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User:Matthias Süßen/workshop

From Wikimania 2016 • Esino Lario, Italy

How to make a short documentary with a smartphone

James Mahon  Mobile Journalism in Action.
Mobile journalism in action.

Author: Matthias Süßen, Daniel Schwen (assistant)

Description: Documentaries are still underrepresented at Wikimedia Commons. Nevertheless, it is quite easy to make a short documentary with a smartphone and some apps. The process is so simple that anyone can make them very easily.

Purpose: In this workshop I will demonstrate how to create video content for the illustration of Wikipedia articles with free apps and how to upload the material on Commons. I will present some of the best free video editing applications for Android and iOS devices and the required equipment. Finally, I will give an overview of the basic shooting rules to create raw material that is easy to edit into meaningful sequences.

Targeted participants: This basic course provides an introduction into video editing on a smartphone. It is aimed at the interested layman and beginners who never edited a video before.

Preparatory readings or materials: None required.

Worldwide, 80 percent of all the mobile devices are running on Android and more and more developers realize the potential of this operating system. Unfortunately not the developers of apps for video-editing. Compared to iOS, there are just a few free apps for mobile journalism.

Video Recoring Apps


The built-in video camera app on the iPhone is great. However, if you want more features, try FiLMiC Pro (9,99 Euro iOS, 10,99 Euro Android).

Apps for editing Video

Splice If you are looking for something more professional try iMovie (comes free with new iPhones, you will need to shell out 4,99 Euro for it if you use an iPhone 5 or earlier) or Pinnacle Studio (2,99 Euro).
For editing video, Kinemaster is the best app in Google’s Playstore. The team around Matthew Feinberg updates the app regularly. However, you can only rent the app (one month costs about 7,50 Euro, one year 28,50 Euro). A free alternative is Videoshow by EnjoyMobi. With this free app you can edit short news clips and do a voice over afterwards.
  • Adobe Premiere Clip (free)
  • PowerDirector ($5.99 to unlock full version)

Useful Equipment

Periscope app streaming a guided tour in Städel museum, Frankfurt.

Essential Items

  1. Camera: Your smartphone is the best camera you own because it’s always on you and it's very versatile. Current smartphone cameras have opened an entirely new world of creativity. Their quality is good enough for video.
  2. Microphone: A good video with poor audio quality is junk. Unfortunately most of the built-in microphone in most smartphones are low quality and improperly placed. But a good microphone can cost hundreds of Euros, but luckily there are a few more affordable options. You should buy a microphone that you give you the best value for money. Mine was about 30 euros and I don't regret a cent of it. A cheaper alternative and an emergency standby could be to use your microphone on your headset that comes bundled with most smartphones.
  3. Tripod: A tripod can make the difference between a great video and a so-so one. So, a tripod mount is an essential part of a smartphone reporting kit. Fortunately, there are plenty of choices that cost from 7 Euro to 70 Euro. Very nice is a flexible smartphone tripod that allows you to attach this tripod to any tree, pole, or table. But a cheap table stand might cost 5 Euros. That is good enough at the beginning.

Nice to have

  1. Selfie Stick
  2. Light
  3. Power Bank
  4. external storage
  5. A digital camera that allows you to record videos and a WiFi SD card.

