When it comes to personal development, there are some things you work on where progress is slow. Day-to-day, it’s hard to notice any significant changes or improvements. It usually takes a sudden reality check to realize just how far you’ve come:
Fitting in that dress you haven’t worn since college after a slow weight loss journey.
Discovering you’re more fluent than you thought when a foreign tourist asks for directions.
I had one of those “aha!’ moments recently for one of my career exploration areas: video production.
Now, I’ve talked about video a lot on this blog. From getting a crash course on the medium to working on some film sets. And even the many times I’ve attempted (and failed) to put together my own videos.
A few months ago, I was finally successful in seeing a video production project through to the end when I put together some Hawaiian language lesson videos and launched my own YouTube channel, Ke Aloha no Hawai‘i. It felt great to have an actual finished product. And as of the date I’m posting this blog, I have successfully produced and published close to twenty videos for that channel!
Now, I’ve kept the videos relatively simple — that was the key to actually completing them. And in fact, over the weeks, I have simplified my videos more and more to make the process more efficient.
So, while it feels like an accomplishment just to get something done, it was hard to feel like my video production skills were improving in any significant way.
That was, until last week.
Last Wednesday, my son turned 9 ¾ months old. A while back, someone in my mom’s group on Facebook had posted a video of her baby doing a Harry Potter sorting ceremony when they turned 9 ¾ months old. The mom had gotten pajamas for each Hogwarts house and then filmed her baby crawling to one of the sets to choose their house.
Such a cute idea!
Of course, me being the overachiever that I am, I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with just a simple home movie. I wanted close-up shots and b-roll. Titles cards and music.
So, using the skills I’ve learned along the way, I started with planning. In the weeks leading up to the day, I slowly obtained any props and set decor I needed. I also started brainstorming what shots I’d need.
The night before, I dressed the set — Harry Potter themed backdrop, Hogwarts banners and, of course, the house onesies. I also wrote out my shot list and made the Keynote presentation for my title cards. I did a brief storyboard in my head, so I knew exactly what I wanted to capture the next day.
The morning of filming, I started with all the b-roll footage, knowing that I’d have limited time to shoot Artie before he got impatient. I was even quick on my feet and captured unplanned shots, like when our black cat perfectly walked around the set.
Filming my son was the most difficult part, but that was to be expected, given he is a baby. And actually toward the end, he did great, and I was able to get shots in one take!
All in all, filming went smoothly and didn’t take that much time because with my shot list, I knew exactly what I wanted to capture and what order it made sense to film.
Then came editing. This was the part I thought would take quite a few hours, as I had over 30 clips plus the title cards to sort through. However, because I had already done a basic storyboard and have had some experience putting together different clips for my Hawaiian lesson videos, editing actually only took me less than an hour!
And I even gained a few new skills with this project. This was the first time I had adjusted the speed on parts of the video. And it was also the first time working with music for the entire video, adjusting the clips so that they lined up with key moments in the soundtrack.
In much less time than I anticipated, I had a video that was more polished, dynamic and complex than I thought I had the skills for. I pulled from my experience and learnings from that last two years and made a video I’m really proud of.
Check it out:
The moral of the story? I guess, sometimes you’ve come further than you realize. And maybe you just need to challenge yourself to do something you think pushes the limits of your skills, in order to really see how much you’ve achieved.
It feels like lately my career exploration has been sparse and unorganized. I don’t know if it’s because my fitness and diet goals have been taking up so much of my time. Or maybe it was my focus on the recent play I filmed. Or likely, it’s just the messed up state of the world.
Whatever, it is, I feel like I haven’t done much.
But it’s not like I’ve done nothing. I don’t think there’s ever a time when I do nothing. It seems like I don’t know how to not be busy.
So, I thought it’d be interesting to reflect on the things that filled my time when I wasn’t actively and purposefully exploring career paths:
I watched a lot of YouTube
Of all the subscription services we have — Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, etc. — I actually consume most of my video media on the one free service — YouTube.
Maybe it’s because most of the videos I watch are relatively short and, therefore, easily digestible. Or maybe it’s because of the endless variety of content you can find on the platform. Whatever it is, some days, I’ll put on an interesting video and the next thing I know, I’ve been watching videos for hours.
It has definitely reinforced how much I enjoy consuming video and particularly on the YouTube platform.
I’ve been cooking … and start filming it
As part of my work to lose weight and improve my health, I’ve done an overhaul of my diet, cutting out almost all processed foods and focusing on eating well-balanced meals. This, of course, requires me to make nearly everything I eat from scratch, which means I’ve been doing a lot of cooking.
And remember when I talked about watching a lot of YouTube … I mean, literally two paragraphs ago? Well, some of those videos have been around healthy food recipes.
