It often seems that everyone has a video on YouTube. But not everyone has a good video on YouTube. And even if you have a good video on YouTube, there is an excellent chance that most people will never find it amidst the digital clutter.
Which brings us to Jay Miles’ new book, “Conquering YouTube: 101 Pro Video Tips To Take You To The Top” (published by Michael Wiese Productions). Miles, a two-decade veteran of film and video production, offered his advice to Film Threat on making the most of the YouTube exhibition experience.
Your book is called “Conquering YouTube” – but is YouTube the be-all/end-all for filmmakers seeking out online video sites?
I don’t think that YouTube has completely devoured the film industry, as any number of doomsayers have predicted. And it certainly hasn’t become the be-all/end-all for filmmakers, as others foresaw. As a platform, YouTube works best along the lines of traditional TV, rather than film, where short-format programming with repeatable elements (hosts, “studios”, and “episodes”) has flourished. But as a marketing device, YouTube remains a powerful tool with too great an outreach for filmmakers to ignore.
I’m subscribed to a number of film festival and student channels, for example, where I keep up on teasers and trailers for films by both established and upcoming filmmakers. I end up following links from those channels or clips to other websites, simply to get more information about the films, find out when screenings are happening and see longer versions of the films.
In that way, I think filmmakers should approach YouTube more as a cost-free marketing springboard to generate interest in their work, and consider posting longer (or complete) versions of their films on those sites that are better suited to proper films and tend to attract those potential viewers who either have a preference for traditional film, a longer attention span or are curious to see more. Also, the well-worn path taken by directors from music videos to features remains viable and YouTube presents the perfect platform for launching your career via this route. So get out there, find that hungry, talented local band and start shooting!
Your book offers “101 pro video tips.” For the sake of brevity, can you please summarize the Top 10 tips?
My number one suggestion? Buy more batteries! It won’t matter how many fancy lenses, microphones or camera rigs you drag to your location – if you run out of juice, you got nothing. Invest in two or three backups, label them with numbers or colored tape and keep them charged and ready.
Speaking of microphones, invest in a good one before you splurge on that dolly rig. More video is ruined by bad audio than any other factor, so make sure to make sound a top priority.
Feeling legal? I know, I know, its boring stuff – but getting a basic location agreement in place before you shoot can save you a nightmare down the road. The same is true for image releases – make everyone sign one, even your best friends, if they appear on camera at all.
Another big mistake is to lug all your gear and your actors off to your location without a proper plan in place. Don’t rely simply on your brilliant artistic vision! Put in on paper in advance, either in storyboard or shot list format. Trust me – when you get caught up in the whirlwind of shooting, it’s a lifesaver to be able to refer back those ideas on paper.
While we’re on the paper chase, try to designate one crew member (or willing relative) who can diligently make notes as you shoot. A running log of shots will help you “check off” which grand ideas are already in the can, noting which takes were ruined by airplanes flying overhead, shaky camera work or flubbed lines. Circling the “good” takes will also serve as a rough (paper) edit when you sit down to digitize. Oh, about those shaky camera moves? Ditch the hand-held stuff. This style has been terribly overused, and although it’s meant to convey an increased sense of realism, too often all that it communicates is the idea that you had no idea how to cover the scene, so you slammed through the whole thing in hand-held mode.
This leads us to tripods. Your tripod just might be the most important, and easily overlooked, part of your camera gear. Thing of it this way: a pro tripod can help even the cheapest camcorder catch wonderful images, but the reverse is never true. Spend the extra few bucks and get the good gear, especially when it comes to a set of sticks. Once that camera is on your sticks, shoot more than you think you need. Always. This applies both to individual shots (letting each shot run longer than you think it should) and to the overall shoot, in general (pop a few extra shots between takes or while you are waiting for actors to arrive).
Letting each shot run long helps when you sit down to edit, especially when building transitions. And popping extra shots leads to options during your edit and might just help you capture those magical accidental shots that can’t be planned for: they just happen, so keep rolling.
Last, remember that an army marches on its stomach, and the same is true for film crews. We know you don’t have enough money to pay everyone, but you can find a way to get him or her fed. Don’t have a family member or friend who is willing to make sandwiches? You just might be able to get the local sub shop to throw a few your way. Promise them that you’ll include their logo or their name (or both!) in the credits of your film – trust me, this works wonders.
