One argument that I’ve heard against vlog-style web series is that they tend to look boring. After all, with just one camera set up in a character’s room or stuck in their hands, there can’t be much opportunity for flexing your creative skills with your shots, right?
In fact, the limits placed on you by these technical restraints can offer a great deal of freedom if you just use your noggin. I’d like to share some examples of excellent vlog-style shot composition that I’ve seen and offer a few tips to spice up your own visuals!
The classic vlog-style web series is, of course, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. In this series, the camera never leaves Lizzie’s current place of residence, and the set dressing remains the same for many episodes in a row. Therefore, most episodes look visually similar to each other. However, LBD did use interesting tricks to keep audiences engaged.
In an episode about halfway through the series, as Lizzie complains to the camera once again about how much she hates William Darcy, she is interrupted by a knock on the open door behind her. It is, gasp, finally Darcy! This kind of shot would not have been possible with a traditionally filmed series. Lizzie’s camera was stationary, and so by necessity the shot was framed so that Darcy’s face was cut off by the top of the screen in the background. By ending episode 59 on this shot, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries had finally introduced the man Lizzie had been talking about the entire show, but still kept viewers on the edge of their seats waiting to see what he looked like for another week. It was an incredibly clever directional move.
In a later vlog-style series, Nothing Much to Do, the protagonist Beatrice’s friends decide to trick her into thinking that her enemy Benedick has a crush on her. As she overhears them gossiping about said crush, she brings her camera with her, and films her reactions.
As Beatrice listens in the right foreground of the shot, the framing includes Meg, Ursula, and Hero in the left background. This allows the viewer, who knows that Beatrice’s friends are manipulating her, to observe everyone in the scene’s reactions. At numerous points in the episode, you can see one of Beatrice’s friends look towards the camera, showing that they are aware she is listening in on them. Meanwhile, the up close perspective on Beatrice’s incredibly expressive face makes her reactions all the more hilarious. This scene could have been set up with just Beatrice sitting up against a wall, listening to her friends speaking offscreen, but this framing makes the episode far more memorable, dynamic, and fun to watch.
Just because you’re filming a realistic, vlog web series, that doesn’t mean you can’t use special effects, and one series that exemplifies that is the 2017 show Twincidents.
The story follows long lost twins who are reunited, and because finding identical actors is difficult, the creators decided to cast the same actress in both roles. This shot of the twins running into each other for the first time is, to me, the standout moment of the series. In fact, if I had not told you it was vlog-style, you would assume that it wasn’t. The twin special effects are incredibly well done for a low budget series, and I think it should convince more vlog shows to get experimental with editing and effects.
Finally, I’ll use an example from a show that I worked on, Twelfth Grade (or Whatever).
In this episode of , Liv is answering some random questions from a YouTube tag. One question asks what her usual Starbucks order is, and as she answers, the character Viola appears in the bushes in the background, having come to talk to Liv. Overhearing Liv’s order, Viola disappears, and reappears later in the episode with the drink in hand to give to Liv. Viola stumbling around in the bushes was intended to be comedic, but it was also meant to give both some depth to the shot and depth to the episode. Viola knows that Liv has agorophobia, and likely hasn’t been to Starbucks in a while. She also has a bit of a crush on her. So, she decides to take what she hears and both surprise and impress Liv. Another layer of comedy is added when you consider Liv editing the video later and seeing Viola in the background of her footage.
A vlog does not have to be aesthetically dull. It is easy to exercise creativity and mess around with camera angles, depth of field, and special effects. Here are some tips to get you started!
- Unless it makes sense for a character to change the shot in an episode, DON’T CHANGE THE SHOT. Too often, I’ve seen a close up of a character monologuing to the camera cut to a wide shot right before another character enters the frame. It’s offputting and takes the viewer out of the experience.
- Utilize every bit of space on screen. Does your character’s room include a blank wall? Put up some posters to inform the viewer about their tastes!
- Speaking of walls, don’t make your characters always sit up against the same one. Pull out a chair to the middle of the room, try sitting them at a different end of the bed, just move around. If you’ve got a whole room, why limit yourself to only one angle?
I hope this helps people making vlog series of their own be a bit more inventive with how they shoot their shows!