So, I thought: “Well, I’m making these healthy meals anyway. Why don’t I just film myself doing it?”
It obviously added a little time to my food prep, but not too much. Learning from my past video projects, I kept things simple with minimal camera set-ups. And I plan to just do voiceover rather than narrating as I film, so I didn’t need to worry about optimizing sound as I filmed.
I haven’t started editing yet, but I’m thinking this could be a potential new YouTube channel for me, with a wider audience.
I’ve done a little job hunting
I have hopped on LinkedIn about once a week to see what type of jobs are available. Since I’m not set on which direction I want to pursue, I cast my net wide when it comes to looking for opportunities, searching keywords that cover some of the areas that I’ve enjoyed:
I’ll say that the well is pretty dry.
There aren’t really many professional podcast opportunities here in the Bay Area — I mostly see things pop up in L.A.
For video production openings, companies seemed to be looking for people who have a lot more experience than I do, specifically on large-scale shoots with all the professional equipment (understandable!). They also often are looking for candidates with a full portfolio and list of freelance production contacts.
The interior design opportunities haven’t been that interesting to me or they are looking for experienced interior designers.
The only area that has both piqued my interest and lined up with my qualifications has been writing opportunities — whether that be social media or website content.
Looking at how I’ve spent my time these past several weeks, I want to continue my work on video, understanding that it may always just be a hobby. I’d like to do an initial edit of the food footage I’ve shot in the next couple of weeks.
And I’m also going to work on putting together some resumes tailored toward the various writing opportunities I’m seeing.
For this final post, we’ll look at promoting your YouTube videos and engaging with your community of subscribers and other viewers.
Now, you can always wait for people to come across your videos in the YouTube search results. And in the previous post of this series, we talked about how using the right keywords in your video’s title and description can help people who are searching for a similar topic find your video.
But just because you’ve used similar keywords that people are searching for doesn’t mean your videos will show up at the top of search results. In fact, when I first launched my channel with my first few videos, even though I had video titles like “Learn Hawaiian grammar”, my videos were not in the top search results when I searched “Hawaiian grammar”. Even now, my videos are fourth in the search results.
That’s because keywords are not the only thing that dictates search result rankings. YouTube also uses engagement metrics like video views, likes and comments to determine the order of search results. But how can you get views if people can’t find your videos in the search results?
That’s where promotion comes in.
When I settled on the name of my YouTube channel, Ke Aloha No Hawai’i, I also set up a Facebook page, Instagram profile and Twitter account with that same name. For every video I release, I do an announcement post on those three social media channels. I also publish other social media engagement posts in between videos.
But how do I get people to see my social media posts? Well, of course, I shared my new branded social media channels with my personal network, but not many of my friends or family are interested in learning Hawaiian.
So how could I reach Hawaiian language learners?
Well, that is where hashtags — particularly in Instagram — have been extremely helpful. Here’s my first Instagram post:
Another Hawaiian language-focused Instagram account with a large community follows one of those hashtags. They checked out my videos and shared one of them with their community on Facebook, which drove people to my YouTube channel. And then, other accounts that follow that first Page also shared my video with their Facebook fans, driving even more traffic to my channel, as well as my social media accounts.
If people are watching your YouTube videos, hopefully they are leaving comments. By liking and replying to comments, you are helping to build fan loyalty. According to the YouTube Creator Academy course Use comments to connect with your community: “When you jump in, it shows your audience that you’re listening and interested in what they have to say. This can help make them feel loved, and may encourage others to write positive things.”
I try to respond to all comments on my videos within 24 hours of receiving them, giving thoughtful replies.
In my videos, I always end with a request for viewers to leave a comment below. I’ve also been testing out requesting comments earlier in my videos. For example, for some of my videos I give my viewers “homework” to practice what they’ve learned and ask them to type their practice sentences in the comments. I haven’t yet had any viewer do that, but I’ll keep trying!
Final Thoughts and Next Steps
For anyone who has been interested in starting a YouTube channel and hasn’t quite gotten around to it, I would remind them: It doesn’t need to be perfect. Start small and then build upon that.
There is still so much I want to improve and iterate on:
On the production side, I want to streamline my process for writing, filming and editing my videos. I release new videos at least once a week, and in the immediate future, I want to get to the point where I am filming multiple videos at one time so that I don’t need to go through the full production cycle each week. And then, down the road, I’ll look at upgrading my equipment and editing software. I may also explore new creative formats for my videos.
On the promotion and community management side of things, I want to expand my activities and be more proactive. I can find Hawaiian language or Hawaiian culture groups on Facebook, for example, and try to promote my videos there. I can reach out to other Hawaiian language YouTubers or organizations to see if they want to collaborate, either on a video or a promotion. I can use my comments sections of my videos to post prompts, asking people to reply.