General filming tips

  1. Having a good grip on your phone can make it easier to steady your shots.
    Having a good grip on your phone can make it easier to steady your shots.
    Place the camera at eye level so you and the audience are on even ground.
  2. Make sure your lens is clean
  3. Film both close-ups and wide shots. Don't bore your audience with endless clips. Shoot a lot of B-roll. It’s important to get extra footage for transition scenes and close ups. Capture as much variety as possible.
  4. Shoot in sequences
  5. Videofiles can get very large very quickly. Check in your settings how much space you have available. Try to have half of your devices capacity spare. If there isn't that much space left, you can record more, if you reduce the resolution of your video.
  6. Respect the "rule of thirds": It maintains the idea that the subject need not be at the center of the video.
  7. Make sure you're filming horizontally.
  8. Securely mount your smartphone to a tripod. Please make sure that all the buttons are not covered and accessible. Otherwise you might have problems with the volume.
  9. Connect an external microphone to your smartphone. Now place the microphone near the speaker's mouth. Ideally the microphone can be fixed on a shirt or jacket collar.
  10. Put your phone in flight mode. Doing this will mean that you will not be interrupted by calls or text messages, and the Wi-Fi will not interfere with the recording.
  11. Lock the focus: Remember to have what you want to film in focus. Tap on the screen where you want to focus. There is a function for locking the focus. On iPhones this button is called AF/AF lock.
  12. Be aware of the lighting. Film from the light’s direction, and avoid filming towards the light. If you want to correct the lighting, there are buttons to raise or lower the exposure.
  13. If you're shooting handheld without a tripod, bring your elbows into your ribs, with your arms tight against your body for a stable shot.

The five Mantras of MoJos (How to get professional quality video from your smartphone)

  1. Don't zoom. Or, if you have to, zoom with your feet.
  2. Don’t pan for no reason
  3. Learn how to use a microphone properly
  4. Incorporate the rule of thirds
  5. The technology only works in the service of story.

Michael Rosenblum’s “five shot” method for meaningful video sequences

Sandbag operation at Venice Beach pier in California. September 30, 2010.

One of the more successful way of training new folks in visual literacy is through patterns. One such pattern that is used in journalism circles is the "BBC 5 shot" pattern, pioneered by Michael Rosenblum. Five-shot rule is a useful technique in filming someone working on something. You can various tutorials and guidelines on the web about five-shot rule. I find the one by Andrew Lih to be very intuitive and useful.

  1. A closeup on the hands of a subject – showing WHAT is happening
  2. A closeup on the face – WHO is doing it
  3. A wide shot – WHERE it's happening
  4. An over the shoulder shot (OTS) – linking together the previous three concepts
  5. An unusual, or side/low shot – providing story-specific context

Every shot should be around 10 to 15 seconds long. That was it, you can go on with an interview now.

→ Checklist: Five Shot video method

Tips for shooting dynamic video interviews

Wikimedia Approval for Publication.de
  1. If you wish to film someone, ALWAYS ask for permission before you start filming. If they do not give you their permission, please respect their privacy and do not film them.
  2. Know your interview location and how to get there.
  3. Pay attention to the background. Bright backgrounds like windows and white walls are slightly overexposed. Train your eye to search out good and interesting backgrounds for your subject.
  4. Place the camera next to your shoulder. During the interview, the subject should look at you, not at the camera.
  5. Eye line of subject and camera should be on the same level.
  6. Manually focus on the subjects face and lock the focus.
  7. Check if the microphone is working properly.
  8. Avoid unwanted background noise. Airplanes flying overhead, shopping-mall-music, the noise from an air-conditioner or computer fan mess up editing.
  9. Make your subject feel comfortable. Talk to your guests a few minutes before and after the interview.
  10. Ask open-ended questions. Questions that can be answered “yes” or “no” are closed-ended questions. They don't contain much information of real value. Long questions are good.

→ Checklist: Interviews

Working with video apps

On iOS devices Splice is the best free video editor. It's easy-to-use interface makes it easy to create a short documentary.

How to Use Splice to edit movies on your iPhone

  1. Download and install the app.
  2. To start a new project, just push the "plus"-symbol in the top right corner.
  3. Splice is openening your media library. Per fingertip you can add your recordings to your Splice-project. The chronological order is irrelevant. You can arrange and reorder the clips in your project however you want.
  4. After everything is imported you can edit your video or its audio track. I recommend to start with video editing. Reorder the videos, trim and cut your clips and choose a transistion. I don't use transitionson video clips.
  5. Tap the video clip you want to edit and push the "edit"-button
  6. After the clip opens in a new window, you can trim and cut the clip, apply effects and filters, change its playback speed, add a text overlay, apply a zoom effect and set volume levels for each clip in your project.
  7. When you've finished this, you can edit the audio track of the video. Go to the Audio tab.
  8. Splice comes with four audio tracks. The top audio track is reserved for audio that is embedded into a video component. The other two audio tracks can be used to include songs and/or special sound effects. You can add multiple files to each track.
  9. One audio track is filled with the clips, two used for music, while another for speech, and another for fx. With the last audio track you directly record a voice-over in the timeline.
  10. When everything is completed, you can export the whole video into multiple files with different resolutions including HD (1080P & 720P).
  11. Now you can easily upload the video to Youtube, or save back to your camera roll for uploading wherever you wish.

