3 top tips for fast and effective run-and-gun filming

Stills from live-action footage

Highlights

Run-and-gun filmmaking is the most common technique used by camera operators working outside of a controlled film set.
Using the right kit such as zoom lenses, monopods, and lavalier mics makes a huge difference to your footage.
Experience will help you develop a sixth sense for where the action is and give you the confidence to shoot it.
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When you think about a film shoot, you probably imagine a director sitting behind a monitor yelling “action” while numerous crew members play with high-tech gadgets. If you’ve ever been to film school or studied filmmaking, this is the view of the industry you’ve been trained for, but it’s not how most filmmakers get started. If you want to produce indie films, event videography, and news stories, it will likely be just you and the camera; it’s fast, unpredictable, and sometimes scary.

What is run-and-gun filming?

Run-and-gun shooting is the technique most often implemented by camera operators working in the ‘real world’. In narrative films, you have a controllable ‘film world’ or set where you can spend hours rehearsing and doing multiple takes of each shot. When capturing real-world action, such as events or news stories, you don’t have the option of doing it again; you need to be fast and reactive.

What makes a great run-and-gun camera operator?

Run-and-gun shooting can come down to shooting things blindly. It takes a lot of skill, talent, and fortitude to shoot professional-looking footage quickly without missing the action. 

Knowledge of your kit

Camera operators must know their kit inside and out, especially with run-and-gun filmmaking. The more familiar you are with your camera, the quicker you can set it up and the more reactive you can be. Learn whatever you can about your camera and practice quick shooting in various challenging environments and lighting situations.

Confidence

A lack of confidence can cause problems for even the most seasoned camera operator, and you can see it in the resulting footage. For example, if you’re filming a live event, there’ll be lots going on around you. You can’t cover everything, so you must be confident in what you choose to shoot. If you’re unsure, you’ll move the camera from person to person, and finding a usable section of the clip can be difficult.

A sixth sense for action

Many seasoned run-and–gun camera operators will develop a 6th sense of what’s happening and where the action will occur. Some of the best journalistic filmmakers have their cameras pointing to where the action will be before it even starts. In reality, run-and-gun filmmakers often end up with more unusable clips than usable ones. While this takes time and experience, it can be helpful to watch live event videos and news stories to see how the pros do it. 

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3 top tips for fast and effective shooting

Along with practice and experience, you can resolve a few quick-shooting issues by choosing the right kit. 

Check out visual examples of these tips in this video by Herman Huang:

Use zoom lenses for flexibility

Prime lenses are fantastic; they can create beautiful shots with a vast range of focal depth and are ideal for interviews or narrative films. A big problem with prime lenses is that the setup can take a while; you’ll need to change lenses or move the camera closer to the subject to get a good shot, which can be difficult in an event scenario.

Zoom lenses are fantastic for run-and-gun shooting because you can get the shot from a much greater distance, capturing close-ups and wide shots from the same angle using the same lens. Zoom lenses come in a range of sizes, but we’d recommend a pleasant 28-75mm or 24-105mm to give you the most flexibility.

When choosing your zoom lens, make sure to check the F Stop; while you can still use a variable aperture lens for this type of filming, you risk the exposure changing as you zoom in, which can be a tedious task to fix in the edit.

Get stable shots with monopods

Keeping your shots stable is one of the biggest problems live-action camera operators face, and the further you zoom in, the more wobbly your hand-held footage will look. Of course, a tripod gives your camera the most stability, but these are cumbersome and can take time to set up. What’s more, tripods create a trip/fall risk, especially in a busy environment, so while they offer the most stability, they are far from practical for run-and-gun filmmaking.  

Monopods have come a long way since the start of the selfie stick and can be secure, easy to maneuver, and light to carry. Many selfie sticks now come with flip-out tripod legs to add stability if needed.

Monopods also allow you to get a variety of shots beyond what a tripod can do, like adding small movements to your shots, such as tracking and panning – while keeping the shot stable. You can also extend a monopod upwards and create a fake drone-style shot. The weight and size of a tripod would make this impossible.

Reduce risk to your audio with lavalier microphones

Audio can be one of the most significant issues in an unpredictable environment. Of course, if you’re just shooting B Roll, the audio isn’t really a problem, but when it comes to interviews and vox-pops, you need to ensure you have a good-quality recording.

Using lavalier mics for anyone you want talking on camera is a fantastic way of removing the risk to your audio created by the filming environment. The simple mic and receiver can easily be clipped to the interviewee’s shirt or collar, giving you crisp and clean audio, even when shooting from some distance.

Lav mics have come a long way in recent years, becoming more efficient and cost-effective; you can even get wireless clip-on mics for your smartphone. To understand more about the different types of microphones available, check out this handy guide.

Lavalier mics don’t solve all your sound issues, however, as you still risk interviewees rubbing or moving against the mic, creating scratches and muffles. We suggest recording two audio tracks; one through your camera with a standard shotgun mic, the other through a recording device such as a Zoom linked to the lavalier mics.

Lavalier receivers can be clunky and quite heavy, so by recording this separately to your camera, you can keep your kit as light and flexible as possible. Recording two audio channels will also help with syncing, scrubbing, or audio correction you need to do in the edit.

Run-and-gun filming is great for filming events, new stories, and sports videos, but it takes patience and practice. Even the most experienced camera operator will miss a shot from time to time. If you’ve come from a film set where you have time to run through scenes multiple times, the quick-shooting method can be scary but also exhilarating and energizing. 

And now to the edit

Once you have all your footage, it’s time to take it into the edit. It’s here that you can really bring it to life with high-quality music, sound effects, and professionally-designed templates.

If you’re looking for more filmmaking tips, check out our top 10 tricks to instantly make your videos look better.

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Chris Suffield is a London-based writer, editor, and voice-over artist at Jellyfielder Studios; he also writes entertainment news for Box Office Buz and enjoys making things from stock footage.

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