Shooting for the small screen

Jun 06 2012

On the third day of the WhichWayNC project, the three videographers decided to create a video that would introduce the purpose of the project. Carter McCall, Mika Chance and I wanted to show viewers why they should care about the information given to them in motion graphics, blog posts and articles. We conducted interviews in over a dozen different towns, interviewing 15 people from the mountains, the Piedmont and the coast. We produced a one-minute video from almost seven hours of interviews, composed entirely of video portraits and scenic shots from around the state.  This video was meant to not only introduce the project, but also hit home for the audience (hopefully).


Shooting Techniques

In order to make our intro video conducive to mobile devices, we had to really pay attention to the types of frames we took. By focusing on tight and medium shots, we were able to ensure that the viewers could actually see what the subject of the frame was. Wide shots made the subject too small in the frame, considering that the video would appear on a screen that is only 479 pixels across.

Before gathering content, the video team had discussed and decided how we wanted to approach this video. Because we had talked about it beforehand, we succeeded in taking very few wide shots. Our main difficulty, visually, was diversity. When you cannot incorporate a lot of the environment in a shot, it becomes much more noticeable if the shots are similar. For instance, if you switched from a shot that obeyed the Rule of Thirds to a shot of a different person that also obeyed the same Rule of Thirds, the similarity made the transition jarring. As a result, we had to be conscious of the script so as to make sure similar video portraits wouldn’t be beside each other.

We also had to take great care when gathering and editing the audio content for the piece.  Mobile is more sensitive to sound quality than the desktop is. Even if it sounded perfect on a desktop, if a crossfade was missing or levels were askew, you could hear it easily on the mobile. When we exported a version, we always made sure to test it on the mobile and listen for any audio problems that we could have missed. During the post-production process, we were constantly listening to and adjusting the audio levels, cross fades, gaps and pans. We stacked several of the audio clips atop of one another to create a richer sound without distorting the levels to the point where you could hear white noise.

In traditional photography and videography, subtleties can be the bread and butter of our frames. Professors enforce the idea of filming a frame that seems static, except for one subtle motion, like the swaying of leaves or a fly buzzing around trash. Compare videos for mobile and videos for desktop to acting in movies and acting on stage. Actors in movies can use subtle eye movements or small shoulder shrugs to convey a particular emotion to the audience. Actors on stage seem to over-act, make grandiose gestures and make their body language as obvious as possible. That is because subtle gestures are lost to the people in the balcony. This concept is the same for videos on mobile. A smaller screen means that subtleties must give way to more obvious frames.  We found that on a mobile screen, subtle motion looked like you had made a freeze frame of the file.

In this shot, the movement of the clouds looks beautiful on a large screen, but it’s nearly invisible on a smart phone.


It was a challenge to pique and carry interest, answer questions, relay proper amount of information and maintain artistic composition for a one-minute video that covered the opinions of eight individuals. We had to be selective in our script and also make sure that we were keeping multiple audiences in mind. Coming from a documentary-style video and photo background, developing the storyline of the intro video was a new experience. Rather than waiting for a story to unfold, we had to be proactive and continue reassessing what we were hoping to accomplish with this video. It was not just about telling someone else’s story, it was about expressing the goals of WhichWayNC through diverse voices.

We also found it difficult to edit the video as a group of three creators. None of us had really done a true group edit before and were unprepared going into the post-production process. How do we write a script? How do we cut the audio? How do we cut the visuals? Do we put a title slide? How do we start/stop? What music do we use? Which interviews should we leave in/leave out? We began by setting two deadlines for ourselves: gather all the content within five days and have a finished product two days after.

We stuck to both sections of this deadline, but not without trials and tribulation. We began post-production as a group process. We tried to build the script together, with equal input from the three members of the team. This was a taxing process and it took five hours to agree on a one-minute script. We each had our own ideas and opinions and were unable to come up with a script for some time. Once we finally had however, we decided that was not a productive use of our time.

After that, we began dividing our responsibilities and then assembling after a particular amount of time to critique, comment and make suggestions on what the other had come up with. I was responsible for cutting and transitioning the audio; Mika was in charge of the script; and Carter was in charge of cutting the visuals into sequences. We got things done and did them well, so we decided to continue this “divide and conquer” method when approaching future group-editing projects. Our Senior Producer Sara Peach recommended that in the future, we elect a lead project editor for each group video to keep us on track and act as the administrator of the team.

Engaging the audience

Before we began shooting this video, we decided that it was not going to be an informational piece. This would be short, sweet and to-the-point; the point being that we are a diverse state with a variety of opinions. By talking to an immigrant, an unemployed person, an elected official, a retiree, a homosexual, a student and member of the military, we were reaching out to various groups and various perspectives. Whether the audience can identify with a particular background or a particular viewpoint, there is some undercurrent of agreement for everybody. However, if they don’t identify with the video, then we have a plan to encourage a connection.

Through Facebook and Twitter, we are designing questions to accompany the video. One of WhichWayNC’s aims is to continuously push our content forward. Once it has been produced and published, we hope to continue audience interaction with it, be it by initiating a conversation or by generating future content. The eight people who appear in the video are only 0.00000084 percent of North Carolina’s population. We are asking the viewers to help us fill in the blanks and tell or show us what we missed so their voices can be heard. We are asking them to comment, take photos or video of what North Carolina means to them. Whatever responses we gather from our viewers, we hope to make a second version of this video spotlighting their opinions. If we gather more photos and comments than video, we have several ideas how to perpetuate interaction: photo galleries, photo-montage with voiceover, comment map, flow chart of opinions. We will also be looking out for possible story ideas given to us by our users and even possible sources for certain stories we already hope to do.

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