Content Creator, Video Producer

And the Winner Is …

During this sabbatical, I’ve written a lot about exploring film and video. I mean, Video Producer is one of the careers on my list.

I got a crash course on the entire filmmaking process. I tried my hand at making my own video, only to get stuck at the editing stage due to the frustrating limitations of my technology. I helped write lyrics for a musical short film that went on to win the Best Use of Genre. I got more experience in front of the camera. And I’ve connected with other video producers to understand more about their creative process.

Through this exploration, I’ve not only learned a lot about filmmaking, but I’ve also gotten more insights into the parts of the process that really energize me. Screenwriting was never something I thought I’d get into, but it’s been an amazingly fulfilling creative outlet. I also really enjoyed set decorating (no big surprise, I suppose, given my interest in interior design). And though I don’t have much experience yet on the video side, my work on the podcast makes me think I’d like being a producer on a film.

Well, I was back at it a few weeks ago, when I volunteered to be a co-writer for a team competing in the San Jose 48-hour Film Project. For those who missed my earlier blog about the 48-hour film project, here’s an overview of how the competition works:

  • Filmmaking teams sign up to take on the challenge of creating a 4-7 minute film in 48 hours (one weekend).
  • Friday night of the competition weekend, teams draw two film genres. Their film must be one of those two genres.
  • All teams also have three elements that they must include in their films: a specified prop, line of dialogue and character. Unlike genre, these required elements are the same for every team for that city’s competition.
  • Fully finished films are due Sunday evening.
  • Films are judged and eligible for a number of awards.

Well, I am proud to announce …. we won Best Film

As winner, the film will go on to be screened at Filmapalooza next Spring. The film also won Best Editing and Best Supporting Actor (Angie Higgins as Tonya). And to top it off, we also won the Audience Favorite award.

Check out the film:

The success of this project has reinvigorated me on video, and I have a few upcoming goals around that:

  • Write more scripts! I have a ton of ideas floating around in my head, many of which came out of our brainstorm session for the 48-hour Film Project. 
  • Work on a film that isn’t time-sensitive. A lot of the videos I’ve helped out on have been on a bit of a time crunch. It’d be interesting to see what I can help produce when we have the luxury of more time.
  • Get more experience as a film producer.
  • Execute some small, easy videos. Inspired by my conversation with Tasi, I think I need to scale back on the complexity of the videos I attempt to produce all on my own and just start simple. Maybe an easy to-the-camera video or a film with a slideshow of images and a voiceover.

In the meantime, congrats to the Ovation Pictures team on their win!

Content Creator

“Oh, I Can Do That”: Interview with Tasi Alabastro

Tasi Alabastro is a San Jose based actor, gamer, designer, and filmmaker. I sat down with him last week to talk about his work as a content creator.

When people ask you “what does it mean to be a content creator?”, what do you tell them?

I’ll define it as: it means that I’m producing work that I’m interested in on any platform that I want. So, for example, if it’s live-streaming where I put on a show twice a week, pulling together communities from around the world who are also invested in me as a person because they find me (1) entertaining and (2) personable, then I build the content around that. 

And content feels like a very loaded word. Like what’s content exactly, right? Content is whatever a viewer or a fan or someone who subscribes to you — it’s whatever they consume. Whatever they take in and find value in. You can make content that has zero value to one person but also has tremendous value to another person. 

What’s been your history with content creation? Where did you start?

The first time I started really creating content was when I got into gaming. At the time — I think it was like 2000s — having online forums was a thing, and in the forums people had really distinct signatures, like graphic signatures. So, I used to take screenshots of conversations from the forum that, read out of context, were kinda funny. And I would make signatures based off of that. And eventually people would reach out to me, saying, “hey, can you photoshop my name and my avatar”. So I had to figure out how to do that. I learned how to do that. And that really created the fundamentals of my understanding of graphic design.

Recent design for a local charity event.

And what about acting and performing?

In 2003, I moved out to Hawaii, where my brother was living. And while I was there, I decided to take an acting class at the community college. First day of Acting 101, I was madly in love. It felt like the things that I was feeling at that time had a better way to access the surface than drawing. Nothing really resonated with me like standing in front of an audience and being really scared and not dying. It’s kinda why people like spicy food, right? Because they can go really hot but know they’re not going to die.

And eventually, I found a jazz club in Hawaii, and after some talk with the owner, they allowed me and my friends to do monologues right after the band had set up and they had like an hour and a half before people really started arriving. So, every Monday — Monday Night Monologues as we billed it — we would do that.

When did you start filmmaking?

I got into film because I answered a Craigslist ad from a guy named Richard Gali. We started doing a lot of short films together because we really vibed. So flash forward years later, we’re really good friends now, and we started a group to do 48-hour film festivals. I grew my network out that way, got to know more filmmakers, learned how to use a camera, and I started watching movies differently. 

We won some awards, that was fun. And now Richard is in escrow on a house being paid for by a filmmaking background. In fact I have a vlog about it — he’s unboxing a RED camera. He’s just one of those people that just never stops and he has a partner, his wife, who absolutely believes in him. 

That’s inspiring. Is that the kind of stuff that motivates you?

Yeah. You know, something I was talking to my girlfriend about the other night — she was like “I have no idea where these motivations come from.” I have had enough time now to think about where some of these motivations come from and for me, a huge jumping off point for actually doing things is if I ever find myself saying “Oh, I can do that” — like in a dismissive way — then, I go and do it. 

Because I found that after I said it, I felt like that was really negative. Why am I dismissive of someone else’s creation when they put time and effort into creating what I am now seeing, even if I have a negative opinion about it? And so it put me in the mindset of: ok, let me do it. Let me attempt it. Let me finish it. Let me execute it to the completion. And then let me have an opinion about it based on my own work.

