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Demo: Work the Scene

Lesson 31 from: Filming Families: The Modern Family Video

Courtney Holmes

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Lesson Info

31. Demo: Work the Scene


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


The Spark That Inspired Me


What Are Family Films?


Gear for Family Films


Camera Settings for Video


Frame Rates & Slow Motion


Picture Profiles & Color Grading


Settings for Audio Capture


Lesson Info

Demo: Work the Scene

This is a short video. After the dad getting the present, then the boys playing in the lounge room. I keep saying lounge room. It's an Australian term. Family room, you know what I mean. Living room, lounge room, it's the same thing. You could see baby was crying, Oscar was crying towards the end of that. He was starting to get tired. He was starting to get tired and hungry. Dad had been cooking in the kitchen. He'd been making the fresh toast. We don't see some of that but, that's what was happening after the gift and then they sat down at breakfast. The boys brought out some dinosaur toys and they were playing with those at the table and then they sat down and had breakfast and they invited me to have breakfast with them. In that instance, I had eaten already and so I said no, but a lot of times I will eat with the family. If I do eat with the family, say for example I've been shooting since the afternoon and they're having dinner. I'm eating, okay? (class laughs) I will say yes and ...

usually it's a good opportunity for me to engage with them and have a conversation with them, they feel a lot more comfortable. Dad offered me coffee when I first walked in and I was like, yeah sure because I think sometimes just by saying yes to that, like I put the coffee cup in the most obscure place where it would never be seen but I could go and get it. I think just that acceptance of that offer makes them feel more comfortable than if I'm like oh no, I'm good. Nope, no I don't want anything. I say yes to that. In this instance, I didn't eat with them but, a lot of times I do and if I do, I usually ask for my plate to be somewhere else or I put it somewhere else. I don't wanna have a place setting for me at the table just in case I'm shooting that. I don't want it to look like there's an invisible person there. Where's the person for the plate? Either I'll clear it away before I start shooting again or I put it somewhere where it's gonna be out of the shot. A lot of times I might take a few bites, come out and shoot a little bit of it, come back, sit with them for a little while,. I'm not shooting all the time. It's a mixture of having conversations with them, chatting to them like I'm a friend hanging out, and deciding when is a good time for me to shoot. We had the french toast, they had the french toast, and I had my coffee. I was drinking that and I just set it on the buffet that was behind me that wasn't in any of the shots. We had a good conversation about what he does, he builds airplanes, and about how long that they had lived in Seattle and she's actually from New Zealand, the mom, and we talked about how they met which was that she was an opare and had come over here and they met and fell in love, got married. She loves living in Seattle, she really loves Seattle. We talked about the boys. This is just part of that conversation of getting to know them more, peeling back the layers, asking more questions, engaging with them. The thing is is 'cause when I'm shooting I'm so focused on just shooting. I'm not really talking a lot while I'm shooting and you can see that. It's making sure that I give myself the time to have the camera down and chat to them. Then it feels even more relaxed. I got a few clips of them. There was this steam coming off of the french toast that was back lit so I got a little bit of that. One of the boys was pouring syrup on the french toast and so I got a bit of that close up. There was one clip of the middle boy climbing over the table, he's a climber, and he literally walked over the table while the food was there to the bench and his dad was like, what are you doing? Don't walk on the table. It was cute. We'll see that later in my footage when we go through the editing. It's one of those things where I'm like, do I include it, do I not? There's always a is it gonna work with the other footage kind of battle that goes on and you have to decide which moments are the best ones to keep and which ones aren't and what works with the other footage that you have. It was really just sort of sporadic. Every now and then I'd grab my camera, shoot something that looked interesting to me and then I would put it away and keep chatting to them. After breakfast, mom goes upstairs and she had told me that she usually puts the baby to sleep about an hour and a half after he wakes up. He had been awake for I think half an hour before we even got there. He was really only awake for about an hour once we arrived. At this point after breakfast, he was super happy sitting in his little highchair watching the boys. That was another thing that we talked about, which you didn't see on camera but, I asked her if Oscar is entertained by the other two 'cause the other two were doing the wrestling thing, play fighting. I was watching Oscar, the littlest, and he was just laughing and watching them and I said to her, is he just completely entertained all the time by them and she was like, oh yeah. He just sits here, he's happy. He just watches whatever they do. I'm kind of mindful of that, that comment, because that's something that I might try and figure out how it can show in the film later. I'm always being really observant about the things they're saying and reading between the lines, trying to think ahead to how I might be able to incorporate the stuff that is just part of them, it's part of their uniqueness, it's what they do. We had that conversation. After breakfast, he was a little bit happier. You can see he's got red cheeks, he's really not feeling good. He was sick on the day. She brought him upstairs. This is always a little bit of a difficult thing 'cause moms would love to have you shoot the baby falling asleep. How sweet is it to have footage of a baby's eyes just slowly closing, but babies don't like it when they're being filmed. They get distracted by cameras trying to shoot them falling asleep so that's hard. Just depends on the kid and you just have to play it by ear and you're like, I'll try to get some of it but we'll see. He was restless, he was really restless so I was like, I'll start just from shooting outside the door. Also, this is a 100 year old house so the floors are really creaky. Any movement that I make is probably gonna wake him up so I have to be really careful about how much I'm moving. I just pick a spot from the doorway and this is not on camera either because having a film crew up there when he's trying to go to sleep, it's just more important that he goes to sleep. I can tell you about what happened. I'm shooting through the door frame and then she's rocking him in the chair and that's as far as I can really get. I noticed that he's unsettled and I can't get very much farther in. I was hoping to get footage of her putting him in the crib and I kind