What are some of the key considerations that a filmmaker should recognize before posting an original film online?
First of all, you need to know your purpose. You need to understand who you are as a filmmaker and what message you are trying to send out there. By asking yourself these tough questions, and being honest with yourself when you answer, you can better determine if YouTube is the best home for your work, or if it might best serve as a marketing extension of your efforts. As I mentioned before, you need to decide if you are ready to release your entire film, or if launching a trailer via YouTube is the better option.
Only you can determine if you are geared up for a feature, or if you first want to cut your teeth releasing a music video or several episodes of an ongoing story on YouTube.
This leads to a second, related concern for filmmakers: you need to know your audience. If you shoot mostly short-format, high action pieces (like skate, bike or snowboard videos), music videos or sports highlight clips, and you are targeting a wide audience, then YouTube is a no-brainer. But if your work is designed for a smaller audience, or deals with sensitive content (like trial depositions or training materials) you should probably consider a less open platform.
Remember, once your clips are on YouTube, you need to assume that they’re everywhere (short of deleting any particular clip). Don’t assume that only your intended audience will see a given clip. Assume that everyone will see it, and make sure you are comfortable with that potential result. A tough lesson for lots of younger filmmakers to learn involves the tendency to fall in love with their own content, be it a certain shot, a particular joke or even a style of humor. But the Internet is a big place, and your efforts may just bring you more unintended and potentially career-damaging responses than you planned for or are ready to handle.
A final consideration involves copyright, both for the work that you generate and the use of outside materials in your work. Drag-and-drop functionality has made it all too tempting to grab whatever music, pictures and graphics you might need for a given project, but try to avoid this trap. First of all, you don’t want to become the next news story, lawsuit or ad campaign about copyright violation. Second, there are too many amazing programs and Web sites out there that can generate music, sound effects and animated graphics for you not to use them. So, use them!
Third, there are too many good bands, photographers and graphic designers out there who are dying for the chance to contribute to a film, Web series or documentary. Go find them. And finally, don’t forget that just because you wrote, shot, directed, edited and promoted the movie that there aren’t some less than honest creeps out there who won’t hesitate to rip your video off of YouTube and repost it as their own. In addition to filing traditional copyright materials (it’s cheap, painless and easy), consider running a watermarks or small logo in all of your work to help protect and identify your digital masterpieces.
There are an endless number of videos online – how can a filmmaker make his work stand out from the bunch?
Story is still king. In other words, a solid idea (a good story well told) still wins out over quick gimmicks and one-hit YouTube wonders. Strong production values are also crucial – grabbing good audio, avoiding cheesy transitions, searching for captivating and unique locations and employing consistent, clear, professional lighting. Finding an engaging host is also important. Since YouTube lends itself more to a traditional television model of “programming”, a memorable and intelligent host can help you win out. You need to decide if you intend to post a handful of clips that showcase your best work (like a music video, PSA or trailer), or if you want to establish an ongoing series of videos that might benefit from the presence of a dynamic host.
Don’t be afraid of the YouTube trend toward ongoing, episodic story telling. My favorites are the “choose your own adventure” style videos, where the user selects the next portion of a story, and is catapulted on to one of usually two possible outcomes. The recent YouTube feature that allows users to select in-video links to additional clips makes this approach work wonders, helps retain viewers with short attention spans and allows ongoing stories to flow naturally, without falling victim to random prompts from YouTube that dictate where viewers might click next. The beauty of this format is that while it appears to the viewer like episodes of a TV show that they help to “write”, they work best when shot like a feature – using a core cast and cool locations to bang out as many “episodes” (i.e., short clips) as possible in a relatively short production schedule.
Lastly, you should approach your YouTube channel from two directions. In one instance, for those who subscribe or who are otherwise dedicated viewers, it’s a standalone source for your media. But don’t overlook the second angle, which is that YouTube serves as a free host for your content. This saves you costly hard drive space on your own server or via the company that hosts your own site. Sprinkling the embed code from your clips across as many other sites as you can helps to generate views, and makes it easier for your fan base to become an integral and organic part of your marketing efforts.