Starting a YouTube channel was a journey. And now, maintaining and growing my YouTube channel will be a whole new adventure.
In this week’s post, I’ll go over the process of creating a YouTube account, setting up the channel and working within the YouTube Studio to upload videos and get them ready to publish.
Creating a YouTube account
Creating a YouTube account is relatively simple; you just need to enter some basic contacts information and a name for your channel.
However, choosing your channel’s name is where you need to do some early thinking about the branding for your channel. Ideally, you’ll want a name that gives viewers a sense of what your channel is about.
For me, I knew that the core videos (at least at first) would focus on Hawaiian grammar lessons. So, I initially considered straightforward names like:
However, I wanted room to expand the scope of my channel to cover Hawaiian culture, history, art, music etc. as well as my own personal connections and stories. So, I didn’t want a name that limited my channel to just language-focused videos.
I also thought about how learning the Hawaiian language was really a personal quest for me to connect more with my culture. So, I brainstormed names like:
My Hawaiian Journey
But I thought, these names could easily be mistaken for travel-related channels.
I ultimately settled on Ke Aloha no Hawai‘i, which means “love for Hawai‘i”. For me, this phrase really covered the scope of what my videos might feature and described my motivations behind learning the language. Also, for people who don’t understand enough of the language yet to know the translation, they would still easily recognize the words “Aloha” and “Hawai‘i”.
Setting up the channel
The biggest things you want to focus on when first setting up your YouTube channel is:
Channel icon (profile picture): shows up not only on your channel page but is also the icon that shows up next to any comments you make.
Channel art (page banner): the first thing visitors see when they visit your channel.
Channel description (About section): allows you to tell visitors and potential subscribers what to expect from your YouTube channel.
I kept the artwork simple with clear branding for my channel name. I looked up the size specifications and other recommendations that would allow the artwork to look good on both desktop and mobile.
Other parts of the channel set-up that are good to think about, especially once you have videos uploaded:
Featured content: Toward the top of your channel’s page, you can feature a video or playlist and differentiate the content for new visitors vs. returning subscribers. For new visitors, YouTube recommends a channel trailer; I have not yet made one, so I feature my first grammar lesson. For returning subscribers, I feature my latest video.
Sections: As people scroll down the home tab of your channel, they can see featured collections of videos. I created sections for my various playlists: Learn Hawaiian, Hawaiian Grammar, and Vlogs.
Playlists: It’s a good idea to organize your videos into playlists, especially once you have a lot of uploads. There is a whole tab section on your channel for playlists. This will help visitors to your page find the content that is most relevant to their interests.
Uploading and Publishing Videos
Videos are uploaded and published through the YouTube Studio. Be prepared to wait a while for videos to upload. My grammar lesson videos are about 10-12 minutes and anywhere from 1-2 GB, and their upload times in YouTube Studio can be about 30-45 minutes.
Title & Description
Videos need a title and description, and this is where you want to be strategic about SEO. Use keywords that your intended audience would likely use in their search. Make the beginning of your description clear and to the point. You can also include relevant links.
For the descriptions of my grammar videos, I start with a brief summary of the lesson. Under that, I include links to the earlier grammar lessons. After that, I include links to other Hawaiian language learning resources. And then I include links to the Ke Aloha no Hawai‘i social media pages.
Cards & End Screens
You can link to other videos or playlists from your channel, throughout your video (cards) and at the end (end screen).
If I reference a past lesson, I include a card that pops up during that part of the video and links to the past video I mentioned.
And for my end screen (clickable overlays that can appear at the end of your video for up to 20 seconds), I feature a subscribe button and my Hawaiian Grammar playlist.
I publish new Hawaiian grammar videos every Monday. I try to get everything uploaded and set up on Sunday. Then, I just schedule my videos to publish the next morning. That way, even my East Coast subscribers can find a new video first thing in the morning.
And that’s it! Next week, I’ll go over engaging with your community and promoting your channel.
Editing has been my big obstacle in the past, with technical limitations grinding to a halt past video projects. However, last fall, I pushed past my frustrations last, simplified my production and successfully produced my first video.
This time around, I was determined to learn from past attempts: keep it simple.
Programs & Assets
I use three main programs for editing my videos:
iPhone Photos editor: I do an initial trimming of my video clips (which I film on my iPhone) in the Photos app before transferring to my computer.
iMovie: I cut together all of my clips, transitions, and sometimes add music in this program.
Keynote: I create my text overlay in this program.
