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The online journal of Vermont filmmaker, Bill Simmon.

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Some web video dos and don’ts

Posted on Feb 18, 2010 by billsimmon in blogging, Digital Culture, filmmaking, social media, Video | 49 Comments

I just watched this web video interview with ProBlogger scribe Darren Rowse in which he admonishes new bloggers to blog abut subjects they have some expertise in. This is really good advice — it makes the blog in question not only interesting and entertaining (assuming the blogger has some writing chops and a winning personality) but useful for its readers. I have been blogging for six years and I’ve never really taken this advice (despite being aware of its efficacy for that entire time) because I could never settle on just one field of interest that I could keep a blog about. For me, blogging has always been, first and foremost, about my own amusement. I want my readers to be entertained and educated, but that concern is vastly less important as a blogging motivator than my own enjoyment in the endeavor. I just couldn’t think up enough useful and interesting posts about, say, filmmaking, or community media, or skepticism, or long, self-indulgent guitar solos, or tuna pea wiggle, or any one of the other things I know a lot about. I must blog about it all!

Still, watching the video, made by the folks at the social media marketing online magazine, Social Media Examiner, it occurred to me that one thing I do know a thing or two about is film & video production. This thought occurred to me because I found myself rolling my eyes and making some snarky judgments about the video I was watching. Then it occurred to me that if was so smart I should stop muttering judgmental comments at my monitor and use that energy for an entertaining (doubtful) and useful (hopefully) post about something I actually know about.

So here’s the video:

Darren Rowse Interview from Michael A. Stelzner on Vimeo.

First off, let’s talk about what’s right about the video. Technically speaking, there are two main things that are good about this particular production and they’re both biggies: The picture is clear (decent exposure, in focus, not back-lit, etc.) and the audio is excellent. I tell my students this all the time and even though I’m more of a cinematography nerd than an audiophile it’s true: the secret to good web video is good audio. Viewers will forgive all kinds of bad picture before they’ll suffer through bad, muffled or echo-y audio. The other kind words I have to say about this video are content-related. Social Media Examiner has interviewed some big names in web content and social media, and while I haven’t watched all of their videos, if this one is any indication, the content is actually fairly useful — in other words, they’ve taken Darren Rowse’s advice to heart and are delivering content that their readers and viewers want.

Okay, now onto my nitpicks (and for the Social Media Examiner folks who will inevitably read this post [nobody can trackback like a social media blogger], I intend these remarks to be constructive and useful, not just snark-filled rants filled with invective):

*First off, there’s :34 of lead-in before any content starts. That’s even long for TV these days, let alone the web. Get to the content, we’re busy web surfers out here.

*Secondly, the title of this piece is “How Bloggers Should Use Twitter.” The length of the entire video is 12:27 but it’s minute five before Twitter is even mentioned and minute seven before anything resembling the subject of the title enters the conversation. If this was a written blog post I’d accuse the writer of burying the lede.

The basic problem here is that the interview is simply unedited. It’s a 12-minute talking head without a single cut, which is fine as an archival document of the conversation, but it leaves the work of finding the relevant bits of the interview entirely in the viewers’ hands. Imagine if this was a text post containing the same interview, but written out instead of being a video. You’d expect the writer/editor to provide some context, highlight the relevant parts and get rid of the deadwood — that’s what editors do. You might even expect the questions to be re-ordered so that the really meaty, interesting stuff is up front. There’s a reason video editors and text editors share a verb — they’re very similar jobs.

*Another issue is the on-screen graphics. It’s a good idea to use on-screen graphics to add meta-information to the video you’re making, but in this case, all we get is an occasional standard lower third identifier, telling us who it is we’re looking at. But this information is already available to us. This isn’t TV. There’s a contextualizing web page that the video is embedded in that almost certainly contains the same info in multiple places. In the case of a Vimeo embed like this, it’s right under the video frame! So use the lower third convention to give us useful info at points in the video where it makes sense. For example, when Rowse (finally) talks about getting addicted to Twitter, throw his twitter ID up on the screen! Maybe we want to start following him.

*As long as we’re talking about visual content, I’ll point out that video is a visual medium. I know it seems obvious, but when you produce a video for the web (or anywhere else) it’s a good idea to consider how the content is enhanced by having a picture rather than just being an audio track of someone talking. If all you’re giving us is a talking head for twelve minutes, there’s not much purpose in me continuing to look at the picture. The video frame is a different medium of information into which you can channel all sorts of useful stuff without breaking up the flow of the audio content. Ideally, the picture and sound complement each other — like showing cutaways to images that relate to the content being discussed. Without leveraging the visual part of the medium, all you’ve really done is made a podcast that won’t play very well in iTunes.

Of course, all of these issues take time to correct. Video editing is nothing if not time consuming.

To be fair, Social Media Examiner is not a video blog, per se. The video content is added value to an otherwise list-heavy social media magazine. I’ll also add that the issues I’m discussing here are not unique to SME — they can be found in video all over the web. This just happened to be the video I was watching when I decided to write about web video dos and don’ts (thanks, Darren Rowse!).

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  1. On February 18, 2010, Scott Nellé said:

    Thanks for sharing your insights, Bill. I know you’ve got a lot of stuff to like to write about, but I would love to see some more web video tip posts here at Candleblog.

  2. On February 18, 2010, billsimmon said:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Scott! I’ll do my best. :)

  3. Great feedback!

  4. On February 20, 2010, Bruce Post said:

    First, thank you for your very apt, helpful observations. As a someone bordering on “gezzerdom” — age 62 — I have come late to the issues of how to provide content over the web. Yet, over the last few years, I have taken some film production training at Burlington College and studied with Ed Tufte, the guru of displaying quantitative information visually. What you have said certainly rings true in my limited experience.

    Second, I agree and disagree about your comment that “this isn’t TV.” Yes, it is not; but, TV as a visual medium still can teach us some useful things about how we can transmit visual information over the web.

    Third, your observation about editing is spot on, but it also applies to print media as well. We forget that the secret to good writing is rewriting: truly disciplined and mindful editing until we have distilled something really good.

    Finally, John Medina, who wrote Brain Rules, has a great little post (http://brainrules.blogspot.com/2010/02/we-do-not-see-with-our-eyes-we-see-with.html) on how brain researchers fooled wine tasters simply by changing the visual appearance of the wines they were tasting.

    The moral: just putting up visual content does not guarantee you are going to get your point across.

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