How to find music

Finding free, legal music for your online videos can be difficult. Please always respect the license conditions of the contributors. Here are some sources:

Converting and uploading the videos

You can convert and upload videos directly from your mobile phone onto Commons with Commons Video Convert on toolllabs. Videos tend to be big so you should hope for a stable connection.

However, I think it is always better to save the video on a computer, convert it there and then upload it to commons. 

In my opinion the wonderfully easy to use Miro Video Converter (MVC) is the best tool to convert almost any video from and to various formats,  including formats suitable for devices such as Android phones and, of course, to WebM (vp8) or Ogg Theora. Unfortunately the site is down and the software hasn't been updated for years, but it still works. You can download a version for Windows or Mac from heise.de. Linux (Ubuntu)-User should use Handbrake to convert. The tool is also available for Mac and for Windows but seems more complicated and complex than MVC.

The process of uploading a video is similar to uploading an image. The maximum file size on Commons is set at 100 MiB (104,857,600 bytes). Uploads of files larger than the maximum file size of 100 Mb are possible. See instructions on this pages:

How to make a documentary

Filippo Facci and Fulvio Abbate - International Journalism Festival 2011.
A sample script
  1. Develop Ideas (Choose a subject. Start with something you're passionate about). Define the goal of the film. Create a rudimentary story board of basic scenes. Documentaries shouldn't be boring. As a documentary filmmaker, it's your job to tell a story. (Tip: Show the drama of real life. Every good story needs a hero, a strong beginning, middle, and end aka Setup, the Confrontation and the Resolution.) If you have problems with it, watch documentaries. Need an example? How to become a Bollywood-Star
  2. Check Legal and Copyright Issues
  3. Research (Think about who, what, when, and where do you want to film. Find out who are the most important persons. Identify people to talk to. Decide who you want to interview and what you want to investigate. Ask if the other persons has time to talk with you, if they are available and not busy. Plan questions. Start wirth the Five Ws: What happened? Who did that? When did it take place? Where did it take place? Why did that happen? and, if you like, How did it happen? Brainstorm questions around these. Other issues could be What would I personally like to know about this subject and what would I want to learn about this subject If I were a member of the audience?)
  4. Plan as much as possible. Try to visualize the finished film in your head. Create a storyboard or script. The ideal video length on Commons is between 2 minutes and 3 and-a-half minutes. Make every second count. Write a voice-over text based on the story you want to tell. Draw or write snapshots of the story from beginning to end. Think about the images and sounds you need to tell your story. After the storyboard is written, ask friends for feedback.
  5. Shoot it. Film the same scenes from different angles so that when you edit, the audience will have different things to look at. Film both close-ups and wide shots. Don't bore your audience with endless clips. Shoot a lot of B-roll. It’s important to get extra footage for transition scenes and close ups. Capture as much variety as possible. Interview the subjects. (Please see "Tips for shooting dynamic video interviews" listed above)
  6. Watch all your footage and write down what shots you particularly like and which are wholly or partly unusable.
  7. Edit your film. Once you have finished your first rough cut show it to few of your friends or family and ask for their feedback. Use these comments to make your videos better.
  8. Check Legal and Copyright Issues
  9. Upload your film to Wikimedia Commons. (Please see "Uploading the videos" listed above)

Further reading

Videodreh mit Smartphone. (Subitle by amara.org)

Wikipedia/Commons projects and help pages

Mobile Video Journalism

Misc. tutorials/info/etc.

Legal conditions