Trimming the Raw Footage
As I wrote about in my previous post on filming, I shoot my videos on my iPhone. Before transferring the clips to my computer, I edit them in the Photos app, trimming the beginning and end of the videos. I could do this on my computer in iMovie, but if there is a large section to cut, I find it easier to do on my iPhone.
After I trim the video clips and choose which takes I want to use, I Airdrop the assets to my laptop.
Creating a Rough Cut
On my laptop, I use iMovie to do the bulk of my editing. I import all of my video assets into my iMovie project and start putting the clips together. Here, I can do more precise trimming of the video clips to get the right timing.
My initial videos were designed as just one long, uninterrupted take of the entire lesson, which required less editing in iMovie. However for subsequent videos, I worked with different takes, so I had to do more splicing together of separate clips. I also will cut up a single clip into chunks and vary the crop on those in order to (a) provide more visual variety and (b) make the integration of separate clips more seamless.
During this phase, I also add in transitions and any music. I will also typically bump up the volume on the clips. For later videos, I also created and added a static end card to the last 10 seconds of my video, which allows me to add a subscribe button when I upload to YouTube.
Once the rough cut is complete, I export the video and transfer it to a separate device.
Adding the Text Overlay
The last step for my videos is to add text overlay. Because I’m teaching a language in my videos, it’s important for my viewers to be able to see the words and sentences they are learning.
While iMovie has some text overlay functionality with it ‘Titles’, I found it very limiting and didn’t fit my needs. There isn’t an ability to place the text exactly where you want nor make it move across the screen.
I needed a way for text to fade in and out and sometimes move to a different part of the screen, similar to how it might in a PowerPoint presentation. Turns out — that was the solution! Well, technically, I use Keynote, but it’s the same concept.
I create a Keynote presentation with the text and animation I want for my video. And the key — I make the slide background green. Then I record myself running the presentation. In order to make sure the text movement syncs with the video, I play the exported rough cut on another device and trigger the presentation animation along with the video. After I’m done, I export the recorded presentation as a movie.
Then I go back to iMovie and typically start another project. I import the rough cut video and my recorded Keynote presentation as media assets and sync them in iMovie. For the Keynote recording, I use the ‘Green/Blue Screen’ setting, so that only the text is shown, overlaid on my video. If the recording wasn’t completely synced, I can edit the text video and shift it slightly.
Then I export the final video! Next week, I’ll go over setting up a channel on YouTube and uploading videos.
In this multi-week blog series, I will go through my journey starting a YouTube channel. Last week, I talked about planning my content, covering everything from deciding on a theme to writing my video scripts. This week, I’ll feature my filming process.
My goal for these initial videos was to keep things simple — from using equipment I already had to choosing a single set-up format. In my past attempts to launch a YouTube channel, I had filmed videos that required a lot of different camera set-ups and lots of equipment, requiring a long shoot day (or multiple days) for a single video and leaving me with little energy by the time I got to editing.
This time around, I decided to start pretty basic. Once I become more skilled at this basic set-up, I can explore more complicated videos.
As I mentioned, I was determined to work with what I already had. Moreover, I actually opted for simpler equipment than what was fully available to me, as it would streamline the process and make editing easier. The only equipment I used to film:
iPhone 8: I used the back camera and the built-in mic.
JOBY GorillaPod: This iPhone/iPad tripod has flexible legs that allow it to grip onto other things.
Adjustable mic stand: I attached the tripod to this so I could get the camera at the exact height and angle I needed.
Natural sunlight: Instead of relying on artificial light, I opted to use sunlight. While this limited my shooting location and time, ultimately, it provided the best coverage and light quality.
In order to keep filming relatively quick and simple, I planned for videos that would just require a single camera set-up — single-shot videos with me seated, looking at the camera.
I ended up setting up against my TV. This allowed for a couple of things:
I would be facing the window and could take advantage of the natural light.
I could drape cloth over the TV for a good background (I ended up using a Hawaiian pareu).
I made sure my camera had the grid displayed and followed the ‘rule of thirds’, making sure the center of my eyes lined up in the top left intersection.
And interesting enough, I found that for the best look, I actually have to place the camera pretty high above my eye line. During filming, it seemed weird looking up into the camera so high, but on screen it looked great, with my eyes nice and open. I guess anyone who takes a lot of selfies could attest to the fact that shooting from above is the most flattering!
As I mentioned, for my first videos, I designed the shoot to just be a single take of the entire video. The idea was to keep editing pretty simple, just needing to cut out the beginning and the end.
I downloaded a teleprompter app on my iPad which uses voice recognition to advance the text so that I could have a reference for my script.
I ultimately decided to shoot some additional footage that I spliced in to give the video a little more personality. I kept the same camera set-up but did move the chair (and thus my position on screen) to provide more visual interest.
