Shooting People – schools and businesses

On an ITV camera course I was on a couple of years ago the point was made that the most common shooting situation was the interview. So what are the skills?

Shooting people being interviewed is one of the most fundamental activities of TV production.  Of course shooting people doesn’t only require technical skills – soft skills are vital.  How do you get someone to feel comfortable? How do you ask the most important questions in the right way?  There are many other considerations like appropriate locations and potential legal problems.  The technical aspects of shooting interviews include lighting, sound, angles and composition; use of cutaways and cut-ins.  There’s a huge amount of skill and planning required to get even a simple interview to look good.

I’ve been doing some edits on a promotion for the dating site Christian Connection.  This involved me shooting interviews solo with my Canon 5DMk2 camera.  The challenge of shooting solo was that I had to really concentrate on all aspects both soft and hard.  I’ve been quite pleased with the results, but mostly the learning.

In the schools I have been working with, interviewing workshops have been great ways of introducing this range of skills to children – planning, speaking and listening, photography, vocal performance and a whole lot more.

Since the activity of shooting interviews is such a rewarding and fundamental activity I’ve decide to focus much more on this and I’m actively looking for opportunities to explore this in both the schools work and the commercial work.  

So this really is a pitch to any schools, businesses or production companies who would like me to shoot some interviews or facilitate interview workshops.

Here you can down load a PDF of a few prompts for the preparation of a filmed interview.



How to do green screen movies in school

The interest in Green Screen seems to be gathering momentum.  I think it's one of those techniques which is a mystery to many people but once you know how it works is really simple.  The coloured background is replaced by another image using software; dead simple.


Below is a little test video we made with the media team at a local school.  It became clear during this exercise that the process was exciting for the children and well within their capability.  Using the software to replace the background and edit the sequence was within the grasp of some year five children. 

The technique can not only help with ICT skills but potentially address teamwork, speaking and listening, writing, drama, storytelling, artwork.  The next project will be a journey to the moon.

The recipe

  • Bought 3 yards by 1 yard of green felt from Leeds Market and used Velcro to attach it to a wall between the photocopier and a desk. £20.  
  • The school already had a MacBook which we upgraded to iLife9 -  iMovie in iLife 9 is capable of green-screen overlay – earlier versions aren't.  £40
  • Came up with the idea of a hiker who couldn't tell his left from his right and ended up in unexpected places  download the script
  • Put the camera on a tripod and connected it directly to the MacBook using a firewire cable.
  • We recorded the action directly into iMovie.
  • Children sourced background images and imported them to the MacBook via a memory stick.
  • Edited the sequence in iMovie – green screen is a simple drag and drop.
  • Imported the music track to enhance.

I shall be setting up green-screen areas in a few local schools.  If you'd like to have one and would like help please drop me an email.



DSLRs – a creative response to the constraints imposed by technology

You may, or may not know, that I have a Canon 5D Mk2 camera which I’m learning to use for video. It’s a wonderful invention but tricky to get to grips with re the video.  

There are many challenges using a DSLR for filming like focusing on the fly, seeing what you’re doing in the viewfinder and holding the damn thing steady.  


Regular video cameras are designed to overcome these problems through years of reference to camera operators in war zones, making music promos or generally hurling them around.  Stills photographers work differently, looking for individual moments with their best eye clamped to a little hole.

Perhaps we should think differently about how we use DSLRs for shooting video rather than bemoaning the fact that they aren’t like film cameras. Instead of looking at their weaknesses, think about what new opportunities they present.

Could it be that DSLRs open the way for photographers with an excellent eye for colour and composition to bring a fresh approach to shooting moving images?  Many videographers, in my view, have got into a bad habit of whizzing and crashing the camera around to bring life to a subject.   A stills photographer may be more inclined to look for the possibilities within a specific set-up – considering the precise lighting conditions for that framing and taking care over the details. 

What we see is an attempt to make mobile phones and stills cameras do what is best done by much more specialised equipment.  Instead we should be thinking about what these tools can give us that we can’t get from conventional cameras. Can the constraints lead us in a different direction altogether?

This video shot on DSLR is about custom motorcycle engineer Shinya Kimurs by Henrik Hansen. The film reveals movements  within the frame – often subtle – by keeping the camera still; Most of the shots are locked off and could have been taken from a stills tripod. Not bad for a film which is all about motion. 

The careful construction of the film mirrors Shinya Kimurs care and love of constructing his machines. The editing is brilliant and the mastery of audio exceptional.

I think this demonstrates an intelligent and creative response to the constraints imposed by the technology. 


The producer – capturing the hearts and the imagination of the team

What is the role of a video producer  and how does that translate into a school project? What are the benefits of a video project in a school?

In the professional world (in which I've been there for 30 years) there are many different skills and resources that go into producing high quality video.  The reason TV is so expensive is mostly down to the availability of talent both in front of the camera and behind it.  There are performers, photographers, writers, editors and so on.  And it's not just the raw skill that's required but the ability of these people to get on with each other.

