Can Video Production Quality Matter a Little? (Please?)

by Dan Dashnaw.


video-editingThere’s been a fair amount of discussion about the declining importance of video production quality in recent months. As you know, technology has induced a tsunami of ‘user generated’ video content by virtually eliminating the traditional barriers of entry, making it much easier for people to shoot and post videos to the web. All of this has fostered an undoubtedly exciting and liberating time for video as a medium.

However, whenever a set of rules is being re-written like this, it’s often a good idea to examine the new ground-level assumptions that are quietly becoming burned into mainstream acceptance. Without doing so, a number of elusive fundamentals can work their way into your filter without you even noticing. As such, here’s a question that I’d like to shake around a bit:

Does video production quality matter?

If I were asking a similar question about any other form of content, you would probably not hesitate to answer with a matter-of-fact ‘yes’. It’s for this reason that I’m writing this post and calling this to your attention. Why would it make sense to treat (or neglect) video any more then you it would any other aspect of your presence? From where I’m looking, it doesn’t.

As of late, it has almost become fashionable to play down the relevance of quality and presentation value when talking about video. Now, most of this is routed in the dismissal of the traditional, high budget ‘production requirements’ implied by television, film, and video production firms, and I completely applaud this self-enabling progression. I’m all about leveling the playing field and getting the tools into the hands of the people.

But does this mean that you as a video creator should completely abandon the pursuit of quality? Not to me it doesn’t. There is a middle ground to acknowledge here, and I feel compelled to mention it. Not because I have an agenda to sell you something (I don’t), but because I want you to get better results from your efforts. Plain and simple.

It’s all branding, right?

Super-polished, ‘over the top’ production is usually overkill and can even work against you in terms of relaying transparency and accessibility. But I also think that being able to create clean and effective video is well worth the learning curve, and that your brand will likely benefit from the extra attention that it requires.

You see, video - much like your blog, website, Twitter background, etc. - is content that will ultimately reflect your brand. As such, offering an acceptable level of quality should matter to you, as it will very likely influence your the perceptions of your viewers. The bottom line is this: even though your fellow video-bloggers may be totally cool with a shaky, inaudible and totally untreated video that you post, there’s an honest chance that others will not be quite as forgiving. I come to this realization pretty often when talking to people who spend their time well-outside of the social media sphere.

In short, I’d say that you should apply the same sort of attention to video quality as you would to anything else you’re willing to put your (brand) name on. Why would anything less make any sense?

A happy medium.

Now I’m not at all implying that you need to become a Final Cut Pro master or spend tons of time (or money) getting your video content out there. That’s hardly my intention. I’m rather suggesting that you focus some attention on enhancing your production skills (or outsourcing if necessary) so that your videos compliment the presence that you’ve been so deliberately crafting via other mediums.

It’s amazing what a few clean edits, good sounding audio, a nice title screen and some clean on-screen text can do in terms of helping to keep a viewer engaged. So why not allot some attention to getting it right?

Please post your thoughts in the comments below - This is a topic that I’d really like to extend. ;-)

Continue Reading

Video Tutorial: How To Create Lower Thirds in Final Cut Pro

by Dan Dashnaw.


I get asked questions about creating text caption overlays or ‘lower thirds’ all of the time, so I decided to throw together a basic video tutorial to help those of you using Final Cut Pro. If you don’t know what a lower third is, don’t feel bad at all. It’s a pretty strange name, and it’s roll is not exactly obvious from a distance. To fill in the blanks, here’s an overview courtesy of the all-knowing Wikipedia:

A lower third is a graphic placed in the lower area of the screen, though not necessarily the entire lower third of it as the name suggests. Lower thirds are most commonly found

A Lower Third

in television news production, though they also appear in documentaries and even have begun to make appearances in amateur videos thanks to home video editing.

In their simplest form, lower thirds can just be text overlying the video. Frequently this text is white with a drop shadow to make the words easier to read. Lower thirds can also contain graphical elements such as boxes, images or shading. Some lower thirds have animated backgrounds and text.

Finally, here’s the video tutorial for helping you create lower thirds in your own productions. It’s meant to serve as a starting point, so please excuse the simplicity…and enjoy.

Download the Mp4 or View on the iPhone

Continue Reading

Something to Tweet About: Social Media Posts of the Week

by Dan Dashnaw.


There’s a ton of great blog content being created these days, and I’m well-aware that sifting through it all can be a bit overwhelming at times. For the sake of helping to ease the strain on your own filter, I’m now packaging up the most valuable posts that I’ve uncovered in my weekly web explorations. Enjoy.

