Five Easy Ways To Make Better Video

photo of Andrew Norton interviewing the Kitchen Sisters

I always say the more I do video the more I like radio. Radio is cheaper, more nimble, less labor intensive. Video can be clunky, scary and expensive. But when you produce a great video, it’s rewarding. Really rewarding. And lucrative for freelancers. If you’re a radio maker, maybe you’ve already dabbled in the dark side of video. Or maybe you want to. Here’s five simple tips to make your next video (or first video) look a little more pro without spending a whole lot.

1. Pay attention to audio.

Bad audio can really ruin a video. So pretend it’s radio. Get your mic as close as possible. Find a quiet room. Use a shotgun mic on a stand as well as a lav mic just in case. Don’t let your eyes win over your ears while shooting. Go for clean audio over cool visuals for your interview.

2. Rent or borrow stuff.

Don’t have a slider? Need a recorder with multiple inputs? Need a little do-hicky to stabilize your camera? Ask your friend who is a gear head or go to a rental house. Equipment can often be surprisingly cheap to rent. For instance the slider we used for This is Radio was only $40 a day. Audio gear like boom poles and recorders are even cheaper. Mics are often less than $10 a day.

3. Spend time on B-roll

B-roll is footage of anything other than the main action or focal point of the video. In documentary style videos, the A-roll is the interview and the B-roll is everything else. B-roll serves a couple of purposes. Ideally, it adds context and depth to your story. Interview tape is the heart, but B-roll is the body. It also covers cuts in the interview and makes your interview look seamless –– so get more than you think you need! And get some footage of your subjects’ hands while they talk, you’ll be glad you did.

4. Look for the little things.

Just like with radio, in video you have to have your antennae honed for little things that can make your life miserable when editing. There’s the audio to worry about with video as well, but pay close attention to unwanted visuals. Look at your framing; is there anything you don’t want in the shot? Your camera bag? Is the framing straight? Is the subject looking towards the negative space? (That’s good.) Can you see your reflection in a picture behind them? (That’s bad.) Is there a computer screen in the background? If so switch it off or disable the sleep function so it doesn’t turn off or dim and create continuity problems. Using that same logic, make sure your light source doesn’t change over time. That might mean avoiding natural light if it’s a lengthy interview.

5. Amuse yourself and go with your gut.

Just like with any story, the best ones are where the reporter starts from a place of curiosity and genuine interest. It’s easy to forget that while making video. You have to set up lots of gear, your subject often has to sit still –– you can slip into a formal interview/subject dynamic more quickly than in radio. It is harder to get the subject comfortable. And you’re aware of your camera’s memory card rapidly filling. So roll tape early and try and capture some of those unguarded moments. Leave in the asides and the mistakes from time to time. And as always, chase what excites you when you hear it in an interview.

You can see Andrew’s This Is Radio series here:

This Is Radio

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