iPhone filming: what not to do 

When the content team was first created we wrote a blog post about who we are and what we do. In September 2018 we published an update, in the form of a video about our work. As the editor of this blog and a member of the content team, I took on the role of videographer and producer. I hadn't done much filming before, so I thought it would be cathartic to talk about the process and all of the mistakes I made. Perhaps you can learn from where I went wrong?

What I knew

There were two objectives for this video: to show the people who work in the team and have them talk about their work in their own words, and to practice filming on a mobile phone. Before we started filming, there were a few things that I knew would be tricky.

Finding a suitable filming location in Parliament can be difficult. As you can imagine, there are restrictions on where you can take pictures and video footage. So I knew that filming in some places would be difficult and I’d have to find somewhere with no restrictions.

I also wasn’t sure how good our microphones would be. I knew that I’d probably have to film in the open plan office and there would be background noise to contend with.

My lack of experience filming was also a barrier. I knew some of the basics as we’ve written about iPhone filming before, but that post represents the sum of my knowledge.

More amateur than auteur

Let’s start with the positives. I think the final cut is a good representation of what our team does. It wasn’t difficult to find good takes for each of the questions I asked members of the team and the enthusiasm, professionalism, and personality of my colleagues is clear to see.

I was also impressed with the one-take wonders (I’m looking at you, Jocelyn) and how willing my team were to participate in this video with someone who is more amateur than auteur.

Not testing first

Now for all the mistakes. If I learn only one thing from this experience, it’s that getting the sound right is hard. Really hard. It's even harder when you’re using a microphone for your iPhone that you have to attach to the device with sellotape because you stupidly ‘upgraded’ and it no longer has a headphone port.

I was surprised at how the volume of the audio changed depending on who was speaking. I know that everyone has a different pitch when they speak but it becomes really acute when you’re filming different people in similar spaces and trying to be consistent with the sound levels.

Next time I’m filming, I’ll do more testing before launching straight into the filming itself. It might mean having to change the position of the mic or moving it closer to the interviewee. Balancing the need for close proximity to your subject to capture an acceptable sound level and the distance that's needed for a well-framed shot is something I need to work on.

Background objects derailing shots

A screenshot from the video with a few distracting background objects

Naturally, there will be background distractions when you’re filming in a busy office. However, I found that it wasn’t the movement of the people that was distracting. It was the various objects that we have sitting around. When I was looking at the footage during editing, I was surprised and annoyed at some of the things that I saw in the shots which I hadn’t noticed when I was filming.

Take a look at the image above. That pink cushion and box of teabags are hard to miss, aren't they? I could easily have moved them out of the shot, but I was focused on my interviewee and the act of recording them. It’s like when you watch a Superman film and don’t understand how no-one in Metropolis has spotted that Clark Kent is Superman. How did I not notice that those things were in shot?

Lack of experience means you need to learn new things quickly

One of the things that I wasn’t aware of was just how long filming and editing take. Finding the right time and place to film five people took a couple of weeks and the editing process took much longer than I imagined. The subtitling and creation of graphics were also time-consuming. Again, my lack of experience meant that Google was my close friend throughout the process.

Only filming one take

I’d read up on interviewing techniques before filming the team and shooting for the edit, but in reality it’s much harder than it looks. I was very aware that everyone being filmed was taking the time out of their working day to do this so I really didn’t want to take up a lot of their time.

With hindsight, I think it’s sensible to get more footage than you need and then have a choice of the best takes to use. It would have meant 5 minutes more in front of the camera for my colleagues, but lots more time saved during editing.

I'd really like to create more videos for the blog as I think hearing people using their own words is one of the best ways to understand their work. Hopefully, I can find some more willing 'victims' and maybe, next time, I won’t make so many mistakes.

Watch the meet (some of) the content team video and leave your comments on our mobile filming experiment below. 

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