Sean's "Rules" for Web Video

I originally wrote these rules for the on-screen host of a YouTube channel I created in 2013 which grew to about 4,000 subscribers and about 200,000 views within just two months. While I've shared them a few times with people in my capacity as a consultant or producer on other jobs, I never posted them publicly... Until now!

So without further ado, here are my "rules" for successfully creating good videos and building a strong YouTube Channel:

  • Be Awesome
    What I mean by this is that you need to create and offer value to others. Be a person and a host who produces content that other people want to watch not because they are honor-bound as your friends or because they're in your "tribe" already, but because the stuff you're presenting is genuinely entertaining, interesting and enlightening. 
  • Be Cute
    Broadly, be attractive. Image matters. Presentation matters. Don't ignore the clothes and makeup and all that, but more importantly... smile. Always be kind and genuine, and as long as you look good, you will be attractive to viewers. Being a girl helps, but this doesn't only apply to girls.
  • Be Prepared
    More for me or anyone else who has to work with you. Know what you want to say, know how you want to say it, be ready with additional graphics, video clips, and music, so that the filming & editing process can be quick and efficient.
  • Be Positive, Not Negative
    Optimism is contagious. Hope is emotionally powerful. Positive thinking is inclusive and inviting. Even when you want to make a video blasting an idea you think is horrible, find the way to positively support a better idea. Solutions turn people on and gets them thinking, negativity is divisive and turns people (and their brains) off.
  • Engage the Audience Every Time
    Every video needs to start a conversation and invite new viewers into the party. And it is a party. You're doing something cool that they want to see and that they want to share with their friends, because their friends want to see it too. We do this by asking open ended questions, creating direct opportunities for audience participation (Ze Frank is brilliant at this), and leaving enough room for people have their own ideas about what you're saying.
  • Let People In On Who You Are
    In addition to engaging the audience in a conversation, engage the audience by humanizing yourself and making yourself actually relatable. You will do this by letting them see at least some honest moments about how you feel and sharing details of your personal life. No need to overshare, but share enough of yourself to let people know that you are a feeling, breathing, caring person who is hurt by insults and is excited for success - just as they are. The internet rewards authenticity, and most audiences can spot a phony from miles away. So it's good to be yourself and even to be vulnerable on camera. People will appreciate you for talking from the heart, and they will abandon you if they start to feel manipulated.
  • Be Consistent 
    A channel that only puts out content at random is a channel that's just going to frustrate audiences. Even if you can't make a new video every day or every week, try to make sure that you're putting up new content regularly and predictably so people who like what you do know when to come back and get more.
  • Do Talk About Pop-Culture!
    Popular media is one of the most unifying things any culture has. "Did you see the new episode of Game of Thrones!?", "What did you think of Modern Family last night?", "Have you had a chance to play Borderlands?", "Omg, Justin Beiber finally broke up with Selena Gomez! It's about time, he's been cheating on her for years!!". Not only will everybody have something to relate to, it also provides a jumping off point to almost any idea you want to talk about.
    [Note: See my writings on Superman: 
    http://seanwmalone.blogspot.com/2012/06/character-story-economics-in-comics.html
    ...or on "Taking a Lesson from Jazz: Libertarian Cooperation: 
    http://seanwmalone.blogspot.com/2009/04/taking-lesson-from-jazz-libertarian.html)
  • Do Talk About Ideas!
    Ideas - especially interesting ones that many people haven't thought much about, are great conversation starters and bring people into discussions - especially when presented with some humility. Ideas can be unifying.
  • Don't Talk About Politics (Don't Make People Hate You) 
    Unlike talking about great ideas and offering solutions, talking about politics invites tribalism. Tribalism puts up an automatic barrier between you and audiences, and some will love you for it, but others will never listen to you again. This does not mean you can't touch on immediately relevant political issues or issues in which politics is the driving problem - but the presentation of those topics should not be expressed from a partisan or politically polarizing angle, because that only exacerbates the divide between you and the people who don't already think exactly like you. If you want to talk to people who think exactly like you, go talk to a mirror.

One other thing I would add to this list is a simple reminder that if your goal is to win friends and influence people, or change a culture of ideas, you must be careful that the kinds of content you're putting out attracts more people than it turns off. If you start with 100 people on your side and 100 people against you, and grow those numbers to 1,000 people on your side and 1,000 people against you, you've accomplished nothing except perhaps gaining a little attention for yourself.

If all you're looking for is attention, then this is a way to get it... But if you want to become an inspiration to people around you, you'll need to be more than a lightning rod.

Other than that, just be yourself and have some fun. Making videos is supposed to be fun, remember?

Lessons from SXSW: "A Conversation with Jon Favreau"

SXSW Synopsis:

"In over a decade, Jon Favreau has established himself as a prolific writer, director, producer, and actor with his eclectic body of work. Jon Favreau began his career as a writer with Swingers, in which he starred, and made his feature film directorial debut with Made, which he wrote and produced. His credits include Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Cowboys & Aliens, Elf, and Zathura. Favreau also served as the creator, producer and host of the Emmy-nominated IFC series Dinner for Five. He brings to SXSW, Chef, which he wrote and directed. The film follows a man who loses his chef job and starts up a food truck to reclaim his artistic promise. The film opens in May."

Notes:

It is impossible for me to explain how important and meaningful Jon Favreau is to me.

Getting to meet him and listen to him talk about film-making, and getting be one of the first people to see his film, "Chef", was unequivocally the highlight of my experience at South by Southwest this year.

As conversations tend to be, this one wasn't "organized" in a way that I could compile into neat little bullet points. However, Favreau was extremely quotable, so what follows will simply be a series of statements that he made during the course of the conversation which I found to be particularly interesting, insightful, and meaningful.

On quitting a banking job to become a writer & film-maker:

"You've gotta be passionate about what you're doing, because if you're not, you're only going to be using some smaller percent of your ability."
- Jon Favreau

"I thought the idea of working 50 weeks for 2 weeks off was scary to me... You only live in that 2 weeks."
- Jon Favreau

On directing:

"I just enjoy naturalism in general."
- Jon Favreau

"As a director... Tone is the one thing nobody can do for you."
- Jon Favreau

One lesson he did get more explicit about as a director was working coverage into a scene using a two-camera set-up for more natural takes. This was a technique he learned from Francis Ford Coppola, who reportedly always went back and got coverage and reverses of improvised bits.

Smart.