Limitations and Learnings
Throughout the process of filming these initial videos, I had a lot of great learnings and ideas to improve future shoots.
First, while I decided to use the back camera because it’s higher quality than the front-facing camera, that did make it hard to review footage in between takes. It was nearly impossible to review shots while the camera stayed in the tripod, which meant that whenever I wanted to check on a take, I had to remove the phone, look at the clip and then re-set up my shot (it was hard to not shift the tripod when taking the phone in and out of it).
Second, while my idea behind doing single-shot videos was to make the editing process easier, it made the filming process pretty difficult. With a single-shot video, if I messed up at any point, I had to stop and start from the beginning again. For subsequent videos, I decided to change the format to videos that splice together different clips, allowing me to work with alternate takes when I make a mistake.
Next, while the teleprompter app I used was pretty impressive, it ultimately didn’t work out for me. First, while it does use voice recognition to advance the script, large sections of my scripts are in Hawaiian, which the program doesn’t recognize and thus gets stuck. Secondly, it was impossible to find a good location to place my iPad where I could look at the script while keeping eye contact in the camera. I ended up having to reshoot my first two videos because I found it so distracting watching my eyes flit over to the side to look at the teleprompter. For future videos, I ended up memorizing the talking points rather than obsessing over following the exact script. Not only did this allow me to keep eye contact with the camera, but it also made the videos sound more natural and easy.
Finally, things are a lot harder when just filming by myself. While Ryan is able to help me a little with setting up the shot, I have to film alone, so Ryan can keep Artie quiet and entertained during the shoot.
As I film more and more videos, I’m sure I’ll continue to try out new techniques and, eventually, new equipment. I get more and more learnings every shoot!
Stay tuned next week when I review my editing process.
Well, I am proud to announce that today, I launched my YouTube channel, Ke Aloha no Hawai‘i! My channel will focus on Hawaiian language lessons and will be a place where I can also document my journey learning the language.
Over the next few weeks, I will give you all a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating a YouTube channel. This week, we’ll look at planning your content.
It’s start with an idea
The first step to creating a YouTube channel is asking yourself: what is my channel going to be about?
As I learned from the YouTube Creator Academy, it’s a good idea to create videos centered on something you’re passionate about. That’s one of the easiest ways to guarantee that you’ll have plenty of content ideas.
There are a lot of things that I’m really interested in, so the question was — how do I choose the best topic out of my many interests? Well, another good tip is to focus on what type of videos will be easy enough to make that you can create them regularly. So, for example, while I love DIY projects, those can be a little long to film with all of the camera angles, supplies and space needed. Instead, I focused on ideas that would allow me to create simple single-shot videos.
This left me with a few contenders:
Comedy videos where I would talk about the latest pop culture phenomena
Comedy videos featuring one of my original characters reviewing the latest TV shows and movies
Educational videos focused on the Hawaiian language
I decided I would work on a spec script for each idea to see if one idea was easier to write and plan compared to the others.
And this is where I was surprised. The Hawaiian educational video took the longest to write (as I needed to confirm I was getting all of the content correct), but it ended up being the topic I was most energized to work on.
So, I had my winner!
Planning the videos
I knew I wanted my channel to focus on Hawaiian language lessons, but where should I start?
Well, I looked online to see what was already out there. While on YouTube and other websites, you can find a lot of lessons teaching common phrases and vocabulary, it was hard to find a simple, straightforward resource on the basics of the Hawaiian grammar.
One of the recommendations from the YouTube Creator Academy was to try to fulfill a need or speak to a niche audience that is underserved on YouTube. Since I didn’t see that many grammar resources, I thought this would be a great thing to focus on and help me stand apart from other channels that teach the Hawaiian language.
Figuring I could release 1-2 lesson videos a week, I start plotting out my lesson outlines.
From here, it was time to write my content.
Writing my scripts
Starting with an outline for each video made the script-writing process very easy.
Because these are educational videos, this writing phase included a lot of research, as I needed to verify that I was explaining the concepts correctly. In fact, I took an entire week to pore over grammar textbooks and other documents before I even started writing my first script.
It was also during this phase that I thought a lot about what the tone of my videos will be. I knew I wanted them to be positive, encouraging and accessible to people of all levels.
And during the writing process, I was already thinking about how the videos would be shot, as this would affect my scripts. I knew I wanted to do videos where I am talking to the camera, with text overlaid to help illustrate the lessons. For some lessons, I would also want to cut in screenshare shots from my computer.
The writing process was interesting because in some cases I realized that a topic I had initially planned to be a single video really needed to be split up into two videos.
