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Video production best practices

Over the last few years, both the size and cost of video production equipment has shrunk, meaning virtually anyone now can make their own video and publish it on one of the many outlets available across the internet. However, it is important to remember that while it may have become easier to produce a video, there are still several key fundamental skills required in producing a good quality video. The following is designed to assist you along the video production journey and, most importantly, to help you identify the pitfalls that can spring up along the way!

Preproduction

Having decided upon making a video, think very carefully about the elements that you will require to produce a good-quality story:

  • Interviews: Who do you need to speak to in order to make this film relevant and interesting? Do you need contrasting views to make sure the film gives both sides of a story? Will the people you want to interview agree to take part?
  • B-roll footage: What visuals do you require in order to supplement the interviews, to give examples of what the subjects are likely to refer to in their interviews?
  • Archive footage: It may be B-roll or previous interviews that have been filmed within your department or in other departments, footage that is material you cannot film fresh or perhaps do not need to.
  • Presenter or voice-over: Does the piece need someone to string it together, to guide the viewer through the story? Does that person need to be in view and on screen at certain points or just to talk over the pictures at particular points?
  • Music: Would the film benefit from some music at certain points or even throughout? If so, what style of music? And most importantly, are there any issues in clearing the copyright to use your particular piece of music?
  • Graphics/stills: Do you need any full-page graphics, animations or lower-third graphics for this production?

As a producer with a tight turnaround production, there is nothing worse than sitting in an edit suite putting your film together, and realizing that you don’t have enough material, or that you’ve neglected to ask a key question or to film a vital shot. It cannot be over emphasized: Planning is critical. 

Think about what you are hoping to achieve from this video and about what messages you want viewers to take away. What kind of angles and perspectives can you offer to the audience? What can you do as a producer to bring clarity to the story and its more obtuse points? What will make your video different from others that cover the same topics? 

Start to divide the story into sections, thinking about what angle each section will tell. This will guide you in writing your questions for each of the interviewees, and also allow you to think about how you might broach each section in terms of pictures and voice-over. You may have heard the term "storyboard," commonly used in the preparation of an ad film assignment in which every second of the production is mapped out on paper in front of you. It is not imperative to go to these depths but it is important to have a clear idea of how you will go about telling the story. However, you should keep an open mind and be flexible to change if one of your interviewees says something you weren’t expecting!

The interview

Research. Research. Research.

If you don’t know the topic or your subject inside out, you could be left with egg on your face! Make sure to read the specific material relating to what the subject will be talking about, but also search for the interviewee on the internet. You may find some surprises, some views or comments that you might not have expected, and you may find previous videos with the subject that will give you a good idea of how they perform in front of the camera. It may also give you clues as to how best, or perhaps best not, to film your interview.

Once you feel you have exhausted your research, sit down and begin sketching out your questions. Start with a couple of easy, less-important questions, allowing the interviewee to "warm up" to the experience, get used to the camera and feel at ease with you, the interviewer. Once you feel all is in order, begin moving through the questions generated by your research, positioning questions so one flows from the last. Questions do not need to be asked in the order that you expect them to appear in the final video.

When doing the interview, it is vital to listen to your subjects' answers so you can respond with a follow-up (that you may not have planned); if the interviewee has not answered the question to your satisfaction or says something that is valuable to your messaging and is unexpected, you need to be ready to respond.

Finally, leave any controversial questions to the end. If your subject objects, your bases have already been covered, and you should have what you need, without any further word.

Always ensure you have the correct spelling and title of any interviewee — on camera, at the start, ask for the spelling of your subject’s name and for a title. In this way, there will be no mistake when you get your footage back to the editing station. Be certain to thank your subjects at the end of the interview! 

Interview locations

There are two key aspects to think about when you are deciding where to film an interview: light and sound. 

In an ideal world, you would be filming in a quiet environment. Anticipate where noise might come from. ASU has beautiful campuses which in many ways make it ideal to record interviews outside, but the noise of passing staff and students aside — and the fact that Tempe sits in the flight path of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport — makes it almost impossible to film without the noise of a passing jet every 20 or 30 seconds.

If you do choose to film outside, take into account such things as traffic noise, screaming kids, the click-clack of skateboards and other disruptive sounds. From a visual perspective, make sure that you account for the position of the sun when you decide in which direction to film. Film with indirect sunlight whenever possible.

Filming indoors gives you much more control of your environment. Choose a room where you are able to control the light or use it to your advantage. Think of the acoustics in terms of sound quality. A large room or one with tiled walls may produce echo. Also, keep in mind which machines may create background noise (think air conditioning) and see if you are able to turn them off for the interview. Consider capturing “room tone,” quiet natural sound of the environment, at some point on set to finesse audio edits later.

It is also important to make sure that you have enough space for all of your equipment, especially when utilizing lighting kits. Make sure there are enough accessible electrical outlets to run the equipment. 

Once you’ve ticked all of the above boxes, choose a background that is not obtrusive and is pleasant to look at. If it relates to the subject (say a Sun Devils jersey for a football player), all the better. On occasion you may decide to put the subject in front of an artificial backdrop, like a black matte. This kind of decision may be made because no other suitable background exists, or you are trying to create a certain mood.