On acting and actors:

"You strip the cast away from any of the films I've done and they're not the same movies anymore."
- Jon Favreau

"There's a moment where experience and confidence comes together [and when it does, that's an actor I want to work with]."
- Jon Favreau

On storytelling:

"As long as you know [story] is the top priority, you'll make it your main concern."
- Jon Favreau

"When you write something good, it's like you're the first person who gets to read it. Like it didn't come out of you."
- Jon Favreau

"I didn't learn to be a director, an actor, a producer -- it was all one thing! Learning to be a storyteller."
- Jon Favreau

On modern distractions:

"It's not free if you could be earning 100s of thousands of dollars doing a rewrite and you're off defending your elixir pods."
- Jon Favreau

On Hollywood and the future of the film industry:

"I would argue that cinema is happening now on the small screen as much or more than the big screen... Technology is the only game in town, and you have to bet on it."
- Jon Favreau

On what makes a great film:

"It's amazing that some of the movies that do the best [at the box office] aren't as culturally relevant, year to year."
- Jon Favreau

He also told a few stories... At one point, he was talking about an experience on Iron Man where they'd wrapped production for the day, and he was sitting with Kevin Feige pretty much ready to go home when Jeff Bridges was making cocktails for everyone. As tired as they were, that experience was worth sticking around for, and remains a great memory. Favreau passed along Jeff Bridges' advice in that moment:

"This [taking the moment to enjoy life] is what it's all about, man... The movie is just the skin of the snake."
- Jeff Bridges (paraphrase via Jon Favreau)

Favreau also talked a lot about studio notes, and curiously, he said that when he directed Elf, he got copious notes from the studio about the comedy and the jokes, but not a single note about the fabulous practical effects work in the movie like the forced perspective shots, the North Pole village stuff, or anything like that... And then when he was directing Iron Man, he was inundated with notes on the action and the effects work, but didn't get a single not on the jokes or the comedy written into the dialogue. 

He concluded:

"You're almost better off going with the opposite of the genre you want for the least interference."
- Jon Favreau

And finally... On life:

"You will get wet on this ride."
- Jon Favreau

All in, I couldn't possibly have kept notes on every single bit of the conversation, but as I said, Favreau has been one of my cinematic heroes for a long time... Almost 20 years. There was no way to explain that to him at the time, but in some ways, much of my life and career started with "Swingers".

I was 13 or 14 when it came out, and perhaps 15 when I first saw it.

Swingers framed and informed my understanding of relationships, it informed my understanding of friendship. While I always placed myself into Favreau's character, "Mikey", my brother was always Vince Vaughn's "Trent", and probably still is.

The movie also inspired my brother and me to learn how to swing dance - which became one of the more significant and defining past-times in my life for several years, and remains a major part of my brother's life to this day. 

In some ways, the film contributed directly to us forming our own 7-piece swing & jump blues band, "Boss Tweed", when we were in High School. That band was a pivotal step on my road to becoming a performing jazz musician, and ultimately to studying music composition - which became my field of expertise and training through college and graduate school.

What's more - and Danny probably doesn't remember this - one of the first conversations I ever had with Daniel Glass, drummer for Royal Crown Revue (and more recently, the Brian Setzer Orchestra), was about RCR playing at The Derby and the disappointment they experienced by not being allowed (via their label) to perform on-camera in that movie. 

I don't know if this is entirely true as I didn't talk to Jon Favreau about this, but I believe that Royal Crown Revue - which I recognize as the greatest of the swing revival bands in the mid to late 1990s - was the inspiration for the dance sequence at the end of that movie.

Royal Crown Revue had an enormous influence on my musical tastes and in a strange twist of fate, I'm now very proud to call Daniel a good friend. It's not often that you get to become friends with one of your musical heroes, and Jon Favreau's work even had a role to play in that.

And then... After "Swingers" Favreau just continued making amazing films. Made, Elf, Zathura... Iron Man...

Good lord. Iron Man. 

Favreau's body of work has always just made me happy. I connect with it in a way I just don't connect with most other film-makers, including the so-called "greats". I don't know if he'll ever read any of this post, but he has my gratitude and admiration for everything he's done. I am a fan.

And as I discovered last week, Jon Favreau is very much like his films... He is witty, sharp, thoughtful, and entirely humble and unpretentious. In short, he's what I would aspire to be.

What an honor.

Lessons from SXSW: "Keynote: Jason Blum"

SXSW Synopsis:

"Jason Blum is the founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions, a multi-media production company that has pioneered a new model of studio filmmaking- producing high-quality micro-budget films for wide release. Since its launch in 2000, Blumhouse has produced more than 30 feature films including the highly-profitable Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Purge and Sinister franchises. Eight of Blumhouse’s recent films have grossed a combined $1 billion at the worldwide box-office on budgets under $50 million. 

Blumhouse's recent films include The Purge, under its first-look deal with Universal Pictures, which opened to more than $34 million with a budget of just $3 million and Insidious: Chapter Two which opened to over $40 million with just a $5m budget."

This Keynote was probably the most immediately useful discussion for my business and personal goals. The Blumhouse Pictures production model is to make low-budget films that have widespread distribution potential. It is essentially "Little Bets" for film production.

The whole session was set up as a big Q&A, so I'll relay the discussion more or less in that format.

Q: How do you deal with budgets of $3-5 million per film?

  • Limited locations
  • Limited speaking parts
  • 20-25 day shoots
  • Everyone above the line works for free or for whatever their union scale rates are

Q: What about actor demands like their own hair & makeup people, amenities, trailers, etc.?

Actors are generally told that they can have any of those things, but they have to pay for them themselves.

Q: So what's the model?

Using "The Purge" as an example, the film had a $3 million and has grossed, to date, $89.3 million.

The way that works is as follows.

First: Find experienced, talented directors (potentially with "something to prove"), and offer them final cut on the film.

"I can't promise you a hit, but I can promise you that the movie will be yours."
- Jason Blum

Second: Everybody gets a piece of the back end, and the process is very transparent regarding payments. If you do X job, you get Y% of the net. There are no surprises. If the movie does well, everybody shares in the return to some degree or another (above the line people most, I assume).

Third: All the movies made at Blumhouse eventually come out and get some form of distribution. To date, Jason Blum claims that Blumhouse has never failed to find a platform for one of their films, even if that platform is video on demand. Being committed to find distribution opportunities seems to be a key driver of how they find talent and remain successful even when some of their bets don't pan out as well as they'd like.

Q: How do you insulate the film-makers from notes or demands from distributors and partner studios?

Their partnerships with distributors are the insulation. Blumhouse submits:

  1. Script
  2. Budget ($3-5 million)
  3. Proposed director for the project

The distribution partner has an opportunity to approve or reject at that stage, and only get involved against once the film has been completed and the question becomes about the scale of release.

