How to Shoot Video That Doesn't Suck

Brew Dogs is Back!

Another 10 episodes of our hit show Brew Dogs starts this Wednesday, June 25 at 9pm on the Esquire Network.  If you like beer, travel, food or amusing Scottish people, this is your show.

Please tell all your friends immediately.  And if you’d like to show them how hip you truly are, you can watch the premiere episode early– right here, right now!

If you’re willing to admit to your friends that you’re not all that hip, you can also catch up on episodes from last season on Yahoo for free here.

It’s a great show that I’m really proud of being a part of.  Hope you enjoy it!

Every Video Needs a Hero

When somebody asks you what a movie is about, you probably say something like this:  “It’s about a guy who decides to say ‘Yes’ to everything he’s asked to do” or “it’s about a girl who gets flown to another world in a tornado.”

Great movies are about someone.  So are great videos.  The person your video is about is your hero.  By hero I don’t mean that they have to kill bad guys or become a vampire—rather, they’re simply the focus of your video.  They’re the person who does something, or that something happens to.

Why are you shooting your daughter’s fifth birthday party?  To remember her at age 5.  She’s the hero.  Instead of random birthday party shots, make the video about your daughter and how she experiences her party.  Stay physically close to her.  Shoot from her eye-level instead of yours.  Shoot her greeting her guests, opening her gifts, talking on the phone to grandpa, spilling cake on her dress.  In a series of short, focused shots, you’ll have a lot to remember.

Instead of pointing the camera at the soccer field and rolling, make all your shots about your son’s experience of the game.  A music video should probably be about the lead singer.  A sales video might be about a particular customer’s experience, or it might be about the sales manager training the team.  A stunt video is about the stunt performer.

Whenever you pick up your camera, just before you roll, ask yourself:  Who is this shot about?  The focus of choosing a hero for your video will make it much stronger– almost by magic.

Writing better Video Scripts: The Rewrite

At my school, we have a weekly show called Bobcat Television. We write scripts and film all around the school.  I am one of the students involved. I was wondering if you have any advice on how we can improve our show.  Here is a sample script:

H: As many of you Bobcats may know, there is something out there called autism.

M:You may have heard your parents talking about it…

G:You may have seen something online or in the newspaper…

H: Or you may have seen an advertisement somewhere.

M: But do you really know what autism is?

G: We are here to inform you about autism and it’s effects.

M: Some of the commonly asked questions about autism are…

H: What is autism?

G: What does autism do to people affected?

M: What are some of the characteristics of a person with autism?

H: Here are your answers.

–Gabrielle Bartlett

Thanks for boldly sharing your script, Gabrielle (or should I call you “G”?)

Great videos start with great video scripts whether you’re in high school or Hollywood. You can make a decent movie with a great script and fair cast– but you can’t make a decent movie with a lame script even if you have Oscar winners (see half the Al Pacino movies of the ’90s.  You may have to imdb him, G.)

Scripts need to cut to the chase.  Every word has to mean something, because it’s going to take up your audience’s time.  If you bore them, they will tune out literally– by clicking away– or figuratively, by paying attention to something else.

Your script is good for a first draft. But in rewrite, you need to prune away every word that doesn’t give us more information, entertain us, intrigue us, or make us feel emotion.  An improv teacher of mine called the extra words “weasel words”– the words of someone trying to kill time to avoid getting to the point.  We do this in conversation to be “softer” in our approach.  In video, “soft” is usually boring.  Instead, say what you mean and get out.

Let’s try rewriting, and I’m going to be extra tough on you just so you can see the point:

H: As many of you Bobcats may know, there is something out there called autism.

You are already talking to us Bobcats.  And we already know that you’re talking to us.  Just start with the main point: the word “Autism.”

M:You may have heard your parents talking about it…
G:You may have heard about it something about it online or in the newspaper…


H: Or you may have seen an advertisement somewhere.

Do people really advertise for autism? Regardless, we get the point already– autism is a word you may have heard without knowing what it means.  Let’s cut this.

M: But do you really know what autism is?

Everything is real.  “Really” is a word you almost never need.

G: We are here to inform you about autism and it’s effects.

Just tell them.  You don’t need to tell them you’re going to tell them.

M: Some of the commonly asked questions about autism are…

Ditto.  Let’s just ask the questions.

H: What is autism?

Already asked in this version.

G: Or how it affects people?

Rewritten shorter and cleaner.

M: or how autism is treated?  What are some of the characteristics of a person with autism? 


H: Here are your answers.

Instead of saying, just do it. Go right to the answers.

When we take out the edit notes, the new version is about half the length of what you had before.  Just by cutting here and there, we’ve made this quicker and more interesting:

H: Autism.

M:You may have heard your parents talking about it…

G:You may have heard about it online or in the newspaper…

H: But do you know what autism is?

G: Or how it affects people?

M: or how autism is treated? 

Now you’ve introduced your topic, asked questions to intrigue, and the audience is hanging on– ready for answers.

What’s your Truth?

To keep your videos interesting, seek truth.

Truth is always fascinating.  It doesn’t have to be literal truth.  But it does have to be human truth. Showtime’s Dexter was ostensibly about a serial killer struggling to kill without doing “wrong” or getting caught.  It’s truths were about the character being unable to understand how “normal” people think– which turned out to be bigger truths about everyone’s inability to really understand what other people think or want from us.  By looking through the mind of a psychopath trying to follow his own code of honor, the show exposes things we, the audience, understand to be true.

Was the show literally “true”? No.  It was about a fictional character, and it’s plot was made up by a team of professional writers.  But did it tell truth?  Yes.  Which was the secret to it’s long success.

If customers see truth about their needs in a sales video, they’ll relate to it in a way they couldn’t if they were just being “pitched.”  Your funny video sketch plays well at a meeting because it tells truths about the corporate culture around you.  A birthday party video that tells the truths about the family’s relationships will be way more interesting than a superficial grin-and-wave.

For your next video, what truths can you tell?

Shooting High School Video that Doesn’t Suck

One of my daughter’s high school teachers handed out this video assignment option: a 10 page paper or a 40 minute video.

A forty minute video?  That’s almost as long as a network hour (less commercials.)  Yes, it’s possible for a high-schooler to fill the time, but very unlikely they’ll fill it with anything anyone would want to watch.  It takes a network 12 weeks, $3 million, and a full-time team of hundreds– and half the time their shows aren’t watchable.

A paper takes research and writing.  Video, done right, involves research and writing AND translation to images and action, shooting skills, team management, and editing.  Each skill is every bit as hard to master as research and writing, and we don’t teach them in schools.

Teachers:  If you’re going to assign video (and you should) give kids a chance to succeed. Give them a strict 3-minute time limit. Help them develop concepts.  Teach them something about storytelling first.

They’ll do better work, and you won’t rip your hair out watching a bunch of bad 40 minute videos.

Now the plug part:  If you want to do a good job teaching them video, how about this: 5 free hours of classroom lessons. You can teach an hour, or all five lessons.  You’ll thank me when you see the videos.

Click this link to download the Video Bootcamp PDF.  100% Free.  Nothing to buy, no email address to leave, no hoops to jump through.

Why not tweet or email the link to your favorite teacher?

Bootcamp Cover


 Teachers:  Questions on how to use video in the classroom?  Ask them here!