of asked her to let me know when that was gonna happen but, I think that she sent James down to tell me she was about to put him down but then by the time I got up there, she had already put him in the crib. I missed her putting him in the crib, which I would've liked to have gotten but I didn't so you roll with it. I shot some footage of him after he was already pretty well asleep and then we could bring the film crew in and we could watch some of that. She loves his nursery. When a parent goes to an effort of decking out the nursery, like I said earlier in the class, you should probably try and get some of it. How much you can include, it really depends in terms of the edit later is how much you include in that. Little bits and pieces I try to shoot. For B-roll purposes, I'm looking for some of that to include in this whole nursery scene. This is very, very short and it just shows a little bit of how I approached it 'cause there's a lot of different ways. It was challenging 'cause he's facing away from the light and he's facing the wall. I really wanted to get his snoring. He was snoring. It was really cute and I wanted to get that audio just in case when I go to edit, if there's a soft place in the music that it fits in well, I might be able to put it in there. You kind of just never know whether you will be able to or not, but he was only snoring because he was stuffy 'cause he was sick but it was still cute. (loud snoring) I'm kind of just going down his body, getting a few stills. The other thing I wanna note is that just before this, the boys have been jumping on a trampoline and I had my variable indy filter on and I didn't take it off to come in here. That was me forgetting, not thinking about it, just trying to move quickly because I wanted to get her putting the kid in the crib but I missed it. I left it on 'cause I knew this was short. I wouldn't normally leave it on while I'm indoors, but I also knew I was gonna be going right back outside. Looking for an ending, that's me using the dresser to close the book. I also at one point, 'cause I noticed I could see from the bedroom through the window the kids playing on the trampoline, it would've been a really cool shot. I'll show it later but, I didn't do it well enough. Also, dad was on the trampoline and in most of the other footage, he's not so it doesn't work as well. It's so good to always be thinking outside the box when you're in a room to think to yourself what are some other ways that I could shoot this that can incorporate both stories. There's one story that's happening outside with the boys and their dad playing on the trampoline and there's the story of the baby asleep in the room. How can I bridge the gap, what's a way that I can shoot this so that I have both stories? I tried, didn't work, but always try to think about ways that you can do that. That's it for that one. We have a number of questions that are coming through. Some are things that we may have covered more in depth yesterday or earlier in the class, but perhaps we can revisit some of these things. For example, let's see, it was Kyo who is asking about when you were talking earlier about switching between the 24 frames per second and 60 frames per second. Could you explain again why and when you do that? Yeah sure. 24 frames per second is the standard frame rate. 60 frames per second in America is the ideal frame rate to shoot for slow motion. If you're planning on slowing any of your footage down, then you wanna shoot at 60 frames per second. The issue with shooting 60 frames per second all the time and not slowing it down is that the audio, when you slow it down, the audio sounds more like... (woman moaning) Should we repeat that? (everyone laughs) It's not good so you can't use it. I don't love the look of 60 frames per second footage not slowed down. That's a personal preference. I just choose to intentionally shoot for moments when I know there's gonna be great audio. In those moments, I'll switch to 24 frames per second because I know that that is the standard frame rate, it's not gonna be slowed down, it's gonna look good, and it's going to have the great audio. I'm just figuring out the editing part in Final Cut Pro but, is there a way to shoot in 60 frames per second and separate the video from audio and keep the audip and slow down the video part of the way? Yes. I'm not sure how it works in Final Cut, but I would assume it's a similar thing. In Premiere Pro, you interpret the footage so you would take 60 frames per second and interpret it to 24 frames per second. What I usually do to have the clip that's slowed down and the audio as normal, not slowed down, is I duplicate it. I create a copy of it so I've got the two. One of them is slowed down and the other one's not. Then I pull just the audio from the one that's not slowed down and will pull the video from the one that is slowed down. Just another question with the whole frame thing. I know on the Five D Mark Four you can do 120 frames per second but then it brings it down to 720p. Do you ever do that? Super slow-mo? No, I don't. I just haven't experimented with it yet. It's funny 'cause I normally in Australia do 50 and 25 so it's half, it's exactly half. It's kind of interesting going from 60 to when I was editing the other day. I haven't experimented with 120. I've got students that have and I'm like, that's really cool, looks really awesome. I just haven't because I've been so busy with client work lately that I just haven't wanted to experiment on them. Maybe when I have time to shoot for myself again in a little bit then I will start to experiment. The downside of that is it's 720p. One of the biggest reasons why I changed from the Mark Three to the Mark Four was that it shot 50 frames per second, 60 frames per second, at 720p. It maxed out there. You can do 1080p there. When you are working with footage in Premiere Pro and you put down a 24 frames per second clip or a 25 at 1080p, that's setting the resolution size for your film as a whole. If you put a 720p clip on it beside it, it's smaller. Every single time I put a 720p clip on the timeline, I'd have to right click, scale to frame to make it bigger to match the 1080p. That's what I did, that was my method. I don't enjoy going through that process. The less I have to do. Great, thank you. We are seeing you in action and you are having to make all these split second decisions in real-time, on the go, which is why it's amazing to see you do that. Chelsea's asking, how do you decide what to shoot when the family is split up and doing things in all these different rooms? What's your quick process? That's such a good question. You know what's funny, because I started to realize kind of early on that it's actually harder when the family is altogether in one place for too long because you have to really shoot it in a way that you're not gonna end up with jump cuts. When they're all in the frame and they end up kind of in different positions, it's a little harder to edit but if you have one parent with kids doing this and one parent with kids doing that, you can go between the two so you can have one clip of one parent and then another clip and it's like this is happening at the same time for the viewer. This is all happening at the same time but just