How to turn your video into a “motion picture”

Not long ago I was having a chinwag with an old friend of mine who is a video editor at the UK’s BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation.) He was spitting fur and feathers to me about how young, springing BBC news crews were being given shiny new video recorders and told to go out and capture some jolly interesting stories.

How to turn your video into a "motion picture"

Even a simple DIY video needs to tell your story – not just illustrate the dialogue

Once they had mastered the buttons and things, off they would go and shoot what they thought might work for a stills shoot – single images in a row.

But of course, only ever having used stills cameras in their short, sweet pasts – if, even, that – they knew as much about making “motion pictures” as I know about trigonometry.

Why anything but “selfie” video needs to be a “motion picture”

I’m not talking about the current fascination for Facebook Live videos where what’s seen is just a picture of one, two or more people talking. That type of video irritates me a little, but only because the quality is often poor which takes me back to my video production days when poor quality was something we loathed, and our clients loathed. Otherwise I love them for what they are.

Today viewers accept that such “live” video is hardly going to be perfect. And the fresh, vibrant immediacy of live online video – crappy quality though it usually offers – outranks the stuffy outcomes of the pre-recorded/ professionally edited video programs we were producing 20 years ago … because it’s live.

But of course there is a big difference between that “live” video and video designed to communicate on a “storytelling,” non-interactive basis … about more permanent issues, business communication, charity messages and more.

So despite “motion picture” being a term that dates back to the early 20th century or so, it’s still the most relevant term I can find that accurately describes the difference between “stills” and now “video” in the more formal sense, when a more considered approach is called for.

When you make a video it needs to tell a story – not illustrate it

And this is why my friend, the video editor at the UK’s BBC, was throwing his toys out of the pram over the incompetence of these young, untrained journos given the kit to make videos, but not being trained on how to use it effectively.

“They would bring back a load of material that took snapshots of the story concerned,” he growled, “but without any concept of continuity. So no connecting shots, no establishing shots, no cutaway shots, no diddly.”

“These little snots would then expect us editors to make a news clip or feature story into something coherent from this utter sh*te. Lamentable.” From here on he stuffed his nose into his drink (he wasn’t driving) and left me to consider the shakedown of what he had just said.

You’ll find another 18 articles on writing for video and allied video production tips, by me and a number of other experts – click right here. Help yourself!

Where people are still going wrong with DIY video

I have had many years experience at making videos as a producer and scriptwriter and know exactly what he was talking about.

And the harsh reality is that even if you make a little video yourself on your IPhone and edit in some jolly whizzing bow ties into the edit from your Mac system…if you don’t understand the basics of “making a motion picture” your video is still likely to be crappy.

To make this relevant, let’s assume you are going to make a simple documentary video, running for a few minutes, rather like a news or feature item that might be badly done by my friend’s (above) colleagues at the BBC.

What they would have turned in to the long-suffering editors, would have been one long, tedious wide shot of a presenter/interviewer talking to the interviewee. If they were feeling very inspired they might have taken a 3 second shot of the outside of the building. 

Result? Either a very long and dull interview, or a very short one – with nearly all having been cut out to get it over with as soon as possible. Not what you want for your video, right?

Tips to plan your DIY video so it makes sense and tells your story

If you’re just using one location like your office, hospital, home etc., take some “establishing shots” to help viewers locate it in time and space. Show, say, the presenter arriving outside the building in a car, parking it, walking up into the reception. (These can be separate shots cut together, rather than one long sequence.) This gives time for a voice over to introduce the video.

Once you get into the area where the conversation/interview is to happen, make sure you take plenty of wide shots of the whole space: these are sometimes called “master shots.” You might show the presenter (if there is one!) walking in and shaking hands with whoever is to be interviewed, and both sitting down. Then take a few sequences, still wide, of them talking to each other.

You need to show the interviewee speaking to the interviewer – not looking at the camera. (That makes them look shifty and nervous.) You then have a choice of the following options, assuming you only have one camera:

If you want to see the interviewer/presenter asking the questions, with only one camera you will need to shoot the interviewer asking the questions after the interview is actually over. This requires some acting ability on the interviewer’s part. In your shoes, I would only ever ask a professional to do this.

You can leave the interview as it is, with the questions being heard in the background.

You can cut out the questions in the edit, and just have the interviewee speaking. In this case be sure to ask the interviewee to start every response with a statement, preferably recapping on the question. Don’t encourage problems here by letting the interviewer ask questions requiring a “yes” or “no” answer.

There is also the option to shoot “noddies,” where each speaker looks ostensibly at the other as if listening to what they’re saying (but there is no-one else there, of course!) These are immensely useful for editing purposes BUT you have to be careful to get the eyelines right, so practice first. Your master shots also are useful to cover audio edits.

If you are showing more than one location, don’t just jump from one to the next. Shoot some more establishing shots  – say the presenter walking up to their car and getting in, then cut to the same car arriving at another building – then shoot as for the first establishing sequence.

“Cutaways” are shots not of the people talking, but of what they’re talking about. These are essential to avoid boredom setting in on the part of viewers, and also act as necessary illustrations of the subject matter. Be sure to include plenty of these in addition to the establishing shots, using the presenter or interviewee’s audio tracks to accompany the images. (There’s nothing more boring than long sequences of “talking heads.”)

You can also cut away to graphics, charts, etc., but bear in mind these – being static – aren’t very interesting. Real life is better. Graphics are normally inserted digitally towards the end of your edit.

This should leave you with plenty of content to tell your video story well!

Please share your own experiences of good – and bad – DIY videos…

Image with thanks to