So, you do graphic design, theatre, videos, and on top of that you also stream on Twitch! When did that start?

The Twitch streaming started when I was watching a YouTube video and the guy said, “I’m going to start streaming on Twitch”. So, I clicked on the link and I saw — at the time — a very small directory of streamers, and I literally did say, “Oh, I can do that.” And so, I started streaming.

With content creation, there’s the other side: audience building and promotion. How much time does that take compared to creating content? And how do you tackle that?

So, if I spent 2 hours streaming, I would spend an hour outside of that making sure that whatever I was creating made it to Instagram and Facebook. I would download and cut clips, edit it. 

And then it’s the relationship building that I think is probably the hardest and longest aspect of it.

Your latest project is this new vlog series. Can you walk me through a typical process of filming an episode of your vlog?

I have to think about what I’m doing for that day. I have to be ok with calling out the mundane things that happen in my life, while also being delusional enough to think that someone would be interested in watching this and really dig into what I think is valuable about that.

And then there’s the aspect of: “how do I present the things around me in a way that adds value to that community, too?”

So, I will generally start off with turning the camera on and talking to it. Which makes me think things like, “Oh I gotta adjust the lighting.” But I can’t be too nitpicky, otherwise it’ll be two hours later and I haven’t done anything. 

Then I’ll go about my day and I’ll carry this camera around. And the hope is, at some point, the structure starts to show itself in the process. But that doesn’t always happen. So, I’ll shoot and I’ll shoot and I’ll shoot, and I’ll start to develop a shot list in my head. I will start to develop the who, the what, the when, the why.

At the end of the day, I will take all that footage and put it on my computer. I will organize it, and then I will start that timeline. I’ll trim all the video clips — all the things that I think are necessary to tell the story. Then I will line them up and make sure they look ok. Then I will go back and look for b-roll to fill in.

After I’m done editing and I’m happy with it, I will then find a minute within there, I’ll snip that out and I’ll export that along with the main video to use for promotion on social media. And at this point, I’ll also have a thumbnail picked out, too.

Through any of your content creation, has monetization ever been a consideration for you or something you’ve attempted?

I get paid on Twitch. The way it works is they give you a subscription button; people just click on that and then every month, if you hit a certain threshold, they’ll cut you a check.

For YouTube, I used to be monetized on my gaming channel by being on a network. But now, monetization on YouTube is a little different. You need to hit a certain threshold, which I’m not eligible for yet. You need 1,000 subscribers, I think, and like 10,000 hours of watch time from viewers. Once that hits, then I can actually apply for AdSense. 

But that’s through that avenue. I’m also in the process now of exploring Amazon affiliate links, creating courses that people can purchase online, and Patreon. So, all of it. It’s all about stacking your different ways of making money.

What’s next?

The next big thing is expanding this network of local creators. I have a separate channel called Art Time Job, which is a hub of curated work from other channels — mine included. And I’ll have playlists. So you can watch the videos in the playlist from this hub but it’s the individual creator’s channel that will get the view.

There’s also Somewhere Street, which is the title of a project that’s yet to be cemented. It’s my way of amplifying the voices of the community that haven’t been heard or haven’t been represented in a way that is true to me as a creator and true to the people who are going to be in it. That’s the next big one. And that one requires me to hone my craft on camera but also my craft as a writer and also assemble a crew.

Lastly, are there any final tips you have for someone who wants to become a content creator?

As a content creator, you really need to hone in on your sense of observation. Everything around you is content. Everything around you has value in some way. Whether that’s digital content. Whether that’s driving to work. Whether that’s grocery shopping. There’s something there, and it’s really about finding what your story is in relation to that. And that’s something that I’m working on every day.


Be sure to subscribe to Tasi’s YouTube channel and catch him on Twitch.

Content Creator

Social Media Insights

As a content creator, if you really want to build and maintain an audience, it’s not enough to just produce the content. You really have to hustle and push hard on promotion. Whether it’s paid advertising or taking advantage of free channels, plugging your content can often require more time and effort than actually creating it.

That has certainly been the case for the podcast. Back in March, I wrote about our plans for promoting Bring Your Own Movie. The team and I sat down to identify our target audience, craft our brand’s voice, decide on the best promotional channels (for us, it’s social media), understand our marketing goals, and create a promotion calendar.

And although I had a background on social media advertising, I didn’t have much experience managing a brand’s social media page. So, this was a fun challenge for me and an opportunity to learn new skills.

We started out strong. We were very regular with our social media posts across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We were seeing good engagement with likes, comments and shares. 

Our episode announcement posts, like this one, see some of the highest reach and engagement.

And then, as so often happens, life got in the way, and our busy schedules were making it hard to coordinate podcast recordings, let alone keep up with promotional efforts.

But when we decided in late June to switch from a bi-weekly episode release schedule to a monthly one, we knew more than ever, that it was imperative that we bump up our activity on social media. We needed to keep our audience engaged in between episodes now that they were going to be a month apart.

So, we regrouped, nailed down a new promotional schedule and, most importantly, made it clear who would be in charge of what. For the last two months, we’ve successfully pushed out regular posts from our social media channels.

Diving into the Metrics

With the logistics of promotion smoothed out, it was finally time to address something we’d been neglecting for far too long — analytics. Afterall, with the amount of time and energy required to produce and publish our social media posts, shouldn’t we make sure they are working?

And what does it mean for them to be “working”?

