Content Creator, Video Producer

Making a Video, Part 1: Scripts and Shot Lists

I'll shoot two options for the intro of the video, so I've included both in my shot list.

Inspired by my Filmmaking 101 lesson earlier this week, I set off to get started on my very first video project. A perfect blend of my exploration into video production and content creation, I will be shooting a DIY video featuring the handmade Christmas gifts Ryan and I will be making this year.

This is my opportunity to not only scope out how much time and resources are required for these type of videos but also to start feeling out the style and tone I’m going for.

Scripts

The first step was to draft a script. As a DIY video, most of this script will be the instructions for the project.

I will likely narrate the script as a voiceover rather than speaking to the camera as I go. This means, that the final script will likely change, depending on what the final edit of the video is like or if something happens during the actual DIY project that requires us to change some of the text.

However, it was good to have a tentative draft of the script in order to plan out the shots I want to capture during the filming process. This will make filming go a lot smoother and help make sure I don’t miss any important shots.

Since this video will simply be me speaking, I just drafted the script in a Google doc. However, when drafting more narrative scripts with characters, dialogue and actions, I like to use the online tool WriterDuet. This tool makes formatting a breeze!

Script in WriterDuet tool
WriterDuet allows you to easily mark text as action, character, dialogue, etc. and will apply the proper formatting.

Shot Lists

With my tentative script ready, the next step was creating my shot list. Again, I could just wing it and just set up my shots on the fly, as I completed the DIY project. However, I may miss an important angle I wanted to get.

And there might be shots that are good for the video but not necessarily a natural part of the DIY project. For example, I’d like to get an overhead shot of all the required tools laid out.

There are a lot of shot list templates available online. I used this one as a starting point and customized to my needs.

There are a few places in my script where I actually want to film a couple of different ways and then decide during the editing process which version I’ll use, so I’ve included both options in my shot list.

Shot List spreadsheet
I’ll shoot two options for the intro of the video, so I’ve included both in my shot list.

Ready to shoot!

With my script and shot list in hand, I’ll be doing the first shooting on Sunday, when we’ll be actually completing the DIY project. Look out for the next post, where I’ll be talking about filming the action.

Content Creator, Video Producer

Filmmaking 101

Yesterday, I got a crash course in filmmaking from my friend, Christian, who was the director for the Four Points Film Project I wrote about. A film major, Christian has done gigs ranging from filming weddings to making corporate videos, but his real passion lies in narrative filmmaking.

We did an overview of the entire filmmaking process, with some deeper dives on some of the technical aspects, like choosing lenses and using the camera. In this post, I’ll go through the topics we covered, highlighting some of the learnings that were particularly interesting.

Film Project Types

Before we dove into the production process, we went over the three overarching types of film projects Christian has worked on:

  • Narrative
  • Corporate
  • Events

It was interesting to look at these three types of projects because there are different considerations and requirements for each type.

Event filming is more of a documentary style. It’s important to know the event timeline and important aspects you should capture, but you don’t have much control over the action.

The content of corporate videos can range, but the big thing here is that you are working with a client. That means there is a whole phase of understanding the client goals, scoping the project and managing expectations. The thing that really stood out to me here is the importance of being very specific with the client what you will and will not deliver.

Narrative film — depending on the level of quality you’re going for — can be the most complex with regards to roles and steps in the process. But this is where, at least as a director, you can really have the most creative control.

When I put video producer on my list of careers, I was thinking more about corporate videos, working in-house, as a freelance video producer or as part of a production company. I’ve also been focusing on video when talking about my exploration of being a content creator, which could include a lot of elements of the narrative filmmaking process, depending on the style of videos I’m going for.

Pre-production

We looked at pre-production, mostly from a narrative film point of view. There’s everything from securing your talent and crew to preparing your equipment.

A few things that really stood out to me:

First, it’s important to start with scheduling. With a narrative film, you’ll want to break down your script by scene locations, actors needed in each scene, props required, etc. Then, you can schedule your shoot accordingly – e.g. grouping your scenes that take place in a certain location and shooting those back-to-back.

From a director’s standpoint, an important step is storyboarding and getting your shot list. Storyboards are a good way of explaining your vision of the film to stakeholders, such as a client or producer. And the shot list is essential in running a smooth shooting schedule and making sure you don’t miss any shots. I found this good example of a storyboard:

film storyboard
Source: https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/storyboarding-film-tips-next-project/

Production

Here’s where I got a deeper understanding of all the technical aspects of a film shoot.

First, I learned all about lenses and, boy, is there a lot to learn! There are a number of settings on a lens that will affect the image you capture. Starting with the size of the lens, the higher the size, the more close-up you’ll be to the subject of your shot and the more out-of-focus your background will be.

Here’s a shot with a 24mm lens:

Screenshot from filming dog with 24mm lens
24mm lens

We see the whole dog (a very cute pup named Lily) and the blanket she lies on in focus. Then in the background, we get the TV on its console and the wall with the pictures, all a bit out-of-focus.