The Fine Line Between Analysis and Excuses | Altitude Branding
- Amber Naslund talks about strategy vs. hesitation when sitting on the social media sidelines.

Digital Darwinism will change the marketing ecosystem for Brand Managers | Hard Knox Life
- Survival of the fittest for brands as they adopt SM - an excellent analysis by Dave Knox.

They are starting to “Get” the power « As Seen Through My Eyes…
- A local restaurant’s Twitter profile earns them a happy customer.

Why Is It So Hard to Shop for Enterprise Software?
- Why would you make it difficult for people to find out about your products? (it’s broke - please fix it)

The Importance of Staying Relevant | Greg Cangialosi - The Trend Junkie
- Brands must adapt to stay relevant in the economic climate, here’s why.

A Social Media Job Interview | Altitude Branding
- A social media readiness checklist. (thanks again, @ambercadabra)

How UGC Impacts Every Corner of Your Company | Bazaarblog
- Using customer input to add value. UGC beyond ecommerce.

The Marketing of Unmarketing, A History and Primer
-What traditional marketers need to learn to thrive in the age of SM - Jason Falls.

Lao Tzu and Lisa Haneberg on Leadership - The Brand Builder
- @thebrandbuilder breaks it down for you, as usual.  Quality.

Continue Reading

Calling All Video Creators: Please Stabilize Your Audio Volume Levels.

by Dan Dashnaw.


audio-waveformThere’s a really good chance that the audio in your video deserves more attention then it’s currently getting. I’m pretty darn sure about this. Why? Because I’m running into serious cases of audio neglect everywhere I look these days. As a result, I’m going to make a quick suggestion which, if listened to, may vastly improve the overall video viewing experience for everyone on the internet.  Yes, I’m dead serious here.

This is what the world at large desperately needs you to do:

Normalize the audio output levels of the videos you produce.

Now, I’m not going to go nuts here and preach to you about things like de-artifacting, denoising, and compressing your individual audio channels, even though I definitely could - especially being that I’m an audio perfectionist of sorts.  That’s for another post.  All that I’m asking of you here is to come up with a reasonable ’standard’ audio output level - something like minus 2 (-2) or minus 3 (-3) decibels - and stick with it.

Here’s why it’s important:

Do you hate it when you’re watching TV and a commercial comes on that is REALLY loud compared to the show that you were peacefully enjoying? I know that I really do. Well, if you don’t take the time to attend to your video’s audio output level, you may very well be offending your own viewers in the same totally annoying way. Yes. Exactly.

Similarly, if your audio levels are too low (which may even be more prominent on the web these days), it’s equally frustrating. I’m really tired of ganking my computer’s volume level up and down all day long to account for the oversight and/or laziness of internet video producers. Plus, if I have to crank up my computer’s volume to hear what you’re saying, I run the risk of blowing my eardrums out when then next properly-gained video starts playing. I don’t know about you, but this is really starting to bother me. So, let’s work to squash this bug together, OK?

Here are some ways to fix it:

There are a number of methods you can use to stabilize your audio output levels, but here are some really basic ways to get the job done quickly:

  1. The first option is to take the audio ‘master track’ in your video editing application and ‘normalize’ it to -2 or -3 decibels (or ‘db’, as it’s commonly referred to) with a plugin inside of your video app. This should be applied to your audio ‘mix’ channel, which is the master audio output that combines all of your audio tracks.
  2. If that’s too much for you to swallow, then just take a look at your master audio track’s levels in your level meter and visually adjust it to somewhere within the -2 to -3 db range. This eyeball-based method is ‘quick and dirty’ and less then ideal, but it will probably at least get you into the passable range. Compare your results to other videos on the web. Adjust as needed.
  3. Record all of your audio properly, compress and gain each audio track separately, and finalize and master the mix to a suitable output level which is the same across every video you produce. Ok, fine - maybe not. If this sounds like way too much for you to think about, then I totally understand. Please go back and see #1 and #2 for my reasonable and easy-to-swallow solutions.

Anyway, thanks for listening. I really hope that you’ll work with me in resolving this epidemic of audio neglect. It’s within your power to do so, and it’s totally the right thing to do. The ears and patience of countless others will be appreciative of your efforts. ;-)

Questions? Feel free to drop them in the comments. I’d love to help.

