Tips for Making Home Videos Even a Stranger Would Watch
Having completed production of Cooking Healthy for a Dachshund using a basic high-def camcorder and simple editing software, I’m ready to ’fess up about what worked and what didn’t—advice freely handed to every aspiring Cameron.
Inspired by the online recipe videos of New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, my wife and I were eager to share the secrets of keeping our wirehair Dachshund healthy. Taking our vet’s advice, we restrict Princesa’s diet to home-cooked meals prepared exclusively for her.
The logistics of avoiding canned dog food and Milk Bones are not insignificant. Between shopping, cooking, peeling, cutting and doling out our ingredients to a month’s worth of plastic bags, the process is an elaborate chore. (And I haven’t even mentioned the clean-up.) Yet, the payoff is a nutritiously fed pooch that, we hope, will live forever.
To document the steps, I used a Flip Video camcorder, a model with 16GB of memory. Our video rambles on with real-time instructions showing you how to roast turkey breasts in a conventional oven and microwave paper towel-wrapped whole sweet potatoes. You also combine pure pumpkin (not pie filling) from a can with frozen carrots, spinach and broccoli, each from their own bags. While waiting for the potatoes to cool and the turkey (which must be turned over at least six times) to brown, my wife distributes the cold ingredients to about 20 sandwich bags destined for sealing and the freezer.
While those interested in the welfare of their dachshunds could learn something, the trouble with the way I edited the video is that it takes about as long to watch as to make the entire recipe. I should have enforced a 5-minute rule.
So, here’s what I learned that didn’t work, followed by those things that did:
- Succumb to redundancy if one or two examples of the same activity can tell the story.
- For instance, it’s not necessary to show every occurrence of removing the turkey from the oven and turning the meat over. (One raw shot and one steamy shot where the meat is honed to a golden perfection should suffice.)
- Shoot into a sunny window with your subject standing in front.
- Retain out-of-focus or shaky video in the final edit.
- Create a final edit that’s longer or contains more megabytes than you’re allowed to upload to an intended site.
- When the video is too long for YouTube or the free version of Vimeo, you’ve already lost the audience.
- Mug at the camera. No grimacing either. (When you smile, the audience smiles, too.)
- Talk down to the audience as if they’re children.
- Treat viewers as equals whom you’re trying to educate.
- Be afraid to reshoot a scene. You can’t expect to hit the mark on the first take.
- Be a perfectionist. Often, it’s better to move on and fix imperfections via creative editing.
- Allow the cameraman’s disembodied voice to hijack the sound track. Just because he may be married to the host doesn’t give him the right to mouth off during the taping. If he does, edit the bum out.
- Give up your entire weekend. This is home video, dude, not a job.
- Use an establishing shot that lets viewers know the setting, such as a kitchen.
- Choose appropriate clothing, like a T-shirt designed with a drawing of a dachshund.
- Move piles of mail and extraneous objects out of frame so that the set doesn’t look cluttered.
- Even if you made the video on your kitchen table, it shouldn’t look like you’re still eating breakfast.
- Mentally edit in camera so you’ll have loads less to cut in the computer later.
- Bogey that record button at your own risk.
- Mix wide and close-up shots for the sake of variety.
- Change the height of the camera’s viewpoint by standing on a chair or getting down and shooting at dog level on occasion.
- Hold the camera steady or use a tripod.
- Eliminate the ambient noise you can control.
- That means turning off a TV or radio in the house. Stop recording if the phone or a car alarm goes off.
- Incorporate appropriate sound effects such as a knife chopping vegetables or a timer going off (as I did to signify that the turkey is done).
- Grab stills from the video that can be used in the video.
- As a supplement, use a still camera on the set for inserting images for use with titles or between scenes. Images can be used in promotional material, too.
- Cut scenes that run too long, then cut them again. To be nimble, you must stay ahead of your audience, whose attention span only grows shorter. If Mr. Bittman can demonstrate how to prepare a feast for 12 in under 3 minutes, so can you.
- Use transitions, especially to indicate elapsed time or to mask a subject jumping frame on account of an edit.
- Envision the punch line before you take the first shot. Even if you’re not working from a script, you should know where you’re headed. For the closing scene in How to Cook Healthy for a Dachshund, I knew I wanted to show Princesa being offered her elaborately prepared dinner on fine china. She takes one sniff, then turns away… only to lunge at what she really craves: a hunk of fat-saturated cheese. Yummy. (No one ever said that eating healthy was easy—especially when you’re a dog.)
- Include titles at the beginning and end of the video if you dare. The audience wants to know what they’re watching, who’s in the cast and who’s responsible (or should be blamed).
In the end I cut down the 25-minute Cooking Healthy for a Dachshund to about five minutes using the FlipShare software supplemented by YouTube’s online editor. I renamed the short version How to Cook for Your Dog.