How to Green Screen Your Marketing Video

So you had too many cups of coffee when planning your video marketing and got a little out of control when writing your script and dreaming up shooting locations. Before you press the Delete button on these “out there” ideas, consider shooting with a green screen.

In green screen shooting, the subject is filmed standing in front of a physical green screen, which is later replaced with a new background to produce the effect of the subject being in a specific location. The green screen seems to produce true Hollywood magic, but like most magic, the illusion is built on hard work and technical skill.

Green screening can be a creative and fun choice that lets you place your actors against any background you want. However, green screen is also a major time-waster because it’s still a complicated and detailed process during postproduction. Before embarking on the green-screen process, weigh the time you would spend getting it right in postproduction versus the value you may achieve from using green screen in the first place.

If you decide to take the leap and go green (or blue), here are the items you need:

  • A green or blue backdrop: You can buy one from a retailer that sells specialized chroma-key backdrops or entire kits with support structures and lights. You can also use a solid-colored sheet or fabric that’s close to industry standard shades.

  • A camera tripod: Your camera must be locked down and motionless during green-screen shots.

  • Proper lighting: You need a generous amount of light for the backdrop itself. The key to using chroma-key is bright even lighting for the green screen.

  • Chroma-key editing software: Simpler programs, such as iMovie, can’t handle this advanced software. Both Final Cut and Adobe Premiere have excellent chroma-key capabilities, however. You can find numerous books and online guides for mastering the basics of chroma-key editing, including step-by-step instructional videos on YouTube.

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To avoid trouble, follow these tips for green-screen shooting:

  • Avoid shadows on the backdrop. Your green screen has to be presented to the camera as a single, even color. When your subject is casting a shadow, or if the backdrop has large wrinkles, these darker areas are tough to erase — or, in chroma-key jargon, key out — in the editing process. Treat the backdrop as a separate subject with its own lighting.

  • Keep the camera still by using a tripod. Remember that you’re inserting a separate background behind your subject, and the background remains still during the shot. If you shoot the subject handheld or pan or tilt the camera, you create movement — and the weird-looking effect of a moving subject on a still background.

  • Dress your subjects appropriately. Don’t let anyone wear the same color as (and not even close to) the backdrop. A green shirt against a green screen “disappears”, and a disembodied head will remain (though it’s a useful way to achieve the floating-head effect).

  • Keep your distance. Position your subject eight to ten feet from the green screen to prevent the shadow from being cast on the backdrop and to prevent any movement from causing the backdrop to billow. Also avoid reflecting the bright green color on the subject and giving him a partially erased, keyed-out transporter effect directly from Star Trek.

  • Be sure that the green screen fills the camera frame’s background. If the green color doesn’t quite reach the edges of your camera frame, you have to adjust by zooming or physically moving the camera. Otherwise, you see a strip of the wall on the edges of the shot.

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