Shooting Tips from the Edit Suite

This was originally posted in March 2011, but wasn’t initially restored after the site was lost in early 2012.  So here it is again, with some updates.

Before I decided that editing was the way I wanted to go, I was pretty keen on shooting. In fact at the age of about 16 I saved all the money I had a bought a second-hand Sony ENG camera (a DXC-325/EVV-9000 Hi8 camera, if you were curious).

I wouldn’t fancy myself as a cameraguy against a professional, but from my perch in front of my suite I’m not usually short of opinions on the footage I’ve been given – what wasn’t shot, what was shot wrong and, of course, what was done right.

So with that in mind, here are some various thoughts about shooting from my my cosy seat, miles away and days or weeks later.

1. Shoot More
I’m not saying I want more shots or extra takes (although sometimes…) – what I want is slightly longer shots. One of the biggest frustrations in editing is when a shot just isn’t quite long enough – either the action starts too soon, or the shot doesn’t carry on long enough afterward.

At film school we were introduced to the idea of a CYA (Cover Your Ass) shot – the idea being that you always try to hold the beginning and end of any camera move for at least 3-5 seconds. You get a shot at the start, a shot at the end and the move in the middle – three usable shots. Please, never stop rolling hard on the end of your camera move, not start the move immedately on roll.

2. Pickups/Cutaways/B-Roll
Everyone knows about shooting cutaway shots, get shots to illustrate the action and help cover cuts. However if I’m reviewing footage and find that the cutaways have been shot before the action they are intended to cover I know I’m going to be dissapointed.

Ideally cutaway shots should be filmed after the primary action/interview – this way you know what to shoot. Shots to illustrate what’s been spoken about, or the action that’s taken place in the main shots.

3. If You Love Something, Let It Go
It’s true in the film cliches, and it’s true in shooting. Sometimes you need to let things go. In this case specifically the thing I am talking about is any person or vehicle you’re following. If they never leave or enter the frame it makes it virtually impossible to cut the shots.

When tracking people or vehicles try to let them leave and enter frame a few times, it provides natural edit points and makes it possible to cut between the shots.

4. The Preset is Your Friend
This one is a little contraversial, and I’ve actually had a stand up argument with a shooter about this – but I’ll lay it out here anyway. Stop manually white balancing and use your camera’s presets. There, I said it.

Especially in multi-camera reality scenarios it seems impossible for operators using manual white balances to actually maintain the correct colour. Unless you’re in a very unusual lighting situation it usually seems best to simply pick a preset that best matches the lighting conditions and go with that. All modern NLEs carry reasonable colour correction tools, and in most cases a basic correction can be worked into the post production.

5. Know Your Format
This is a big one actually, but also a really complex one. But it’s very important and is overlooked surprisingly often. You have to understand the limitations, strengths and weaknesses of your camera.

As the number of camera and video and technologies has increased, so has the number of issues, workaround and gotchas you need to be aware of. Things like limited chroma sampling, rolling shutter, alias, moire, etc… You don’t have to be a format expert, but you need to understand how these issues practically impact your shooting.

6. Who Are You?
This is probably only really relevant to documentary and reality, but help us know who we’re looking at. In interviews people get people to tell us who they are – names and titles, and don’t forget any odd spellings.

Even if you’ve been getting proper signed release forms and paper work, that information is seldom on hand when we need it most. By having the information right with them in the footage it makes is easier for the editor to figure out who is who when need be.

In fact you may be able to do away with release forms entirely if you get the subjects to say who they are and affirm that they’re giving you permission to use footage of them (this is common in reality shows). Although you should check with a lawyer to make sure this is okay and get any specific wording you need to have subjects say. You’ll also probably want to sub out all those identifiers and save them somewhere safe.

7. B-Roll Audio
If you’re shooting b-roll or cutaway footage with audio (if not, why not? Even camera mic will do) then try not to talk while recording. Often the pictures can seem lost without a least a little of the sound that goes with them. If we see cars driving on a wet road we’d like to hear a bit of that atmos as well. (via 3pointedit)

8. Tape Etiquette
If you’re still shooting on tapes then there’s a couple of things that are important. Pre-roll (and post-roll) and continuous timecode. When capturing footage into an edit system we need to allow the deck time to properly cue the tape – this can be five seconds or more. If the timecode is broken then the deck will freak out.

So, if you’re shooting REC-Run timecode then we need a good 10 seconds of footage at the start before anything important (colour bars are traditional here), also at the end a few seconds post-roll after the important stuff stops. If at any point you rewind your tape to review a shot then you need to make sure the tape is cued back onto picture before you start shooting again – leaving a gap of unused tape (or old footage) will confuse us and may mean that what comes after it isn’t captured.

If you’re shooting Free-Run timecode (usually time-of-day) then this applies every shot really – try to give us at least five seconds either side of the main action of the shot. (via Tim Ward)

9. Buzz Track or Room Tone
Two terms for the same thing – basically just a recording of the sound of nothing. Wherever you are there’s a good chance there’s a lot of background noise (cars, birds, wind, air conditioning, whatever) – it is often really helpful for the editor to have a bit of that “nothingness” to fix up holes or transitions in audio. So record at least 15 seconds of nothing. Make sure no one is talking around the camera and make it clear the editor that what you’re doing (putting the boom mic or the soundie in the shot is a good visual identifier). (via Jeff Katz)

10. More…
I just know I’m forgetting things… And I suspect I hear feedback from others, so let’s consider this an open topic and I’ll try to update it in the future.