Read the new article after the break!
Every time WEBCAMS gets a new castmember--or if I'm producing another collaborative show over the internet--I always share a handful of pointers with the newbies. Since WEBCAMS is collaborative by nature, it makes sense to write one master article on the subject and just refer people to it. And keep in mind: these tips are useful even if you're not working on WEBCAMS!
First and foremost, congratulations on participating in a video collab! Be it for a Horbawrong Studios production or something else, I can assure that there is something genuinely special about collaborating with others on creative endeavors.
When it comes to video, the producer/editor needs to have the very best in quality that you can give him. If all you have is "poor" video and audio equipment, than no matter how much tweaking you do, your footage will just be bad in quality. Based on the many different people I've collabed with, I feel fairly comfortable in saying that MOST people are capable of recording in a very decent quality. For the purpose of this article, I'm going to divide my tips into the two categories of "Technical" and "Creative".
This section covers how to capture the very best quality video and audio.
- Camcorders. Webcams are simple and convenient, and are beneficial when you're reading material off your computer screen like you would a teleprompter. But if you have the option, record your footage using a camcorder (DV quality or better -- avoid the cheap flash cams) and then capture it on your computer. This isn't the simplest way to go, but it does deliver the best in quality and framerate.
- Webcams. If you have to use a webcam (which is what the majority do) try and use the best quality webcam possible. There are no sweeping black-and-white rules on this, but there are definitely some helpful guidelines. Those $20 webcams from Walmart? Don't use those. Integrated webcams? Not the best idea, but you can probably make them work. Basically, you want to be able to capture at a minimum of VGA resolution (640x480) without too much lag in the framerate. The best thing you can do for yourself is find any manual settings for your cam and familiarize yourself with them. If the cam is constantly autofocusing, find the manual focus setting. If your skin is blue or some other random color, chances are your White Balance settings need to be adjusted. Another thing you'll want to learn about are the exposure levels, if your cam has those settings.
- Framerate is usually what makes webcam footage unusable. Bad framerates not only look horrible, but they can really screw up the audio during the editing. Obviously, if you're recording with a camcorder, this isn't an issue. A camcorder will record 30 frames per second (fps) no matter what. Webcams will range from 12 to 30fps depending on quality of the cam, resolution of the recorded image, and the computer hardware supporting the cam. As you can see, there's a lot of variables and it's easy to screw it up. Basic pointers you should know: the higher the video resolution (VGA and above) the lower the framerate; good lighting will equal good framerate.
- Lighting. Like I just mentioned, you want to have decent lighting so that if you're using a webcam, you can maintain the best possible framerate. Lower the quality of your lighting and your cam's fps will drop dramatically. Whether you're using a camcorder or webcam, decent lighting will make or break your footage. And it's not hard: a simple desklamp or two, lighting you from the front, will usually be more than enough--but be careful not to wash yourself out with lights that are too bright! I have a handful of plain white t-shirts that I use to diffuse my lights. Also, I use compact fluorescents which really help reduce the heat while taping. Make sure you have some kind of a lighting and play around with it to see what looks best.
- Audio. The fastest way I've seen people ruin a good looking video is by recording some crap-tastic audio. My warning to everyone before they start collabing is if you can't record good audio, my collabs aren't for you. One of the major things people do wrong in their audio is speak too softly. If you're not speaking loud enough, your microphone is going to pick up a lot of ambient noise. While editing, in order to balance the audio, I will raise the volume on a person who spoke too softly .... but that also raises the level of ambient noise. The fact of the matter is that MOST integrated microphones will do the trick just fine -- AS LONG as you speak loudly and clearly (speak LOUD, don't yell! Or in other words: don't whisper!). What always helps is a dedicated microphone and if you have one, don't think that excuses you from keeping the volume of your voice up. What a good, dedicated mic will do is isolate your voice and cut back on the ambient noise. One of the best computer mic's I ever used with videos came from a cheap headset I got from Walmart. The mic was detachable and I plugged it right into the front of my laptop.
- Submitting footage. Once you've got your footage for a collab recorded, the next last thing you need to do is submit it to the editor. Depending on how you recorded your footage and how big the files are, this can be accomplished through a variety of ways. The simplest thing to use is yousendit.com. Free use is limited to 100mb files. If you use a mac and pay for Mobile Me, you have plenty of iDisk space to share a file from. My #1 recommendation is always to create an account with blip.tv and upload your raw footage there. Blip.tv allows uploads of any length, and anyone can download the original video file (instead of only having access to the encoded .flv). In my opinion, this makes blip.tv a collaborator's dream come true.
This section of the article will cover the performance aspects of a collab.
- Make the words your own. The most important thing a performer can do -- especially in scripted videos -- is to take words their characters says and make them their own. Writer's aren't perfect and without a director to tell you exactly how a line should read, it's up to you to make the words sound right when they're coming out of your mouth. You should never feel that you have to read a line verbatim. If you have to adjust it in order for it to work for you, feel free to do so.
- Double check that you got all of your lines. As you scroll through your script while you record your lines, be very careful not to skip over a line ... it's easy to do and I see it happen far too often. If you don't trust yourself, print the script out and take a highlighter to your lines. Taking an extra minute to ensure that you recorded all of your lines can save the editor a huge amount of hassle and avoid a potential crisis later on.
- Multiple takes. The key to a good performance is being able to record multiple takes, and finding a different way to do each take. Always work one line a time, record three or four takes, and then move on to the next line (as opposed to running through the script and recording the lines one way and then starting at the beginning to do it a different way. A warning, though: don't go overboard! Multiple takes will raise the odds of nailing a performance, but too many takes just makes the editor's job difficult. Also, if you sense that you're doing each take basically the same way, save everyone some time and stop -- if you can't come up with a different read for the line, don't bother with multiple takes.
- Finally, have fun. Which is what this is all about! And trust me: if you're having fun while you're recording your lines, it will definitely come through in your performance.
Did I miss anything? Leave me a comment and I'll update the article.