With my initial scripts written, it was time to shoot the videos. Be sure to check out my blog next week, where I will go through the filming process.
Almost a year and a half ago, I began this sabbatical with a pretty daunting task: to explore nine new potential career paths across varying fields, all with very different scopes of work.
Rather than creating a strict plan and schedule for this exploration, I opted instead for a more organic, flexible approach. I knew that early findings would inform later pursuits. I found that some paths — like web development — were really easy to learn and take on but ultimately not as interesting and fulfilling as I thought they would be. Other areas were energizing but with a much steeper learning curve. And in some instances, clearing certain obstacles seemed like too much of a ‘time suck’, so I ultimately decided to shelve the pursuit, to free up resources to explore something new.
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on some of these early pursuits that I left unfinished — these dreams deferred, to put it poetically. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about my exploration of video production, tied to my interest in being a YouTube creator.
In the first few months of my sabbatical, I actually did a lot of work to build my video production knowledge and skills. On the content strategy side, I analyzed some of my favorite YouTube creators and identified the aspects of their channels that were most compelling. On the production side, I received video 101 training from an experienced filmmaker.
And I even tried my hands at making my own videos, a test of what could ultimately become my own YouTube channel. Based on my interest in DIY, I first filmed a tutorial on a woodworking project. This was good practice in production planning and setting up shots. Based on how many resources were needed for the DIY projects — in terms of supplies, tools and space — I started to doubt the sustainability of these types of videos.
I quickly pivoted to a new topic that I was equally passionate about: food. I created a concept where I would feature some of my favorite, yet lesser known, restaurants. We filmed one episode, which was a lot easier and quicker than the DIY video. However, when it came to editing, my computer didn’t seem powerful enough to handle synching the video and audio nor handling the multiple media files I had to cut and splice together.
This is, ultimately, where I decided to take a break from this path. Outside of purchasing a new computer, it didn’t seem like there was a way for me to continue on.
However, months later, I revisited video creation — with a much simpler format. As an anniversary gift, I made a basic slide-show type video in iMovie with an overlay of music and narration. I worked with still images rather than video files, but it was still good practice on using video transitions, figuring out the best timing, and synching audio with the visual. And luckily, my computer had enough processing power to handle the project.
Starting from the beginning
Being stuck at home during this ‘shelter in place’ period has reminded me how powerful video and platforms like YouTube can be in connecting to a community. While we may not be together physically, we can still stay in touch digitally. And this has all motivated me to revisit my exploration of video and YouTube as a promising platform for content creation.
But I want to be mindful of what derailed me in the past — namely, I jumped into the deep end before learning how to swim. I made things too complex. I wanted things to match the production level and sophistication of my favorite YouTube creators. But ultimately, that became all too overwhelming.
So now, I want to start with the basics. Focus on the simple and doable — the MVP. Embrace the journey of learning, iterating and improving along the way.
YouTube Creator Academy
In one of my earliest blog posts, I outlined the nine careers that I wished to explore during this sabbatical and listed a few resources I might take advantage of to test out and learn more about these professional paths. For Content Creator, the YouTube Creator Academy was one such resource, so it seemed like a good place to start for this renewed exploration.
The YouTube Creator Academy is a free online learning resource that teaches the ins and outs of starting, maintaining and growing a YouTube channel. It offers various areas of instruction, including content strategy, production, and channel optimization.
As I’ve gone through the lessons, I’ve also been brainstorming what my YouTube channel would focus on. Here are some of my biggest take-aways:
Focus on your passion
When it comes to having a steady flow of inspiration and content ideas for your YouTube channel, nothing is going to help you better than making videos on something you’re passionate about.
And here’s where I start to get nervous. My passions seem to span a wide variety of things (see above about exploring nine different career paths!). And my interests can be pretty fickle and meandering. I’ll get really into learning a new language, for example, and then shift my focus to baking, only to then get my attention pulled to a fitness challenge I want to attempt. Part of that is just my personality — I love to sample a little bit of everything (tapas bars were made for me!).
Light bulb moment! Why don’t I use this interest-hopping to my advantage? Instead of focusing on just food or just DIY projects, I could create a channel centered around me trying different things — sort of a ‘Laura Tries’ type of theme. One video could be about tackling a recipe I’ve always wanted to attempt. Another video could be about trying out a new skincare routine.
The brainstorming began!
Think about what’s sustainable
It’s one thing to have a lot of content ideas but you always need to be able to execute them. Releasing videos often is key to keeping your audience engaged, so you need to create videos that fit within the scope of your own time and resources.
One of the biggest tips, especially for beginners, is to consider a topic and format that allows you to shoot multiple videos in one day.