Make sure the locations and shots of each of the interviewees will work together. You do not want them to jar in the final edit. This means trying to use contrasting eye lines across the interviewees.

Eye line examples

Eyeline 1
To camera
Camera right
Camera right
camera left
Camera left
Beyond camera
Beyond camera

One last thing to think about wherever you are creating videos: safety. Be careful not to leave cables or boxes lying around, which may create obstacles and accidents. Weigh down light stands and use gaff tape to secure cords to the floor.

Basic equipment checklist:

  • Video camera.
  • Batteries.
  • Memory card or tape (to record on).
  • Tripod.
  • Microphone (handheld, shotgun or lavalier clip).
  • Headphones.
  • Camera bag.
  • Lighting equipment (if filming indoors).
  • Dolly or cart.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the equipment ahead of your filming. Make sure it is working properly and the batteries are fully charged! When possible, bring equipment backups in case something fails moments before you are scheduled to start. Something like this is likely inevitable while filming so having backup memory cards, cables or microphones can end up saving you a headache!

Recording formats 

High-definition video is generally shot at 1920 x 1080 (1080 interlaced/1080 progressive). Some broadcast television stations record at 1280 x 720 (720 progressive). For maximum quality, the suggestion is to record at 1920 x 1080 progressive, but this will take up quite a bit of space on your hard drive or memory card. Filming at 1280 x 720 will still be high quality but will cut down on used recording space. Choosing a recording format will depend in large part on what you desire and what the video will be used for. 

Visit Recommended Specifications for more information on the Enterprise Marketing Hub’s preferred settings.

Setting up equipment for a formal interview

Allow yourself enough time in your schedule to set up. Small sets can take as little as 30 minutes to set up. More complex interviews can take anywhere from an hour to two hours. 

When you arrive at your location, carefully choose the position from which you will conduct the interview, looking for an angle with a pleasing background. Remember that backlighting, framing bright light behind the subject (such as a window) will make the subject dark. Adjusting the camera aperture to compensate will likely blow out the background image to white, so it is preferred to film with the light from the windows as a key light or fill light to fill in light on one side of the subject.

Once you have chosen your spot, find a staging area that is preferably outside the room or in a far corner, so that you are not tripping over your equipment cases. Unpack sections of equipment at a time. A best-practice method is to set up your camera, tripod and audio, then set up your lighting equipment.

Whether you decide to have your interviewee stand or sit will determine the height of your tripod and its position. It is pleasing to the eye to have the subject in focus and the background slightly out of focus. This can be achieved by moving the subject away from the wall or background elements, moving the camera farther away from the subject and setting focus on the subject. This will create the illusion of depth on screen. Mark the final position of your interviewee’s feet or chair with gaff tape in case things move.

After you have set the tripod and camera to the subject’s eye level and focus, make sure that your microphone is properly connected to the camera or separate recording device and test to make sure the level is good. Generally with digital audio, a higher level that does not peak is best. Digital audio uses more of the band space to create good tone and volume compared to analog audio. There are choices when it comes to microphone usage and the value of the audio recording. Each type of microphone is used for many reasons. The lavalier microphone is one that pins or clips onto the subject and offers good audio levels. The shotgun (directional) microphone collects a segment of where the microphone is pointed, and lastly, the handheld microphone is good for interviewing purposes but also collects sound from around the subject (omnidirectional). It is best to use a lavalier microphone for sit-down interviews and a shotgun for on-location interviews in the field. The handheld microphone is an excellent choice when you are picking up an interview on the run. Just make sure to have the microphone near the subject’s mouth. When using a lavalier microphone, “dress” it if desired — hide the cord behind the interviewee’s clothing like a suit coat or blouse lapel. This is not essential, but is a desired look for some. Keep lavalier microphones away from any dangling jewelry and long hair to avoid additional noise.

Now that you have the camera set, your positioning has been determined and your audio level has been dialed in, you can now set up lighting for your interview. It is best to have a three-light kit to set a traditional three-point lighting presentation. One light is the "key" light or main light that brightens one side of the individual's face. This side is usually the one facing away from the camera. The second is the "fill" light that fills in light (not as bright as the key) to fill in the other side of the face. Finally, the backlight or hair light, which provides a source of light positioned off to the side of the subject, pointed at the shoulders and the back of the head to highlight the shoulders and the top of the head. If you are fortunate enough to have another light, it can be used to highlight the background area, providing a splash of light that boosts an element in the background. Your subject should be talking to the interviewer, who should be positioned to one side of the camera. To remember where the key light or main light should go, just keep it on the same side as the interviewer. Add the fill light on the opposite side of the camera.

If you do not have a lighting kit, definitely take advantage of daylight coming into the room as your key light and bounce or reflect that same light using a large piece of white poster board to fill in the other side of the subject's face. You can use this same bounce, or reflection could also double as the backlight. 

