Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How To Fix Vertical Video Footage


“How do I flip my vertical video?”a client asked me recently after he had used his smartphone and shot his marketing video vertically. “Is there some program out there that will flip my footage to horizontal?” The answer?

You can’t and no there is no special program that I know of that can flip it and change the picture dimensions that would make it look right.  I tried doing that with the photo on the left to show you what I mean.


This is how the footage will look.


If I try to change the dimensions, it becomes distorted.

But there are ways you can “fix” it to fit in a horizontal format.

But before I get in to that, let’s think a bit on why you want to shoot your video in a horizontal position. For me, there are simple biological reasons. Our eyes aligned are side by side making it very natural to scan and watch movement in a horizontal plane. And although I can look up and down, when I watch something shot vertically, it just feels odd as if I’m missing what I should be seeing on each side. We consume media horizontally. TV’s, computer screens, GPS units, movies, to name a few, are made that way.

The good news is that if you are shooting with your video camera, you are probably not going to have to even think about shooting horizontally, they are set up to work that way. You’d have to put your hands in some strange positions to reach the buttons if you were to shoot that way. But the next time you are using your smartphone to shoot video and you find yourself putting your camera in front of you in a vertical position, STOP, and flip it horizontally.

I know everyone is used to holding their phones vertically and it is easier to just start shooting when you’re holding it that way. If you are doing this to quickly record something for your personal use, that’s no big deal. But if you want to add this footage to a marketing video or a video to sell, shooting vertical video smacks of being an amateur and of not paying attention.

If you did shoot something this way with your phone or you want to use footage someone else shot vertically, you can “fix” it in these ways.

  • If you started shooting and then realize you’re shooting vertically, stop filming, flip your phone horizontally and then start over.
  • What if you don’t want to stop and start filming because you want to keep the action or audio going? Flip your phone horizontally as you are filming. You can do a cut away to mask this change in action. Shoot some other scenes that make sense that you can cut away to – in film lingo this is called shooting b-roll. This will be done in the edit process. For example say you are shooting a street performance on a beach boardwalk. You can shoot crowds watching it or the beach, waves, boardwalk, etc. Or take stills and use them as cut away b-roll.

What if you have footage you can’t reshoot or you switched it from vertical to horizontal mid shoot and you need to use the footage you shot vertically? Here are some ideas:

  • Enlarge and crop the video to fill the horizontal space. Here is a short clip of what I mean. This works if your action can be focused on a certain area of the scene. I find that the resolution of my iPhone 6 is so good, I can do this and the video still looks really good. This may not be the case with older phones.
  • Put two clips side by side. Again, you layer them on top of one another on the timeline and move them so they are side by side.
  • Here’s an idea I’ve seen on news channels who want to use footage that people have taken on their phones. Duplicate your clip, layering one on top of the other in the timeline. Enlarge one of the clips and add a blur filter. That clip will be on the bottom of the timeline. Keep the clip on top in it’s original format and do not blur. To make it stand out more, add a border around that clip.

With smartphone videos, we’ll probably see more of an acceptance of vertical video especially in marketing videos but I doubt we’re going to be seeing the horizontal aspect ratio for longer form video changing any time soon. So if you’re shooting with your smartphone, pay attention to what you are doing and shoot it horizontally. But if you don’t, now you have some options on how to make it look like you did it on purpose.

Documentary Video Interview: How to Respond to the Answers

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So far I’ve covered 2 more guidelines in getting a good documentary interview: preparing and directing the person you are interviewing and asking the right questions. The 3rd and last guideline in my series on shooting documentary style interviews involves how you respond to what the interviewee is saying. Responding to the questions and getting a powerful interview requires you to listen and be engaged in what the person is saying.

You may be nervous too but it is important to put that aside and be focused and engaged in the interview and not just be the person who is reading the questions aloud and waiting for the answer to end to ask the next one. Keep in mind that it’s easy to “tune out” while you wait for him or her to finish so you can move on to your next question without you really listening to what is being said. When that happens, important followup questions may not be asked. Make sure you are having a 2 way conversation.

If the interviewer is not on camera, it is important that person keeps quiet when the other person is talking. You don’t want there to be other sound in the background. (Watch out for the “hmmmm”, “Oh right..”) It’s good for the interviewer to nod, and make gentle facial expressions, just have him or her stay silent. NOTE: If you or the interviewer are part of the story and the camera has both of you in the shot, then responding as you would in a normal conversation is okay and makes sense.