Here’s a shot with the camera in about the same location, but using a 50mm lens:

Screenshot from filming dog with 50mm lens
50mm lens

In this shot, we’re much closer up on Lily, only seeing part of her body and the blanket. And in the background, we’ve only captured a corner of the TV console, which is a lot blurrier than in the 24mm shot.

There were other things on the lens, like the f-stop, which affect the image you capture but I won’t get too much into that.

We also went over lighting — when to take advantage of environmental light versus bringing in your own light. Natural sunlight vs. indoor light. How to control the light with things like reflectors. One cool thing is that a lot of modern film lights will have knobs that let you adjust the temperature of the light to replicate either indoor light or sunlight, using the same device.

Finally, we looked at sound. For corporate videos you might use a lavalier for something like an interview. But for narrative, you’ll be using a shotgun microphone. When filming, it’s always a good idea to rehearse a scene to understand the volume of the dialogue and if levels will need to be adjusted mid-scene (e.g. if someone is going to yell).

And a good rule of thumb for scheduling — 1 page of dialogue is typically about 1 minute of film and 1 hour to shoot.

Post-Production

We didn’t go to deep into post-production because we will have a follow-up session all about editing.

One really interesting thing we went over is color grading. When you are shooting your video, there is a setting called Log recording, which will make the image a bit flatter and more desaturated when filming but will give you more flexibility to adjust the colors during the editing process.

Here’s an example of some color grading we did:

The original video capture used the Log recording setting. Color grading during post-production allows us to bring back the vibrant colors.

We also covered things like cleaning up audio levels and adding music. One important thing in the post-production process is thinking about where your video is most likely to be viewed — YouTube, on a blu-ray/dvd, in a theater, etc. This will have a huge effect on how you export your final product.

Putting these learnings into action

One big thing that became clear during this lesson — filmmaking can be expensive! Ok, I know you are all exclaiming a collective “duh!” at me, but I don’t think I really understood the magnitude of how much equipment you’d need and the cost of that!

But even without the most advanced equipment, I can still try out a lot of these learnings, particularly around the planning process and basic production elements.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I will be doing a couple test videos around topics that I could see myself having a YouTube channel around. I can start by plotting out the script for those videos and thinking about the shots I want to get.

I also have a short narrative film I’ve written, and I’ll start creating a shot list for that and maybe even try my hand at storyboarding!

Big thanks to my friend, Christian, for taking the time to be a pro bono film teacher. You can check out his work here.

Content Creator, Uncategorized

My Favorite Content Creators

As I explore becoming an independent content creator, I realized there are a lot of things to consider:

  • What medium do I want to focus on?
  • What topic will my content center around?
  • What style am I going for?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my inspiration for this career choice was drawn from my favorite YouTube channels. So, I thought it might to helpful to examine what I really enjoy about these videos, and what elements I might want to incorporate into my own content.

Mr. Kate

What are the videos about?

Kate Albrecht is an amazingly creative interior designer who, together with her husband Joey, executes some pretty impressive room transformations. The channel include different playlists or sub-series, such as videos where they makeover a room on a budget, videos where they feature renovations to their own home, videos where they transform office spaces, and more.

What is the style?

These videos are very similar to an HGTV show. You’ll have the hosts talking to the camera to introduce the room they’re going to make over and interviews with the homeowners. But a lot of the video features the actual makeover process, including, of course, before and after footage.

What I like about the videos?

The personality of the hosts really come out, and they are so genuine — Kate is upbeat and quirky and often has fun banter with Joey. Kate also walks through a lot of the transformation projects, making them seem like things that I could replicate; I always walk away inspired to do some creative project of my own. They have also cultivated a supportive community of what they call ‘creative weirdos’ and will often shout out their online community in their videos.

Abroad in Japan

What are the videos about?

Chris Broad is a British YouTuber who has lived in Japan since 2012, after moving there to teach English. His videos give us a glimpse into life in Japan, and often focus on food or things to do in the country.

What is the style?

The videos will typically begin with Chris speaking to the camera and setting up what we’re about to see. And even once we get into the core of the content, a lot of the video features a lot of speaking to the camera, along with shots of the food they’re eating or the activity they are doing. Most of the time, the action looks natural and not staged.

What I like about the videos?

Chris is very genuine with his sarcastic, British humor and isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself. He also has recurring guests with big personalities. With the videos focusing on travel, food and Japan, I of course love the subject of the content. Chris will often do videos in response to requests from the comments sections, and I like that interaction with his online community.

coolirpa

What are the videos about?

April is a seamstress and designer extraordinaire, and in her Thrifted Transformations video series, she takes thrift store clothes (often outdated and ill-fitting) and transforms them into stylish designs.

What is the style?

The videos start with an introduction from April, explaining the thrifted transformation we’re about to see. The rest of the video features a time-lapse of the sewing process with a voiceover from April explaining the steps. We get before and after shots at the end.

