??? for video-makers

I am associated with a martial arts school that is interested in producing instructional videos. We have previously produced videos of varying quality. I have sort of taken a leadership role in getting these produced, not because I have any expertise (either in martial arts or video making) but because someone needed to plant his size 12s up some backsides to get this much needed project rolling. So I am appealing to you from a position of abject ignorance.

We have 3 different projects planned. The first, with a deadline of the end of this summer, will be to produce a series of 3 tapes, each about 60 min long. Our plan for this series is to produce the best product we can in house. Thereafter, we intend to produce a series of 3 tapes on a different subject, using professional production values. Then, we will produce in-house videos on a somewhat regular schedule, supporting these 2 series.

So I have all kinds of questions about what we can do to improve the quality of our product.

What can we do ourselves, and what do we need professionals for? We have far greater access to manpower and time, than we do to $.

What are reasonable rates for camera operators or editors?

How long should I expect it to take to film 3 1-hour tapes?

What factors and costs need I consider concerning the actual production and duplication of tapes?

What kind of equipment do we need? We have access to at least 2 Sony super 8 cameras, a tripod, and at least some editing equipment. With adequate preparation and organization, could we film an acceptable product ourselves? Realize that martial arts instructional films run the gamut, from very high quality to crap. And the quality of content is not necessarily indicative of production values. One thing we DO have control of, is the subject matter, which we are very confident of. Do we need special lighting? Microphone? Digital camera and computer editing? It is possible some of our students have such equipment or have access to it. But I need to know what questions to ask first.

How many people (other than performers) should we have on hand during the actual taping? To perform what specific functions?

Can we film in certain ways to minimize the amount of editing needed? How good of a product could we make with a single tripod mounted camera? One tripod and one roaming? Other configurations?

Can you direct me to any resources, or give me any tips, to enhance the quality of our amateur filming? Can you point me towards any books, websites, etc.? I hoped we could identify a cameraman soon, and have him work on his technique over the next few months. Is it unreasonable for me to think that if the content is organized and rehearsed, a decent product can be made with minimal editing?

Are we foolish to be trying to do this in-house? Should we just spend a certain amount for professional filming?

Basically, as should be apparent by now, I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I don’t even know what questions to ask. But I really want to help my instructor and academy out. I would really appreciate any assistance you could provide.


Wow. You got alotta questions there, Din.

It would take alotta typing to answer it all (which at this very moment I do not have). However I will give one answer that will give you the biggest bang for the buck, as they say:

The two most noticeable things (not necessarily the most important thing – that, of course, is content – I’m talking perception here) that separate a good video from a “kid in his basement with a camcorder” video are 1) good sound and 2) steady camerawork (that is, smooth camera moves: pans, tilts, zooms, pulls, trucks). (I put in that list to show off that I know the words!)

So, forget that camera mic, and get a good set of “lavolere” (akk, I don’t know if that’s spelled right) mics – remote (wireless) ones if you can afford it.

Then get a good, smooth steady tripod – and know how to use it. Find the guy/gal with the best “touch” and make him your cameraperson.

Good luck.

Thanks, bro! (lavalier)
If you get the time or inclination in the future, I’d appreciate anything else you could add.

Find a way to dub sound over the thing when it’s all set up so that you’re not just shouting to the camera (which ends up with the viewer having to turn the volume way up to get a low “echoey” voice and a bunch of static sound). You don’t need a whole lot of insane effects and everything to make a good video. I’ve seen a few and a lot of them are like “Here’s this death technique…now we’ll show it to you in slow motion in silence…now here it is in slow motion from another angle, also in silence…now here it is in slow motion from the first angle with comments about what’s happening…now here it is from the other angle, also slow and with comments…now here it is fast again.” Then you get like 5 moves in the whole damn tape, heh. Everyone who’s watching it has got a VCR, they can rewind and watch the technique again, and they can pause/slo-mo as well…don’t waste their time doing it for them when you could be showing a bunch of good techniques. Just show the move, say, from two different angles (in-case some of the movements aren’t clear) and once in slo-mo with a voiceover explaining what’s happening. If I’m paying X amount of money for the tape, it better have more than 5 moves and a bunch of screen transitions on it. :slight_smile:

Get some basic lighting (snag a lamp or two from around the house) and find a place you can do the moves in (it doesn’t have to be an ancient temple with yin-yangs all over, heh), and go nuts. The only thing that separates crappy ones from good ones are the amount of work put into them. Some are just done to make a couple bucks, because really, you don’t know what’s on the tape until you buy it and then it’s too late…but if you make it worth the money, they’ll buy the rest of them.

