The Making of a Movie: A Behind-The-Scenes Look on How to Make a Video
Four minutes is sometimes all it takes to tell an intriguing story — but the time that goes into creating that story adds up to a bit more. How much time would you guess goes into the production of a four-minute video? An hour? Three?
Try nearly 24 hours. (That’s about 450 times the length of the actual movie, in case you are wondering). While at first glance making a video looks pretty straightforward, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make it, well, work. Novice videographers (and even photographers venturing into video) often don’t realize how big a task making even a brief video can be, so we wanted to share a behind-the-scenes look at the process — with a few tips at every step along the way.
For this particular venture, we set out to create a video for the ILFORD Inspires series — an interview with Chuck Kelton, a master printer and instructor who works in the silver gelatin process. The final video, just shy of four minutes long, tells his story:
But telling Chuck’s story was more complex than it seems on the surface. Like every recipe requires multiple ingredients working together, this story took a mix of several different ingredients to reach the final product.
How to Make a Video: Planning
The finished product didn’t begin with setting up the video camera — but with paper and pencil. Tsuyoshi Ito, one of the five members of our team who worked on the project, did the pre-production planning as well as shooting and directing the video.
Like many interviews, the video was set in a predetermined location: Chuck’s studio. That doesn’t mean all of the location planning is taken care of, however. Tsuyoshi looked for an area that was lit well, preferably with natural light, but soft and indirect. He also looked for a way to shoot without distractions, picking an angle that helps draw attention to the subject, not a cluttered background.
When he’s not interviewing someone he’s familiar with, he tries to mix in both general and specific questions, moving back and forth between them to create more of a comfortable conversation than stiff interview responses. “I’m always thinking, ‘How can I tell this interesting story in a way that’s not so expected?’ It’s really about the delivery for me,” Tsuyoshi said.
Team Member: Tsuyoshi Ito
Tools: Paper and pencil
Time: 3 hours
Tip: “Take a little risk when you shoot so that it’s not all expected. When we do an interview, it’s sort of expected, the format of it. So, I follow that in a way, but every time I get a chance, I try to take a creative risk and say, what if I do this? About 90 percent is what is expected, but I try to take a little risk every time to see how much I can push the format.”
How to Make a Video: Shooting
The actual interview lasted about a half an hour. Instead of focusing with the lens, Tsuyoshi set the focus then moved the entire camera in and out to get a sharp shot. And while we normally use a Ninja Assassin external recorder, an iPhone served as a makeshift mic for this particular shoot.
The gear wasn’t packed up at the end of the interview though. B-roll helps to flesh out the story. Without it, the video would be just a talking head on camera for a full four minutes. Instead, Tsuyoshi took shots of the studio and darkroom to help tell the story with smaller details.
“Typically, the things that I look for are the detail shots, almost like a still life,” Tsuyoshi says. “I don’t want to show too much, but I don’t want to show too little and make it inaccessible either. Instead, I try to give it more detail. Those details help to make up the entire atmosphere, like a jigsaw puzzle.”
He spent another half an hour shooting b-roll — just as much time as he spent conducting the actual interview.
“I’m always thinking, ‘How can I tell this interesting story in a way that’s not so expected?’ It’s really about the delivery for me,” Tsuyoshi said.
Team Member: Tsuyoshi Ito
Location: Jersey City
Tools: Canon 5D Mark II, 28-70mm lens, monopod, iPhone with ClipMic
Time: 1 hour
Tip: “Sound is much more interesting and more important than the pictures or video itself. People tend to forget that. If I have to drop something, I would drop a picture. It sounds funny coming from a photographer, but sound and what they say is much more important to me than the picture itself. I’m not discounting the picture, but video is more about the sound and people don’t quite understand that.” – Tsuyoshi Ito
How to Make a Video: Sequencing
With the shoot completed comes another question — how do you compress a thirty minute video down to about four? That’s where sequencing comes in. After one of our volunteers transcribed the video, Kazuna Takayanagi took the script and used it to create a storyline for the video editor to follow. Her task is to highlight the most important parts of the interview and arrange it in a way that both makes sense and keeps the viewer’s interest.
Kazuna started by researching Chuck: it’s tough to know what’s important and what’s not without a bit of knowledge on who is actually in the video. She starts determining what should be included right away, marking sections of the video that inspire her while reading (or watching) it for the first time.
“When you first encounter the material, make sure that you have unbiased, fresh eyes — that helps you pick the parts that are most interesting and contain some sentences that would move viewers,” she says.