What I like about the videos?

Though the projects are probably pretty complicated and require some skill, April walks through the process in a way that’s easy to follow and not overwhelming. I like how she will be honest about the mistakes she has made throughout the process or things she would do differently if she were to do it again, bringing us along on her journey. The transformations are inspiring and also get my own creative juices flowing. The filming process seems pretty simple with just a few basic set-ups, but with the editing choices, the videos are still engaging.

NativLang

What are the videos about?

Josh is a language fanatic who creates educational videos about the history of languages and interesting linguistics facts.

What is the style?

These videos are actually animated, often with a mix of still images and animated characters. Josh provides the voiceover. He’ll often include an anecdote of his own personal connection to the subject of the video.

What I like about the videos?

The videos are pretty light-hearted and include humor, while still providing really interesting facts and historical background. I like that the host often talks about his own personal connection to the topic of each video.

My takeaways

There are many other YouTube channels that I follow (special shout-out to Dr. Pimple Popper and Naio Nails) but I figure this was a good mix. The list was varied but there are definitely common elements that I’d love to incorporate in my own content:

  • Authentic voice and genuine personality
  • Humor
  • Connection with the online community
  • Tips or creative inspiration

I think my next steps will be to create a few videos myself, either centered around local food places or crafting projects. I can test out what types of shooting styles work for me, what content topics are fruitful enough for a whole series of videos, and how I can best incorporate my favorite elements from the video series that I follow.

Web Developer

Update: freeCodeCamp & Web Dev

Since my initial blog post on freeCodeCamp and my early explorations of web development, I’ve completed the first certification area of courses and a couple of the sample coding projects which wrap up each certification.

The sample projects take the various coding lessons you’ve learned in that respective certification area and have you combine them to produce a single page, such as a survey form. They provide an objective for the page, as well as a list of user stories (i.e. requirements). Here’s an example:


Instructions for sample coding project

They also provide a test environment — CodePen — for you to input your code and generate the sample page. Once you think you’ve completed the assignment, you can run a test to see if you’ve met all the requirements.

Codepen testing environment

Thoughts on freeCodeCamp

Working on the sample projects has been an interesting test of how much knowledge I actually retained from the lessons. The answer: not a lot. For many of the user stories, I had to go back to the respective lesson or look at the code of sample page they provided to remind myself how a certain tag or element needed to be formatted.

However, a lot of the web developers I’ve worked with in the past have told me that much of their job requires looking up how do something in the code. And, as with anything you learn, repetition is probably the key to retention.

I do have few small gripes with the sample projects.

First, sometimes the user stories include instructions that don’t match how that element was taught in the lessons. Take, for example, this requirement from the Survey Form sample project:

Survey form coding project requirement for adding checkboxes

In the lesson about radio buttons, there was no mention about “values”:

survey form checkboxes html code

In fact, I didn’t remember learning about values at all, so had to do some searching.

Similarly, there were some user stories that were not covered in the lessons at all, such as this one around HTML5 validation errors:

Survery coding project requirement for HTML validation error

And lastly, I did run into at least one instance where the user story did not fully outline all the requirements for that element. For example, this user story on radio buttons just mentioned needing to include a name attribute:

Survey form coding project requirement for adding radio buttons

However, when I ran the final test, I got an error telling me that the radio button tags needed a value attribute:

Error message for the survey form coding project

In general, if you are focused on just completing the bare minimum to meet the requirements, each sample coding project doesn’t take too long. However, if you are interested in really building out the CSS to make the page look nicer and add to your portfolio, you could definitely find yourself spending a few hours on each project.

Thoughts on web development

The sample coding projects — which better represent the work of a web developer — were much more of a slog to get through compared to the lessons. I’m not sure if it was the way the assignment was presented (just a bullet point of requirements) or the fact that I knew these were fake pages, but I didn’t find myself very energized by the work.

I do want to see this exploration through a little longer. I think it will be helpful to work on a real assignment to see if I’m more motivated when building something that will actually be used (like finally creating that acting website for myself that I’ve been meaning to set up for years).

However, doubt has started to creep in, and I’m wondering whether or not web development really satisfies that creative outlet I’m looking for in my work.

Video Producer

Lights, Camera, Christmas!

Photo by Dawn Cates.

What do you get when you combine a musical, Priscilla the hypnotherapist, a food container, and a snide “It’s never done that way”? A 7-minute movie musical about a bickering family coming together on Christmas Eve, of course!

This past weekend, I was involved in a 48-hour film project. Well, technically this competition was 77 hours, but it’s still part of the 48 Hour Film Project franchise.

Laura looking at film camera
My friend and director, Christian, teaches me about setting focus. Photo by Dawn Cates.

These one-weekend film competitions take place in cities all over the world. However, this past weekend was the Four Points Film Project, the online-only competition with global entries.

How does it work?

