Last week, I was helping a client produce a YouTube video and I explained the various steps involved in the production process. After our meeting, it hit me that the list of steps could be a valuable blog post for anyone interested in creating their own video. So, if you are thinking about shooting your own YouTube video and don’t know where to start, this post is for you. The list below is a great starting point and covers the essential elements to consider while planning and creating your video production.
Disclaimer: Creating a high quality video isn’t easy…even if your intent is to create a low budget, guerrilla-style video. You’ll read many articles on the web about how easy it is, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not. Here’s what is easy: It is easy to shoot a shaky video, with bad sound, bad lighting, horrible edits, copyrighted music, and one that’s completely disjointed. But, that’s not what you want to do, right? You want a video that you can be proud of, something that’s viral, and that gets people talking. So, don’t just grab your camera, run out with a few friends, and start shooting. You might get lucky and have some good footage, but my guess is you won’t be so happy. End of disclaimer. :)
1. Concept Development (Brainstorming)
OK, so you want to create a YouTube video, but you are staring at a blank sheet of paper… Yes, concept development isn’t easy and it’s why the creative brains behind TV shows, movies, commercials, etc. can make boat loads of money. :) I recommend getting your hands on a white board, grabbing a few of your coworkers and hitting a conference room. Then begin a divergent thinking session. Brainstorm lots of ideas related to your core concept. DO NOT LIMIT ANY IDEAS AT THIS STAGE. Please, don’t let any idea killers in the room. That’s why it’s called divergent thinking… Start jotting them on the whiteboard, organized by major category (humor, serious, action, parody, etc.) If you have the right group of people in the room, then you should have a few dozen ideas on your whiteboard. During the process of working through your favorite ideas, think about the following:
a. How original is the idea? Has it been done 50 times already or is it a new angle? Will you build upon or parody an older concept? Originality is key.
b. Cost (if you have a great idea, but it’s going to cost an arm and a leg, it might not work…)
c. How viral can your concept be? Is it something you believe your target market will enjoy enough to pass along?
d. Location, location, location. Where are you going to shoot the video? Shooting a video in a baseball stadium would be great, but is that really possible? Is a park better? Do you need permission to be there? So on and so forth.
e. How complex will the editing be? Will you need to create a dozen effects for the final edit? How will you accomplish that? Do you even have the software or skillset to do it?
2. Script and Storyboard
Excellent, you have your concept and it’s a killer idea that’s completely possible to shoot on your budget. :) Now what? Well, it’s time to write your script. This is also not an easy task. If you’ve never written a script before, there’s a good chance that you’ll be in pain. If you find yourself cooking along, then you might want to do this full time. :) Personally, I love this stage… This is where you get to flesh out your concept. The script and storyboard are the foundation for your production. If you have a poorly mapped out script and storyboard, you are setting yourself up for failure. Take as much time as you need at this stage to get it right. You should determine your main characters, how much dialogue will there be, determine locations for the shoot, and of course begin writing the actual script. Just to clarify, the script covers what your characters will be saying and doing during the shoot, where the storyboard helps you map out the flow of the video. Keep in mind that the storyboard doesn’t have to be a work of art…I’ve created several storyboards that were on 8.5×11 sheets of white paper, framed with pencil, using stick figures. I’ve also developed some storyboards that were more elaborate…it’s all about timing and how involved your production will be.
3. The Shot List
By now your script and storyboard should be done. Now you need to create your shot list from your script and storyboard. A shot list is essential. It helps you determine every shot you need for your production. And it’s not just about your core shots, it’s also about getting additional footage for your edit. For example, if you were shooting at a baseball field like I mentioned earlier, you definitely need to get some establishing shots. Maybe you will pan up to reveal the stadium sign or get a 360 shot from inside the stadium. You need to think about all of your shots or you’ll find yourself cursing a lot in post production. :) The shot list can be a simple Word document listing each shot you need to capture with some notes about the scene. In addition, I would buy a clipboard and attach the script, storyboard, and shot list to it on the day of your shoot.
4. Necessary Video Production Equipment
You are getting closer to the shoot and you’ve got a solid script, storyboard, and a well planned shot list. Now you need to think about your equipment. I can write an entire post about each of the bullets below, but I’ll try and keep each description as brief as possible. Also keep in mind that this is a basic list. You can really go nuts with video production equipment, which is why the title of this section is “Necessary Video Production Equipment”. :)
a. Your Camera
Duh, right? Just like with other electronic equipment, video cameras have come down in price. Just make sure you have one (or buy one) that can do the job at hand. You don’t absolutely need a $5000 HD camera, but you also don’t want a $100 hunk of junk that captures horrible video and audio. You won’t have a chance… I’ve provided a few links below to CNET’s editor’s picks for both home video and pro/semi-pro cameras:
Pro and Semi-Pro Cameras – Editor’s Choice
Home Video Cameras – Editor’s Choice
There is one thing you should keep in mind when thinking about audio. Most people don’t really notice high quality audio…they just know bad audio as soon as they hear it. They are used to great audio on TV, in movies, in commercials, etc. There are some really cost effective ways to capture quality audio and I highly recommend making the investment in a few microphones. For example, I have a great wireless lavaliere microphone from Audio Technica that only cost $50. It’s easy to use and works great. Audio is extremely hard to adjust in post production (while you are editing), so it’s critically important to capture the best possible audio during the shoot. You know the old adage, garbage in, garbage out…
It’s not easy to light a set. I actually think it’s an art form! I would look into buying a professional lighting kit. If you don’t want to buy a lighting kit, then you’ll need to find locations for your shoot that provide the best possible lighting. Shooting outdoors might be a good way to go, as long as Mother Nature cooperates. If you are flexible with the date of your shoot, then this may be the way to go. Test out various locations PRIOR to your shoot and watch it back on your video monitor or TV. Jot down the best locations, lighting-wise, and try and go back during the same time of day. Lighting is another element that can make or break your production (and it’s hard to adjust in post production.)
