On Tuesday we broke down some of our favorite videos and came up with four categories of excellence with several elements within each category.  This morning I came up with a 5th, so the Big 5 are:

  1. A great topic that is
    • compelling
    • important
    • novel
    • surprising
    • entertaining
    • drawing an interesting comparison
  2. A great story, which might include:
    • a gap between what is and could be
    • or some other engaging element
    • high stakes
    • a core conflict
    • a compelling arc – intensity rising and falling
    • good character development
    • immediately and continuously engaging
    • strong feelings and emotions
    • a strong driving narrative
    • or continuous insightful comparisons that engage the viewer
  3. Technical Excellence in capturing footage, including
    • appropriate lighting to match the mood and intensity of the story
    • appropriate camera movements (smooth, handheld, pans, zooms, tilts, etc.)
    • interesting and beautiful backgrounds, set design, and costume design
    • aesthetic and appropriate composition and framing
    • appropriate color schemes to match the mood
    • clean audio
    • subtle audio cues that add realism
  4. Outstanding Editing, including
    • appropriate rhythm and pacing
    • good timing
    • appropriate sequencing
    • aesthetic and appropriate transitions
  5. A strong theme or point that is
    • reasonable (or demonstrated to be reasonable)
    • compelling
    • novel
    • insightful

This week’s goal: Complete our first practice film by doing the Boring Room Challenge:

The Rules:

  • Work alone (except for actors)
  • Final results are not as important as what you learn from the process
  • Therefore, you must engage in a process that allows you to practice the key elements outlined above.
    • Compose a story that allows you to practice as many of the bullet-points as possible
    • Shoot your film, practicing as many of the bullet-points as possible
    • Edit your film, practicing as many of the bullet-points as possible
  • Post to YouTube and embed on the Canvas discussion
  • Due Monday by midnight.

Is this possible in one week with all of my other classes?

Notes from my own Boring Room Challenge

  • Total estimated time to write, shoot, and edit: 6 hours.  2 hours for each phase.
  • Actual time to write the story: 5 days
  • But at least it seems like it was written in 2 hours
  • Time to shoot.  Started by creating a shotlist. Took me 1 hour.
  • Shooting time.  Estimated time: 2 hours.

What actually happened:

Spent 2 hours moving boxes and “cleaning the set”

Set clear:

Lost my phone while clearing the set.  It’s somewhere in there ..

Could not figure out why my camera was locked on 1/30 shutter speed (this took me about an hour to fix)

By this time, I decided to forgo the professional mic setup and just get started.  After wrestling with the tripod, getting into costume, setting up an additional light, etc. etc. (another 30 minutes lost), I shot my first scene, imported it onto my computer using proper ingest settings (which took me 30 minutes to learn) only to discover that the only footage I actually captured was this:

So I tried again.  And my shot was over-exposed and cropped too tight:

And by then I had to get ready for class … and so 5 days and 5 hours into a “6 hour project” I had nothing to show for it except that series of crappy pictures above, and this test shot for how to fix the problems I ran into:

I made a quick list of Lessons learned and headed off to class:

  • I learned more about how I create, what keeps me from creating, and a few tricks for getting myself into a creative mindset.  My big insight about myself: I am drawn to single scenes that seem amazing in my head but don’t fit into any clear story.  But starting with a big theme doesn’t work for me either.  I have to intentionally tack back and forth between scenes and themes (little picture and big picture)
  • I learned how hard it is to set up a good shot to tell a good story.  It is hard to get a camera to “see” what I see in my mind.
  • How to choose the right lens to avoid cropping, to show the full scene, etc.
  • That my tripod is too cheap and short.
  • How to properly set a memory recall so my shutter speed and frame rate are locked in.
  • How to over-expose a scene (and how to better read a histogram to avoid it next time)
  • How to organize my stuff so I don’t lose it during the shoot
  • How to simplify the production process to create fewer mistakes
  • How to ingest video and create proxies for quick editing

With these lessons in mind, I re-wrote the shotlist for a tighter time-frame and then completed the entire project start to finish in just 4 1/2 hours the next morning.

