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Troubleshooting

The Seenit Filming School

Content creation isn’t reserved for production studios. Today, anyone with a smartphone can make and star in their own short film, and with the pace at which technology is advancing, it’s only going to get easier. For brands eager to connect with their audience in a meaningful way, that’s good news. Never before has authentic video content been more simple to create, edit and share with the world.

The Seenit Filming School

Content creation isn’t reserved for production studios. Today, anyone with a smartphone can make and star in their own short film, and with the pace at which technology is advancing, it’s only going to get easier. For brands eager to connect with their audience in a meaningful way, that’s good news. Never before has authentic video content been more simple to create, edit and share with the world.

According to Statista, the current number of smartphone users in the world today is 3.8 billion, meaning just over 48% of the world’s population owns a smartphone. Once upon a time, the only people capable of sharing stories were the directors, film crews and writers who worked in the industry.  Now, nearly half of the people in the world can point the camera at themselves and share their own stories online. 

At the same time, the smartphone market continues to innovate at pace, bringing out new models that boast increasingly powerful cameras. In 2007, a digital camera with 13 megapixels was an impressive piece of kit. In 2021, this is the standard spec of a mid-range smartphone camera.  Even the Film and Television industry itself has harnessed the potential of smartphone footage; films like Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Unsane’ and ‘High Flying Birds’ both take advantage of the medium - not just for the sake of cost savings, but to unlock a sense of raw truth that a film crew often can not. 

Thanks to the development of apps such as Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat, it’s easier than ever to produce engaging content, share your unique perspective and show the world what you stand for. So, unsurprisingly, many of us are already taking advantage of modern technology to do just that.  

In 2020, TikTok was the most downloaded app on iOS and Android. Data from Ofcom also found that a whopping 40% of adults online and 59% of older children using video sharing sites are also creating their own videos, resulting in a boom in short-form, user-generated content. It’s no surprise that brands have started to tap into the potential of co-creating video content with their communities. After all, with all this technology at their fingertips, organisations are more than equipped to take advantage of this trend. In doing so, they can increase the visibility of their people and put the brand’s values centre stage. 

But first, let’s address the elephant in the room:

“Won’t the quality be worse if it’s filmed on a phone?”

We hear this a lot. Surely, if you produce a film with a smartphone, the quality of the footage won’t compare to something that is filmed and edited by a professional crew? 

It’s a fair question, and the answer is simple: yes, your footage will look more professional, but will it feel as authentic? 

If your aim is to amplify the voices of the people in your community and share their perspectives with your audience, the film you produce should be genuine. The more scripts you edit, expensive cameras and lighting you add, the further away from authenticity you go. Sure, the end result will look amazing, but footage shot on modern smartphones is pretty impressive too. 

At Seenit, we’re on a mission to create a more human world by enabling anyone to tell their story in the most impactful way. With this in mind, we thought we’d give you a nudge in the right direction by pulling together our tips and tricks into a complete guide to filming on your smartphone. 

Smartphone filming 101

If you’re reading this, congratulations - you have officially embarked on your video content journey! In our experience, the most daunting part of the journey is getting started. 

When it comes to filmmaking, the best way to learn is by doing: it doesn’t take a film production expert to know what bad footage looks like. For example, a shaky video with bad audio is obviously not ideal. While there is an endless number of books on the subject of framing, filming and editing, filmmaking is an art. The more you get accustomed to shooting footage on your smartphone, the more you will discover your own voice and preferred method. 

That said, the basic principles of film production still apply. All that has changed is the camera on which you’re shooting. So, before you hit the record button, here’s a breakdown of the key points to keep in mind. 

Getting camera confident

Here’s the thing: some people are naturally great in front of the camera. For others, being on camera can be awkward, embarrassing or nerve-wracking. What if you don’t have anything original to say? What if people think you’re narcissistic? What if you can’t speak on camera without feeling hot and flustered? 

The advantage of shooting from a smartphone is that you have all the time you need to stop, start again and make adjustments. There’s no rush, and there’s no pressure.

It’s okay to mess up

Messing up on camera is perfectly acceptable - in fact, it’s encouraged. Mistakes can be frustrating, but don’t worry if you fluff a line or make a weird face. The magic of editing can cut these moments out during post-production. Don’t feel under pressure to get it right the first time - in fact, the more you mess up, the more comfortable you will feel communicating the message on camera. That’s a good thing, as you don’t want it to come across as forced or pre-rehearsed. 

