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Class Act: Too Much of a Good Thing?
Posted May 1, 2006 Print Version     Page 1of 1

I would like to share with you a lapse in judgment that I had recently. I was shooting some footage and decided that I wasn't going to worry too much about how I shot because I was going to shoot a lot of footage—enough to practically guarantee that I would have plenty of "usable" shots in the end. This decision was out of character for me, but as I have stated, it was a lapse in judgment.

Why I thought this was a good idea is beyond me, but it's something that I hope to recall next time I get such a grand idea. I wish that I could say that I'm alone in attempting such a ludicrous approach, but it is done more often in the production field than you'd think.

I'm not sure who tried it first, but the myth of successful firehosing—where you guarantee optimum coverage by pressing Record and shooting everything in sight as a firefighter would drench an entire city block to put out a fire—has become the equivalent of a producers' urban legend. The notion that you can fix anything in post is right up there too, and it applies just as much to excessive and indiscriminate shooting as to other types of blunders. Until they learn for themselves, too many camera operators believe that if you shoot lots of footage, there inevitably will be enough material to create a great video.

If anyone remains skeptical, take a minute to consider the last wedding reception you shot or attended. Remember those cheesy disposable wedding cameras poised and ready to go on the tables? They are conveniently and conspicuously displayed as pseudo-centerpieces so that everyone will pick them up and take pictures with them, helping them to capture memories that they might otherwise miss.

Have you ever seen the results from those cameras? Roll after roll of worthless shots. They are generally out-of-focus, blurry, finger-over-the-shutter shots of ears and elbows and table legs and linoleum floors. There are several reasons for this, but the most common scenario is that Uncle Bob thought it would be fun to take some pictures while dancing, then handed the camera off to Aunt Edna, who insisted on getting a picture during the slideshow, unaware of the magic of flash photography.

Some of the film is developed only to find people with their foreheads cut off, others with their eyes closed, and even others who are at best reduced to indescribable blobs. These pictures then wind up on the proverbial cutting-room floor as the bride and groom engage in a futile post-mortem attempt to create a meaningful little something out of a lot of raw material. Don't get me wrong, it's an interesting and inexpensive way to get guests involved (and can, on occasion, lead to some really "interesting," if not incriminating, pictures), but the vast majority don't make it into a photo album.

Likewise, the haphazard shooter who thinks he can end up with a good video just because he has shot tons of footage may suffer a similar fate. (And sadly, it's not just amateurs that make this mistake on the video side.) Many film and video courses at the university or college level give exercises in shooting a project with a limited amount of film or tape. Some common variables are limiting the project to a couple hundred feet of film or four to five minutes of videotape. It is an exercise in precision and discipline when every shot has got to count.

Can you imagine going out to shoot a wedding or commercial and only being able to use one tape to shoot it all? You'd really need to be paying attention to all the elements involved and your shooting objective! What if you could only use a couple of shots to tell a story? There would likely be a great deal of effort expended to make sure that every shot was as good as it could be.

The irony is that the difference between a really good shot and a simply mediocre one is a matter of infinitesimal effort. This would include a slight tilt or pan for better composition, checking to make sure that the subject is really in focus, making sure the sky or the whites are not too blown out, etc. While in the field, remember the classic double-check. This extra effort on the front end is much preferred to finding out in the editing room that you forgot something.

Encouraged by tapes being so affordable, some people just don't put enough thought into setting up for a shoot. Cheap tape is not a license for excessive and undisciplined shooting. (Maybe Panasonic's vaunted new P2 solid-state media, which limit maximum-quality HD shooting to eight minutes on a $1,400 card, will necessitate a more discerning approach to shooting for users of P2-dependent cameras.)

Whether it's an interview or just getting some b-roll, the old approach of compensating for lack of detail or preparation by recording more just doesn't fly. It's in those instances that you will see people record a whole tape of b-roll without ever pausing to give a nice fluid beginning or end to any shot.

So, what's really needed to get your shots off the floor and into the album? For starters, a little more thoughtful preparation, followed by a couple of extra minutes during the shoot. It will separate your work from the work of your colleagues who still see value in cutting corners.

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