This made me revisit my initial brainstorming. The ‘Laura Tries’ theme may not lend itself easily to shooting multiple videos in one day. While some of the videos — like trying a make-up tutorial — could use a single camera set-up, others — like trying a recipe or a one-month exercise challenge — would require multiple set-ups, thus making the filming process pretty time-intensive.
So, what could I do that just required a single camera set-up? I came up with a couple of ideas that would just be me speaking to the camera. One idea centered around explaining the latest popular culture trends (e.g. Tiger King Explained in Less Than Five minutes); though informational, the videos would be conversational, light, and funny. Another concept was more comedic than informational: I’d bring back an old Halloween character — an old woman from Jersey — who would review T.V. shows and movies; the tone would be silly and humorous.
Identify your audience and carve out your niche
It may seem counterintuitive, but with YouTube it’s not always best to focus on appealing to the broadest possible audience. Sure, you may get a lot of views for a video or two, but will that audience be loyal?
Often, you can find more success going after a smaller, more niche audience where there isn’t so much saturation in content. It’s good to consider — am I filling a content need for a specific audience that doesn’t already exist on the platform?
I returned to my brainstorm. My latest two ideas centered around broad topics: popular culture and entertainment. And the audience? People interested in T.V. and movies who like to watch funny videos. Not very specific.
I think there is a way to carve out a unique voice, so I don’t want to abandon the ideas completely. However, I did go through an exercise of brainstorming topics that I’m still passionate about but may have more of a niche audience or may not have as much existing content on YouTube.
Lately, I’ve been learning the Hawaiian language on the Duolingo app. My paternal grandparents both grew up in Hawai’i, and it’s a culture I strongly identify with. And while it saw a revival starting in the 1970’s, the Hawaiian language is still endangered, so I take pride in being part of keeping it alive. Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about how I wish there were more resources to complement my lessons in Duolingo. So, I’ve also been ruminating on a channel focused on Hawaiian language lessons, essentially people following my journey as I learn the language and in turn put together some of my own lessons. There are a few existing videos with Hawaiian language lessons but not many; still, I’d need to figure out how to differentiate mine.
It’s ok to start with what you have
The courses on production go over a lot of possible equipment you can use to film your videos. However, one thing the lessons emphasize: smartphones have pretty powerful capabilities and you can get some decent quality videos with the devices.
From specialty lights to external microphones and DSLR cameras, I do have access to more advanced filmmaking equipment, and in fact, I used this type of equipment for my earlier videos. However, the set-up is definitely longer when you use more equipment. And it also made things a little more complicated on the editing side, as I had separate audio and video files that I had to then sync.
I think for my initial videos, I’ll just focus on using my iPhone or iPad to film along with a simple ring light. It will make both set-up and editing a lot easier. As I become more experienced, I can then explore more advanced equipment.
I’m going to do some planning on a couple of the concepts: writing scripts and figuring out the set-up. This exercise in pre-production may give me an idea of which idea seems most feasible from a preparation standpoint.
From there, if both ideas look easy to prepare, I may film a test video and edit for both concepts. I can see if either concept was easier to film or edit.
Finally, I’ll look at the final products and see which one feels more engaging & authentic and was more enjoyable to work on.
I think I was starting too big and too complicated. I dove into the deep end when I should have been wading out from the shallows. I was already considering making another attempt at video production, but this time with a much simpler format. Then, during my interview with him, Tasi Alabastro brought up a good idea: why not do a slideshow video to the narration of one of my blog posts?
I really liked the idea. It made use of existing content (my blog posts) and relied on a relatively easy format. Programs like iMovie make it easy to splice together photos into a film. And it wouldn’t be too hard to record myself reading one of my blog posts.
Well, I did it! … kind of.
I didn’t start with my blog posts. I actually started with the piece of writing that I’m most proud of: my wedding vows.
You see, yesterday was my wedding anniversary. And instead of buying Ryan more stuff, I wanted to put together something special. So, I gathered photos of us from throughout our relationship and put them together in a film to the narration of my wedding vows and an instrumental version of our first dance song.
And before you get your hopes up, I’m not sharing that video in this post. I gifted that to Ryan, and he wants to keep it to himself.
But I can talk a little bit about the process.
Creating the Video
This was definitely a learning experience. Since I was combining existing content elements, a lot of the production mirrored the editing process that had stalled my previous projects. And there are steps that I would do differently in the future.
I knew I wanted the film to be a photo slideshow to the narration of my wedding vows. Ryan’s uncle had filmed our ceremony, so I tracked down that video to try to extract the audio.
But as I reviewed the footage, I realized I wouldn’t be able to use the audio. There was just too much background noise, and I didn’t have the skills to clean it up.
