Way back when the Canon T3i was the camera to have, I dabbled in video just enough to get frustrated and quit. Years later and after a lot of trial and error, I’ve made the switch almost entirely to creating short films and commercial work. Here are the big takeaways from my experience.
The T3i was a big deal in some regards in that it was inexpensive and was capable of “glorious HD quality” which was just the same as “glorious 4K quality” in today’s marketing, but that’s for another article. It had a mic jack and flip-out screen. It was small and light, and even better, it had a Canon mount so your lens options were limitless.
After using the camera to learn still photography for a while, I slowly but surely found a yearning to venture to video mode and see what it was about. To save you from too much boredom, I was frustrated that I didn't get similar results to my stills. I thought it would all look amazing like my photos. The camera takes great pictures, right?
At the time, I had no idea how to really create a meaningful video of anything. I knew how to use Premiere and Final Cut and drop some definitely-not-licensed music over it and make a sick video, but not how to really organize an idea. Organization is critical to just about every step of the filmmaking process. That, and having a point that you arrive at before you start shooting. Both of these things quickly became evident as I made many more failed attempts to make short films.
For some time, filmmaking was shelved. I told myself that I needed a crew to make anything worthwhile, which is sort of true, but the definition of that will change with time. This was all partially because I had become pretty damn good at photography and I wasn’t seeing the results translate into my video projects. There are a few reasons for this.
I didn’t plan anything. For a photoshoot, I could put together a rough color scheme, maybe a general outfit guideline and location, and come away with something good. If I did the same thing with a video, I could potentially get nice looking footage, but it wouldn’t assemble into anything noteworthy. This all comes back to good planning, which it turns out, has a few different meanings.
I know that this sounds obvious for a lot of people, and I almost feel embarrassed to have ever worked this way, but if you don’t have a clear vision for a shoot or project before you ever start shooting, you are dead in the water. I learned very quickly that the best way to make good work is to be able to imagine good work and then have the technical aptitude to bring it into reality as closely resembling your imagination (which is limited by nothing) as possible. I know a short film is going to be worth pursuing if the first idea blossoms into an entire film in my head. If you can only come up with a single scene of a short film, nothing compelling will likely come of it because there’s no room for a story.
Before launching yourself into a project, ask yourself if it is a compelling project and not just an excuse to make something look pretty. Good writing and structure is good planning. A fancy camera can’t make people feel or care about anything.
I never struggled so much with this, but I’m sure others may as they start out: plan your shoot days to a T. Or as close to a T as possible, the phrase “shit happens” always rings true. Before I moved into filmmaking 100 percent, I got in the habit of having a thorough schedule and knowing my location ahead of time. When you add all of the extra crew members, gear, vehicles, and talent necessary for a film into the same time frame I was used to to shoot stills, it can get hectic quickly without a good plan.
Have a shot list and script broken down so that you know what time of day you need to finish each portion. If it’s a shoot that’s a few hours long, you can still utilize a shot list to make sure you aren’t over shooting and also so you aren’t forgetting anything. My first dabbling into filmmaking was rife with just run-and-gun, spray-and-pray, awful technique. It was about what I thought looked good at the time. We would show up to a location and just say “yeah that spot looks OK.” Filmmaking teaches you to use your time and locations much more efficiently.
The last thing is planning your editing. For photographers, this is much less of a headache. If you’re shooting video, you need to have a good workflow established sooner rather than later in order to keep you or your editor from going insane or running into major technical issues along the way. This also keeps you committed to a working style with filming, file organization, and communication early on in the project. If you don’t have story structure or even file structure together beforehand, you’re going to have a bad time putting the pieces together.
Having a Point
Filmmaking is a long process. It can’t start and end in a day. It often takes weeks from inception of an idea to a edited and finished product to come to fruition. To take all of that time and never have an organized idea in mind that you want to communicate to the viewer would be, in my opinion, a waste. A video, whether it’s an advertisement, a documentary, or a feature film, exists to make you learn or feel something. If your project isn’t accomplishing that, your project likely needs more thought.
How is any of this relevant to the bit about me sucking at making things with a T3i? None of the above disciplines were known to me yet. It took me a while to understand the rhythm required to pull of a shoot day. It took a while to learn how to look at my projects in a way that was as unbiased as possible to know if my ideas sucked or not. And it certainly took me a while to start thinking of ideas more than I was thinking about specific shots. I would encourage anyone with a camera to try their hand of shooting a video project of any kind, because it will quickly expose the lacking areas of your workflow and ideology as a creative and help you get better at making your art.