Video Pre-Production: Planning and Filming Guide

The idea behind video storytelling parallels photojournalism: We use images and sound to tell a visual story. To ensure the best outcome, follow these guidelines before and during video production.

Planning Checklist

Before producing a video, the key question to ask is: Why would someone want to watch this video? When planning a video, review this list of standards that every video should strive to meet. If the proposed video doesn't meet most of these criteria, then a video should not be created.

  • Is there a story?
    Is there a story that can be visually told with a beginning, middle, and an end?
  • Does the story have movement?
    Is a person doing something? Is there a process to capture? Rarely are standalone interviews interesting to watch. The subject of the video should be filmed doing something that relates to the story.
  • Is the story visual?
    Where does it take place? If a communicator is writing a story about robotics research, shooting a video of a researcher in the office talking about it won't work.
  • Is there a main character?
    Is there a main character that can be deployed to help tell a larger story? Strive to tell stories in a character-driven manner with the idea that viewers can better relate to people than an idea or theme.
  • Do you have access to the subject matter?
    Can the videographer physically get close to the character or subject? It takes time — and lots of angles — to get a full story in video. If you can't get access to an event, a video talking about the event will not work.
  • Do you have enough time?
    It takes time to prepare for a video shoot, find and follow a good character, conduct interviews, and edit the piece. Lead time is critical to producing a compelling story. A short video can take two to three weeks to plan, shoot, and edit. In-depth pieces can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. That said, with enough pre-planning, it's possible to deliver a web video in a few hours.

Adapted from the Los Angeles Times Video Story Criteria,, and the Boston University Productions Office Producer's Manual.

Filming Checklist

  • Have you downloaded the Model Release Forms?
    All photo or video subjects should sign a Single Model Release or Group Model Release prior to filming. Model release forms can be accessed in the Brand Assets section of the Brand Guide. The signed release form(s) should be kept on file, in perpetuity.
  • Can you hear your subjects?
    One of the most important considerations for video production is audio.

Always use a microphone

  • Wired lavalier microphones are inexpensive and highly effective.
  • Wireless microphones are versatile, but only high-end versions are effective.

Eliminate environmental noises

  • Large crowds, cars and highways, or any other nearby noises will affect audio quality.
  • Make sure the microphone is as close to the subject as possible, to increase the signal-to-noise ratio.

Monitor the audio feed

  • Ideally, you should monitor from the recording source if possible (usually the camera itself).
  • If the camera doesn't have the ability to monitor, some microphone units do.
  • Can you see your subjects?
    Bad lighting can severely limit the effectiveness of a video. For videos with bad lighting and good audio, an audio podcast would be preferred.

Focus is critically important

  • Make sure the subject is in focus.
  • Zoom into their eyes, focus the camera, and then turn the camera to manual focus mode.
  • If the subject gets closer or further from the camera, the focus will change.

Use a tripod

  • A stable image makes a huge difference, especially if the video will be posted online.
  • In-camera or in-editing image stabilization systems rarely work as advertised.
  • Gorilla pods and other small tabletop tripods are good lightweight alternatives.

Pay attention to the light source

  • Outdoor light from the sky is blue (56K color temperature).
  • Indoor lights are orange (32K or tungsten color).
  • Keep your light color temperatures consistent.
  • Make sure your camera is set to the correct white balance setting.

The more light, the better

  • The human eye can see well in very low light conditions; cameras cannot.
  • Use dedicated film lights for indoor video.
  • If the video is an interview, windows provide great lighting.
  • Bounce boards will reflect the light, as will white walls.
  • If possible, use at least two lights.
  • Whenever available, use three-point lighting.
  • Are your subjects framed correctly?
    While composing a video or photo, follow the Rule of Thirds to create more energy and interest. Your video frame should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines.

    Important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. Place the horizon on the top or bottom line. Allow linear features in the image to flow from section to section.