Meanwhile, the budgets are pretty firm. If a film gets budgeted $4 million, that's generally it. Film-makers cannot get more money, so they actually have to stick to their budgets.

"If you take away the toys, the director has to focus on story & character."
- Jason Blum (paraphrase)

Q: How do you maintain the $3-5 Million budget in the face of successful franchises and sequels?

Blum avoids "planning" sequels. It's always possible to figure out how to make a sequel work once you know the first film is successful. However, Blum notes that it would be irresponsible for a major studio which has sunk $150 million into a film not to be thinking about how to build a franchise from the first moment.

As a side note:

"It's absurd to go ask for a $5-10 million slary on a $150 million film and then bitch about studio notes."
- Jason Blum

Q: How do you define a good movie? How do you define success?

First: The measure of a good movie is not primarily box-office results. It's revealed over time. A good movie is one that is culturally relevant.

Second: Reviews and critical acclaim are another good measurement, and eventually, box-office results.

Blum also notes the dissonance between the small production budgets and the required advertising & distribution budgets needed to do a wide release. $3-5 million to make the film, and $30-40 million to market and distribute it.

"I think the financial success of any movie is 50% production and 50% marketing. The marketing guys would say 80/20, marketing."
- Jason Blum

Thus, defining success in terms of how successful a theatrical release is makes increasingly little sense. More distribution platforms are ok. Especially in a future with so many available venues - TV, a pile of streaming platforms, etc.

As such, the studios' roles in distribution is slipping.

Finally, Blum notes that with the Blumhouse model, the risks and costs are lower so they can afford to offer directors final cut. But unlike in most larger production environments, the result of this dynamic has been that the directors actually proactively seek feedback, input, and advice the whole way through. Blum claims that their system is less antagonistic between executive producers and studio heads, and the film-makers.

"We (all) think about how marketable movies are from the second we hear about them."
- Jason Blum

The lessons of the Blumhouse model should be fairly applicable to producing shorts and smaller documentary projects through the http:/www.honestenterprise.tv platform and the others that I've been developing. Granted, what Blumhouse does and what I do are quite different. Blumhouse predominately produces horror films, which have a notoriously broad appeal among the most coveted demographics of young movie-goers while being - on average - very inexpensive to produce and market compared to other types of films.

But then, documentaries are even less expensive to make, although they are harder to market. And I want to build social action campaigns around documentary projects. But I think there's a way to modify Blumhouse's system into one that might work for me.

Note:

One other story Jason Blum told was about Barry Levinson's movie, "The Bay".

Apparently, Levinson wanted to make a documentary about pollution, but couldn't find the financing. So instead, he turned it into a horror feature that incorporated found footage of people getting sick from water pollution. The horror genre seems remarkably well-suited to political activism.

Lessons from SXSW: "The Emotional Language of Film with Skywalker Sound"

SXSW Synopsis:

"Through his work on both independent and studio films, Pete Horner has developed an approach to film sound that explores the unique language of each film. In this presentation, Pete will share clips illustrating the potential of sound to express underlying emotions, with the intent of encouraging filmmakers to engage the audience more fully through sound."

Pete Horner Bio:

"Pete Horner is an Emmy Award-winning sound designer and re-recording mixer at Skywalker Sound. He studied percussion and music recording at the Cleveland Institute of Music and discovered the musicality of film sound at American Zoetrope, where he worked on films including Apocalypse Now Redux and The Virgin Suicides. His work at Skywalker covers a wide range, from large animated features like How To Train Your Dragon to documentaries like Errol Morris' Standard Operating Procedure. In 2012 he won an Emmy for his mix and design work on Hemingway and Gellhorn; in 2013, he was awarded the first-ever Sundance Special Jury Prize for Sound Design for his work on Upstream Color."

This one is going to be a lot harder to explain without access to Pete Horner's wonderful sound design examples. However, his discussion did generate a smattering of interesting quotes and pieces of advice that I may be able to condense for the purpose of this blog.

He opened with a clip from a documentary film called "Hell and Back Again", which tracked the lives of Afghanistan & Iraq War Veterans. In the scene, a veteran was discussing his treatment with a doctor, and the dialogue faded away and the soundscape was bathed in more abstract sounds and effects. While this made the sound harder to understand, that was the point - it expressed the soldier's lack of understanding of perhaps interested ability to focus on what the doctor was saying. 

It was pretty effective, and it served as a good lesson on how sound - or really any aspect of the arts that comprise film-making - didn't need to be literally reflecting exactly what is happening diagetically in the scene, but can be manipulated and mixed solely to express the subtext of the story being told.

Sound is a dramatic element in the film, just like anything else.

The next story he told was about working with Walter Murch on a film. A sound from a clock-tower needed to be recorded, and the director & producers suggested that they send an intern. Pete was too inexperienced to protest, but fortunately, Murch jumped in and said:

"If you send an intern to go record a sound, you may get the recording... if you're lucky. But if you send an experienced sound designer, the microphone becomes a divining rod."
- Paraphrase of Walter Murch

There's more to being an excellent sound designer than simply generating accurate recordings of specific sounds. Ultimately, Pete Horner went to record the clock-tower and in the process found a range of new opportunities for recordings which ultimately made it into the film.

Happy accidents only really work if you have the skill and knowledge to know them when you see them.

Another excellent piece of advice from this session:

"Take advantage of a film audience's open-state when the house lights go down."
- Pete Horner

As a film-maker, you have a virtually guaranteed moment at the beginning of any film to have the audience's undivided attention. Exploit that opportunity by using that moment to set the tone for the rest of the film.

Pete turned out to be a fountain of interesting quotes like that. His approach to sound design is built around using sound to create auditory poetry.

"The beating of the glass by the moth (wings) can be the chattering of lips... I'm always searching for some kind of sonic metaphor."
- Pete Horner

At one point, highlighting this concept, we were treated to an example of Pete using rattlesnake rattles to replace the sound of rustling leaves outside the Dachau Concentration Camp in the film "Hemingway and Gellhorn". That rattlesnake rattle returns thematically over the course of the movie, wherever there's a need to subtly express violence and danger. 

It is sound design as leitmotif.

"Anger is like a cold front that moves into a human place."
- Pete Horner

Pete was a fantastic presenter and I will be looking out for his work from now on.

Lessons from SXSW: "Life Automation for Entrepreneurs"

SXSW Synopsis:

"Join Dave Asprey, Veronica Belmont & Maneesh Sethi as they discuss automating your life while running your business. Running a startup is an intense, all-consuming undertaking and new entrepreneurs have a hard time keeping up with the demands of their business and maintaining their relationships, social life, family, health, etc. 

In this panel, we'll be discussing creative ways to utilize technology to automate your life while you are running your business. Moderated by Stephanie Burns."

