Last week we joined the eLearning Network to talk video production on a budget…
A few main takeaways…
As Richard said, I’m Hayley. I’m from a company called vzaar. I’m going to talk to you today about how to make video on a budget, but there is an important caveat to that, which is good video on a budget. Anyone can kind of slap a video together, but there are places where you do have to spend a bit of money, sorry to break it to you. But I’m going to try and show you where you can save and where you do need to invest that bit of money.So just before we begin, I work for vzaar, which is a video hosting platform for business. So once you have made your videos, you upload them to us. We stream them out. Not surprisingly, we use video a lot in all of our marketing. I’m involved in the scripting, the storyboard, and the planning, and then afterwards, executing all the campaigns.
Terry was supposed to be here. He’s our in-house video producer. He was going to take more of the technical side, so apologies if I can’t cover that, but I am familiar with some of it. So I’ll do my best there.
I just wanted to give you, to start off with, an example of a video, the kind of thing we produce. It is a marketing video, so apologies for the self-promotion. Tune it out. It’s fine. It’s more about the quality you can get. So what I’m going to try and do today is show you our process for making videos, from planning it, the kit that we use. If you don’t have any budget for any kit, I’ve got a few online tools that can help with that and where we find our assets.
So the first thing to say is that the plan really is everything. It’s maybe not the most revolutionary of things, but it’s true. The plan starts . . . I mean, it’s not enough to go, “Oh, we want video. Charge. Let’s go make a video.” You need to think about what type of video and how it fits into what you’re trying to do. So a good example is if you’re trying to teach people how to use a piece of software, something like a screencast might be a good idea, which is just a demo of the software, whereas, maybe if you’re in HR, and you want to show a real-life situation and you want people to empathize with the situation, you might want to use a real-life person in it. So just try and think about who your audience is and what you’re aiming to do, because different types of video will work in different ways.
For us, a lot of our customers aren’t the most technical, which is why they come to us. So when we have a new feature that is very technical, we found it works to give like a real-world metaphor. Then they’ve got that analogy in their head that they can figure out what it means.
I’ve got another example of a video here, of that. You’ll notice there that we have to have a real person if we’re showing a real-world situation. Actors aren’t cheap. When I was putting this deck together, I Googled actors for the day, and it was like thousands of pounds for the day. So what we actually use is our members of staff. So the guy in the video at the beginning was our VP of sales. The problem with that is that our VP of sales was hired to be VP of sales. He wasn’t hired to act in a video. It’s not his natural forte. I have been in some of the videos. I’m not a natural presenter, she says as she gives a presentation.
Getting the most out of your colleagues can be tricky. The only real answer to that is to practice. One really helpful thing to do is to practice with the full kit. So rather than just having someone read through the lines a few times and think, “Oh, yeah. That’s fine. I’ve got it,” if you practice with all the kit or the camera. When you’ve got the camera in front of you, it’s quite an unnatural situation, and you do kind of really tense up and go into yourself. Nothing prepares you for being on camera like being on camera. So when you’re doing your run-throughs, always make sure it’s in the full kit and make it as realistic as possible.
Another really good tip, this doesn’t just apply to the person on camera, it applies to the person off camera is to smile. So there’s some kind of psychology about if I smile, you’re more likely to smile back at me because we mirror behaviors, as a social animal. I won’t go into pseudo psychology, but it does work. When I’m on camera, Terry is filming, smiles at me, and I just naturally smile back. And it just makes for a much more natural performance. No one enjoys seeing a presenter that’s kind of very nervy. That’s just one really simple tip that works.
So once you know what kind of video you’re going to make, you’re going to want to script it. This is our scripting process. When I explain this, it sounds really simple, but it took us quite a long time to get to this stage. We used Google Docs for this, by the way, which is a really good tool because you can share what you’re doing. People can make comments, collaborate on it. What we do with our script is we do the audio, so what we’re actually going to say, down at the left-hand side of the table. Then on the right-hand . . . Sorry, right-hand side of the table. Then on the left-hand side, we do kind of a written storyboard. So none of us can draw, and it would probably take us ages if we tried to craft a beautiful storyboard. So we just do a written one.
Then once you’ve got your written storyboard, you can take that and think about each shot that you’re going to need to create that visual. Then we do a prop list as well. It kind of goes back to what Zack was saying about have a process and have a plan, because the more structure you can do beforehand, the better it’s going to go on the shoot.
This creates like a tick list of like, when we’re on the day, yes, we’ve got that shot; yes, we’ve made sure all these props are here. The shoot can be quite stressful. So you want to take as much stress out of that as possible. You also don’t want to forget anything. So the last thing you want to do is finish your day of shooting, and then get to the edit and realize you’ve forgotten something and have to go back, set everything back up, waste everyone’s time, waste some money doing that. Yeah, as prepared as you can be beforehand always helps.
