In a few of my previous articles, I laid out the trends and approaches that will make online video one of the big forthcoming movements in content and video marketing. As this demand grows, there will need to be suppliers—suppliers who are looking to approach this new trend in a creative fashion and are ready when the calls start coming.
As a self-taught videographer who began his earnest pursuit of filmmaking just last year, I can attest that you don't necessarily have to drop what you're doing, join a three-year film school, and redirect your entire life to acquire the skills needed to succeed in this field. My next two articles will focus on the personal and business steps you need to take to get motivated and starting moving in the correct direction.
Nothing irks me more than a compliment of a photograph or video that is immediately followed up by a comment like "You must have a nice camera" or the question "How much did your camera cost?" (However, it's intensely satisfying when you can direct them to your $100 point-and-shoot.) Like being a chef or a painter, skill and technique come before any tool. But, just as a chef can't slice and dice with a butter knife, videographers can't tap their potential without the right equipment. Here's a rundown of some of the equipment you'll need that won't require a business loan:
Camera: Start with a DSLR that shoots 1080p HD. I recommend the Canon 60D for a couple of reasons. The first is that at sub $1000, its price won't induce a panic attack. The second is its versatile flip screen makes shooting from any angle intensely easier than with the pricier but more robust Canon 7D and 5D options. If you'll be shooting in low-light often, opt for the full-frame 5D.
Editing: Final Cut Pro 7 is my editing tool of choice (and many like Adobe Premier), but both are pretty pricey. The new (and very controversial) Final Cut Pro X is cheaper and a nice place to start if you don't have editing experience, and it's also much cheaper than previous FCP programs.
Add-Ons: Tripod for steady shots, steadicam for smooth movement, and a sound recorder (next step).
One of the most difficult aspects to creating great videos is sound. There is a saying that an audience will forgive poor cinematography but will never forgive poor sound. Nothing is more off-putting or grating in a video than unintended sound or poor sound levels. The first step is to get some high-quality sound-recording devices, so I recommend the Zoom H4N, a handy, not too expensive recorder that alone picks up great ambient sound but also has external jacks for boom and lav microphones, both of which you should have in your toolbox.
Starting out, videographers and filmmakers should learn a little bit of every part of the process, from pre-production to finishing touches and client interaction. Undoubtedly, you'll discover your favorite parts of the process (shooting, production, editing, etc.), but you should definitely know how each section of the process works. Especially when working in a team, you'll need to know what your team members will need to best apply their skill. For example, shooters should shoot with the needs of the editor in mind.
Another upside to knowing a bit of everything is that you can do it all yourself. This may sound overwhelming and difficult, but if you're a control freak like me and you're working on short-form videos with very little budget (or none), then you may need to produce, shoot, and edit everything yourself. Knowing how to do all aspects of this process will allow you to complete an entire project all on your own.
The best places for DIY filmmaking:
Vimeo Video School: One of the best resources for learning new techniques and getting started, from shooting time-lapses to becoming a better editor.
No Film School: A great resource for new techniques and new equipment.
Google: Search for anything ("How to change the settings on my 60D to 1080p") and Google will surely come up with a tutorial or forum that will help you out.
With that said, everything becomes a bit easier and smoother with a like-minded team member or two. For Humanity.TV, we always shoot with teams of two, taking turns as lead director and editor. The upside of this is that during the shoot you have two cameras going at all times, instantly giving you multiple camera angles. It also gives you the opportunity to shoot in creative ways, like when I drove a motorcycle while my shooting partner sat on the back filming the Cambodian cycling champion's 5 a.m. training ride. Without this shot, the video would have been a collection of (still) tripod shots of the subject cycling by. Instead, the smooth movement and action-shots make the video immensely more dynamic and interesting.
The second is that it greatly helps to have someone to work with to keep both of you chugging along. Despite my wish to do what I'm doing now for a good while, it wasn't until I met my future cofounder Gaston that it truly started becoming a reality. With another person just as excited as you about the project and advancement of your company, you'll both work hard to make it happen. You'll also push each other to continually improve, benefiting everyone involved.
You've got the equipment, the skills, and the team, now it's time to get to work. There isn't a person or company in the world who will hire you to do a specialized skill like videography without seeing your work. If you pay attention to one piece of advice in this article, make it this one: find subjects, create a story, and shoot, shoot, shoot. There is no greater training and schooling than doing, so stop reading about how to make a good video and get out and make one. Shoot for fun, but also make sure to set aside time to find a subject, develop a story, and shoot with an end product in mind. No matter if it's a car commercial or a funny viral video, every good short video has some sort of narrative tied to it, so make sure that story reigns—a quality video will follow.
Need some homework? Here it is: Pick an interesting friend or family member and set out to create a short 2-3 minute documentary about their life and their passions. Get them doing activities, moving around the house, and focusing on beautiful shots and perfect sound. Who knows, maybe Humanity.TV could use an all-around expert like yourself.
—Kerrin Sheldon is a self-taught filmmaker and is the cofounder of Humanity.TV, a documentary travel series, and Xeno Productions, a marketing video agency. He is currently in Indonesia doing a little bit of both (with a healthy side of scuba diving). Follow him @kerrinsheldon and check out Humanity.TV on Facebook: facebook.com/humanitytv
[Image: Flickr user Mark]