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Videos on a shoestring #uoltech #edtech

June 27, 2011

I’ve just been asked for a few general thoughts on shooting some video and soon I had quite a few paragraphs… so I thought that, rather than just sending the e-mail and maybe forgetting some of it later, I’ll stick it all into a blog post and dig it up quickly next time I have a video project in the works.

The main idea is that I generally look to get things done reasonably well on very low budgets… I need to. I know it is not ideal and that I’ve just lost any folks in the media business that I may have attracted to this blog over the years, but unfortunately this is where a *lot* of silly thinking and doing on the part of  society in general has got us: while some companies throw millions on ads (and, curiously, some people actually fall for them), university lecturers have trouble finding a couple of hundreds for a video project… don’t get me started: my ash cloud would seriously disrupt traffic…

Anyway: back to the task in hand: DIY video with (very) limited resources

  1. Storyboarding is the single most important thing I can think of when planning the shoot. First of all think of the purpose of the video and try to empathise with the target audience. Then, when you have something that will work, think of angles, scenes, and draw stick people to visualise the scenes properly. Improvisation sounds good, but when people are put in front of a camera, they don’t all perform well – so tell them what you want from them. When I was filming roleplays, my third take was usually the best one, by which time I had dispensed with the soft and polite approach and I was in a more shouty “director mode”. People don’t mind too much as long as you snap out of it at the end of the filming and you get them coffees and cake with a genuine smile on your face.
  2. Watching someone talk from one angle only is not going to be too exciting. Ideally, have a couple of cameras: one with a wide shot, one with a close-up from another angle and switch between them in post-editing. If you don’t have two cameras, see if you can get the person to repeat some sections with the camera positioned differently.
  3. Interrupting the interlocutor in an interview is not a good idea – it makes life difficult in post-editing (it’s also rather rude ;)).
  4. I’ve come to learn that the quality of sound is really important: people put up with average image but good sound, rather than good image and average sound. So I always use an external mic rather than rely on the built-in camera microphone. If you’re getting sound from anywhere else, please get away from the temptation of .mp3 files because of the drop in quality they involve. Use .wav or some other lossless format (thanks to the dudes on the Adobe After Effects forum for drilling this into my skull).
  5. I wish I had a nice camera (maybe a Panasonic HD with a 3-CCD sensor and external mic socket…) But I don’t. So I have been using JVC HD handhelds (but still with an external mic socket) for half or a third of the price and the result has been ok. Flip cameras are also quite cool for informal videos and the mobile cams are getting better and better – but you wouldn’t use them for more serious stuff I don’t think … at least not yet…
  6. I’ve had problems in the past with the format of the raw video files conflicting with the editing software I was using (Sony Vegas was more responsive than Adobe Premiere Pro). So (at least at the beginning) budget for loads of time for post-editing, tweaking and fiddling. But also expect to spend a lot of time getting things just right, on the exact frame that you want, with the exact effect that you want. I’ve repeatedly spent 8 hours for about 10 min of finished product. If you storyboard properly, it will take less, but still… there is always something happening… Things do get faster as you do more editing, though.
  7. If you know you will be doing more editing, it’s worth getting quality training, alongside quality kit. My favourite online training resource is and it’s got tons of extremely stuff on video editing for a fraction of what some face-to-face training may cost (but then again, I enjoy learning online).
  8. Framing is important for a nice-looking result: the rule of thirds is a good place to start. I occasionally spend my time watching interviews, documentaries and movies more for the camera shots than the story – lots of them don’t have anything meaningful to contribute to the world unfortunately…
  9. Light is super important – you may try colour correction afterwards, but it helps a lot if the original is of good quality. As when taking still images, don’t film directly into the sunlight, watch the shades, and look closely to see what your camera does – they generally have auto settings that are generally helpful, but sometimes ruin the day… The funny thing is that you can have an ok result from a cheap-ish camera which makes good use of light, sound, framing, and a proper storyboard, as opposed to unimpressive results from super-duper cameras that flunk all the common-sensical rules… but then again, there a lot of bad drivers in supercars, too, so nothing new on Earth…
  10. I’ve always tried to keep videos as short as possible (2-3 minutes) and, where that wasn’t possible, I created menus with the chapters/main ideas of that video. If that isn’t possible, either, don’t despair: an engaged presenter with a gripping story can hold an audience for longer without any fancy camera work… (plus, you can do some close-ups in post-processing if the quality of the raw footage allows you to do it without ending up with an alternation  of ok and pixelated scenes).
  11. When publishing, the question is where your video will live, so that you can work out the settings. No need for 6MB/s video, high-res, if folks access it over SDL connections… roughly 800/600 (or, actually, 752X582 PAL in my case) resolution makes it look good on all tablet, desktop and laptop devices – not great on mobiles, but if you publish through YouTube, YouTube will take care of it…
  12. If accessibility is on your mind (and it should be), then consider subtitles. If you’ve already got the video and none of the initial files anymore, you can use YouTube’s subtitling functionality, as well as the functionality of adding a transcript to your video. Don’t think about it too long, just do it. You know the saying: Better late than never. Is your excuse the fact that you don’t want to get RSI by typing any more? Use the voice recognition tools that came with your Windows 7, Android tablet and iPad (the latter through Dragon Dictate).
I guess there may be more stuff, but I think this is something that would have helped me a lot when I was starting out. Hope it helps some of you out there, too.
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