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.

SUPER OCCULT VIDEO CHECKLIST

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.

Comments
    1. Nadine Hoover on

      I did the video on iMovie, "finalized the project" and shared it, "Export Movie" in the "larger" format, which is under 250MB, but when I go to upload it, it just turns up only grey, I can't select the smaller formats. I'm in Indonesia with unpredictable internet and have now tried unsuccessfully on three separate occasions! Ugh, painful.

    2. Nadine Hoover on

      Oops, so, I got it... "share" using "export Quicktime" and set it to MPEG-4. Sorry to be so SLOW!

    3. Joann Wells Greenbaum on

      Thank you for sharing these remarkable tips, they will be a huge help.

    4. Nadine Hoover on

      Oops, so, I got it... "share" using "export Quicktime" and set it to MPEG-4. Sorry to be so SLOW!

    5. Karen Karlik on

      I was really nervous about the video, you have helped calm me down!

    6. Missing avatar

      james oleson on

      thanks i was lost on the best way to get my video done. but now i;v got it in my head

    7. Joshua Streeter on

      Thanks for the bit rate info at the end there ;)

    8. Joshua Streeter on

      Tip for getting your vid to 250MB with full screen quality and no budget yet - Windows Live Movie Maker! There's some pretty powerful conversion capabilities and you can customize individual settings such as sound, bit rate yadda yadda. Hope this helps.

    9. Maureen Reardon on

      KUDOS, Robin & Kickstarter

    10. Missing avatar

      Amy Thomas on

      Thanks A LOT! This blog has helped me tremendously!

    11. (the) Crash Kennedy on

      Really good advice, I've been worrying about this for a while. lol.

    12. Marty Koenig on

      This is a great checklist for video. I found a checklist for an entire Kickstarter campaign.

      When you have a well thought out, well planned Kickstarter or crowdfunding campaign, it's the fuel that turns your social capital into money capital. That's what Eric Migicovsky did with Pebble. He raised $10M+. An awesome product helps, too.

      Figure out who are your fans and who are your evangelists. They all have their own networks that you'll want them to tap. It's a network of networks game.

      I found this great video about a Kickstarter crowdfunding checklist, road map, plan, plus lots of additional advice. It helps you get funded on Kickstarter. Over 200 things to consider for a successful Kickstarter or crowd funding campaign. http://bit.ly/L3JRPL

    13. Marat Farhutdinov on

      Hello Please tell me how to fill a high-quality video. Greatly decreases the bit-rate. I would be very grateful!

    14. Missing avatar

      Helen on

      I hit the wrong video to post, it did not code but now I don't see how to delete and post the correct video. suggestions? Thanks

    15. Betsy Baytos on

      I need help! I want to download my new video to replace the one there before I launch, but while being encoded, it freezes and stops. Do I need to delete the old video first and how? Thank you.....

    16. Thomas Alleman on

      Can someone please help me? I stayed up for two most of nights and days to finish my video and prepare my Kickstarter campaign, and the whole darned thing was done at 5am today, but site just won't "encode" my video. I've just about memorized the section of the blog, above, that deals with preparing the iMovie for Kickstarter: "On Mac, use H.264"..."the key variable is the “bit rate”... "try 1500 to start"...."if the file is too big, make that number smaller"...etc etc. Nothing changes and nothing works. I've sent three e-mails to the Kickstarter support folks, but, after their first response (in which they quoted that exact same paragraph back to me), I haven't heard a word. The timing of this campaign is really urgent, and I don't have days to waste while no one figures out how not to help me. Do you folks have any ideas or experience with this? Are there other fine-points of the file prep process that I'm missing? THANKS A MILLION, FOLKS!

    17. Paperweight Magazine on

      Betsy and Thomas - I'm experiencing the exact same problem with video uploads getting stuck at 'encoding'. I've tried a number of different formats. Wondering if it is a widespread problem. We're aiming to submit our project for review by this Friday so I'm getting quite anxious.

    18. Paperweight Magazine on

      Video uploads seem to be working for me now. For those experiencing recent troubles I'd suggest trying again.

    19. Missing avatar

      David OConnor on

      I'm with a lot of people, wondering what the optimal video resolution is?

    20. Kailey Beeney on

      Each and every point of this article is very helpful. Thanks

      www.nybmedia.com

    21. Zachary Edward Powell on

      Thanks for taking your time to give advice to the rest of us soon-to-be projects! :)

    22. Dwight Jones and Craig Jones on

      Your encoder is repeatedly rejecting my YouTube links to my video there. Any ideas?

    23. International Women in Jazz, Inc. on

      Jackie

      Kickstarter asked me to transfer video from MP4 to WMV but do not know if accepted.

    24. Missing avatar

      icecube media on

      Videoproduction is a videography. It is the process of creating video through capturing moving images and creating combinations of parts of this video in live production and post-production. You can increase revenue through increased customer loyalty and also you can increase customer confidence and satisfaction.

      http://www.icecube.no/videoproduksjon

    25. Missing avatar

      deleted on

      This user's account has been deleted.

    26. Jeff Bernier on

      We make videos all the time using for people on Kick Starter, its quick easy and inexpensive with us because we do it using our spokes models in our studio, for anyone anywhere in the country, just $395. here is a sample: https://www.youtube.com/watch…

    27. Marilyn Z. Kahn on

      The video is a MOV file. It is not a very large file. I get an error message at about 72% upload. How do I get it up?