d. Smooth Motion (Using a Steadicam or Glidecam)
If you are going to capture a lot of motion, definitely look into building or buying a steadicam or glidecam. There is almost no way to achieve smooth motion without one… Don’t believe me? Grab your camera and walk down your street while shooting. Watch it back and see how fast you get motion sickness. :) A steadicam or glidecam will help smooth out those bumps and can provide a cinematic effect that’s hard to achieve without using one. Note, you will need to practice to achieve smooth motion while keeping your subject in the frame, but it’s well worth it. If you want to build a steadicam, then check out the poor man’s steadicam. I built one a few years ago to see how it would work and it actually works really well. It cost me $25-$30 for supplies and then took me 2 hours to build. If you want to buy a Glidecam, then you might want to check out http://glidecam.com/product-2000-pro.php to learn about the Glidecam 2000. I believe it’s their least expensive product.
If you will be shooting any interviews, make sure you have a good location with a nice backdrop. If you want, you can also buy a professional backdrop for about $60-$100. If you think you’ll be shooting several more video interviews, then you can also buy a frame to hold backdrops for about $150-$200. It’s a small investment and will bring a level of professionalism to your production.
5. The Shoot
I can write 10 pages about the day of the shoot, but I’ll keep it brief. Don’t forget your script, storyboard, and shot list. Think about the essentials for your shoot. Make sure you have backups for everything. For example, batteries, microphones, video tape, battery packs, AC power, headphones, duct tape, adapters, wardrobe, etc. Capture lots of footage…you can always delete footage, but you can’t go back and get more! Even if you did choose to go back and shoot more footage at a later time, the lighting would be different, your subjects might look different, the surroundings might have changed, etc. So shoot away. Make sure you bring headphones so you can hear what your camera is recording. Try and minimize any problems before each shot. Before you end the shoot, check your script, storyboard, and shot list again to ensure you have everything you need. You should try and minimize the “Darn, I wish we would have captured more of…” syndrome. :)
6. Post Production (Video Editing)
Now that your video shoot is over, run back to your office to log and capture your footage. Actually, depending on how much footage you shot, you just might want to capture all of it. Hard drive storage is so cheap now that it just might be easier to capture all of the footage. If you need to log and capture your footage, just make sure you give yourself a few seconds before and after each clip (so you have room for editing on each side of the clip).
a. Video Editing Software
There are several popular video editing software packages to choose from. Which one you go with really depends on your requirements. I highly recommend both Adobe Premiere andApple Final Cut. Both packages are not cheap, but well worth the money. In addition, I believe both have “light” versions of the software for less money. In my opinion, you probably won’t need all of the power of Final Cut or Premiere, so the light versions may work well for you.
Disclaimer: Video editing is not easy. You will improve with time, but chances are your first editing experience will not be pleasant. Keep at it, watch movies, TV shows, etc. to see how the pros do it. There’s a lot you can learn from watching Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Peter Jackson, and James Cameron. :)
I would try and keep your YouTube video less than 3 or 4 minutes in length. Attention spans are lower than ever, so if your video is 15 minutes long, good luck. Keep it clear and concise. Keep your viewers in mind. Most people don’t have time to sit through more than a few minutes. Factor this in as you edit.
c. Video Bumpers
Since you’ll be providing your video on several video sharing websites (including YouTube, Google Video, Daily Motion, and numerous other video sites), you’ll want to add bumpers to your video. Bumpers are basically short segments at the beginning and end of your video that provide viewers with information about the production. This is a great place to add the product name, company name, URL, etc. In addition, since viewers have the ability to add your video to their own websites or blogs from YouTube and the other video sites, adding a URL to learn more about your subject matter is a smart idea. This is where bumpers can play an important role in driving viewers to your website or blog!
In closing, I know this was a lot of information, but I hope it gives you the confidence to produce a well made YouTube video! At a minimum, I hope this post contains enough information to get you started. I plan to write more posts about interactive video production so definitely check back often. As usual, if you get frustrated and need assistance, don’t hesitate to contact me. Now, begin your divergent thinking and create a killer YouTube video!