Continue Reading

Awaken The Video Production Ninja Within: Video Editing 101

by Dan Dashnaw.


video-editing-tipsThis is the second post in a series I’m writing with the intention of helping you produce better video. In this installment, I’m going to dive into some basic video editing and production tips to help you earn the respect and attention of your viewers. Video editing can be a tedious and time-consuming skill to perfect, but as a Ninja it’s your duty to approach it with dignity, honor and ultimate precision. As such, it’s time to sharpen your editing skills and fulfill your destiny, young warrior. There’s much video to be made.

In my last post I touched upon the pre-recording and filming stages of production. In the name of progress, I’m assuming that you’ve already mastered that and are now ready to get down and dirty with some footage in your editing application of choice. So, here we go.

1. Cut it out. After importing your video footage into your editing application, the first step will be to cut out anything that you don’t need in your timeline. This process often benefits from a few quick rounds of slicing and dicing. You’ll probably find that multiple attempts to ‘widdle down’ your footage will usually uncover more content that you can cut to the curb.

On your first run, edit away any of the extra footage, obvious mistakes, and nonsense that you find. Then, once you’ve cleared the debris in your timeline, go back through your footage again to see what else can be cut without remorse. If it isn’t essential to the intended message or presentation, yank it. With most web-targeted video, less is often more. Kindly give your viewers their time and attention back before they demand it - it’s the courteous and respectful thing to do.

2. Tie it together. After you remove the gaps in between the edited segments that you’ve just sliced in your timeline, it’s time to smooth things out in-between each cut. This is especially true for a ‘talking head’ style video or a videoblog, where ’straight cut’ edits don’t often work very well. There are a few ways that you can accomplish this, and here are your basic options:

The first option is to use a ‘transition’, such as a dissolve or fade. Your video editing application already has a number of these included under its hood. Since I’m a minimalist (and a bit of an elitist as well, perhaps), I’m going to encourage you to stay far away from obvious ‘wipe’ and ‘peel’ transitions.  Why? Because they are overused and, well…pretty cheesy. Subtlety is good in the transition department, which as a Ninja-in-training, I’m pretty sure you already know.

The second option is to use a piece of B-roll footage or even an image to lay on top of the edit in your sequence as a ‘cutaway’. Cutaways are used to cover up transitions between clips or problems within your footage by literally ‘cutting away to’ different footage or imagery for a moment. You can accomplish this by literally placing a piece of footage ‘over’ the edit or visual glitch in your sequence, and it really does come in handy. This also allows you to preserve audio you may need to keep during a poor visual ‘take’. Here’s a link to a basic video tutorial on using cutaways which will demonstrate what I’m talking about a little bit better.

3. Spell it out. One great way to spice things up is by adding some tasteful text overlays to your video where they make sense. Text overlays allow you to call specific attention on-screen to things such as your company name, a website URL, or even key points you’re trying to help stick in your viewers minds. Again, I strongly suggest that you practice good judgment here and keep things on the minimal side. Here are some basic tips to help you utilize on-screen text properly:

  • Limit your text to an upper or lower edge of the screen so that it won’t obscure your primary content (often called a ‘lower third‘).
  • Use any text animations such as fly-ins or fly-outs very sparingly. This isn’t a circus, right?
  • Display your text for long enough so that your viewers have the time to notice it and digest it.
  • Contrast your text color with your background video, so that it stands out and is actually readable.

Again, taste is the key to achieving good results with on-screen text - I cannot stress this enough (or adequately teach it within a blog post, for that matter). Experiment within your editing application and consult other videos for further inspiration. There are plenty of good examples out there to absorb and learn from.

4. Sort your sound. This is an area where I tend to place a good amount of emphasis, as nothing irks me more then terrible audio quality. As such, here are a few tips to help you not scare people like myself away.

Start by recording your video’s audio signal properly in the first place. Be sure to get a strong audio level into your microphone that does not distort or clip. Test this before you begin filming. If you really want to ensure consistent audio levels (as I always do), run your audio track though a compressor. You can either do this within your editing application (if it offers one) or via an external audio editor or plugin.

Next, add-in some suitable, unassuming background music. Be sure to only use royalty-free or ‘podsafe’ music to avoid getting sued by a major record label (or to avoid getting the audio track stripped from your video on YouTube). To help you in your search, here’s a link to a pretty thorough blog post that will get you pointed you in the right direction.

