Plan, Shoot, Cut: Killer Video Production for Beginners

by Dave Cavnar

Posted on 8/10/2015

Plan, Shoot, Cut: Killer Video Production for Beginners

So when I first started toying with the idea for this post, I hadn’t intended to have it sound so morbid. However, now that the title has been typed up, I think I might keep it. I’m not sure why, but something about it makes me think of Dexter, the Showtime series about a serial killer who only targets people who are themselves dangerous murderers. As I run to keep up with my derailed train of thought, I realize it is related to something that I’ve always been passionate about.

No, not serial killers.


I love everything there is to know about films, videos, movies, and all that goes into them. I have enjoyed losing myself in the worlds created and captured through a camera since I was a young boy. Something about seeing the world — whether real or make-believe — through the perspective of someone else, has always appealed to me.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more interested in the process that goes into filmmaking. In today’s world, the technology readily available to nearly all of us has astounding capabilities that few people take advantage of. Your hand-held devices alone have within them the power to run your own little production studio: you can shoot incredible HD videos; you are able to edit them (again all on your phone); you then are capable of adding graphics, text, and music; finally, you can post them to social media, YouTube, or just send them to some friends. For the sake of demonstration, here is a video that I recently did this with, all from my iPhone 6 Plus.

This process took me about two hours. Imagine the potential this capability allows for.

Now allow your focus to move beyond just your smart phone. Think about the processing power of today’s cameras, computers, monitors, and TVs. With even a beginner model DSLR, laptop computer, and some simple software, you can create videos that will play gorgeously on even the biggest, highest resolution screens.

In this post, I will walk you through the steps of creating your very first video.

Let’s get started.

The Plan:

Plan, Shoot, Cut: Killer Video Production for Beginners

Step 1: Brainstorm

The very first thing anyone has to do before starting a video is to come up with an idea. Maybe you and your friends have the rough idea for a low-budget scary movie at your uncle’s lake house. Perhaps you want to strap a GoPro to your cat and capture some hilarious footage as it scampers through the house trying to catch that pesky laser. Or maybe you just want to shoot you and your band rocking your faces off on top of a parking structure with a unreal sunset in the background. It doesn’t matter. Just start to spitball ideas. I highly suggest writing them down on a scrap of paper or a napkin. Not later. Do it now.

Step 2: Sketch Out the Attack Plan

Okay, so you’ve got your idea. Now you have to consider the pieces of the puzzle that will come together to create your masterpiece. What will go into your horror movie? Some indoor shots? Some scenes of running through the woods? Maybe a steamy make-out? It’s your call! You’re the visionary. Again, I recommend writing all of this down. It’ll help enormously in the long run, as well as serve as a fun thing to go back and look at later.

Step 3: Choose Your Weapons and Map Out Your Assault

Man, we are really rolling along nicely now. The next step is to consider where you’ll be shooting. (For example, maybe at your mom’s house, in a nearby field, downtown, etc). Next, consider what angles you’ll want to get (close-up shots, action panning shots, long distance shots). Finally, you’ll have to choose what type of camera or cameras you’ll be using.

I can’t emphasize how important this step is. If you plan this part out well, you’ll save yourself a lot of time. You might be noticing a pattern by now, but I suggest you make note of all of these details.

Step 4: Gather Your Equipment

This one is easy enough, but make sure you do it thoroughly. Double check the night before that your camera batteries are charged, then get all the various accessories and attachments you might need. For example, if you have an action camera, such as a GoPro, make sure you have the mounts and straps necessary to attach it. Another useful tool is a good tripod.

The Shoot:

Plan, Shoot, Cut: Killer Video Production for Beginners

Step 1: Go Catch That Beautiful Butterfly!

Everyone, whether it’s your first time filming or hundredth, enjoys different aspects of filmmaking. I thoroughly enjoy it all, but actually filming holds a special place in my heart. Depending on whether you’re working with a few people, by yourself, or with your dog, this process can vary in length. I suggest getting a few takes of each shot, in order to give you more options while editing, but hey, you’re the boss! If you’re the one behind the camera, you’ll probably get a good idea of when you’ve gotten that perfect shot. If you feel inclined, you can even yell, “CUT! That’s it! Thanks everybody!” (Just be aware that this might weird some people out if you’re alone or it’s just you and your dog).

If you actually wrote down your plan of action, now would be a great time to check things off as you capture them! Think of it as a scavenger hunt. I find that through the process of filming, I often catch some additional inspiration, and it may even lead to some new and more creative directions for what I’m filming. Follow your instinct and keep shooting. I can guarantee you won’t regret it.

The Cut:

Step 1: Choose a Program

So you’ve got a few SD cards full of awesome raw footage and photos of your vision. Now you’ve got to chop it up, mix it all together, and create a delicious dish to share with your friends, family, and maybe even some strangers. You will probably have to try out a few different editing programs before you settle on one that offers the features and usability that you’re looking for. There are a myriad of choices, and ultimately you’ll have to choose which best suits your vision. A few of the leading ones out there are iMovie (free and included on most Mac laptops and desktop computers), Windows Movie Maker (free), Final Cut Pro (30 Day free trial), Adobe Premiere Pro (30 Day free trial), and many more. If you’re not sure which to go with, check out this comparison (The Best Video Editing Software for Enthusiasts) or do some research on your own.

Plan, Shoot, Cut: Killer Video Production for Beginners

Step 2: Slice and Dice

Like I said earlier, everyone has aspects of filmmaking that they love, and the editing process is no exception. For a long time, this part of the process kept me tentative about throwing myself into making movies, as it seems a bit intimidating. However, once you sit down with any program, and start playing around with stuff, the once muddy waters begin to clear quickly. With any of the programs above, as you run into to snags or things you don’t understand, a quick Google search or YouTube video will help give you a boost up over whatever obstacle was standing in your way.

If you ever get too frustrated, just take a break from the screen for a bit, and I’m willing to bet that upon sitting back down, the solution will present itself.

Plan, Shoot, Cut: Killer Video Production for Beginners

Step 3: Show Off Your Stuff

The final, and most exciting/terrifying piece of the whole thing: unveiling your hard work to the world. Whether you’re just showing it to your parents, your close group of friends, or you’re trying to put it on a theater sized screen and show the neighborhood, this is the culmination of your hard work. You are pulling your viewers into your perspective and showing them how you see the world. And that, in my humble opinion, is a glorious thing.

In Conclusion

I would imagine at this point, if you’re at all like me, you’re ready to grab the nearest camera and start filming immediately. Do it. I hope that this brief guide to making your first video has been useful. I would absolutely love to see anything that you create, so please, if you want to share it, post a link to the comment sections below or email me at [email protected].

Keep on creating, my friends!

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