Dave Asprey - @bulletproofexec :: Veronica Belmont - http://swordandlaser.com/ :: Stephanie Burnes (Moderator) :: Maneesh Sethi - http://hackthesystem.com/

Dave Asprey - @bulletproofexec :: Veronica Belmont - http://swordandlaser.com/ :: Stephanie Burnes (Moderator) :: Maneesh Sethi - http://hackthesystem.com/

Notes:

Mostly, this session was about finding ways in which to automate aspects of business and personal life in ways that save individual entrepreneurs - and really, anyone - from decision fatigue. 

The basic premise of this is that each time anyone makes a decision, it eats into a finite pool of willpower that we have in our reserves every day. The more we waste our time making little decisions - especially those that can, and should, be automated - the less willpower we have left to make more important decisions. So, part of the goal of automating parts of your life is to find ways to reduce the overall decisions made per day.

The panel recommended the following:

  • Delegate scheduling & calendar to assistant. Assistants also do not necessarily need to be expensive.
  • Schedule things that you normally wouldn't - like exercise, lunchtime, and other daily activities, so that you will stay on track and avoid unnecessary interruptions.
  • Pre-schedule long-term decisions like food (ie. make healthy food on the weekends and prepare to take it for lunch each day so that it isn't a unique decision on what to eat in the mornings or before lunchtime - this also cuts down on temptation to eat unhealthy foods); and recurring appointments for the doctor, dentist, etc.
  • Reduce scheduling decisions between multiple parties by reducing the number of available time options on your schedule, or using website to automatically align schedules.
  • Outsource travel arrangements as much as possible via secretary or websites like
  • "Anything you're not the best at" - Maneesh Sethi
  • Even gratitude...
  • Social media presence can also be automated through social media managers, and also:
  • Emails - Maneesh Sethi in particular has developed a system where nearly all of his email correspondence is run through an assistant. The assistant reviews all emails and categorizes them by importance and specificity. 

When asked if it's worth the trade-off to outsource personal information to assistants - especially internationally - Maneesh Sethi just considers it to be a cost worth bearing, noting that the worst things that can generally happen are "not that bad". Dave Asprey added, "Someone's already reading your email today. They're name is the NSA."

Things not to automate:

  • Sex & relationships (Belmont)
  • Mentorship (Asprey)

On internships, Dave Asprey also noted:

"There are people who will work for a surprisingly little amount of money, and they're not actually getting screwed out of the deal because they're getting an apprenticeship."

Interesting.

In the Q&A section, the panel answered several questions that I found relatively interesting. To the question of what we should do  if we don't have enough for our assistants to do to make a full time job, the panelists answered:

  1. Don't worry about it, they're there to assist you, not the other way around
  2. Add a constant job of ensuring accountability
  3. Work on forward-looking projects

To the question of how to start automating one's life, the panelists suggested that individuals start by asking the question, "What do you procrastinate on the most?" Whatever the answer to that question is, that's where you should start if possible.

Finally, to the question of what to do after college, the answers were:

  1. Eliminate debt as quickly as possible
  2. Look for the holes or what's missing in terms of what you currently don't outsource that you'd like to, and figure out how to automate those parts of your life
  3. Find great mentors & friends

All in all, this was a pretty informative session.

Lessons from SXSW: An Introduction

I was fortunate enough this year get to go to South by Southwest for work, and as it seems is usually the case with the event, I crammed an enormous amount of activity into about 4 days. In order to maximize the value I got out of the experience, I took notes (and photographs) at virtually every panel, event, and film screening I attended.

These events were, in order:

  1. Life Automation for Entrepreneurs
  2. The Emotional Language of Film with Skywalker Sound
  3. Premiere: "Chef"
    -- written & directed by Jon Favreau
  4. Narrative Shorts 1
  5. Documentary Shorts 1
  6. Premiere: "Space Station 76"
    -- written & directed by Jack Plotnick
  7. Austin Nightlife: The Broken Spoke & Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon
  8. Keynote: Jason Blum of Blumhouse Pictures
  9. A Conversation with Jon Favreau
  10. 5 Lessons from Movie Studios on How to Market Your Movie
  11. Deliverables Today
  12. Film & interactive Pary
  13. If Content is King, Who is Sheriff?
  14. A Conversation with Nicolas Cage
  15. Premiere: "A Night in Old Mexico"
    -- written by William D. Wittliff, directed by Emilio Aragón
  16. Premiere: "Doc of the Dead"
    -- directed by Alexandre O. Philippe
  17. How Crowdfunding Killed Hollywood with Adam Carolla
  18. Music Videos Program 1

A lot of the events I attended were filmed and will no doubt find a home on the internet in the coming weeks, but the lessons I took from SXSW are my own, so I figured that it would be worth copying my notes and sharing them here. It's a good way to keep my own records and maybe create some value for others as well.

Eventually, I might go back and upload music composition and orchestration notes from my years at NYU in graduate school and notes on music, film, writing and other creative pursuits from other conferences. 

With that said, I'm going to break this up into separate blogs to keep the notes easy to find. Check it out.

Reader Question: Best Blog Hosting Site

Justin asks: 

What is the best hosting page for a blog?

Answer:

This is a little bit out of my area of expertise, but I have been blogging for a really long time and can at least share some experiences.  

While I've used Blogger as my main platform since 2007, I actually think Wordpress is a better option overall. It's got more themes, widgets and apps, it's more customizeable, and it's built to scale up, so if your blog gets a lot of traffic, you can keep using Wordpress as a platform. Like any blog platform, it's also really easy to update with new content.

Many prominent news sites and professional blogs - and tons of websites - are based around Wordpress. The only real downside is that it really isn't quite as intuitive as other platforms... But hey, it's still just a blog, so it's not that  hard to figure out in a few hours.

All that said, for this blog, I'm just working with the Squarespace platform since www.citizena.tv is already hosted here and it makes the most sense to me to keep everything integrated. Plus I know it will fairly easy for me to migrate this blog to Wordpress if I want to do that later on.

 

 

Reader Question: Beginner Video Editing Software & Training

Michael asks: 

What's the best way to learn how to edit video? And what's software is good and cheap to edit with?

 Answer:

If you want to learn the basics of video editing and working with any software, I'd suggest you check out online tutorials. There are usually quite a lot available. Here are some of my favorite sites:

  • Lynda
  • Skillshare
  • Video Copilot
  • FilmRiot

I may even make some program-specific editing tutorial videos myself as I get more into this blog, and I will certainly be writing about it a lot.

However... If you want to understand the art of film editing, that's a different story. You might start with Walter Murch's wonderful book, "In the Blink of an Eye".