Once you’ve found something appropriate, carefully mix your audio levels in your video editing application so that you strike a good balance between your dialog and your background music track. Fade the music in to (and out from) your dialog, lowering the volume on the music track when you are speaking. This is easier then it sounds, I promise. Of course, if you’d like any specific help with this, just drop me a line and I’ll be glad to sort you out. I aim to please.

Anyway, I hope that some of these tips will help you inch closer towards becoming a master of video form and function. As always, feel free to post questions or any of your own tips in the comments below.


Continue Reading

Awaken The Video Production Ninja Within, Part 1: Ready, Set, Film.

by Dan Dashnaw.


Video Production SceneThis is the first in a series of posts that I’m putting together to help aspiring DIY video-makers film and produce better video for the web. Although the tips below may seem a bit obvious to a number of you, I run into questions about this stuff almost daily when talking to clients.  As such, I’m starting off with the very basics here. If you’ve already got them covered, please bear with me until the next few posts are written.  Remember, not everyone is a ninja like you…yet.

1. Gear Up. The first and most obvious step is to get your equipment on lock-down. These days, a totally adequate video camera is easy to come by on the cheap. For example, the Flip Video line of cameras will totally do the trick on a tight budget. Their top of the line HD version only costs about $229, and this will more then do the trick. If you’d like something a bit more fully featured, just shop around a bit and read all the reviews that you can before buying to get the most bang for your buck. The internet - as usual - will be your friend in this regard. Cnet’s camcorder review section is a great place to start.

Next on the ‘must-have’ list is a tripod. This is probably more essential than you might think, and it’s a definite requirement for shooting shake-free video footage. You can grab a totally decent tripod for around $50 or so, and it’ll be some of the best money you’ve ever spent. I promise. Nothing wreaks of amateur more then a shaky camera, and your tripod will keep your pans and tilts as smooth as silk.

2. Script Your Dialog. Before going into any sort of project that you are serious about, take some time to map out what you’re going to say. You don’t necessarily have to write things out word for word, but a solid outline is highly suggested. The more confident you are about what you’ll be saying, the more smoothly the recording process will go.  Spend some time rehearsing your topic to help ease the nerves and to loosen up your mind a bit.

Once you’re feeling pretty good about your delivery, you can proceed towards the lights, camera, and action phase. Of course, you’re still probably going to be at least a little nervous (or clumsy) and have to grab a number of ‘takes’, but, well…just get used to it. Almost everyone looses at least a little bit of their cool once the red light goes on.

3. Set The Scene. Before actually hitting the record button you’ll need to quickly setup and frame your scene. Set your camera up on your trusty tripod and point it at the area in which you’ll be filming. Although there are no hard-set rules about what should be on camera, your taste and judgment will certainly come into play here. Look into your camera’s viewfinder and move things around until you’re happy with what you see. Also be sure to remove any ugly, distracting or incriminating objects from view.

Another pretty important factor that is often overlooked is lighting. Make sure that the area you’re filming within has adequate lighting (yes, turn the lights on). If this isn’t enough or you wish to raise the bar a bit, you can always bring in a lighting from another room (or even a lighting rig) to supplement. Experiment with the placement until you’re happy. Keep checking your camera’s viewfinder and adjust to taste.

4. Hit Record. It’s finally time to get down to business. Get in position and fire away. If you loose your footing during your delivery (and you probably will), just back up to a recent ‘checkpoint’ in your dialog and give it another try. You can easily edit out the errors and mishaps in post production as long as you have a good take of each ’section’ to work with. This is what applications like iMovie, Final Cut Pro, and Adobe Premier are great for, and I suggest that you make friends with at least one of them for this very reason. I will have much more for you on that topic in my next post.

5. Grab Some B-Roll. B-Roll is extra video footage that you can use to cut away to within your video. It can be helpful in making things more interesting for your viewers and also in covering up visual flaws in your delivery. For example, if you’re talking about a new book you’ve written, a cool shot of the book itself could be used as b-roll. If you’re talking about your company’s local presence, various shots of the area can be used as b-roll. You get the picture. In short, b-roll can a great way to enhance the visual appeal of your video and can seriously help to break up your longer speaking segments. Grab some footage when you’re filming and experiment with layering clips on top of your dialog to see what I mean.

In my next post, I’ll be getting into some video editing and production tips that will help you spice things up considerably.  It’s no secret that serious magic happens in the editing room, and as everyone knows - Ninjas are all about magic.  See you then, oniwaban.

Of course, feel free to post specific questions in the comments below.  It’s what I’m here for.