Well, back in March when we were putting together our marketing strategy, we did identify our key goals:

  • Primary goal: Getting people to download and listen to our podcast
  • Secondary goal: Getting people to connect with our social media pages
  • Secondary goal: Encouraging people to engage with our social media posts
  • Secondary goal: Getting iTunes reviews

For my first look at the metrics, I focused on one of our secondary goals — engagement with our social media posts. Why not start with our primary goal? Well, with the tracking capabilities available to us, it’s difficult to identify whether or not a certain social media post directly resulted in an episode download. We can try to make correlations, but that analysis will take some time, so I wanted to start with some concrete metrics that I could more easily and quickly pull and analyze.

The theory is that an engaged audience is one that will keep listening to the podcast and hopefully share it with their friends. And from a more technical perspective, for many social media platforms, engagement does influence the algorithm and can help get your posts in front of a larger audience.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all allow you to look at a variety of metrics on your posts. For Facebook and Instagram, I focused on reach (number of unique people who saw the post in their Feed), reactions/likes, and comments. For Twitter, I looked at impressions and engagement (number of times a user has interacted with a Tweet, including all clicks anywhere on the Tweet, retweets, replies, follows, and likes).

These are the top ten Facebook posts with the largest reach. Most of them are episode launch announcement posts, in which we reveal the movie and tag our guest host.

Findings

It was interesting digging into the results and identifying some patterns. There were some similarities across the platforms and some big differences. Here are the highlights from my analysis:

  • For Facebook, posts where our guests were tagged saw the most engagement. 
  • Shares can also help increase reach in Facebook.
  • Instagram posts with popular hastags helped increase reach.
  • Instagram posts with tagged users also saw high reach and likes.
  • Twitter posts where users with big followings are tagged receive a high number of impressions and engagement.
  • The live-tweet thread also received a high number of impressions and engagement.

Takeaways

With the findings above, we are now armed with some “quick wins” to maximize engagement:

  • For Facebook, find more opportunity to tag people in our posts, especially past guests.
  • For Instagram, increase our usage of hashtags, especially popular ones and tag users when applicable.
  • For Twitter, find more opportunity to tag users with a large number of followers. Also, try more live-tweet sessions.

With this initial analysis completed, I will now take the time to dive into our episode download metrics. I’ll see if there are any patterns regarding when people download our podcast episodes and look for any correlations between social media posts and spikes in downloads.

This dive into the metrics has been an interesting intersection between my old life as a marketer and my new journey as a content creator!

Content Creator

Promoting a Podcast

It’s been two weeks since we’ve launched the Bring Your Own Movie podcast, and we’ve gotten a great response. There have been a lot of positive reviews and comments for the show and a decent number of downloads.

With our successful launch complete, there was no time to slow down, as we needed to quickly pivot and go into major promotion mode. For our initial push, we’re focusing on free tactics, dedicating the majority of our efforts on social media marketing, since we have complete controls over those channels.

Here are a few early learnings and tips:

Start with your goals

Any marketer will tell you that before you put together your promotion plan, you need to identify what you are trying to accomplish.

For us, our top priority is, of course, getting as many downloads and listens of the podcasts as possible.

Our secondary goals include:

  • Getting people to connect with your social media pages
  • Encouraging people to engage with our social media posts
  • Getting iTunes reviews

These goals will help guide the content of our marketing, as well as outline the metrics we should be measuring.

Identify your target audience

Of course, we hope everyone enjoys our podcast! But we think that the show will particularly resonate with people who like to have fun discussions about movies. And for our social media channels, we’re also targeting people who are likely to weigh in with their own opinions.

Knowing who we’re speaking to will not only influence the topics we post about, but also the tone of our posts. Which is a great segue to …

Find your brand’s voice

We also needed to think about what we wanted the tone of our social media posts and other written promotional materials to be. In general, we want the Bring Your Own Movie voice to be humorous and irreverent. We want to avoid sounding too serious or high-brow. We want to feel like the type of easy-going, funny people that you’d love hanging out with at a party or a bar, grabbing a few drinks with, and having a lively, but light-hearted, discussion about films with.

See things from your audience’s perspective

When it came to brainstorming the type of social media posts we wanted to make, I thought about the types of posts I tend to engage with.

I tend to comment on posts that ask me to weigh in with my own opinions. I will often ‘like’ posts that include some interesting fact, a funny meme or cool art. And I tend to share posts that feature big news that I think other people need to know about.

I also think about podcast-specific posts that I engage with or that I see get a lot of engagement. Those are things like episode discussion threads and fan art/merchandise posts.

From there we were able to brainstorm some post ideas for Bring Your Own Movie, such as:

  • Special guest bios
  • Movie trivia
  • Episode discussion threads and/or polls

Create your calendar

Now, it’s time to get everything in place and figure out a good cadence for your marketing plan. For us, since we’re releasing new episodes every two weeks, it made sense also to have a two-week marketing cycle.

In the week leading up to each episode’s release, we’ll have posts introducing that episode’s special guest, as well as teasing the movie that will be discussed, asking people to comment with their guesses on this episode’s film. After the episode goes live, we have a week of posts promoting downloads & listens, as well as encouraging engagement with our posts through discussion threads, polls, and fun, shareable content.

Find the right tools

In order to execute a marketing plan smoothly and efficiently, it’s important to have good tools at hand. We, of course, are using a ton of tools, but here are a couple that I want to highlight:

Calendar

When planning out a social media plan, it’s helpful to create a marketing calendar with information on when you’ll post, what channel(s) you’ll be using, and what will be contained in each post. Any spreadsheet tool will do the trick (Excel, Google Sheets), but we find that Airtable gives us some extra capabilities that are particularly useful.

With Airtable, it was easy for us to organize and separate out posts by social media channel. We were able to customize our column, like one can with any spreadsheet, so we could include information of the topic, the date, and the copy for each post. We were also able to include a column where we can drag in the images we’ll be using.

