Video-recording is a wonderful observational tool and an increasingly popular method to document different kinds of knowledge. It is without equal when it comes to sharing manual skills and tacit knowledge – such as handicraft competencies. The goals and purposes of video-recording master artisans may vary, such as:

  • doing fieldwork and collecting knowledge for one’s own handicraft purposes;
  • capturing and passing on the skilled knowledge of expert craft practitioners;
  • promoting and disseminating artisan’s creations and products;
  • making an educational or research video to examine different cultures and societies;
  • preserving the past and cultural heritage;
  • etc.

While different approaches advocate different standards and codes, what we offer here is a general hands-on approach if you are planning your very first video-recording project. These steps will address specific issues, recounting the background information needed to understand the whole process.

 

Who is your informant?

You have found a master artisan whose unique knowledge and working process is inspirational and worth sharing. If s/he shares your enthusiasm about your video project and agrees to participate on-camera – congratulations, you have taken a huge step towards your dream!

Now you have to decide the appropriate style of communication, course of action and timetable.

Remember: when documenting someone’s creative process, you are also portraying who they are and their life. Be aware of emotional complexities that might be introduced in this process.

Think about how to engage informants in your video project and make it a collaborative project! To find the partnership level that suits both of you, tell your partners about your goals and visions, and keep them informed if your plans change.

Be specific about what role the informant wants to carry out. When working on the story, ask whether they have an agenda that they want to give greater attention to.

 

What are your goals?

Serious pre-planning is the key to success: consider the main character, action plan, story, place, equipment and your skills. Define your audience and budget and develop your action plan accordingly.

Prepare a script and its visualisation – also known as a story board. It is much more expensive and time-consuming to think about details on location or during post-production, especially for beginners. Decide which action or event you would like to film. How long does it take? Is it better to plan one long uninterrupted take or define your own working pace (incl. pauses and repetitive shots)?

Consider the working pace accordingly: do you want to record action in its normal speed or do you want to slow down in some parts so that the viewer can keep track of the process? Sometimes it is useful to film the same process several times.

Plan the workload and share it. Do you need any technical help? What type and how much equipment (cameras, microphones, extra light, etc,) do you plan to use? Try your equipment in different conditions before fieldwork!  Even carrying your equipment might be physically challenging and help might be appreciated. Also think about how many memory cards you will need.

Think about the place and remember that poor conditions often require better equipment. A pre-production location visit is especially useful for beginners.

Think about how to work with people. Is it necessary to actively direct their actions or are you just an observer? Think about how to direct during shooting, if necessary, and how to do it without disturbing your informant’s confidence.

What are your options?

Video-recording depends on many details – some of them can be foreseen, while others are unpredictable. It takes you into a dynamic environment, and despite good planning, you might find yourself in a situation where working conditions are far from ideal, so be ready for surprises!

During the filmmaking process, you have to balance the goals (what you want to do and how your informant/community imagines the result) and possibilities (equipment and tools, individual skills, shooting conditions).

Do not get carried away by the action – no matter how exciting it is! Keep your attention on technical details such as focus, sound and light. Be aware of wind – it results in bad sound.

You may not have the opportunity to plug in your camera – so bring extra batteries! Be ready to cope with forced pauses (such as changing memory cards or batteries) and choose the moments when it affects the workflow the least.

While on location, always film longer shots – you can always cut the excess out later. There are many aspects you can compensate for during post-production. There may be scenes that are relevant for the holistic representation, but the conditions make filming extremely hard. There may be many people around you or objects that prevent you from moving your camera as planned. Be prepared to problem-solve on the spot: consider using a narrator, let the informant talk more about the issue that couldn’t be recorded well enough before, or re-enact the scene in a different environment or on another day.

Think about how and where to distribute your video, keeping in mind that there are different technical requirements for online channels and television. Think about how to reach the target audience with an interest in the subject matter.

Do not forget post-fieldwork interactions with your informants and their community!