General Tips For Better Video Segment Production

(From a forum post back in 2007...)

Some of these are taken from common problems seen in the show and others are just standard video practices learned from formal training. For more in depth reading, wikipedia and google will probably answer more than you want to know. While all these at once may seem very daunting to a beginner, they really aren't and will become second nature after a little trying. If you follow all these, it will be hard not to produce a good segment (barring subject matter). Print this out and use it as a check list.

While BSoD isn't a news program, much of what you need to know for videoing yourself can be learned from the evening news. If something doesn't look quite right to yourself, it probably isn't. Watch the news and your segment side by side and hopefully the problem will stand out. You are encouraged to fix problems, but some may need the help of others or it may just be too impractical. Jump on the IRC channel and ask abou it if you are unsure.

Adequate lighting. Cameras don't see as well as the human eye. When recording your segment, it's good to have the room lighting up to full. An open window shade may help during daylight, but harsh sunlight directly on you may look awkward and over exposed.

White balancing. Ever notice how a white sheet of paper can look yellow on camera? That's because the white levels aren't properly set. Some cameras can do this better than others. Some encoding programs offer rebalancing after the fact. While not overly critical for the show, if you can get your colors balanced correctly, it would be preferred. Often times people just hold up a sheet of white paper before recording as a reference.

Distance. When recording yourself, you don't want to be far away from the camera. With distance, details quickly get lost and the talking person becomes a small talking blob. You also don't want to be so close that you're doing an "up the nose" shot. Generally, a "medium shot" has a person from about mid to lower chest to the top of the head. This is the most common shot used by news reporters behind a desk and is generally a very comfortable shot for the viewer to watch.

Headroom. Over generalizing, once the distance of the shot has been set, the top of the head should have a little space above it to the top of the frame for medium shots or practically no space above it for close up head shots. This basically means don't have a medium sized head talking in the middle of a picture with a lot of dead space above it. It looks awkward.

Eye line. This is similar to headroom where the shot is lined up on the eyes instead of the head. Medium shots will typically have the eyes 3/4 up the frame. Close up shots will typically have the eyes 2/3 up the frame.

Crotch Cam. Even though you may be very well endowed, most people don't want to see this shot....unless you are a hot single female wearing inadequate clothing...

Look directly at the camera when you talk. It feels weird talking to an inanimate object, but do it anyways. If it helps, have someone directly behind the camera, a favorite pet, stuffed animal, happy face, whatever, just so long as you talk to the camera. Looking off to the side and talking has a rude feeling about it. Also relax a little bit and don't get the "deer in headlights" look.

If you decide to go with a formal jacket (LOL...yeah right), sit on the tail of the jacket to pull it down. This will straighten out the collar and make it look normal for video. It will also feel funky, but just do it anyways.

Sit up unnaturally straight. This feels funky in real life but will look surprisingly normal on video.

Background Annoyances. Human eyes tend to focus on moving things. If you have a flashing light or something flapping in a fan, it will be distracting and take away from what you are trying to convey. Either remove the object or cover it.

Background Clutter. Most of us super geeks will have stuff piled floor to ceiling. If this is your background, it may or may not work out so well. If you find that you are having trouble distinguishing foreground objects from background clutter, either move to a new setting or get a sheet and cover it.

Microphone Placement. Closer is usually better, but don't swallow it. Too close (biting the mic) sounds like you are talking very close into someone's ear and is annoying. Close also picks up a lot of mouth smacking and can get creepy. Too far away will have the sound levels too low and pick up far too much room noise. If the mic is directly in front of your mouth, it will pick up too much popping and siblance (p's and s's). Usually the better place for the mic is about 45 degrees off to the side 4 to 10 inches away. Some people may need more, some less. You'll have to listen and experiment.

Sound Levels. Do not record levels that are so far in the mud that they are hard to hear and understand. Do not record levels that are so loud that they peak and distort. In general, set up a test record and watch the meter levels on the screen. They should be close to maximum but not going over. If they go over, just turn it down and try another test. Keep repeating until a good level is achieved.

Room Noise. Microphones pick up noise almost as good as they pick up you. If you have lots of fans, air filters, AC's, excess computers, barking dogs, stereos, and TV's in the background, turn them off before you record.

Noise Reduction. This is more like noise subtraction. Part of the constant noisy room "silence" is recorded (usually just a 5 second pause before you start talking for the segment) and then subtracted afterwards from the recording. Since this modifies the recording, it doesn't always come out very well. If you can do this and it sounds better afterwards, by all means have at it. If the noise keeps going in and out after the subtraction, this is probably more annoying than the original noise itsef. Cool Edit and Audacity have plugins for this.

Speak Clearly. We want to hear you. We've gone through some trouble to get the episode you're in. Please don't mumble.

Accents and Language. This is an English program. If you are not native English and try to speak English, we applaud your efforts, but we need you to speak English well enough that the common person could understand you. If we can't understand you, we can't use you. Harsh as this may be, it's a simple fact of life. If you have language issues, please include subtitles. If you want to do a segement in your own native language and provide English subtitles, please talk to one of the producers on IRC first.