Scheduler

Anyone who’s run a robust social media plan will tell you that having a scheduling tool can save a lot of time. Instead of manually posting every day, you can queue up your posts in a scheduling tool ahead of time and then the tool will publish your posts at the scheduled date and time. This means, for example, that instead of having to take time out of your day every day, you could dedicate, say, one day a week to setting up all your posts for that week.

There are many scheduling tools out there, and a lot of people are familiar with Hootsuite. We ended up going with Buffer, partly because they have a free account option, while Hootsuite does not.

Measure your results

Next, it’s time to see what worked and what didn’t. Even though our main goal is episode downloads and listens, it’s actually difficult to attribute those metrics to our social media posts. While we’ve included links to our website and the episode page on our site in some of our posts, people will typically download, subscribe and listen to podcasts in their app of choice. We, of course, can try to correlate this. Do we see a spike in downloads on a certain day? We can look at what posts were made that day.

We also look at our secondary goals, particularly engagement. Unsurprisingly, our big podcast launch post has received the most engagement. After that, big winners were our guest announcement post, our posts about our iTunes reviews, and a post that featured a funny Rotten Tomatoes review. I think it’ll take a few months to see if there are any strong patterns in the types of posts that get the most engagement.

What’s next?

We’ll continue with our social media plan and track engagement. We’ll fine-tune along the way, as patterns start to surface as to what’s working best.

We’d also like to explore other free marketing avenues, such as co-promotions with other podcasts and getting featured in related email newsletters.

Have any ideas yourself? Feel free to leave a comment!

Content Creator

Launching a Podcast

Well, I’m just going to cut to the chase — today, we officially launched the Bring Your Own Movie podcast!

I know it’s a cliché, but this was a true labor of love. From being brought on as a producer and putting together a full project plan to working with the team to record our first official episode, it’s been an interesting journey with a lot of learnings.

One big learning — just because you’ve recorded your podcast doesn’t mean you’re anywhere close to launching.

Here’s a little glimpse of what is takes to get your podcast from audio file to public launch, along with some of our stumbles and learnings along the way.

Choosing a media host

Much like you would choose a service such as WordPress or Squarespace to host a website, when it comes to having a podcast, it’s recommended that you select a media host where you’ll store all of your audio files. Why is that? Well, audio files are big, and if you upload through your regular website hosting service, you might slow down your entire site.

Also similar to website hosting, there are a lot of media hosting services, many of which are specifically geared toward podcasts. There are an overwhelming number of choices, in fact. I read countless articles comparing the options. I joined the Podcasters Support Group on Facebook and searched for past posts about the hosting services.

To find order in all of the chaos of possibilities, I had sit down and identify our top needs. For us, the biggest priority was having enough file storage at a reasonable price point, having a service that was reliable, and choosing a host that would make it easy to upload and submit to podcast directories.

We narrowed it down to Libsyn, Blubrry, Podbean or Buzzsprout. I read through the capabilities and pored over reviews, noting the top features and competitive edges for each service. Buzzsprout seems to have the most intuitive interface, while Podbean has unlimited storage. Blubrry has one of the easiest integrations with WordPress, and Libsyn is probably the most established and widely used service.

In the end, we went with Libsyn. Being one of, if not the most used media hosting service for podcasts, we knew it would be reliable, and it accommodated our file storage needs.

Developing the artwork

Yes, this is the fun, artistic and creative part of launching a podcast, but it’s also an absolutely vital step. First of all, you must include show artwork in order to submit your podcast to iTunes and other podcast directories. And there are strict specs you have to follow.

Secondly, this is a way to brand your podcast and help you stand out from the competition!

Show artwork must be square, and when submitting to iTunes, the file must be a minimum of 1400×1400. However, while the original file size is large, you also have to consider how it will look as a small thumbnail image.

One of the co-hosts, Sam, is an amazing artist. He and I worked closely together to develop the artwork. We knew we wanted to feature our abbreviation — BYOM — because it would be easy to read when sized down small. We also wanted to hint at the two main elements of our podcast — movies (of course) and alcohol (did I mention the hosts and guest are all drinking throughout the episode?).

It took a lot of iterations. We made sure to send it to people unfamiliar with the podcast to get their impressions. And in the end here’s the final artwork:

I love how we were able to hint at the drinking element of our podcast through the martini glass that serves as the “Y”. And we referred to the movie part of our podcast with the popcorn olive and the film reel “O”. I also like how much the orange pops against the blue.

Setting up our online presence

Very early on, we secured a Facebook page, Instagram profile and Twitter handle. We also purchased a number of website domains that will all redirect to our main site.

Once we had the artwork secured, it was time to get all these pages set up. For Facebook and Twitter, you want both a profile pic and and cover/header image. For Instagram, you need the profile image. For all three platforms, there are also areas to list a description of your podcast (with various word count restrictions, of course).

For the website, we decided to just start with the free website (or Podcast Page, as they call it) that Libsyn provides as part of our media hosting subscription. It’s a simple template with limited customization capabilities, but it serves our needs for now. We figure that eventually most people will just find our podcast in their podcast app or directory of choice and not necessarily come to our website. While the Podcast Page has a Libsyn-branded URL, we were able to set up redirects for the domains we purchased, so that we can use those shorter URLs on our promotional materials.

Uploading the episode and submitting to directories

This is one of the last steps to getting a podcast live. It’s also the part of the process that was difficult for a newbie like me to fully comprehend until I actually started digging into the system.

First, I had to go into my show settings in Libsyn and set up our profile. The most important things here are confirming the public-facing name of the podcast, including a show description (which will be used by directories like iTunes), uploading the show artwork, and connecting our related online properties like our website URL and social media profiles.

Then, I had to set up our RSS feed. This RSS feed URL is what you use to submit your podcast to most directories. During this step, I had to select our categories (TV & Film for our primary category, Comedy for our secondary category) and designate our rating (our podcast is Explicit).