Team Member: Kazuna Takayanagi
Location: New York
Tools: Pages, Google Docs
Time: 2.5 hours
Tip: “Value your first impression.” – Kazuna Takayanagi
How to Make a Video: Editing
With the structure laid out on paper, the video editor cuts and assembles the raw footage, mixing in b-roll and music to add more detail and emotion to the story.
The job of the editor, Chris Brown says, involves taking the raw footage and creating the story that the videographer has in mind. Having a storyline in place helps make the process simpler. “Creating a solid foundation when a storyboard hasn’t been created is the most challenging, if a good first edit is created, and it feels good to the client, then the following cuts and edits become easier,” he explains. “If your first edit is nowhere near first base, then the whole process starts again and you have to shift your artistic and creative thought process and start to second guess what is wanted and why you got it so wrong.”
Everything from the main interview and b-roll to the audio are interlinked — they have to work together, Chris says. The b-roll has to fit both the interview and the music and vice versa. With both the interview audio and music in place, he then adds in the b-roll, using the music as a guide. “I then cut the b-roll and video on the beat, but sometimes I miss the beat on purpose so the viewer doesn’t get into a rhythmical count of scene changes,” he said.
Determining where to place what sections of b-roll where can be tricky, but Chris compares it to baking — if you know what the end result is supposed to taste like, it’s much easier to determine exactly what needs to be added to the mix.
“B-roll keeps the momentum of the video and helps the story unfold,” he said. “It triggers the viewer’s subconscious to be part of the experience and the words of the interview. Sometimes, as an editor, you want the b-roll to be descriptive, to help tell the story, however, on other occasions you want the b-roll to be more abstract to prevent the video from becoming a ‘how to’ infomercial.”
Brown also works with an audio editor, then once everything else is finished, color corrects the final shots.
Team Member: Chris Brown
Tools: Premier Pro, Audition, Speedgrade, and Avid
Time: 13 hours
Tip: “As with photography, everyone who owns an iPhone now thinks they are a videographer, and to a certain extent that is correct. You don’t become an engineer by owning a wrench but by learning how to use that wrench and getting education. Learning the foundations and rules of videography through some form of education and training is paramount. Once you know the rules, you can then bend them to suit your needs but if you never learn the rules, you are shooting in the dark.” – Chris Brown
How to Make a Video: Audio
Sound editing is often a task separate from touching up the footage itself. Federico Di Fresco ensures that the video and audio are working on the same timeline.
Federico works to ensure the sound is as natural as possible, while removing background noise. He also aims to keep the volume consistent across the entire video. He typically spends an hour to an hour and a half on the audio for each minute of video — though projects with multiple audio sources take even longer.
“It’s important to remember that audio visual is 100 percent visual — and 100 percent audio,” he says. The visuals are important, but the audio carries just as much weight, he explains.
In many cases, Federico talks with the producer before the video is even shot to make sure the audio is recorded correctly. “When you try to fix everything in post production, it ends up being more time and more money and ends up not sounding as well,” he said.
While the audio editor works with the interview, the video editor, Chris, selects and adds the background music. He chooses the tracks while considering just how much emotional impact the music makes, building emotion slowly and subconsciously — not unlike a Hitchcock film.
The audio editor often works with a near final version, often called an offline version, before sending the audio back to the video editor to be re-synced and exported as a final version.
Team Member: Federico Di Fresco
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Time: 5 hours
Tip: “Academic education is very important to becoming a good professional and understanding the theory, but the best way of learning to work with audio is to work as many hours as possible with professionals with a long career behind them, to see them work and try to understand what they are doing and why they are doing it.” – Federico Di Fresco
How to Make a Video: Tell a story
Even short videos require big commitments — from planning to post production, video is about telling a story, and it’s one that requires several pieces working together. And while every member of the team had different tasks, they all, in some way, reiterated one point: it’s about the story.
“The most important thing is the story — if the story isn’t good, then there’s nothing to do,” Frederico said. “You have to make sure the story is told well, but more important than the story is the why. Why do you want to tell the story? If you know why you want to tell the story, how you are going to tell it and what you need to do to tell it, it’s going to happen by itself.”
Making sure Chuck Kelton’s story was told — and told well — was a task that took four of our team members (and a volunteer) over 24 hours to complete, using collaboration tools like Google Docs and Drive to work with a group that spans multiple states and continents. Learning how to make a video is about far more than the mechanics of turning on a video camera; it’s about learning how to tell a story.
Ready to master audiovisual story telling? Learn how to make a video that inspires in Project Basho’s new class, Start-to-Finish DSLR Video Production.