Shoot Like a Pro
when video production budgets swell, so does the gear list, crew size, and expectations. Once the focal point, the camera becomes merely a little cog in a machine with hundreds of parts. Though a professional photographer can reasonably expect to set out alone to make beautiful pictures, producing a big-budget video is decidedly a team effort. Cinematographers, camera operators, lighting grips, production assistants, even craft services all make the production go, allowing the director to focus on the creative vision as a whole. “It’s all about collaborating with others,” says Laforet. “It’s a very hard thing to do all on your own.”
Of course, collaboration begins with Laforet’s favorite thing: preparation. And KEXP’s Beckmann knows that when prepping for a shoot, great ideas come from everywhere. “During setup, we encourage even interns and volunteers to make suggestions. We all have opinions, and ultimately the best idea wins the day.”
For a scripted production, conceptualizing the project, building storyboards, and creating shot lists are even more important—these define the outline and the skeletal structure of your work. Laforet also believes these pre-shoot conceptual techniques can benefit your photography, even when you’re not working on video. “Preproduction is enormous,” he says. “It’s useful to everybody.”
In fact, shooting stills is often the best way to build storyboards and sketches. Scouting for a Luke Scott film, Corey Rich observed Scott’s storyboard-sketching process: “He was carrying around two Nikon D3s. We would show up at the location, and he’d look at it like a still photographer, sketching it with the cameras. He’d make frames and he’d look at the back of the camera, thinking about how he was going to do the motion sequences. He was thinking with motion as a filter.”
Part of the preproduction process is dealing with the size of the production itself, and the headaches that come along with it. The bigger your crew, the tougher it will be to shoot under the radar. At least one person has to be able to negotiate any production roadblocks, and if you’re the director, it’s likely to be you.
“If you’re working with a crew, or even if you’re just setting up a tripod, you’re going to find that people treat you very differently on the street,” Laforet says. “Cops will pay much more attention to you. Permits become necessary. It’s a whole different set of skills and hoops to jump through.”
Despite the many moving parts that comprise a large production such as Rich’s adventure sports doc, Why, or the technical challenges of piloting drone cameras in jungle rapids, the whole point of the increasingly sophisticated tools is to remove limitations to what our minds can manifest on video.
“It’s purpose-driven to enable us to spend less time fiddling around with the technical aspects, and spend more time on the creative,” Rich says.
So what can that mean for your video? These days, it usually means motion. Not just the image, but the elements within the image, and often the camera itself. “In modern video, it’s not just that stuff is moving in front of the camera,” Laforet says. “The camera itself is—more often than not—moving. You want to keep moving the camera, but do it with a reason.”
Sliders help make for smooth camera movements.
Motorized remote-controlled dollys such as Kessler sliders can make time-lapse videos amazing with automated tracking, and cranes can help quickly alter perspective with dramatic altitude changes.
“It should move to help tell the story and push it forward,” Laforet insists. “If your camera is always stationary—or as we call it, locked off—it’s very common for your audience to lose interest in what you’re shooting.”
When producing movies at the highest level, you almost certainly will have an editor to handle the time-intensive task of editing your clips. But as the director, it’s important to be involved in the editing process, and to learn from your editor. Laforet suggests becoming best buddies with yours. “You’re not going to learn anything by giving them your footage and having it come back all cut,” he says.
Apple's Final Cut Pro X is just one of the pro video editing solutions available.
“What you really want is to sit down with an editor [who will] tell you, ‘Hey, you’re missing this transition. You don’t have this coverage. You’re making the wrong lens choice from this shot to that shot and it’s making it hard to cut.’ Editors understand how to effectively sequence shots—working with one will give you a leg up on most people.”
For a professional like Laforet, the day-to-day differences of the life of a director and the life of a photographer may be worlds apart. But ultimately, the goal is still the same: to tell stories with powerful images. That the tool is the same is no coincidence.
“Photography is never going to go away,” he says. “People are just going to look at a camera as a multipurpose tool from now on. They won’t have the concept of the camera that just shoots stills. This has already happened.”