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Filming the paranormal

OK, so you’re part of a paranormal investigation team that videos everything you do and your dream of replacing Most Haunted or Ghost Adventures on TV. You then use Windows movie maker on your family PC that is still running Windows XP and still hosts a pentium 4 chip inside. You then put your evidence up onto YouTube only to be ripped apart by non believers and those little buggers we call trolls.

But why is that? The evidence is there to see and everything was in place. You had your camera videoing everything, your mate mystic June the psychic medium was with you, Bob the demonologist was calling out like a mad man and Kazza the white witch was in the back ground doing whatever white witches do. But your video has still been slagged off by three of the four views you have had. But why?

Well apart from everyone trying to be the star of the show and screaming, omg look at this as another part of the team starts shouting something about how they have been scratched etc. You have forgotten a few hidden treasures when it comes to filming and getting views.

  1. You need an HD camera at minimum to film on.

  2. You need clear audio.

  3. You need lights

  4. You need a decent computer to put it all together along with some technical knowledge.

But before any of that you need a plan of action. A script.

If you are trying to get noticed, you need something structured. I mean, you don’t think all those TV programs just turn up and start filming do you?

Even before I start filming, I have researched, done a reccy (A daytime visit) and wrote down what I am going to say. The only parts that are spontaneous are the parts at night when I’m searching the location using an action cam. But up to that part everything or should I say 95% of it is scripted.

But let’s now look at your gear.

So, you’ve bought a brand new Camcorder that has all the whistles and bells. It records in HD, it has night vision (also known as nightshot), has loads of visual effects, plus you can add on screen titles and more. It’s the dogs be-jangles and is gonna make you and your team really stand out. Plus, you got it for the bargain price of £100 off eBay because it’s a new brand called EVON or Sonye from China.

Really? Stop Stop Stop. These cameras are no better than the cameras you used to get on the early mobile phones. OK they are HD, but the sensors are utter rubbish.

You need to spend at least £400 on a something like a DSLR that shoots video. Or invest in a well known make of camcorder like Sony (Not Sonye), Canon or Panasonic that shoots from 24fps up to at least 60fps. Ideally you would also buy one that has a microphone jack on it so you can plug a dedicated mic into it which I’ll get to in a second.

If you are not rolling in cash or you’re not an aspiring filmmaker. A camcorder might be your best bet, because as good as DSLRs are, you need to spend extra on decent lenses, plus you will have to purchase another camera that has night vision on. Unlike camcorders that has everything packed into one. But a quick word of warning here. Not every camcorder has night vision so read the specs and remember being good in low light or at night doesn’t mean it’s got night vision.

Personally, I wouldn’t spend less than £1500 on a camera, but that’s me.

But the camera is not the be all and end all, because you still need lighting and a mic.

Well, you can pick up lights on eBay that run by batteries and that really do the job. Even during the day, if it’s a bit shadowy or over cast, using lights can make all the difference to your shoot. As I stated, I would get those run by batteries because most paranormal videos are run and gun shoots and plug sockets just won’t be available. But at the same time, because you are using lights you don’t want to over expose your subject and make them look like an albino in the snow. So I would suggest reading up on lighting people for interviews. Plus, there are loads of videos on YouTube showing how to do this and at least you’ll start to understand the whole process.

Sound is also very important on any paranormal video and that’s why I would suggest forget using the on board mic because it sounds tiny and screams we are not professional.

I personally is a Tascam DR-40 sound recorder that has a Sony Lav mic attached and then I sync the sound in post. But remember to make sure your video audio is the same as your sound recorder. By this I mean if you are filming and your sound is synced to 44khz which is CD quality and your sound recorder is recording at 48khz which is DVD quality, then your sound won’t fit in post and will generally be all over the place. So make sure both are recording at the same kHz. But personally I would suggest 48khz because this is the filmmaking standard format.

However, if you are recording straight into camera through a mic jack or XLR for higher spec cameras. You can by pass the syncing and most of your time should be used learning how to EQ sound using your editing software, which brings me to my next part.

Good computers and software are essential if you are trying to make it big in the paranormal world.

It’s all great buying a new camera that shoots HD or even 4K. But if you havn’t got a decent computer, you’ll never edit it without it stuttering and that’s because today’s footage is More demanding on computers and a healthy upto date computer is a must and the minimum ram should be 8GB (ddr) but I would suggest 16GB. But that is for HD editing. 4K is a whole new ball game and I would suggest at least 32GB minimum of ddr.

I would also suggest big hard drives ranging from 1TB upwards. Because the higher spec your footage the more space it takes up.

Software is also a must, but that comes in an abundance of packages. My editing choice is Vegas Pro for putting the film together. But I also use After Affects for the graphics like titles, lower thirds etc.

But their are others like Adobe Premiere , Final Cut , Hitfilm , Avid

DaVinci Resolve

But the best bit is that most of these come with free options which is amazing.

So now that you’ve got the gear and you’ve gone out and filmed with your group and you get back and it looks nothing like it does on TV. Well this could be a number of things but let’s first look at your process.

Remember when I said script everything? Well, you need to take numerous shots of the same person saying the same lines over and over until it’s flowing like water over a nuns knickers. Plus you also need what we call b-roll which lets you cut in and out of a shot to make it flow. This could be shots of the location, shots of your team walking around or shots of people using the equipment. Go on YouTube and watch how to make b-roll videos.

Now watch your fav episodes of your ghost hunting programs and watch how they cut from one scene to another and replicate that with your footage. But remember, practice makes perfect and Rome wasn’t built in a day so play around and don’t let your team push you to put it out. Their job is done and yours is just beginning.

Now this is were a paranormal video editors job gets exciting and difficult all at once. While editing, you also need to look for things on the footage that isn’t quite right that you might not have seen at the time of filming. By this I mean potential evidence. Stop it, go back and watch it over and over again. Zoom in, zoom out, change it to black and white etc. Do everything until you are happy that what you are seeing is really there and it looks odd. Then show it your team to get their reaction.

Now this is the important bit. Don’t automatically jump to the conclusion that what you are seeing is paranormal and don’t let those over zealous members push their view that it is 100% proof if it is clearly not. Let your viewers decide.

A grainy video or photo is no more use than a pair of knickers are to a prostitute. So if it’s not clear, it’s not your teams call to say that it is proof. It’s your viewers job, no matter how many you have.

Now that you have an edit you are happy with. Now is the time to colour correct (which isn’t the same as colour grade). Get your footage and get the right white balance and once you have the right colour correct, then go and colour grade it. Both these jobs are a almost a science in themselves and I suggest looking on that video tutorial heaven I always mentioned called YouTube.

On some footage you might be better de-graining it and removing noise or sharpening it to a degree.

Now you have something that you are happy with. Upload your creature and unleash the beast to the world. OK you might still get trolls etc, but at least your footage will be better than its ever been and you can only get better right?

Happy filming.

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