Videographers on How to Make Videos for YouTube

I spoke with Tim Kramer and Paul Frederick, independent producers/writers/videographers/editors who help create videos for the channel Plants Are Cool Too. Here’s their advice for creating videos for YouTube.

On Knowing Your Audience

Tim: “Who are you trying to reach? The answer I get sometimes is ‘everybody’ and that will compromise your product because in a video, to make it effective, you really want to aim it at a [targeted] audience, you want to have someone in mind.” [Although some YouTubers disagree with this, notably Smarter Every Day’s Destin.]

On Video Length

Tim: “[On] YouTube, the attention span is getting so small. I make stuff shorter and shorter all the time. Sometimes instead of a 12-minute video, four 3-minute videos might be more effective and it’s cost effective if you want to produce all of those at one time.”

Paul: “Shorter videos are more effective… unless subject is really into the topic, [in which case] the length doesn’t matter. For casual viewers they say 90 seconds to 2 minutes. … The length of the video is always important and will affect the cost.”

On Money…

Paul: “The thing I always say up front is, Well how much does a car cost?” Depends what you want. “The rule 15-20 years ago was $1,000 per finished minute. … [T]here’s countless bells and whistles that can be added or deleted from a project to affect the cost … so the more information you can give [producers] the better. Do you need to hire people? Do you need original music? For Plants Are Cool Too [the budget varies depending on] how many shooting days we have and we estimate how much editing. … [Are there] a lot of interviews that need to be transcribed? That can take a lot longer than something that’s totally scripted ahead of time.”

Tim: “Budget of course is always a consideration and sometimes you want to talk to a freelancer to help you create a budget or get a sense of how far your budget will take you. The things that affect budget are the length [of the video] and production costs. … Every production is a different formula… it’s travel, location shooting, that’s the stuff that starts to add up. If there’s stuff you can do in your own backyard, that’s definitely going to make things cheaper. Every production essentially needs… a producer, writer, videographer, audio, editor, graphics and animation, sometimes a director. [These don’t have to be separate people.] I’m doing a display for my local museum right now and I’m co-writing with someone with the museum but I’m filling all those (other) roles. On Plants are Cool Too, I split those roles with Chris and our videographer Paul Frederick. If you do a big budget high-end piece you probably have a professional for each one of those roles.”

Paul: [Tim and I are] co-producers along with Chris. Tim usually deals with the billing and figuring out the cost of things. I do all the shooting. I did the majority of the editing [for some episodes]. They’re very loose roles. When we’re on location we’re kind of making things up as we go along. Some things are hard to script [and] in editing things can change as well. [For example we might decide] this would be clearer if we had a voice-over, etc.”

…and Hiring Professionals

Tim: If you need “full service” usually you’d go to a production house, which may be a group of 2-3 guys like me or it could be an agency of 20 people. If you have a big enough budget, a production house could provide your entire team. Otherwise, museums can “decide which things you can manage in house, which could be all of them or maybe just a writer and that writer would probably work with the producer or videographer or editor – someone who has production experience just to tweak the script. It’s a little different writing for video than for an article on paper. … Decide which roles you can do in house, which ones you can’t, and if you need an individual to fill one role or a team.”

Paul: “Time is money for video producers.” Producers usually supply their own equipment, and if they have to rent specialty equipment (such as a super high-speed video recorder), it adds to the cost and they need to know about that beforehand. “The more you can think it out ahead of time the more efficient you can be with money.” If you can provide examples of the style and format of video you want to create, it can help producers help you. “The other thing that would be very helpful for a producer to know ahead of time is what complex graphics are needed. … We usually do ours ourselves but say you need a 3D molecule that turns into a dinosaur, we really need to know that up front.”

Tim: “To identify that person [a good freelancer], word of mouth is the way to go. Talk to someone who’s done something similar… or google but that’s kind of hit or miss. [Find] someone who’s worked with someone and had a good experience. … Check out their portfolio. Don’t hesitate to ask for examples of their work.”