Create a comfortable environment 

The best piece of advice to getting camera confident is to relax. Even the most successful Youtubers started somewhere. Their early videos may be long-deleted, but it takes practice to get comfortable speaking on camera.If you’re your worst critic or tend to succumb to self-doubt while filming, get someone you feel comfortable with to record you. This can help you to feel at ease by turning an on-the-spot filming session into a natural conversation with someone you know. 

Warm up and enunciate  

If you’ve ever tried filming yourself, you’ll know how hard it is to come across as a human, and not a robot. Enunciating is important in delivering a clear message, and mumbling is a sure fire way to make your audience to switch off. But there’s a fine line between using emphasis and sounding forced. 

Making time to get comfortable with the subject matter and message before hitting record can help you to feel more relaxed when filming begins.  Warming up your vocal chords by doing some casual vocal exercises can increase blood flow to the larynx, lips, lungs and tongue. This reduces vocal fatigue and will allow you to talk for longer and achieve a wider range of pitch. 

Framing and composition 

The composition of your footage is the arranging of elements in an image or scene in a way that is pleasing to the eye and easy to follow. By understanding what good composition looks like, you can create more eye-catching content that keeps your audience engaged. 

Understand camera angles 

More than anything, good cinematography is about choosing the right camera angles for your film. Although there’s a wide range of shots to choose from, you don’t need to use complex angles to make a compelling video.  From a powerful establishing shot that sets the scene to the standard eye-level shot that frames the subject, an understanding of the basic camera angles can serve as the building blocks to make more interesting combinations. 

Frame your subject 

How you frame your subject will depend on the type of content you’re filming. Planning on filming yourself speaking? Position yourself slightly off centre from the camera and keep yourself in front of a simple background. You can do it selfie style, set up a tripod, prop your phone on a surface or get a friend to film you.  If it’s an interview-style and you’re filming someone else, position yourself at a slight angle to achieve “the buddy shot”, whereby the subject is not looking directly into the camera. This creates a more conversational and natural effect. 

Think about headroom 

When framing your shot, make sure the subject has enough headroom above them so the shot doesn’t look awkward or cut them off. Too little headroom can make the shot feel claustrophobic, but too much can cause the viewers’ eyes to wander away from your focal point. 

Look for leading lines 

Whenever you look at an image, your eyes will be automatically drawn to the lines within it - whether it’s a road, a horizon, a building or even a wall in your house. Leading lines is a technique used in composition that uses these natural lines to frame a shot and draw the viewer’s gaze in a specific direction. Look for these when setting up a shot and use them to your advantage. 

Getting to grips with audio

Let’s be honest: bad audio can ruin a perfectly good piece of content. It can also distract from the story and put the focus on the sound rather than the message itself. Fortunately, even knowing the basics of audio can make all the difference in the quality of your smartphone footage. The following tips will get you on the right track to recording clear audio and using music to your advantage.

Check your surroundings

Need to record something outdoors? Be mindful of the background noises and weather conditions.  Unless you do have professional recording equipment like a dynamic mic and a windshield already, it’s best to avoid bustling streets or shooting on windy days. If you are filming outside, prepare for a little trial and error. Testing the quality of audio now and moving location if you need to will save you time in editing, as removing crackling or background noise can be surprisingly tricky in post-production. 

Top tip: If you can’t avoid filming somewhere loud, put some tape over the built-in mic on your smartphone. This will prevent the sound from being distorted when audio levels are too high.

Capture the dialogue 

One of the most important elements of video production is ensuring dialogue is captured clearly and audibly. No one wants to strain to hear a conversation. The good news is that smartphone microphones are more advanced than ever, and even something as simple as getting closer to your subject matter can improve the quality of your audio. 

If you’re recording a public talk, don’t try to record the speaker from the back of the room: the closer you are, the better the sound. That said, if dialogue is important to your video, you may want to invest in an affordable external microphone. If you don’t have one, try using a second phone for audio and point the mic towards the subject matter. 

Top tip: **Always allow for three seconds before and after you press that red record button **to ensure none of the dialogue is cut off. Something so simple can make all the difference to your audio. 

Consider using voiceover 

Voiceover or VO is a dialogue from a narrator that the audience doesn’t see. The power of a great voiceover is the ability to capture your audience’s attention and draw them in to your message, but that all depends on the clarity of the audio, the script itself, the tone of voice and the pacing of the voiceover. The dialogue should guide the audience: if done well, their attention will be on the content, not the delivery of the message.

If you are using your own voice as opposed to a professional voiceover artist, we recommend practising several times and recording various takes. It also helps to have a conversation with someone about the topic you’re about to discuss prior to recording, as this can help the voiceover to sound more natural. 

