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You’ve got a script, you’ve got your actors, but actually shooting your comedy masterpiece might not be as easy as first meets the eye. We're more than happy to have something a bit iffy if it's really funny - after all, it's the ideas that really count. But a bit of polish can make a real difference, so here are a few guidelines to follow to shoot the best possible video.
Technology is moving at such pace that you don’t necessarily need something from Spielberg’s munitions factory and a personalised director’s chair to become a fully fledged comedy film maker. These days even some advanced mobile phones will provide the necessary quality, and a standard camcorder that can record moving pictures in colour and with sound should more than suffice.
Once you’re happy with your equipment, take time to familiarise yourselves with it and shoot away. Here’s a guide to keeping the quality high.
Avoid shaky camera work. You may think this will make your piece look arty, but it will probably just look like the cameraman’s been on the loop juice. Unless you have the steadiest of hands, prop yourself against something, kneel or even lie on the ground.
Accessories available to help you improve the technical quality of your recordings include tripods, monopods, chest and shoulder pods. All simple devices to help keep your camera stable.
It’s vital your comedy video is filmed at the correct brightness levels. The automated exposure system built into cameras is a great help.
For bright shots the aperture closes tight, for dimly lit shots it opens to its maximum to allow as much light in as possible.
There may be some situations where the lighting conditions are misread by the camera, and you’ll have to go for the manual approach. For example, you might pan across from a brightly lit area to shadow and the automated response just can't adjust in time. Try overcoming auto exposure problems by adjusting the composition. Where the main subject is dimly lit against bright surroundings, zoom in on the subject so the area of dark background is increased.
When the light is coming from behind the subject, making it appear in silhouette, you can boost exposure by using a backlight compensator (a light fixed behind the camera and focusing on the subject).
Your video recorder will be equipped with an automatic white balance (AWB) facility, which makes the necessary adjustments to ensure correct reproduction of all colours.
Depending on your location, there are manual settings you can adjust to improve colour control. The tungsten setting is appropriate for work in lit interiors and the daylight setting for exterior shots. Get these two mixed up and you may end up with an orange or blue tinged production.
Filters eliminate unwanted light on outdoor shots. You can easily change and improve the image with the use of the lens filters. The skylight (ultraviolet) filter is the most valuable filter for video as it helps to reduce the blue haze common on sunny days.
Other filters include the polarizing filters (increase image sharpness and suppress reflections from non-metallic surfaces), neutral density filters (reduce contrast ratios and depth of field) and colour filters (enhance scenes by providing an overall colour cast).
Blurred shots don’t look great, so make sure you always have a sharply defined image. The auto-focus system will help ensure your subjects are sharply focused, either through infrared beams measuring your distance from the subject or the through-the-lens (TTL) method, which uses an image sensor to detect image sharpness. But both systems have drawbacks so using the manual focus option will allow you to compensate for inaccuracies.
Panning is where you pivot the camera around on its axis. When panning, determine where you want to pan to and from, make your camera move as smoothly as possible, and keep a constant speed.
Similar to panning but involves tilting the camera through a vertical axis. Start slowly and rise to a consistent speed and slow to a gentle stop.
Moving with the camera
Forget the ministry of funny walks, we’re not looking for the next John Cleese here. But, try walking with legs bent and your body lowered. This lowers your centre of gravity and enables you to avoid the rise and fall of normal walking. When moving sideways (crabbing), swing one leg in front of the other as you move.
Always shoot moving shots with both eyes open. You can then make sure you don’t bump into anything as you move.
For tracking shots, try using a trolley of some kind, and have someone push you smoothly along.
Always be wary of using too many zoom shots as they can be annoying to the viewer. Only use them for specific purposes, such as emotion on a character’s face.
Zooming out can reveal hidden detail that may change the viewer’s perception of the shot, adding a comic twist to a grave situation.
Use headphones to monitor the quality of your sound recordings. The closed back type that cover the ears are better for eliminating unwanted sounds.
Test the sound recordings by altering yor distance from the subject until you are happy with the result. When shooting indoors, be aware of the effect of acoustics on the clarity of the sound. When recording move the camcorder as close as possible to the source of the sound for improved results.
To avoid the problems of wind buffeting outdoors, either buffer the wind by standing with your back to the mic or screen the mic with a natural sound break such as a wall.
Built in mics have limited capabilities so supplementary mics could be in order to improve sound quality. Mounted mics plug into the camcorder's sound socket, and then for interviews there are cardiod, supercardiod and even hypercardiod mics, which have increasingly narrow spheres and depend on how professional you want your production to be. Then there are tie clip mics, personal and less intrusive.
Not just required for poorly lit surroundings, additional lightings can help improve picture quality in many indoor locations. Generally the heavier the light the more powerful it will be.
Onboard lights (mounted on the camcorder accessory shoe) are the simplest to use, but hand held lights are generally more powerful and should be held above the height of the camera lens and angled downwards onto the subject. Mains lights can produce a strong flood of light over a wide area.
With the essence of comedy being...er...timing, it doesn’t all come down to how the actors interpret the script, the editor has a key role to play too. Getting the order and length of shots correct is a skill that lies at the heart of video making.
You will learn with experience how to edit your work for best effect, but you should think about where and when to use cut-aways (where you cut from the main action) and cut-ins (examining in close detail a subject that was previously a small element in a wide screen shot). Try and avoid distracting jump cuts, where you turn your camera off and then on whilst in the same position, creating the impression of chunks of time being omitted.
If you're sticking to your home computer to edit your work there are a number of software options you can use. Which one you go for depends on personal preference and what you want to achieve. Even the most advanced editing software can be set up in your bedroom: all you need is the software and enough memory in your computer to be able to work with your rushes.
Introductory video editing applications include:
For more advanced editing:
If you want to use a dedicated facility to edit then you might be able to use ‘down time,’ at weekends or in the evenings.
A good middle ground between editing yourself and going into a post-production house is to hire a kit from someone, who may also edit it for you.
Words of the wise
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