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Shooting Documentary Short Films

Lesson 7 of 16

Setting Up The Camera & Recording Audio

Griffin Hammond

Shooting Documentary Short Films

Griffin Hammond

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Lesson Info

7. Setting Up The Camera & Recording Audio

Lesson Info

Setting Up The Camera & Recording Audio

That's the checklist although I went there, it kind of quickly on is kind of weird in this space, so we're going to take a look at a video that breaks down how this works in the field so that you know, you're getting your interviews toe look nice and it's also going to cover a little bit of recording audio we're going to talk about, you know, it's hard in here to talk about exposure and white balance and focus, but you'll see some examples in the actual settings that I like um in the video let's take a look so we're in another location to do our second interview, it makes sense to do it somewhere else just for visual variety. Another thing I'll do is I'll probably put him facing the other direction, so that caught him together. You have some visual variety there in the direction they're looking space is big, so that shouldn't be hard for me to come for the good background. Um, but I don't know if I want all of this, like deep in the background or maybe it be interesting to shoot kind o...

f like close to it so that we see like some of its distorted lee large and some of its back there, and I'll play around for a second and just see what looks good in here. Sometimes I put myself in there, I mean, just to kind of see the framing I mean, I guess I just wanna make sure that it, like a human fits in the shot that I've, uh I've come up with some times I need the person to block something like this door. I just figure it's kind of interesting to block uh then just to check focus, but, you know, in a pinch of fun by myself, I can get the actual when every subject in there but I'd like to not used up too much of their time all these of jim's time and you can check the lighting. I mean, like right now I can already see that I'm gonna need lighting on jim to make this shot work become a little closer, I guess I try to get it. I tried to get the shot ninety percent figured out, you know, lighting and I'm roughly gonna frame it, but when they come in, they might be a little bit different height, so maybe I need to adjust the height of the tripod. Maybe that means I need to, like, just change the angle just a little bit to get the things in the background that I want, but I'm trying to figure most of it out, huh? Before they arrive yeah, thanks looks pretty good it's not as good as george's interview but that's ok I try to give george is the main character here and I want to give him the better environment in this environment school too which is not as I like the gritty factory although this the audio will probably much better in here with this really nicely lit background uh you know all these colors are popping and that's why I picked this area but because it's so well lit and this area is just not brightly lit like that he's significantly darker than the background so it'll just look a little bit unprofessional uh I'm just trying to balance everything out. So bye popping this on oh yeah, that actually looks pretty nicely balanced. I think I'll move this over a little bit so that our shadows are a little bit in the right area. Looks pretty good. I actually kind of messing with it right now the angle of this light uh I want it on the other side of me this time I'm gonna stand on the side of the camera I want the light over there because I think if I bring it over here let's roll on this it's just going toe like this just looks wrong it flattens you out everything in all your features there's flatter er if I bring this over here we start to get some more interesting shadows on your face. I think this might actually more interesting than back here that may actually do is just move everything back little bit so I can keep this to his side when I bring you up just a little bit that's better by moving in and kind of I can control a few things by how far I put the camera away from him. If I I really want to make him look close to the background, I can move back and zoom in and that'll that'll just kind of crush that distance between him in the background. In this case, though, I like the background is is big. Uh, and so if I zoom in, I just get a little bit of it. I want to see a lot more of it. So I'm going to move up closer to him and zoom out, which will distort everything a little bit. And now I can see pretty much all of that background and him in the same shot. So that's, what I'm doing here just kind of moving back and forth, figuring out how I want those proportions to interact, and I think I found it right here, this is what I want, so I have all the settings on my camera. Set emmanuel I want to take complete control of the exposure of the white balance the focus so start with focus thrill simple uh I just used the push to focus auto focus on my camera but it does not change during the shots not continuous autofocus I don't want it changing it all and this is a par focal lens meaning it does not change focus so if I zoom all the way and I can focus and assume out it's still gonna be there we have aperture here I'm set to the maximum my my lenses open as wide as khun go f two point eight uh and I'm doing that because I want to get this amount of shallow depth of field the things in the background of blurry if I wanted to control that if I actually wanted those things to be sharply and focused like this a mac sign I could drop the aperture down maybe around five or six five, six or something and now a museum in it's a little bit less blurry but you know this is getting darker it's living less light in so that's what I wanted if I wanted that in focus now I'm gonna have to bring up the so that's my like gain my exposure and that's one way I could shoot this but usually I like a challenge at the fields I'm gonna push this back down to two point eight compensate with the I s o that's the sos for is to help fix that exposure problem you've created after you, uh, pick the aperture and the depth of field you want on shutter speed. I'm going to set it tio one sixty one over one sixteenth of a second and that's because I'm shooting thirty frames a second and generally for the right amount of motion blur. I want the shutter speed to be half as long as the frame rate, so every frame is one thirtieth the second one, sixtieth of a second for shutter speed. So with that with my aperture set, my shutter speeds that my eye so set nicely. Make sure it's white balanced correctly. You have some choices. You can use one of the pre sets it's already here. Maybe one of these will match my lighting conditions. I don't want to use auto white balance, though. Uh, I could even go to kelvin and say, well, my light here's five thousands we push this thing upto five thousand kelvin. But a lot of light in here is a little bit