Content Creator, Podcast Producer

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!

Career Exploration, Reflections

Year-End Review

It's been a busy year!

With 2018 coming to a close, it seemed like a good time to look back on the first 2 ½ months of my sabbatical and reflect on what I’ve experienced and learned.

This fall, I mainly focused on careers related to the online and digital space:

  • Web Developer
  • Video Producer
  • Content Creator

My exploration was mainly self-led, relying on free online resources, as well as training from friends. I enjoyed having the flexibility to own my schedule and to jump between the different career areas. However, I did find there were certain weeks where I wasn’t as productive as I’d hoped.

Here are some highlights:

Web Development

I started my sabbatical exploring web development, through FreeCodeCamp, a website with free online lessons. I breezed through the lessons, enjoying the interactive element to each lesson.

I completed all of the lessons in the Responsive Web Design certification area. However, when it came to the sample projects, I had a hard time getting through them. I found I hadn’t retained that much information and constantly had to go look up how to do things. But more than that, I just didn’t find the projects very fulfilling to work on. I found myself just doing the bare minimum requirements to get the project done and wasn’t inspired to go above and beyond with set-up or styling.

I do think it’s useful to have basic web development knowledge, and I could see myself doing some part-time web development work. However, I don’t think I would get enough creative fulfillment out of being a fulltime web developer.

Video Producer

I had the chance to work on a film shoot, as well as try my hand as producing my own video. I also got a great filmmaking 101 lesson, where I learned everything from pre-production and planning to using a camera and editing.

It’s been interesting — and at times surprising — to see which elements of the video production process I’ve particularly enjoyed. For example, I found that I have a talent for and really like script-writing; since the Four Points Film Project (for which I helped write lyrics), I’ve written two short-film scripts. I also loved set dressing, which I suppose shouldn’t have been that surprising since I do have interior design as a career area of interest.

I definitely need more hands-on experience, and I’m excited to continue to explore video production, even if it ends up being just a hobby. My next steps here are to continue to get more production experience and to build up a portfolio.

Content Creation

This has been the area of career exploration that has been the most varied because there are so many different outlets and media for content creation.

When I first listed this career, I was focused on video content creation, so obviously there’s a huge overlap with my exploration into being a video producer. I analyzed my favorite YouTube channels, picking out elements that I particularly liked and would want to include in my own videos. I even started working on my very own video, which is currently on hold as I wait to upgrade the storage on my computer so that I can start editing. And I’ve created a plan for a whole series of food-related videos, the first of which I’ll be shooting this weekend.

I also worked on a content medium I didn’t expect to when I first started this journey – podcasting. After volunteering to help a couple of friends produce their new movie-themed podcast, I learned a lot about putting together and managing a project plan for the podcast launch. In fact, we are recording our first episodes starting in January, aiming for a launch around the Oscars. I’ve really enjoyed working with a team on this creative project.

Finally, I’ve kept up this blog! I’m proud that I’ve been able to regularly post two times each week. There have definitely been a lot of learnings and a lot that I could do better. But at the very least, I’ve reaffirmed how much I really do enjoy writing, when it’s a topic I’m passionate about.

Even if I don’t end up being a fulltime, paid content creator, I think this will be an element or at least a side project of any career I pursue. For example, if I end of being an interior designer, I could see myself also having a blog or video series about home decor and design tips.

What’s Next?

I will continue to explore video production and content creation because, as I mentioned above, even if those don’t end up being careers, they are hobbies I really enjoy.

However, this winter, I see myself shifting into the home-related careers:

  • Interior Designer
  • Furniture Upcycler
  • Real Estate Agent

I’ve signed up for a couple of courses through Cañada College’s Interior Design Certificate Program, and I’ll be starting classes in mid-January. I’m excited to go back to school again! This will be a much more structured approach to career exploration, and I’m interested to see if I get more out of it.

For furniture upcycler, I’ll probably try my hand at giving new life to existing pieces we have or free furniture we find. I think this could also be a good overlap with video production and/or content creation, as I can create a video or write a blog about the upcycling process.

I’ll need to do a little research about the best way to get a taste of the real estate world. This may be a career area where interviewing people in the field could be the most fruitful first step.

And that’s actually a good segue for another big sabbatical goal in 2019: connect with and interview more people who work in the various career areas I’m interested in.

It’s been a great first few months. I’ve learned a lot — not just about the careers I’m exploring, but also about what I really want to prioritize in life and what fulfills me. I’m excited to continue this journey in the new year!

Actor, Video Producer

The Other Side of the Camera

For the last couple of months, I’ve been doing a lot of exploration into video production: planning a shoot, learning about the different equipment needed, editing the video. I’ve even had the opportunity to work on a full film shoot and try my hand at putting together my own video content.

Well, this past Sunday I found myself in another position – in front of the camera. I booked a small acting gig filming a training video to be used by the Stanford School of Law. I played a woman being interviewed for a job.

When you think about pursuing acting as a career, you probably think of three major outlets: feature film, television or theater. But in many cities — especially the Bay Area — there is a lot of opportunity for corporate or training videos.

About the gig

The process of booking this job was pretty easy. I’m a member of a number of Facebook groups where auditions are posted. These are mostly theater auditions, but you’ll occasionally see film auditions, as well. It was in one of these groups, that I saw a post about this video.

From there, I emailed the contact with my headshot and resume; eventually, it would be good to put together a reel of my on-screen work.

About a week later, the contact from the video production team reached out to those actors they were interested in with a script and asked us to film ourselves saying the lines so that the client (in this case, Stanford School of Law) could review and choose who they’d like cast. I’ve been on the other side of this when I helped manage some video production at Facebook; I remember listening to submissions for voiceover artists and choosing my favorites.

And then, a week after that video audition, I learned I was cast!

It was a short, two-page script, and it only required about 2.5 hours of my time. It paid $200, which is a decent rate. I’m not sure if these type of gigs pop up enough to make a full living from it, but it’s a good way to make some extra cash and could pair well with another part-time job.

Pursuing future gigs

I want to research more outlets for finding these types of video gigs. I’ll explore more Facebook groups for free postings. I know there is also SF Casting, which requires a paid membership.

It’s also good just to network and keep in contact with people you’ve worked with before. For this video shoot, the production team was really impressed with me (for most of my shots, we only had to do one take). I told them to keep in touch and let me know if they work on future videos where I might fit one of the roles.

I also want to set up my website and put together a reel, which will help when submitting myself for castings.

Learning more about video production

Though I was there as an actor, it was interesting doing a little reconnaissance from the video production standpoint. It was a pretty small production team — just three people. In addition to the shoot, the team was also in charge of putting together the script and working with the client to get approval. And I saw that they had also created storyboards, which I assume they also reviewed with the client.

For the equipment, they just had a DSLR camera with tripod (and different lenses), a shotgun mic hooked up to a recorder, and a couple of box lights. The cost of equipment does seem to be a barrier when starting your own video production company, so it was comforting to see that they were working with equipment that isn’t too expensive.

It was nice that this gig allowed me to explore two of the careers on my list — actor and video producer. Maybe my future path will see me on both sides of the camera!

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!


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


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.


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.

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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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!


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, Podcast Producer

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.


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.


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!