I’ve long wanted to make tech videos of my own. Spending hours watching channels like MKBHD, Linus Tech Tips and The Verge led me to daydream about the kind of videos I’d like to make. In my head, I’d visualize the products I’d be shooting, what I’d say about them, and how each shot would look.
I just never followed through with any of that until now.
This video is the single largest and most complex project I’ve started, taking just over one month to complete. It dwarfs all the blog posts, mixtapes, photosets and other miscellaneous things I’ve put out. Going through this process has been an absolute learning experience, so I thought I’d write a blog post talking about how I made the video, and the lessons I learned along the way.
Almost from the get-go, I wanted to try and do something different, not only from the existing coverage of the iPad Pro, but from the standard “tech video” format in general.
The entire angle of my script eventually pointed towards this one line I wrote in my impressions post:
My current take is that the advantage with the iPad doesn’t lie in it being able to match a computer in its ability to get work done, but rather that it can get that work done in situations where pulling out a laptop might be a bit much.
This was the one thing I kept coming back to as I was using it, so I decided to run with it. I think that perspective makes the video a bit more personal, and it also avoids repeating many of the “quirks and features” or “pros and cons” written about in other reviews
It also fit in nicely with this vague inclination I had to film in front of the Apple store in downtown Chicago. Big cities are a pretty good framing device for the idea of “getting work done in places where laptops aren’t convenient,” and I really wanted a change of pace from the typical video filmed in front of a computer setup.
The bulk of the shooting was done over two days in late December. For those that have ever set foot in Chicago during the winter, you’ll know that’s probably a bad idea. This brings us to the first few things I learned:
- Winter shooting is kind of a double-edged sword. There are less people around to make noise, but being nearly stationary for about an hour gets painful, fast.
- We did mic tests just before we started shooting to make sure that background noise and audio would be fine, but the actual sound recording turned out super muffled (HOWEVER, major shoutout to my acquaintance Katie for working some Pro Tools magic to make it sound alright!). Turns out, hiding a lav mic among heavy winter clothing isn’t a recipe for clear audio.
I also found out how much I wasn’t used to talking to a camera. The final video deviates a fair bit from the original script simply because I ended up memorizing the major “bullet points” of each little paragraph before repeating it back to the camera.
Plus, because we were kind of rushing due to how cold it was, there are actually a few lines here and there that simply never made it into the take, or were said wrong. I’ll be honest, practice is probably the answer here.
Now, especially for the B-roll, a lot of the shooting was a game of how to extract the maximum “production value” from the limited tools we had.
A bunch of the B-roll shots ended up being shot inside a Crate & Barrel, simply because furniture stores had more interesting backgrounds and better lighting than any of our houses.
We also used an escalator in a Nordstrom for the first shot following the title sequence. After warp stabilization, it created the same effect as a crane or gimbal shot, only for zero dollars.
Finally, to get the top-down shots, I used a feature of my tripod that allows the central shaft to be turned upside down. It’s intended for macro shots that are closer to the ground, but it also worked out where I could fit an IKEA Lack table underneath it and use my iPad there. It’s not a fancy overhead mount, but it works.
Keeping with the IKEA theme, the Holmö lamps in my room worked really well to light those overhead shots since they’re essentially giant softboxes.
This was probably the most straightforward part. I started out by piecing together the two A-roll angles and syncing them with the audio track I recorded. The main camera dying about two-thirds of the way through did complicate things slightly, but all the narration had at least one track of footage backing it up.
Then came probably the longest part: editing out all of the bad takes and blank spots. This part took several hours, even though the raw footage was only about forty minutes long. Some lines were nailed in one take, but others took half a dozen tries to get right. I’d isolate what I thought would be the best take, but seconds later I’d see myself repeating that line again.
However, I was fairly prepared on how to deal with the very choppy way we recorded, since jump cutting is a cardinal sin outside of early 2010s YouTube vlogs. I relied on two techniques for this: doing slight zooms when I’d cut between shots on the same camera, and leveraging the fact that we shot an alternate angle from the side.