more. Yellows were getting kind of a fella. Look so here's a couple options I have, I can do a custom white balance. And you just put something white in front of it and jim actually gave me this little key chain you know white balance card I worry that it's a little bit too small but as long as this is in the light if that kind of fill the frame with it should be able to do a white bowne setting around top of it and actually that looks pretty good for a little bit maybe more yellow than I want um actually that's pretty good we'll try it again with the la times I just do it with whatever white thing I have around like a piece of paper he put that in front of camera you're telling the camera what white should look like in these lighting conditions and it sets the colors of the frame of accordingly yeah I think it looks pretty good so now I've taken complete control of everything I know what the shot is gonna look like it's not gonna change on me you know if you are shooting with the iphone or something you wanna make sure using an app that controls all of this stuff that locks it down so that you're not shifting throughout the interview because if we take a ten minute interview and we cut it up and parts of it look more yellow than other parts is just going to ride my editor crazy so I'm just tryingto lock it down on tripod lock down the settings make it very consistent throughout stand right here ok let me ask you to move around a couple times and I need to mic you up um put it in the pocket and you're perfect already untucked so if you don't mind just running this up your shirt and you just pop it out here one more one more if you just won't throw this thing in your pocket clip this on as much as I can I try to get help from the talent when making them up because and I'm going to put your hands in people's exactly no hands up shirt but if you create a nice report I think steve is okay with me touching a few things here with women sometimes it can be challenging depending on what kind of dress they're wearing you know if there's not a place for it to sit here maybe needs to come up the back of a dress and maybe clipped to the to the side or something but I'll have them do that themselves sometimes people need to run off to the bathroom to figure out how to get this up the shirt but once we have it here I'm just trying to find a way to get it as close to the mouth as possible I mean I guess ideally would be way up here but that might look kind of weird so we're trying to find a balance between close to the mouth and not like right in the middle of the shot. So it's great when we could just kind of hide it in a lapel or something be okay like a boot in here? Would you like a boot? Sometimes if I really don't want to see it, I'll find a way to kind of like get it inside the shirt a little bit, but I think with documentary like he's, not an actor we're not trying to hide the fact that this film it's okay to have it out it's just not okay to have a wire hanging down. So I think that's that's simple. It looks good. Sounds good. We'll just check the audio levels. I assume they'll be different in here because it's, different environment, a different person. Just count to ten for me, steve that's. Good. And I'm actually stand on the other side of the tripod this time because I want a different look. So have steve's eye line on this side this time and I'm ashamed to have you stand a little bit over that way. And what I also like to do is I wanna make sure that steve is not facing his body towards the camera if you just want to face your body towards me, uh, that always just creates a little bit it's a little bit more interesting to see someone's body kind of slanted that way it's also slimming for people think is to slowly but this looks this looks better than if I had him square it up against the the camera he is a little bit taller than I expected someone to go up and I'm getting some of that reflection of this light in his glasses you look good in the glass okay? That is good and now we're just getting a little bit of uh well we're still getting some of it coppola but higher that is perfect. Yeah he's well, let me check the focus on him and uh it's white balanced everything said it accordingly someone start rolling audio and roll video by the way this is gonna work is look at me the whole time like cameras not there um and that's the good stuff. Thank you. Thank you. I just got done with the interview with steve. It ran about fifteen minutes and at the beginning of it I had this idea while he was talking about a mac and what his company does. We have all these products behind him and I thought it might be interesting because I'm on a tripod I could it's locked down the camera's not moving I could have him run back, pick something up and bring it back and if I speeded up in the editing, it won't look old jerky, because not handheld eso perfect opportunity get kind of a fun shot like that that I can use in the piece, but I didn't want to interrupt the flow, so I waited till the very end of the interview to do it. It's a good thing I have this tripod because in a long interview like that, it would have been really stressful on my shoulders toe hold this camera the whole time, but sometimes I do that. Sometimes I do run and gun interviews, and if I'm doing that shoulder rig can be handy. This isa reflects fabrication shouldering that I use you notice that. Use my clamp to mount the audio record here I can put my camera on here. I use the same quick release plates across my tripod, my shoulder rig and all my gear to make this easy transition. But the benefit of using something like this is that I still want to get that island match. I don't want to be the camera guy. I want to be the interviewer and the camera guy. So one thing I can do here because I can change the angle of the camera a little bit and popped out the cd like this when I could do is I could set up like this and have the person look at me. But I have the camera a little bit away from mace I create that same look that I would on a tripod ah and then if I'm interviewing someone on the other side switch this over here and do the same sort of thing now I'll do this I mean I don't always travel with the shoulder rig so sometimes I do this handheld and it's kind of awkward and doesn't result in my best work but I do the same sort of thing in the field a lot since I just travel really light like this and I'll just try to set up an interview shot like this where I kind of look at the person but I have the camera here because again doing this just wouldn't give me the interview look that I want I want them looking a little bit off camera so I just try to keep it level keep it steady look back at the all city everyone's well to make sure because it'll drift a little bit uh but that's how aiken kind of regardless what I'm using a tripod shoulder ego or handheld I still try to create that same documentary look I feel like the interview went pretty well one of things I like to do uh I have to find a balance of paying attention to