Looking to improve your creative video making skills? Here are eight things I have learnt about producing videos on a small budget.
1) Keep your eyes open
Back in the 1990s home video was slowly becoming a common thing. I made my own first video recordings around 1993 when I was 16. Back then that was early. Today everyone can record video on their mobiles, and lots of children have their own YouTube channels. This means that people can start developing their photography and video skills from an earlier age.
Although we all know that practice makes perfect, I believe there is something more important than experience: CURIOSITY.
Children are naturally curious, but as creatives we should also strive to hold on to our curiosity and stay open towards the many impressions around us. Looking at other peoples work – films, pictures, art – will make you a better photographer and filmmaker. But you should also look at your everyday surroundings for inspiration. And practice 😉
2) Make time for play and experimentation
Photography and video can be a free space, where you don’t need to follow any rules dictating how things should be done. It is in this free space you can develop your own voice and tell your own story.
For many years video wasn’t something I worked with commercially. That meant that I was free to experiment with the medium without a customer to consider. Instead I collaborated with other artists.
One of the projects I was part of was “The Viturvian Woman” by danish artist Michael Chang, who had invited a group of artists to each make a video about a (female) body part. My video was about hands. I recorded it with the web-camera of my laptop, using the programme PhotoBooth.
VITRUVIAN HANDS (2009)
This video came about pretty spontaneously. I used the darkness and the effect PhotoBooth makes to almost separate my hands from the rest of my body. I then combined the video recordings with three different pieces of music, to accentuate some of the very different creative things my hands can be used for – playing, clapping, touching, caressing, communicating, even turning into birds flapping about.
Off course there are potential copyright issues with the music I used in the Vitruvian Hands video. But because the video isn’t commercial, so far I haven’t had problems with it. It’s worth noting though: You must have the rights to any contents used in a video: picture and sound, including music and artwork shown. Especially larger institutions should be aware of this, since it can be a very expensive mistake to make.
Luckily there is a ton of material accessible on the internet, which can be used very cheaply, or even for free. A few examples of places where you can find archive material are: POND5, YouTube, Pexels & Vimeo. (If you know of more good places you are welcome to leave links in the comments below this post.)
3) Show who you are
From around 2008 the first DSLRs began offering HD recording. This became a bit of a turning point for me, being able to use my professional camera for both stills and video. In 2014 I began working more commercially with video, as both producer, photographer and editor. Producing videos felt like a natural extension of the still photography I was already doing – impressions from everyday life, creative portraits of people, events, art and culture. I tried to show that off in my first show reel from 2015.
I very recently updated this showreel with a new shorter and punchier one. It is more commercial, but still includes some personal and artistic clips in the beginning.
Aside from showing off your skills, showreels should also show your personality. I believe that we do our best work when we get to share our own passions / personal interests.
I recommend that you are present on Instagram, get a website, a blog, a vimeo or a facebook page. It makes it easier for your customers to find out what jobs they can get done by you. But off course you should also be networking and contacting companies that you would like to work with 🙂
Now, lets get more specific. The videos I have shown thus far have pretty much been free assignments, down to me. But off course that’s not the norm, when working with video. Usually there will be a customer with a very specific set of needs.
4) Make a plan
It is a good idea to start a new project by creating an outline of the entire process from start to end, so you know all the elements you need to get the desired outcome. Get an idea of the overall direction of the video as well as the building blocks needed. This may seem obvious, but over the years I have found that people who are inexperienced in the process of making videos often leave out lots of things. Planning things well will save you lots of time and frustration.
Make sure you have discussed the video strategy with your customer. The first thing you should find out, is what the purpose of the video is. What is the video supposed to make the viewers think, feel and do? What is the message of the video?
Make sure you know what platform the video will be shown on, who the target audience is and that the message of the video is clear. Do you understand the needs of the target group properly? Discuss the budget and your options, and how to prioritise.
5) Know your audience
It is not your job as a small independent video creator to do lots of market research, but your customer will expect you to have some level of knowledge. Talk it through, so you know that you are on the same page.
I advise that you become a regular user of the platforms that your content will be shared on, so you know what is out there, and what works / doesn’t work.
I recently read that Facebook favors videos longer than three minutes. But I don’t think they should be much longer than five minutes, as people tend to scroll on quickly. However, people watch what they are interested in, so if the contents of your video is of common interest and presented in a way which is easy to follow without being boring, then you are off to a good start.
Instagram now has various options for showing video. The most recent one is IGTV. Featuring vertical videos, the format is designed for mobile viewing: ” Just like turning on the TV, IGTV starts playing as soon as you open the app. You don’t have to search to start watching content from people you already follow on Instagram and others you might like based on your interests.”
IGTV features a lot of videos from 3-10 minutes (but can be much longer). On Instagram videos can also be shared as short stories, lasting only 24 hours, or they can be posted on your wall. On the wall there is a limitation of 60 seconds, and actually a minute feels very long.
On Instagram people usually prefer watching personal, authentic things. But like YouTube, they also favor “how to” videos, showing something being created. But in my experience you rarely come across videos of people talking.
