Creator's Guide to Video

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Yesterday a new project by Robin Sloan called Robin writes a book went live, and something about his project jumped out at us immediately: Robin’s video was really, really good. It’s crisp, it’s well edited, and the structure is very strong.

Robin’s bio mentioned that he’s worked with Current, so on a lark I sent him an email asking if he would be willing to pen a little video guide for the community touching on what kind of camera to use, how to edit, how to best capture sound, etc. Robin readily agreed, and his excellent recommendations are below. We thank him for his generous advice, and encourage everyone to check out his project.

Here’s Robin:

I’m no video expert, but — good news! — you don’t have to be a video expert to make a good video for your Kickstarter project. And besides, a lot of the advice you’ll find for general-purpose video production doesn’t apply to this kind of video. So here are some of my Kickstarter-specific tips.


LIGHT. Your most crucial task is to get lots of light for your camera to work with. This doesn’t mean the picture is going to be brighter; it means it’s going to be sharper. So don’t record your video at night, even indoors. And know that you’re going to have to move lights around; this might make you feel dorky and presumptuous, but that’s how you’ll know you’re doing it right. Get some light coming in from the front of you and some from the side. Any light source works: lamps, windows, even mirrors.

LIGHT, PART 2. This is gonna seem like a silly detail, but try to get a dot of light reflected in your eyes. It makes you look more alive. Seriously! Lights on the other side of the room can supply this. So can a desk lamp, if you cover it with a piece of paper and then punch a small hole through the paper.

SOUND. This is actually even more important than the image. If you have a microphone you can plug into your computer, use it. Otherwise, just make sure you’re in a room that’s quiet and echo-free. Listen for the low, rumbly noisemakers we tend to tune out — refrigerators, air-conditioning units, etc. — and either get some distance or turn them off while you’re recording.

COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL. Don’t use music, images, video, or other content that you don’t have the rights to. Using copyrighted material is almost always against the law and can lead to expensive lawsuits down the road. The easiest way to avoid copyright troubles? Either create all the content yourself or use content that is free for public use. For example, you may be able to use some Creative Commons-licensed music — per the terms of their licenses — that's available on Soundcloud.

GEAR. If you’ve got a Mac laptop, the built-in camera works fine. Otherwise, consider using a digital still camera in video mode. They’re a cinch to handle, and it’s easy to get the video onto your computer when you’re finished.

GEAR, PART 2. If you have a friend with one of the newest Nikon or Canon digital SLRs, ask them for help. These cameras can shoot HD video through fancy SLR lenses, and it looks beautiful — better than anything you can get with even a high-end video camera. (I used a Nikon D90 for my video.)

PLANNING. This is just my personal theory, and others might disagree: I think the purpose of a Kickstarter video is to show your face and bring some emotion to the page. Period. So don’t worry about recapitulating all the details. Instead, tell us who you are, why you’re doing what you’re doing, and how you feel about the whole thing.

RECORDING. Here’s what you do: Write a quick outline with three or four bullet points, max. Start recording. Give your spiel. As soon as you’re done, decide what you liked about what you just said. Then, do it again immediately. Repeat this process five times. You’ll notice yourself getting more comfortable and conversational in front of the camera with every take. (Prediction: the best bits will come from your first take and your last.)

RECORDING, PART 2. If you get tongue-tied or flub a line, don’t give up on the take. Just take a breath, look at the camera, and start from where you messed up. You can edit it together later.

EDITING. Focus on isolating the good parts: the really crisp, clear lines, as well as the fun moments where we see something happening on your face — a slow smile, an arched eyebrow, a pregnant pause as you’re searching for the right words. Edit those together in big chunks. Windows Movie Maker and iMovie both work fine for this. Don’t overdo it. You want to showcase the good stuff you recorded, not obscure it with fancy editing.

EDITING, PART 2. Be ruthless. When you think you’re done, take a break, then come back and cut out 25% of the video. YOU MUST. People are going to visit your Kickstarter page, press “play” on your video, and… then what? This is the crucial moment. Put yourself in the seat of a potential backer and make sure your video, especially the first 20 seconds, is pure punch. (Fact: My first cut was 2X as long as the one I ended up using, and began with a wonky exposition on the economies of scale of book publishing. Zzzzz.)

ENCODING. On Windows, use WMV format. On Mac, use H.264. In both cases, the key variable is the “bit rate,” so look for that box. If it’s measured in kilobits per second (kbps), try 1500 to start. If it’s measured in megabits per second (Mbps), try 1.5. If the file is too big: Make that number smaller. If the quality seems bad: Make it bigger.

If anyone has any other tips to add to this discussion, please leave them in the comments.