in different places in the house and I like that. I think that's interesting. How I decide to shoot that in the moment is that I run around a lot and I go between. I don't spend too much time with one. I'm like, I've gotten enough here. I'll go upstairs and I'll get a little bit here and then I'll go back and I'll get a little bit there. Eventually they'll come down. I like to make sure that if they're doing different things in different places, I'm shooting a lot of it. The problem with that is that it's harder to then shoot enough footage to set up each of those scenes so you kind of then end up with more individual clips rather than a full scene, but that's okay too 'cause there will be opportunities where they're altogether at some point in the session that you can create that scene and then have some of the more they're all doing their own thing kind of clips throughout, but I actually really like that too. I wouldn't encourage them to just always be together the whole time. Sometimes I think that actually makes it harder. A way to think about that. So many things. Question from Rachel Ipsmire who lives in northern Virginia. A lot of her client's homes are very, very dark. For photos when she's at their home, she'll move them into the light, but can you talk again about different ways to think about dealing with really, really dark homes? Well, there's a lot of dark homes in Sydney too so I can totally relate to that. It kind of goes back to earlier in the class. We talked about just asking them to open up blinds, open up curtains. I'm not afraid to push my ISO. I don't ask them to move into the light. I just work with whatever light there is in that given moment. The thing is is that I'm there for long enough that they're never gonna stay in a dark spot for that long. There's usually light somewhere. If it means that maybe the way that I incorporate light into the film as a whole is that I shoot sun flare intentionally and so I'm looking for B-roll that has a lot of light within it. That might be one way that I do it. Also, not to say that people can't say to their clients, how about we go into this room where there's a lot more light? It's just not what I do but, there is no right or wrong here. Make family films however it works for you. There is not anything to say that you can't give more direction at all. It's just for me, I like the challenge of having to wait for the light or for the people to move into the light or work with whatever light I have. I just like that challenge. I have a question about artificial light in the home. Do you ask clients to turn off lamps or to minimize artificial light? Yes. During the client prep, I will speak to them on the phone and just say, if you could, it would be really great to just keep all the lights off in the house. Don't feel like if we walk into a dark room, you need to flick the lights on. You don't. I'll manage the light on my end. There's not a problem there. I definitely ask them not to turn on artificial lights because it introduces mixed lighting which makes it harder for me in post production. I'm already working with the flexibility of a JPEG. I don't wanna have mixed lighting as much as I possibly can and also, you can get that flicker. I'm then having to deal with that and that's challenging as well. I'm having to adjust shutter speed to compensate for that and that makes it more challenging. Yeah, I always will ask them. I try to say it all ahead of time so that it doesn't become an awkward conversation when they go and turn it on and then I have to be like, oh no, can we turn that off? I've tried to avoid those conversations happening in the moment because I really try to make it feel like I don't wanna interject too much. I don't wanna have to change too much in the moment but I will say it beforehand so that they already just know that they don't need to 'cause I think a lot of times they're doing it for me. They think you don't have enough light in here. It's so dark. Let me get you some light. I'm like, not some warm light, please. We talked a little bit yesterday. As a birth photographer wanting to add film, the rooms can be really dark. Have you ever used footage that's really dark but has really sweet audio, like a moment between the couple or same with a family, if it's really dark but there's something really cute happening, do you every overlay that? Have you ever noticed in any of these moments where it's been really dark where there's that lace some rim light happening? Is there always some sort of rim light or silhouette? There's always some sort of soft light still. I've shot a birth and it was quite dark. There was a fireplace so there was really warm light coming from that but, that's pretty much all the light that there was. Yes, it can be grainy. Grain is worse in video than it is in photos, it's worse. There's usually some sort of rim light and so I would look for that. I would look for a way to make it so that whatever light was coming through, however low it it, it is illuminating the subject in some way or you're able to shoot it in a way that yes, we can hear the audio, we can see a little bit of what's going on but that's okay. It's okay if it's obscure. It doesn't have to be completely, perfectly lit. Yes, I think that's fine especially for births. What I would just do is look for the light that you can find, that you can use that will work with the audio that's happening as well. I have a sort of similar question 'cause I think it's amazing that you were able to get that baby in it's nursery. I think most nurseries have blackout curtains. (everyone laughs) Did you ask them ahead of time to have the curtains open and the baby just naturally fell asleep with the light like that or did the baby fall asleep with the blackout curtains closed and then you guys opened them after he was asleep? Good question. During the client prep, I say, can you just have the blinds open and the curtains open in the house? That's just gonna help. In this case, the light was really harsh. It would've been great if some of those curtains were closed 'cause they were very sheer curtains so you never know what it's gonna be like. I don't think he had blackout curtains. I think that's just a thing that with him, it wasn't dark in his room. I do have clients where it has been like that and in those moments, yes. The blinds would be closed or the curtains would be closed and if that is something that specifically the mom has been like I really want some footage of this where the baby's sleeping, then I will adjust the light and I'll open up a little bit, just enough to highlight the baby if possible and so I will play with light in those instances. I'm not gonna try and shoot it pitch black just for the sake of not opening the curtains. I will do it because as I said, grain with video is not good. I think that it's okay. Yes, if the baby needs darkness to go to sleep, then I would do it that way and then I would open up the curtains if the mom felt like that was gonna be okay and it wouldn't wake the baby. I guess I kind of lucked out. In this instance there wasn't any blackout anything for this baby's room. I didn't even think about that, actually. My baby slept in daylight as well. I guess some kids are good like that and some are not.