Another thing that took a bit of time was figuring out music. I originally wanted to put backing tracks for the entire video, but I honestly wasn’t able to find enough royalty free music to cover the entire video. I ended up only putting music for the intro and the outro, which I also think eliminates a distracting factor during the main body of the video.
Other than that, it was a lot of boring After Effects work for the “citations,” and scratching my head as to why Adobe’s warp stabilizer only works for certain shots and not others.
The hardest part
Aside from being the most difficult project of mine from a technical standpoint, this has also been one of the most mentally excruciating periods of time for me.
Remember doubt? Well, it was back, and in full force for this project.
I struggled really hard with the question of whether I was trying too hard to be different, and for a time nearly fell back on some of my plans. It was probably better to just shoot A-roll in an indoor, controlled environment instead of the chaos that can be downtown Chicago. Plus, without going down to the location, I only had about two spots off of Google Street View to make an assessment about whether we’d be able to get a good shot.
To be honest, the only reason I didn’t end up shooting the A-roll indoors was because I knew would never forgive myself if I didn’t make this video exactly how I wanted. Maybe shooting A-roll outdoors, in the city, in the winter would be a bad idea, but I wouldn’t know for sure until I tried it for myself. (Spoiler: with the equipment I have access to, I think I’ll be doing A-roll indoors from here on out)
I also thought long and hard about the contents, whether they would be interesting or relevant to the people that would seek it out. I really took my time writing the script, and I read and re-read every single line to make sure it sounded alright. The night before we were going to shoot, I cut out an entire section because I thought it would make the video too long.
Knowing what I do now, however, I do wish I spent a little less time looking at the individual words and more at the ideas at the whole. Mostly because I’m not that good at script memorization, but also because I don’t really have a system to feed me lines, the final takes ended up being extemporaneous to varying degrees.
I kind of alluded to this fact in my teaser tweet, but a lot of the stress and unease really started to come on after I got home and sat down to edit. There was a solid week where I couldn’t bring myself to touch the footage because of a subconscious fear that it was just straight up bad. Even when I did begin to edit, I’d do it on and off, only making a little progress every night.
I worried that the footage didn’t look its best, that the audio was going to be unpleasant to listen to. I also harbored this irrational fear that I’d somehow miss the expectations of the various people that knew of the existence of this project.
All of those things almost started to keep me up at night, but thankfully it became easier the further I got. A lot of it came down to coming to terms with the concrete fact that this is only my first video. Mistakes will be made, and lessons will be learned.
Plus, the more progress I made in the edit, I slowly realized that what I had was perfectly quality content. No, I can’t match the production value and eloquence that the established personalities had, but for a first attempt, this was solid.
Wrap up/what’s next
As hard as this project has been, it’s also been immensely rewarding to see it come to life. I think I’ve proved to myself that this is something I would want to continue doing, even if just on a “hobby” basis. The extra work and moving pieces just makes it that much more satisfying to watch the video back and be able to say “I made that happen.”
So, I don’t want to promise you’ll be able to see more videos in the future, but I’m surely going to try. There are definitely concrete things I’d like to improve on, such as getting a cleaner audio track and making everything more concise.
However, a lot of my efforts for the near future will be dedicated to finding what works for me; the next few projects will likely vary wildly in terms of visual style, format and topic choice. Hopefully I’ll be able to find a balance that lets me feel more comfortable with the entire process.
Finally, I just wanted to extend my deepest gratitude to all my friends who lent a hand in making this “giant first leap” happen: Ian, Sasha, Thomas and Katie. I’d also like to thank everyone that’s dropped a like on my tweets about this project or sent encouraging words about works-in-progress I sent; it means more to me than you could ever imagine, and it’s helped me keep going when the doubt was at its worst.
And with that, Lance out.
Thanks Maryn for editing this piece!