So I’m going to talk through the kit that we use, and then a few alternatives if you really have no budget for the kit. So as I said, ours is nothing fancy. We’ve got a prosumer DSLR. It takes 1080p HD video. We’ve got a tripod. The audio is where I’d recommend you spend some money, and I’ll go into that in a minute.
The lens that we use is a Canon. I should say we’re going to tweet out the kit list. So don’t worry about getting all this down. You can find it online. We use the Canon lens, mostly because we’ve got the Canon camera, but it is good value for money. It does what we need it to do. It’s a fixed focus lens, a prime lens. So you can’t knock the focus. It’s not going to zoom in, zoom out. Keeps all the shots nice and consistent, and it’s bright.
So Terry would probably explain this a lot better than me, but the hole in the lens is quite large. So it lets in a lot of light, which if you’ve not got a fancy lighting rig, if you’ve not got the best lighting conditions, that’s what you need. You need a bright lens.
So how many people are actually making video now? Okay, quite a few. You might disagree. But I would say probably use a tripod. The reason being . . . I’ll just give you an example of a handheld versus one that was taken on the tripod.
So as you can see, the handheld is kind of shaky. If you know what you’re doing, you can create a nice effect with that. So if you think back to something like the Blair Witch Project or something like that, it was meant to be like nervy and jumpy, and it worked quite well. If you don’t know what you’re doing and you try and do that, I don’t know. You might end up with seasick viewers. You’re probably not going to pull it off because you’re not experienced enough to be able to do it.
With a tripod, I mean, a tripod is pretty cheap, like a tenner or something. It just keeps it clean. It’s one less thing to worry about. You’re not adding in any complexity that you can’t pull off. I would say stick it on the tripod.
So as I said, don’t scrimp on the audio. When people think about video, they quite often really focus on the visual, and the audio is just as important. If you think when you’ve watched video online before, I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of a really loud hiss or echo. It’s really harsh on the ears, and it’s really unpleasant for the viewer. It’s really worth taking some time to think about what kit you’re going to use for your audio.
Don’t rely on the mic on your camera. It’s really small. It’s also probably going to be positioned quite away from your subject. So you’re going to pick up loads of echo, hiss, background noise, things like that. It’s just too small to be effective really.
Instead, have someone, this is Dan. On our shoot days, it’s his job to do the sound. Since we’ve invested in the kit, it’s given us so much more flexibility. So we used to use like a USB microphone, and it meant that our shots were all really limited. We didn’t want the microphone in shots, so all our shots were kind of mid to close portrait, which trust me, when it’s your first time on camera, you really don’t want the full frame to be your face. This has given us loads more flexibility. We can move location with it. So shotgun mic, so as the name suggests, you just point it at your subject and it picks up what it’s pointed at. Then we use this field recorder. Again, we’ve got this tweeted somewhere. So don’t worry about getting this. I’m actually using it today. It’s going to film and record my audio, and then I can whack it with the slides afterwards.
Yeah, it’s just good value for money, for one thing. It does what we need it to do. We’re able to change location, which makes the video much more engaging, much more interesting to watch than just someone’s face for 90 seconds.
Always monitor as you record the audio. What you’re really wanting to do is not have mistakes that you find later in the edit, because mistakes are much harder to fix in the edit than at the time on the shoot. I really recommend having a second pair of ears. If you’re filming, you’re very focused on what’s going on in the frame itself. You might not realize that a siren’s gone by or a bus or something like that, and it’s the perfect take that you think was awesome. You get to the edit, and there’s a siren. Again, that’s really hard to fix. You don’t want to go and have to set up and do it all again. Monitor as you go. As soon as something happens, as soon as that sound goes past, Dan just says, “No, we need to roll that again.” It might make your shoot a big longer, but it saves you loads of time afterwards.
It is still worth using the audio from your camera. So remember, I said there was that tiny microphone. The reason being — so this thumbnail strip is the visual taken from the camera, with the blue audio underneath that’s also from the camera. The green is taken from this audio recording. You’ll notice there’s kind of peaks where the volume’s gone up and down. So you just match them up, match the camera audio with the secondary audio. So you don’t get that bad lip-syncing effect. The visual will match the audio.
Okay. So music, when we first started making video, it was a very sort of confusing time with what do we have rights to use, what licenses can we — what music can we use that’s licensed properly. Zack touched on Creative Commons. I really recommend that you read up on that. But in a nutshell, you can use things on a Creative Commons license if you credit the source.