When you register to compete in a 48-hour film project, your team receives certain requirements the Friday evening of competition weekend, which you need to include in your film:

  • Two film genres (you need to select at least one)
  • A character
  • A prop
  • A line of dialogue

Typically, teams will use Friday evening to write their scripts, confirm their actors, gather props and costumes and set up their schedule for the next day. Then, Saturday is the actual day for shooting, leaving Sunday to edit the film.

Winners of each competition get their films screened at an event called Filmapalooza, and the top films from that event get screened at Cannes!

So, what’s with the Christmas Eve musical?

My husband and I volunteered to be writers for my friend’s team – myself focusing on the story, with Ryan writing the dialogue. And because I want to know more about the filmmaking process, I was also slated to help out with the actual film shoot.

As luck would have it (or lack there of), the two genres our team got were Musical and Coming of Age. Now, I need to blame myself a little for jinxing our team. Leading up to the competition, I kept joking that I hoped we would get Musical as a genre because I love musicals so much. Now, this was a joke, of course, because trying to compose, write and film a musical in one weekend is incredibly difficult (more on that later). And when our director asked me what genre I really did NOT want, I said Coming of Age because none of the actors we had lined up were the right age for that kind of story line.

So, yes, here we were with two difficult genres. But with a little ingenuity, A LOT of brainstorming, and the godsend of royalty-free music, we were able to settle on a holiday movie musical.

The other requirements:

  • Character: Priscilla Powanda, a hypnotherapist
  • Prop: a food container
  • Dialogue: “It’s never done that way”

Writing lyrics at 1 am

Teams receive their prompts on Friday at 7 pm. We spent a lot of time brainstorming and looking at the resources we had available before we could even settle on Musical as our genre. Then, it was time to flesh out the story, which the director and I tackled. It was 10 pm before we had that done and Ryan could even start drafting the script.

While Ryan worked on the spoken dialogue, the director and I worked on the musical numbers. We found royalty-free music on Incompetech, selecting the scores that best matched the feeling of each song. Then, it was time to write the lyrics, which took MUCH longer than I expected — partly because we selected some pretty difficult music and partly because I’m a perfectionist (maybe not the best thing to be when you have limited time).

Song lyrics in notebook.
First draft of the lyrics for the opening number.

A little before 2 a.m. I was just finishing up the last the of lyrics, and then I quickly (and quietly) recorded a sample of the opening song, which the actors could use as a reference.

14-hour film shoot

I arrived on set (the director’s house) at 10:30 am after a fitful and short night of sleep, but full of adrenaline and ready to go. The first task was transforming the house into a holiday wonderland ready for a Christmas Eve dinner.

It’s easy to underestimate how much time set-dressing takes. There are all the little details you don’t think of — getting rid of the clutter on the shelf in the background that could be distracting or making sure the stockings have the characters names on them.

Laura painting names on stockings
Putting those crafting skills to good use! Photo by Dawn Cates.

After some quick consultation on the song recording, I helped take the lead on the set dressing. It required a lot of work and attention to detail … and I loved it! It’s no wonder I have interior design on my list of the careers to explore.

Once, we got to actual filming, I did the slate and took notes for each shot. Yes, I did get to say things like “Christmas Musical, Scene 4A, Take 2.”

Laura slates the next take.
It’s all about the digital clapboard. Photo by Dawn Cates.

And because I’m just a teensy bit bossy, I also butted in a little and gave recommendations here and there on shots. Luckily, the director is a very patient and understanding friend.

We began filming around 2:30 p.m. and finished just before midnight. It was a long, grueling day but quite the experience!

Thoughts

I really love the energy of being on a film set — everyone pulling together and pitching in where they can.

Writing was fun, but I think I’d enjoy it more if I was on less of a time crunch. Also, I realized that I’m much more familiar with theater where your script is almost all dialogue, while with film/TV you can have a lot of unspoken moments and you don’t necessarily need to pack the pages with dialogue (unless you’re Amy Sherman-Palladino or Aaron Sorkin).

This was the first time, I did set-dressing, which, as I mentioned before, I really enjoyed! I would definitely be interested in doing that more.

Because of the frenzied timeline of this shoot, I didn’t have the opportunity to learn all that much about actual filming — setting up shots, working the camera — so I’ll be looking to get more of that experience in the future.

I’ve actually had a story in mind for a short film, so I may need to get that script complete and then try my hand at directing …

In the meantime, please enjoy our final film, Four-Part Holiday, and wish us luck on the competition!

Content Creator

So You Want to Be a Podcast Producer

A couple of months ago, my husband, Ryan, got tapped by a couple of friends of ours to provide his audio recording expertise to a podcast they were putting together. A healthy mix of alcohol-fueled film discussion and humor, the podcast sounded right up my alley.

“Hey, maybe I can be their producer,” I said in passing.

Well, when Ryan went to go help them record their first episode as their inaugural guest-host, he passed along my suggestion. And our friends enthusiastically agreed!

