Pre-Production (Writing and Planning Your Shoot):

Scripts and Screenwriting 

What is your story?

Each story has three essential elements: a beginning, middle and and end.

Create an outline for your script.  It doesn’t have to be a word-for-word written script, like you’re writing a fictional movie, but a one-page description of your story and the project.

Write out your interviews questions beforehand, about 5 questions for a 2-5 minute piece, for about 3 people.

Think of how those questions tie together to form your story or to answer your research question.

Never interrupt or talk over your subject when interviewing them.  Allow them to finish speaking before you start talking again as the the pauses will help in the editing process.


Create a shot list or storyboards

Storyboards can help you provide a visual representation of your shot list and the sequential order of your story.  In effect, storyboards can act a a map for filming, and the script becomes the content below them.  The descriptions below the storyboards can be quotes from dialogue, interview questions or a description of what happens in the shot.

Finish your script with a conclusion that answers your question.

Go over your script and your shot list.  Do you have all of the shots that you need?  Are you missing anything?  It’s always a good idea to take additional shots to use as “B-roll”

Plan for enough time.  Give yourself a generous amount of time to shoot.  A two-hour setup is not uncommon.  Shooting often takes much longer than you think due to the logistics of traveling to your location, moving gear, talking to the subject or other people, ensuring the place stays quiet, setting up the camera and lighting and audio.  Plus, there is always the possibility of disruptions or technical interruptions or challenges.


Scout Your Location:  Look for the following:

What does the lighting look like?  Is there a big bay window that drowns the room in bright sunlight?  Fluorescent lights?  Are there enough outlets to plug in additional lights and are they on different circuits?

What is the location like?  Is there enough space to shoot?  Having more space adds depth to the shots, so a larger room can be preferable for depth of field.  A larger area also gives you more room to work with, especially if you are using 3-point lighting.

What does it sound like?  Is it totally quiet?  Are there loud noises such as buses, noisy neighbours, construction, kids playing, heavy traffic or sirens?  Are there subtle noises that you haven’t heard before, such as air conditioners?

Make sure your batteries are charged and you have enough memory to record on.  There’s nothing worse than running out of power or having a full memory card with no back-up.


Video Length

The length of your video should vary based on the purpose of the video.  A social-media video has a different audience with different expectations – they are watching it purely for some quick entertainment value and they don’t want to invest more than a minute or two.  With Educational videos or tutorials, you have more of a captured audience as they are looking to learn something, which can allow the video maker to extend the timeframe.

  • Educational Videos – 6 minutes or less
    • some studies indicate that you can have successful educational videos 9-12 minutes in length, while others say that 20-30 minutes or even longer is fine.  The key thing is that the video must be able to maintain the interest of the audience. Making a video interesting for that much longer requires not only more content, but much more time, energy and assets to produce it (photos, video, music, narration).
  • Social media video – 1-2 minutes
  • Teaser trailer – 10-30 seconds
  • Landing page video – 1 minute
  • Customer testimonials – 1 minute


Here are some recommendations to make your educational videos more engaging:

  • Pacing affects how slow or fast the video feels, regardless of its actual length. A video can feel like it has a good pace even when it’s longer, while a short, slow, badly-paced video can feel like it take forever. A video that’s too fast can race through information before it can be taken in by the viewer.  Pacing includes the speed of the narrator’s voice, how quickly information is displayed, editing and music.
  • Tone is the mood or atmosphere of a video and it turn how it makes you feel emotionally. A narrator’s voice and presentation can affect tone a lot.  A lighter, excited, humorous tone can engage the viewer, whereas a flat voice and affect can make the video feel like a sleepy monotone.
  • Music can help set the tone of your video, so choose a piece to match what you are presenting.  A heavier subject matter with probably have some strings or piano.  If your piece is light and informational, choosing a piece with a good beat can help to set the pace for the video, helping to move it along.
  • Try to edit out pauses longer than about 2-3 seconds to keep the pace from lagging.
  • Edit out any obvious technical glitches. It there’s a still image like a photo or PowerPoint slide, often these parts of the clip can be “patched” over by copying a pasting an earlier part of the still over the glitchy part.

Production (Shooting Video):



Framing is the placement of the subject within the composition of the shot.

Headspace: The space between the subject’s top of the head and the top of the frame is called headspace.  Too close to the top and it looks like the top of the frame is suctioning the top of the head to the frame.  Too much headroom has the viewer staring at all the space above the head.  The best spot is a couple of inches below the frame.


Medium Shot: the standard shot, where the subject is framed from the top of the head to the hips, or the belt. A Medium shot with two people is called a Two-Shot.

Paul Rudd on MLB Network’s Intentional Talk.

Close-Up: usually a head with maybe a bit o shoulders (an Extreme Close Up would be a shot of someone’s eyes or hands).

Wide Shot: this would be your shot furthest away from the subject, incorporating the landscape behind the person.  Wide shots are often using as the first Establishing Shot, which sets the setting for the video.

Variety of shots: Wide Shot, Medium Shot, Full Medium 2-Shot, Close-up, Extreme Close-up

Rule of Thirds: guideline that follows that the most interesting compositions are formed on the lines or intersections on an invisible grid that separates the pictures in nine parts. It creates more tension and energy and it draws our eyes in different ways than centering a subject.