    28. Jens Hewerer on

      Trouble with uploading/encoding video from a Mac: Using another browser, Chrome, did the trick for me!

    29. Amber Morsicato on

      Wow I used a movie maker and it says it cant upload my video. Its just music and photos... really simple. Help?

    30. digitalmanga on

      EDITING: Can kickstarter host widescreen videos? Or does it have to be in a different format?

    31. Missing avatar

      Sherry on

      Thanks. I have a 2 minute trailer that I cannot seem to bet uploaded. Is there any other way to do it?

      youtube "44 daze" It is a clip from our footage. I have the full video but it is being distributed by one company and we are in the process of distributing it beyond the education market.

      Any suggestions?
      Sherry A. Suttles

    32. Thomas David Kehoe on

      On my screen the videos are 640x480. I don't see any high-definition videos.

    33. Hoyt James Wood on

      Having trouble getting youtube video to download??

    34. Dennis on

      I have a tube white board video under 2 min up and running and it will not take it into Kickstart - any suggestions

    35. Megan Toben on

      I'm trying to load my video. It's in an M4v format, which Kickstarter says it accepts. I've tried both HD and SD versions, but after appearing to load, a red line appears that says video failed to load. Both are below the file size limit. Suggestions?

    36. Megan Toben on

      I'm trying to load my video. It's in an M4v format, which Kickstarter says it accepts. I've tried both HD and SD versions, but after appearing to load, a red line appears that says video failed to load. Both are below the file size limit. Suggestions?

    37. Megan Toben on

      I'm trying to load my video. It's in an M4v format, which Kickstarter says it accepts. I've tried both HD and SD versions, but after appearing to load, a red line appears that says video failed to load. Both are below the file size limit. Suggestions?

    38. Luke Brown on

      I have a question. Let's say someone was making a bottle opener. Can you use name brand beers like Corona, Heineken, etc., in the video to display its effectiveness?

    39. Kev Iddon & Andy Watton on

      Has anyone actually answered any questions here? My video won't upload. It's an AVI and 59MB so well under the requirements.

    40. Layne Russell on

      I'm trying to upload my video. My error message said it couldn't upload that file - after the progress bar indicated it was uploading fine. It was avi file, so now I will be trying different types and encodings, WMV first, since it was suggested here. AVI is listed in their acceptable formats. I'm having trouble finding info on the web that is specific to this issue. I may have to post in a forum, like Creative COW, and wait for answers. Time crunch!

    41. Missing avatar

      deleted on

      This user's account has been deleted.

    42. Sarah Giblin on

      Only 57 seconds of my video uploads!
      Hi everyone, at first I successfully uploaded a my video. After sharing with friends for feedback I made edits and uploaded again. It tells me it's complete but only 57 seconds shows! Has anyone else experienced this problem? Happy to hear your views or something from Kickstarter too? Sarah

    43. Sarah Giblin on

      I should add: my file is 76MB, 3:05 long. I've tried uploading from two computers and three different browsers..:C

    44. Graverobber Productions LLC on

      I have had great problems uploading videos. I thought that by upgrading to Final Cut Pro X I could upload videos to Kickstarter more easily. Not so. My next step will be to purchase Compressor from Apple and try each and every setting until a sharp looking version of our video uploads.

      I guess my takeaway from this is, allow 2 or 3 weeks of time cushion to make sure your video uploads properly. Don't assume (not to self...) that uploading will be a simple or pleasant experience!

      Determined however... not giving up!

    45. Graverobber Productions LLC on

      By the way I'm sure that it's my own error not Kickstarter's -- but then again, this is all part of the journey. :)

    46. Pat Leal on

      Kickstarter seriously needs to update their information about what the maximum bitrate should be when uploading files while using a mac .... kbps'. You say start at 1500, but you don't put what the upper limits are... We all know that 1280x720p HD should be set at 5000*... however you guys are reconverting the files to 640x480 with a aspect ratio of 4by3... which means, you need to update your information asap so the audience can get the best quality of video upon watching!

    47. Priya Cynthia Kishna on

      I've been waiting for 4 WHOLE HOURS to my video to upload. Then it said something like "decoding video..." and then suddenly the system pretends that I never uploaded a video at all and just says "click here to upload your video". I tried it again, waited another 4 HOURS and the same thing happned! I'm sick of this! Can somebody please help me quick? Or it'll be too late to gather the money in time for this project. Thanks.

    48. Walt Runkis on

      Hey Kickstarter tech support—wake up in there—I agree with Priya Cynthia Kishna. I see a lot of posts here but none from tech support offering an solution—only disgruntled users. The only advice offered by this blog vis-à-vis encoding is Windows to .wmv, Mac use H.264, and play with the frame rate. You call that help? I have tried to get my video through your process at least 30 times. I have encoded to a number of standards from finished .wmv output sizes of 150 MB to 16 MB and nothing works. It uploads (I know that because I can see it in real time) and your interface says its encoding, then it just hangs. I’ve let it run overnight—no success. This is unacceptable. You need to publish a best practices template for both platforms. Most of us are probably using Premiere, so a screen shot of the Extract panel for each platform and a walkthrough. The final video I am trying to get through your ingest unit to transcode into your proprietary codec is hanging up. My video is only 16 MB but holds at full screen and you can watch it run from my stream server by linking to: www.cloudspray.com. This isn’t my first rodeo!

    49. Walt Runkis on

      Make that www.cloudspray.net. haste makes waste.