Remember that on Instagram and Facebook videos will often be seen without sound switched on. For that reason graphic elements and text are extra important on these platforms.
Below is a video celebrating a young artist who died in the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. To me this video is a pretty good example of how a tv-channel can make compelling news videos for social media. The video takes the more general tragedy of Grenfell Tower and makes it personal.
The video below is longer and much less emotional. It has a clear message about the impact of galleries on artists careers. The editing is fast paced, a voice over ties the many brief interview bites together. There are generally many interesting elements – plus a strong graphic profile:
The more traditional news media has also had to innovate itself, combining text with other elements on webpages:
The above article is from the New York Times and has used a combination of photography and slow motion video to create both beautiful, dignified and poignant portraits. The women become alive as individuals rather than anonymous victims.
The article linked below also uses a combination of text and photography, video and social media elements, to tell the story of a swindler using the dating app Tinder:
These examples show how traditional TV and news paper elements can be combined in a new engaging digital format, which works well on both laptop and mobile phones.
6) Think of your budget as a challenge
If your budget is small, it probably means you have to compromise. For instance, you may not have as much time to film and edit the video as you’d like. Your equipment may not be the high quality that you would like. And you may not be able to pay for assistants, actors etc.
I like to see the budget as a kind of obstruction. For instance, you can save money by following something like Dogme 95‘s rules: The filming must be on location, the light must be natural, and you film whatever happens in front of you.
The excellent low budget film Tangerine was shot on location in Hollywood, filmed in less than one month using three iPhone 5S mobile phones as cameras! A steadicam was used along with an extra wide angle lens and a video app which ensured higher bit-rates than normal. The money saved on equipment was used to pay for actors, extras and locations.
In other words it is possible to do a lot with nothing but a mobile phone. But remember that the worse your equipment is, the more creative your solutions must be.
I usually shoot with one or two DSLR cameras. If it is an interview video, or if you have to shoot everything in a limited amount of time, then it’s very useful to be able switch angles or do cut-aways to B-material.
If you are just one person handling two cameras as well as sound, a tripod is necessary, and there will be times where you cannot make sure both cameras are properly focused, that the lighting is perfect or that the framing remains as nice as it was when you set it up.
7) Make sure the visual style matches the subject
The look you give your video will depend on what it will be used for and what the budget is. But generally it is a good idea to contemplate what the target audience is used to, and what you want them to gain from the video when considering the visual style.
This Bianco commercial is a good example of how you can capture your audience with clever contents and a simple, minimalistic style:
BIANCO: THE LIFT (2019)
The Lift is both clever and funny. It is a simple, recognisable situation, showing off the product without the audience really noticing. The format is perfect for Facebook and mobile phones, and as you can read their thoughts, sound isn’t really necessary.
The film below uses location and camera in a completely different, dynamic way. From the music starts and all through the dance sequence there are hardly any cuts. The camera follows the dancers movement through the building, slowly and elegantly, matching the surroundings.
LIL BUCK WITH ICONS OF MODERN ART (2016)
The Lil Buck film is an advertisement for an exhibition at Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris, but disguised as a kind of performance / portrait.
8) Do not underestimate the potential of sound
Sound can shape the vibe and rhythm of a film, and can be as important as the visual side.
To illustrate the potential of sound, I would like to show you a clip from Once Upon a Time in The West, where the director Sergio Leone has worked with composer Ennio Morricone to create drama and feeling via sound and image. The scene starts with nothing but diegetic, realistic sound and then later changes to music in a very dramatic way.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968)
Through the sound we are first placed at the actual scene by the farm, the incessant sound of the cicada, the gentle singing of O Danny boy, the silence and the sound of gunshots. The music hits you as hard as the sight of the dead family hits the child.
These last few years I have been working on an art project, Inseparable Together, with performance artist Nana Francisca Schottländer and composer Ellen Birgitte Rasmussen. In this project we have created various video installations and soundscapes, combining atmospheric, real world sound with music, in order to illustrate how nature and human are inseparable, and how human presence affects nature in various ways.
THE BRIDE (2018)
Even though the art video above is made on a very different budget and has a very different tempo, look and vibe than Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western, it is still some of the same aspects we use in our work with sound and image: The real world sounds place you in the meditative space of the Wadden Sea nature, and then towards the ending, music blends in, helping us on our emotional journey towards resolution or deliverance.
I hope you have found this blogpost useful. Here is a summary of my main points:
- Seek inspiration in your surroundings and be curious
- Don’t be afraid to have fun & experiment
- Develop your own voice and use your personal interests in your work
- Show who you are
- Make a plan
- Be aware of the purpose, audience and platform for your video
- Prioritize according to budget and possibilities – talk everything over with your client
- Think about which visual style best supports all the above intentions
- Editing, tempo and length must fit the platform, audience and sound.
- Sound and graphics gives the video style and flavor and helps keep the viewer captivated
Feel free to leave a comment with suggestions for future blog posts.