11 Tips for a green screen shoot

I wrote a follow-up blog entry for Reelseo.com recognizing some of the key things to keep in mind when shooting green screen interviews. But there’s a lot to keep in mind when using green screen. Once you have determined that it is the way to go for your project – how do you plan for it? Well, do not underestimate the importance of Pre-Production when shooting green screen. It’s easy in the chaos of planning a shoot to overlook these basic steps. But here are a eleven helpful hints to keep in mind when planning your green screen shoot:

  • 1. Get everyone on-board with the background BEFORE shooting – This usually proves to be quite tricky, but it’s super… no… uber-important to get your client (and yourself) on the same page with the look of the background. And collect feedback from ALL decision makers involved. It only takes one person to poop in the apple pie and the design you’ve been working on for the past two weeks is tossed out the window. This should also limit a constantly changing background during post-production which saves time with rendering, file writing, and uploading… and downloading… and re-uploading…
  • 2. Request branding guidelines early – Find out what you can and cannot do with their branding designs and logo; what colors you can and cannot use, etc. Get those guidelines in front of your designers (or yourself) so you can give them enough time to work their magic.
  • 3. Send Storyboards – Make sure your client knows what the background is going to look like. They don’t want any surprises and I’m guessing you wouldn’t either. So, if they expect an image of a kitty cat playing with tinfoil incorporated in the background, find that our early. But clarifying the look and feel of the background is especially important when dealing with training information. It’s important to confirm what info is going to appear when so you can frame the shot accordingly. And it’s helpful to include a subject within the storyboard to give you an idea of what a person looks like in the frame.
  • 4. Consider your perspectives when designing your background – If you’re using more than one camera, make sure that the background perspective changes to match the camera angle. If the camera angle and/or framing on the person changes and the background doesn’t, your video is going to look pretty cheesy. That’s why it’s important to think about each camera’s focal length. Make sure the close-up shot appears more out of focus than the wide, and that the angle of the background matches the camera’s angle change.
  • 5. Light to your background – The main reason you want your background finalized before shooting is so you can properly light on set to match the lighting motivation of your background. You need to sell to the viewer that the subject belongs in their environment and they don’t look out of place. So if the light spills off to the right, make sure you place the key light on your subject to appropriately. The background will also determine the placement of a hair light, or a scrape… or whether or not you even need them.
  • 6. Scout your location – This goes without saying whenever it’s possible. If you have a choice, try not to shoot a green screen interview in a room with 8′ ceilings… with white ceiling tiles. This is because you need to be careful with the light that spills off the ceiling. That will cause plenty of post production issues. And be sure to find a room that has depth. You want to keep your subject away from the backdrop so you avoid the spill there too. It also softens the background – which helps even the levels of your backdrop.
  • 7. Find a good Make-up Artist – (budget permitting) Find an experienced make-up artist who has done green screen before. They know what to look for. Let them worry about walking up to interviewees and patting their hair down. Trust me – that’s the last thing you want to do as your trying to get an interviewee to open up to you.
  • 8. Get a monitor with Waveform display – You want to get your background as evenly lit as possible, and while you can develop an eye for that after a while, it’s always good to use a monitor with a waveform display so you can see your levels (we typically like to have our green screen at between 55 and 65 IRE). Light it so there are flat levels – you want to see a relatively straight line running across your screen.
  • 9. Choose your camera wisely – A decision in pre-production with a direct impact on post. Not all cameras shoot the same. Not all collect the same color information. Know what information your camera does record, and understand of its output signal. The more color information your camera collects, the more room you have to play with in post. Oh, and another good idea is to turn off your camera’s sharpening option if it has one (the sharpening feature tends to add a thin black line around your subject that can be difficult to deal with in post).
  • 10. Get comfortable with your keying software – Make sure you know your software’s limitations ahead of time. That way you know how meticulous you have to be to keep everyone’s hair in order. Generally speaking, the better the software the easier the key (but that’s a big generalization).
  • 11. Remind your interviewees NOT to wear green – Sure. A very simple step. So simple, it’s easy to forget.

Well, hopefully this provides you with a basic understanding of things to think about when shooting green screen. There are certainly many more things to consider… but I’ll save those for another entry.

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