The producer has to bring all these people together and keep them functioning as a team with the creative elements being handled by the director. Although often the two roles are blurred or even the same person.

A producer will be required to understand enough about the process and skills required to be able to allocate tasks, encourage good practice, set standards, trouble shoot; They are talent scouts, facilitators, mentors; They manage and plan. They have a stern voice when the project goes off track.  A producer sets boundaries of responsibility and resolves conflict. When confidence breaks down the producer must raise spirits, be cheerleader and offer hope.

TV production teams are messy and uncomfortable places generally. The participants are vulnerable – it's as if their very soul is being put on the line. Then there is the added pressure of impending deadlines.  

In truth, the main source of pressure is the interdependency between team members.  No one person can achieve success on their own and yet they may all want to claim the success as our own. They may have difficulty trusting one another. So to be genuinely creative in this context requires great sacrifice and humility.

The dynamics of even the smallest video project can bring into play these elements.  

Many children have little or no experience of belonging to team like this. They miss out on some invaluable experiences: being needed for their particular talents, the experience of generosity and grace, responsibility with independence, the celebration of success.

As well as these essential team skills and experiences, there are also many other practical skills to be learned – writing, performing, technical work, photography, research, directing, drawing, design,, interviewing, planning, coming up with ideas.

Video production as a team exercise is indeed a great learning opportunity but only if someone takes on the role of producer.  Without someone acting as a producer in the way that I have described the results may be poor and the experiences negative.

A producer must ensure that the video production captures more than simply footage, it must capture the hearts and the imagination of everyone involved.


The Brown Cow – a ghost story

This is one of my favorite films from the recent Keighley Creative Partnerships project.  I like this one for a number of reasons but mainly because I didn't have much work to do.  

The children came up with all the ideas, did practically all the filming and editing. In fact the basic editing was done in Windows Movie Maker and Audacity by one of the year four children.  I helped a bit with the special effects under strict direction.

I also like it because it has some stories in it – and spooky ones at that. Whether you actually believe in them or not doesn't really matter. Frankly, I don't.


Creative Project – order or chaos?

I've been reviewing some of the projects I have been involved with recently and thinking about how they could have been improved.

The conclusion I have come to is that most creative projects are to some degree chaotic and uncertain; You can't always predict how they are going to run. You have to be flexible and responsive to new ideas and directions as they come up.

That said, there is possibly value in at least attempting to structure the management of creative projects around tried and tested ideas. A creative project, like any other, has process steps and milestones. One reason why creative projects often fail is because not enough time is spent understanding the purpose of the project and refining the ideas around that purpose.  Sadly is is all to easy to forge ahead with half baked ideas with no idea of why we're doing it!

Step 1: The brief

Be sure about the purpose of the project and why it has come about. You might call this the creative challenge.

Get down on paper a description of what you hope to achieve, who it is for and why it is important.  For example –  Encourage year four children to take pride in their town by revealing its glorious history. We're doing this because ……

Set out what you want to achieve, how you are going to approach it,  who it is for and  why it is important.  

Step 2:  Ideas

Once we have a brief we can set about coming up with ideas (in the above case for revealing the town's glorious history).  Not enough time is ever spent coming up with ideas or evaluating them.  I would say that this is one of the biggest reason for the failure of creative projects.   The temptation is to settle on the first and most obvious idea you come up with. Often the crazy ideas are sidelined at the outset, and yet these are often the most interesting.

Make plenty time for coming up with as many ideas as possible, even the crazy ones, and evaluate them according to the brief.

There are many techniques for coming up with ideas – here are some.  Thinking Hats for evaluating ideas, Mind Mapping with which I'm sure you are familiar, and a favorite of mine, The Creative Whack Pack


Step 3: Planning

Do you decide on the team and resources before you have an idea or after?  I would say that it's sometimes better to come up with the idea first with a small core team and then pitch for people and resources once you have the idea.  That way you'll get what you need rather than having to put up with what you have got.

Careful planning of the resources and the timetable, setting of realistic deadlines and getting agreements.

Step 4: Action

Well planned activity with a great idea behind it should be exciting. Any problems will be quickly resolved because of a solid commitment to the purpose of the project.

Step 5: Celebration

The positive outcome should be shared and celebrated beyond the immediate team. The more external praise and feedback the better. A public film screening, a party for those who contributed, a commemorative web page.  The legacy of successful projects should be preserved so that the benefits can be made available to the greatest number of people for the longest amount of time.

Step 6: Review

A constructive examination of the project should always be part of its legacy.  Did it meet the brief? What were the points of learning and so on.


This may all seem obvious – in which case I apologies – but I need to remind myself just how important these project steps really are and that to skimp on any of them will weaken the outcome.


Badges, belonging and responsibility

Iconic filmmaking tools – meaningful objects –  become the badges of the children's responsibility, and seeing them all together they actually look like a professional film crew.  I think this is an important visual way of giving them a sense of their individual responsibility and belonging to the team. 

