Based on an article I wrote for a magazine on "the 10 Commandments of going pro" it's been altered to give my idea of the ten commandments of amatuer videomaking.
Firstly let me stress: There are no rules in videomaking, there are only the laws of nature, everything else is just opinion.
1. Make a video you want to watch.
This sounds a bit simple and obvious but is the basis of any sucessful video. It's a mistake to try and anticipate what the public "might" like. Don't underestimate your audience by dumbing-down information. Assume that every viewer is as intelligent as you are and treat them accordingly. If you succed in making a video which you would love to watch, then you've got at least one satisfied viewer! If you try and guess what others "should" want, you might end up with nobody who likes what you've made.
2. Be diligent in your planning.
The most important part of any production is the planning. It is also the part most commonly overlooked. Sitting in front of a blank computer screen working out requirements, times and logistics isn't fun but bad planning will wreck a production. A recce of the location will save all sorts of problems on the day of the shoot. Find out where you can park, where the exits and cable-runs are and collect mobile phone numbers of anyone you might need to contact if things go wrong.
2. Don't use "preparation" as an excuse not to do anything.
It's very easy to find excuses not to do something. Don't fall into the trap of procrastinating. Don't find excuses find solutions and work-around methods. If you're waiting for something or someone, get on with another task. Don't put jobs off, get them out of the way and move on.
4. Be Prepared.
The days before the shoot. Now you're checking through equipment. Are the batteries charged? Spares for the radio mics? Tapes and spare lamps? Filters cleaned? Assemble the kit together and check that it's all working correctly. Switch on lamps and connect up microphones, especially and wireless equipment. Re-solder any loose connections and replace broken plugs and sockets. Power-up the camcorder and go through the menu making sure that you haven't still got 18db of gain switched in from that night-shoot last week! If it's not your normal camera, go through all the switches and settings, reminding yourself how to perform basic tasks like white balance and monitoring the audio levels.
5. Check and re-check your equipment.
Do you have the right equipment for the job and is it up to the task? Think about problems which might arise and prepare gear in advance. Think about making gear which you want, or find out about hiring it. A fishing rod isn't as good as a custom made sound boom but it's better than nothing at all! Make sure that your gear is clean and in top condition. If anything gets broken or looks tatty, repair it as soon as the shoot is over, don't wait until the evening before your next shoot. Make sure that all your gear is labled with your name and phone number.
6. Think about getting additional help.
Just because you're a one-man-camera-team doesn't mean that you have to do everything yourself. Always try to have an assistant. Preferably someone who knows what they're doing. If it only means that you've got someone who can park the car and feed the parking meter, there's one thing less for you to worry about, you'll be busy enough thinking about the filming! An assistant can get things from the car, help carrying, have a spare tape and batteries, all of which makes the shoot more efficient. You can find help at all sorts of places from the local video society, amateur drama group or colledge. Having a friend or family as your assistant really is the last resort, relationships can disolve rapidly after they've been told for the third time to "just turn on the bloody light!"
7. Sound is just as important as visuals.
The audio tends to be overlooked and a poor soundtrack is just as disasterous as bad visuals. Never use the on-camera microphone, even "atmos" or ambient sound will sound much better if recorded on a separate microphone. Go for the best you can afford, don't dream of using a mic which costs less than £200 new. Sennheiser and Audio Technica are two common makes. Most importantly, you should have someone specifically tasked to monitor the sound recording. No matter how good you are, you can't give 100% attention to both sound and vision.
8. You don't have to buy gear, you can rent it.
When starting out, renting equipment is a good way to find out what you need before spending a lot of money purchasing gear which you rarely use. You'll quickly find out which lights you use all the time and which ones stay in the case. There is a strong temptation to buy gear but, for example, if a £1,000 microphone sounds much better than a £200 mic and can be rented for £10 does it make sense to buy the cheaper gear? Build up a relationship with your local rental house and you'll find that the prices in their catalogue are often negotiable and weekend deals can be very reasonable.
9. Enjoy the shoot.
You've recce'd the location and know where the electrical sockets, fuse box and switches are. You know how much power is available for your lights, where you can place your microphones and where the radio mic's "dead spots" are. You've worked out where the fluorescents hum and where the sun shines through the windows. That was all done right back in the planning stage. You've got help with lighting and general assisting and you've got someone recording the sound. The equipment's been checked, set up and is working properly. Everything's ready to go and you're poised to press the "record" button. Take a second to enjoy the moment, if you've done it properly then this is the best bit, it's all downhill from here.
10. Finally, be your harshest critic..
Don't assume that mistakes will be overlooked or forgiven. If you see a jump in continuity, the audience will see it to. If a shot is out of focus, don't assume that "nobody will notice"... Everyone will. Be ruthless in the edit. A particular shot may be absiolutely brilliant but, if it doesn't fit into the story... Out it must go! It doesn't matter how much effort was put into a shot, all that matters is how it looks on the screen and how it fits into the whole. Don't become overly attached to particular shots.
Good should never be good enough. You may well have to become a pain-in-the-ass perfectionist but the result will show on the screen. If you're not satisfied with the result, why should the audience accept it?