Don’t cross the axis.  This follows the 180 degree rule where two subjects facing each other are on an imaginary line that connects them.  The camera stays frame-left to the first character and frame-right on the second character.  By doing this, the viewer can better follow the action in their heads as crossing the axis – shooting from the other side, disrupts the viewers’ sense of space around the subjects.

Vary your shots to keep your audience interested. Keep in mind that audio and content should be considered over this.  How, other shots other than just people talking can make your video more dynamic.  For instance, adding the shot of the bagpiper was a nice change in shot and environment.  Sound wasn’t an issue so the shot worked and added variety to the piece.

Greenscreen shooting tips: Light your green backdrop brightly and evenly, so no shadows or dark spots.  Bring your subject several feet out from the green screen to avoid green light “spillage” onto the person’s shoulders and hair.  This allows for the composite to more easily remove the green background in your editing or compositing program.

Exposure: refers to the amount of light hitting the image sensor.  DSLR cameras can control all of the following functions, while smartphones, functions such as ISO and Shutter Speed are automatic (unless you have an additional App like Filmic Pro or Camera +), but Aperture can be controlled and locked in.

There are three functions on the camera that affect this:

Aperture – measures how open the iris is to light.  Opening up the to a wider aperture (so a lower f-stop) lets in more light, while a narrow aperture (higher f-stop) lets in less light.  This is what you will most likely be changing in most shoots, while ISO and Shutter Speed may be changed in more changing conditions such as a night or a room with no lights.

ISO – controls the sensitivity to light.  A lower ISO is usually better, as a higher ISO can allow for more sensitivity in dark locations, but it adds messy noise and grain to the image. 200-400 is fairly standard under normal lighting.

Shutter Speed – Determines how long the shutter will be open on the camera. 1/50 to 1/100 of a second is a fairly standard for everyday shots.  For fast motion, you may have 1/400 up to 1/4000 of a second.  Very low light might be open for 1-30 seconds.


Other functions:

White Balance: White balancing your camera removes any strange color casts so as to take shots that more closely mirror that of the human eye. Lighting conditions determine the colour temperature of an area, whereas our eyes compensate for the colour change.  The white balance will try to match the colour, based on the whites, for the human eye.  Related to this is colour temperature, which is the hue and intensity of light, measured in Kelvin.

Zebras: are diagonal lines on the viewfinder that help you to determine over or underexposure.  The sweet spot is just a touch of zebras on the nose, cheeks or forehead of the subject.

Lenses: Standard lenses include:

45-50mm – good portrait lens with narrow depth of field

35mm – most closely resembles what the human eye sees and a standard in the film industry

11-23mm – wide angle, used to cover large areas.



Depth of Field: refers to the distance or the focal range between the nearest and furthest objects in a shot that are sharp and in-focus. A large depth of field is called a deep focus, while a small depth of field is called shallow focus.  The blurred background that is pleasing to the eye is called a bokeh.  A shallow depth of field can produce a better bokeh.

Shallow depth of field (background blurred)

Deep depth of field (almost everything is in focus)



Focus peaking is a camera function that can help to focus on the depth of field or the subject that you want in focus.  It often appears as a glowing or glittery red or green aura around the edges of objects.



Three-point Lighting: Three-point lighting is the base for shooting good video as it provides a basic and standard look for filming. This includes your key light (main light facing the subject, shone to one side of the face), the fill light (which fills in the opposite front side) and back or rim light (illuminates the back of the subject’s head, creating a halo or bright aura).

If you don’t have a lighting kit, look for adequate ambient or present lighting.

Smartphones tend to overblow images in bright sun or light.  Do not shoot into the sun or into a bright window, with the sun directly behind the subject. This will blow out your image and turn your subject into a dark silhouette.  Shoot with the sun or window to the side or front of the subject (if you have to).  A better place to shoot is in a shaded area to avoid the bright sun.

Use a well-lighted room or outdoor area but try and stay away from ugly fluorescent lights (they can give an ugly greenish hue) if possible and dim lights.  Household lamps are often smaller wattages, so they don’t give off much light, so regular room lighting is better.

Contrary to what you might think, shooting in a lightly, evenly shaded area can provide you with good lighting that is not too bright, nor too dark.

Smartphones will use a slower shutter speed in low light situations, such as at night, in shaded areas or inside where there’s dim lighting.  With low light, the shutter needs to stay open longer to allow enough light in to correctly expose the image.  Since the shutter is open longer to compose the picture, any little jitter or shake can disrupt the image as the shot is no longer instantaneous.


Use a tripod or a makeshift tripod.  A tripod helps to stabilize your shot so there’s less jitter and shakiness.  This serves a couple of purposes:

Your shot will look better with less unintentional movement.  A steady shot makes the view focus on the subject, rather than being distracted or annoyed by the camera’s movement.  It can also give a professional, classy look to it.

Sudden movement or “whip pans” (moving your camera to side really fast to change shots) can add ugly pixelation.  The sensors in the camera can only pick up so many pixels changing at once, so while a steady shot has a limited number of pixels changing due to movement, the sudden and drastic change of every pixel changing 30 times a second in a whip pan can lead to the blurriness being captured as distorted pixelation.  In effect, the camera’s sensors can’t keep up with the sudden changes.

In lower light, as tripod is needed as the shutter may have to be open longer.  Since it’s open longer, it’s more prone to being negatively affected by any jitter of the camera and wrecking your shot.


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