Do you want to make your amateur videos like a pro? Let your audience crave for more videos from you? Learn how to think like a Hollywood director!
Well, I am not a Hollywood director but Steve Stockman is. He wrote a book How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck which I read. I learned a lot from this book and implemented many of the tricks into my videos. Result? Much better videos (in my opinion).
I wrote this detailed review to give you an idea what YOU can get from it.
What to Expect
Honestly, I had no idea who Steve Stockman is. Uncle Google revealed that he is a director of the movie Two Weeks and he created also TV shows, music videos, and hundreds of commercials. At first, I thought: OK, this guy is a Hollywood director but not like Quentin Tarantino or Steven Spielberg. But once I started reading his book I became his fan immediately and I follow everything he posts on his blog.
His style of writing is a little bit rough and it might hurt some peoples’ feelings. Right from the beginning, he expects that we shoot a video that sucks. You will not find any sugar coating in his book. Steve just says what he thinks.
You can also expect learning experience enriched by mini jokes like this:
You don’t want to play back an interview with your 100-year-old great-aunt and discover that by hand-holding the camera and positioning her by the window so she was looking up at you past the lens, you made her look like a creepy, silhouetted serial killer.
I like this style of writing, it made me laugh couple times. You can easily forget that you are learning and just have fun.
Chapters are short and each is focused on a single bite-sized topic which makes it easy to understand. You can (and you should!) immediately try the trick afterward.
Every chapter ends with exercise. These are like homework from school – you MUST do them! There will be only very little effect if you just read the book and forget most of it. If you practice and watch your shots afterward, learn from your own mistakes and re-shoot, you become a much better filmmaker. This is what moves your videos forward!
I like the drawings of examples showing what is in the frame. I don’t have to imagine what author suggests. Pictures make it perfectly clear. Where is my subject, what is in the foreground and background and what filming angle is the best for that particular situation?
Practical examples are everywhere in the book. I loved this! The general explanation is great but it is even better to have multiple concrete examples.
Stockman often shows what he did step-by-step in real life examples, taken from his professional directing as well as regular family videos. From the very beginning, through brainstorming ideas, to the final result. This helps a lot if you want to repeat the steps and end up with great result.
As you go through the book, you can also check the example videos online at Stockman’s website. It is free for everyone, you don’t have to purchase the book to get access. But I found inconvenient that the link in the book sends me always to the homepage with examples. I had to dig through all of them. Fortunately, there are not so many examples online so I found it quite quickly. But it would be better if the link redirects me to the particular video example right away.
Tips are explained in plain English, you won’t need a filmmakers’ dictionary. And it is not only explained what (not) to do but also why. It is easier to remember all those tips and use them (!) because you know why.
What You Will Learn (Book Content)
The book is divided into 7 big thematic parts and each has several small chapters which let you easily digest every topic. Let’s dig deeper now.
Think Like a Director
In the first part of the book, you will learn how to think like a director. The reality is that most people do not think when shooting their video.
Stockman recommends to THINK about any videos appearing in front of you, not just watch them. What is boring on them? And what is compelling? He guides you to make your videos entertaining.
Every video should be made with intention. The author illustrates brainstorming process for gathering many initial ideas and choosing the best intention afterward. He also shows how to keep focus instead of taking random shots.
The book explains why it is so important to show motion and why we get bored quickly when there is none.
Why it’s hard to make a great video based just on dry facts? Let’s see how to spice it up with an emotional story!
Stockman teaches you how to use a brainstorming technique to make a long shot list before you go to action and then choose the best ideas. For example, he shows planning of his kid’s soccer game filming. Without a shot list, this might end up as a boring family video full of random shots. The author shows practically why planning ahead is so powerful.
You must know your target audience first and then make a video specifically for them. The book guides you to find out who is your audience, what do they want, when and where they will be watching your video.
You will learn how to “think in shots” and why it is so important to cut the video into short shots.
Personally, I struggle with the length of my videos. I often cannot decide which shots stay in my final video. The book explains that keeping the video short actually makes it more entertaining. Stockman even recommends cutting the suggested length of your video by two-thirds. Honestly, this is killing me!
Next, you will see how to intrigue your audience and leave them wanting more. How to let them wondering what comes next? Stockman describes several concrete examples and reveals a few tricks to help you create a mystery and intrigue in your video.
Preparation is the key to amazing video and the book discusses this phase in great details. Can you pitch your video in one sentence or two? And why is this so important?
Think about the genre of your video. Stockman also describes how to build the right structure of your video.
Video needs a story, but when it is appropriate to write it down in a script?
Setting the Stage
Next big part of the book talks about what do you need before the shoot. What is storyboard and how to create one easily even if you are not filming a Hollywood movie? Choosing the right people for video, making them look good, choosing the right location and what to do if you can’t choose.
This part is definitely applicable to more serious filmmakers. But I would recommend even to casual creators of family videos to read these chapters and at least think about them briefly.
Filming Tips and Tricks
We are getting to the core of the book now – how to shoot video that doesn’t suck. Did you notice how much the book already covered before actual shooting?
Next 60 pages include over 20 short chapters with tiny tips and tricks. These are small things which you might never think about. But together, they will improve your video significantly. Let’s check some of them.
Stockman suggests interesting technique edit with your brain which saved me o ton of time. Just shoot only very short shots of the best actions, which will end up in your final video. Then you don’t have to edit after you finish shooting. Put the pieces together and you are done. I learned already before I read this book – more raw footage I have, more time I spend on video editing. The technique reduce this problem enormously. Of course, this is not a solution for once-in-a-lifetime situation if we don’t know when the right moment comes (first steps of your baby).
