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Chapter 3. Shooting > Rubin's Rules of Shooting

Rubin's Rules of Shooting

Let's start with some rules for making “video sketches.” These rules are neither a political manifesto nor arbitrary. Rather, they are based on simple observations I have made that result in watchable and easy-to-make videos.

Shoot to edit.

Shooting to edit means you are consciously collecting bits of video that you know will cut together nicely. You don't need any preparation for this (such as story-boards). But you must be dedicated to the notion that you are shooting with the intention of making a video out of the material you've shot. Keep it simple.

Ad-lib it.

Create as you go. No script. No storyboards. No actors. No “location scouting.” It's all improvisation. It's real life. Later, there will be time to shoot little plays you put together with your kids, or to produce fun little “shorts” or even a serious documentary on a subject that interests you. I do want to encourage your growth into these other kinds of projects, but they all take a degree of preparation and work that is fundamentally different from what you will be shooting here, making “sketches.” For now, just look around and shoot your life. Go au naturel.

You're a one-person production team.

Sketching a home video isn't a team sport. You must learn to do it yourself. You're the one who is shooting, editing, and thinking on your feet. (Maybe your pals or family members can help you shoot once in a while, so you can be in the video too; but you must educate them as to what kind of shots to get.)

No equipment that you can't carry in your pockets.

No tripods. No steadicams. Again, keep it simple. You could use additional lenses, adapters, or filters, but they aren't necessities either. You may be tempted by fun gadgets that make your camera big and heavy and sexy—but if they're difficult, uncomfortable, confusing, or time-consuming to use, don't let them get in your way. Shed the baggage. It's just you and your camera.

Use existing light only.

Lighting is as much a part of a scene as the people and action in it. Adding light changes the mood from what is really going on (and it violates rule No. 4). Learn to appreciate the light that exists in the scene, and capture whatever you can just with your camera. To follow this rule, however, you'll need to have good control of your camera (although automatic exposure settings make this awfully darn easy to manage). If the existing lighting isn't working for you, don't add light—learn more about your camera's manual exposure controls.

Concentrate on static shots.

By “static shots,” I mean that the only thing moving is whatever you're shooting. Static shots are the building blocks of your video. Use moving shots minimally, if at all. In other words, stop moving around while you're shooting. This is probably the hardest rule to abide by. But you must trust me on this: Stop moving. Stop moving the camera, stop moving your body, and stop zooming in and out.

Shoot real moments, “small moments.”

Take the camera out to shoot even if it's not a holiday or someone's birthday. Notice the way the light shines in your bedroom, or watch the shadows in your hallway after all the lights are out for the night. See the way a Popsicle drips down your kid's face as she slurps it up. Take a look at all the details you see so often that you hardly notice them anymore. Train yourself to really see these things—maybe to look at them in a different way. Now shoot them. In general, this means candid photography. These are what I call “small moments.”

Don't let your subject talk directly to the camera.

Observe conversations, but don't participate. There are many ways to shoot and make fun videos, and interviewing people from behind the lens—having them talk to the camera—is one of them. But many of the rules of filmmaking, and in particular my rules for video sketches, don't work when people talk to the camera. It's simply hard to edit.

If you feel like interviewing someone, do it with the camera held to your side and away from your face (or set it down somewhere else), so that the subject is looking at you and not at the camera lens. But it's usually better simply to shoot people interacting with one another, not with you.

Impose limits on your project.

This rule is critical. Shoot no more than 20 minutes of source video per project, and use this raw footage to create 1 to 5 minutes of “program.” This way, you can finish a project in 1 to 3 hours of actual work, probably in one sitting. This is the nature of video: The more you shoot, the more difficult the project will become. If you keep your source material under 20 minutes, all the variables come together and result in exceptionally finishable projects.

Avoid in-camera effects.

Ignore those little digital things the camera can do, like titles, special effects, and even digital zoom. Sure, they are fun to use—but don't. If you want effects, you can always add them later with the computer; if you use the camera for your effects, you can never remove them. So save the effects and titles for post-production.

Use MiniDV and FireWire—period.

No analog. No digitizing. And don't fret about the cost: It's worth it. MiniDV and FireWire or nothing.



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