Deciding When To Throw Away Footage

The location is scouted. The appointments are made and the talent is on the way. The sun slowly rises revealing a picture-perfect landscape as the shot list starts getting shorter.  At the end of the day, not everything filmed is going to be useable. Factors such as focus, composition, brightness and detail all play a part in deciding if a shot will make its way to a final feature. And unless you are working on a larger budget project with a team of people, each tasked with a particular duty to perform, it’s going to be challenging to be sure all the shots are turning out the way they were intended.

So what does happen when footage is shot, and it’s simply unusable. This happened recent when filming motion backgrounds at a state park. The trees had shed many leaves and the river looked like an inviting spot to shoot a few backgrounds. I worked my way down off the path and carefully dragged my gear down to the river’s edge. After adjusting the camera settings and finding the best angles for the shots, I started filming, thinking that in post, I might be able to fix the color of the water and boost the over-all color of the shot making it slightly more inviting.  That didn’t work out as I had seen in my head.

I took the footage back into post, downloaded it, and imported it. After playing with shadows, highlights, color saturation, and curves adjustments, nothing was turning out the way I thought it would. I had already invested a several hours into the project, collected all the gear, and made a back-breaking hike into the forest on a cold, chilly, fall morning. But all that effort was for nothing as the footage simply didn’t meet the standards I have for motion backgrounds on my site. I cut my losses and discarded the footage realizing that sometimes, it’s best to let go, than to manipulate footage into something usable, only to be disappointed that it isn’t “stand-out” worthy.

Was it still worth shooting? Some might argue yes. I would argue in this case, no. I thought my window for this particular fall shot had run its course, but it might still be possible. I was wrong and it ended up costing me time and frustration. However, there was a sense of integrity of quality, knowing that only the best footage makes it into the library of motion backgrounds here and that if it is debatable on whether its worthy to be on here, it gets cut. Don’t settle on mediocre footage and be happy with second best. Cut your losses and plan better on the next shoot. All in all, it’s not the worst thing to delete an entire video shoot by choice. It taught me not only to be more careful with my presuppositions on post editing, but thankfully in this case, it didn’t affect anyone but myself, and for that, the cost of deleting the footage was kept to a minimal.

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