Next, I needed to upload our episode. You need at least one episode uploaded in order to submit your podcast to the various directories. Here you bring in your audio file and enter your episode title and description.

After this last step, the episode was officially live and available for listening through our website. But that’s not how people typically listen to podcasts. They don’t go to each individual website of the podcasts they follow to listen to the episodes there. They download and listen to podcasts through their podcast app of choice. And these apps pull in from the various podcast directories (a good number of them pulling in from iTunes).

So the last important step is submitting your podcast (using your RSS feed URL) to the various directories. iTunes is the most important one, followed by Stitcher, Spotify and Google Play Music. There are specific instructions for each directory. Luckily, Libsyn has a lot of support materials and integrations to make this submission process easy.

However, this is where I underestimated the amount of time to allow. Once you submit, it can take a few days to be approved. And then once approved by a directory, you still need to be indexed. Essentially, being indexed is what allows your podcast to be discoverable via search.

If I launch another podcast in the future, this is where I will give myself a little more time. We just got approved by iTunes today, the day of our launch, but it still might take a couple of days for us to be indexed. That means, today it might be hard for people to find us by searching, so they will either need to listen to our episode through our website or add our RSS feed URL manually to their podcast app.

Promoting the podcast

Even though our first episode was technically available to listen to a few days ago, when I initially uploaded the file, today was our big promotional push day.

We drafted posts for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, along with a fun image. We also put together an email to share with friends or family who are not active on social media. We prepped the guest, Carla, who is featured on our first episode and let her know our launch plans so that she can share with her network.

In the next few weeks, we’ll do a lot more to promote.

The co-hosts, Sam and Tonya, will be hosting entertainment at an Oscars viewing party on behalf of our podcast. We will ask friends and other influencers to share with their networks. We’ll ask movie-themed groups to send to their email list. We’ll ask other podcasts about co-promotion, shouting each other out on our respective podcast episodes. And we’ll try to do a big push (maybe with some give-aways) to get iTunes reviews, which can help us get featured.

I’m sure we’ll try a lot of different things. This is the part where we’ll experiment, test, and learn.

So, how can you listen?

You can first try to search for “Bring Your Own Movie” in the podcast app you usually use. If we don’t pop up in your search results, you can head straight to our website to listen: byomcast.com.

You can also manually add our show to your podcast app of choice Just find the option to add a new podcast via URL and paste in our RSS feed: https://bringyourownmovie.libsyn.com/rss

I hope you enjoy!


Content Creator

My Relationship with Writing

A few months ago, I submitted my first blog post The Start to Play on Words, an organization described as “a collaborative literary performance series in San Jose that pairs performers with up-and-coming and already established writers, resulting in a live performance.” The piece got accepted into their upcoming show “New Terrains” and will be performed this Sunday.

This has gotten me thinking about my long relationship with writing.

Read before you write

My mom taught me to read and write well before going into kindergarten. As an elementary school student, my reading list mostly consisted of things like The Babysitter’s Club or Goosebumps but also included classics like Island of the Blue Dolphins and Julie of the Wolves. But outside of reading (I would never have called myself a big reader), it was my penchant for playing dress-up and make-believe that really spurred my interest in storytelling.

And then one day — I want to say I was in junior high — I found a box of my dad’s old college books, including some from a literature class. Among that dusty pile of forgotten pages was a copy Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. I devoured the witty dialogue and suddenly my eyes were open to the amazing power of words.

Writing for school

I saw some success with writing in junior high. I wrote an essay that secured me a spot on a coveted trip to the state capitol. And I was a finalist in a speech competition. But it was really in high school that I was forced to develop my writing. It was also at this point that my love/hate relationship with writing began.

My high school was notorious for having a very strong but tough English program. We read a lot and were assigned essays for each book, among other writing assignments. And these essays were sliced and diced and put through a meat grinder. For a perfectionist, straight-A student like myself, I was appalled in sophomore year when I was suddenly getting B’s on my paper. What was I doing wrong?

I was actually so disenchanted with writing after that year that instead of continuing on into AP English junior and senior year, I went down into college prep, where we were still pushed to be good writers, but suddenly, I had my A’s back.

Looking back, of course, I know where I was struggling. Yes, I made good points in my essays and my grammar was correct, but I lacked sentence variety and other elements that take a paper from a dry read to a pleasurable one.

I left high school feeling like a solid writer but by no means extraordinary. And I definitely did not identify writing as something I enjoyed. Yet, in college, I was drawn to humanities classes which, of course, involved a lot of writing! I was nervous that once again, my writing would not be up to snuff. But much to my surprise (and still to this day, slight horror), one of my first college professors was blown away by the fact that I actually knew how to use a semicolon correctly.

Oh ok. I guess I do have a talent for this writing thing.

As a double major in Art History and Communication, I wrote countless papers and essays. I researched, analyzed, laid out my points and made arguments. It was also during this time that the idea of being a writer — particularly a newspaper or magazine writer — piqued my interest. Maybe I watched too many episodes of Sex and the City, but I fell in love with the idea of setting my own schedule and not being stuck in an office. I looked into volunteering for the school paper but I never followed through on it.

What I realize now is that it wasn’t the writing part that interested me. It was the lifestyle. Cafes would be my office. I could meet friends for lunch. I would explore the city at my leisure and set my own hours. Maybe that’s why I never truly followed through on exploring this path. It wasn’t the core of the job that interested me. At least, not yet.

Writing for work

My career path — for lack of a better word — has been quite a winding one, but most of my jobs have included some type of writing.

There was the online fundraising agency, where we managed email campaigns for national and global non-profits. I wrote countless fundraising emails and website copy.

