Tributes & Video Biographies
Sharing Life Stories, Connecting Generations, Preserving Legacies

Production and Filming Tips for Making Better Family Videos

Part 4 of a series about capturing the joy of family events on video

Last week we covered the second of four phases used in creating multimedia productions to capture the joy of family events – pre-production and planning. This week, we will talk about phase three – production / filming.

During the event, take lots of digital photos, plus shoot videos and/or make audio recordings (of wedding music, “their song”, singing Happy Birthday, anniversary toasts, family holiday prayer recitals, etc.). Also pay attention to lighting, framing / composition and remember to take ample footage for establishing and transition scenes with room on both ends for generous fades or dissolves. Plus don’t be afraid to get creative with camera angles, zooms and panning. In other words, give yourself some good choices for selecting and editing scenes later on after the event.

But before you can shoot anything, you and your crew have to be in place and ready to go before the action begins. That’s why we pros have early call times and arrive on location or on set well ahead of the “talent”. In this case, the talent is the party, honorees, family members and guests. Even though it will be tempting to mingle and join in the fun, you are there to serve as a the producer of a special multimedia presentation that will be appreciated for years to come. So put on your director’s hat not your party hat and concentrate on the job at hand until it is done.

Of course once the guests arrive and your shoot gets underway, you’ll want to interview as many family members, witnesses, speakers, etc. as possible. But prioritize and schedule the sequence to allow for planned events like speeches, toasts and vows as well gift exchanging, cake cuttings or other special moments. Set-up a separate room or quiet area away from the main activity for more intimate interviews too. If you would like more in-depth information about this, read my article on Effective Interviewing Techniques.

Also consider the setting / backdrop as part of the storytelling process and be mindful of basic human needs like childrens’ bedtimes. Why wait until they’re half asleep to videotape them – unless it is your intention to shoot a scene of them in peaceful repose after a busy day of birthday or holiday cheer. In short, make each scene serve a purpose that advances the story and adds even more joy to the final production.

Here are few more general tips to keep in mind during your video shoot:

  1. Use natural light as much as possible to enhance your scene. Pay attention to the direction of light, where shadows are cast and especially how it affects your subject’s face. Could you improve the shot by simply adjusting the camera angle or their position to take better advantage of available light? If so, do it. If not, then maybe you should find a better place to shoot the scene.
  2. Avoid the typical amateurish audio distraction of a camera operator talking over a subject or fiddling with video recorder controls by investing in a high-quality, external directional microphone and aiming it at the person who is talking on screen. These wonderful gadgets can be had for as little as $75 and they can mean the difference between a confusing, messy audio track and a clean, crisp, professional one.
  3. Perhaps the single biggest common mistake made in amateur home videos is the telltale lens jiggling or shaking during a scene. Not the cool kind used to great effect in some of today’s Hollywood action epics, but the kind that makes an audience wince. To minimize this, simply brace the camera against your body or a solid object like a sturdy table, countertop or other level surface. You might also want to consider investing in a good, old tripod. Lightweight, compact models with three-way heads can be purchased starting around $50.
  4. Frame your scenes in an interesting way. Don’t center all your subjects, frame them to the left or right and when panning, lead the audience into and out of scenes. This technique gives you a more cinematic feel, but don’t overuse it. A little zooming and panning goes a long ways. Plus be sure to get both medium and close-up cover shots. This provides lots of extra choices for editing the final product together.
  5. Last but not least, in general, don’t try to dictate the action or behavior of your subjects. Make them comfortable, let them be themselves, get them to relax, and let the story unfold in a natural, spontaneous way.

Be sure to check back next week for part five of this series, which will be the last installment covering post-production / editing and some final thoughts.

Stefani Twyford is a personal historian sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.

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