Monday 20 October 2014

The Third BIME Video: The Nightlight Tray

I needed enough light to make the full product legible on camera, but not so much that it detracted from the primary selling point of the product. Remember this video was intended to get investors investing in the development of the product. Basically, I needed extra light, but that light had to be invisible to the viewer/investor...

A screencast overview of this post (4:13).

In this post I discuss how I took all the knowledge and frustration I had accumulated from the many mistakes in the first two videos and produced a third video of an exceptionally high quality.

The emphasis of this post is on:
  • lighting.
  • the importance of lighting.
  • the relative ease of implementing a lighting configuration.

Additionally, the posts offers solid endorsement for:
  • implementing effective time management.
  • planning and visualising a blueprint for a video in advance.
  • being clear on what your videographer terms are from the start.

Filmmaking outside of the box greatly nourished my overall skillset and this is why I have presented my good and bad experiences of being the videographer for the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering, from June to October, 2012, as testimony to encourage other filmmakers/videographers who are starting out to exercise themselves likewise - be a film-doer, not just a film-dreamer! 

For a more detailed overview of the BIME (pronounced "buy me") video producer position I undertook during my time as an undergraduate student and the other videos I produced as a part of it, see: BIME a Bullet to Bite on: Videography, Volunteering, Making Mistakes and Maintaining Momentum.

Lightening the load

This time around I had to produce a product concept video for potential investors and, unlike the first two videos that were riddled by mistakes, I was determined that this video would be a top-notch presentation!

The brief for the Nightlight Tray video. Photo: Day 226 of my 366 Project 2012.

The Nightlight Tray.

What is the Nightlight Tray?

Well, have a look at this top-notch video produced by a certain someone...

The Nightlight Tray video (2:24).

There are still a few minor issues that bug me about this video, but it's definitely a major improvement on the first two and up to the standard of what I knew I was competently able to produce at the time.

What changed in the overall process of making this one, compared to the first two?


I had more time to plan everything out.

Working out the shots I needed to make the video work, with one of the university's Sony Z1s next to me. Photo: Day 234 of my 366 Project 2012.

Planning is everything!

This time around BIME and myself got the video brief well and truly laid out and agreed upon, before I did any filming. Once we had the brief set in stone I went away and booked out one of the university's Sony Z1 camcorders, I was determined to capture high quality image and sound.

Of course, the equipment is not everything in this respect, which is also why I gave myself plenty of time to lay out the shots and visualise the video in my head before I filmed it - I wanted a solid blueprint this time around!

Another advantage I possessed was that I had complete control over my filming location, as I was using the unoccupied master bedroom in my student house. One of the advantages of living in a student house through the summer is that you can end up with many spare rooms. 

I got to build a set for this video, that was new!
Another advantage of having complete control over my filming location was that I was able to film the video, more or less, in the order that I intended to present the footage in the final cut. 

If you are making a video on your own, then I would say that filming it in the final cut order is preferable, as you do not have the added mental strain of maintaining continuity and worrying whether or not you have all of the shots you need. 

In this video I have collected together the footage that I (mostly) did not use in the final video. Watching/skipping through this footage will illustrative how I gave myself more shots and angles than I eventually used in the video so as to give myself other options if my original plan did not work in the edit. 

Additionally, watching/skipping this footage will demonstrate some of the logistics of filming something on your own. As I had given myself quite a bit of time to play with at a number of points in this footage you can see me re-think and adjust my approach, which is never a bad thing if you think something is slightly off (14:49).

Lighting the light

Anyhow, I shot the footage in final cut order so the first shot I captured was the opening close-up of the Nightlight tray...

The first shot of the video.

However, a rather ironic problem presented itself with the first attempt of this shot - a problem that undermined the point of the entire video.

When I looked through the viewfinder (always look through your viewfinder as they present a true colour image) I could see a slightly angled square blob of soft yellow light ... and nothing else! 

I could not even see the outline of the Nightlight Tray product and if you could not actually see the product that the video was trying to sell, then what was the point in the video?

Solution - I needed more light. 

However, I could not add so much light that it diminished the inherent value of the Nightlight video - the point of the product was that it offered a soft and comfortable level of light so as to keep your brain in sleep mode.