Class Materials

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Shot List Worksheet Template
Shot List Worksheet Example
Ideas for Your First Film
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Ratings and Reviews

Adam Nicholls

Worth a watch! Courtney provides a clear and organised class, she is also very passionate about what she does which is always nice to see. She has a great back story which is fantastic. This course is good for beginners who have some knowledge in photography and want to learn more about video. I would recommend that people do not refer this class to the bible of filmmaking as I feel you can expand further on what Courtney teaches. Some useful tips for beginners but some methods I personally feel can be taught differently. I feel a gimbal is a useful bit of kit if used correctly. You can still use a gimbal when in manual mode providing you follow the basics rules! Obviously if Courtney prefers not to use a gimbal then that's also fine but I wouldn't discourage students from exploring useful filmmaking tools. Slow motion can be achieved with 50/60fps however I feel other frame rates should have been discussed like 120fps. I liked that Courtney engaged with the students as it gets them involved and will help them remember what they have learned during the class. Thank you for taking the time to share some of your knowledge

a Creativelive Student

Courtney's work is absolutely amazing and inspiring. I feel lucky that she has chosen to share her process and that this class is available! After watching all the videos and trying my hand at this video thing, I am feeling really encouraged and inspired to do more- both personally and professionally. I appreciate the way that she breaks things down in the video and that she shares her thought process. A really great course!


Courtney’s course completes me! I have storytelling “holes” in my film previously, but this course helped fill those holes to create a flow and a film with emotion. Not only is the course wonderful (and well worth every penny) but Courtney is wonderful as well! I had such an amazing experience at Creative Live!!!!

Student Work