In this era of ‘User Generated Content’, you might wonder why you need to worry about established video production techniques for social video, why not just switch on a camera and film what you want, how you want? Isn’t that more authentic?
Well now… authenticity in this context is a word which needs to be handled with care. First of all, it should be your No.1 priority to seek authenticity in every piece of content you produce – to reveal the true character of a person or situation, as this is the only way to ensure that you’ll engage an audience.
Of greater concern though to me and, I suspect, plenty of other professionals, is the growing tendency for the social video community to speak of authenticity when describing the way content has been produced. Perhaps the composition of the footage is poor, the camera work shaky, the edit utilitarian but the underlying content is strong. It is these very ‘flaws’ that they say give the piece authenticity but authenticity in video only comes from the subject matter being portrayed, not from mistakes or misjudgements in the production process.
This might sound pretentious or snobbish and many people would argue that social video is breaking barriers because creators are not adhering to old or tired processes. They would say that the new ‘worts and all’ style of much social video is refreshing, honest…. authentic.
But this is missing the point. Established production techniques are not there to protect ‘old’ methods from the advancement of new more creative ones. They are there because they work and have been developed and refined by highly creative and experienced people for over a hundred years. So it’s fair to say, that the principles professional film and video makers employ to get great results are pretty safe to trust and really don’t need challenging. They also are not a hindrance to creativity, they enable creativity.
The other reason it is missing the point is that the role of the video creator is to portray the subject matter in a way that illustrates the concept, without the audience noticing. Every project needs a concept, even if it is simply a talking head describing a bar of soap. It is the concept that governs the shooting style, the shooting style that governs the production techniques used and nothing in this process prevents you from creating refreshing, honest and authentic content.
In documentary film making for instance, the whole point is to let reality play out on camera. It is the subject matter that is the focal point, nothing else. This means that the shooting style needs to be simple and unobtrusive because otherwise there is a risk that it will overpower the subject matter and detract from the story. So, if the subject matter calls for an ‘amateur’ look to the footage, then this needs to be created by design, not simply by accident.
In any walk of life, in any business, we all generally seek to be good at what we do and it’s no different in video creation. What is challenging about video for many people is that the ‘being good’ bit crosses over a number of different skill sets – creative, camera operation, production planning, lighting, scripting, editing, colouring and mastering. This is often why people just focus on the skills they have and don’t worry too much about those they don’t. “If I do what I do well, the audience will overlook the other bits because my video will have real authenticity”.
My beef is not with people using video as a means of communicating something, that I celebrate and I want to see more people create great video – it is after all why we run video production workshops! Neither is it about people hijacking my craft or some other protectionist nonsense. It is about the passing off of video that has been made without craft, as something more than it is. More importantly, it is about this trend impacting on the audience’s perception of real authenticity in a piece.
Roughly made video is not more ‘authentic’, it is what it is. That doesn’t make it bad in itself and I have no desire at all to see this kind of content disappear. I just want to see honesty around video quality and urge that if you want to create video, seek to do it well, learn the processes that will ensure you get good results and don’t fall for the old ‘rough video is better because it’s more authentic’ nonsense.
There’s so much space for all types of video, from content that has been lovingly crafted by professionals to a webcam vlog by a tearful teenager. Everything should be celebrated in my view and everything has value. Let’s just stop misrepresenting authenticity because it is such an important element to video and if the term is misused or mis-applied, then real authenticity in content could be missed.