Practical tips for producing video

This post is another one that I’ve pulled from the archives of other training blogs I’ve written. This was originally published April 29, 2009.

Back to Mindy McAdams again. I can’t help it; her series, “Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency,” is so full of good advice for print jour­nal­ists mov­ing into the online media that it can’t be ignored.

This time, McAdams is look­ing at video. She’s not just con­cerned with the tech­niques, though. She wants to make sure that reporters cre­at­ing video sto­ries are cre­at­ing sto­ries that are worth telling.

Most jour­nal­ism stu­dents, and a lot of reporters too, “wouldn’t know an inter­est­ing story if it fell on their head.” For a story to be inter­est­ing and worth­while on video (and in most other media) it has to have three “things,” she says:

  1. action or activity
  2. emo­tion
  3. “you’ve got to see it to believe it” or “some­thing peo­ple just want to see”

So she rec­om­mends that before any cam­eras or other record­ing devices come out, the reporter scopes out the story, just to get a feel for the place and the char­ac­ters. “Remember,” she writes, “this is not break­ing news — this is a story. People will be doing these things later; it’s not a one-time action that you are going to miss with­out your camera.”

Plan, plan, plan. That’s her motto.

On the prac­ti­cal side of things, McAdams also sug­gests a shoot first, ask ques­tions later approach — mean­ing that she would rather that reporters shoot their footage before going in for an inter­view. If you inter­view first, she says, then you wind up shoot­ing footage to cover the mate­r­ial you learned about in the inter­view. Shooting first might open up some new door­ways for ques­tion­ing later, ques­tions you didn’t think of before. Shooting first could take your story in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent and more inter­est­ing direction.

McAdams also talks about the “five-shot method.” You should get five shots of every­thing you film, she says, to give you options in the edit­ing room.

  1. Extreme close-up of action detail
  2. Close-up of the per­son doing the action
  3. Medium shot, face and action together
  4. Over-the-shoulder view of the action, the point of view of the per­son doing the action
  5. One more dif­fer­ent, cre­ative angle

“It’s not that you will nec­es­sar­ily use all five shots,” she writes. “But if you’ve got them, you’ll find that edit­ing is immensely simplified.”

Other tips for video beginners:

  1. Dot not move the cam­era hor­i­zon­tally (pan).
  2. Do not move the cam­era ver­ti­cally (tilt).
  3. Don’t zoom.
  4. Press the “record off” but­ton — often.

Great advice, and I rec­om­mend read­ing the entire post. If you missed the link at the begin­ning of this post, here it is again.


Will your story abide audio or video?

Back in 2009, I came across a series of posts by Mindy McAdams, an online jour­nal­ism instruc­tor. One of the posts in the series, “Tell a good story with images and sound,” has some great tips for decid­ing whether your story is inter­est­ing enough to sup­port an audio or video medium.

I list a series of her tips below, but I’ve also included a chart that she designed show­ing the energy level of a story. (She talks mostly about photo slideshows with audio in her arti­cle, but the prin­ci­ples work for video too.)


McAdams is a big pro­po­nent of decid­ing what mes­sage you want to com­mu­ni­cate about the story before you go in. Once you have that mes­sage fig­ured out, make it your mis­sion to gather the resources you need to tell the story. A sto­ry­board might help, but any kind of plan­ning would be bet­ter than no plan­ning at all.

She is also a big sup­porter of fig­ur­ing out your open­ing and clos­ing before you decide on the mid­dle of the story. The strongest slideshows and video sto­ries she has seen start out direct and to-the-point. That hooks a viewer. Then, the story needs to move toward a sat­is­fy­ing and worth­while con­clu­sion. That way, even if the thing wavers a bit in the mid­dle, the viewer will prob­a­bly say with the video for the duration.

McAdams’ Tips:

  • Shoot a lot of pho­tos or video to cap­ture the ambiance of the loca­tion, more than you think you need.
  • Consider the inter­view a dress-rehearsal for the on-camera or on-mic inter­view. This means re-asking some of the impor­tant ques­tions from the inter­view, the ques­tions whose answers will drive your story.
  • Let the sub­ject know you’re record­ing and why you’re ask­ing ques­tions over again, but don’t tell them how to say things.
  • Don’t record too much audio; it just makes a lot of extra work in the edit­ing bay later.
  • Do the math. For exam­ple, if your video is going to be 120 sec­onds long and you want to inter­view six peo­ple and use them evenly, that means you need no more than 30 sec­onds of video per per­son. That might mean ask­ing each sub­ject only one or two ques­tions per inter­view to get what you need.
  • For audio pro­duc­tion only, gather as much back­ground noise as you can. You may wind up need­ing it dur­ing the edit­ing process. Try to get at least a solid minute of the “silent” room.
  • Editing is a repet­i­tive process. Know that going in.
  • McAdams sug­gests decid­ing on the open­ing and clos­ing of your piece first, then fill­ing out the mid­dle of the piece.
  • She fur­ther sug­gests fill­ing out the mid­dle of your piece with pho­tos that show a good mix of angles and dis­tances to improve the pac­ing of your piece.

She has other tips too. Read them here. Her whole series on mul­ti­me­dia jour­nal­ism (12 posts long at this point) is linked below. I’ll be writ­ing in more detail on at least one more of her posts, the one that has to do with video.

BLOX training videos

You may recall meeting with Matt Davison from corporate last week to talk about the Digital Now initiative. Well, his report on the Chronicle interviews hit my inbox this morning, and one of the concrete recommendations from that report was that the newsroom staff watch a few training videos for the software that runs our website.

In case you didn’t know, that software is called BLOX, and it is made by a company called TownNews. It is what you call a “content management system” or CMS. It is the program that allows us to publish articles, photos, mp3s, documents and everything else to our website. It also controls the layout of the website and everything right on down to the line spacing on the fonts we use (15-point Helvetica Neue with a 1.325em line spacing for articles, in case you were wondering).

You may or may not know it, but you all have logins for BLOX already. We set them up for you when we launched the new website. If you have ever posted a comment to our website, then you already know your BLOX login information. If you don’t know it, I can find it out for you.

Here’s the point of all this: Reporters at the Chronicle have had blessed little contact with our CMS. Matt Davison from corporate thinks this is a bad thing because you really won’t understand what we are able to do on the website unless you know what the website is capable of.

I happen to think that’s a good idea. I agree with Matt’s desire for the newsroom staff to learn more about BLOX, but there’s just one snag: the training videos are long and often boring to watch.

I would encourage you to endure and watch as many of them as you can. The more you can learn about BLOX, the better you’ll become at generating ideas that could involve unique uses of the website — which ultimately means a more interesting and engaging presentation for our online readers and more in-depth and useful online extras for our print readers.

Here’s the link to the videos. Enjoy!