Apart from that, you'll just want to put in a lot of practice time, and find some great mentors.

As for editing software... 

I personally recommend Adobe Premiere CS6/Creative Cloud. The entire Adobe Creative suite is available now for just $50 a month as a subscription, so if you were going to do any kind of professional editing, I'd just go straight to that. Premiere Pro is fantastic and is used all over the world in TV and film production. 

"Avatar", "The Aviator", "Hugo", and tons of other major feature films and television shows were edited with Premiere Pro.

Sadly, I do not get any kickbacks for saying any of this. 

Of course, there are also many in the film industry who use Final Cut Pro X ($300), and the standard for film-editing is still Avid Media Composer ($1000+). 

 Now that I've gotten my plugs for just going straight to pro-software out of the way... An inexpensive, yet still highly effective, option is Sony Vegas. Looks like you can get it from Amazon for about $60.

http://www.amazon.com/.../dp/B008MIMIY8/ref=sr_1_1...

I haven't used it since version 4, so I'm not going to be much help on the ins and outs of that specific software, however a former roommate used to use it all the time to edit videos for work and he always found it to be easy to use. 

To be honest, the overwhelming majority of video editing is not limited by your choice of NLE (Non-Linear Editing software), because for the most part, the features you absolutely need are the ability to cut, copy and move media around on a timeline or project sequence and virtually any program can do that. The fancier stuff, like color correction, histograms, effects, transitions, and other graphical tools really aren't that necessary for beginners/amateurs... Which is partially why stuff like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker don't have many of those options.

Pinnacle also makes some really cheap video editing software, but I have literally never had a Pinnacle product function properly, so I wouldn't go there at all.

Apart from loss of features, note that the cheaper the software, the more likely it's going to be to crash frequently, be unable to handle multiple file formats, and limit you severely when it comes time to export your final product. 

Reader Questions: Wireless Microphones for Wedding Videography

Tim asks: 

I do weddings. What's a good wireless mic system to use for that?
Answer:

I started my video production career working for a wedding videography company, so... I'm sorry ;)

But seriously... Here's a system I use and can personally vouch for:

Audio-Technica_1800_ATW-1821_460224.jpg

Audio-Technica ATW-1821

You'll want to mic the groom and the bride as covertly as possible, but this is a great system if you want to be able to get a quality recording from a distance and still be able to move around with the camera. The only downside is that this system will cost $1,200-$1,400. If you're doing this kind of thing a lot, it's definitely worth it.

On the other hand... There are some less expensive options like this Shure BLX188 Dual Wireless System. Stuff like this is going to get you a quality recording, but it's designed to be attached to a stationary soundboard, and the receiver needs to be plugged into an outlet, so you'll either have to have your camera in a stationary place connected to the receiver, or you'll need to record the audio separately and re-sync it with your footage later on. 

Another more affordable option I'd recommend if you're only  recording the bride & groom (or, you know... bride & bride/groom & groom/etc.) when they're performing their vows, would be to rig a shotgun microphone with an XLR-based wireless transmitter above them hanging down, or on a short stand pointing upward between the couple. Audio Technica, Sony, Shure, Sennheiser, etc. all make one-channel transmitter/receivers for between $400-700. 

Unfortunately, usually a boom operator is too intrusive at a wedding, or I'd recommend going with a shotgun and a boom run wirelessly through a single-channel system so that you could follow all that action at the reception as well without being limited only to the featured couple. But a shotgun mounted on the camera works pretty well too!

All that said, I will note that wireless systems can always be a risk as they can be disrupted by other radio signals. This is why I tend to prefer wired set-ups wherever possible.

 

Reader Question: Where to Get Royalty Free Music

Nathan asks: 

What's a simple, cost effective way to get good soundtrack for political or educational videos?

 Answer:

There are a bunch of free stock music sites out there. You tend to get what you pay for, and it would probably behoove you to learn how to edit music a little bit since you'll always have to cut these cues down to suit your actual purposes.

eg. http://www.freestockmusic.com

The limitations of the "totally free" route are pretty obvious most of the time. Limited selection, mediocre production quality typically, and - if you're working for an organization that cares about stuff like this - typically no guarantees of any kind that you're not actually violating anyone's copyright.

The next step up from this would be relatively inexpensive paid royalty free sites. They have a wider selection, more legal security, and usually much better search features and UI's

Here's one people like a lot:
http://www.premiumbeat.com

And then even higher up the budget/quality spectrum, are proper license library and music publishing/production companies like two I used to work for:

http://www.thelodgemusic.com/ or http://www.pigfactory.com/

These are a lot more expensive, but typically have actual Music Supervisors and composers in house who can help you pick excellent tracks and even have custom music produced for you. Additionally, because these are license libraries, they typically offer a range of different licensing options - from the limited use to unlimited use, which vary widely on price

Shutterstock and Getty also have libraries of Royalty Free music that you can search through. Getty is always stupid expensive though, and their licenses tend to be highly restrictive.

Alternatively, of course, you could always hire me or one of my composer friends to write an original track!

 

How to Get Organized: Setting Up a Project Folder

In the last post, I explained how I organize my gear for a basic DSLR video shoot.

But once you've recorded all the audio and footage you need for your project, you'll need to take it all back to your home or office and upload all that data onto your computer. If you're anything like me, you're usually going to return with a ton of audio, video and image assets, and they're all going to need to be accessible if you hope to be successful in editing.  

And that's why I must now talk about the thing that I think is actually the most important to properly organize:

Your files.

One thing that has always surprised me about my friends and colleagues in the media production business is the number of people who have absolutely no system or logic behind organizing their data. 

Most people I know, and literally all of my interns and assistants over the years, have absolutely no consistency at all when setting up projects. 

The consequence of this lack of organization is that projects are hard to find in folders, data within those folders is an unmanageable mess, and if a file ever gets disconnected (intentionally or unintentionally) in programs like Premiere, Final Cut, Illustrator, Audition, Cubase, etc., good luck finding it again!

Besides... Let's be honest, it's just ugly. 

Bad organization makes everything you want to do ten times harder, and take ten times longer than you need it to. Alternatively, a good project organization system certainly doesn't have to look exactly like mine, but it should help keep track of everything you need to produce high quality media as efficiently as possible.

This is actually going to take several layers of organization... Starting with the main project folders themselves. 

Here's what I do:

Project-Organization.jpg

I've redacted client names for what I hope are obvious reasons, but I as you can see, my folder system is labeled first by date by year, then month, then day; then by client, then the specific project.

