find a friend. Or grow your own filmmaker

Jamie Oliver and Joe Wicks have co-opted their spouses as lockdown camera operators – and sometimes even co-presenters.

I just went with a son instead of a spouse. Admittedly John’s been making films for years. He’s the real reason our clips look good.

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