Filming probably wouldn’t take long, assuming you don’t constantly screw the moves up and laugh every 2 seconds during it, heh. It’s a martial arts instructional video, not an epic theatrical blockbuster, so no one is really going to expect a bunch of brilliant acting and plot setups. The people who are going to buy the videos are the people who want to learn martial arts, not watch a movie. :slight_smile: If it’s for beginners, setting up “skits” or just minor bits of plot might be cool, like so they can see what it’s like in practical application so to speak. You could probably do up the major footage in a weekend for the tapes, then tidy it up with editing/voiceover (which I’ve never done, so I can’t say how long that would take).

You can probably do everything on your own…There’s not a whole lot too it unless you want to have some Matrix style scenes (which would be damn cool, heheh). :slight_smile: Use a tripod, definately…Stick it on a skateboard or in a wagon and pull that along if you have to pan. You should really be able to do this without having to spend a lot of money putting it all together.

I’m not a film major or anything and I don’t know much about what you do with the film after it’s all put together (like getting the thing in a box and on the shelves), so I can’t help there.

Rent a bunch of other instructional tapes and see how other people do them…then do the opposite, because the majority of them suck, heheh. Show techniques that other videos don’t (if I see one more “block inside, step forward, punch” one, I’ll go nuts).

Anyway, there’s my advice, heh.

  • Tsugumo

I have some experience in filmmaking, mostly on ultra-low budget pictures. Mostly I work the camera, but I also do lighting (when you have no money, everyone has a dozen jobs!). My homepage is mostly about filmmaking.

There are a couple of things that can make your production look professional: Sound and lighting.

Sound. If you’re doing martial arts (or marital arts, for that matter :smiley: ) you might not want to use a lavalier microphone. This is a mic that is clipped to the clothing. They’re very useful in interview situations or when you don’t want a soundman in the shot (e.g., a wide-angle shot might not let a boom operator get close enough without being in the shot), but if you’re moving around a lot it will pick up the sound of its rubbing against the clothes.

You might want to get a good mic (Sennheiser makes good ones) and a boom instead. I don’t think the Sony Hi8 (super-8 is a film camera) has XLR connectors for a professional mic, so you’ll need an adaptor.

You’ll want to be aware of the sound level. That is, you want the loudness of the sound to be the same from shot to shot. A good soundman can help you there.

Books have been written on recording sound for film and video, so there’s not a whole lot of space to get into every aspect of sound here. Suffice it to say that good sound will do much to make your product seem more professional.

Lighting. Video is very “flat”. It has nowhere near the contrast of film. So lighting is very important. If you just use a well-lit room, your video will look like a home movie. Again, books ahve been written about lighting and there isn’t enough space to cover it here. Watch some shot-on-video shows to see how the pros light a scene.

The classic method of lighting is to use three lights. Place your key light so it hits the subject at an angle. Another light softens the shadows on the other side of the subject. Use a lower-power light or place it farther away from the subject. The third light is used to light the background. To reduce shadows you may want to use “scrim” or “diffusion”. A scrim is a wire screen that fits over the light. Diffusion is frosted glass or a sheet of spun glass in front of the light. You can also bounce light off of a surface such as a ceiling or wall to soften the shadows. Lights can be “cut” with “flags” and/or “barndoors”. If you’re outside, the sun is a handy light. Have the subject facing away from the sun, and use a reflector to light him. A reflector can be a large piece of white styrofoam, a sheet of foamcore, or a reflector designed for use with filmmaking. The pro models often have a silver side and a white side, a silver side and a gold side (“warms” up the picture) or a gold siade and a white side.

Cucoloris, or “cookies”, can be used to provide some texture to an otherwise boring surface. These are sheets of foamcore with patterns cut into them that are placed in front of the lights. If you’ve seen the shadow of Venetian blinds in a shot, those were probably made with a cookie. Mottled background light is done with a mottled cookie. You can also use plants or other objects for texture. Since you’re shooting a martial arts video, maybe you could run the background light through a potted bamboo?

Gels, which sell for about $5/sheet can be used with your lights to add colour. A fog machine (check your local party supply store) can add a cool effect for “mystical” shots (or scary shots, or real fog won’t cooperate when you’re shooting your Jack-the-Ripper project). It can also be used to “thicken” the atmosphere. That is, instead of seein “fog”, the air is just “dense”.

