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How to Shoot Better Digital Video - Preproduction Film Planning

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 2/4/2010

There are certain principles of video planning and preparedness that encourages your video project to be successful.

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    The Need For Planning

    The main way to get better results with your images and projects from your digital video camera is planning and preparedness, plain and simple. Ask any veteran video journalist or filmmaker and they will tell you that it doesn’t matter if you are trying to record one single shot or an epic war mini-series, the important thing is to know what you are shooting and have a plan for it. During this pre-production you can help to prepare by making sure that a few key elements are understood.

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    Things to Know About Your Subject Matter

    You need to know exactly where you will be recording. Otherwise you won't know what kind of audio or lighting equipment you will need. If you do not know that the location you will be in might be windy and have very bright, direct light, there is no way that you will know to bring a windsock for the microphone and something to diffuse the natural light. It is also important to know exactly what type of location to expect in case you need to get approval, block the action of what you’re shooting accordingly, or whether you will have the ability to move around freely. The location must be studied and charted so you can try to avoid any uncontrollable circumstances. Once you have that coordinated you need to decide what direction your human subjects will be facing and how they will be standing. This way you can coordinate the lighting and camera positions within the terrain so that you do not have to do it on the fly once you are on location. The most important thing to plan for is whether the subject is going to be moving. This must be known and planned for because every movement potentially can destroy the shots you have planned for. You must know how they will be moving, how long it will be, and how far they will be going. With this knowledge you can set up a shooting plan that will work with the terrain and that will capture the facial and body movements of the subject the way you intend.

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    Things You Must Know About the Camera

    Before you get out there you have to know exactly where, and in what position, you are going to place the camera. This means you should have a very good idea where on the terrain and in relation to the subject you want the camera to be. What determines this is the type of shot you want to get, in what depth of field you want to see the image, and exactly what elements of the scene you want to be focused on in the shot. You need to also know how many different shots you are going to have, each of which should go with the same process of determining camera location. You will also need to know if the camera will be moving, whether it is up and down or backward and forward. Every camera move will have to be blocked and lit carefully, and it is important to know that this will happen ahead of time so that you can plan for anything that might have to change to make this moving shot work. One of the most important things you need to plan for when it comes to the camera is to know what your widest shot is going to be. This is always the shot you want to take first because it takes the most set-ups for whatever you are shooting, and it means that once you do that set-up you most likely will not have to do as much for each additional shot in the same setting.

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    Things You Must Know About the Budget

    Every digital video project, large or small, has some sort of a budget. This may only include DV tapes and batteries, but either way it is important to know exactly what each thing you plan to do during the shoot is going to cost. Make sure this is planned out well each time before you head out to shoot, and that way you can try and itemize to save time and money.

Pre-Production Articles

Here are some articles focused on different types of film pre-production.
  1. How to Shoot Better Digital Video - Preproduction Film Planning
  2. Tips for Effective Narrative Film Pre-Production