Looking at things from a different angle


I’ve recently added website video production to what I do as part of my day job (developing websites).

I’ve always really loved to learn – and boy, this is one learning curve and a half. Or possibly two learning curves, who’s counting?

As with any new skill, it’s interesting to discover the parts of the job at which you do well – and the parts with which you struggle.

Video production breaks down into several – often quite difficult – tasks. Broadly, they are:

  • planning the shoot.
  • setting up the shots and equipment.
  • filming.
  • post-production and editing.

It was only after working on half a dozen or so videos that I began to realise the parallels with writing – and the differences.

Planning the shot is broadly the equivalent of plotting. There might be a storyboard, there might be a full script, there might be a shooting script – or there might be nothing, for those pantsers of you out there. There are pros and cons to each approach. Each can be successful and each can fail.

The reality I found was that no matter how much you plan, you will film something differently on the day. You just will. Opportunities will arise which are just too tempting to overlook. Barriers will be put in your way which are too solid to circumnavigate. Logistics will shift and you’ll have no option other than to accommodate them.

But, if you’re creative, these won’t blow your masterpiece out of the water. Frustrating they might be, but they’re likely to fuel your creativity in unexpected ways.

You’ll shoot far more footage than you expected, which will escalate the editing – but improve the product. Just because you shot more doesn’t mean you have to use it, you just use the best – even if the job of sifting through it is harder and longer.

Setting up the shots is like the research, combined with technical skills. I’m personally a big researcher. I’ve found if you “just check that later” a core assumption of your plot can be wildly wrong, leading to significant rewrites. Better to do as much as you can either upfront, or as you go.

There’s the technical as well as creative side to attend to. How far your lights are from a person affects the exposure. How far the microphone is from his or her mouth affects the sound. Plus there are settings for the lights, sound equipment and camera. These have to be managed diligently. If not, then you can be in for a lot, lot more editing and post-production. Or, worse still, a re-shoot.

The filming itself is enjoyable and usually less problematic than other aspects of production. That’s not to say it always runs smoothly – people say the wrong things and have to say them again, doors slam so you have to roll again or perhaps the battery in your camera or microphone runs out, but you don’t notice. But, with decent planning, this is more like the actual writing. You’re getting the stuff down.

Yet there’s always the story to attend to. As with a novel, we have to consider everything that’s going on around the shoot – from props in the room, to people in the background. We have to consider how using different camera angles of the primary subject can draw someone into the story we’re telling. Also, we need to look at how much more effective the story is when we’re cutting away to other places – things which illustrate what the primary subject is describing. Some of these will be considered during planning, others will happen on the day.

Finally, there’s the bit where it all comes together. Yet, it’s possibly the most time-consuming and difficult part of all. During the editing, the story is built up gradually,  using clips from different takes, adding different audio, using different camera angles – all of this modular construction is part of ‘telling the story’.

This may be the same story you set out to tell originally, it may differ slightly or it may differ enormously. The editor works with the footage and sound available and from it builds up the best story that he or she can. It takes a lot of time. A two-minute video, cut from three or four hours’ filming, can take eight hours to edit.

There can be happy accidents. For example, I’ve discovered footage that was shot on the off chance (and unknown to me, by an assistant). The footage might have been intended simply as a possible filler, or shot because something looked interesting – and this chance footage has been interesting enough to become a central part of the video narrative.

Interestingly, writing a book is a journey that’s most usually undertaken from first chapter to final – regardless of how/when you do the planning and editing. Filming is different; it can be a real jumble – you work in a way that’s time-efficient, often grabbing what you can, going with the flow and getting as much filmed as possible.

There’s no real reason that writing can’t be undertaken in this way; I’m sure many writers do – though mostly I don’t. I do often create ‘unplaced scenes’ in a manuscript. I may or may not use these later. They may become stories on their own. They may never be used. Sometimes, I write scenes for my own benefit – for example, what happened when two characters met for the first time. I may not want to use the scene, but I might want to have a deeper understanding of their meeting than I’d get from writing “Sarah met Jim, at firs they didn’t get on”, or whatever. When I write them, I may have no idea how they’re going to fit in.

What is especially interesting about the process of film-making is how much it encourages you to explore different angles, view close-ups and film others’ reactions to a primary character’s dialogue or actions. You’re working in 3D space – the real world – and experiencing the fourth dimension of time. You do this in a way that’s more intuitive and explorative than you would when writing the same scene – which is why a filmed version of a scene can be radically different from the script.

For me, the process of film-making encourages me to be braver and looser with the writing; to explore different viewpoints of the same event; to plan even more – and edit even more than that. The more you put in, the more you polish, the better the end result – and the more it looks as though the whole process was effortless.

About Peter Labrow

Peter Labrow has worked as a copywriter, writing non-fiction, for around twenty years. His output includes copy for websites and brochures; for around a decade he wrote a regular column for IT Training magazine. He has published one non-fiction book about learning within the corporate environment. The Well, Peter’s first novel, is available on Kindle and in print from Amazon. View all posts by Peter Labrow

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