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      deleted on

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    2. TheVoodooFix on

      good on ya! Keep your eyes open for our video about The Voodoo Fix "Fall Tourganic"!

    3. Igor Yankilevich on

      Excellent. thank you.

    4. Jim Vecchi on

      Thanks for the information on file size limit, types of encoding and bit rate.

      My question: What are the optimal dimensions for the video to be posted on Kickstarter?

      Thanks in advance!

    5. altruistic productions on

      Perfect timing! I am planning my video right now and this will be massively helpful!

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      deleted on

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      Shiva Nathan on

      Nice! I really appreciate it!

    8. Ken Gregg on

      Thank you Yancey and thank you Robin. :)

    9. Missing avatar

      deleted on

      This user's account has been deleted.

    10. Meg Thompson on

      OK then--I will learn how to do a video. Back later!

    11. Seán McCluskey on

      This is awesome. Thank you so much - I would have been clueless without it!

    12. Chase on

      thorough and comprehensive thanks for sharing.

    13. Noël Gray on

      So now ya gonna tell us how to get the little people to pop in and out of the frame too? ;)
      Seriously, good stuff, grassyass.

    14. John Wotawa on

      thanks for the superb content. You mentioned imovie, so I'm gonna pick your brain once more. How do I get my completed imovie project to a location where I can upload it to kickstarter? I'm having real trouble. thanks again.

    15. GREG LE DUC on

      I want to add a second video and keep the first video as well. I have seen other projects do this. Not sure how.
      Greg Le Duc

    16. Christopher Durai on

      What is the suggested resolution?

    17. Sue Rowe on

      Ok here we go! I am gonna try it! Do you think if we re-record a song that is out that we will be in trouble for it:)

    18. TheDoLaB on

      Thanks for these tips!

    19. Ana Maria Selvaggio

      Thank you! Incredibly helpful. Loved your video, inspiring. /follow Great blog.

    20. Stefany Northcutt on

      Thank you! This is diy awesomeness. (diy-do it your self) :)

    21. Bele Bele on

      fantastic! many thanks! this comes in handy and gives us a solid plan on how to go about this successfully. chido!

    22. Kim Cooper on


    23. Zanne Rose Winant & Lou Winant on

      Fantastic - you just edited my video for me! My mom is a professional photographer, so she's the director this weekend.

    24. Breeze Wetzel on

      awesomeness...very helpful. Thank you!

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    26. Jesse Phillips on

      awesome, thanks! I LOVED LOVED how you said "I'm writing a book, I'm writing a book, I'm writing book" - very interesting & made me want to keep watching. I would add:

      1. MAKE IT SHORT! I think 3 min is too long. 1-2min is ideal, b/c my attention span (and everyone else's) is so short now.

    27. Tiye Petersen on

      This was so helpful.

    28. Rebecca Goode on

      What res should the video be 640 x 480? 800 x600?

    29. Jesse Epstein on

      Thanks Robin! Very helpful.

    30. Richard Ray Perez and Molly O'Brien on

      Did anyone get an answer on the the optimal or suggested resolution? 640 x 470? 800 x 600? 1280X720?

    31. Trudy Bea Gray on

      Thank you this really helps !!

    32. PAUL PITERSKI on

      can anyone tell me how or where i can upload photos of my rewards, or can they only be shown in the video. thanks

    33. Galleries HQ on

      Thank you! A great help for getting started.

    34. Anton Orlov on

      What is the maximum file size allowed for videos?

    35. Yancey Strickler

      This comment has been removed by Kickstarter.

    36. Ruthie Rose on

      Thank you, Robin!

    37. paul baxter on

      I was stressin over the video
      You helped a lot

    38. Lacreasha on

      Can we use copywritten martial as long as we give credit to the creator?

    39. Yancey Strickler

      No Lacreasha. You can only use material that you have the rights to, or that is in the public domain. More here:…

    40. Ms.Phia on

      still is unable to uplaod my video :-(

    41. Mark & Lisa Burginger on

      I have found 562x419 using a standard 4:3 ratio camera works just fine. I played with the bit rate, because it is jumpy - however that could be at the Amazon servers and not the video. I used a standard Flip camera, the old style.

    42. Jen on

      i am currently working on two projects and find this content to be a very useful guide.

    43. Missing avatar

      Stephen Moser on

      Wow-Awesome thanks for passing on the knowledge-thats what being an inventor/ entrp. is all about-Paying it Forward!

    44. ronald wheeler on

      Thanks for all the good tips. I need all the help I can get and look forward to launching the best effort.

    45. HayleyTownley on

      Terrific, thanks for sharing! CHEERS