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Thread: Creating great video on a budget

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2004
    Easton, PA

    Default Creating great video on a budget

    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
    It is permitted to freely redistribute or use this article on your website or in your newsletter as long as the article is unaltered and unedited.
    Last edited by Mark W; 01-07-2009 at 10:49 PM.
    Alan Steward - Sound Designer, Editor

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Ottawa ON Canada

    Default DIY Wedding Video

    Check shooting techniques on a wedding day coverage at [link deleted]

    Admin Edit: keep your pimping to the right section

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Western Europe



    I certainly enjoyed reading your article, could you explain what 'buttons' are and how they relate to cutting at a particular moment in a scene?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2008

    Default Making movies on a budget ...

    I've been making movies on a budget for years.

    Here are my top-ten el-cheepo tips (you have to scroll down the page a bit):
    Last edited by Mark W; 01-07-2009 at 10:50 PM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Ottawa Canada

    Default Thanks for the tips

    As a newbie your ideas were great. I have been doing music videos and in 3 weeks did 10 which are on You tube, search Greg Pilon, Bobcat Gray any comments on the site or feedback welcome for sure

    Mike in Ottawa

  6. #6


    Thanks. Great ideas!!

  7. #7


    Working with audio on a budget.

    For those on you on no budget you may need a free software for your audio editing.

    There is a software called Audacity that you can download and use on your clips. You can do almost anything with it that you can do on a professional editing software. Don't believe me. Well you probably got a point but look at Audacity at work as it removes noise

  8. #8


    Quote Originally Posted by abacomedia View Post

    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.

    I just like to add stock footage of alpha channel actors to the list of pre-produced video elements.

    Yeah, pre-produced stuff are surely stretches the production budget. There are a lot of affordable elements on the web, and if you're lucky, you might even stumble on free video clips!

  9. #9


    You are right man. Another thing about sound... from all the videos i've made I have understood that a fatal mistake is to let moments of perfect silence. You always have to "fill up" the spaces between scenes/transitons/anything.
    Oh, and about the green screen. I think it is a must have. Because it simply gives you the possibility of being in any place you want to be, when you want to be. And if you have some extra dollars you want to spend, i think some lights will work great. But as abacomedia said, "Direct bright lights are deadly!" so be careful using them.:P

  10. Default

    As all "global" style guidances, this one suffers from not giving a true picture. The truth is: IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to make a movie that was done on a budget to look like it was done with great financing. If it would be possible, nobody would do it in any other way. Everyone these days is looking to cut costs.
    However, lack of budget may be concealed depending on a type of production.

    First, if you want make it looking rich, use various camera angles. Use two or more cameras if you can. Don't stay on a single scene more than it can afford in terms of point of interest. Avoid blatant errors like jump frames, sudden change of direction, crossing line etc. If your camera skills aren't perfect, adopt filming style of 50x-60x: keep it simple, make clear cuts and logical final points, DO NOT ZOOM, unless you show emotional change, etc. Watch some movies of the period, adopt culture of the presentation.

    Second, use (RF) royalty free footage and sound. There are many to choose from, I like libraries by DVDxDVD and Mproducer, both old and new in Hi-Def, as they are cheap, well shot and can be used for anything you want. For a price of few clips elsewhere you get the entire thing. The RF footage creates illusion of places, locations, effects that otherwise unreachable or very costly to shoot. Green screen is your best friend when it comes to creating value! Think of James Bond movies. In 99% you see a green screen chroma key footage or half screen combinations. Green screen is your magic tool of everything! With little imagination and 5-6 days skills, you can transform park into magic kingdom and your mama in law into Cinderella.

    Third. Get good texts!!!!!!! Man it is crucial one! Remember, TALKING IS CHEAP, repeat it until it became part of you. It is much cheaper, both in time and money, than creating animated effects. Good text creates interest, especially if well, artistically delivered. Shooting of a talking actor/talent/voice etc is super cheap. It is just a talking head. It is also easy to shoot and edit. If done well it creates more impact than all cool effect together.

    Forth. Get creative. Use change of speed of action, use some time lapse footage, add some color flames here and there, use costumes from old closets, buy cheap hats they all look nice on a camera. In short, bring your element.

    Fifth. Sound must be great. Sweeten the audio, especially dialogs. Dialogs must be clear, clean, easy to listen to, well articulated and frame synchronized (remember in "singing in a rain" no-no-no-yes-yes-yes) . Use a music from RF (as I mention before). Avoid too much of voice over music it sound moody and can make dialogs hard to understand. Put some great sounding music where appropriate. There are plenty of famous songs from movies that no one remembers.

    Six. Do not listen to any advices, including this one.

    Hope it helps
    Last edited by videodirector; 04-28-2011 at 01:35 AM.

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