The power of music

The right song or musical composition can add another dimension to your film. It helps shape emotional responses, creates a flow to scenes and serves as the illustration to your message. If you take the same shot and try applying different music to it, you will find the meaning of the scene changes. For example, horror films are famous for using music to create tension before a jump scare - on a subconscious level, the music signals to the viewer of the impending threat. Well chosen music can define the mood of your movie, and sometimes a really unexpected track can work to the opposite of what you would expect. 

Filming hacks for user-generated video

Just because you’re filming with a smartphone, the footage doesn’t have to look amateur. In fact, there are a number of ways in which you can enhance the look, feel and sound of your video content- and they don’t require studio equipment or professional expertise.  

Mix it up

If you’ve got access to multiple devices, try shooting a scene or subject from several angles at once. When you’re editing, you’ll have a nice variation of shots to choose from with multiple perspectives to enrich the content.  Alternatively, add a layer of dynamism to your video content by moving around and changing your environment. By switching up the background, you keep your audience’s attention locked in from start to finish. If you’d like to give your footage a cinematic feel, check out our 5 tips - these little hacks can make all the difference.  

Adjust the focus 

Shallow depth of field is a technique commonly used in filmmaking to focus the audience’s attention on one particular area of an image. The rest of the picture will be out of focus, melting away to centre in on the protagonist of the story. This technique is achievable with a smartphone, and while it won’t always be appropriate, it can help your audience to connect with the core themes or the narrator in your video. 

Experiment with lighting 

You don’t have to be Steven Spielberg to shoot video footage that looks and sounds good. One of the most important elements that make for high-quality video content is lighting. Before you start filming, check where the light is coming from and figure out how best to use it. Backlighting can be dramatic, but unless you’re shooting a horror film, try to ensure the subject is clear and visible.If you don’t have any natural lighting, add a lamp or bounce light into the room. If you’re outside, find a street light or lights from nearby shops. 

Find a stable place for your phone 

No one wants a repeat of the Blair Witch Project. Unless the purpose of the video is to film from the perspective of people taking part in an activity like running or an assault course, keep your camera propped up somewhere secure. When filming with your phone, hold it with both hands and position them comfortably before hitting record to reduce any shaking.

Make use of B-roll

In film and TV production, B-roll is supplemental footage that is intercut with the “A Roll” or main footage to add depth, make for smooth transitions and help keep your audience actively engaged. As well as filming with multiple cameras to get different angles, try filming the same subject or scene several times. That way, you’ll end up with the take you’re happy with and several other pieces of footage that can support the video, increase production value and give it that professional polish.

Editing your film 

Editing is one of the most important steps in the entire process. How you weave together the footage and package it up will, to some extent, determine how impactful your story is. Although the purpose of your story and the message you want to convey should be set before filming, the content you receive from your community will usually shape the final narrative. Often, it’s only when viewing the footage that certain themes will come to light. 

In most films, editing helps to determine four dimensions of film narrative: 

  1. The order of the events in the story
  2. The amount of information the audience will get about the narrative
  3. The audience’s response to the characters
  4. The pace of the story 

So, think about the logical order of your footage and work to build up to a crescendo. Storytelling should have a beginning, middle and end, so a good starting point is to sort through your footage and decide which pieces should go where. Much of the magic of movies happens in the editing. This is where elements such as music can play a key role in tying multiple pieces of footage together into an impactful compilation that illustrates your message. 

If it all sounds complex, don’t worry - Seenit is designed to be intuitive and simple to use. That means you don’t need a professional video editor to pull all of the content together - instead, you can quickly cut together the best of your content with the built-in editing software to achieve a slick, final edit. That said, we do recommend asking around in your organisation in case you have people within your teams that have experience in video editing and a knack for storytelling. 

Lights, camera, action 

The rise in user-generated video isn’t about to slow down any time soon. No longer do we need film crews and studios to produce and share impactful video content: with the smartphones in our pocket, we have the power and capability to share our stories with the world in a way that is meaningful, memorable and makes an impact. 

Creating authentic videos is something many of us are already doing in our personal lives. Now, it’s fast-becoming a powerful tool in the professional sphere - be it for recruitment, marketing or internal comms. 

At Seenit, we’re helping brands take advantage of this trend to communicate their message to a global audience. Forget the expensive equipment and editing software: all you need to get started is a story brief and the people in your community to unleash the potential of user-generated video.  The result? Authentic content that cuts through the noise and gets your brand noticed.