Video Production Tips
For those who plan to produce their own video for possible posting to davidson.edu, please take time to review best practices, including pre-production planning, storytelling, interviewing, framing your video, how to gather a variety of b-roll footage and shots (close ups, medium, wide angle), audio and microphones, post-production considerations, including editing, music copyright and more.
First Things First
Always ask yourself: “Is video the best way to convey the story I want to tell?” Is there an alternative method to conveying your story by video? Could a photo gallery and captions tell a similar story or an audio recording and photos? Do you have the time to invest in learning how to produce quality video?
What’s the Story?
Even though you don’t need to have a script written out, you should know ahead of time the theme or idea that will run from the beginning to the end of your video. What is the theme? What are the key points? What should the people watching the video take away from it?
Who Is Involved In Your Video?
Once you know what kind of story you want to tell, you need to identify who will be telling it. Will the video feature a narrator? Or will your interview subjects tell the story through their answers to your questions? Will you tell them what to say? Or will you let them answer your questions in their own words? The latter method tends to work best; you come up with questions that get at the points you want to get across, and let them say it in their own words. Your captured interview isn’t going to be live, so you can have the interview subject repeat their answer if the answer doesn’t come out the way you would like. You should have at least two voices in a story.
For a video about a college program, it’s always a good idea to hear from at least one, if not two, professors/instructors, and one or two students. You should try to reflect the diversity of the campus when possible.
Envisioning Your Video
A-Roll vs. B-roll
- After you have identified your interview subjects, you will need to set them up for a sit-down (or stand up) interview (also known as a-roll).
- You will need video of the interview subjects in action, demonstrating what it is they are talking about (teaching, doing research, interacting with students, etc.). Video professionals refer to this as b-roll footage. Not only does this provide some visual evidence about what is being said in the video (if the interview subject starts talking about small class sizes, then the audience should see video or still pictures of a small class), it gives us something to look at besides the interview subjects, and helps to avoid jump cuts. (See Tech Tips & Terms)
Make a Plan
- Come up with at least a preliminary list of shots you want to get when you map out the narrative of your story.
- If your interview subject mentions something that you haven’t thought of and you think you would like to include that soundbite, make sure that there is video to cover it. (Still photos work as well.)
- When planning out shots, it’s sometimes helpful to draw simple storyboards to see what works.
You want to make sure your interview subjects are able to convey themselves on camera clearly, concisely and correctly. A pre-interview, where you talk over the phone or in person and go over the kind of questions you are going to ask to find out how they would answer, is strongly recommended. This will serve the dual purpose of giving you an idea of the types of video you might need to cover the interview(s).
When you are doing the interview, and when you are writing your script with all your soundbites, always think about what video is going to be used for each section. Also, if you divide up your soundbite into two or more pieces, you will need to have video to cover the “jump” between each clip.
Questions to Ask
- If you are just starting out, it is recommended that you come up with and write down your questions ahead of time.
- You always want to ask open-ended questions (questions that don’t yield a yes or no answer).
- If you don’t have a narrator, your interview subject(s) need to tell the whole story so you should ask them to include your questions in their answer. Example: Q: “Tell us your favorite thing about Davidson College.” A: “My favorite thing about Davidson College is…”
- As you are listening to the interview subject’s answers, make sure the interviewee is providing you with some transitional lines. Example: “In addition to Alternative Spring Break, I am also involved with the rugby club…”
- Given time constraints, if someone takes 45 seconds to convey a single thought, ask your interview subject to answer again more succinctly. Give them an example of what you are looking for.
- If you aren’t using a narrator, make sure that at least one of your interview subjects gives you something you can use as an opening statement and a closing remark.
- You might want to have your interview subjects introduce themselves on camera, but if there are multiple voices in the piece, introductions throughout might bog down the video.
Technical Considerations For Interviews
- Ideally, the interviewer will have a second person with them to operate the camera and assist in monitoring recorded audio with headphones. The interviewer should sit or stand slightly to the left or right of the camera (out of frame), and the interview subject should look at the interviewer. If the person being interviewed looks straight into the camera, you may get a sort of “deer in headlights” look. For some people it is more uncomfortable to look directly at the camera than it is to look directly at the interviewer. Watch a television news story and you’ll see interview subjects always look either camera right or camera left across the video frame.
- If you have two interview subjects in the piece, one should look left and one should look right, so when you have back-to-back video shots, they look like they are looking at each other.
- Audio should be captured using a separate microphone whenever possible to ensure quality. Cameras come with built-in microphones, but it is best to use a wired or wireless mic for your interview subject (handheld or lavaliere). It is also a good idea to mic your interview subject when you shoot b-roll so you can pick up natural sound.
