Million Dollar Productions on Penny Pinching Budgets
A resource guide for Video Producers
Every client that wants a video produced would like it to look like a million dollar production, very few actually have the budget to do so. So how do you get that CNN and ESPN look on a budget? Here are some helpful tips and some great resources to pull off the million dollar look on a budget.
1) Lighting is Everything
Most people think that top quality cameras and editing equipment is the most important part to get professional results. No True! You can shoot on Top$ Digital Betacam and get worse results then somebody shooting on Hi-8. The thing that makes and brakes any video shoot is lighting. And with that, I don't mean you have to have big expensive quartz lights on every shoot. It refers to natural light just as well. Choose the best possible lighting scenario for every scene.
When shooting outdoors, make sure your subjects don't show any hard shadows, or worse, are filmed against the light. Look for overcast days, early morning hours etc. when natural light is at its softests.
When shooting indoors, use as many lights as possible and make sure to 'soften; your lights. Bounce them off white foam board or off the walls or ceilings. Direct bright lights are deadly! Pay very close attention to the lighting of every scene and you'll get quality results even with not so expensive equipment.
2) Sound makes the Picture
You can try this for yourself. When you edit a scene and you place a transition like a page turn or Iris Opening from one scene to the next, add a simple 'swoosh' type sound effect right at the point of the transition. Then compare the transition to one without sound. Unless you have a very soft and slow transition, adding a synthesized sound effect to a transition will add impact to your scenes. You can find a great collection of these transition effects including musical intros and stingers on a CD called Zzzing. The CD costs only $29.95 and contains over 250 of these production elements. You can find Zzzing at ( spam link removed - mw) The same company also offers a great selection of royalty free music CDs to create a great soundtracks for your production. And since all of the music on (ditto) is royalty free, you don't have to worry about your client getting sued for copyright infringement.
3) Use pre-produced Video Elements
There's a lot of pre-produced video out there that you can add to get your production that million dollar touch. If you had a million dollar budget, you could shoot some scenes on Times Square in New York or on the Beach in Maui but the alternative of using some inexpensive stock footage of these places is a better way to go. You can key your announcer right into Times Square with no trouble and save on airfare and hotel costs.
But there's so much more to pre-produced video elements than just stock footage. How about some CNN or ESPN style animated video backgrounds? The networks are paying thousands of bucks to get those graphics with swirling colors and multi level transparencies but these network style animated backgrounds are available on a penny budget. Check out ( lots of plces ) for a large selection of these network style backgrounds. Add your titles and presto, you got a million dollar look.
If you want to take it a step further, why not get some Virtual Sets for your production. All you need is a blue or green screen and your editing systems key function to place your subjects into a million dollar network set. Virtual Sets come with multiple camera angles and with a little bit of realistic camera blur added, nobody can tell that you didn't spend the big bucks on a studio set but filmed the video in your basement instead.
4) Edit with Care
So you got your million dollar video shot and it's time to edit. There are several common sense tips that will help you get professional results. First of all, don't over-use effects. If you use good strong backgrounds music and some of the video elements described above, you really do not need super intricate effects when editing. If the footage has lots of impact, simple editing with cuts and dissolves works best most of the time.
The second thing is: Check your levels. Make sure that the color balance matches from one scene to the next. If you shot them with different lighting, scenes may not match. And if you can't get it to match, simply go to black and white. It's a very powerful technique to add 'strength' to a scene and it covers up lighting mistakes. The other type of levels you need to check are your sound levels. Check your meters and make sure that the sound levels of your live audio as well as your background music are consistent. Otherwise you'll sound like some of those local public access shows where commercials suddenly come in blaring loudly or some of the background audio or music suddenly drowns out the announcers.
Every day there are videos produced on low budgets that look absolutely stunning. I hope that some of the tips and tricks listed here will help you get that million dollar look.
This article was written by Alan Steward, Broadcast Engineer and Producer
(c)2004 Alan Steward
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