Oh, ok. I guess I should figure out what a podcast producer actually does …

Luckily, these days, you can learn how to do almost anything on the internet. A quick Google search for “what does a podcast producer do” netted numerous articles. I found this article from Podcast Engineers particularly helpful.

The answer? A little bit of everything.

Ok, so maybe the real question was: “What can I offer as a podcast producer?”

Creating my role

The beauty of offering my services … for free … for a couple of friends, is that I could be pretty flexible in my definition of a ‘podcast producer’ and really build the role around my own strengths.

Before I even met with my friends to discuss my involvement, I reflected on what I thought I could bring to the project and what I’d actually enjoy doing. Through my past jobs, I have a lot of project management experience, and I love making to-do lists (and more importantly, crossing things off said to-do lists). I also have a talent for breaking things down into little steps, delegating to others and creating schedules (as anyone involved in my wedding-planning can attest to).

Essentially, I know how to get shit done. Bingo! I could be the official taskmaster.

With this in mind, I reached out to my friends and gave them a proposal of what my involvement would look like. I think this is key for anyone looking to get experience through volunteering. Don’t just say “I want to learn. How can I help?” Take a little extra time to think about what exactly you want to learn, and reflect on your own skills and experience to propose how you can help.

Just call me the Project Management Queen

I had a basic understanding of what was required to create and launch a podcast. And what I didn’t know, I turned to the internet once again. I outlined the entire process in document that I shared with the podcast team before our first chat.

From there, it was a matter of identifying what items we should tackle first. They already recorded a test episode so they had a pretty good idea on the format. And they even had a list of people volunteering to be guest-hosts for their other episodes.

But there is still a lot left on the to-do list:

  • Obtaining better equipment and recording software
  • Securing a recording location
  • Selecting and scheduling guest hosts
  • Recording additional episodes
  • Selecting where to host podcasts
  • Creating artwork
  • Setting up online presence (website, social media)
  • Putting together a promotion strategy
  • Budgeting

And, of course, there are sub-tasks within all of these items. It can seem like a lot. Luckily, as I mentioned before, I have a talent for breaking down priorities.

The team wants to record at least four episodes before they launch. So, I told them that we should just focus on those tasks related to recording, leaving the tasks relating to launch the podcast for later.

Suddenly, the immediate to-do list is much smaller and more manageable.

Finding the right project management tool

Now, that I’m getting the team organized, assigning tasks and setting up a regular schedule to get through to-do list items, I figured it was time to start using a proper project management tool.

There are a lot of free tools out there, and it can be hard to know which one to use. I thought about what I needed to get out of a project management tool:

  • Can have multiple users on one project
  • Can set up and assign tasks
  • Includes a calendar tool
  • There is an easy way to view progress on various aspects of the project

With that wish list in mind, I set out to search for free tools. From my initial research, I ended up identifying a few possible contenders:

  • Asana: Very popular tool that is really easy to use and intuitive.
  • Google Sheets: The set up is a lot more manual, but we are using Google docs to house our notes, and I like the idea of using one system for project management and notes.
  • Trello: I’ve known a number of people who use this tool. Is a very visual project management tool.

Since all of these tools have a free plan, instead of poring over reviews, I decided to just start setting up the project plan in each tool and see for myself which one best fit our needs.

Asana

Sample project plan in Asana
Asana – clean and streamlined. Easy to create tasks and assignments but no good visualizations of progress in the free version.

It was close to impossible to get straight to the free version of Asana. They keep pushing you to sign up for the free trial of the premium version. After creating your account, you can get to the free version by quitting the step where they ask for your credit card info.

Once there, it’s pretty simple to create your tasks. Sections can act as project categories, with tasks underneath. You can easily assign people to tasks and set due dates. I like how you can check off tasks when they are complete. One drawback is the free version doesn’t provide good visualizations of progress.

Google Sheets

Sample project in Google Sheets
Using Google Sheets for your project planning provides a lot of flexibility in you columns labels but requires a lot of manual set-up.

With Google Sheets, you are essentially using a spreadsheet to set up your to-do list. You can utilize columns to designate task name, assignee, due date, progress and any other information you need. You can add notes to individual cells, create drop-down menus and use conditional formatting to highlight tasks.

It’s very manual to set up and pretty visually plain. Initial input is pretty quick and easy, but formatting it takes a little longer. I feel like it would take a lot of conditional formatting and sort to get the various views you’d want to see.

Trello

Sample project in Trello
Trello is a highly visual project tool. No way to technically assign tasks or check them off, but there are work-arounds. You can easily drag cards between column to track progress.

Trello is a very visual project management tool. You create different columns of to-do lists with what they call “cards” acting as tasks within each column. And within each card, you can add sub-tasks/to-do lists. You can apply colored labels to each task to designate the category and/or set each column as a different category. You can easy drag cards from one column to another; so if you set columns by progress, you can quickly get a visualization of the status of each task

There is no way to actually assign someone to a card; rather, you add members to a card. I guess one work-around is just setting a rule with your team that if you are added as a member, you are assigned to that task. At first I saw this as a drawback, but it’s actually helpful if you have tasks that are assigned to more than one person (as I do for this project).