No problem — I would just re-record my vows. I used my headphones and the iPhone Voice Memos app to record. I did notice a little bit of background noise, likely from me jostling the microphone on my headphones. I made a second attempt using Ryan’s Tascam recorder, but (a) it picked up street noise, (b) I realized I didn’t know how to transfer files from the recorder to my computer and (c) I preferred my rendition from the first recording on my iPhone.
So, despite the small background noise, I opted for the iPhone recording. And all I had to do was simply Airdrop the audio file to my laptop.
Listening to the recording of my vows, I knew they would need to be paired with music. At first, I was just going to use some of the built-in music that GarageBand provides in their library. But then I had the idea of using music from our wedding.
Our first dance was to the rendition of “No Day But Today” that Idina Menzel sang during one of her concert tours (we bonded over musicals, so it seemed appropriate). I searched YouTube for an instrumental version and found this piano version. Since this was just a private gift, I didn’t worry about copyright, but obviously if this were a more public video, I would have sourced different music.
I found an online tool to extract the audio from the YouTube video, and then set out to make some adjustments and sync it with my vows narration using GarageBand.
I first slowed down the music to about half speed.
Then, I simply added the audio file from my vows recording as a second track.
Sourcing photos for the video took a lot longer than I originally anticipated. The first step was to type out my vows and mark which lines would have their own photo. Then I looked back through my Facebook photos and my iPhone photos to find the pictures that best matched the text.
It was a long process, but I finally came up with a selection that I was happy with. Then I uploaded all of the photo to my project in iMovie, the program I used to create the video.
Putting it all together
When you use photos to create a video in iMovie, you simply upload your pictures and then drag and drop them in the timeline.
iMovie will automatically set the image to display in your video for four seconds, but you can adjust that length. I listened to the recording of my vows and marked the timestamp for each line so I knew how long to display each photo.
iMovie also allows you to create some movement with your photos, using the Ken Burns tool. You simply choose your beginning frame for the photo and the ending frame and the movement will happen during the time length you set.
So, I inserted in all the photos, adjusted their length, and set the movement. Then, I added the audio to make sure everything lined up. But wait, there was one more step — adding transitions!
Transitions took a lot of trial and error. From choosing the appropriate type of transition to setting the best time length, it took a lot of time fiddling with the options to get the look and pace I desired.
But after a lot of adjustments and fine-tuning, I had a finished video. That’s right, a FINISHED video. I finally completed a full video project from start to finish!
While the video took longer to create than I anticipated, the tools I used were pretty intuitive. I’m definitely inspired to do more of these type of slideshow videos in order to get more practice and improve my skills in the process. I’ll use the learnings from this project to improve future videos!
Through this exploration, I’ve not only learned a lot about filmmaking, but I’ve also gotten more insights into the parts of the process that really energize me. Screenwriting was never something I thought I’d get into, but it’s been an amazingly fulfilling creative outlet. I also really enjoyed set decorating (no big surprise, I suppose, given my interest in interior design). And though I don’t have much experience yet on the video side, my work on the podcast makes me think I’d like being a producer on a film.
Well, I was back at it a few weeks ago, when I volunteered to be a co-writer for a team competing in the San Jose 48-hour Film Project. For those who missed my earlier blog about the 48-hour film project, here’s an overview of how the competition works:
Filmmaking teams sign up to take on the challenge of creating a 4-7 minute film in 48 hours (one weekend).
Friday night of the competition weekend, teams draw two film genres. Their film must be one of those two genres.
All teams also have three elements that they must include in their films: a specified prop, line of dialogue and character. Unlike genre, these required elements are the same for every team for that city’s competition.
Fully finished films are due Sunday evening.
Films are judged and eligible for a number of awards.
Well, I am proud to announce …. we won Best Film!
As winner, the film will go on to be screened at Filmapalooza next Spring. The film also won Best Editing and Best Supporting Actor (Angie Higgins as Tonya). And to top it off, we also won the Audience Favorite award.
Check out the film:
The success of this project has reinvigorated me on video, and I have a few upcoming goals around that:
Write more scripts! I have a ton of ideas floating around in my head, many of which came out of our brainstorm session for the 48-hour Film Project.
Work on a film that isn’t time-sensitive. A lot of the videos I’ve helped out on have been on a bit of a time crunch. It’d be interesting to see what I can help produce when we have the luxury of more time.
Get more experience as a film producer.
Execute some small, easy videos. Inspired by my conversation with Tasi, I think I need to scale back on the complexity of the videos I attempt to produce all on my own and just start simple. Maybe an easy to-the-camera video or a film with a slideshow of images and a voiceover.
In the meantime, congrats to the Ovation Pictures team on their win!