the camera and making sure that it looks ok but I also want to give my interview subject plenty of eye contact smile I feel like smiling because so much just to bring out an energy level in your interview subject if you just sit there and you're like staring at the camera the whole time, you're probably going to get a good interview, so I'm trying to smile nod uh, but also try to find that balance of not interrupting too much o r staring too much, but I felt like we had a little fun and I was able to get some good quotes out of them little nicely in the piece. I think my driving force is just curiosity. I try to just listen to the person of interviewing and think about things I actually want to know because things I'm curious about, hopefully my audience will be curious about it, too, and then I just take a look at my notes to make sure I haven't missed any major steps in the dramatic model that I'm looking for. But he explained a good problem, and the solution is that he's come up with and how he fits into the company. I think we have, uh, some good material there. I noticed everyone so well, I could see the reflection of the light in his glasses, and that just happens when you have glasses that are really convex, they're goingto see a lot of things, so I'm not terribly concerned about that. But I think audio is good I guess we'll find out in a quieter setting how much background noise for here but uh I think it looks good I really like the backdrop let me show you the result of that second interview I was like, I have one interview that I'm really proud of like I like george's interview and then steve's interviews it's fine having kids good but it's uh I don't love it as much and it did turn out a little bit more yellow then I will will end up with in the final product it's fine though it's close uh although sometimes I kind of like wonder how yellow I should go because yellow can make someone look more natural like his skin tone looks really good it's just the fact that like he's lit with a kind of wider light more blue than that background so the whole frame looks kind of yellow and so sometimes even when you like white balance correctly, if it's just a yellow space, you kind of have a look that just looks a little bit wrong so in the editing we'll see what what steve and ends up doing with the everything, but if it were me, I'd probably pushed that just a little bit into the blue space and I wouldn't have to push it far so it'll look okay when it's done this is what I love about filmmaking that it takes so long to explain things like it's such a simple it's just one shot, but we can talk about it for fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes about how to set up the interview checklist is me at my best trying to distill it down to just a few sentences? So it's like here's? I mean, it really is I just think it's important to review it right here, it's, like we start with the location and tryingto get that framing right, then we're looking for the eye line, then, you know, we're doing the audio, then we're getting the white balance in the in the focus and the exposure correctly and the the right level for the tripod and then were and then we're good to go. Uh, this is a shot of jim as he's standing in for the shot, and actually my white balance might have been better here than in the final interview that happens to me sometimes, but I was moving the light around like this is a this is what I think is a pretty ideal lighting location. We're getting a little bit of shadow over here. I mean, it helps us, like, see that he has a nose, I think we could tell that he has a face, um and I guess I moved it a little bit more over maybe it's like two stark uh then I like brought it more close to the middle um mrs oh yeah here's me messing around like putting it right in the middle and it just you could tell this big light there I don't know there's something about that like flashlight in the woods look like blair witch project like that if that light on top of the camera look that I hate and actually I have a little and grab something real quick one thing I find myself doing if I ever have to use light I hate on camera lighting I'm trying to make it look as much as natural as I can but I have this little flash bracket that it's intended for photographers if you need a flash and I guess maybe to serve the same purpose to put it off camera but what I'll use it for is I can mount this on the back of my camera and if I had to put in on camera light on my camera instead of putting it right here in the middle even just putting it a few inches away from the lens is going to help get away from that look and moved to a more appropriate angle I mean I don't know you you could decide what what you like best for your project but I prefer a little bit of a little bit of dimension on the face and by not putting it on top, I think it just kind of like it tells the audience like, oh that's some other light it's not and on camera like that, the audience can tell if it's an on camera light or not, I don't wantto as a filmmaker I want to be is invisible as possible, so I want to make you think that this just ambient natural lighting not like hey, look came in with a whole bunch of light and so that's why I ended up with four for steve's interview it looks even softer there he looks, he looks pretty good. He looks nice and warm and rule of thirds again he's in focus, we got that blurry background the way I want it all, though I could change that if I needed teo and because I'm pretty close to him like you saw, I'm able to get all of that if I take a step back and zoom in now I'm seeing this much of the background behind him it's kind of nice to see a little bit of the of the logo and I had him blocking the door, which I thought was kind of ugly it was like blinds all messed up every day, but not as not as I don't love it as much as georges interview that's okay, george is my favorite it's I give him the best one, but I'm looking for visual variety. I like the fact that george is looking this way. Steve is looking that way, so when I have to intercut them in the editing, you don't have to and sometimes I screwed up sometimes, like all of the people that are talking about one thing, I happen to shoot on one side and all the people talking about another topic on this it's, not the end of the world, but it is nice to have some visual variety that way helps intercut on the backgrounds are different, so they it feels good just have different backgrounds, and it helps like georges, the tool guy is in the tool room. Steve is the boss he's in the boss room so that's the result of that interview checklist? It takes me when I'm explaining it to you in front of a camera and takes me twenty minutes to set up an interview that way, but when I'm not talking to anyone, I could do it in a few minutes. I usually tell people I need about five to ten minutes get in a space, just get all my gear out of my bag and set up and then they can come in because I don't wanna take up too much of your time.

