Tips: self shooting actuality

Sam Bailey is a freelance shooting producer/director who has worked on Coast, Countryfile and The One Show. He shares his tips for shooting actuality on location, focusing on what you need to make sure you cover a sequence.

Recce and plan
Even when filming actuality it's worth having a recce to think about what's going to happen and where the action is likely to take place. Talk to your contributors and take a good look around the location. This will help you to work out where you need to be to get the best shot of the action and is also useful for assessing what is safe.

Know your sequence
You probably have a good idea of what the main story is before you set off but it’s important to know in advance what you need to tell the story. Before you leave the shoot make sure you have plenty of shots that illustrate your main story, not just the person speaking but any objects or other characters involved.

"Be decisive and know what you need to tell the story." – Sam Bailey

The story may change on location and you will need to think on your feet. If new topics are discussed you need to make sure you remember to get a variety of shots of them too.

Cutaways, cutaways, cutaways
Cutaways are vital. You not only need them to help you tell your story, but you also need them to give you options in the edit and to make your sequence visually interesting and dynamic.

Cutaways could include a close up (CU) shots of objects, big establishing wide shots and picturesque general views (GVs). These cutaways will be sucked up by your editor for all kinds of reasons. They will be used to cover cuts in the dialogue, as background for voice over (VO) and for music sequences.

Before you leave a location, have a think to make sure you have the shots to help craft a beginning, a middle and an end to each sequence.

All shapes and sizes
It's very easy to get stuck shooting in one position. The best self shooters are the ones that really move around. Make sure you cover your story from lots of different angles, mixing up the style and the size of your shots. The more diverse your footage, the more interesting your sequence will be. But do make sure you get the basic shots covered first, in the style of your programme, before getting too arty.

Be in control
Some filming situations can feel a little overwhelming but you still need to be in control. Don't be afraid to ask your contributor or presenter to do things again for you if they can, especially to help you get a nice close up of that object they are discussing. You have to choose your moments to be able to do things again. Some things can't be set up and can only be done once. But this is where a recce and talking to your contributor in advance will help you plan.

Edit experience
It's very easy to get carried away and over shoot but always think about the sequence. Is the shot going to work in the sequence? Where would it go? Is it going to be useful to the editor? There's no point in shooting without thinking and just clogging up the edit with footage that's never going to get used. This takes time to digitize, store and look through, adding unnecessary costs to your budget.

It's a good tip to get yourself some edit experience before you start self shooting. So you can see what shots get used and why. The more time in the edit you get, the more you'll understand what's needed for shooting actuality.