This Video Isn't Working For Me, And Here's Why

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I was re-watching The Avengers the other night and as the climactic battle sequence raged, I couldn’t help but compare this sequence to a similar scene in another super hero film, Man of Steel.

If you haven’t seen either The Avengers or Man of Steel, warning: minor spoilers ahead.

In The Avengers, an army of alien invaders makes their way through a space/time portal and descends upon New York City. It’s up to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow to team up and thwart the villainous alien plan to take over the Earth and install Loki as ruler. What follows is a spectacular action scene right in the heart of lower Manhattan that causes millions and millions of dollars in property damage.

In Man of Steel, General Zod and his army invade earth, looking to capture Kal-El. They descend upon Metropolis and use a world-building engine to terraform earth into a carbon copy of Krypton. Zod wants to restore Krypton on the Earth. It’s up to Superman to save the day. And, like in The Avengers, what follows is a spectacular fight between two superior alien beings that wreaks havoc throughout the city. And again, there is millions and millions of dollars in property damage.

Now, to my point.

Both films show cities getting demolished in the wake of superhero battles. And yet when Man of Steel was released, some of the criticisms I read about the film centered on the level of destruction in that final battle scene. It seems like an unfair criticism to me. So, I posted my thoughts to Facebook and got the conversation started.

In the discussion that followed, people brought up different issues they had with Man of Steel, like tone, character development, plot devices, and character motivations; all valid points, most of which I can get behind. Here are some of the comments I received:

All that destruction is part of the continued story line. Increased regulations, heroes turn on each other, etc.


Yeah, but that’s actually addressed in civil war. The destruction in that and avengers two kinda sets up that storyline. Plus the tones in both action scenes are vastly different, making the audience have different reactions.


I would go back to tone to explain why people accept avengers a bit easier. The action is very light-hearted and fun. You can’t say the same for man of steel. It wants the audience to take it seriously.


Isn't part of it that audiences believe Superman could have more easily directed the fight (which involved him and a few adversaries of relatively equal strength, mobility, etc) away from people than the Avengers (who were facing a small army of people and monsters vastly more powerful and mobile) could have? It was for me.


At least in Avengers the heroes show concern for civilians and make an effort to save as many as possible. Superman showed none of that.

These responses got me thinking…:

Maybe it wasn’t the destruction per se that some viewers took issue with. Perhaps there were other legitimate criticisms people had with the film and they couldn’t quite adequately express their thoughts and so they fixated on the destruction aspect.

And that led me to these thoughts pertaining to client relations…

  • Sometimes a video you’ve produced for a client doesn’t receive the response you anticipated.

  • There’s something about the video that doesn’t quite work for the client.

  • The client, however, can’t articulately explain what it is about your video that he/she doesn’t like.

  • In his/her attempt to explain what’s wrong, he/she fixates on a particular aspect of the video that, to you, seems a bit unfair or irrational.

If you encounter this with a client at some point in your career, don’t get frustrated. Your job at that point as a video producer is to find out the core issue that bothers your client. Like a medical doctor in an emergency room setting, you need to rule out other possibilities and get to the root of the problem.

For example, I once delivered a human interest short documentary to a client for approval who told me that, tonally, it was one of the darkest stories she had ever seen and that it wouldn’t fit with the other videos she had already released. She was ready to scrap the whole project.

I knew, however, that my story wasn’t nearly as somber as others. So it wasn’t tone that concerned my client.

But what was it?

After listening to her concerns, speaking with her, and then rewatching the video a few times myself I realized that the issue was with my main interview subject. This individual told a personal story in a very matter-of-fact way, so any emotional sound bite I used in the piece didn’t feel authentic, because the interview subject never really got emotional. It was the perceived inauthenticity of my main subject that created the issue.

To solve this problem, I went back through the edit and just let the interview subject tell the story. I removed any sound bites that were editorial or emotional in nature. And you know what? These revisions worked for the client.

So the next time you receive feedback from a client that confuses you, or just feels arbitrary and without merit, take the time to have a one-on-one conversation. Talk through the edit. Find out what’s really going on.

The issue may not be the fact that you decided to level Metropolis.

The Benefits of Vertical Video

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Vertical video. Among video professionals, the term may provoke feelings of frustration, anger, or disgust. Often it's been mocked and ridiculed as an invalid format choice (see below).

But vertical video is a preferred format for platforms like Snapchat and Instagram Stories. Already, vertical video has been added to my list of deliverables. Whenever I finish editing a project, I'm asked to create different versions, including one oriented vertically for social media. 

Last night I came across a thread on Twitter from Anthony Monteleone, a video editor I follow. He made some very good, rational arguments regarding vertical video I felt they were worth sharing and discussing. 

One immediate ramification I've seen in my own work with vertical video is that footage needs to be acquired in 4K. If you need to deliver vertically, it's nice to have that extra resolution to play around with when you have to scale up and crop in. Otherwise, the video can start to pixelate rather quickly.

What are your thoughts about the validity of vertical video? Continue the discussion in the Comments section below.

Can You Say 'No' to a Client?

