Thanks to easy-to-use video sharing sites like YouTube, Daily Motion and Blip.tv, cheaper video cameras and the general public’s acceptance of lower quality video in web formats, nearly anyone can shoot, edit, upload and engage using video.
In mid-2007, I started experimenting with web video on an old personal blog. Shooting 60-120 second clips on my trusty Canon Powershot A530, I put on my director’s hat and learned (sometimes the hard way) how to produce seemingly professional videos. In January of this year, I started Social Media Explorer TV (see the YouTube channel player over there â€¦ on the right) to bring an element of web video to this site.
While I wouldn’t hesitate to consult a professional production company for a large-scale project or reach out to some perfectly qualified Web-TV specialists, at least one of whom I know well and work with on some of his video projects, I wouldn’t be doing you just service if I didn’t explain some easy steps and pointers to adding web video to your repertoire.
Step 1: Don’t Be Intimidated By The Technology
Video can be shot with just about any digital camera, or even smart phone, these days. But even high-end consumer cameras (I use a Canon Vixia HV20 at work) are as easy as power on, point, shoot, zoom and done. USB cables normally get the video from the camera to your computer and software is provided to enable editing. While I’ve documented some frustrations with some cameras forcing you to use their provided software or jumping through several file conversion hoops to edit in your package of choice, there’s usually little difference in the basic editing functions the camera’s software package provides.
And don’t break the bank getting set up. The camera you own probably does video. Most computers these days come with basic editing software. That’s all you’ll need. For instance, until very recently, I edited most SME-TV items in Microsoft Movie Maker, which comes free on most PCs. You’ll need to look for it (it’s usually under Start>All Programs>Accessories) but it’s there and it’s really easy to figure out. Macs normally come with iMovie as part of their iLife software bundle. It is also very easy to navigate.
Step 2: Understand The Limitations Of The Web And The Audience
You can shoot in high definition all you want, but it will not show up any better than about 720 X 480 resolution online. Your video upload sites compress the heck out of the files so clarity and crispness, or majestic fades and transitions for you wannabe Scorseses out there, aren’t going to show up as well as you’d like. Keep it simple and small and you’ll be fine. Besides, we’re all used to seeing pixelation and crappy motion in online videos and we don’t mind it. The technology, bandwidth and such will continue to improve, but don’t worry so much about amateur-ish presentation online.
Step 3: Editing Is Just Story Telling
LaDonna Coy (@coyenator on Twitter) served as the inspiration for this post by asking me to enumerate how I was going to boil several hours worth of video shot at Friday’s Maker’s Mark Mile and Saturday’s Ambassador Day at the Distillery down to a pair of five minute videos for the Maker’s Mark Ambassador’s blog. (Sorry, you have to be an Ambassador to get there but signing up is free and there’s an RSS feed once you’re in there.) While it sounds like an intimidating task, there are some tricks I’ve learned that make it rather simple.
First, think of the story you want to tell before you shoot the first frame. Then only shoot elements of what happens that will add to your story. You’ll collect way too much video, but each piece of it will somehow make sense to the overall message. When you sit down to start editing, you’ll probably already have a few memorable scenes in mind for the start, end and some high spots in between.
Second, watch all the footage again before you start editing. You never know if there was sun glaring in the lens, awful background noise or the interaction didn’t quite come off the way you remember it. Review what you’re starting with before you start and you’ll have a more clear understanding of the elements you can work with.
Third, don’t get too fancy. Again, the quality of online video is not such that every little special effect you use will matter. Fancy wipes and page peels are nice bells and whistles, but simple fades from scene to scene make your video look professional. Straight cuts to scenes are fine, too, depending upon the pace of what you’re shooting. Adding music is a nice touch and greatly enhances the professional quality of your video, particularly if you fade it in and out during transitions and opportune moments, but be sure you have permission to use it and respect the Creative Commons license. You can find free music, even to be used for commercial purposes, at sites like owlmm.com and the Creative Commons wiki.
Step 4: Don’t Get Greedy
For a five-minute video, you aren’t going to need more than 4-5 major scenes. Of course, if you’re doing an interview like the ones I produce for SME-TV, you can just do a continuous shoot with no edits, but keep your questions to 3-5. Most people are longer-winded than you think and filling five minutes won’t be hard. For a highlight video, or one involving a lot of different scenes you want to incorporate, choose 3-5 segments of decent length (30-45 seconds) and use the transitions to pepper in shorter clips.
The most important attitude to have when editing is that it’s okay to leave some things lying on the cutting room floor, as it were. You can’t use everything. Pick the best five minutes and discard the rest. If you have enough, make two videos and expand your offering â€“ exactly what we’re doing with the Maker’s Mark efforts since two days worth of Ambassador activity couldn’t possibly be highlighted in one video.
And five minutes is a bit long for most web viewing audiences. Todd Earwood says the sweet spot is between two and four minutes in length. Any longer and most people don’t watch. The view numbers from my SME-TV interviews certainly reflect that philosophy, but I firmly believe that if the content is good, the length is irrelevant. If it’s compelling, people will watch. Don’t let your watch dictate your content. As I’ve told Todd hundreds of times in relation to “Fridays with Falls,” “I can’t be compelling or funny in under two minutes. Live with it.”
Step 5: Give Yourself Time
The most frustrating part of doing web videos is the massive amounts of time you’ll think are wasted in rendering video, uploading video, transferring files from one type to another (if your camera and editing software don’t gel well) and, God forbid, when you have to re-render or re-upload because once you see it online, you realize there’s a scene that looks bad, a stray goober in the background picking his nose or some other such problem. Even the fastest personal computer is going to churn on video rendering and uploads for a few minutes. The longer the video, the longer the lag time. I’ll often set my videos to render and then go to dinner, sleep or something else that takes a while. Otherwise, I’ll sit and watch the computer and that whole watched pot never boils thing is true.
You should also give yourself time to edit, particularly on the front end. I work fast and am used to my editing software. A five minute video still takes me at least an hour, sometimes two, to put together, watch, tweak, polish and etc. When you’re first starting out, it’s going to take longer. Give yourself a 3-4 hour block of time to piddle and play. The more you learn early on, the better you’ll be down the road. Like anything, practice makes perfect.
And then there’s the time to get good. Your first 3-5 videos are probably going to suck. Videos 5-10 will be incrementally better and with each edit, you’ll experiment a little more, learn a new trick or just get tighter and more polished on your overall production quality. The key is to not give up after the first few tries because it’s hard. Nothing worth doing is easy. Keep at it and you’ll soon find you’re spitting out some pretty entertaining stuff, even if it is just home videos of your kids that are slightly slicker than the ones your dad showed your high school prom date.
Keep in mind, I’m a web video amateur. While I write and help direct the occasional Daily Idea and had a couple of video editing classes in college, I’m essentially self-taught. If you’re interested in producing web videos, you probably have a little cinematic flare. All it takes now is diving in and testing the waters.
For more professional advice and expertise, I’d recommend checking out thoughts and blog posts from Todd Earwood, here. ShirtlessApprentice is a good video tips site and Jim Kukral, a digital colleague on Twitter (@jimkukral) is a good example of a blogger turned v-logger who has good insights into the approach.
Other Posts You’ll Find Interesting:
- 5 Video Editing Tips And Tricks
- Tips For Shooting Better Online Video
- Video Killed The Internet Star
- TV Networks To Dive Deeper Into Web TV For Future Seasons
- Easiest Ways To Watch Web TV