We find our music — Incompetech is a library of music, which I really highly recommend. So a lot of these music libraries, what you’ll find is they categorize their music as like dance, pop, rock. That’s not helpful. With a video, you often know the mood you’re going for. So you know if you want it to be a happy video or you’re trying to do suspense or something. You can have a happy rock song. You can have a depressing rock song. So I don’t find the category of rock very helpful in choosing music. Incompetech categorizes for mood. So I don’t know if you can read it. You’ve got action, humorous, mysterious. That saves me so much time in trawling through these music libraries, trying to listen to all the rock songs, work out which one is mysterious. Well, I don’t have to. I just click ‘Mysterious’, and they’re all there. I would really recommend Incompetech.
So again, if you already make your own videos, this might not be that relevant. But if you’re just sort of dipping your toe into videos, you don’t want to spend on the kit. There’s some software to help you. First of all, we talked about screencasts. QuickTime is — it comes on most Mac machines. I’m not too sure about Windows, but it’s free on Macs. That’s just a simple use of click record, and it records everything that’s going on on your screen. It’s limited because then to edit that together, you’re going to need a second piece of software, so iMovie or something like that, again, free on Mac.
I really like ScreenFlow. It’s not free, but it’s not expensive. I think we paid about 80 quid for it. That records your screen and is an editor all in one. It’s got loads of good features, like you can zoom on areas, highlight areas, blow icons up, which when it’s a screencast, you really want it to be really crystal clear. So I just grabbed an example. This is a screen cast we made in ScreenFlow. We wanted to draw the attention to this middle section. So you just zoom in it, highlighted. It’s just really effective, and it’s not expensive. If you’re demoing software, I recommend it.
Okay. Animoto is — this is a fairly recent discovery for us. But if you can’t take video, you can still make a video using images. You upload the images to Animoto. You choose — they’ve got loads of commercially licensed music. So again, you don’t need to worry about the whole licensing thing.
You can also upload video clips into that. So say if you’ve taken a clip using something like QuickTime, you can upload that. Then they have an in-app editor as well. So you can cobble things together, and it’s cheap. They’ve got free accounts, but you have some Animoto branding on it with the free. If you go up to the business level, I think it’s like £35 a month. But if you’re just dipping your toe, it can be a good way of kind of experimenting with video and figuring out what works before you then go and invest in some kit and do it in-house yourself.
As with anything, practice. There’s no point going out and blowing loads of budget on an amazing kit that has all these amazing capabilities, because if your skills don’t match up to that, you’re never going to get the full functionality out of the kit. Start slowly and ramp up. So buy a few choice budget pieces. As your confidence grows, and as you develop your skills, you can add in bits of kit as you need it. Yeah, no one is expecting you to get it right first time. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting with different bits of kit. You can rent pieces of kit as well, if you want to give things test runs. Just Google that.
So moving on to the shoot itself. We always say put the camera in manual, rather than having it on auto. So we have the DSLR. It’s more set up to kind of take single shots in time, rather than with a video, you want like a consistent shot. If you put it in manual, it’s always going to be the settings that you choose, rather than in auto, it’s constantly going to be auto adjusting to what it thinks is right. What you don’t want is one shot that’s a bit darker and one shot’s a bit lighter, because as soon as you have that inconsistency, it looks shoddy. You might get it wrong. Your manual settings might be wrong. Your whole video might be a bit dark. But in the edit, it’s easier to apply one fix consistently across the whole video rather than trying to darken that one, lighten that one, and make sure everything balances.
Frame composition. So Terry, our in-house video producer, studied photography. A long time ago, he was taught the rule of thirds. I don’t know why it works, but it does. If you don’t know what you’re doing, again, just stick it on the thirds. So you put your subject towards one of the outer two thirds, rather than slap bang in the middle of the frame. It’s more pleasing to the eye. I really don’t know why. There probably is some kind of psychology behind it. Yeah. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it just looks better.
Okay. The lighting, at vzaar, we don’t have the best ever lighting. We have two light sources. One is really harsh, white daylight. The other is crappy fluorescent lighting that’s not great. The alternative is to buy a lighting rig. Again, we don’t have the budget for that. I don’t know about you guys. So we say you can make a lighting kit for 15 quid. If you get a shower curtain and stick it over your window, it defuses the light. So that harsh, white light is a lot softer, which when you’re on camera, you’re very grateful for that. Trust me.
Then what you can also do is make a cardboard light reflector. So you get a big piece of card, white card. On one side, leave white, the other side, tape some tin foil to it. It gives you like a bright reflector and then a midlevel reflector. So you stick that on the other side of your subject, and it fills in the shadows because it’s reflecting the light. Something for you to try.