Continue Reading

How To Hide Twitter Updates From Your FriendFeed Stream

by Dan Dashnaw.


It seems like there’s been a lot of buzz surrounding Friendfeed since they released their Twitter friend import tool this week. As such, I’m seeing a lot of interest and related questions coming out of the Twitter community about making FriendFeed a bit more…well, friendly. If you’re looking to do the same, here’s something you may find useful.

After you perform your Twitter friend import on FriendFeed, you’ll notice that all of your friend’s Twitter status updates are visible within your FriendFeed stream. This can really get in your way if you have a lot of Twitter friends and not much else going on in your FriendFeed’s ‘home’ stream.

Anyway, if you’re like me, you may find that seeing these Twitter updates from your friends in FriendFeed can be both distracting and redundant. If you want to reduce this specific source of noise, here’s how you can remove all Twitter updates from your FriendFeed stream. (much thanks to Louis Gray):

  1. Locate a Twitter update somewhere in your FriendFeed stream. Click on the ‘hide’ link underneath the post. Hide Link Underneath Post
  2. After you click on “Hide”, you’ll see a dialog box come up saying “Entry hidden. Undo or hide other items like this one.” Click on where it says “hide other items like this one”. Hide Other Items Like This One
  3. Now a dialog box will appear.  Select “Hide everyone’s Twitter entries”, and then optionally ‘even if they have comments or likes”. Dialog Box I personally left the ‘even if they have comments or dislikes’ option unchecked, as Twitter updates with FriendFeed conversations around them are still worth seeing to me.  As always, your own preference may vary.

…and that’s it, you’re done. Now you’ll only see non-Twitter updates within your FriendFeed activity stream. Enjoy!

Continue Reading

Social Media, the DIY Movement, and the Economy…

by Dan Dashnaw.


3173938037_12ec003913_mDo you handle a wider range of tasks by yourself today then you did a few years ago? I know that I do, and that most of my friends certainly do. Heck, even my parents are surprising me in this department. I guess it makes sense that as this democratization of information continues to evolve at light speed, more of us are grabbing the reigns and expanding our horizons ‘DIY style’. It’s the logical progression, and a darn good sign that we’re getting collectively smarter.

Nothing seems to pronounce this movement more profoundly for me then today’s scope of television programming. DIY shows are literally everywhere on the tube right now, as the rise of ‘reality’ television coupled with the socially hip, eco-friendly green movement has inspired a natural explosion within this category. People seem to love to consuming this stuff, and I completely understand why they do. ‘Know-how’ is an easy sell to people like me.

After all, if you factor in the economic concerns that we’re all dealing with today, the cost-saving core basis of DIY-ing makes more obvious sense than ever. Why not save a few bucks while simultaneously learning a useful skill in order to cross a pending (and potentially nagging) task off of your list? It’s seemingly becoming a smarter and easier choice for people to make these days. The DIY approach lines up in theory and in practicality with the fundamental shifts that appear to be fueling our collective evolution. At least in my mind it does.

So, here’s what I’m wondering: how will the greater economy and individual income levels be affected by this rapidly developing shift towards greater self sufficiency? As more of us begin to self-educate, grab the reigns and take on projects and skills ourselves that we used to outsource, what are the longer throw implications for the greater economy (and society) as a whole?  Uh-oh. I sense a hefty conundrum boiling underneath all of this…

For example: let’s say that one of the toilets in my house suddenly stops working. Instead of calling a plumber, I do a bit of research online which reveals a simple fix. I run out to Home Depot to grab a few parts on the cheap, and then return home to perform the operation in sync with the comfort and support of a YouTube clip. Kudos - well done, right? Thought so. But what about the plumber I didn’t call? What about every other professional middleman that I’ve been able to swiftly replace with just my own two hands and the internet? What about the suffering global economy that we’re all supposed to be pumping our hard-earned money into? (and what about ‘Joe the Plumber’?) ;-)

So here’s my question. What will happen as people like myself begin to take on more and more of everything ourselves in the name of efficiency and self-actualization, in the midst of all of this readily available and directly applicable information? It would surely seem that we would need less money to survive on individually, since we would be spending less and less cash on external resources to help fulfill our needs. Right?

It certainly seems as though this progressive and empowering application of information must be a good thing…

…although I think I’ve accidentally run headfirst into the heavily-understated limitations of capitalism, yet again…

I’m curious though - what are your thoughts here?  Economists and thinkers, please educate me in the comments below.

Continue Reading