Do you know why it is better to avoid zooming with your camera and rather come closer to your subject? And how close you should go to capture the emotion of your hero? You will get answers with detailed explanation.
The key to understanding your video is picking the right subject, the right action and the right way to focus on them. The author shows interesting practical examples of the same action with a different focus each time. I was surprised how the tiny details changed the whole point of the movie!
Stockman teaches you to hold the camera steady and don’t move at all in one shot. I understand that he wants to teach us the basics first, before moving to the next level. Focus on a subject and frame it properly, instead of “waving the camera around” unintentionally, as he says.
But you can see literally everywhere how moving camera makes the videos more cinematic. And I cannot resist. Even amateurs are able to do this smoothly without using expensive sliders and other equipment. The author provides examples when it is good to move with the camera. But I miss more practical tips how to keep dynamic shots steady.
I learned some of the simple tricks like placing a camera on selfie stick, creating fake movement and stabilizing in post processing. I will discuss these techniques in future posts here on the blog. Subscribe if you don’t want to miss it.
Stockman proposes to focus the video on a subject which goes against our instincts. I must admit that these videos are a lot more exciting to watch and they provide a higher level of entertainment. My video from surviving floods during camping with kids is not something nice I would do again. But it surely shocked my audience and it quickly became popular on YouTube. I even won GoPro awards prize with this video. Remember Stockman’s simple recommendation:
Learn how to introduce the location of the video to your audience by filming establishing scenes. You will get plenty of examples, as you are already used to it when reading this book.
When shooting a family video, you might not notice little things which pop up later as you edit your video. Or worse when you watch it with your friends after you publish it on YouTube. I mean those little details, what is in the background and even foreground, in front of your subject. For example, I captured the main action how my kid rode a bike for the first time. But I didn’t notice something disturbing in the background. Later, I learned that just going a few steps aside gives me the whole different background which looks better. The book shows how to master these details.
I already discovered the beauty of unusual filming angles and frequent alternating between them. But author surprised me how MANY angles you may try. He explains that you have more than 129,600 options where you can place your camera to shoot your subject. Isn’t that amazing? As always, you get a homework – shoot 50 different 3-to-5-second static shots of your subject. Stockman did this homework too and filmed his daughter drawing. I was curious (honestly, I expected a boring video). But changing filming angles provided a rich image of the action which made the video much more interesting. Nice example, great homework!
If you have ever learned about photography essentials you probably heard about the rule of thirds, right? The same rule applies to a video. Simply place your subject to the third of the frame. The author explains the history of that rule and also wonders why it looks better than placing the hero right in the center.
What about audio, is it enough to use your in-camera microphone? Sometimes it might be insufficient (when?). Well, in most cases it is better to use an external mic. But what kind? You won’t get any particular brand recommendation but you will learn what you can expect from the specific kind of microphone (shotgun, boom etc.).
Specific Tips for Special Projects
Tips mentioned above are generally applicable to any video. But in the next part of the book, you will learn more specific tricks for various kinds of projects.
I especially liked the notes regarding the shooting “cutest kids on Earth”. Nicely behaving kids aren’t always a good material for entertaining video. I blame Stockman that I allowed my kids to jump into the river for the toy they threw in. Even though I didn’t have spare shoes and clothes for them. Note for the child protective services: I took off their wet shoes and pants and turned on the heater when we got back to our car. Kids were happy and full of adventure of a lifetime. And mom got exciting shot!
The book offers advice on specific projects like:
- vacation video
- music video
- college and application videos
- how-to video
- viral video
- promoting products or services
Again, you will get plenty of examples. This is what makes the book excellent!
Video Editing 101
Stockman teaches also the basics of video post processing. Don’t expect any particular program tutorial or anything like that. Video editing is about cutting out the bad parts, keeping the best ones and organizing them to a great story.
You will learn a few more tricks, for example, how to start your video with an important detail for the whole story, connect the beginning and end of the story etc. You will understand what is better to avoid and why, like using too complicated graphics, transitions etc.
In the final part of the book, you will get tips what to do with your finished video. For example, whom to show your work, how to get valuable critique and learn from it.
I didn’t cover the whole content of the book here but I picked the topics which were the most interesting for me. I hope you have an idea what you can get from this book.
I plan to write more detailed posts about some of the topics in the future. I want to test everything and bring you my own perspective and experience. Make sure to subscribe if you don’t want to miss it.
Worth It to Read?
It’s been a while I read this book. Now I am briefly going through again just for the purpose of writing this review. But it reminds me how much valuable information is there and how much I already forgot. It is worth it to return to this book and read it multiple times.
The book is full of tiny little tricks you can try and see the results immediately. Stockman didn’t write the book only for filmmakers with big ambitions but rather for amateurs who want to shoot a better video. Most of the tips I found in this book are perfectly appropriate for family videos. You will get even advice regarding creating videos for YouTube.
I really loved to see many concrete examples which helped me to understand the topic. The most valuable thing, in my opinion, is doing the exercises ASAP after reading. This ensures that you will learn all the tricks and then implement them in all future videos.
I highly recommend you to read this book. It is a tiny investment compared, for example, to filming equipment. But I believe this might have a much bigger impact on your videos than buying a better camera and you will eventually become a better filmmaker.
What is your opinion? Or do you have any other favorite book about filmmaking? Share it with us in comments below please.
Thanks for reading!
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