Once the subject is present, in position and has a microphone attached, it is time to adjust the camera, the lighting and the audio before recording. Just when you thought it was all ready! The reasoning behind all of this is the subject may be shorter, taller or may look better facing one direction than the other. The background may look better with the subject in frame if the camera is moved a few inches in another direction or raised slightly. Frame your subject using "nose room."  Have more space in the direction their nose is pointing, and less toward the back of the head. Leave some space above the head but less than below the chin to the bottom of the frame. When it comes to lighting, adjusting the intensity of the light, direction and position will help improve the quality of the recorded image. Make sure to use the pan and tilt elements of the tripod to help assist you in adjusting the frame and angle of the camera. Before filming, take a few test shots and make sure that your footage meets technical requirements. Once everything is set and the lighting works for your recording, it is time to push the record button and begin the interview. Make sure all cellphones are switched off and, if possible, ask someone outside of the room to ensure that you are not disturbed.

Before you allow the interviewee to leave, spot check the recorded footage to make sure it was captured properly.

Location scouting and filming

Again, a pleasing background is better than a distracting background, even in an uncontrolled environment. You may have to interview someone on location at a conference or outside. Make sure the background is interesting, and that objects such as light poles or trees are not growing out of your subject’s head.

Position the camera close to the subject and do not put them against a wall. It is much more pleasing to the eye to see action happening in the background or a soft background than a wall in the same focus plane as the subject. Consider positioning your interviewee in an environment typical of their profession.

In these uncontrolled locations, it is best to use a shotgun microphone for audio recording because you can direct the microphone to pick up mainly the voice of the subject or a desired sound from the location or ambient sound.

Filming B-roll

Needless to say, video is a visual medium. Interviews and voice-overs need solid visuals to tell the story. Serve your story with B-roll that precisely complements and enhances the narrative. When gathering B-roll, consider the following variables for maximum shot variety and visual interest.

  • Prioritize gathering footage that relates to the story.
  • Avoid staying in the same camera position or sight line too long. Move around the space and present the subject(s) from a variety of vantage points.
  • Vary shot types, camera angle, focal lengths and compositions.
  • Bracket for static shots, camera movement, speed of camera moves and exposures.
  • Match camera movement and film style appropriately to the story’s tone.

Pieces-to-camera and voice-over 

Whether a piece-to-camera or voice-over, make sure that your script is well-written and succinct. Work out what each line needs to say and try to make it as much to the point as possible.

Pieces-to-camera should not be filmed until all interviews are complete, in case there is the need to change part of it in response to something that has come out of an interview. Voice-over should not be recorded until a rough edit is in place, again so that if something develops as you are piecing your structure together, you don’t have to rerecord it. Also, if you are working to a set duration, you may find the need to cut down on the voice-over in your video.

In terms of filming pieces-to-camera, your presenter should either use a lavalier microphone or a handheld or shotgun microphone, which will obviously be more prominent in the shot. Locations preferably should be relevant to the topic of your presenter and should play by the same basic rules discussed earlier in the location sections. Practice each one a couple of times, so both presenter and cameraperson are comfortable with the script and any movement by either the presenter or a camera move during the line. Do the line over and over again until all parties are happy that the take was perfect. Ideally, review it through the camera before you move on. Similarly with any voice-over, make sure you have at least one perfect version of each line. 

Postproduction

There is no set editing software package; you should use the program you are most comfortable with. Examples of common edit software include Avid, Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere. 

Whichever you choose to use, the most important aspect to remember is that any good video will showcase the convergence of a great story, technically proficient production and aesthetically smooth construction.

Try to structure your story as best you can before you begin editing. It may help to refer back to your preproduction plans. Listen through the interviews and select the clips that best fit within each section of your film. It may be two separate clips that can be joined together with some B-roll or interspersed between a clip from another interviewee. Make sure you are fair to your interviewees so if you are cutting down clips or not using questions, their answers remain in context.

There is no set structure for making films, but the Hub suggests placing the interview clips in the timeline of the edit, in the order that you feel it belongs. Once you are happy with this element of the structure, begin to think about writing the script you may need to supplement the film and introduce the clips. Then, the task is to place your visuals over any voice-over or sections of the interview that need painting. You may want to use other visuals or creative elements at the start of the film or to open up the film at some point to give it a breath or to introduce a new section. There really is no set way to make a film, but once you have got everything roughly in place, watch it through and see how it feels. You may wish to ask for a second opinion to ensure that it makes sense, it keeps the viewer’s interest and is not too long! Once you feel happy with this, you can then finesse the edits, the sound, and you may choose to explore some of the treatments that your edit software provides. 

Publishing

Should you wish to publish to the official ASU YouTube channel, please contact the video production manager in advance of completing your video if possible. If you wish to publish to another ASU-affiliated YouTube channel, visit Publishing Video for more best practices.    

Archives

Should you require specific university archives, it is possible that the Hub’s video production team may have what you require. Also, if you feel you have filmed material that may be useful to others in the future, we would be happy to add it to our archive.

Music

For more details on music, licensing and usage, please visit Music for video.

Contact us

Please feel free to contact the Hub video production team with any questions.