Part Four is focused on production — what it is and how it may vary from production company to production company.
They are not all the same.
In this series comparing experienced production companies with newer ones, we’ve touched on planning and pre-production. To read the first three blogs click here.
Now let's talk about production:
There is a difference between consumer-grade video cameras and professional-grade. Most amateurs use consumer-grade or what is called pro-consumer-grade. They are the low to mid-range cameras on the market. While they are HD, many lack the features of a professional camera.
Professionals use professional grade, broadcast quality cameras, and a host of lenses. The biggest differentiator is in the glass or lenses used. The high-end versions that shoot 4K or even HD have distinct technical differences that allow better capture of imagery. There are also diodes and image sensors and a load of other technical stuff that only the experienced Director of Photography (DP) would understand. We leave that to the professionals.
While a DP can capture amazing footage from a basic camera or iPhone (despite compression issues that make it problematic for broadcast and professional use), an inexperienced camera person often can’t capture good footage from an amazing camera. Experience shows in this field. It’s technical, artistic, and requires a lot of experience to be good.
When it comes down to it, the real difference is in how the camera is used, which comes back to experience, talent, skill, and knowledge. It’s a bit like the difference between microwaving leftovers and having a chef prepare a five course meal. There’s a difference in quality that is difficult to define.
Another difference in equipment between the newer professional and the more experienced one is the sheer volume of equipment. A professional video company travels with a lot of equipment to cover a wide range of conditions — high sunlight, low light, outdoors vs. indoors, windows or interior rooms. They all require a different approach. Professionals bring a full lighting kit, multiple cameras and lenses, meters, jib arms, dollies and tracks, drones, sound kits and other materials needed to capture a professional shot. The newer professionals typically don’t have the budget for this kind of coverage or the staff to use it.
Equipment is a huge investment for a production company that can easily run into six figures and higher. Many professional production companies, including ours, use Hollywood-grade equipment. We purchase the equipment and keep up on the latest technology because it helps our clients present their best professional image so they can rise above the noise of their mediocre competitors. Quality matters.
Beyond the equipment, it takes experience to create good shots that are balanced and composed. The less experienced often don’t realize how to frame shots and when to add movement to the shot for interest. There is a talent and skill to camera work. A good Director of Photography can make a shot come to life through texture, lighting, movement, and composition. A great Director of Photography can make video look like film. We’re talking Hollywood quality.
More experienced professionals also offer a diversity of shots. They aren’t all the same. This adds depth to the video and heightens the visual interest for the viewer. A professional knows how to use the zoom lens correctly which means not zooming in and out, but to establish the proper focal length versus changing to a new lens. A professional knows when to pan, tilt, or push-in effectively; find linear patterns; and employ different focus techniques. This makes for a much more interesting video.
In-camera microphones, while better than they used to be, often sound hollow and have an echo. They can be used as an ambient “natural sound” or "Nat Audio" track in editing, but should never be the primary sound track. In-camera mics do not filter out ambient noise, which can be distracting. You also cannot easily remove the ambient noise because it is all on one audio track.
A professional audio kit uses a field mixer that isolates and records multiple tracks. Often times a separate audio track is recorded as a back-up to facilitate more accurate post-audio mixes. The tracks are captured using boom mics or lavaliere mics, depending on the situation. Many times, both types of microphones are used. In special instances, a sound recordist might employ specialty microphones to capture an audience applauding or add other types of enhanced background sound to the scenes. This allows the sound editor to adjust specific sounds, like a noisy background, without turning it completely off, so that there is a room presence. They can also alter tracks to heighten tension or add ambience. A professional sound mix during the post-production phase ensures that all tracks are pitched perfectly so no one sound dominates or overrides the dialogue or narration. A professional sound recordist ensures that all audio is captured correctly and as fully as possible to best facilitate the final edit. And just like Hollywood, we like to hide our microphones whenever possible, so that they aren't a distraction to our audience and look more like a film.
Audio is one of the top ways to tell a professional video from a lower quality one.
Professionals bring a full lighting kit to the set. We bring Hollywood grade lighting equipment, a Gaffer and Grips who know how to light a room and set a mood and tone for the production. Their job is to know which kind of light will do the best job — Tungsten and HMI or an LED, a Par or a Fernel. We have small fluorescent tube lights that can be hidden to provide proper accents inside hard to reach dark areas, behind computer screens, inside cubicles or credenzas. We also bring gels to cover windows and assorted flags to bounce and shape the light, or a Grip truck that is tricked out with nearly every accessory or gadget to handle any situation.
All of these things take time, planning, and experienced personnel who know what to do and when to do it. Not everyone does it. In fact, news crews notoriously don't bother to gel windows and blow the image from outside the window to a white blinding light. If the shot includes the view, we take the extra effort to gel the windows and match light levels of the outside world with the inside world where our camera is. This is an important step because cameras see the outside world as blue. Our eyes auto correct in the real world, but the camera can’t. If you want a proper shot, you have to light it properly and gel it to match.
It’s these little touches that rely on experience, equipment, and professional standards. It’s these touches that set a video apart and makes it professional.
To learn more about our approach to video production, please call us at 703-683-5305 or contact us either through this website, or via Our eMail.
Our next blog will cover post production.