Skills and Virtues

When I started our making videos professionally, I figured that the only skills I’d need would be the ability to use a video camera and the ability to use video editing software. Looking back over the last ten years, I can see this was slightly naive!

I thought using a video camera wouldn’t faze me too much as I spent a lot of time using SLR cameras and photograph developing equipment in the 1990s. This meant I already understood the basics of lens size, aperture, shutter speed and ISO. But I still had to get to grips with bit rates, frame rates, resolution, and all the other aspects of moving image quality, plus dealing with camera motion when moving. So I’ve learned how to use gimbals, dollies and rails, and to invest in a camera with good in-body and lens stabilisation (currently the Panasonic Lumix S5 – wonderful camera.) I also needed to learn how to light a subject and get to grips with three point lighting although I’ve never really gotten over my initial hatred of additional lighting. My first question about a shoot location is pretty much always “Is there good natural light?” Lately, I’ve been recording everything in Panasonic’s V-Log format, which meant reading up on the way that cameras capture light, dynamic range and gamma curves.

I also had to get my head around sound recording, a dimension I never needed to consider with stills photography. Thinking about sound meant thinking about microphone types (shotgun? lapel?), mic placement and noise and wind reduction.

Video editing software turned out to be pretty similar in conception to music production software like Apple’s Logic Pro, which I already used. But understanding how to use video editing software doesn’t help you understand how to turn thirty minutes of footage into a two or three minute captivating film for social media. What I’ve learned – and am still learning – is how to take shapeless footage and use it to form a story. I’ve learned to be ruthless in edit and to disguise diced up dialogue with b-roll.

I’ve worked out how to record voiceovers (other people’s and my own) without a recording studio and how to create a video with three different foreign language voiceovers, the default of which will depend on the language setting of the viewer’s mobile phone. That was niche. I’ve learned to record and livestream video using multiple cameras. I’m now able to create motion tracked text and graphics and I’ve learned how to fly and film with a drone. I create the music for most of my videos myself, so I’ve had to learn how to create different styles of music for different types of video and how to score for film.

Because I work alone, I’ve also had to learn all the basic business stuff that any other business needs to get on top of if it wants to succeed: budgeting, invoicing, keeping records, dealing with accountants, setting up and maintaining a website (the latter is time suck hell) networking, using social media, marketing and advertising.

What I certainly didn’t think about when I started out was that, beyond any boring but necessary technical and administrative skills, I’d also need to work on my people skills. I didn’t think about how I’d be working with clients, collaborators, video subjects, subcontractors, bystanders, members of the public, landowners, accounts departments, marketing departments, technical crew and audiences. I think, luckily for me, I’d already worked for twenty years in different professions, often managerial, where good interpersonal skills really helped. By the time I became a filmmaker, I’d seen people make a whole load of interpersonal mistakes and I’d made a whole load myself, and – I hope – learned from them and how not to repeat them. I’ve made other mistakes in the last ten years and wish I’d acted differently on a few occasions, but I’ve also learned the importance of careful listening, patience, tolerance, friendliness, transparency, diplomacy, clarity, good communication and expectation management. I’ve definitely learned that getting annoyed or exasperated with people is ALWAYS counterproductive. I’ve come to see that it’s always better to be the person who solves problems and offers solution rather than the one who raises problems and creates obstacles. Being right isn’t as important as being helpful. I’m there to provide a service and help clients achieve goals with a minimum amount of fuss and it’s good people skills, not just technical skills, that will make that possible.

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