Therefore, I needed enough light to make the full product legible on camera, but not so much that it detracted from the primary selling point of the product.

Remember this video was intended to get investors investing in the development of the product.

Basically, I needed extra light, but that light had to be invisible to the viewer/investor...

The setup for the first shot of the video, but with a little extra light added. How did I do it?
It actually proved to be a relatively easy fix, as I had encountered a very similar problem earlier that year, as the lighting technician on One Door Opened, the submission film for my filmmaking module. 

Spot lights - brilliant for injecting additional light into a shot. However, if you shine them directly onto the subject you are filming, what you end up with is a hard shaft of light thrown onto the image that makes it look very obvious you are injecting additional light into the shot. This is great for highly stylised stuff, like film noir, but not so great for realist stuff, like we were going for in One Door Opened. Solution?

You bounce the spot lights off another surface (a white wall is perfect) thereby diffusing and softening the overall spread of light. Opposed to falling like a hard shower of rain, the light now spreads like soft flecks of water moisture and what you end up with is...

... a shot that looks like a regular hallway in the middle of the day being illuminated by natural daylight. Of course, if you were to switch off the two spots upstairs, this hallway would suddenly look a lot darker, precisely because it had no direct access to daylight - that's the illusion of film.

However, daylight was not what the Nightlight video called for, I just needed a little extra soft light to give the image enough illumination to make the entirety of the Nightlight product discernable on screen, but I knew the same technique I had employed with One Door Opened would still remedy the problem.

Unfortunately, I did not have the university's lighting kit this time around, so I had to improvise...

My bedside lamp + a white box shelf = a custom built softbox. Perfect for providing...
... a covering of soft, diffuse light (captured through a a very closed iris, hence why it looks darker in the captured footage). Try to spot this extra light when you watch the video, you will be able to now that I have pointed it out. The trick is to utilise it, but not to make the viewer aware of its presence.
As I said above, filming in final cut order is preferable; especially for enabling you to identify shots that you had not planned for, but which would actually benefit the final video, or in the case of the Nightlight video, greatly strengthen the visual message of the final video. It was only after I had been playing around with the light levels, that I got the idea for this shot...
Videographers be warned, it is SO easy to miss a mistake - I should have capitalised the 't' in tray!

Originally, I was just going to use this shot...

... followed by this shot...

... to emphasise the difference in light comfort levels...

How I made the comparison shot in the Nightlight video (6:20).

...but a side-by-side comparison shot that utilised the natural symmetry of the room - BRILLIANT! 

Overall, it turned out to be an easy shoot to pull off precisely because I had planned it out and given myself plenty of time in which to complete it. 

Videographers - if it will ensure a high quality result, do not be afraid to put your foot down in regards to being rushed or over-worked!

Improvising again: a curly-wurly lamp, a tripod, a mirror and a white wall - perfect for a close-up.

Capturing the clicking on-and-off sound. You have to think about all those small details, I could easily have forgotten that one. Do not underestimate sound, it's equally as important as the visuals!

Unfortunately, I could not fold down the table, but aside from that, I had such a good experience filming in this room that it presented itself as a quick replacement for a filming location that had let us down during the production of Remember This, a short film I co-produced in my final year...
Flip the duvet over, film in daylight and who would know it was the same room! If I had not used that room for filming the Nightlight Tray, I might never have suggested it for Remember This.

Additionally, the lighting issue made me think twice when I was preparing to shoot EYES, my 'short film' as part of my final year practical dissertation creative enterprise project. One of the sequence had to be shot at night and I doubted there would be enough light available to actually see the actors faces, so I researched for some solutions and shot some test footage, showcasing the different options. 

As with the hallway in One Door Opened and the Nightlight itself, the solution had to do with injecting additional diffused light... 

For more on the solution, it's a neat, cheap and fully mobile trick actually, see: EYES - Sound and Lighting Tests: Upper Weir - 21/02/2013.

However, casting our gaze back to BIME and the two interviews I had to film for the Nightlight video...

Light interviews

Both the interviews were filmed one-after-the-other with a fairly simple Z1 camera and boom mic arrangement (see below), set against a well lit white wall in the staff room of the unit next door to BIME - so time was very limited, as this was not BIME's kitchen!

