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Videos are risky business

Part 2: The art of videography

‘Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives.’ – Steven Spielberg

As promised, we’re back with another insight into the world of video. This time, I’m shifting gear a little and exploring filmed content – footage captured by a videographer, rather than created by an animator.

It would seem good old Steve and our resident Videographer, Dave, are on the same page when it comes to creating video. With all the technology in the world we have the opportunity to create truly standout video content for our learners…but that technology (or rather how we use it) can also be a video’s downfall. And technology alone isn’t enough.

In a recent workshop, Dave explained how video is an artform but one like no other. Video is collaborative, it’s never one person’s masterpiece. It’s a fusion of talent that results in a final product that people love or hate. So let me share what Dave taught us, and some of his top tips for creating a great video.

Why is video so popular?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of a good video, let’s first think about why it’s so popular. I mean, a book can tell the same story as a movie, an instruction manual delivers the same step-by-step guidance as a how-to video. So why do people prefer to watch a video?

I could start harping on about attention spans – it’s a fair point with today’s learners. But it’s a lot simpler than that. A video is much easier for us to digest. Sight is our primary sense and our brains process images much faster than they process language.

Plus, video gives us so much more – observing gesture, tone of voice and other visual cues all adds to the experience.

Research has shown that 72 hours after reading an article, only 10% of people remember it yet 68% of people would remember a video.

Elements of good video

So what makes a good video? I’ve already mentioned that creating video is a collaborative process, and there’s many elements and expertise that make up the final product.

Now, not all of these will apply to every piece of video content produced, but Dave explained there are 7 elements of good video. So let’s take a look.

1.    Content

Arguably the most subjective element, but the heart of a good video is it’s content. Whether it’s a blockbuster film or a piece of learning content, you need to ask: what story are you trying to tell? Are you appealing to someone’s emotions, trying to make them laugh, or simply wanting to educate?

Understanding the story is crucial to a good video, but that’s not all. You need to break through the noise and make your content stand out from other content out there.

So our top tip here:

  • Answer the question: would you share your content? And we don’t just mean with those who you think might be interested, we mean with everyone. If the answer’s yes, your video content is on the right track.

2.    Language

Many of the points from intro videos apply to longer videos, too. The key thing to remember is that the language used in videos is very different to that in a written format. It’s all about being conversational.

Language should be intentionally simple. Videos come across best when the person talks naturally. Sentences should be simple and formal wording avoided to make sure your viewer can understand what’s being said. Being concise is also important – unlike a book, your viewer won’t necessarily go back and reread something they don’t understand, they’ll just switch off.

And when using real people or actors, make sure they’re delivering what they say with confidence!

So our top tip here:

  • Make sure everything sounds like natural conversation. Read it out loud at least twice to check – if you would say it differently, change it.

3.    Location

Did you know that location helps to establish trust? It sounds odd, but it’s so true. If the environment is right then you wouldn’t pick up on this, but if the environment is wrong, then we instantly sense it.

Let’s look at an example from Dave. You’re watching a video where someone is teaching you to make the perfect cup of tea.

  • If that person is stood in a kitchen, all seems logical and fine. You trust what they’re saying.
  • But if they’re stood in a nondescript room with old filing cabinets behind them, something is instantly off. I’m not sure how much I’d trust their tea making wisdom…

So our top tip here:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Have a think about your story and what you’re trying to get across with your video, and let that lead your location choice.

4.    Direction

We’re getting a bit technical now, but bear with me. Direction is about getting the most out of the video and telling your story.

Staying true to your story is important, so plan it out before you start filming. Storyboarding out your video will help you direct the video, and also give those you’re working with a clear picture of what you’re hoping to achieve. But you can’t rest on your laurels, you need to direct these people to make sure their delivery is on point.

Two way dialogue should feel like a real conversation. A piece to camera should have natural breaks and some personality, not just a single pace without emotion or taking a breath. And think about your final video – if your actor stumbles their lines, what impact is that going to have on the end result? Think about if it’s enough for them to reread that line, or if starting at the beginning of the paragraph be better.

So our top tip here:

  • Embrace your director hat. Make sure you’re giving the right direction to stay true to your story, and don’t be afraid to make people redo their lines!

5.    Colour

This ties in with Direction, but has its own merits. Not to get too arty, but colour can be used in interesting ways to provoke thoughts and emotions or create mood and tension, without the viewer even realising it. But we’re not looking to create Hollywood blockbusters here, so let’s take a look at a few more practical aspects of colour. Despite having the best kit in the world, a few wrong moves can cause quite the headache.

First, lighting. You need enough light so it doesn’t look like you’re filming in a cupboard, but too much light can wash out the video completely. Natural light is great, but a pesky dark cloud can cause havoc on camera.

The next thing to be aware of is clothing. Say you’re filming on a white background, you don’t want your actor in a white t-shirt or they’ll blend into the background – strong, bright colours are best here. Similarly if filming on a green screen, think about the background you intend to superimpose when selecting clothing, and avoid clothes that have green tones (or you’ll lose them all together in the final edit!)

So our top tip here:

  • Use an environment where you can add lighting, and pay attention to what clothes people are wearing before they turn up on the day.

6.    Editing

Great editors say that good editing is an edit you don’t see. When it comes to post-production, you soon realise how important the 5 points above are.

It’s not just about the software you use. Editing should be fluid and help to tell your story in a natural way. If you’re piecing together your video from different bits of footage, make sure your story is clear in your mind. Go back to your storyboard before you begin chopping up raw footage.

But it’s not just about the raw footage, think about what else is going to be happening on screen. Someone talking to camera for 5 minutes will get dull fairly quickly – think about how else you can keep your learner engaged. More on this later.

So our top tip here:

  • Good editing it about planning. Plan out your story before you start filming.

7.    Sound

Good sound you never notice, bad sound is glaringly obvious. What I’m about to say might seem like common sense, but it’s often forgotten on shoot day.

You need to make sure you can hear the person who’s talking. And nothing else. The importance of silence while the camera is rolling shouldn’t be underestimated – as soon as a phone buzzes, someone coughs, a bus drives by an open window… it’s game over, regardless of the sound software you have.

The best way to eliminate these problems is getting a clip mic to fix onto the person who’s talking, as it will minimise other sound being picked up. And if someone’s phone does buzz, re-record that section of video.

So our top tip here:

  • A clip mic is your best friend – it won’t solve all problems, but hiring a clip mic will help to alleviate a lot of your sound issues!

Other lessons learned

Considering these 7 elements will help you to create a good video. But there are a couple of other things I’d like to mention, based on lessons learned from project we’ve worked on.

In the last blog I banged on about learners’ attention spans, and it’s something we can’t miss off here. Learners are constantly asking for shorter learning experiences, and video is no exception.

  • Try and keep your videos under 5 minutes in duration, or risk your learners switching off.
  • If you’ve got too much to teach them, try splitting it into shorter videos.

Consider adding engagement through other means. The person onscreen could be saying the most fascinating information in the world, but after a minute or so people’s minds will start to wander.

  • Try pulling out key words or phrases on screen or cutting away to longer quotes or sequences.
  • Perhaps you could illustrate what’s being said with a cutaway sequence of people doing that thing.
  • Or even add animations to help explain processes or diagrams.

And last but not least, make sure you’re adding value. Videos are an expensive luxury, both in cost and resources. So make it count! Stay true to your story, make your content stand out, and use your technology well so you’re proud to share it with everyone.

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