Making video magic by capturing emotion

All great films and videos are full of magic. It’s in smiles and teardrops, heartache and euphoria. To me, the magic in moving pictures is all about emotion. That’s what connects with people and makes them care about the story.
As a video producer, I’m always trying to enchant my viewers. I’m no magician, but I do have a bag of tricks I use to try to capture emotion.
Let’s start with what’s real, like the excitement of a child catching her first fish. This one’s easy. Point the camera in the right direction, hit record, and voilà. There’s always a temptation to get the shot of that beautiful creature emerging from the water. Resist the urge. You’ll be happy you did when you see the wonderment on that child’s face.
It doesn’t hurt to keep the camera rolling even after the primary action has ended. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped recording right after the kid releases her fish only to miss that heartwarming hug, enthusiastic yell, or triumphant high five.
The camera itself can be used to establish a mood.
Following a group of hunters through thick brush as branches bend and snap back into place creates a sense of urgency you’ll never get when shooting from a tripod. Sending a small action camera surging through whitewater rapids takes your viewers on a thrilling ride from the rafter’s point of view. Shifting into slow motion adds another dimension.
If you want viewers to feel uneasy, or maybe even slightly queasy, experiment with erratic camera movement or unusual angles. I like to vary my shots, but I’ve always been particularly fond of extreme close-ups that look directly into a subject’s eyes. The addition of slow motion can reveal subtle, fleeting expressions that say so much about a person.
When you want viewers to soak in the quiet solitude of a misty mountain lake, it’s time to put that camera back on the tripod.
Filmmakers who cover the outdoors are lucky because nature is intrinsically magical. There is a reason that time near sunrise and sunset, when golden light produces dramatic shadows, is called “the magic hour.”
Take advantage of other natural elements like steam rising from a lake, dramatic cloud formations and tall grasses dancing in the breeze to set the mood. They all elicit an emotional response and play on that human desire to be close to nature. I rarely miss a chance to capture images of sunlight shimmering through the trees or sparkling on the water.
I’m also fond of silhouettes. There’s something simple, mysterious and serene about scenes of people in silhouette. It gives viewers an opportunity to attach their own emotions to the scene and imagine what the subject is feeling.
Beautiful images lose much of their magic without excellent audio, so don’t neglect the sound. A good wireless microphone provides a lot of flexibility. Put it on the person you’re covering and leave it there. After a while, people tend to forget they’re wearing a microphone and start to open up.
Making video magic doesn’t end in the field. The emotional impact of your video will be determined by the choices you make when writing your script, placing edits and mixing music and sound. Conjure just the right recipe, and your story will be absolutely spellbinding. ♦

David Majure is an Emmy award-winning producer for the Arizona Game and Fish Department and its flagship Arizona Wildlife Views television program. Before joining the agency in 2013, Majure spent most of his career as a television writer and producer for Arizona PBS (KAET-TV, Phoenix).

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