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There you are, sitting in a meeting with your client, listening as she reads a list of revisions she wants for the video you are currently producing. With each item, you can't help but cringe a little on the inside, because you're really proud of where the edit stands. When she finally finishes the list she looks up at you, asking for your input. What do you say? Can you tell your client "No?"

The short answer is, "No."

Never come right out and tell your client you refuse to do something. That looks bad on you and you can really damage the relationship you have with your client by doing so. No one wants to work with a difficult person. However there are a few things you can try the next time you're faced with a challenging approval process:

  • Let the client say "No" for you. It's incredibly important that you have a written contract with your client before work starts. And that contract should always include a clause about how many rounds of revisions you're willing to do before the price of the video goes up (usually three). After all, you've budgeted a certain amount of your own time in the original price of the video. If no revision limit has been set, you might find out that you're spending a lot more time on the video that you originally thought. When your client knows ahead of time that she only has three rounds of revisions, she will be more strategic about edits she wants you to make. Then, after those rounds are used up, she might be the one telling you "no," when you politely remind her that any more revisions will cost more money.
  • No, but... There's a central idea in the world of improv acting. It's called "Yes, and..." It means that you should always take what your improv partners give you and run with it, adding to it, building from it. Never close yourself off to your fellow actors, or the scene will have nowhere to go. I would say that when it comes to client revisions, turn this concept into "No, but..." If a client asks you to make an edit to a video that you know for certain won't work, don't just say "No," but instead offer up an alternative. Find out what the central problem is and come up with a solution that the client will like. "I can't do that, but I can do THIS..." For example, you might not be able to crop in on a shot like the client is asking you to do, but you may have another camera angle with the right composition that will work to the client's satisfaction. Always offer up an alternative. After all, you and the client both want the video to be its best.
  • Show, don't tell. Sometimes it's difficult for clients to understand why a certain edit choice won't work, until they see it on the screen. So, if a client is insistent that you make the changes she wants (and you know that it won't work), make the edit anyway. Then when the client sees it on the screen, she'll understand why it was best to leave it alone.

These are three ideas that might help you the next time you're facing a challenging approval process. But, here's one last thing to remember:

You are working for the client.

Ultimately, they are the ones paying you and they are the ones you need to please. Don't take their notes as an attack on your personally, or on the caliber of your work. Revisions come with the territory. Take it all in stride and always maintain a professional, courteous attitude. It will help you a lot in your career.

Do you have any post-production stories to share? What challenges have you faced when working with a client? How did you resolve them? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section.

Best Practices For Working With Non-Professional Actors

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In my video production career I have predominantly worked with non-actors and the challenge is always the same: how can you capture natural, believable footage from people who aren't trained to perform in front of a camera?

If you've been hired to shoot a commercial for a local restaurant or a sales video for a niche product manufacturer, you will at some point be directing the people who actually work at these businesses. So, here are some things that have helped me get the most out of my non-professional on-camera talent.

  1.  Spend a few minutes with them before bringing them to set.  Introduce yourself. Find out something about them. Talk about things unrelated to the shoot. Get them talking about themselves. Smile. Laugh. Be personable. Build trust. The more comfortable they are with you, the more willing they'll be to take direction when the cameras roll. 
  2. Be very clear about what you are trying to accomplish.  Believe it or not, sometimes the business rep who shows up for the shoot has been "volun-told" by a superior to be involved in the production and he/she may not even know what the video is really about. Don't assume he/she knows what's going on. Spell out explicitly what the scene is about and what you will be asking him/her to do. Answer any questions that may come up. Remember, the more comfortable the talent is, the better the footage. 
  3. You are setting up scenarios, not staging scripted scenes.  If you come to set and start giving a long list of specific, scripted directions to your talent ("Now, at THIS point you will cross to THIS side of the room and stand HERE, turning 3/4 to camera BEFORE delivering your line...") they will immediately tense up and deliver a performance that feels too rigid and unnatural. Why? Because they aren't accustomed to taking direction, hitting marks and nailing the timing that comes from years of actor training. Instead of specific, scripted direction, focus on setting up a scenario; something they do every day while doing their job. Keep the direction loose, start rolling, and capture the scene much like you would if it were a documentary. Remember, your job is to capture an authentic moment.
  4. Be willing to pivot.  Sometimes your talent might tell you, "I wouldn't necessarily do it this way." Okay. Great. Tell them to perform the action the way they normally would in their day-to-day jobs. They'll be more confident and comfortable and your footage will look more natural.  
  5. Remind them not to look at the camera.  Don't scold them. Don't yell "Cut!" as soon as you see them look over to the lens. Let the scene play out, then walk over to make adjustments, using that moment as a gentle reminder. It is so hard for people not to look at the camera.  
  6. Tell them what you're doing on set as you're doing it.  Non-professional actors don't know what coverage is. They might not understand why you keep moving the camera around and why they have to repeat the same action over and over. Remember, your job is to make them comfortable. Constantly explain what you're doing ("Okay, now I'm going to zoom in for a tighter shot so I can get that same action in close-up.") so they feel reassured that they aren't doing anything wrong.

These are the techniques that have worked for me over the years and the more you practice them, the easier it will be to draw out the best from your on-camera talent.

What methods have worked for you? Leave your suggestions in the Comments.