Video has an advantage over film in that you don’t necessarily need movie lights. Any old work-light will do. All you have to do is adjust the colour for the lights you have. But proper movie lights are a godsend. I have a Lowel DP Remote Kit that has three 1000w lights, three stands, a “space bar” (a bar that can be used to grip doorways, posts, chairs, or whatever, and upon which lights can be mounted), scrims, reflective umbrella, gel frames, a “spot” reflector, a mountable reflector, blue gels, flags, and a carrying case. Much better than using shop lights from the local hardware store. 1000w is a bit much to use in small rooms, but the lights can be relamped with lower-wattage lamps. You may be able to pick up a light kit second-hand (I’ve seen Lowel kits on eBay – search in "photography/“any of these words”/“lowel” “lowell”). Lowel is my favourite brand, but Arri (Arriflex) makes a nice kit too. You might be able to find an old Colortran kit as well.

This is getting a little long, so I’ll shut up now. I think you can see why the “professionals” can get the money they do, what with the equipment they need; but with practice you can make a professional-looking product with amazingly little gear. The key is improvisation. Do a few experimental shoots to see what you can do with the equipment you have or can reasonably get.

Oh, as for crew: Camera operator (who may also be the director/lighting grip/whatever), soundman (recorder and boom), and a grip or two. More people often make things easier, but too many people will slow things down.

YOu can get near broadcast quality with DV cameras these days. Cheapest place to buy is probably on the net.

DV delivers excellent picture quality, but without good technique it still looks like “home movies”.

Johnny L.A., youd think those people on Americas Funniest would buy dv by now.

Thanks for the responses, folk. I was flipping through the channels yesterday before the game, and I came across two people who were discussing home video. They were big on Mac and iMovies.

What I really enjoyed was their tongue-in-cheek list of 5 things you do not need to do to make good movies. For example,

  1. DO NOT buy a second mic. Heck, your camera came with one. So what if your viewers can’t hear what the people are saying.

  2. DO NOT worry about holding your camera steady. It came with image stabilization and, anyway, jiggling worked for the Blair Witch Project.

  3. DO NOT edit your films. What kind of friends or family are they if they are unwilling to sit through hours on end of baby’s first steps.

I’m really looking forward to getting into this. Today I plan on sketching out some timetables for what we will need to do when to have the first series out by August. (We have a 90 minute staff meeing on tap!)

I also need to figure out exactly what equipment and expertise we have access to. I believe my instructor’s brother-in-law is in the business. I have to find out the extent, if any, we can count on him. Or see what any of the other students can offer.

My main initial task is going to be riding my instructor, getting him to plot out the series of 3 tapes, and then each individual tape. I don’t want this to come across as being made up on the fly. We definitely are focusing on quality and quantity of information provided, instead of flash. But anyone who has watched a number of MA instructional videos can tell you that, even among the ones with good info from excellent teachers, some of them are essentially unwatchable due to their quality.

So I intend to stress simplicity. Carefully plot each tape out ahead of time. Rehearse each tape at least once before taping. Get the camera operator used to filming during regular workouts. Limit the number of “actors.” I’ll let you know how things work out.

If you are interested, our academy’s website is here:
I also do the newsletter “Visions.”

For low budget productions Computer(non-linear) editing editing is the best way to go. A computer with a decent capture card(can handle 4 MB per second) is good enough to get into onto and out of the computer as long as you have a 7200 RPM or better hard drive. The benefit of doing it that way is that when you edit it, say on Premier, you can filter to correct for some lighting mistakes(it’s not gonna be national broadcast quality, but better than trying to do the same thing linear). Non linear editing also makes it easier to test tricks like slow motion, which would probably be usefull for a Martial arts video.

A single camera would be the easiest way to film it. Mulitple camera shots take a lot more work to get the cameras and lighting set up so that you can switch views without a distracting difference.

Make sure to check the local film schools. They often have good studios that can be rented for much cheaper than normal studios during off time. Even if not, there are usually an abundant supply of film students willing to volunteer their time and knowledge, as long as they can get there name in the credits on a for-money production.

Hi Dinsdale. I was a vid producer for a few years. See if I can help.

  1. Everyone gets hasty to use the technology. Stop. First and foremost, worry about the structure and the script. This is where quality is gained or lost. Be very clear: who is the audience? What is the aim f the video? What does the intended audience already know, or not know? How do we expect or want them to use the video? What do we want them to learn from it? What info needs to be presented in what sequence? And so on. If you’re not good at this kind of paper work, get someone who is to help. Script and structure are everything. You don’t need ‘storyboards’. Just a good, well thought out structure and script.

  2. Instructional videos geenrally follow a very time-honoured pattern: (1) Tell them what you’re going to explain (2) Explain it (3) Recap what you explained. It might sound a little drab, but it’s a winning formula. Stick to it.

  3. Turn your script and structure into a viable shooting script: basically, a detailed schedule of what you are going to shoot and when. You can then block in what you need - who, what, where - for each sequence you want to get in the can. You are the producer. Your job is to get everyone working from the same shooting script, so that the right people, with the right kit and props and equipment, are in the right place, at the right time, and everyone knows what they are there to achieve.

