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Hendon Publishing

Planning The Shot

This is a continuation of a multi-part series of articles on producing a law enforcement training video, from start to finish. This issue is devoted to planning the shoot. This is where you get to yell “action” and “that’s a wrap” if you want.

You have two basic ways to approach the planning of your video. First, you can approach it like a professional and plan on your video shoot from start to finish. This means that you will need a script and a detailed shot list. Second, you can see what footage you have available to you, for example, from a dash cam or from a video of a crime perpetrated at a business. Then, you can plan what else you’ll need to support the available video.

A real video clip adds something that a rehearsed and planned clip could never achieve: it is exactly the way that it happened. The live clip may lack visual and audio clarity, but realism can make a less than perfect video very gripping. Terrible sounding audio should be addressed in a number of ways, such as though an on screen transcript or by fine-tuning with an audio enhancement program. Viewers can tolerate marginal video much more than marginal audio.

Still, live video may not convey all the dynamics of an incident, since live video is a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional event from a specific angle. Taking that into account, live video can be supplemented by a planned shoot or later narration.

When planning a video shoot, you can save time by having a script, which is your video plan. A production schedule of planned shots, props needed, individual talent needed, and a rough time frame will help.

If no live video is used, a video script should be broken down into a shot by shot script. Your available resources may determine the way you precede. Officers may not be able to develop acting skills, including memorizing a specific script, but they are usually good role players.

Do a google search on “Script Writing Software” and you’ll find a number of offerings for Mac’s and PC’s. Prices range from free to about $300. It’s good to do a little investigating to see how easy the software is to use and if it will do what you want before plopping down $300 for a very specialized computer program.

Another way to plan your video shots is to consider a narrator. This is where a series of video shots are assembled, on paper or even in the editing program. A narrator then narrates from a specific script and the video shots and on screen graphics are assembled over the narration.

It’s much easier to lay down an audio track first when editing, and then trimming the video to fit the audio. It’s almost impossible to put a video track down during the editing process, and then try to pace the narration to exactly fit the video. Narrated audio first, then video.

One mantra of video shooting needs repeating: tape is cheap. You are better off shooting too much video than not shooting enough. Going back to a specific location at the same time of day, under the same weather conditions, and with the same lighting is not an easy task. It’s much easier and cheaper to have some extra shots on an extra one-hour videotape, which costs between $5 and $10 per tape.

Here is a second mantra: don’t touch the zoom feature on the camcorder. If you need a close shot, compose it as a close shot or take a wide shot. Zooming in and out is annoying and unprofessional. If you do zoom in and out it’s fine, that is, as long as you edit the zooming out.

There’s one very special way to use a zoom-in to add dramatic effect, such as when you very slowly zoom-in on a subject during an interview. The more dramatic the interview, the more impact the slow zoom-in will have. The zoom feature on most camcorders is too difficult to control a zoom-in in a slow and steady manner, and that is where the “lanc” plug-in located on the many camcorders will be of value.

You can purchase a controller that gives you a great deal of easy control over any zoom. Varizoom is a great source for purchasing a quality controller. Expect to pay between $200 and $400 for this controller, but it is well worth it if you want certain and selective dramatic effects.

You can even do a slow zoom out on your department headquarters, a marked patrol vehicle, or even the US Supreme Court Building if you’re in DC as a way to end your video. Varizoom also offers camera supports and some other nice accessories.

Ed Nowicki is currently a part-time police officer for the Twin Lakes, WI Police Department, and the executive director of ILEETA ( He has shot and edited 13 law enforcement-training videos, and he is currently developing a series of “Train the Trainer” videos for ILEETA as this column series of articles is being written. He may be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Jan 2006

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