Class Description

Today’s media landscape is largely made up of regular folks who know how to spot a good story and use basic gear to document the world around them. Find out how you can join their ranks and make compelling, marketable shorts in Shooting Documentary Short Films with Griffin Hammond. 

Griffin made a name for himself with the ode to an iconic hot sauce, Sriracha. In this class, he’ll teach you how to identify, shoot, and share documentary-style video. 

You’ll learn how to:

  • Recognize and tell a good story
  • Capture high-caliber footage with low-budget gear 
  • Incorporate all the essentials for online and TV news
  • Produce corporate work clients love
  • Find your audience and monetize your work

Griffin will share tips on lighting, framing, and interviewing subjects so you walk away with lots of usable footage. You’ll watch as Griffin shares clips from a one-day shoot and you’ll learn exactly what it takes to turnaround a complete documentary-style short on a deadline.

You’ll also learn a handful of helpful editing techniques and get insights on the ethical and legal responsibilities of documentary filmmaking.

If you want to learn how to tell meaningful stories that look great and sell, while working on a shoestring budget, don’t miss Shooting Documentary Short Films with Griffin Hammond. 


Bruce Gruenbaum

First off, if you have not watched Sriracha, go and do that. The techniques that Griffin used in it are pretty incredible. This course expands on those techniques and what really surprised me about this course is how simple the setup is that he uses to make some absolutely amazing documentaries. The quality of what you can produce with the most basic of equipment is really mind-boggling. Some of the most interesting stuff was about B-Roll and how to use it to create a visually interesting presentation. The idea of a lot of small clips that show specific information is invaluable. The techniques he uses to create shots like the one where the camera was placed on top of a cart and pushed down an aisle was amazing. More than anything else, the ideas and tips I came away with have helped me find ways of making my own videos much more interesting.

a Creativelive Student

Griffin is a great storyteller and I was hoping to learn a LOT from this class. But I didn't. I'm an experienced corporate video editor/shooter who's always dreamed of doing a documentary. About half of the class is the very basics of video production (b-roll, rule of thirds, good audio) and the other half is interesting content that seems to cut off just as it becomes engaging. I'm not sure why Creative Live edited it that way other than to extend the number of segments? Although the next segment doesn't seem to pick up where the previous left off. I've never felt that way before about CL, but it seems like every segment is cut right as it gets to things I'm interested in. It did have some great information about revenue streams for a short form documentary, but I was left wanting to learn more. If you're just starting out... this is a great resource to learn the basics of non-fiction filming. If you already work professionally in the field I would pass.

Tim Greig

This is brilliant. Griffin is such a generous, self-deprecating filmmaker you just can't help but love him. He goes into great detail on just how he makes his documentaries and other work and is so inspiring, mostly because he is a one-man band and produces such interesting and wonderful videos. Thank you Griffin and CreativeLive for offering this.