When I first arrived in Brussels and was still freelancing as a journalist, I used to work with a Belgian cameraman who would describe some of the less impressive TV reports we worked on as ‘bricolage’ (DIY, or Do-It-Yourself). It seems that every language has its own term for the cut-and-paste stories people who work in TV sometimes have to scrape together when they are short on good pictures, guests and/or time.
Given how hard it can be for TV professionals to get what they want, the stakes are even higher for non-industry people who have to produce videos as part of their job but don’t do it regularly. With many companies trying to cut costs, Brussels is seeing more and more in-house production, whereby junior communications staff are now being given the task of making videos which once would have been outsourced to an agency.
But it takes more than an enthusiastic 25-year-old with a working knowledge of Final Cut Pro to make a good video. So, whether you’re doing a conference report, social media or lobbying video, here are some tips on how to avoid your own version of ‘bricolage’ and having to call in expensive editing help to sort it out.
1. Get a clear brief
It sounds obvious but you’d be surprised by how vague production briefs can often be. Make sure you understand exactly what your boss wants before filming starts, as this will help you and/or the cameraman (see Point 3) work with the edit in mind. Find out who the key people are you need to talk to and what you want them to say.
2. Write some decent questions
The soundbites structure your story, so it is crucial to get them right. If you are talking to five people, don’t ask them an identical set of questions if you want to get something interesting that moves your story forward. Put together questions which will encourage a range of opinions and not just PR puff about why your event was great. (You might be making a puff piece but no one wants to watch an interview that is overtly so).
3. Direct the cameraman
It is unlikely that you will be doing the filming because it’s hard to do it well. So you will be spending money here. However, it is your job to tell the cameraman what you want, particularly if you are not going to be with them all the time and they aren’t going to do the edit. Do not tell them just to get general shots if you want something specific for the covering images. Some cameramen will take the initiative and will film background material with the final edit in mind. But those who don’t edit (and a lot of them still don’t) won’t.
4. Do the important interviews yourself
Or get someone you trust to do them. Inject some energy into your delivery as that will encourage the interviewees to respond in the same way. Ask focused questions that encourage stand-alone answers that the audience will be able to understand without knowing what the question was. If your interviewees have not had media training, then direct them. And re-do the answers if you are not happy; they won’t look better in the edit if you don’t like what you get during filming.
5. Get timecodes
For the important interviews get the video timecodes from the cameraman before they deliver the footage to you. That will save you endless amounts of time trawling through the footage when you come to the edit.
6. Leave yourself time
Edits take longer than you think even if you follow all of the steps above. If you have decent soundbites then pick them and lay them down first, followed by the background footage, captions and any music. This will take longer than you think, particularly if you are doing it on your own and have to factor in re-edits if the boss doesn’t like the first version.