Category: Directing

How to Make a Simple Testimonial Video

This is something I’ve been encountering a lot lately and I decided it was time to put together the list of stuff a video beginner needs to know for even the simplest of simple videos – the client testimonial video.

Client testimonial videos are about the easiest kinds of productions to pull off and they’re one of the first things I recommend considering as a company begins making their foray into this type of media. It’s a type of video that can be easily standardized and contains some of the most valuable stories a company could POSSIBLY share–the stories of people who bought your stuff and thought is was great!

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Video Directing & Photojournalism – Lessons from Humans of New York

I have only recently discovered Humans of New York but my love for the project pretty much immediately shot out of my eyeballs. Seriously, this is one of the most beautiful, simple examples I can think of where humans are just doing human stuff together and it’s just goddamn gorgeous.

Brandon Stanton set out on this challenge to himself to photograph 10,000 people in New York City and along the way began interviewing this subjects. I love stories like these where someone just set out to DO a thing for their own curiosity’s sake and it became this entire OTHER thing and a whole lot of people got an incredible glimpse of humanity that only an idea and a lot of hard work can reveal.

This presentation he made to the Literary & Historical Society at University College in Dublin is about how he gets strangers on the street to let him photograph them, but also how he gets them to share their stories. It’s an intense process and he says straight up that the only way it’s possible to get good at something like this is to just go and DO it thousands of times and get all the mixed results that come with it.

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Video Production Checklist – Right Before Going On Location

Okay kids, again we talk about the importance of planning and how it will save you migraines and anal leakage over time if you think ahead like good little boys and girls.

Just don’t…you know, start PLANNING so hard you get migraines and anal leakage, I guess…

Anyway, this planning relates to the stuff you need to gather right before you’re going to head out to record. Shoots often have different combos of equipment needed so make sure you scope this list then analyze and map out the things you will need each time, AHEAD of time.

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Simple Video Pre-Production Checklist

If there’s something I used to hate as much as audio, it was pretty much planning ahead. For like, anything. Ever.

I was always the kind of student that would write my term papers the day before they were due.

I took my ACT in December before I graduated high school in May of ’08. I think I started applying to colleges in like, April.

For the biggest, scariest interview of my life that won me the coolest job I’d ever even heard of, I showed up in a tank top and flip flops because I misunderstood what was going on.

One of my primary life success skills is actually “flying by my ass.” And it got me by pretty well–

Until I started working with video.

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How to Shoot Video Well with Stuff You Already Have

Did you know that our cell phones are now more computationally powerful than the entire computational power of NASA around 1969?

Or that the video camera on your smartphone is more advanced than any professional camera Alfred Hitchcock ever used to shoot his award-winning films?

It’s true, the technology we carry around in our pocket is more than sufficient to get us started on crazy new things like video production so if you’re ready, you can compensate for some of the shortcomings we still experience by just knowing how to maximize what you already have!

Start where you are quote Arthur Ashe

I started with a consumer level video camera (check out my gear!) and an iPhone to shoot video. I whined about each of them at first until I realized I wasn’t even juicing them for all that they could give me!

My little Canon Vixia HF M300 actually let me record in HD, set a custom white balance and had great image stabilization and my iPhone got me through a tough spot with a shoot for my mentor—albeit, not particularly gracefully…

Oh god. Okay, let’s go there. Here’s one of my favorites from that shoot:

I say “favorite” loosely because I was SO mad at myself for this. I managed to actually do what I have nightmares about…leave for a video shoot and NOT BRING MY CAMERA. Really? That really happens? I had to check myself to make sure I was wearing pants and still had all of my teeth, next…

We were able to wing it with my iPhone but I learned a lot of hard lessons in post because of that.

The sound on these was left in mono on purpose because I lost too much volume by switching to stere. This is because I just used the onboard mic on my iPhone while fairly far away from my subjects surrounded by a lot of ambient outdoor noise.


That audio is TURNT UP in every way I could possibly manipulate it. Thank GOD that each of these interviewees just had such great stories that they carried the videos past my…technical difficulties.

One thing I made sure to get right though was to SHOOT IN LANDSCAPE MODE. Holding your phone upright as it would be when you are texting or browsing Instagram is considered Portrait Mode and when you import footage like that to edit, you will have some awesome, thick black bars on either side of your clips that make you look like a n00b. Which…you are, but don’t be SO obvious, okay?

This video pretty much sums it up:

Next, mind your LASS.

Mind your LASS

Seriously, she’s getting out of control. She’s just running around and voting and starting businesses and stuff. God.

But no really, let’s break this down:

  1. Light: When it comes to simple pick-up-and-go video production you just can’t beat natural light. In every circumstance you possibly can try to navigate around being able to use natural light for the best possible visibility and color results. If you MUST shoot indoors away from windows and do not have a ton of incandescent lights to prop up around your subject, then just…make sure really great stuff is going on to distract from gross lighting quality!
  2. Audio: As we have learned, the on-board mics for hand-held cameras and smartphones are…present, but don’t produce the most excellent quality. For the best results make sure you are minimizing background noise (and don’t underestimate background noise, a rogue air conditioner can really mess with you…) and your subject as close to your camera as possible.
  3. Stability: Standard hand-held cameras offer some pretty good image stabilization features but most smartphones are more sensitive. Keep your camera stationary as much as you can or use BOTH hands, ideally with your elbows anchored into your waist, to shoot.
  4. Story: The narrative or concept of your video is still the most important. What are you trying to say or show? In normal conversation I tend to ramble and follow rabbit trails like a maniac so I absolutely script and storyboard my videos as much as I can ahead of time. I LOVE this quote:

“If you can plan like Hitchcock, you don’t have to edit like Herzog!”

I found it in the comments of a Gawker article called “5 Rules for Making a Company Video Worth Watching” that featured some good points for company video (more on more business-y videos later!)

And also action. The 102 level of this is to incorporate action which can be made by following something that’s moving, zooming in and out, focusing in our out, or using cuts. Cuts are really helpful, scenes that move around and are just a few seconds long are ideal but this is often difficult to do without  multiple cameras, especially in an interview setting. Which is why I left it out of the core LASS.

Here’s a video I made as I finished up my term with Young & Free St. Louis advising competing hopefuls on how to make the most of their application videos:

And to close, here are some other really great tips from

10 Tips for Shooting Better Video with Your iPhone

We’ll get more into editing soon, too. I really encourage you to get used to working with real-time video and really separate yourself from the ideas of “editing that out” or “fixing it in post” because that stuff can be incredibly painstaking and difficult. You will always be better off if you just shoot your video well to begin with!

What do you think? Are you so pumped to get started? Tell me about yourself and your work in a comment or say hello on Facebook and Twitter!

For those about to [REC.], we salute you!