There was the digital advertising agency, where I wrote long client emails explaining our capabilities and answering questions.

In my most recent position, I wrote long web articles about Facebook’s advertising products and how small businesses could best use them.

For all of these assignments, I was satisfied with the final product, but I found the writing process arduous and draining. I took me forever to get start and I obsessed over the perfect wording. It just went to solidify my previous assumption that while I had a talent for writing, it wasn’t something I found fulfilling.

Writing for me

However, during this same time, there were also a few instances where I wrote for personal reasons.

For one, there were my wedding vows, which to this day is probably the piece of writing I’m most proud of. It took a while to get them started. But I began by just jotting down notes and phrases that came to mind on Post-it notes. Suddenly, it all came together. I knew exactly the structure I was going for and the words just came forward.

There was also the speech I wrote for my sister’s graduation. I had major writer’s block. But once again, I started by just writing down unedited thoughts of what I might say. And in that drive between her graduation and the celebration dinner, I had the speech put together in no time.

There are the scripts I’ve written recently, where I can’t seem to type fast enough to keep up with the ideas swirling around. There are even the fictional backstories I craft for the roles I’ve originated on-stage or the characters I’ve created for Dungeons & Dragons (that’s right, I play D&D!).

And then there’s been this blog. I find that for a lot of my posts, particularly the reflections pieces, the words just spill out. I don’t worry too much about the wording or structure. I just let these thoughts make their way onto the page.

In short, I get into what’s known as flow.

According to Wikipedia, flow is defined as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”

It’s been surprising, illuminating, and exciting to find this new love for writing.

Writing in the Future

I’m at this point where I want to continue to explore my interest in writing. What formats do I like? What’s my ideal process? How do I get inspiration?

I also want to look into the various ways to make money with writing … but the type of writing I actually enjoy. Do I submit to magazines? Do I try to monetize my blogging? Do I self-publish?

In my head I have lofty goals of writing a novel or a feature-length film script.

But more than anything, I just want to give myself more time and mental space to write.

Content Creator

Further Thoughts on Content Creation

Over the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a number of content projects, from the writing to podcasts to video. I’ve worked both independently and as part of a team.

There have been some interesting learnings surrounding the process of creating content, as well as a number of revelations with regards to the types and parts of content creation that I’ve found most energizing and fulfilling.

Medium

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when I first added ‘Content Creator’ to my list of careers to explore, I was mostly inspired by my favorite YouTube channels; thus, I had the medium of video in mind. It’s the type of content that I consume most often, so when I put myself in the creator’s shoes, it only seemed natural that I’d gravitate toward video. However, I’ve also worked on other content formats.

Video

I’ve had the opportunity to be part of the crew for a number of short films, and I always find those days invigorating and great learning experience. I’ve even tried my hand at producing a couple of videos myself. However, I got stalled during the editing phase and haven’t found myself compelled to finish.

This has me a little surprised. Am I not passionate about video creation? Am I hitting a mental roadblock because it’s so new to me? I want to see my independent video projects through to the end and assess once I look at the final product. But I also need to prepare myself for the fact that video may just not be my preferred medium.

I’ve worked on the crew of larger film projects as well as worked independently on my on videos.

Podcasts

Podcasting was not a content format I expected to explore. While I listen to podcasts, I’ve never seriously pursued making one myself. It was really by chance that I got involved with my friends’ podcast.

And it’s been so fun to work on! I think it’s a really interesting medium — a great way to reach a wide audience and a compelling storytelling and entertainment mechanism. I’m not in a hurry to create and host my own podcast, but I really enjoy working as a larger team to produce one.

Working as a producer for the podcast involves a lot of planning and organizing, and it’s so fun seeing it all come together.

Writing

What has been so unexpected during this sabbatical is how energizing and fulfilling writing has been.

Those who know me well might be surprised by that statement. “But Laura, you’ve always been such a good writer!” Yes, I agree that I have a talent for writing. In fact, a lot of my former jobs involved a lot of writing.

But I always felt like writing was such a drawn out and laborious process for me. It took me a long time to even get started on each writing assignment. I obsessed over the right wording. I second guessed whether the final product was good enough.

However, throughout this sabbatical, I’ve had the opportunity to do true creative writing. I get to own the topic. I get to choose the style. Essentially, my writing during this time has reflected my true self. And the words have just flowed.

I never expected to get into script-writing but it’s a form of creative writing and storytelling that I really enjoy.

Independent vs. Team

My initial vision of the career Content Creator was a very solitary, independent role. I imagined conceiving, planning, filming and editing original videos all on my own. It’s not that I prefer to work alone; quite the opposite — in my past jobs, I always relished team projects. But I assumed I would gravitate toward solo content projects for the complete creative control it offers.

In practice, however, I’ve had a lot of revelations when it comes to the team dynamic with content creation. First, media like video and podcasts are almost impossible to do 100% alone. For my videos, for example, while I planned, scripted, organized and even edited on my own, when it came to filming, I needed to enlist Ryan as my cameraman. Of course, there are certain styles of videos I could do alone, but more sophisticated videos require some sort of crew.

But more than what can or cannot be done alone, there’s also the question of how I enjoy working. And in general, I feel like I’ve had a lot more fun working on content projects as part of a team. The podcast has been an absolute thrill to work on. We all have our separate specialties but aren’t so strict with the duties, and we all come together to get the work done.

I think one exception to this dynamic is writing. Maybe because there are a lot less moving pieces, but for the writing projects I’ve done, I find it easier to work alone.

Parts of the Process

Content projects like videos and podcasts have a lot of steps in the process, and I’ve had exposure to all of those phases. So, it’s been interesting to reflect on the aspects I’ve found most fulfilling to work on.

