How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck: Advice to Make Any Amateur Look Like a Pro

Newly updated and revised, How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck is a quick and easy guide that will make your video better instantly—whether you read it cover to cover or just skim a few chapters. It’s about the language of video and how to think like a director, regardless of equipment (amateurs think about the camera, pros think about communication). It’s about the rules developed over a century of movie-making—which work just as well when shooting a two-year-old’s birthday party on your phone. Written by Steve Stockman, the director of the award-winning feature Two Weeks, plus TV shows, music videos, and hundreds of commercials, How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck explains in 74 short, pithy, insightful chapters how to tell a story and entertain your audience. In other words, how to shoot video people will want to watch.
Here’s how to think in shots—how to move-point-shoot-stop-repeat, instead of planting yourself in one spot and pressing “Record” for five minutes. Why never to shoot until you see the whites of your subject’s eyes. Why to “zoom” with your feet and not the lens. How to create intrigue on camera. The book covers the basics of video production: framing, lighting, sound (use an external mic), editing, special effects (turn them off!), and gives advice on shooting a variety of specific situations: sporting events, parties and family gatherings, graduations and performances. Plus, how to make instructional and promotional videos, how to make a music video, how to capture stunts, and much more. At the end of every chapter is a suggestion of how to immediately put what you’ve learned into practice, so the next time you’re shooting you’ll have begun to master the skill. Steve’s website (stevestockman.com) provides video examples to illustrate different production ideas, techniques, and situations, and his latest thoughts on all things video.

Community Review  

  • With no prior training, I was immediately drawn to this book to improve the quality my home videos.
    Here are my take-aways to Plan-Move-Point-Shoot-Stop-Edit:
    I.Plan:
    – Make sure that every video, scene, and shot has a clear intent of how you want the audience to react and be explicit
    – Select a point-of-view (the “side”/opinion of a specific individual)
    – Either script or build a checklist of an anticipated key shots
    II. Move:
    – Keep the light behind you; make sure the lighting matches the story
    – Match location, background, and foreground to the story
    – Make moves in large increments
    III. Point:
    – Focus on people’s eyes to capture emotion
    – Do not move the camera or use digital zoom before or during the shot
    – Keep the focus of your image out of the middle square of a 3×3 grid
    – Use an external mic (lavaliere or boom)
    IV. Shoot:
    – Make every shot an action with a clear hero and a beginning, middle, and end.
    – Make each scene answer questions from the prior scene and raise new ones
    – If using two cameras, manually synch their AWB (automatic white balance)
    V. Stop:
    – Keep shots under 10 seconds (if traveling, shoot two 10-sec shots per hour)
    VI. Edit:
    – Keep videos as short as possible; if doing a how-to, consider breaking into a series
    – Edit out everything that does not need to be there
    – Limit the use of graphics/text/titles; if used, make text/titles simple (ex: Helvetica) and effect-free
    – Consider using a call-back to link the final shot to the initial shot
    – Music & Sound: Test music that is on-story, counter-story; and unrelated and see what works; Add natural sound effects
    – Rely almost completely on cuts with a rare wipe (to convey movement) and even rarer dissolve (to shift to a somber mood)
    – Seek feedback and address all common concerns and think about unique ideas/concerns
    [UPDATE: I updated this review from 2 stars to 5 stars on Jan 14, 2013. Though the book has a high degree of redundancy, it has truly transformed the way that I approach video.]
  • I think Amazon needs to implements some rules about reviews where the product was given away for free. Here should be a mandatory ratio of at least 1:1, endorsed vs. genuine. Many books on film and video production have ratios of 15:1, endorsed vs. actual real-world readers.
    My review for this book is 5 stars. But be careful when looking for other good books. Make sure there are more genuine reviews than endorsed views. The easiest way to do is is by sticking to books that have over 100 reviews.
    The new “not yet rated” has been replaced with 15-20 reviews averaging around a 4.5.
    This book is great for all he reasons everyone else says it is. I just wanted to share some advice as well.
  • The book is everything it’s cracked up to be – very solid information well-presented.
    Among other nuggets, the book emphasizes the importance of caring about the audience, respecting audience members, guarding their time, refusing to bore them. I recently spent good money for a memoir by a prominent football coach. I can’t get over how that guy and his ghostwriter put together that book so casually and lazily. Major disrespect for the audience.
    Stockman’s appendix includes film suggestions. Nice to see “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The Godfather” there.
    There’s very little about technical stuff here, i.e., not much at all about compression rates etc. Plenty of books supply that stuff. “The Filmmaker’s Handbook” covers this turf very well.
    Stockman’s book is not only well-written, it’s well-designed and produced – short chapters, plenty of white space, excellent typefaces.

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