But whatever you do, don’t interrupt and talk over the person. I feel one of the worst things you can do as an interviewer is take over the interview yourself. I really hate those “news” shows where they do that. I really want to hear what the person has to say. The more they talk – the better interview you’ll get. While it’s important to converse, being rude and interrupting isn’t valuable to your audience.

Make sure you refer to those follow up questions you came up with when you were preparing your questions. You should have come up with 2 or 3 possible followup questions to ask, depending on the answer. This really helps if the conversation is dragging and/or you’re not really getting what you want from the interviewee.

Before you ask your questions, think how you can phrase them in a way that will allow the interviewee to expand. For example, asking the person, “Why are you so passionate about this [subject]?” is good but rephrasing it like this, “What are the three top reasons we need to learn about this [subject]?” will probably result in a more powerful and well thought out answer. This may take more time and require retakes, but it will be so worth it in the end.

Seek to understand what your interviewee is saying. While you want to understand the topic or what’s happening, like what did this person do and why is it important to share, it is much more interesting, both for you as the interviewer and your audience to know why does this person do what they do, and how. Study some professional interviewers like Oprah or Barbara Walters. You’ll notice that they ask questions to learn not just the what but also the how and why of the person or process. They know that to fully understand everything, their audience will be more engaged and interested.

You want emotion to come through. The best way to do this is to wait until the person finishes his or her response to ask another question. Also don’t stop filming when the interview is “over” – some of the best stuff happens if you continue with the conversation. This is especially important when you have someone who is nervous and never got quite comfortable with the interview. Here’s a trick: When you’re done with your official questions, say “OK, that’s the end of the interview” but make sure the camera continues to roll. Psychologically, the person no longer feels the “pressure” of the interview and may loosen up. This may be when you’ll get the best stuff.

Most of all, don’t forget who you are conducting this interview for. Your audience. Enlightening your audience should be your number one priority. You want to get answers that are meaningful from the person you’re interviewing that will serve those who will consume that content.

How To Direct a Great Documentary Video Interview

Director_chairEarlier I shared 13 guidelines to follow in order to shoot a professional looking interview even if you aren’t a skilled videographer or have the budget to hire one. A few of those guidelines focused on getting to know the interviewee, making her comfortable, and the type of questions you want to ask.

Here are 3 more guidelines I’ll be covering over the next few posts for when you are shooting documentary style interviews:

1) Preparing the Interviewee

2) Questioning the Interviewee

3) Responding to the Interviewee

Prepare Your Interviewee

To get a good documentary interview, you want the person comfortable to share not only her knowledge of the subject at hand, but her thoughts and emotions as well. It’s the unknown of what you, and your viewer, will discover that makes a powerful documentary. One of the best things you can do to get your interviewee comfortable is spend some time before the camera starts recording to brief your interviewee for what will follow.

The interviewee may ask you for your list of questions beforehand. Don’t give them the specific questions you have prepared. You want to have to person come across with authenticity, believability and  spontaneity, not like a well-rehearsed paid actor or worse, delivering a flat performance as if she is reading from a script or teleprompter. This isn’t an interview that you want scripted if you want it to be interesting.

However, it is smart to make sure the interviewee knows the topic of your interview and general themes you’ll be discussing. You don’t want someone who isn’t prepared fumbling through her answers either. A response peppered with thinking words, like the “ums” many people say when forming their answers is distracting. It also may make the interviewee more nervous and present herself in a less attractive light than she wishes. When an interviewee has had a chance to consider the subject beforehand, she has been able to give some thought to her responses and will rely less on mid-sentence thinking words when on camera.

Also let her know that you are going to treat the interview like a conversation and reassure her that mistakes can be changed in editing or you’ll repeat it again if you find the error too egregious. Tell her she can ask you if she could come back to certain questions if she felt she needed to clarify her answer.

Make sure she is speaking to you and not the camera. You will do this initially with the way you position the seating. I have also found that if you have an assistant or other people present, ask them to not engage in eye contact with the person and have the camera operator stand directly behind the camera to be less conspicuous. If you can, turn off the red recording light on your camera. If you can’t, then put a small piece of gaffer’s tape over the light. Some people get distracted by this flashing light.

Next post I’ll be talking more about the questioning aspect of directing video interviews.

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