  4. Biggest difference between naff home-made dreck and good quality video? The amount of time taken to get the lighting right. You don’t need much special lighting equipment (although if you can blag some, use it). But do take the time to follow Johnny LA’s advice and light each setup properly. It can take a while, but remember the results are going to be around for years, so you may as well get it right.

  5. Next most common mistake: over-using the camera, especially the zoom. Set up each shot as a wide, medium or close-up as required. If you want a different view, set the camera up again as required and get the ‘actors’ to repeat the moves. Cut between shots in the edit. Much better than having your camera guy zooming in and out all the time, which never works and looks awful.

  6. As you shoot, keep a written log of each shot in order. This is vtial for when you come to edit. This log is fairly simple: a simple description of each shot, its start and stop times (if you have some way to gauge this) and any notes that might be handy at edit tme (e.g. “no good, don’t use” or “sound problem” or “best take, use this”.)

  7. Check playback frequently. Every shot, if you can. Never just assume a shot was OK if you can verify it.

  8. For each sequence, think in terms of one continuous ‘master shot’ which is a medium-wide, covers the whole scene, and which can always be your ‘fallback’ shot if you haven’t got anything else. Then repeat the action x times and obtain the different angles, close-ups and alternate views you want. In the edit, you can slot these supplementary shots into the master shot as required.

  9. Don’t be afraid of a high shooting ratio. If you shoot 10 times more than you use, then you’re spoilt for choice in the edit suite (but you need that shot log to track down where all the shots are). If you try to keep the ratio very tight, you risk reaching the edit stage and finding you haven’t got some essential shots.

  10. Editing takes a long time. Anticipate this. When I was in the trade, if we got 1 completed minute out of 8 hours of editing, we were doing well. Your edit sessions probably won’t be quite so bad, but just beware - it tends to take much longer than people think.

  11. I agree with Johhny LA that ‘Lavalier’ or other clip-on mics are probably not going to be your best bet. Get a directional mike on a boom, and have your nominated sound guy spend some time learning how to keep it out of shot but still get good sound.

  12. Keep it simple. Avoid effects, tricks, flashy stuff, show-off stuff, ‘funny’ bits, or the many temptations to try and be arty. Simplicity is your friend. Everything else is your enemy.

Good luck.

Good stuff, guys. My “talents” (such as they are) definitely are on the organization side of things. This initial series of tapes will basically be on aspect of our curriculum, and we are initially planning three one-hour tapes, beginner, intermed, and advanced.

I intend to work with my instructor a lot ahead of time to get the order of info down pat. Great idea on the shooting log.

I envision the approx 60 min tape consisting of maybe 10 5 minute sequences, each addressing a specific technique, series of techniques, or variation, with later segmients building upon the first one.

I can imagine a basic segment going like this:

  1. instructor explains and demonstrates material with assistant. This could be shot in single set up from tripod.

  2. instructor explains some of the subtleties of the move. Will require close-ups.

  3. shoot the 2 drilling the technique/series.

  4. instructor summarizes and segues into next section.

I am thinking that I could use the same lighting/set up for 1 and 3, and possibly 4. And I could shoot them in the order we want them to appear on tape. While we are shooting this, we note any closeups we anticipate needing.

Then, we can redo the set up as needed for close ups, and progress through the sequence.

I anticipate filming much of it in relatively lengthy blocks in order to minimize editing expenditure. I also am recommending a rehearsal the week before. I am also minimizing the number of people involved to make it easier to coordinate schedules.

This morning I drafted the following schedule to guide us towards an end-of-August completion date. What do you think?
Feb: Outline material to be covered/identify personnel/identify equipment

March: Firm up material, with eye on shooting

April: Finalize “script”, dates, manpower, equipment

May: Rehearse

June: Tape

July: edit

Aug: reproduce and market

I’ve talekd with a buch of video guys on the phone this afternoon. They seem like a great group.

Just one note: Make use of the fact that it’s video and you can have sound and motion happening…If you have the instructor explaining something (like the more mental aspects of training or what have you), don’t just show his head talking and talking…It’s a video! Have his voice dubbed over some clips of students training or showing him demonstrating some moves that relate to what he’s talking about. Remember, you want to get as much useful footage on the tape as you can so the viewer gets their money’s worth. :slight_smile:

  • Tsugumo

Just wanted to say that iMovie kicks major arse. Once you learn the basics (just a few hours with the built-in tutorial), you’ll be amazed at all the ideas you suddenly come up with. About the only caveat is to budget in a little more money for some extra RAM – most of the iMacs come with just 64K of RAM, which IMO is not enough.