Shooting better footage is something every film maker should want to do and should make it pretty high on their priority list, after the script and not much else. What does it actually mean to shoot better though? Well for most viewers they wont understand the technicalities involved but they will subconcsiously understand when a little more love and attention has been put into a project.
Just a note on budgets. While we are fans of indie film making and doing things cheap there are times when spending a little extra is definitely worth it. For example you can shoot a good looking film on an iphone, so long as your script holds up. However if you want to really push the visuals in post the iphone files just wont be good enough. You will need something that produces a robust codec, that can be easily used in your editing software. So, do think about where you spend any money you do have.
With that point in mind lets get to the list.
A solid mount for your camera is a must (obviously if it's a handheld shot you can skip this one). If you are trying to get a smooth pan, or the ground is a little uneven then investing in a good tripod is essential.
Getting some solid sticks is a must and they don't have to be silly money. We like Manfrotto's 546bk legs, which are solid, with mid or ground level lockable spreaders. Look for something light but sturdy and keep in mind what method of head attachment is used. In our case we went with a 504HD which has a 75mm bowl and is perfectly suited to our tripod. The bowl makes for easy leveling and the fluid drag system of this head is pretty versatile. What we really like is the large platform making for more stability.
Nothing worse than an otherwise nice shot being ruined by clunky pans and don't forget if you want to mount a rigged camera or a dolly, you will need to cater to the extra weight.
Nothing says high production value as much as a smooth, controlled, camera move (ok ok, good lighting is up there too) and you don't have to spend a fortune to get the look. A travel dolly or slider from the likes of Kessler or Syrp is a great way to achieve some great moves and for a reasonable outlay. We like the Syrp Magic Carpet which is a slider with varying rail lengths. There is a motion controller available, which works with the built in pulley system. The Kessler pocket dolly comes in a few sizes and while it's sturdier it's a lot more expensive but is very nice.
Then you have cranes and jibs. This is an area where we think Kessler is the best bet. There are too many ways this can fail so investing in a good one is worth it, as a wobbly crane shot is just horrible.
These are the main two but don't rule out gimbals or steadycams. There are some out there which aren't at all bad and come in at a price which isn't completely out of reach.
It's mostly about smoothness and taking things steady. Don't forget you can improve a less sturdy tripod by hanging a weight from the centre pole and a certain amount of shake can be removed in post.
One of the tell tale signs of a student or less experienced film maker is the amount of dead space in any given frame. Of course there are times when that can be advantageous, like supporting loneliness of a character or the vastness of the savannah, however most of the time you want to drive straight in and show the viewer what you are trying to convey through your script.
If you have a narrator on screen, as long as they aren't describing what's around them for you, then get in close. See their expression and generate a trust for your viewers. Don't confuse them with unnecessary visual garbage.
Yes, we know. The title says shoot better video. Stay with us though. We haven't gone mad. Many director's and cinematographer's agree that the sound, either ambient, speech, or score, is half the battle. It's more subliminal than the visuals but equally important, which is why a film with a good soundtrack is so memorable. The two work in tandem, with the sound supporting the story, enhancing emotion and drama.
You may not have the skills or equipment to create professional audio yourself so either find a friend who does, use some of the royalty free sound sites out there, or buy a good mic and let the actors do the hard work for you. A lack of music can be as powerful as a any heavily scored piece. Just make sure you make the right choices to support your story.
Another one that may sound obvious but you will never go wrong by spending time planning. You don't have to plan everything but logistics should absolutely be covered. Use your script to make a shot list. With this you will know, with reasonable accuracy, what needs to be done, in what order, where and when. Without it you can't possibly know who you will need on your team on a given day or location, how much food to bring (trust me, they will need feeding), what equipment needs hiring for any given scene and so much more. If your location isn't local you will want to know the best methods of travel which could save you money and time.
All these things are important but not as vital as you knowing what it is you want to achieve at the end of the shoot. You already have the visuals and storytelling locked in your head but you will find it much harder to execute without breaking things down into manageable chunks and sharing that info with your team, so that they can share in your vision.
That's it for this chunk of movie making goodness. We will be back with more soon but in the meantime if there are any tips you'd like to share please drop a comment below.