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Results-Oriented Video

The goal of having a bunch of cool digital equipment is to use it. Shooting video all day with your camcorder is a waste of time if you never watch it—and if you don't edit it, you'll probably never watch it. You won't end up editing everything you shoot, but if you plan to watch it or show it to other people, editing will help significantly. Besides, editing videos is fun, if you set yourself up to succeed.

There are many ways to use a camera and editing software to make videos. Professional videographers—people who have the skills and equipment to make a living creating videos—pride themselves on owning tripods with fluid heads, some key lights and filters, maybe a few exceptionally high-quality cameras, and a lens set. They may also have a boom mic and perhaps even a digital-audio tape recorder they pipe through a small mixing console on the set. Videographers know about lighting and sound and are very creative and careful at what they do.

But this isn't you.

You have a digital video camera and a personal computer. Today's camcorders are practically good enough to shoot videos for HBO, and your computer is more powerful than the one used by NASA to help put the first men on the moon. But making videos is not your profession. You do it when you have a little time on the weekends, and it probably doesn't get a lot of financial or scheduling allocation.

Our goals here—yours and mine—are as follows:

  • To learn how to use your camera to get good video easily

  • To shoot video that you can readily edit into projects

  • To finish your projects

It is this last point to which I am most dedicated. Finishing your video is key. Your equipment can be so simple to use that you may try to do too much—shoot too much material or otherwise get overly ambitious—and you'll end up with a bunch of never-finished projects stacked up in your closet. That's no good.

Video Sketches

The process I use in this book is less about making “movies” than about creating what I call video sketches. Whereas a movie might be long, detailed, and highly crafted, a video sketch is more like a caricature—a gesture. A movie is often fictional; a sketch is deeply true. A movie is meant for a large audience; a sketch is just for you and your friends and family. But most of all, video sketches are easy, approachable, and quick. They may be a little messy around the edges, but I promise that you'll be able to do them on demand, and they will be full of personality and character.

To make a video sketch, I like to shoot unstaged moments—sometimes big, sometimes small, but all real-life snapshots from my immediate experience. Besides recording “events,” an important part of making sketches is the capturing of tiny details and textures—the stuff that colors memory and adds a richness that is typically missing from home video.

I do no planning. There is no script, so I have no idea what is going to unfold. I don't even know if I will get enough good material to make a good video. I just shoot the best way I can. And then, like a kid after trick-or-treating on Halloween, I dump my bag of goodies on the table and see what I got.

Next, I take what I've shot—always less than 20 minutes' worth of material—and “pour” it into my computer (only about 4 GB of material, so I've always got enough space on my hard disk). Then I edit it.

It's the editing that makes the video come to life. Unedited material, while it may be interesting only to me, is a world apart from an edited bit of video. Not editing is like enjoying the ingredients of a fine meal but never taking the time to prepare the dinner: It's sort of all there, but it's really not the same. A well-edited video is greater than the sum of its parts.

Within about an hour I have cut my 20 minutes of material down to 4, and it's pretty darn okay. If I have another hour, I tighten it up some more, smooth out the cuts, add music, and just generally refine it. I hold myself to a 2-hour limit for finishing the video, and just do the best I can in that time.

I use special effects very sparingly. For the most part, the only effects I use are fades and titles—maybe a couple of dissolves between shots—but even these are minimal. I keep my titles simple and clear, and add them at the very end of the editing process.

In just a couple of hours, I have a great-looking 4-minute final video cut to a song with personal meaning. It's not perfect (we aren't going for perfect), but it's eminently watchable and enjoyable—even more so when the viewers are interested in the content.

Next I record my final cut from the computer back onto tape, then show off the finished video to friends and family. Each time I show it to others, I see things I'd like to fix. For this reason, I don't delete the video files from my computer right away; when I have a few minutes of spare time, I continue to tweak things now and then over the course of a few more days.

The moment I stop tweaking is the moment I begin to lose interest in the project. A few days go by; I've shown the video to several people and enjoyed watching them enjoy it; but soon other things in my life supersede this one in importance, and then I know that the time has come to end it. After all, I am not making a video for MTV or a Sundance Film Festival premiere.

At this point I record the “final” final cut to a master videotape and delete the footage from my computer.

This is not the only way to shoot and edit videos, but I have found that it fits well into my busy life. And although I've worked on many kinds of professional projects, from TV commercials to theatrical feature films, I find this a good balance of effort and time for home-video hobbyists—it combines a little info from the professional-filmmaking world with a sincere understanding of the limitations that amateurs face. I believe that anyone can learn how to shoot, organize, and edit a video in about 4 hours. That's what this book is about.


Making home videos is a forgiving craft: You can be pretty bad at it, and they can still come out okay. With a camera set to automatic mode and some rudimentary knowledge of shooting and editing principles, you can make videos that are quite satisfying, maybe even professional-looking. And the more you choose to learn, the better your videos will be. As the solo videographer, you can expand your skills with the camera, with editing, with “storytelling” in general—your videos will just get better and better the more you do.

But for now, let's focus on starting out and work toward getting your first video finished.

You'll notice icons throughout this book. They are as follows:

The Note icon accompanies text that is not essential, but is still interesting or useful.

The Tip icon flags important tips or time-saving tricks that you would do well to learn.

The Warning icon alerts you to something crucial.

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