I have been struck by how important is to have the cool looking pieces of kit in the schools I have been working with. Of course if you take a camera or a clapper board into a school the children are going to swarm around them and want to play. But there's much more to these pieces of equipment.

We have been taking small groups of children and training them to be a film crew.  The specialisms break down something like – camera, sound, director, assistant, performer.  One of the things we have to do is to determine which children are best suited to which task.  At first they really don't know, but usually want to have a go with the camera.

After working together on a few small projects preferences begin to emerge. This is usually through  a process of observing and encouraging.  

An interesting strategy (once they've had a bit of experience) is not to allocate the roles myself but to let the children themselves decide. I tell them that I will not be making the decision, but they must decide among themselves who will be director, camera operator and so on.  I give them 10 minutes on their own to negotiate.  Once they have decided there may be one individual who has been sidelined; to the one who is sidelined I give the desirable task of being production stills photographer.  



Once the team is assembled they take ownership of their specialist equipment – camera, fluffy microphone, clapperboard, tripod, clipboard etc.  

I was very proud when a child who lacked confidence identified that using the clapper board was something he could do very well and announced this to the whole class.

Click here to get more information and to make contact


Henry and the magic wallpaper

The grizzly  times of the Tudors and Henry's willy nilly habit of chopping off heads has a natural appeal for year four children. 

At this school we wanted to combine music, writing, film, animation and the wonderful technique known as green-screen – or perhaps blue-screen; Chroma Separation Overlay, CSO if you want to show off. 

This film takes some of the more unsavory facts about life on the Mary Rose as a starting point. We also wanted to involve the children in a variety of interesting ways – particularly to include some of the less confident and disruptive children.  For example, some of the drawings we included may be very simple and not hugely demanding to create  but we found a place for them in the finished piece.  

There is a natural tendency for the professional film maker to be concerned about maintaining a high standard but this must not be at the expense of including less confident children. This should not just be a showcase for the most talented children but  a way of unlocking talent and confidence in the least confident ones.  Otherwise why are we doing this?

Step 1

A mind mapping session to unlock all the facts the children had learned about life on the Mary Rose

Step 2

Using Garage Band create a rap backing track

Step 3

Listen to the backing track and practice writing and performing words to the rhythm of the track.

Step 4

The children in their own time (and with the rhythm in their heads) all write their own rap songs

Step 5

We select the best ideas from each of the songs to create a single rap to be used in the film

Step 6

Tasks are introduced and allocated to the team – animating the ship, drawing pictures, operating the camera and lights, recording the sound, performing, setting up the green screen, finding images, directing etc.

Step 7

Animating session.  We filmed the ship against a coloured screen and created the sea out of rolled up coloured paper which we animated manually. Pictures were drawn, biscuits were filmed, flames and rats were scanned.  The scurvy ridden faces were drawn.

Step 8

The green-screen session. The screen was set up facing a large area of windows so we had a lot of soft natural light. This was a hugely popular activity. The children decided to call this set-up the magic wallpaper.

The backing track was played from a CD player. Jobs included director, camera operator, sound and performers.

Step 9

Editing.  The editing for this was too complex for the the schools own software so most of it was carried out off-site.  However I think there is scope in future for sections of these films to be edited by the children.



I liked the wide range of tasks and skills that this project involved, it was very inclusive. It didn't just use traditional animation techniques but required a range of solutions.  There was a high degree of problem solving particularly making the ship and water move – the children were fully engaged in finding their own way of doing this. 

Some of the less confident children appeared in front of the camera and some of the more modest drawing attempts were used in the film – this was obviously appreciated by the children concerned.

We had some positive discussion about making mistakes – if something didn't work we called it learning and improving. A mistake in the filming could be an entertaining out-take.

The green-screen was such a success that I am helping the school set up its own permanent green-screen (magic wallpaper).

Click here to get more information and to make contact


Free software for viewing and editing your videos

There's a lot of frustration over the compatibility of small popular video cameras and some basic editing software packages, as far as I can see.  For example the popular Flip cameras produce excellent results but MP4 is not a great editing format and may not even be viewable on some laptops running Microsoft Movie Maker.



I've been having a look at VideoPad which includes a free video editing software version for Windows.  I have not tried it in earnest yet but it looks quite neat and can handle a number of file types – probably more flexible than Moviemaker in this respect. It might be a good companion for the Flip cameras, but let's see.


A big weakness with many free video editing packages is the limited number of audio tracks. Generally you can cut the audio with the pictures and add a commentary layer but that's about it. The number of audio tracks is a difference between amateur and professional editing packages. Great audio can have a huge impact for your video.


A lot of fun can be had preparing an exciting audio track so think about using another free programme Audacity to create muti-track audio for your video. You can usually open the video file directly in Audacity, edit the audio and then re-import the finished audio back into the video editing software.

VLC Media Player


Finally, if you have difficulty viewing some video files  you might have a look at the free VLC Media Player. It plays many file types and can do some media conversion as well.