Okay. Don’t think like a human. This slide should really read, “Don’t think like you think a human thinks,” but that sounded much less catchy when I was putting it together. As a human, when I look to the left of the room and then I look to the right of the room, it would seem that what I’m doing is looking and then pan, pan, pan, pan, pan to the right. In actual fact, I look to the left, blink, look to the right, and my brain fills in what’s in the middle based on my peripheral vision. That’s what we would recommend you do in your video.
So if you pan and pull, the camera is on me, then it pans to the lens, goes back. The problem with that is it can mess your focus up. If you don’t know what you’re doing, again, it can look a bit crap. Whereas if every shot you switch, it keeps it clean. It keeps the pace. It makes it snappy.
Again, practice. So sometimes, it’s hard to put something out there when it’s your first go. But in actual fact, if you make a video and put it out and get some feedback, that can be a really good way of finding out A) what your audience wants, what they expect; and B) if you can get people to give you some constructive criticism, it’s kind of like they’re more invested in what you’re doing. Then the next one you put out, they’re probably going to be more inclined to watch it, find out what you’ve done. Yeah, I know I’ve said practice many, many times, but it’s just so true. It’s a whole process.
We started off doing talking head videos with a USB microphone. Since then, we’ve built on it. We found out what our audience likes, which is those real-world analogies. We’ve invested in more kit as our skills have grown. There’s no substitute for practice. There’s no real quick fix. You just have to put the time in, and the time and the practice and the planning beforehand. Afterwards, everyone will thank you for doing that.
I have a few bits that didn’t really fit anywhere else. Tails on your takes and mark a good take, apologies for this moody freeze frame by the way. It happens. I’ll just show you the video, and then I’ll explain what I mean by that.
So you’ll notice that just after Terry pressed record and before I started speaking, there was like a few seconds space. That’s really helpful to give yourself the space in the edit because you don’t want to cut off a syllable of the audio or something. If you make things tight, it’s just more difficult to fit them together afterwards. Apart from anything else, you’re probably going to get some good outtakes and things if you just leave the camera in record.
Mark a good take. You’ll notice at the end of that take, the palm went over the lens. That’s because, if you think back to when I showed you the thumbnails in the edit, sometimes that’s really long. You know you’ve got a good take in there somewhere, but how do you find it? If you know that you’ve marked the take, you’re looking for the palm over the screen. Then you can just scroll through and find it really easily. You know that take is between those bookmarks.
Another thing, clap to mark the audio, so you want that peak so you can line the two audios up. You don’t need to buy a clapper board, you’ve got a pair of hands. Refocus every shot. You want consistency in each shot. You don’t want — people move around. They might move off the mark a little bit that you’ve not quite realized. If you refocus every shot, you just know it’s going to be right. You’re not in the situation of fixing things in the edit, resetting things up. It really is all about putting the structure in place and getting it right while you do it, and then you’re not troubleshooting and wasting money and time afterwards.
So yeah, I’ve got a few closing thoughts. Firstly, work with your kit’s strengths but know their weaknesses. So I actually don’t mind that we’re on a budget, but I’m not going to tell my finance director that. Being on a budget makes you be creative. When we sit down at the beginning of our process and have a talk about what we want to do, sometimes you think, “I want this bell. I want this whistle.” Then we think, “Oh, actually, we can’t do it on the kit.” You’re much better to not do something complicated that your kit can’t handle, because it will look much shoddier than if you just strip it back. Do something simpler that your kit can handle.
When you’re on a budget, you’re forced to get creative. So sometimes, you can get really good results from it. I mean, the video I showed you earlier, where it was the two tubes with the ball of paper going through that, we made our props using paper and sort of rolled it together. That’s been one of our most watched. It’s a simple way of showing something, and people say simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. I’ve definitely found that to be true.
Yeah. If you don’t have the kit, don’t worry. There’s always software. I’m sure there’s plenty more options, but I would definitely say Incompetech for music. Check out Animoto as well. I really like ScreenFlow if you’re going to do screencasts.
Finally, just practice. You can’t run before you can walk. The first step to actually getting good is to give it a go. As long as you’ve done your prep work, and you’ve put as much process in place as you can beforehand, you’re not going to go too far wrong.
So yeah, as I said, Terry is very good at technical stuff, and he’s a genius at cobbling bits of kit together. I mean, we made a dolly, which is where you have a moving camera. We stuck a tripod on a wheely chair and things. So stuff like that he’s really good at. Feel free to get in touch with him. His email address is there. We have been tweeting bits and pieces relating to this. I’ll stick it up online afterwards. But yeah, any questions?