Friday, February 6, 2009

Video Basics producer and long time designer Curt Milton gave a class on video editing to our staff on Feb. 3. I wasn't able to attend, but asked if he'd share his cheat sheet from the class with PrintToOnline readers. Happily, he said yes, and here it is. If you have any questions for Curt, you can Twitter him at

And now, here's Curt:

A few on the basics to help you get started making short videos for the web.

1. THE CAMERA: There are several types, each with advantages and disadvantages:
Mini-DV tape – Advantages: best picture quality, especially for HD; easy to store content; easy to change tapes in the field. Disadvantages: format is losing popularity; takes longer to download content into computer.
Hard drive/flash memory – Advantages: gaining in popularity; quick to download content to computer; fewer moving parts to break. Disadvantages: more highly compressed image so picture quality (especially HD) isn’t as good as tape); when it fills up, you have to download to computer; long-term storage issues; may have compatibility problems with some editing programs.
DVD – Advantages: stores video on mini-DVDs; can be watched immediately on DVD player. Disadvantages: have to carry mini-DVDs; no HD compatibility; video may need to be translated to a format that your editing program can use.

Standard definition: 480 lines of vertical resolution, roughly square picture format, standard TV broadcast format.
Widescreen: Also known as 16x9. Picture is rectangular, wider than standard TV. Resolution approximately the same as standard TV.
High-definition: Format is 16x9. Resolution is 1,080 lines per inch. Superior picture but has to be seen on hi-def TV to really notice the difference.
What is best for the web? Hard to say. More web and broadcast video is being produced in 16x9. If you have hi-def, use it. It’s the format of the future and your video will have a longer shelf life. The downside? File sizes are bigger.

· Be familiar with your camera – Don’t buy a camera one day and then go out the next to shoot your first professional job. Practice! Take the camera with you and shoot a lot so you can become familiar with the functions. Try making a short video story. It’s easy to mess up some technical issue if you’re unsure of your equipment.
· Use a tripod if you can – The steadier the image, the easier it will be to watch online. Also, steady images make for smaller file sizes (compression issues).
· Hold it steady and take your time – If you can’t use a tripod, hold the camera steady. Avoid jerky movements or rapid zooms. They don’t play well online. If you must zoom, do it slowly.
· Wide, medium, close – Keep this rhythm in mind as you are composing your shots. Movies are shot this way: The wide shot establishes the scene. The medium shot moves in to show key players or more detail. The close up gives it focus and shows important details.
· Follow the story – The story you are following has an arc. Be sure to get shots from all parts of the story: beginning, middle and end. Just because you’re behind the camera doesn’t mean you can ignore what’s happening. You’d hate to start editing and realize you forgot to shoot an important part of the story.
· Get reactions and cutaways – If someone is laughing in the scene, get a shot of what they are laughing at. If someone is doing something funny, get a reaction shot of the crowd laughing. If someone is looking at or pointing at something, get a shot of what they are looking at or pointing at.
· It’s not a bad idea to have a plan – But be ready for surprises. Think about how you might organize the story before you go, but be ready to change gears if the unexpected happens.
· Be prepared – Have a charged battery (and a spare if you’ll be out for a while). Carry the charger. Take extra tape. Have an external microphone and light. And a tripod. Get a bag to carry everything in.
· Collect info – Get names spelled correctly for titles. Gather any printed info. You’re still a reporter. Make notes!
· Write a script – If your piece can be scripted, do it.

4. EDITING: There are several programs you can use for editing:
Easier: iMovie (Mac, part of iLife, $79, included with new Macs), Windows Movie Maker (Windows, included in Vista)
Intermediate: Final Cut Express (Mac, $199), Adobe Premiere (Mac, Windows, $800)
Advanced: Final Cut Studio 2 (Mac, $1,299), Avid Media Composer (Mac, Windows, $2,500)

· Books: I like David Pogue’s “Missing Manual” series. These are easy to use, fun and he provides help on how to shoot good video as well as how to use the editing software. He has books on iMovie 6 (also known as iMovie HD) and iMovie 8. or any bookstore with computer books.
· Lynda has online training for all of these programs but her site costs money.
· Inexpensive sound effects and music
· Rights-free music

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