The abstract version looks like this: 

YYYY.MM.DD-Client-Project

If you work on as many projects in a year as I do, you'll find that this dating system is by far the most effective for keeping everything ordered chronologically. Since I often have a bunch of different clients (in addition to starting a bunch of my own projects), it's helpful to put your client name next. 

This system lets me keep track of all my projects throughout the year, and it's extremely easy for me to refer to older projects whenever I need to.

You might also notice the 0000-Templates & Standard Elements folder. 

I find that creating project templates for recurring types of productions is one of the best ways possible to save time in project set up. More on that in a second. Let's get into how I organize within each of my individual project folders. 

For a video project, I organize like this: 

project-template.jpg

As you can see above, this is an actual project folder from a 4-day event videography gig I did for GE a while back. 

Some people like to put all of their assets into a single folder. I don't.

The value of file-organization is to make everything easy to find, and if you have a project with dozens or hundreds of assets, as I often do, it's extremely helpful to break down these assets into classes. The basic template I use (and it is a template that I keep around so I can simply copy and paste empty folders) is to separate assets into:

folder-template.jpg

For a film score or other musical composition, the requirements are slightly different, so I organize those projects this way: 

composition-folder-organization.jpg

Note also that while I keep my assets in sub-folders, I have my project files (.pproj in the case of Premiere, and .npr in the case of Nuendo), and often my final outputs, in the main folder.

But that's not where the file organization ends. 

Anybody who started working in video before the digital revolution can probably remember the years (decades) of logging and capturing, beta or mini-DV tapes, and on-paper record keeping.

Logging clips by hand was essential if you ever wanted to present a clear set of notes to an editor, or to the assistant editors who are generally responsible for tracking down the right tape or reel and cutting the appropriate clips. It was, let me tell you, awful.

And I was only ever working with Betas and mini-DV tapes! Film reels were (and are) so much worse. 

But since the advancement of digital technology, all that's changed. Now we live in a luxurious time where instead of capturing video footage in real-time, and then capturing it all over again when the first attempt dropped frames and failed half-way through the process, we can simply copy digital files from the memory card right to our hard drives.

It's basically a miracle of technology. 

Even so, your files usually still need to be appropriately labeled so that the editing process can function smoothly. 

Here's a set of files I'd labeled when working on the aforementioned General Electric project: 

video-folder-organization.jpg

You'll note that I label them first by their relevant type, then by number, then with the name of the interview subject on camera. 

If I was doing a narrative film, I might label instead by scene number, then take, then - if necessary - a description of that shot or perhaps a note regarding which was the best take. It might look like this: 

S01T05-ExtNight-Central Park Boat House [WIDE].mp4

Essentially, I'm putting the same information you'd find on a properly slated video clip. One additional word of advice on this kind of labeling - do it as you import your clips. Don't wait several days and then come back to do your labeling, or you'll forget all the important details. There's nothing worse than having to go back and log clips when you don't quite remember what they contain.

At any rate, taking the time to do all of this organization is extremely useful - although, I do make a few exceptions at this final stage.

If I'm working on a smaller project - one without too many clips, multiple parts, or numerous scenes and takes corresponding to a script - I will often forego this last stage of file organization for the sake of speed.

For example, when I was still regularly producing my weekly web-series, "The Libertarienne Show", I would often simply leave my individual video assets unlabeled.

Like this: 

video-folder-organization2.jpg

The truth is, in these cases, it takes more time for me to individually label each file than it does to simply work through the footage in Premiere while editing. 

Use your best judgement when you get to this level of detail. 

The goal is to save yourself time, effort, and confusion - and to enable you to archive projects or transfer projects in a way that lets you or anyone else easily revisit them later and know exactly what and where everything is. Organization really is the key to being a successful producer.

Now... I have one last thing to talk about. Templates. 

As I pointed out above, I use a folder template so that instead of typing out "Audio", "AE Projects", "Images", "Motion Graphics", and "Video" every single time I set-up a new project, I can simply copy and paste all the empty folders. But that's hardly the greatest value produced by establishing project templates.  

Any time you have a recurring project that requires the use of the same branding, chyrons, motion graphic bumpers, and other audio or video assets over and over, you should set up a project folder with all of those required assets already housed in the appropriate sub-folders, along with a project file in your work software (ie. Premiere, Final Cut, Avid, Cubase, Nuendo, Digital Performer, etc.) that has all the repeated work already done for you.

That means, when you copy the template, all you have to do is rename the project file. But when you open that file up, everything you know you're going to need - from watermarks and intros to sound effects and music - is already right there waiting for you.

It would be impossible for me to even calculate how much time and effort this simple technique has saved me over the years. 


So now you know my system. I've found it to be quite effective over the last several years. You may find it enhances your productivity as well. 

I hope you do! 

And as always with this blog, e-mail me at citizena.media@gmail.com with any and all media production questions, and I'll try to get back to you with an answer!

 

Reader Questions: Good Ways to Promote Your Blog

Isaac asks: 

What are some good ways to promote a blog?

 Answer:

Up-front, I should disclaim the fact that this really isn't my area of expertise. That said, I do have an answer.

Basically, it comes down to this. You need to learn to get really good at SEO.

Mostly this means you need to write great headlines that accurately describe the content of the post, and do a lot of targeted meta-data tagging.

But more than that, I think it's really just about having great content and updating regularly and often. The more content your blog has, and the more times people visit it per day, the better it does in everyone's search rankings... So produce content people want to read and do it every day. That's by far the best way to promote a blog.

Also, you can ask other - more prominent - bloggers to link to your blog on their blogs, if the content makes sense for their audiences, and there's always the option of just buying advertisements and promote it with cold, hard, cash.

Via Forbes, Cognito PR & Marketing recently created this infographic on SEO tips for 2013 that might be helpful (and confirms my point about frequently posting great content): 

SEO-Tips-Infographic-V211.jpg

I would add to this one important thing.

Do NOT just spam links to your blog on every other platform that's more prominent than yours.

It's super annoying, and it doesn't really help you get more blog subscribers anyway since it turns off potential readers and because the same IP address posting the same links over and over doesn't get you anywhere in search engines anyway. 

All that said, I probably have some friends who can offer a lot more advice, since this really isn't what I do.

 

Reader Question: Cost Effective Animation

Edward asks: 

What's the most cost effective way to get animation?

Answer: 

It really depends on what you mean by "cost effective".  

South Park uses a small team of animators who design entire 30 minute episodes every single week on computers using basic pin animation, whereas The Simpsons animates an episode over the course of a few months, using a huge crew of animators, assistants, and in-betweeners from South Korea. South Park is comparatively "cost effective".

The truth is, original animation - which I'm actually starting to study more seriously now - is really hard to do. 