And I almost begrudgingly admit that I actually really enjoy … the planning process!

It’s probably the least sexy, driest part of content creation, so I assumed this would be stage I enjoyed the least. But I get such satisfaction out of finding order in the many things that need to get done. I’ve always been good at organizing and putting together plan, and it’s been interesting to realize how energizing I find it.

Moving Forward

Given my fulfillment from planning and the energy I get from working with a team, I think I will seek out more opportunities to work as a producer on creative projects.

Additionally, whether or not it ends up being a career, I want to continue to explore writing. Maybe a feature-length script is in my future. Or even a book!

Content Creator, Video Producer

Making a Video, Part 4: The Trials and Tribulations of Editing

We’re back with another update on the saga of producing my own video!

After planning out my script and shots and then shooting all of the footage, my video project was stalled while I waited for my computer to be upgraded with enough memory to download the editing program and handle all of the video files. In the meantime, I did take the opportunity to film a second video, using a lot of learnings from my initial shoot.

Well, my computer finally got upgraded and I was able to dive into editing.

Syncing video and audio

After waiting so long to get started on post-production, once my computer was upgraded, I was raring to go … and immediately hit a snag.

Because my camera doesn’t have an audio input (it only has the option to use the built-in microphone) but I wanted to use a better microphone, we ended up recording audio on a separate device as the video. That meant, in post-production, one of the first steps was sync up those video and audio files.

I am using Adobe Premiere to edit the video. When I inserted a video file and audio file into the editing bay to line them up, I ran into issues with getting a true sync on some clips because when I would drag, say, the audio file to try to match the video, it would snap to a grid and not be completely lined up.

You can drag your audio and video lines separately, but it’s hard to make a small movement because it snaps to the grid up top.

My husband ended up synching all of the video and audio files on his computer using Logic and then transferred the new clips to my machine. Some of the original clips I left as-is because there is no accompanying audio, but rather, I will be adding voiceover or music in those sections.

Adjusting file formats

With the video and audio synced, I was ready to jump back into editing … and once again stumbled.

When I added the freshly synced clips to the video project in Premiere, the video would not play back, and instead all I saw was a green screen. The clips that were not altered played back just fine. All clips were .mov files, so it was a little perplexing why I would have the issue with the synced clips but not the unsynced clips.

A friend suggested that working with mp4 files was probably better. I converted one of the synced clips into an mp4 file, and that solved the video playback issue. Then I had to go through the slow process of converting all of the files to the new format.

I used VLC to convert my files from MOV to mp4.

It’s like the starting pistol had gone off only to discover my running shoes were stuck in tar.

Dealing with playback lag

Audio and video synced … check.

Formats displaying properly in the editor … check.

With my shoes unstuck from the tar, I was ready to sprint to the editing finish line … only to trip over the first hurdle.

Using Adobe Premiere is pretty easy and relatively user-friendly. You start by adding your media (clips) to your project.

Add your media files from your computer or directly from your camera.

Your uploaded clips are now in your project assets, and then it’s as simple as dragging and dropping the clip you want to work with into the editing bay.

Drag clips from the Project Assets folder into your desired location in the video timeline.

Once placed in the timeline, you can play your clip and decide where you want to cut it. Making cuts is as easy as dragging from either ends of the clip.

Drag from either end of the video clip to trim to your desired length.

But this is where I’ve run into some issues. Once I edit a clip, suddenly the playback is very choppy, with lags in the video. This makes it close to impossible to see if I actually like the way I’ve edited the clip.

I’m still trying to troubleshoot this issue, but in the meantime, I’m powering through. However, it’ll probably be a long process.

Good learnings despite technology issues

Sometimes shorter is better

Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, a 1-2 second video clip can go a long way. When we shot our original footage, particularly the B-roll that will be used under voiceover, we did these long shots. Once I got into editing, I realized that I only needed a few seconds of each clip to create my visual narrative.

Plan your edits like you plan your shots

One thing the playback lag has forced me to do is be a little more thoughtful in my editing plan. Because I can’t easily just trim and test, I’ve had to view my original clips in a separate video player and then make notes of sections I might want to include, and what I would want to cut away to in between those sections. It’s been a good exercise in trying to visualize ahead of time the final product I’m looking for.

The magic of storytelling is editing

Creative editing and combinations of clips has opened up what I can do with my visual narrative. For example, for the food video, we set up the camera and just let it run while I ate the meal and gave natural commentary. There are some good bits, but taken as a whole, there are lot of awkward silences throughout the video. However, by taking the clips that work and splicing in cuts from other footage, suddenly I have a snappy storyline.

I cut different sections of the “Laura Eats” clip and combined it with cuts from other clips.

Next Steps

I’m going to trying editing in a different program, like iMovie, to see if I have better luck with the preview playback. If I still run into issues, I’ll have to go through the long arduous process of troubleshooting.

It’s been a little frustrating that technology has been such a barrier to this phase of the filmmaking process. I feel like I have the artistic vision in mind, but I’m handcuffed by technical issues.

I hope to be back with more updates once the technical issues are resolved!

Content Creator

We’re Making a Podcast!

A couple of months ago, I wrote about being brought on as the producer for my friends’ new podcast, Bring Your Own Movie. After working with them to understand their ideas and goals for the podcast, I set out to create a detailed project plan that would get us from concept to launch.

We then spent the next two months preparing and getting things in order to record our first few episodes:

  • Confirming the episode format
  • Obtaining the necessary recording equipment
  • Selecting and scheduling the first few guests
  • Creating our episode prep checklist and assigning duties

Well, this past Sunday, we recorded our first official episode!

Armed with Belvedere martinis, the crew discusses The Shining with guest Carla Lee.

