Thinking visually and other challenges of film making

For one day this week, the Netskills training room was transformed into a full scale filming studio as our little in-house video project finally reached the production stage.

Armed with our storyboards, tripods, lighting kit and mics, we took over our onsite training room and transformed it into a film set. Unsuspecting colleagues were again cast as extras and we even went ‘on location’ (albeit in the same building) to film our pieces on camera.

The first coffee was brewed at 8:45am and the last “…aaand cut” was shouted out at 17:00. In between, we barely sat down or were idle for more than 10 seconds. After the day, we were absolutely shattered but had a fully ticked shotlist in our hands.

Before moving onto post-production, here are a few reflections on the process so far.

Improved visual thinking

One of the biggest challenges in getting started was to come up with a story. Even thinking about the whole thing as a story was a challenge for me.

Once the story was finally there, the pens were out again as it was time to draw some storyboards. This time for the real thing. The biggest reward (and/or realisation) came during the final storyboarding session. According to our visiting film consultant, Arto, there was a “huge improvement” in our visual thinking! Gone were the clumsy drawings of boringly similar midrange shots. They’d been replaced by dynamic moving shots, extreme close-ups and masterful framing. Well, not quite. But improvement nevertheless.

Camera troubles

We weren’t allowed to bask in the glory for long.

Grabbing the camera on the filming day was at first a paralysing moment which, as a relatively experienced still photographer, I hadn’t fully expected. Suddenly everything was difficult. Framing, levelling the tripod, adjusting the aperture, everything. Halfway through the morning we realised that we’d left the ISO setting on AUTO which meant pretty much all our shots up until that were a little grainy. Had it been a real production, it would’ve meant reshooting everything.

However, towards the end of the day we get more comfortable with the camera, audio and lights and after reviewing the rushes are quite happy with some of the shots and scenes. We even managed to successfully film a dolly shot in one scene. With an office chair as a dolly.

Directing people

As the day progressed and the energy-levels dropped we got a good lesson in professionalism from Arto.

We’d saved the scenes with most extras in for last as we wanted to leave as much time for setting up as possible to take up as little of our colleagues’ time as possible. In practice however, that meant incomprehensible instructions that we were all tiredly blabbering at the same time. Without Arto our colleagues would’ve ended up doing something like: “move your hand just before you say something like… or maybe something like… or actually, don’t move before starting to speak and then wait for someone else to move before taking a step back…”. This was quickly interrupted by a prompt: “Let’s give CLEAR instructions guys!”


Next step is editing, for which we’ve given ourselves a tight schedule to keep the momentum going. At the end of next week, we should have four different versions of the film to review. Hopefully at least one of them will be good enough to share with you… 🙂

3 thoughts on “Thinking visually and other challenges of film making

  1. Steve Boneham

    Excellent write up Hanna, thanks. I’d definitely agree it was an enjoyable, but exhausting learning experience.

    My main reflection on this is that planning really is important. I’ve said that often enough on workshops, but this exercise was an acute demonstration of how true that is with video work. While our storyboards might look a little crude, the thinking behind them and discussions around them were really valuable in refining the story and how we each understood it and wanted to present it. The shot list extracted from this, with the timings, locations, actors, props… was essential to keep us to time and saved the day several times.

    That, plus Arto being on hand. I think we’d have really struggled without someone taking a broad view of what we were doing and how and prodding us in the right direction. It helps that he has a lot of experience, but in future projects, we might want to have someone in this role. Like we have a moderator providing background support our online training.

    Arto also showed me the value of really thinking about how we frame shots. The small changes to he made to how I’d set things up massively improved the end result. I didn’t really see this until editing. Same with my “acting.” I was getting a little annoyed at being told to “loose the eyebrows!” but saw why in the edit. We didn’t need to (over)act most of the time, especially in close up, as small expressions seem exaggerated when played back large. If we get the framing right, the viewer gets the mood without us needing to be so obvious. Similarly, movements in frame need to be subtle, and usually either be the actor or the camera, but not both.

    Editing with Premiere was new to me. I got the mechanics of it relatively quickly, but mastering the fine art of editing is going to take a while longer. Chris (and you) really helped here and small things I picked up from watching you edit and your rough edits really helped refine mine. It’s the kind of stuff you take for granted in media, but looks terrible if you get it wrong. So small differences where to cut in a movement, fading sound in before visuals, better overlays and transitions…

    I also now appreciate the idea of “finding the rhythm” of the shots and scenes. I sometimes found myself zoomed in editing a single shot to what I thought was perfection, then playing back the stuff either side of it and realising it just didn’t work. Seeing the whole thing as a story, not just a collection of shots, seems obvious in hindsight, but I clearly need to be reminded of that.

    I think we have a decent understanding of this stuff now, but I’m keen that we keep improving and apply these skills to real projects, like our work on digital storytelling and screencasting. In fact, I’m off to do a bit of that now…

  2. Chris Thomson

    Yeah. What Steve said. 😉

    As well as being really rewarding I found it an emotional struggle at times and trying to maintain energy throughout was difficult.

    Pinch points were when we were trying to write the script which took absolutely FOR EVER and there were moments where I couldn’t bear to open the document to look at it, so having the 3 of us working on it helped keep the energy up.

    But all that persistence paid off. If we hadn’t done all that meticulous planning then every single stage after that would have been a nightmare.

    The other sticky patch was going back in to re-edit the rough cut into my final version. Video editing is quite intense. I really enjoy it; it’s one of the few things I do where I can get my head down for hours on end without realising time is passing. But once I’d stopped it was very hard to get back into the rhythm.

    Glad I did, though. Much happier with my (still imperfect) final cut.

    I also like d Arto’s answer to my “how do you know it’s finished?” question. Basically, it’s finished when you run out of time. Set a deadline.

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