But if you're not too worried about quality, and you're not worried about having some other company's watermarks all over your video,  I'd say that by far the most cost effective options for amateurs would be to use sites like www.goanimate.com or www.xtanormal.com.

These sites allow you to animate basic scenes with pre-built characters using text-to-voice software, your scripts, and a very basic user interface. Animations like this can be produced in a few hours.

Another cost effective - and more original - way to make simple animated videos is to record screen-capture videos of virtual sims, like Second Life, The Sims, or World of Warcraft; or to record video games like Halo (a la "Red vs. Blue") or Call of Duty using your own voice over combined with the characters from the games to create your scenes.

Of course... These options are really just cheats. 

If you want to create actual animation with original characters, and you don't have the skills yourself, the best way to keep the costs down will be to find a young animator and keep all the designs as simple as possible, and limit character motion/interaction to basic things like talking and moving arms. Complex backgrounds, environments, moving shots, and really detailed characters - and a lot of different characters - take an amazing amount of time and skill to produce, and are quite expensive for that reason.

"You get what you pay for"  is exceptionally true in this medium.

Note: I'm currently reading a great book by Richard Williams (who animated "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?") called "The Animator's Survival Kit". I highly recommend it if you want to learn more of the real process of making drawn characters come alive. 

 

How To Get Organized: DSLR Video Production Kit

As I noted in my first post on getting organized, there are tons of crucial benefits to being well-organized when it comes to producing any kind of media. But strangely, that's one skill typically left out of everyone's formal training on how to get good at film-making and media creation.

There are plenty of areas where people need to get better organized, and I'll cover as many of them as I can in subsequent posts, but it makes the most sense to me to start with the most hands-on part of the process:

Your gear. 

Digital Single-Lens Reflex - or DSLR - film-making has exploded in the last few years, and it has some amazing benefits. Apart from producing high quality, high-resolution images at a fraction of the cost of other professional video recording devices, they're also exceptionally portable. That's why it's become such a popular option for film-makers around the world, and especially for those of us working on a budget.

However, to get the best out of your DSLR videography, the camera itself just isn't enough. You'll need audio recording hardware, cables, lights, memory cards, spare batteries and a means to stabilize the camera itself. And as anyone who's been filming on sets or on location knows, you're also going to need a bunch of adapters and other gear just to be prepared for all the unexpected things that can - and always do - happen when you're out on a gig.

I've been there, and done that... And over time - and many mistakes - I've put together a portable, effective kit filled with most of the gear I need to get almost any job done. 

Check it out: 

CitizenA-production-gear-list.jpg

Although that looks like - and is - a ton  of stuff, it all fits nicely into a single bag... At least, all of it except the actual shoulder-rig, which can actually be easily broken down and stored in a back-pack if you're traveling through an airport or going on a longer trek to your location.

See below:

gear-in-bag.jpg

What's the point of all this?

The point is to make sure that you are prepared  for any eventuality that might arise while you're out capturing the footage you need, while systemizing your gear so that everything has a place that's easily accessible when you need it.. Having your kit organized simplifies your life, and makes it so that you can grab the bag and run out the door at a moment's notice when you need to.

Plus, when you're not using it, all of your stuff is stored neatly and cleanly away right where you left it.

Now... I know I'm going to get some questions about why I included what I included here, so I want to walk through some of the reasons I've chosen certain things to put in this case over others.

First, let's talk cameras. 

Cameras: 

We'll be talking about other camera options in the future, but as I said above, DSLR's are affordable and they're really great for a ton of environments. They're light, they're small, they accept all shapes and sizes of high quality lenses, and their imaging sensors are unbeatable for the price... which is typically very inexpensive compared to other professional gear.

Problem is... Their audio capabilities are usually horrible, they suffer from severe rolling-shutter problems (which means they usually will need to be externally stabilized), their record-time is highly limited (which is a serious problem for many video production requirements), and in nearly all cases they just can't compete with more professional options in extreme low or high light situations.

Fortunately, there are solutions to (most of) these problems!

Audio Recorders: 

The biggest problem with DSLR cameras is that their built-in microphones are just about useless, and the features they offer for connecting external microphones are minimal at best - typically only a 1/8" stereo input, like the kind of connection you see on a pair of headphones.

We can correct for this problem by purchasing a separate sound recording device that either has higher-quality built-in microphones, or which accept XLR microphone and line inputs. I prefer the TASCAM DR-100 (approx. $330), but many of my colleagues like the H4N Zoom, and some people I know use a JuicedLink box, connected below their cameras.

I prefer the TASCAM because it produces a generally superior quality recording, it has a lot more features, it has better built-in microphones, and it can be more easily converted for use as a small 2-channel field mixer if you have the luxury of a separate production sound mixer/boom operator.

But all are decent options. 

As you can see in the image above, I keep two  DR-100 field recorders on hand, because good audio is a must and having a back-up (that can also be used as a battery charger) is smart - I've learned from painful experience on that one.

Of course... Along with a separate sound reording device, you'll need microphones, cables and other hardware to attach the recorder to your rig.

Microphones: 

Typically, video production sound is captured one of two ways - either with a condenser "shotgun" microphone held on a boom pole, or with lavalier microphones clipped to the subject's clothing.

Sidenote: In Electronic News Gathering (ENG) videography, sometimes reporters will hold a super-cardiod microphone while getting interviews from people on the street - but I will cover that in later posts on understanding differences in microphones.

In my kit, I usually keep a single shotgun microphone (I travel most with a fairly inexpensive one from Audio Technica), and a pair of wired lavalier mics.

I also travel with a wireless XLR transmitter and receiver, in case I need to leave a microphone on or near a subject and still be mobile with the camera. The drawback here is that you're relying on a radio signal to get you the audio you need, and the battery life on wireless gear is notoriously limited.

audio-kit.jpg

I also never leave home without an assortment of audio adapters and several XLR cables. Since I spent most of my earlier career working in the music industry and performing live myself as a drummer and vibraphonist (and classical percussionist), I've built up a great little kit (on right)

It includes different adapters for XLR, RCA, 1/4" mono/stereo, 1/8" stereo mini-plug, and other types of connections. I also keep a spare size "N" battery or two in the kit, for when I need to swap out batteries in my powered shotgun microphones.

Turns out, you can also buy a pre-made audio survival kit from Film Tools for under $100, and I would definitely recommend it.

Especially if you find that you're trying to film different events and get audio from different sources, these adapters can be a life-saver.

...and don't forget the headphones! 

Lenses:

I usually carry two lenses with me at minimum - both zoom lenses, for maximum versatility. One is typically a wider lens that doesn't have a huge magnification range. For this, I find Canon's 17-55mm f/2.8 IS lens is a great choice for DSLR film-making.