One thing I don’t like is that you can’t actually check off a task as complete. Rather, you can create a column for “Completed” tasks and/or archive them.

The verdict

After doing an initial set up in all three systems, I’m thinking Trello will be the best tool, at least for initial launch. I liked the visualization the best and how you can each drag cards from one column to another, making it easy to track progress.

Next step is to build out the entire project plan and share with the team. It’ll be interesting to get experience as a producer working within a larger creative team rather than acting as a solo, independent content creator.

One thing I’m liking already is that you have support from other rather than having every little thing resting on your shoulders. And with this group, I’ve still had the opportunity to have a creative voice, giving my own thoughts and recommendation on their episode format.

Keep your eyes out for the launch of Shot4Shot podcast in the next few months!

Content Creator

Early Thoughts: Content Creation

Writing about my sabbatical through this blog has not only helped me document the experience, but it has also doubled as a light exploration into one of my career areas: content creation.

Now, content creation is a pretty broad field that spans many different types of media (blogs, videos, podcasts, etc.), and even different types of positions (e.g. independent content creator, producer, content marketing manager).

And some of you who are familiar with my career might be asking — Wait, wasn’t your most recent job centered around creating content?

Well, when I added this to my career exploration list, I was mostly inspired by my favorite YouTube channels, and, thus, focused on learning about being an independent content creator. The idea of being able to have complete control over the content themes, topics, format, and style — not to mention being able to write or speak in my own voice rather than some company’s voice — is really appealing to me.

Blogging lessons so far

Though I do not dedicate my full time to this blog, it is a form of independent content creation, which has already netted some learnings:

1) Preparing a post takes more time than you think

With this blog primarily acting as a documentation of my sabbatical, I initially thought I’d be able to draft each post in no time! I would be thinking and reflecting on all this career exploration work I’m doing anyway, so the words should just flow out, right?

Of course, it doesn’t exactly work that way. At least not for me. Thoughts are jumbled, disorganized, sometimes fractured. Transferring those reflections and ruminations into an organized written post that makes sense for an outside reader really does take effort and time, not to mention a lot of “R” tasks — reading, rewording, rereading, revising, rearranging.

And the more time I dedicate to writing these posts, the less time I have to do the actual career exploration work I’m supposed to be documenting through this blog. Which leads be to my next point …

2) You have to find the schedule and frequency that works for you

When I first launched my blog, I imagined posting at least three times a week, on the same days each week.

I released my first post on a Tuesday and was ready to go with a second post on Thursday. Saturday came around and … nothing. No post. My schedule had filled up. I didn’t have the time to get anything written.

No worries, I thought, let’s try this again the next week. This time, I started the week with my first post on Monday, thinking I’d switch to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. People seemed to have more time to read during the week when they needed a little break from work, so this should be a better schedule.

I started that week with a long post on Monday. Of course, in order to get that post out on Monday, I had to draft it over the weekend. And then Wednesday snuck up on me, and I scrambled that morning to get a short post out. And when Friday arrived … nothing. Once again, I didn’t have the time.

I had started out with this idea that I needed to post three times a week because, for some reason, that seemed like an ideal number. But the reality is my schedule better allows for just two posts a week. And that’s ok! As for the schedule, I find it better to have my first post of the week be on Tuesday rather than Monday, so that I have Monday to get my thoughts together.

3) Having a bank of content ideas saves time

Leading up to the launch of my blog, I had a good idea of what I wanted my first three posts to be, which made writing them really easy. Because I had these topics selected well ahead of actually drafting them, I had a lot of time to think about them and what I’d say, even before I got to the writing stage.

After those initial posts, I didn’t have that many blog post ideas on my list, as I assumed that my career exploration activities would naturally surface a steady flow of topics. But since my that exploration work has not been as robust and varied as I originally planned, my well of blog topics has quickly run dry.

And this, in turn, makes writing each post more arduous and time-consuming. Not only do I need to spend extra time brainstorming what I should write about, but since I’m choosing these blog topics last minute, I’m missing that early time to think about what I’ll include in the post.

I think I’ll take some time this week just dedicated to brainstorming new post topic ideas.

4) Trust your authentic voice

When I was preparing to create and launch this blog, I knew my first post would be the big announcement of my sabbatical and this career exploration journey I was about to embark on. I imagined the post being very upbeat and optimistic and inspirational.

However, when I sat down to write the post, I felt compelled to first give context around what led me to this decision to take a sabbatical. And suddenly, the post was heavier, more serious, and even a little dark.

But it felt a lot more honest, more authentic. I was worried it might put some people off, but I knew I’d be able to defend the post because the words so genuinely reflected my feelings and experience.

And the result? When I shared that first post, I received an outpouring of support. I had numerous people reach out to me expressing that the post really spoke to them and that they had been feeling a lot of the same pressures and dissatisfaction that I had.

