Review: How To Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck

When it comes to shooting video, what do we know? Here’s the facts:

It’s safe to say that we are drowning in video, and the collective attention span of viewers is short. How do you make sure that your video will get watched? How can you make sure that it will get shared and discussed? Essentially, how can you make sure your video doesn’t suck?

Award-winning producer and director Steve Stockman has found the way in his new book How To Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck.

How To Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck shows readers how to engage their audience using clear, concise concepts that even video novices can master the minute they pick up a video camera. This isn’t about how to work the camera — instead, this is about how to make great video using Stockman’s experience as a producer, writer and director.

I recently talked with Stockman about what video journalists can gain from this book, as well some other helpful tips.

Stockman on what journalists can do to improve their videos:

  1. Remember that you’re in the story business.  A story has to have a hero, beginning, middle and end. So does your video. If you can’t tell the story in three compelling sentences, it may not be video material. Perhaps its a memo.
  2. Don’t rationalize away technical issues. If your video quality sucks through the viewfinder, it isn’t going to get magically better when you post it.  You’re competing for the audience’s attention with a world of great video. Five seconds of picture that isn’t clear or audio that can’t be understood is all most people can take, then they’re off to watch Family Guy. Enthusiastically cut bad video. What’s left will (by definition) be good!
  3. Follow the Rubbermaid Rule: At my house we use Rubbermaid containers to store leftovers. I noticed that people always pick a container much bigger than they need to store food.  Something happens mentally when we try to translate an opaque pot to a clear container, I guess. The same thing happens with video.  When people first think how long their video should be, they always guess big.  Usually three times as big. Always put your video in the smallest container possible. Think you need 10 minutes to cover a story? You probably need 3. (On TV news they tell stories in a minute to a minute and a half. If you fancy yourself more of a 60 Minutes type, remember that those longer stories take weeks to shoot, with a BIG staff of top producers, writers, videographers, sound people, editors and reporters involved throughout the process. If you have that, by all means go for the full 10 minutes.)

Stockman on some of the best small digital video camcorders on the market:

I’m a big fan of Kodak’s Pocket Video line for several very important reasons.

  1. They’re sponsors.
  2. They’re still in business (sorry, Flip!)
  3. Their cameras are easy to use and take better HD video than their competitors.
  4. Did I mention they’re sponsors?

Stockman on journalists getting over the apprehension of shooting video:

My first video was awful– I bet Steven Spielberg’s was too. You won’t get better unless you try it…and then keep practicing. So: Shoot. Play. Have Fun. Consider this rationalization: “I have a video camera handy, so I’m just going to film this interview instead of running the audio recorder like I usually do.” There! Now you have an excuse for giving it a shot. Remember — you don’t have to post a story just because you shot it. If it sucks, file it under “awful” and try again.