Adventures in YouTube-Land: The Making of “World Wide Wade Goes West”

7/9/10Follow @wroush

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capture the original footage. We had a wireless microphone attachment for outdoor distance shots (it was a cheap one that didn’t work as well as we’d hoped). We transferred all the footage to a MacBook for editing and post-production, for which we used Final Cut Pro; we used a 1-terabyte USB hard drive as the scratch drive for FCP. In the car, we powered the MacBook and charged up our other information appliances (an iPad, two iPhones, and three cameras) using a DC-AC inverter purchased especially for the trip. We compressed the finished videos to the QuickTime format and uploaded those files to YouTube, via whatever broadband Internet connection we could locate. Finally, we embedded the YouTube videos in articles on Xconomy.

But those are just the mechanical details. The process of creating one coherent four- to five-minute video every day turned out to be pretty interesting to this multimedia newbie, albeit extremely tiring. Here’s how a typical day went:

6:00 a.m.-7:00 a.m. Get up, shower, shave, load car, walk Rhody, drink coffee.

7:00 a.m.-8:00 a.m. Shoot establishing video and introductions or closings for the video interview captured the previous day (call it Episode A).

8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Drive. Transfer video from camera to laptop. Make a log of the Episode A video. Drink more coffee.

12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m. Lunch. Plan next shoot.

1:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m. Drive. Assemble logged Episode A footage into a coherent video of no more than four minutes. Add intro and outro material (the nifty motion graphics, provided by our series sponsor, Pixability). Compress video. Drink more coffee.

6:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. Arrive at next destination. Shoot interview footage for Episode B.

7:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. Dinner.

8:00 p.m.-12:00 a.m. Upload Episode A to YouTube (a very slow process for the typical 800-megabyte QuickTime file). Write introduction for the accompanying Xconomy article. Embed uploaded video into article. Schedule article for publication the next morning. Get some sleep.

Rinse, lather, and repeat for seven episodes and 3,600 miles. (It’s actually 3,106 miles from San Francisco to Boston by the most direct route, according to Google Maps. But our route, which took us through upstate New York, Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, and Nevada, was a little more circuitous.)

What did I learn about video production from this project? Probably nothing that isn’t obvious to real video professionals, but one point really stood out: Less is more. When you’re shooting video, you have to encourage your interviewees to be pithy and brief. The more video you capture, the harder it will be to sift through it and edit it together. Plus, Web audiences have a limited attention span anyway. We probably should have tried to keep our videos to three minutes, rather than four or five (though that would have meant leaving a lot of great material on the cutting room floor—i.e., the scratch drive).

Along the same lines: Improvising is a bad idea. Just a few minutes of planning can save hours of heartache later. When we shot the intro for the Rochester episode, for example, we hadn’t scripted anything beforehand. It took about 30 takes under the wilting sun before I could spit out something usable—all material that we had to view, log, and sort later.

Overall, this was a hugely educational project, and I’m pretty proud of the 32 minutes of footage we produced in total. I’ve got the Vixia now, and I think I picked up enough video editing tips from Graham to make my own vlog posts here in San Francisco. In fact, I hope to mix things up a little by bringing out the occasional video column in this space, in place of my usual long-winded essays. So stay tuned.

As a parting gift, here’s a behind-the-scenes video starring Graham, shot at the Starbucks in Savage, MN:

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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