15 Steps to Powerful Videos
by Joel Friedlander
Video is everywhere in blogs today. As many people predicted, when Web surfers get broadband Internet service, they want blog video and lots of it. Let’s face it, we’ve all been raised on television in one way or another, and that’s got to be a powerful influence.
Lots of people enjoy learning through video lessons, and if it’s entertainment that drives your blog and your books, there’s no better way to deliver it than through video.
But to deliver great content, you have to get your videos to look good, and the spread of video has raised the bar for what looks good to the average viewer.
A few weeks ago a woman walked up to me at a publishing group meeting and introduced herself. “Actually,” she said, “I feel I already know you since I’ve been watching your videos.” That was great, because that’s just what I was aiming for. It’s also the way I feel about people I’ve watched on blog videos, and it’s a powerful testament to how we humans connect and how, if we invest ourselves in what we’re doing, our work can affect other people.
Over the past year I’ve acquired equipment for doing videos, gotten a ton of practice, and created hours of video for my online training course for authors, The Self-Publishing Roadmap. So while I’m sitting at my desk pounding on my keyboard, right behind me are the lights, tripod, camera, and a big whiteboard.
The two processes—writing and making video—use completely different skills and equipment.
Writing a post is pretty straightforward:
● add photo
Creating a video requires much more involvement with technology and completely different kinds of processes. It’s relatively simple to create screencasts by making a movie of what’s happening on your screen and adding your voiceover. But I think live-action videos work best.
Here’s the basic process I go through—along with the tools I’ve used—to make blog videos such as the Book Marketing Continuum, a pretty simple whiteboard presentation that runs about 13 minutes. This is a live-action, classroom-style video. I talk to the camera and draw on a whiteboard behind me to illustrate the points I’m making.
● Outline content. This is very similar to outlining a written post. Most people can’t just turn the camera on, start shooting, and hope to create anything of quality. Conceivably, you won’t need a script for a short video if you already know what you want to say and you’re confident about saying it smoothly.
● Create a cheat sheet. I use a single piece of paper as a cheat sheet for each video, and I hang it on the front of the tripod so I can refer to it as I work through the content. Using a Sharpie marker makes creating diagrams very easy and quite visible from four feet away.
● Adjust the lighting. On the recommendation of a cinematographer, I bought a set of two softboxes and a tripod (a softbox, I learned, is an enclosure around a bulb comprising a reflective side and back walls and a diffusing material at the front of the light; the best-known form is the umbrella light). Unless you’re adept at shooting outdoors, you need good indoor lighting to get a good-looking video.
● Check the microphone. Although you can watch a video that’s not very well made and still get a lot from it, if the sound is bad, you will probably stop watching. When I realized that microphones don’t have to be expensive, I got an Audio-Technica ATR-3350 microphone for less than $25, and it works beautifully.
● Set the camera. Last year I made a bunch of videos using my iPhone. Although these came out better than expected, eventually I realized I needed a camcorder and bought a Canon Vixia MF400. This allows me to zoom and adjust white balance and exposure, and it generally takes great HD video. I was super pleased to find that a tiny remote control that came with the camera lets me flip the screen around so it’s facing front, which makes it easy to see if I’ve got a shot framed properly and then start filming.
● Shoot the video. Surprisingly, this can be just a small part of the process. I know what I’m going to say; I’m all set up with equipment I’ve used a lot before, so I’m comfortable and can just launch in.
● Transfer the video. My camera uses SD cards, and I got a couple of those. They are very cheap for mass storage, and the new Macintoshes come standard with a slot for them.
● Convert the video. Unfortunately, I can’t use the videos in the format the camera uses (MTS), so I run them through a converter to get a MOV file, using Wondershare Video Converter, a fast and capable program with lots of options (wondershare.com).
● Edit the video. When I got started with video, I realized it would work for me if I could keep it simple. Like a lot of other people, I don’t have time to learn a ton of complicated new software. I tried iMovie for editing, but the interface was frustratingly hard to learn. Eventually I started using the editor in Screenflow, a fantastic screen recorder for Macintosh. I love this software for its simplicity, range of tools, and speed at getting video done without getting hung up in editing minutiae.
● Export the video. Once you’re finished adding titles and editing your video, you need to export it from your editing software. You can send your videos straight to YouTube.com or Vimeo.com or just dump them to your drive in MOV format. I’ve been hosting my videos on Amazon S3, a bulk hosting service from Amazon.com. This means I’ve got another step to do.
● Convert the video again. The standard for Web video is the MP4 format, and that’s the one that also plays on mobile devices like phones and tablets. So now I run my videos through a great free product, Handbrake (handbrake.fr) to get them encoded properly for all kinds of uses.
● Upload the video. Since these files can get pretty big, you have to use FTP software or some other program to transfer them to the server you’re using for hosting. Right now I’m using a nifty free plug-in for Firefox called S3Organizer that does the job quickly and easily.
● Set permissions. By default, all media files uploaded to S3 servers are private, so you have to go in and set permissions through the ACL (access control list), because otherwise people will get an error message when they press the Play button.
● Create a player. If you use a host such as YouTube.com, you won’t have to worry about this, but for S3-hosted videos, you have to create the player that will show your video on your blog. I use the (paid) EzS3.com service to do this.
● Embed your video. Grab the HTML code from your host (or EzS3.com player) and make sure it’s sized properly for your blog. (The main content area on my blog is about 500 pixels wide, so I need to stay within those boundaries.) Embedding is just a matter of including the code in your blog post.
If you use YouTube to host your video, look for the Share button underneath the video and then click the Embed button. A new window will open with the HTML code already highlighted. Just right-click and “copy” the code. You can also use the little widget below this window to resize the video for your blog if necessary. If you do resize it, make sure to copy the code after that so it will reflect the new size.
For people who would rather listen than watch, you can create an MP3 audio file, and that has its own conversion and uploading chores.
The whole process of creating a 13-minute video took me about two hours. For getting the benefits of a great connection with readers and the ability to explain complex or visual tasks, I think it’s time well spent.
Joel Friedlander, who blogs about book design and the indie publishing life at TheBookDesigner.com, is an award-winning book designer; the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, a publishing services company in San Rafael, CA; and the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion.