I Shot the Deputy

To this day my Dad loves listening to songs from his generation on the radio. And while I have come to appreciate some of the old classics: it still drives me up the wall that I am not able to listen to more modern music if Dad is around! Hence the title of today’s blog: in moving along with the importance of planning, it seemed funny to me that the first thing that came to mind when considering the title for today’s post was Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff.

Moving on, let’s get into the point of the post: planning our shots. Some might find this line of thinking a bit simple. In a number of ways, I’ve personally come to love the KISS principle when it comes to video making. Why should we make things more difficult than they need to be? Now don’t get me wrong: if you want in depth, I can absolutely appreciate that – and can even do that – it’s just that this blog isn’t where that’s going to happen. Maybe I’ll write a book one day. 🙂

Now, in the last post we looked at the importance of establishing our shoot plan: do you recall this Videomaker quote: “When you plan like a pro, you: Plan the shoot in pre-production, shoot the plan in production, and edit the planned shoot in post-production.”? Once we have a plan for our shoot, we’re ready to begin planning individual shots. And though it may seem obvious, it needs to be said that we ought to have a reason for every shot. How may we start that process? By asking ourselves a couple of simple questions, such as:

  • What are we trying to achieve with this shot?
  • Is this necessary?
  • Is there already a shot that’s essentially the same?
  • Is our audience going to connect with the intention of this shot?

“In any of the arts, the first step toward excellence is mastering technique – learning to use a specific technology skilfully and effectively.” (O’Brien & Sibley, 1995) When you, the videographer, use a camera creatively, planning your shots well – it changes from a simple, mechanical tool into an artist’s tool. Instead of making a random collection of seemingly unrelated images, it begins to communicate a story (if done well).

There is an excellent exposition of the opening sequence of the original The Terminator film that I would like to reference here for a few minutes.

Terminator Opening Sequence

Image Source: http://cinevenger.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/vlcsnap-2012-03-15-20h59m01s15.png. Used under ‘Fair use’ (Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 107)

In the opening series of shots we are drawn into a futuristic, cyborg-dominated world without a word being spoken. That is the shoot plan. But how did they achieve that? Both James Cameron, as director, and Adam Greenberg, as director of photography, would have spent a great deal of time setting up the necessary sequence of shots needed to achieve that end. Like the first question above asks, they would have discussed what they were trying to achieve with each shot. And as you will see in this sequence – they chose to use low angled shots almost exclusively. In planning their shots, the audience immediately gets drawn into the narrative through a brilliant combination of visual (and audio) cues. If you want the full breakdown, check out the link to the exposition.

For our purposes today, what can we practically take away from this example?

Firstly, I would suggest that you take the time to get each shot right, especially if it’s an important one. You don’t want a low angled shot if you’re trying to visually communicate equality or submission.

Secondly, if you are just starting out in videography, ensure that you leave at least 5 seconds of footage at the beginning and end of every single shot as a safety buffer. Professionals already know this one, as there is a sequence of calls used for each shot (lock it down, speed, and action).

Thirdly, as a rule, concentrate on quality rather than quantity. Well-planned shot selection will eliminate overall resource waste. Too much material not only wastes time (and battery power), but it will make the eventual editing a much harder job. Be ready to get a few different versions of the shot – but only if it’s absolutely necessary. As much as possible, plan your shots first so you don’t need to work on an alternative.

When you plan beyond the viewfinder you’ll find that you’ll save yourself time in the long run. Thorough production planning allows us to foresee problems that may arise during production, gather the required equipment for both the shoot and the individual shots, and to plan as many of the details as we can ahead of time. Sure – you will get the opportunity to cut stuff out later. But riddle me this: if you know that you’re going to do that, then why shoot it in the first place?

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