Five Keys To Shooting Better Videos and Short Films

I was shooting videos and short films back in the days of half-inch black and white, reel to reel recording. Since that time I’ve written, directed, and produced at least a thousand for a long list of projects and clients. During that time I’ve learned a few things about producing videos that connect with audiences and inspire them to action. Here’s five key secrets:

1) A great short film is about emotion, not facts.   If you want to share facts then print a brochure or give the audience a handout. Video is about emotion. It’s about telling a compelling story, and you don’t do that with facts or figures. Always think about the emotional angle if you want people to respond.

2) Become a great interviewer.   Most of your video presentations will involve interviews, so learn how to put people at ease, make them comfortable, and get honest, authentic answers. Make sure your crew isn’t distracting. Particularly if the interview is about a sensitive subject, make the location a safe place in order to win the person’s trust.

3) Watch other short films and videos.   Here’s a few we’ve done recently at Cooke Pictures for various clients. Watch other good ones on Vimeo and YouTube. Learn what current styles look like. Stay with the times. Stay up on shooting and editing techniques. Nothing is worse than a video or short film that looks like it was shot 10 years ago.

4) Learn to write.   Writing is where it all starts, and yet most filmmakers dismiss it as a skill they’ll never need. Even if the video is improvised, you need to make good notes, and get your ideas down on paper. The old theater saying, “If it ain’t on the page it ain’t on the stage” is true. Even if you never plan to be a professional writer, learn to recognize good writing. It will have a huge impact on your ability to tell a story.

5) Learn to sell yourself.   There are enormous numbers of talented filmmakers out there who aren’t working because they don’t know how to sell themselves. You need to inspire confidence in potential clients or investors, so start practicing how to pitch your ideas well. This blog post on how to pitch your ideas is a good place to start.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Great stuff Phil!

  • Jessica Mondal

    Point #1 is a great learning for me!

  • Michael

    This is all fantastic advice – and I’m always having to remind people of that last point. If you can shoot good videos but can’t talk to people, then you’ll have problems getting jobs as a content creator.

  • Richard J Fairhead

    ‘A great (short) film is about emotion, not facts’ — I grow weary of the number of times I’ve said this and found clients wanting to load it with facts! #5 I find the most difficult.

    I’ve never actually seen a 1/2″ b/w recorder other than on the web… my earliest video was 2″ quad, though I shot a lot of 8mm film (sound and silent) as a teenager. My favourite experience I saw was using two 2″ quads, one recording and one playing back as a 5 second delay line… with cotton reels as idlers! I’m not sure anyone took photos of this though.

    • Sounds like you and I have tracked closely in our careers. Quad machines! To shoot on location, we’d load one up in the back of a pickup truck… :-)

      • Richard J Fairhead

        A PICKUP TRUCK? That I would have liked to see! 40 years ago I did an OB from Lords Cricket Ground. Our VT truck was pretty much the size of a UHaul 17′ truck, with air conditioning… the works. But it held only one quad VT. The local OB VT was only for action replays. The rest was recorded on a microwave link at TVC.

  • zfari

    I got emotional just reading this, Phil. Then I interviewed a stranger while watching Youtube and took brilliant notes on a napkin. I think that covers the first 4. Oh yeah…sign right here. :-)