Whether you like it or hate it, the ways in which we absorb and process information have changed irrevocably, and putting a message out into the world is easy as pie. The challenge comes in finding your target audience before the pastry turns crusty and hard.
How long have you spent on social media today? The chances are you’ve been bombarded by information and communications of all kinds. Like magpies, our eyes are drawn to whatever stands out and glitters in the proverbial online hedgerow.
Of all the online hooks, film clips wield a mighty power to entertain, inform, amuse and to educate. Armed with smarter and smarter smart phones we each have the capacity to be the storytellers and documenters of our own life. Our pockets hold the power and the tool, all we need is the incentive and the imagination! A single clip delivered via the right platforms can be successful in attracting new audiences and engage the attention of people right across the world. As singing and instrumental group leaders and participants, a short film can be a highly effective way to share resources, increase participation, attract potential sponsors and funding and, let’s face it, it makes a way sexier tool for evaluation than a written report.
“People are watching more than they are reading, and people are watching small screens, not big ones.”
Below are some tips from Bill Pheasant* on building skills and developing technique that will help you be more mindful of the content you select to film, and how you then go about presenting and editing that content for maximum effect, whether it’s your cat climbing the curtain or your community choir in full belt. Bill has worked in communications for close to 30 years, and for the last 5 has been working globally to create tools and approaches to help almost anyone use modern technology such as a mobile phone to create short, compelling stories:
“Filmmaking for the movies is incredibly complex, but the stories at the heart of any clip are often simple. Why not consider how can we use the equipment we have, and the skills we bring, to tell meaningful stories that will help this community music work to continue.”
The following tips are taken from Bill’s notes for his workshop in Storytelling at the Community Music Victoria music camp at Grantville in April 2016.
First things first. If you’re the one in your group keen to start filming, take some time to ask yourself the following questions:
- Why are you – and all the others – involved in the group?
- What does it give you?
- How does it make you feel?
- How many people know about that?
- If other people knew your stories and how you feel do you think they would get involved?
- And the money question: Do you think those funding your activity would be interested in your stories? (If you got to this point, you know the answer is always yes!)
Key points to remember before you film:
- People love to watch emotion.
- They don’t have a long attention span.
So we need to show people the key moments. And as filmmakers – we need ways to find those moments efficiently.
Film can be a great medium for observing. A lot of clips on social media are just that: little moments of ordinary life. But to communicate well we often need more context: Why am I watching these trombones?
To get more context, use interviews with people/participants. Interviewing somebody – rather than having them talk at a camera or phone – puts them at ease, makes them feel less self-conscious and more relaxed. It also allows them to demonstrate their passion more effectively. To stay out of the picture yourself, ask the question, then listen attentively while you film the answer, without responding. If possible, pair these interview clips with some overlay images to elaborate on what is being said and hold the viewer’s attention. It means the speaking continues while the images change – even free edit software can do this.
Unless you have rock-solid arms, consider using a tripod for your phone/camera to allow you to be involved in the human connection as interviewer. It makes for better viewing and also means the person you are interviewing isn’t looking directly into the lens.
Before you begin filming, check the following:
- Phone/camera memory space.
- A pocketful of ideas!
- Sufficient battery.
- Steady hands.
- A bit of technique.
- A way to manage what you film.
- Ways to share it.
Here are some things that will make your video better:
- Light – you need enough or your film will be drab. You need to be able to adjust it. Most current smartphones have light level adjustment on the screen. It it’s still too dark, change where you film.
- Cut them down to make the outcome more watchable! It may not feel like you’re shaking much while you are filming but try watching more than a few seconds of playback.
- Listen for background noise and replay to test the sound is clear. Poor audio ruins many videos.
- This is where we get into the actual storytelling. A key point is to get out of the habit of centering your subject. This is not a passport photo! Use the Rule of thirds: The human eye doesn’t often find symmetry interesting for long, and when you place a subject near the camera, but to one side, the rest of the frame is yours to tell more of the story. “The rule of thirds is applied by aligning a subject with the guide lines and their intersection points, placing the horizon on the top or bottom line, or allowing linear features in the image to flow from section to section. Click here to see some examples of photographs taken using the rule of thirds.
- Don’t be afraid to set the scene and start filming before your subject comes into view. This creates context and draws the viewer in.
- Consider the types of shots you plan to use: Wide shot. Mid shot. Close up. Why? What sort of feeling are you trying to evoke in the viewer?
- Avoid panning and avoid zooming. Instead, stop filming, move closer to your subject and start again, or change your position for a different angle. If you can edit, you can sew your sequence together, later on.
- Use the background as well as the foreground to tell your story.
A little forethought can mean when you sit down later to put the pieces together, you have all you need! Set the scene, as you would in any story. Take some context footage. The hall as everyone enters, for example, or a bit of the banter before the magic begins. This allows people to begin imagining what will happen next and gives them an opportunity to begin to ‘feel’ your story.
Finally, give some thought to how you are going to share your film, once it’s made. This may dictate the length and the style you go for. In giving some thought to the style, message and content of your film, try storyboarding.
If you’ve never tried this before, give storyboarding on paper a whirl. All you need is a whiteboard or some paper and pens and the time to let your imagination flow out – progressing the story scene by scene – onto the paper or whiteboard.
Storyboarding in your head
Also known as a daydream. Which can lead to some great things and unexpected ideas. Use the same principles as above and be sure to give some thought to how you’re going to store the great ideas and examples you dream up!
Give it a go! Better to get out there, try and fail than never try at all. As Bill said in his workshop, Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.
Good luck, have fun and share the results with us at Community Music Victoria! (We’re going to be working on adopting Bill’s methodology into our own documenting, too.)
Written by Deb Carveth & Bill Pheasant. Huge thanks to Bill for providing the notes from his workshop as the basis for this post.