Paul: “The biggest thing is ask to see their reel, some things that they’ve done. I guess that seems kind of obvious but you can get almost anybody nowadays who can run a camera but it’s going to be completely different from someone who’s done it for 30 years, knows all the ins and outs and stays up on technology. … Have watched enough videos to know what you do and don’t want.”

After You Have Your Team

Tim: “[Figure out your] budget, audience, [and] timeline, then meet with that person to discuss the project. That person probably would recommend other people if needed… It’s good to start a dialogue with someone in the production field early in the process. … They can help you create your budget and see if your plan or your thoughts are [realistic].”

On Working with Production Professionals

Tim: “[What’s very helpful is] knowing what you want, a concept of how the [videos/episodes] would work or how it would look and feel. If I come in and a museum would say our idea is to use this kind of graphic and demonstrate this with animation… kind of have a rough plan, that’s helpful. Timelines can vary but when you’re in the early stage when you first start a dialogue with someone, if you can have a year, that’s a real comfortable timeline. … 6 months to a year for the first video.

On How Long it Takes

Tim: “Locations and animation can add a lot of time to your timeline. One option is buying stock footage, there’s large libraries of stock footage, which can be cheaper than shooting it yourself. Plants are Cool Too, for example, we aim for 8 minutes per episode. It’s usually a 2- to 3-day shoot and it’s about a 7 to 9 day edit. … There’s a lot of back and forth as [we develop the] episode.”

Paul: “[I]t depends on the complexity of the project. … We’ve been shooting two episodes [of Plants Are Cool Too] at each location. [We] shoot an episode in a couple days and take 3-4 days to edit. That doesn’t include the back and forth with the rough cut, Chris’ changes, etc.”

On Working with What You Have

Tim: “Look at your museum resources and find something that fits with what you got,” says Tim. “If you’ve got a full time video person on staff [you could do 1 video per week if you can get local footage]. If it’s weekly… you build a skeleton, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every week, you have a formula you plug in to. So that drops the cost and time commitment. If you’re an aquarium and you need shots of fish that aren’t in your aquarium then it becomes more of a challenge.”

On Creating a Pilot Episode

Tim: “If you’re going to do a series, it’s a really good idea to do a pilot. You can do one, even an abbreviated–if you wanted to do a series of 5-minute videos, you could cut a 2- or 3-minute pilot, maybe not have all your bells and whistles and everything ironed out but everyone involved in the projects learns a lot and you have something tangible to help promote yourself if you need to help sell the project or secure funding. … You could make a nice pilot for $2,000 and then you have a tangible thing to demonstrate your vision. … It told Chris [Martine, creator of Plants Are Cool Too], if you want to get this off the ground you need to make a pilot. [I gave him] a really good rate with the hope that if it takes off there’s more work in [my] future.”

On Letting Projects Evolve

Tim: “The one other thing I tell my clients… a video project is kind of like a living growing thing. It will evolve… you certainly want to control it but there’s times when you can adapt to something that you didn’t expect. Something may happen that’s really cool… that you didn’t see coming. Don’t be so rigid that you lose out on these serendipitous things.”

Don’t Forget to Promote

Tim: “The internet has changed our industry. And another thing that helps is behind your production it’s all about shares and getting people to like your channel and all that stuff, so its adding some promotional support to drive viewers.”

Any Parting Advice?

Tim: “Small market PBS stations will put stuff on air if you make it.”

Paul: “People [viewers] are more likely to forgive less than perfect visuals than bad audio. It portrays things as cheap. You want to invest a little bit of money because it’s your face to your audience. … We put a wireless mic on every person that’s talking, get good [aduio] levels.” When it comes to hiring professionals, “The more specific [museums are with producers regarding] what they want, its much easier to come up with a price. On the other hand, ‘We want to do something about cows with $10,000, what can you do?’ also works.”

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