To understand the video, you have to know a bit of old school pop culture:

This is how it turned out:

Triumphs: I really wanted to practice a lot of the elements of storytelling we talked about, so I did the following:

  • Engagement: I worked really hard on creating tension, conflict, a challenge, and other elements to engage the viewer.  This took me several days of work – mostly just coming up with unsatisfying ideas.  Lesson Learned: The Inner Critic is an important element of creativity. It pushes you to keep finding something a little bit better.  It can also be stifling if you don’t have a deadline that forces you to get to work.  
  • The Arc: I created a multi-act story to get a sense of an arc.  This also allowed me to experiment with several different styles of storytelling (uplifting comedy, love story, thriller, dark comedy)
  • Character Development: I tried to make my character fun and lovable with the opening scene so that you care about him as the plot twists later on.  (though I think it is missing something that makes you want to keep watching after the first 15 seconds.  There is no clear mystery.  I think working in a mysterious shot from the webcam might have helped)
  • Returning Theme and Coda: I used the single line “open the pod bay doors” multiple times so that it had a different meaning during setup, build-up, and climax.
  • Lighting: I really pushed myself to work in multiple lighting conditions and learned a lot. I have never been good shooting in low light. I made some mistakes over and over again, but I worked quickly to overcome them and learned a ton as I went.
  • Camera movements.  I worked alone so I wasn’t able to do as much camera movement as I wanted to, but it did force me to get creative and think of new ways to move the camera (vlog style, using the drone).  Lesson Learned: Don’t fly a drone in a big building that throws the compass and gps out of whack.  ?
  • Composition, framing, angles. I used the dance scene to practice multiple angles and types of shots. This was super-fun to work on and I am proud of my progress.  Still not pro, but getting better.
  • Audio.  I need to find a way to better manage my audio files, perhaps by syncing the time with the camera.  I had a hard time finding the audio from the recorder to sync with the camera.  In all, I was pretty disorganized throughout the shoot and could improve greatly on that.
  • Rhythm and Pacing.  This was really tricky.  I did not realize how hard this is.  This provided some very important practice and growth, but I have a long way to go to give that “experiential” feel.  Some shots and transitions still feel awkward and mistimed.
  • Transitions.  I practiced a few zoom effects with sound in the “thriller” part of the piece. It was fun, great practice, and I learned a lot.

It’s all about practice.



Tips based on my own journey:

Know your Gear:

  • One mirrorless or DSLR camera.  
  • One auto zoom lens + at least one “art” prime lens for bokeh and low light
  • shotgun mic for better sound (check audio levels)
  • lav mic for even better sound
  • Tripod (keep shots stable)
  • Stabilizers also available for camera movements

Know your Camera Settings:

Special Settings for Video:

  • Video is different because your shutter speed is dictated by the frame rate.
  • Always set shutter speed to 2x your frame rate.
  • If shooting in 1080p at 24 fps (frames per second), set your shutter speed to 1/50.
  • Usually you will set ISO to Auto and control light using aperture and your variable ND filter  (Remove your filter in low light situations)
  • Remember, high aperture (e.g. 1.8) = shallow depth of field and brighter image.  If you want to isolate your subject, use a shallow depth of field (f1.8).
  • However, sometimes you want more clarity of the background, so then you have to use a lower aperture (e.g. f=5.6 or higher).  Note though that in indoor or low-light situations, your camera will have to adjust by using a higher ISO, which can lead to a grainy image.

Know your Lenses:

3 Types of Lenses (field of view)

  • Standard Field of View: 35-70mm
  • Wide: Less than 35 mm
  • Telephoto: Over 70 mm

Note that our prime lenses are on a “crop” sensor so we have to multiply them by about 1.5 so we have:

Sony A6000 Kits

  • 18-50mm = 27mm (wide) to 75mm (telephoto)
  • 25mm prime = 37.5mm (standard)

Sony A6000 Kits

  • 18-150mm Zoom = 27mm (wide) to 225mm (telephoto)
  • 16mm = 24mm (wide)
  • 30mm = 45mm (standard)
  • 50mm = 75mm (telephoto)

Canon Kits

  • One Standard: 24mm x 1.5 = 36mm
  • One Wide Angle: 10-18mm x 1.5 = 15-27mm
  • One Telephoto: 50mm x 1.5 = 75 mm
  • +  you have the kit lens, which is good for good light conditions.

Why we use adjustable ND lens filters:

Use different types of shots to set and tell your story:

Think about composition and framing.  Wes Anderson is a master of this:

Practicing recording better audio:


Creating a workflow for your project:


  • Don’t save stuff on your desktop!
  • Create a folder for your project on an external drive
  • Create a video folder in that folder.  Create folders for each camera and each day.
  • Create an audio folder.
  • Create a graphics folder.
  • Move your files from your card into the proper folder you just created.
  • Back stuff up!
  • Create your project in Premiere inside the project folder you created.
  • Go to media browser in Premiere and import the folders.

The Basics of Video Editing:

And the most advanced tutorial EVER:

If you are using a laptop and its lagging, try this:


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