- Take the time to learn how to record good audio. People will watch a poorly recorded video with good audio, they are less likely to watch a good video with bad audio quality that they cannot hear or understand. Be aware of background sounds and room noise. Whenever possible choose a quiet location for shooting your interviews and always monitor you audio through headphones. There is nothing worse than recording an interview only to realize you cannot hear the interview subject.
- Make sure your subject is lit properly. Doing your interview in a studio setting with studio lighting, inside with a light kit, or outside, is preferred. Always be aware of back lighting (lighting behind your interview subject). Your interview subject may not be viewable when shooting against a bright window or strong backlight.
- If you don’t have the necessary equipment to produce a video yourself, contact the Davidson College Digital Learning staff to inquire about borrowing cameras, microphones and lighting equipment. Academic courses have top priority, so plan far in advance when making your video equipment requests.
- It is generally good practice to have all your interview subjects sign written video releases. If you are going to be shooting in a classroom, you need to clear it with the professor first. If you are going to be shooting athletics practice footage, clear it with the coach. If you are in a situation where someone in a class or event indicates they don’t want to appear in film, ask them to sit in the back of the class or otherwise out of the view of the camera’s lens.
- If your video features children under 18, you need to get written permission from their parents. College Communications can supply you with a form.
Technical Production Notes
- Shoot everything in 16×9 widescreen aspect ratio.
- When possible, shoot in high definition at either 720p or 1080p resolution.
The average television story is less than 2 minutes. (The standard “package,” or set of tracked, packaged elements, is 1:20.) It’s like that for a reason. People who are watching television can be simultaneously surfing the net, making a snack, and talking on the phone. People watching videos online can have just as many distractions. College Communications suggests keeping videos shorter than 3 minutes, with the optimal length between 2-3 minutes. If a video is under a minute, the audience might feel a bit shortchanged. Keeping Web videos short also lets you keep the file size small, which uses less bandwidth and loads faster.
Footage Capture & Editing
We can provide more details about each of these things, but here are just some general things you want to keep in mind:
- Always white balance (show the camera what “true white” is when you change shooting situations [rooms/inside-outside]). You don’t want blue video or yellow video.
- Avoid extreme camera angles and excessive zooming.
- In general, you don’t want to overdo effects within one video. What looks cool the first time might not look so cool the fifth time we see it in a video. That goes for shots as well.
- For editing purposes, you need to shoot wide, medium, and close-up shots of your video subject/action that you will match in a sequence.
- A jump cut is what happens when the subject appears to “jump” – when, for example, your subject who is on the left side of the screen, suddenly goes to the right, and the type of shot is the same, e.g. a head and shoulders shot.
- Think of your favorite television program or commercial. The opening sequence of CSI starts out with a wide shot of the crime scene with an investigator on the side of the screen. The second shot is of our investigator head-on looking through a magnifying glass. The third shot might be a close-up of what that investigator is seeing through the magnifying glass. The shots aren’t jarring because they lead from one thought to the other, and both the angles and types of shots (wide or establishing shot, medium, close, extreme close) are varied.
- Look for opportunities to shoot match sequences: a wide shot of a professor teaching from the back of the room (wide) goes to a shot of a student’s face close-up (close), to a side profile shot of the teacher from the front of the room where we also see a couple of students (medium). This may require having your subject repeat a movement.
If you are using music in your video, you must make sure it is not copyrighted and you have written permission to use it. This includes any music that is playing in the background while you record your video subject(s) or capture b-roll footage. Some video editing programs like iMovie, Final Cut Pro, or Adobe Premiere offer free, royalty-free music for video projects. You generally should avoid these music options as they are well known, overused, and will make your video appear amateur. There are also music services that specialize in selling licensed music tracks. You will need to include this within your video budget. Sites like YouTube will delete your video or audio tracks and repeated violations may result in your department account being deleted entirely. If you ask digital communications staff to post your video to davidson.edu or a video sharing site, we will ask you to provide proof that you have rights to the music you use in your video.
All videos posted to the Davidson website or to associated college social media and video sites are required by federal accessibility requirements to include captions so they are accessible as described in the college’s Video & Audio Recording Policy. Plan time to caption your video or time & budget to use a service to complete this task for you.
Additional Video Training
LinkedIn Learning (login required) offers great training on how to use each of the major video editing packages. As a Davidson College faculty, staff or student you are provided free access to LinkedIn Learning training.
Other sites like the Knight Digital Media Center at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism offer free online training and tips on storytelling, audio and video.