5 things I learned on my first 360 video

BBC Video Journalist Anna Bressanin shares her top tips after she produced her first 360 video, using the lightweight Theta S camera.

“360: a changing Cuba” is a 360 video that takes you inside the life of 26 year old dancer Daniela Ponjuan during the week of Obama’s historic visit to the island.

The goal is to bring you to the streets, houses and courtyards of a rapidly changing Havana. At the same time it portrays the complicated thoughts of a young Cuban artist towards the US, between a wish for change and a sense of pride for the unique identity and the culture of the island.

1- Not everyone looks good on 360

I went to Cuba thinking about having various artists showing me the city and sharing their thoughts on Obama. I tried a couple of interviews, but Daniela’s story was the best for this format. As a dancer, she can lead you to explore all around the space by following her movements. And narratively, it is easier to focus on one single character then trying to edit together various different stories.

2- Obvious edits help avoiding dizziness

The person I interviewed had a very photographic and evocative way of expressing concepts. She would say things like: ”Cubans are a people who dance. Look at how people walk, how they talk. It’s like the essence of dance is included in a country itself”. This soundbite goes really well with images of people walking around and the sound of salsa. Edits that sound too obvious or too easy in traditional video, seem to work well in 360.

With so many choices of looking around, the viewer might lose focus - and interest. Nevertheless, if the sound design, soundbites and images reinforce one simple and powerful idea it is possible to keep the viewer focused.

3- Film a lot and use a few

I couldn’t use the monitor on my app because I didn’t have Wi-Fi in Cuba. I didn’t know what I was getting on camera. One way to deal with this is having your computer with you and check every hour what you filmed. This method also allows you to recharge. But carrying around a computer in the field might not be ideal. I just filmed much more than needed and used only the best takes.

4- Ignore the red light, pay attention to the blue light

The red light button was blinking all the time. It might be because I was about to go out of memory or the battery was low. I tried to charge and clear the memory. After two or three shots the red light was already blinking again. I decided to ignore it, and it was recording anyways. I would charge and download whenever possible.

The blinking blue light that says it is recording is much more discreet, so many times I thought I was filming and I wasn’t. And you can’t check the light if you left the camera in the middle of a room and you are hiding behind a wall.

5- For sound you need three hands

I filmed all with the Tetha S camera in one hand and recorded sound holding with the other hand a Zoom H4, which is a good radio recorder.

It is a bit hard to do the two things at the same time. Result: I dropped and lost my windscreen on the first day and I was left holding a piece of paper around the Zoom H4, while walking in a windy city and holding the camera with the other hand. In this case, I would say 360 is exactly like filming with traditional video: always bring duct tape and make it work somehow.