My other lens is typically a much longer option, for those moments when you need to grab a close-up or capture footage from greater distances. For instance, I also have a less expensive, but still good, Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.5 VC zoom lens, and carry that almost all the time.

Between these two lenses, I can capture a pretty wide range of photography & videography environments.

Again... This is designed for versatility and to be prepared for unknown situations, not for any specific creative shot choices - nor am I suggesting that the lenses I carry are always "the best" possible. If you know the shots you're going to need to get, other lenses may be far more appropriate.

We'll talk more about lenses later on.

Lights: 

This one is a bit trickier, because a professional lighting set-up - which I will definitely  cover in future posts - is one of those things that simply takes up a ton of space and will never be able to fit in this little kit bag. Fortunately, in most amateur and on-the-fly settings, a simple LED video light attached to your camera or held by an assistant works just fine.

Plus they're really inexpensive (less than $50 in some cases!) and easy to find on eBay by searching for "LED video light"

Check out this video I produced for the General Electric corporation lit only with an on-camera LED light:

Apart from the basics (including all necessary chargers, adapters and batteries, etc.), I strongly encourage everyone to carry a few other absolutely essential items if you want to be prepared. 

  • Pens/pencils
  • Small notebook
  • Tape (Duct/Grip/Electrical)
  • A multi-tool with at least pliers, knife/scissors, can-opener & phillips/flat-head screwdriver attachments. 
  • Mini-flashlight (because it's just too easy to lose pieces

But don't forget that the TSA bans knives and other exceptionally useful multi-tools, so be sure to move that into your checked luggage if you're traveling long-distances.

Believe me, they've got no problems confiscating $50+ Leatherman tools. 

Apart from the kit itself, unless you're a professional, you absolutely do not  need a shoulder rig or stabilization system as fancy as mine. When I started with DSLRs, I frequently just used a simple monopod, and connected my audio recorder to the camera's hot-shoe with an adapter. I did this even while working for a news website getting interviews in front of the White House, and most people would never know the difference. 

Eventually, I'll do another post about stabilization, about my rig, and what your other options might be - but right now, I just wanted to show you all the basic organizational system, packing & set-up I use on a day-to-day basis. 


Lastly, you might be wondering: 

Why a tool-bag instead of a camera bag?

My answer is two-fold.

First, tool-bags like the one you see above (made by Husky) are incredibly rugged, well-made and are designed  to carry heavy loads. In addition, the good ones store lots of stuff and they have a ton of pockets, dividers, and work exceptionally well for this kind of all-encompassing video-production kit. 

Second, camera bags tend to be ridiculously - and unreasonably, in my opinion - expensive. For example, Portabrace (one of the leading manufacturers of professional cases for the film industry) makes an 18.5"x12"x9" camera case which is comparable in size to my Husky tool bag. It is softer, has a fraction of the internal pockets, no dividers, and isn't as rigid.

It costs $419.00 - $469.00. 

My bag: $40. I'll leave you to do the math for yourself.


I hope this post helps you get a better sense of the gear you'll need to go out with your DSLR and shoot your own videos.

Just remember: Organization really will set you free.

The better you are at keeping track of everything and being prepared for all kinds of recording environments, the more you can just concentrate on the business of actually creating your videos... And that's what it's all about!

As always with this blog, e-mail me at citizena.media@gmail.com with any and all media production questions, and I'll try to get back to you with an answer!

How To Get Organized: Why?

Before I get to anything super technical about how to work with the hardware and software you'll need to master in order to get really good at media production, I want to take a minute and talk about getting organized . 

In the immortal words of (food science nerd, television host and form commercial video director) Alton Brown:

"Organization will set you free." 

I could not agree more.  

Getting organized will save you time, it will save you hassle, it will save you money, and it will increase your productivity in ways you cannot even imagine. I'm often asked how I'm able to produce so much content and work as quickly and effectively as I do... and the answer is all about organization. 

Every system I have for managing my equipment and my projects serves the single purpose of making my life easier. I know where everything is, I have easy-to-remember and easy-to-use naming conventions, I build project templates when working on recurring products, and I will frequently take a little time up-front to do certain types of work that will save me tons of time later on down the road.

All of these things are designed to enable me to spend as much of my time as possible making creative decisions about how to write, shoot & edit, and as little time as possible figuring out the structure and logistics of what I'm about to do. Every media production job is messy, unpredictable, and stressful enough as it is... Adding to that chaos by being disorganized is a recipe for disaster, and the best way I know of to force yourself into making tons of stupid mistakes, producing a poorer quality product, and taking far longer than you'd ever want to spend trying to fix everything you could have gotten right in the first place.

With this set of tutorials, I'm going to show you how I organize my gear & how I pack one of my travel bags; how I organize my project folders, the files within those folders, and the various clips and layers within various media production projects; and I'm going to show you how to save precious time by creating re-usable templates for your videos.

But most importantly, what I hope to accomplish here, is to get you to think about how you organize your process, so that you can work more professionally and consistently.

Stay tuned.

Welcome to CitizenA Media: How To...

Hi everyone.  

In the past few years, I've increasingly been asked to do a lot of training, classes, workshops, and more recently even some panel discussions aiming to help other people get better at producing high quality media.

The more I do this, the more I find that there are a ton of people out there who are really clamoring for this kind of content.

And while there are a bunch of great websites out there that can help you learn specific techniques with hardware & software, especially if you want to get better at Hollywood-style narrative film-making and visual effects, there are almost no sites out there offering to help people get better at producing professional multimedia content in every-day environments.

It's hard to find answers online to questions like; "How can I get decent audio when filming an event in a hotel ballroom?", "What's the best way to get an interview with a person I've never met?", or "What equipment am I absolutely going to need to start a high-quality podcast but cannot afford a whole recording studio?"

As someone who has built a multifaceted production business and who has spent many years acquiring a wide range of professional skills in media production, including:

  • narrative & documentary film-production
  • event videography & electronic news gathering
  • music composition
  • audio recording, mastering & mixing
  • video & audio/music editing
  • photography
  • graphic design & animation/motion graphics
  • story development & script-writing
  • (...to a lesser extent) social media, blogging & website development

...I can answer those questions, and more!

To make this blog as effective as I can, I'll make sure to tag each post in appropriate categories, so that they'll be easily searchable, and you can find answers to your questions quickly and efficiently. Eventually I may re-organize the posts into proper lessons and post them via a professional educational platform.

I want this blog to be as helpful to as many people as possible, so please ask me anything you want to know, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can with answers.

So... Please e-mail citizena.media@gmail.com with your questions.

Let's get started!

-Sean