Many of you will be encouraged to make videos as part of your author platform, and there is a lot to know even if you just plan to talk into your Ipad. Today, friend of the blog Lucy Brazier (a.k.a. Porter Girl, from the wildly successful Secret Diaries of PorterGirl) has offered to share a few tricks of the trade with us. It can be simpler and much less expensive than you think.
“No kidding, the publishing world is changing rapidly, and it won’t be long until writers will be reading their works on YT (YouTube), and agents/publishers will be looking for writers who can write a good story and talk one as well.” -Molli Nickell, Editor and Publisher at Time life for 30 years (and friend of the blog, of course).
So video may be a big component going forward, and friend of the blog Lucy Brazier is here to help!
Let me start by saying that I am in no way an expert or even greatly experienced in this field and there are far more detailed and professional articles to guide you to small screen success. However, if you are starting out from scratch into the world of vlogging, book trailers or sketches – as I was a couple of years ago – here are a few things I wish someone had told me before I started.
vlogging (video blog)
book trailers (short videos like movie previews but for books)
sketches (short stuff, in the way Saturday Night Live is a sketch comedy show)
Storyboard / Treatment
First things first – know what you want to show on screen, how you want it to look and what story you are trying to tell. For the book trailer for Secret Diary Of PorterGirl, (click HERE to see it) I sketched each scene in a notebook so that it would be clear to everyone exactly what I was trying to portray. As it happens, there was some deviation when it came to the execution of the shoot, but the storyboard was essential to the setting up of scenery, lighting, cameras and the like. It also makes sure your project has a structure, rather than just some randomly thrown together scenes.
Before you even pick up a camera, it is generally a good idea to sit down and estimate how much of your valuable time your project will be taking up. You don’t want to find yourself having to schedule another day of shooting in the wee small hours and only get halfway through your masterpiece. Make a sensible estimate. And then multiply that by three. At least. Things always take longer than you think they will.
The book trailer was a good ten hour shoot and most of that time was spent setting up scenery, cameras, sound and lighting. Both of the Christmas Special episodes were shot one after the other, using the same set and camera angles and took about six hours all together.
These days anyone can be a filmmaker, with even mobile phones and tablets shooting high quality video.
Whatever you choose as your shooting device, a decent tripod or cradle is a must. My personal preference is a camera that shoots in 1280 straight to an SD card, but the first vlog we made for PorterGirl was shot on an iPad. (Click HERE to check it out.) This was a useful learning experience. If there is anything that sets apart the real amateurs from the mildly adept, it is lighting and sound quality.
Natural daylight always looks best on camera but if you are shooting indoors, extra lighting is essential – it stops the dark colours on screen from looking fuzzy. Professional lights can be expensive but I find a decorator’s arc light works brilliantly. Even if the best you can muster is to strategically place some table lamps, it will be well worth the effort. Using diffusers and reflectors to direct the light is most helpful, if you can beg, borrow or steal them. It is important to remember that you will need more light than you might think to get a good result.
Anal About Audio
I am especially persnickety about sound quality.
Having access to a professional recording and production facility enables me to indulge this strange obsession. However, you don’t need your own studio to get good quality sound for your video. I would strongly recommend using an external mic, ideally that plugs directly into your camera. Most video editing software provides some degree of audio mixing and tweaking – even just clicking the ‘hiss reduction’ button will make a difference, if you don’t fancy attempting anything more technical.
For those a little more daring, export the audio and drop it into your audio production software to tidy up before replacing the original audio track. Be sure not to separate and export the audio until you are absolutely sure you have finished the video edit! That way madness lies. Madness and possibly a lot of time spent trying to realign the two, which is no fun whatsoever.
If you don’t fancy tackling any kind of digital improvement, there are still things you can do to get the best out of your audio:
- Use a boom operator – or just a friend with a mic strapped to a stick. Although this is without doubt something of an art form, even an idiot can hold a microphone in vaguely the right place and it will make a big difference.
- Film somewhere with minimal electrical interference – this will ensure there is less ‘hiss’.
- Use an ‘ambient’ or ‘bed’ track underneath your audio to mask any unpleasant sounds. For The Head Porter Chronicles – Episode Three I stood in the street on King’s Parade and used the voice memo function on my phone to record the comings and goings of the good people of Cambridge. This added atmosphere to the video and also covered a multitude of sonic sins.
Many Hands Make Light Work!
Even if you are planning a basic one shot set up with no scene changes and just a single person speaking to camera, it doesn’t hurt to get a little help.
Having someone else to help you set up the shot will save a lot of trial and error and, as already mentioned, a boom operator is a valuable resource.
Using the right person for the right job can be very helpful and whilst it goes without saying that getting professionals or enthusiastic amateurs on board is desirable, almost any willing person will be an asset. For the book trailer, the lighting assistant was just nine years old! I am very lucky that my on-screen Head Porter is a professional actor and his son is a student of film – so he took on director duties (I had to pay him in ginger wine, mind you.)
Local media students might be up for lending a hand and they might even be able to borrow some cool equipment from their college for your project.
It doesn’t hurt to ask.
This is another important reason for having a time-scale in mind – people like to know how long you intend to keep hold of them. Oh – if it’s going to be a long day (or night) you might want to think about feeding your team. Cinematic genius is not born of empty stomachs, and a ready supply of tea and biscuits is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to any shoot.
It goes without saying that the more footage you have, the more choices you have when it comes to editing.
Even the simplest of videos can benefit from three or four passes to choose from.
My editing software of choice is Premiere Pro but a couple of the early Head Porter Chronicles were edited on iMovie – a simple to use and fun tool, which produces great results. There are many packages you can get on a thirty day free trial if you are not sure what will suit your needs.
It can be tempting to get carried away with the myriad of effects and transitions on offer but remember that less is often more in this respect. I do find transitions (clever little things like cross fades that join together video clips more smoothly) very helpful for evening out wonky edits and adding a certain slickness, but they can make your video ‘jumpy’ on slower machines.
For videos intended to be viewed online, keep in mind that not everyone has a super fast connection or machine so keep memory-hungry special effects to a minimum to ensure smooth playback. Consider this when you come to exporting your project – use a codec that will keep it under one gigabyte if you can. Going for the highest quality version isn’t always the best option. I use a custom codec for PorterGirl which I have saved as an export option – this is a good idea if you intend on making a number of videos and want them all to have a uniform appearance.
Keep it simple. Things are complicated enough already.
Use an external mic. Please. For me.
Trust me, you are going to need more of pretty much everything than you think – lighting, time, helping hands, food and – of course – tea.
Have fun with it! I hate nothing more than being in front of a camera but I don’t want the audience to know that. When that little red light comes on – sparkle, baby!
Many thanks to Lucy for taking the time to make a seemingly very complicated and intimidating subject become so simple. Her book and blog are going crazy so check it out. We’ll be working on video chat sessions and group discussions later to help you bridge your fears, too, so stay tuned!
Here are Lucy’s book and links:
Link to the book on Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-Diary-PorterGirl-Everyday-Adventures/dp/1504944437
Twitter – @portergirl100
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.