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. Walt Runkis on

      I left the previous post a week ago. Since the Kickstarter's video ingest has been upgrade. Whether or not my post had anything to do with it doesn't it is radically improved this week. My video is a killer because it has animation footage. The new ingest is substantially improved. Still a little jerky in the animation (probably because they transcode to 15 FPS). Here are the Premiere settings that worked best for me. Hope this helps.

      Basic Video Settings
      Match Soource
      Format: H.264
      Preset: Custom
      Ratio: 640 x 480
      Frame Rate: 23.976 fps
      Field Order: Progressive
      Aspect: Square pixels
      Profile: Main
      Level: 3.0
      Bit Rate: VBR, 2 pass
      Target: 6.0 Mbps
      Max: 6.0 Mbps

      Audio
      AAC, 128 kbps, 48 kHz, Stereo

      Multiplexer
      MP4

      Output Size: 91.845 KB

      ---------------------------------
      If you want to squeeze it down farther try Digital Media Converter Pro

      Digital Media Converter Pro
      Format: WMV Custom
      Compressor: Windows Media Video 9 Advanced Profile
      Frame Rate: "Same as originga'"
      Bit Rate: 1800
      Key Frame Rate: 24 Seconds
      Dimension 640 x 480

      -------------------
      Audio
      Windows Media Audio 9.2
      128 kbps, 48 kHz, stereo (A/B)CBR

      .wmv file output size: 21,461 Kbos
      (Kickstarter ingested both files

      Hope this is of help

    2. Bill Kilpatrick on

      I thought making an engaging video would be the hard part. Nah. It's getting the damn thing on KS. As an old technical writer I'm shocked that KS doesn't provide any meaningful assistance for their clients-- not even a 'rules-of-the-road' spec sheet about video encoding and uploading. At this point, I'm hoping to hire a video consultant cuz there are no authoritative answers about this mess anywhere on the web.

    3. Julian M.N. Bourne on

      I struggled with the video too, but its kind of understandable as there is a lot to juggle (frame rates, aspect ratio, audio codec, compression quality, file size, bit rate etc.). Your mileage may vary, but I did eventually have success.

      Working from a newish 600 dollar MacMini, I got it going like this:

      1. Used Quicktime 10.4 for recording motion screen captures: hand-measured 4:3 area on screen.
      2. Used iMovie 10.0.8 for editing: set each clip to crop=fit, just ignored the black 16:9 side bars.
      3. Exported from iMovie by "Sharing" to "File" at 480p (in 16:9), quality=low (saves an mp4).
      4. Installed HandBrake 0.10.1 (from handbrake.fr) for free; opened the mp4 in that.
      5. Chose the Framerate=Constant radio button on the main screen.
      6. Chose the Quality="Average bitrate" option; set kbps=1500
      7. Clicked "Picture Settings".
      8. Chose the Cropping="Custom" option
      9. Set the side bar cropping so that that the width could be changed to 640 (height is already 480).
      10. Started the transform and found the result on my desktop.

      Uploading to Kickstarter from the "Story" tab of my project worked. Saved. Checked the video on the preview tab (hit the nice green "play" button in the middle of project image).

      The results are OK, though I think better results might come from exporting from iMovie at a higher quality and getting Handbrake to do the aggressive scaling/compressing; and also perhaps explicit 15fps framerate. Something for people to try anyway.

      I'm no video pro, and so I have to say, apart from HandBrake, the tools had a steep learning curve and a lot of frustrating "why won't it let me do this" and "why did they remove that feature" kind of moments.

      But I did get there in the end, so keep at it folks - hope this post helps someone.

    4. Jason Baumgardner on

      You can also upload a 16x9 video as 640x360 instead of 640x480 and it will appear without the black bars above and below.

      www.perfectlineupmovie.com

    5. Soni Gupta on

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      Upeksha Pawar on

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