Why did we shoot in the neighbour's kitchen/staff room? 

Because it was the only place in the entire building with adequate light and a nice backdrop.

It was also very hot in that room! This was summertime remember. Additionally, I had to close all the doors to stop external sound from being recorded on the soundtrack AND I had to turn the fridge off for the same reason, a good microphone WILL pick up a fridge's persistent whirring. A little trick my housemate taught me - leave your keys in the fridge so that you do not forget to switch it back on before leaving, the real trick is not to forget you've put your keys in the fridge!  Photo: Day 236 of my 366 Project 2012.

By now I had worked my way even further through Michael Rabiger's Directing the Documentary so I felt very accustomed with documentary making etiquette and how to go about orchestrating a successful interview, plus I had the interviews I had already done for the Wizzybug videos to draw on.

In the Nightlight video you will notice that there are not any sounds of me agreeing with the interviewees from behind the camera with a "yeah" or other such like phrase. By the this point I knew that it was bad practice to do this and I knew it was vastly preferable to guide your interviewee with your facial expressions and nods. 

My pre-planned questions for the interviewees. They may be simple, but if you want straight-to-the-point responses, then simple is the rule of thumb.

The only downside I experienced was the fact that I had to both orchestrate the interview and keep an eye on the camera and sound settings, which was a bit distracting. 

Why was it so important to keep an eye on the camera and sound settings?

  • What if there was a fault?
  • What if the camera stopped recording?
  • What if there was a sound problem?

Problems do happen and if one of these or something else had happened, I would have had to do the interview again. I have encountered problems like this before, only recently I encountered a sound encoding problem on all the footage that was captured on a Digital SLR, a sound encoding problem that is on every single piece of footage that we shot. And they say the DSLR is the future of filmmaking!

Just because it's high-tech, DO NOT TRUST IT!


Ideally, I would have had someone else monitoring the camera and sound while I got on with orchestrating the interview. The reason why this is so important is because there were points during the interviews while I was checking the LCD on the camera that I missed what the interviewee had said. 

From the interviewer's point of view this can be bad because:

  • What if the interviewee said something very vague that you needed them to elaborate on? 
  • What if they said something that opened up something else you thought would be pertinent to discuss.
  • What if the interviewee became offended because they felt as though you were not paying attention to them?

A successful interview is an interview where a trustworthy, relaxed and respectful connection is established between the interviewer and interviewee.

Being the technician and interviewer was not preferable, but at the end of the day this was not an in depth documentary, it was just an informative video, so I just got on with it with what I had.

There was one slight issue with the above interview with Nina and it is completely my fault. Can you spot what it is? 

Her positioning in the frame is slightly too far to our right/her left; ideally, she should be shifted 2 inches over to her right/our left - this would provide a much better balanced composition within the frame.

The reason why this happened is because I did not spend enough time checking the framing before I started the interview and I only noticed this error once we had started recording. Now, what I should have done is stopped the interview, readjusted the camera accordingly and started the interview again... but I didn't. Why? I felt awkward.

While this issue is not scatchingly bad, the lesson to be taken from this fault is if you become aware of something that is slightly off, just stop the filming and fix it. Do not be afraid, just say, "sorry, we need to stop for a minute while I fix this issue." Simple. 

Fixing it in the moment of happenstance may well save you a lot of time in postproduction, something I found out the hard way on the first two BIME videos. 

The fact that I had to complete the interviews in a set amount of time helped as well because it ensured that I used the time I had to get all of the absolutely essential information I needed for the final video.

While I did not end up using all the interview footage, the emphasis on specificity in the original interviews decreased the overall editing time.

A light edit

The video as it appeared on the timeline in Final Cut Pro 7, I did not make the mistake of using two edit programs this time around, I did everything in Final Cut! Photo: Day 250 of my 366 Project 2012.

As with the first two videos, there was a bit of back-and-forth with BIME, but certainly not as much as before. After two initial cuts and just under four weeks from when I had received the initial brief, I handed in the final cut.

Overall, the making of the Nightlight Tray video was a very enjoyable and redeeming experience.

BIME were very pleased with the final result, I could tell both by their responses and by the video request they trusted me to make next...

The Fourth and Final Video: A Profile of the Institute

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