Further exploration

I want to deepen my exploration of the content creation arena, but it’s hard to know the best way to tackle that.

I know I need to break this down into both (a) understanding what is takes to actually create the content and (b) determining how to monetize this content (in the case of being an independent content creator).

I’ll likely start by exploring the former, getting an understanding of what goes into creating a blog or a video or a podcast. I can compare working on different media and see if I enjoy one format over the other. It should also give me a better understanding of the time needed for each media and format.

It will also be good to explore different roles within the content creation process. I have the opportunity to act as a producer for a podcast being launched by a couple of friends. It’ll be interesting to see how much I enjoy working as part of a larger content team, focusing on one aspect of the creation process vs. being an independent content creator, where I control pretty much everything.

What I find interesting about being a content creator, particularly an independent content creator, is that it can naturally pair will a lot of the other careers on my list. For example, I can create a video series (Video Producer) on giving new life to old, beat up furniture pieces (Furniture Upcycler).

It seems like the wild, wild west out there. A lot of ways to tackle this. A lot of competition for attention. But as I said in my first post, sometimes you just have to start by starting!

Web Developer

Initial Thoughts: freeCodeCamp

The first career I’ve decided to explore is web development. Aside from acting, it’s the career on my list that I have the most experience with. As I mentioned in my previous post, I taught myself HTML a while back and have had an opportunity to actually use it a bit in my jobs.

Luckily, there are a lot of resources available to learn web development. For the last week and a half, I’ve been going through the lessons on freeCodeCamp. True to its name, this website offers thousands of small coding lessons 100% free.

The curriculum

Free Code Camp offers six overarching areas of study, or certification topics:

Certifications or areas of study on Free Code Camp
Six areas of study (or certifications) are available.

Each area of study is broken down into units:

Certifications on Free Code Camp are broken down into units
The number of units range from 2 to 9 for each certification topic.

 

The units can have as few as five lessons to upward of 60 lessons. Now, that may seem overwhelming, but the lessons are really short and just focus on one piece of code. For example, using the u tag to underline text is one single lesson and took 1-2 minutes to complete.

The final unit in each area of study is a list of projects.

The lessons

As I noted above, each lesson focuses on one small concept or piece of code, so they are really quick to get through. The lessons include an explanation of the code, and an interactive exercise.

Sample lesson - ordered lists
Directions for the exercise are included at the bottom of each lesson. You complete the exercise in the code editor in the middle and see the effects on the sample web page on the right.

Initial thoughts

I am about halfway through the first area of study, Responsive Web Design. Even though I already knew basic HTML, I still started from the very beginning, which was actually pretty helpful because I learned some HTML5 concepts that I didn’t know about previously.

I really like how the lessons are broken down, each focusing on one simple concept. It’s also helpful to have the interactive exercise for each lesson. Typing out the code (or in some cases, copying and pasting) and seeing how it functions, helps cement the concept a little better than just reading about it.

One thing I will note, however, is that the exercises are so prescriptive that you can get through them even if you don’t 100% understand the concept. So, for example, I’m still not completely clear how a bezier curve works, but it was easy enough to follow the directions of the exercise and copy and paste the code in order to pass the lesson. However, if I needed to create a specific speed and path of an animated movement using a bezier curve, I don’t think I’d know where to start. So for some lessons, I may need to do outside research to really understand the concept

Sample lesson - bezier curves
Huh? Some lessons include concepts that are a little more difficult to understand, but the exercises are still easy to complete.

 

The lessons and exercises are pretty easy to get through, but I have questioned whether or not I’ve actually retained the information in a way that I could complete a full project which requires the use of multiple concepts combined together. That’s why I’m glad each area of study ends with a unit of sample projects. I’m looking forward to getting to that section.

I would definitely recommend freeCodeCamp for anyone who is looking to just get a little taste of web development. It’s free and easy to get through, so the only cost is time.

Reflections

I’ve enjoyed going through these lessons, but I think it’ll take completing a full web project or two to determine whether or not I’d find this type of work fulfilling. So far, I really enjoyed the CSS unit and things to do with styling, which I guess speaks to my artistic background.

I can’t wait to get a good baseline of knowledge and test out my skills with a real project. Maybe I’ll finally set up my acting website …

I’ll report back when I’ve gotten through all the freeCodeCamp curriculum.

Career Exploration

The List

Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.

Winston Churchill

This quote can seem perplexing upon first read. What’s the use of planning if you think plans are of little importance? But the observation really speaks to something I noted in my previous postthe plan will change. Plans are of little importance because they will never go exactly as … well, planned. But planning is essential because it lies the foundation that allows you to quickly pivot when you do hit that unexpected curve in the road.

And while at first this concept can seem frustrating, it’s actually quite liberating. It means I can have a basic direction but be perfectly comfortable when the path bends a way I didn’t expect.

