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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Tips for Making Better Movies

Editing takes more than software. You also need the right raw material. Advance planning will help ensure that you have the shots you need, and following some basic videography techniques will make for better results.

Plan Ahead

Planning a movie involves developing an outline—in Hollywood parlance, a storyboard—that lists the shots you’ll need to tell your tale. Professional movie makers storyboard every scene and camera angle. You don’t have to go that far, but you will tell a better story if you plan at least some shots.

Consider starting with an establishing shot that clues viewers in on where your story takes place—for example, the backyard swimming pool. To show the big picture, zoom out to your camcorder’s wide-angle setting.

From there, you might cut to a medium shot that introduces your movie’s subject: little Bobby preparing to belly flop off the diving board. Next, you might cut away to Mary tossing a beach ball. Cut back to Bobby struggling to stay afloat, and then finish with a long shot of the entire scene.

Keep in mind that unless you’re planning to use the Magic iMovie feature, you don’t have to shoot scenes in chronological order—sequencing your shots is what iMovie HD is for. For example, get the shot of Mary’s throw any time you like and edit it into the proper sequence using iMovie HD.

Steady Your Camera

Nausea-inducing camera work is a common flaw of amateur videos. Too many people mistake a video camera for a fire hose: they sweep across a scene, panning left and right and then back again. Or they ceaselessly zoom in and out, making viewers wonder whether they’re coming or going.

A better practice is to stop recording, move to a different location or change your zoom setting, and then resume. Varying camera angles and zoom settings makes for a more interesting video. If you must pan—perhaps to capture a dramatic vista—do so slowly and steadily.

And, unless you’re making an earthquake epic, hold the camera as steady as you can. If your camera has an image-stabilizing feature, use it. Better still, use a tripod or a monopod, or brace the camera against a rigid surface. Keeping the camera steady is especially critical for movies destined for the Internet—because of the way these videos are compressed, minimizing extraneous motion will yield sharper results.

Compose Carefully

The photographic composition tips on page 214 apply to movie making, too. Compose your shots carefully, paying close attention to the background. Get up close now and then—don’t just shoot wide shots.

Record Some Ambient Sound

Try to shoot a couple of minutes of uninterrupted background sound: the waves on a beach, the birds in the forest, the revelers at a party. As I’ve mentioned previously, you can extract the sound from this footage and use it as an audio bed behind a series of shots. It doesn’t matter what the camera is pointing at while you’re shooting—you won’t use the video anyway.

After importing the footage, use the Extract Audio command, described on page 250, to separate the audio.

Shooting with Compression in Mind

If you know that you’ll be distributing your movie via the Internet—either through a Web site or email—there are some steps you can take during the shooting phase to optimize quality. These steps also yield better results when you’re compressing a movie for playback on a Bluetooth device, and they even help deliver better quality with iDVD.

First, minimize motion. The more motion you have in your movie, the worse it will look after being heavily compressed. That means using a tripod instead of hand-holding your camera, and minimizing panning and zooming. Also consider your background: a static, unchanging background is better than a busy traffic scene or rustling tree leaves.

Second, light well. If you’re shooting indoors, consider investing in a set of video lights. A brighter picture compresses better than a poorly lit scene. To learn about lighting, read Ross Lowell’s excellent book, Matters of Light and Depth (Lowel Light, 1999).

Vary Shot Lengths

Your movie will be more visually engaging if you vary the length of your shots. Use longer shots for complex scenes, such as a wide shot of a city street, and shorter shots for close-ups or reaction shots.

Be Prepared, Be Careful

Be sure your camcorder’s batteries are charged; consider buying a second battery so you’ll have a backup, and take along your charger and power adapter, too. Bring plenty of blank tape, and label your tapes immediately after ejecting them. To protect a tape against accidental reuse, slide the little locking tab on its spine.

Don’t Skimp on Tape

Don’t just get one version of a shot, get several. If you just shot a left-to-right pan across a scene, for example, shoot a right-to-left pan next. The more raw material you have to work with, the better.

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