Apology. Don't apologize on camera. Nobody wants to hear how sorry you are. YOU ARE A MONSTER SEGMENT PRODUCER SORRY FOR NOTHING AND NOBODY. While that may not be true in real life, make it true for the recording. It's ok to give warnings about low res captures or small print that may be hard to see, but dwell on it for as little time as possible. Likewise, nobody wants to hear that you "can't talk" and are "tongue tied" (methods for fixing that in the Problems section).

Frivilous Words. "err, aaahhhh, ummm, wellll" are really bad habbits and should be broken. If you catch yourself trying to say these, just go silent and don't. Another bad one: "you know". Actually, I don't. This one is a hard one to get rid of and may take practice.

Cussing and Obscenities. While there are no censors on Internet, bad language will cut out the younger crowd and limit public showings. If you want a larger viewing audience, this needs to be avoided.

Can'd Phrases. Just avoid these. By definition they are over used and corny. While not saying them may seem very dry and empty when you record them, on playback it will be much better without. Avoid: "Let's see what's up." "Later everyone." "I hope you like it." and so on...

Endings. If you get stuck on what to say with an ending, just don't. It's that simple. Be sure to leave 5 to 10 seconds worth of silence so the person doing the editing can transition adequately to the next segment. Do the same thing for the segment beginning, too. The extra time may seem awkward, but remember that the editor will cut it out when the segments are joined together.

Music. Since BSoD is meant to be open source video / IPTV, do not include copyrighted materials. Do not include someone else's material you have the copyright permissions for. Those permissions may not last forever. Obviously copyright problems cannot be redistributed. Also keep in mind that not everyone has the same tastes in music that you do.

Music Levels. You cannot talk over music unless the music is at a really soft level. Once you think you have that level, drop the music a little bit lower even still. Trying to listen to someone fighting with music is obnoxious and it drastically takes away the lesson in the foreground. If you want the music higher when nothing is going on, you'll need to do something called "doughnutting". Radio DJ's do this quite often with commercials. It isn't overly complicated, but the instructions are beyond this document (look up audio compression in wikipedia).

Problems 1. Problems are going to happen. They happen to the best of us...often at the most inopportune times. It's ok, don't cry. If you run into a noticable problem in your segment, stop the recorder and start over. Multiple takes are very common in the industry and aren't really a big deal. They often make for good blooper reels, too.

Problems 2. Some segments won't necessarily lend themselves to starting over. Once you get comfortable with basic editing, there are tricks to fixing these without making the original problem too obvious.

The white flash frame and stright cut. Here you just chop out the problem section of video and put a pure white frame in its place. If you are in one place and suddenly are in another place the next frame without transistion, it looks amateurish. The white frame lets the viewer know something deliberate has happend.

The B-video over the cut (B-video cutaway, B-video insert). This is often used in news casts. Two video segments are joined or a problem section in a video segment is chopped out. Typically a few seconds before and a few seconds after that point, a separate video only source is inserted with the original audio still being there playing like nothing happened. In the news, this is often an interview showing a person talking, then a video insert of the other reporter reacting or a graphic slide of what that person is talking about (still while that person is talking), then a shot back to that person finishing the statement. If done correctly, you'd never know something happened during the cutaway B-footage (and this is why news likes it so much).

Good things to use the "creative editing" for: when you get tongue tied (I don't ever want to hear someone say "ugh, I can't talk") and when there's a problem that you'd have to sit and wait for it to resolve (slow programs loading).

For "slow programs loading" you could show a screen shot of the mouse launching the icon, a cutaway shot of you mentioning something useful about what's going on, then another screen shot back to the program fully loaded. The viewer doesn't have to know that you were silent and waiting there for 2 minutes. This can also make your computer look much faster than it actually is.

The white flash frame could also be used for waiting on slow programs to load or long data to process. When you do that, do NOT say much more than "I'm going to jump ahead for time" or "edit out for time".

If you want to show multiple points in a long data processing that would generally be as fun as watching paint dry, use a sequence of multiple white flash frame cuts back to back (but do not turn it into a discotheque). This will show what is going on overall without taking forever.

If you have a really screwed up problem where you need to stop and fix, mention that as briefly as possible in the audio and give yourself about 3-8 seconds of silence for your later editing. From there fix your problem, start your recording again, give another few seconds of silence, and mention that you're back in as few words as possible. From there, finish up the demonstration like nothing had happened. When you go to edit your segment together, you can put the clips back to back using one of the problem fixing methods already defined.

If you are having problems recording your segment in general (like constantly messing up your lines), try laying out your presentation in such a way that you can use several short takes without being obvious and join them together instead of one long take. Do NOT put a series of 5 second takes back to back as that will look far worse than you screw ups.

Cue Cards 1. If you're really having trouble, you can print out your notes in a large font and place those behind the camera. It's usually a really bad idea to print out the entire speech as you'll just read it in a very monotonous and boring voice. The better way is to print out the bullet points and talk about them in a natural voice.

Cue Cards 2. If you are not on camera, the only thing that matters is your voice over (duh). It's ok and probably recommended to print out your notes as bullet points so you can talk quickly about the subject and not have a lot of "uuhhh" and "uummm" moments. This method also helps prevent missed points.

When you do your editing, do NOT use every damn wipe plugin available to transistion between video clips. Amateurs do this and are unnaturally obsessed. Professionals only need 3 types of visual transistion: cut, dissolve, and fade. If you doubt me, try watching a little TV or a movie.