The concept for the podcast: Each episode, co-hosts Tonya Narvaez and Sam Bertken, along with audio engineer and permanent guest host (and my husband) Ryan Lee Short, invite a guest to talk about their favorite movie. For this episode, the crew discussed The Shining with guest Carla Lee, producer and head writer for sketch comedy company Nice Tan.

Oh, and there’s drinking involved, of course. Over drinks, the group talks about the featured movie, their impressions, and any personal connection they have to the film. And there’s also a rousing (and alcohol-laden) round of trivia.

In preparation for each episode, the entire team does background research on the film — when it was released, who directed and starred, reactions from critics and audiences, and interesting facts. As producer, I also research and come up with all the trivia questions, which I then share with that episode’s trivia master. Oh, and of course, we all watch the movie being featured, noting our own thoughts and reactions.

On the logistical side, for each episode, we secure a recording location and schedule the guest. We also purchase the alcohol (in addition to their favorite movie, the guest also tells us their favorite alcoholic drink) and snacks (key during the sobering up phase).

I am happy to report that our first recording went incredibly smoothly!

Toasting to a successful first episode!
From left to right: audio engineer Ryan Lee Short, guest Carla Lee, co-host Sam Bertken and co-host Tonya Narvaez.

During the recording, I took notes of points where we might want to make cuts to the episodes. I also noted areas of improvement for the subsequent episodes. Next steps for the episode are recording a voiceover for the intro and editing the episode.

With our first episode recorded and the recording process and checklist ironed out, I can now move on to tackling the items we need to address for the public launch, such as:

  • Choosing a media hosting service
  • Setting up our website
  • Creating the cover art
  • Putting together a social media strategy and promotion plan

Our plan is to record three more episodes so we have them queued up and ready to go when we officially launch around the time of the Oscars. This podcast is going to be hilarious and entertaining, and I’m so excited for the launch next month!

Content Creator, Uncategorized, Video Producer

Making a Video, Part 2: Shooting

I'm ready for my close-up!

This past Sunday, my husband Ryan and I shot the first part of my DIY project video, featuring the handmade Christmas gifts we are making this year. Armed with the draft script and shot list I had put together earlier in the week, along with some basic equipment, we were ready to go!

Filming in workshop
I’m ready for my close-up!

Equipment

Since this is my first video shoot running on my own, and it was just two of us working on it, I kept the equipment pretty simple.

Nikon D3400 DSLR Camera

Nikon D3400 DSLR Camera

RØDE VideoMic

RØDE VideoMic

Tascam DR-07 Digital Recorder

TASCAM DR-07 Digital Recorder

Vidpro LED-330X Light

Vidpro LED-330X Light

Tripod

Vista Explorer Tripod

Organizing the shoot

We started with an overhead shot, featuring all of the supplies needed for the project. As you can see, this definitely required a lot of Macguyver-ing, as we didn’t have an overhead camera support, so we had to attach the camera to the tripod and then secure the tripod legs to a ladder.

Setting up overhead shot
Sometimes you have to get a little creative when setting up your shots.

From there, we shot the actual steps of completing the DIY project. Ryan had done a prototype of the project and talked me through steps, which is how I was able to write the initial script and create my shot list. Once in the actual space, I had Ryan walk through the actual motion of each step in order to figure the best angle to shoot and to light the shot.

While the narration of the video will be a voiceover and can thus be recorded separately, I did want to capture sounds of the tools, so we also recorded sound for those shots.

Learnings

This first project was a lot of fun. It definitely took longer than I expected, and we hit a few snags, but that all resulted in a lot of great lessons for my next video project

#1: Do a test project first

While I had a basic understanding of the steps in the DIY project before the video shoot, I wasn’t familiar with all the tools and how they worked. That meant setting up each shot took a long time, as I needed to first see the action and then decide on the best angle.

If I do future DIY videos, I’ll want to complete a test project before even writing the script so that I can prepare a more specific shot list and make the filming day go more quickly.

#2: Prioritize the video shoot (or accept that it will take longer)

The DIY project I’m featuring in this video is for actual Christmas gifts, and we are making ten of these items. So, obviously, that made the process longer because for each step, we worked on all ten. If I wanted to focus on just getting the video done, I could have gone through and made one item first and filmed that.

#3: Figure out where you can simplify

Another factor that slowed down the shooting process what that I was obsessing over all the details – getting exactly the right angle, setting the perfect lighting, trying to capture the sound of the tools, and getting multiple shots for certain actions to give myself options during the editing process.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to care about those little details, but with this being my first video, I could have scaled back and really put my energy into one thing. Toward the end of our first shooting day, for example, we ended up ditching the Vidpro LED light and just used the existing environmental light. And I also scaled back on the amount of shots I captured per action.

#4: Embrace the things you didn’t plan for

No matter how much you prepare and how much you plan, something unexpected is bound to come up. Instead of beating yourself up over it, it’s better to just pivot and make the best out of it.

Our shooting day started off with one of these unexpected moments when I realized I left a key supply for the DIY project at home and we had to drive all the way back to get it, significantly delaying our start time. Instead of bemoaning my mistake and how much time I’d wasted, we actually decided to feature the mishap in our video, infusing a lot of humor and personality that I think was missing in the first draft.

So, what’s next?

Laura at computer
Checking my shot list

I’m hoping to finish shooting by the end of the weekend. And then it’s on to editing, which I know is going to be a loooooooooong process because I have some pretty fun, but time-consuming, ideas of how I want to cut together the footage. I’ll definitely be able to use a lot of these learnings from the first day of shooting as I film the rest of the video. And my mind is already abuzz with even more video ideas!

Be sure to check back here for more updates on this video project. And if you missed it, you can go back and read Part 1 of this series, where I talk about writing the script and preparing my shot list.