So, I’d like to think that my outline below is not necessarily a plan but rather a reflection of the planning. It’s the foundation upon which I will venture into new territories, while taking the surprise twists and turns in stride.

Video Producer

Why it interests me?

I like the idea of being able to work on a creative project from inception through final product, managing both the vision and the execution. The type of work is a good mix of flexing your creative muscles but also relying on being very organized and structured. I’m also drawn to storytelling, and I like that as a video producer, I would have a lot of creative control.

Just need a beret, and I’m set!

How will I explore?

  • Paid classes & workshops
  • Short films
  • Free or contract video projects
  • Interview people working as a video producer

Resources

Web Developer

Why it interests me?

In one of my first jobs, I worked at a nonprofit where we did a complete website overhaul. I wanted to know more about being able to set up pages myself, so I taught myself basic HTML. At my next job at an email marketing agency, I actually got to put those skills to the test – whenever our web developers were overloaded with work, I’d do the basic HTML set-up myself.

With web development, I like the idea that typing in a little code in one place, transforms the web page on the other end. I also like that a lot of times web development involves figuring out solutions — almost like cracking a case. Why isn’t that working the way I think it should?  What would be the best way to set this up?

Does watching Hackers on repeat count?

How will I explore?

  • Talk to web developers
  • Online training/learning
  • Bootcamps
  • Building/managing websites for free

Resources

Content Creator

Why it interests me?

When I put this one on my list, I was really referring to being an independent content creator. I love the idea of being able to talk or write about my passions – food, travel, creative projects. For years, I’ve thought about starting a blog or my own YouTube channel. Enough with thinking; time to start doing!

An Instagram-worthy workspace is a requirement of any good blogger.

How will I explore?

  • This blog documenting my sabbatical journey
  • Food video series
  • Submitting articles to sites that allow contributor content

Resources

Furniture Upcycler

Why it interests me?

I’ve watched way too many episodes of Flea Market Flip.

No, but really, I love the idea of giving things a new life. Transformation. I also like the idea of being able to work with my hands and be creative.

This is where you learn that you can convert anything into a bar cart.

How will I explore?

  • Free (or close to free projects): work with existing furniture or found furniture
  • Commissioned pieces
  • Booth at a flea market
  • Courses – upholstery, woodworking

Resources

Real Estate Agent

Why it interests me?

I like the idea of helping people find the right home. I think I have a talent for listening to people’s needs, translating them and finding the perfect solutions, product, etc. I also like that it seems like you could have a pretty independent work life.

I will need to practice the perfect key-handing-over pose.

How will I explore?

  • Talk to/shadow real estate agents
  • Read articles about becoming a real estate agent

Resources

Interior Designer

Why it interests me?

Creativity abounds! I like the idea of getting to work on distinct projects, so the work is always fresh and new. I also love the idea of getting to be creative and innovative. And to be honest, years of watching HGTV shows has finally gotten to me.

Mood boards and swatches and tiles, oh my!

How will I explore?

  • Interview people who’ve gotten into interior design
  • Free work/projects
  • Classes

Resources

Major Gifts Officer

Why it interests me?

The success of a major gifts officer lies in building relationships with big donors. I used to work in sales, and my favorite part was getting to know my clients on a personal level, socializing with them at conferences, and strengthening that relationship. In this line of work, you get to drive to the core of a donor’s passions.

“But, you see, it’s not every donor that would have the vision to name a bathroom …”

How will I explore?

  • Talk to/shadow major gifts officers
  • Volunteer

Resources

Theater Executive Director

Why it interests me?

Anyone who knows me, knows I love the theater. And I’ve been an actor for years. But beyond being onstage, there’s the thrill of telling a story, creating something new, and delighting audiences. I also really like managing things and being the leader. I think as an Executive Director, rather than the Artistic Director, I would get a healthy mix of the creative side and the organization side.

I hope to be a little more effective in filling up the house than this guy.

How will I explore?

  • Interview theater Executive Directors
  • Volunteer for duties that an Executive Director often does

Resources

Actor

Why it interests me?

Funny enough, this one was actually not on my original sabbatical list, even though this is the one career that I’ve said I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid. Yes, even as a painfully shy child, I said I wanted to be an actor because I loved the idea of getting to be different people and playing make-believe. I think I left it off the list because I was scared what would happen to this activity that I love so much, if I added the stress of actually needing to make an income from it. And I may very well not be able to make a living doing this (especially in the Bay Area), but it doesn’t hurt to try!

My career as an actor can be defined by my ridiculous facial expressions in production photos.

How will I explore?

  • Talking to people who are doing acting on a professional basis
  • Researching non-theater paying acting gigs

Resources

 

So, that’s where I’m going to start! It’s a rough blueprint. I’ve sketched out my initial ideas, but I welcome any suggestions of other resources I should add to my exploration toolkit. Leave a comment if you have any recommendations!


In case you missed it, check out why I’ve decided to embark on this new career exploration and the overview of my sabbatical plan.