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Welcome back to the ongoing series – ‘Make a Video’ wherein I try to break down the best way to go about making a marketing video with professional support.  The advice I’m offering here has been earned – during my 7 years with ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ and over my 13 years as a media producer and content creator.  Some of those years overlap – I’m not THAT old.

This week we’re going to look at the importance of camera and sound equipment, and how to know what you REALLY need when making a video.


Many people’s first question about our production capabilities is “What kind of camera do you have?” The answer is that we use the right camera for the job.  An expensive camera alone doesn’t make a great video, and a great video doesn’t require a fancy camera.  We’ve used footage from $10,000 cameras alongside shots from an iPhone 4 – it’s all in how you do it.

The ‘right’ camera for the job requires considerations beyond just the look you want to get.  If you’re trying to shoot from 500 feet away from your subject, you’ll want a camera that takes interchangeable lenses.  Some cameras that look great (like DSLRs – still cameras that have video recording capability) require expensive add-ons for stabilization, professional audio capture, zooming or wide-angle shots, or video monitoring.  They may have to rest up to 10 minutes between takes that can be no longer than 12-20 minutes. So if you’re trying to capture something live that lasts a long time, that great-looking footage will miss a lot of the action.  If you don’t have the ability to add lighting, you’ll want to consider how well a camera performs in low-light. And if you’re shooting on the go, weight and stability are key considerations.

For really cinematic, cool shots, your budget may be better spent on camera supports, like a Steadicam, dolly, or jib arm, than on a fancy camera – especially since lighting and post-production (the process of editing and altering footage after capture) can help your footage look amazing no matter what camera you use.  Pre-visualization will help you make these choices. The take away here should be that choosing a camera requires a lot of thought, and you’d do well to have a conversation about it with your team instead of reflexively going for the sexiest or most expensive option.

Do I Really Need A Sound Person?

Sound is more important than the visuals in your video. And I say this as a cinematographer.  Consider The Blair Witch Project (if you’re old enough) or any other ‘found footage’ style movie – Paranormal Activity, perhaps.  The grainy, shaky, decidedly amateur-looking footage in these films didn’t keep them from being successful. But can you think of a single movie or TV show where the dialog was hard to hear because of noise from planes flying overhead, or traffic noise in the background, or the hum of a refrigerator? If you answered ‘no’ your’re right! Sound is so important, almost every movie you see in the theaters has had the sound re-recorded by the actors in a soundproof booth in order to make sure it is absolutely pristine. While that shouldn’t be necessary for your project, it should demonstrate the premium put on sound by the professionals, and give you pause before you consider cutting your audio budget.

In a controlled environment (like a studio, office, or apartment,) a simple lavaliere microphone, like the ones you see clipped to people in television interviews, is all you need to record a single speaker.  When 2 people are speaking, you’ll want to make sure that you record each of their audio separately – and that they don’t interfere with each other’s recordings.  This is the point where camera operators generally reach their limit. If you’ve got 3 or more people appearing on-screen at once, you need a dedicated sound recordist. When you’re not able to put a microphone on everyone, you may consider a ‘stick’ microphone, like a news reporter – but a boom operator with a high-quality microphone on a long pole hovering above the action will get you better audio still.

Getting good sound is about more than the microphone – you may need to have multiple people listening to the audio that’s being recorded in real-time.  You may have to record your multiple audio sources separately from your video to get clean, discreet sound. (Especially if your camera is meant for taking photos.)  You may want to capture background sounds separately from dialog and combine them in post-production. Each of these scenarios requires equipment and expertise.  Spending more to get good audio, even at the expense of your camera budget is definitely the better investment.

Making Your Choices

While even a modest investment in post-production can improve your video, no amount of money or talent can recover unusable audio recordings.  Allocate your budget with an eye (or ear) towards sound, and work with your team to decide your priorities for a camera (and camera support!) with respect to your overall ‘look’ AND how you’ll get your content captured efficiently.

I’d love to hear about your wins, fails, or other tales from video production.  Let me know what you think I may have missed, or where I’ve saved you some headaches with a comment. You can keep reading this series by going to part 6, Editing and Post-Production here.