How to create compelling spontaneous video

I thoroughly enjoy attending the NSA Conference every year. And as an audio podcaster, I am compelled to record each day to include in an audio documentary for my audience.

This year, however, I decided to try something different. Video! For years I wanted to create complementary video content for my podcast but never found anything which allowed me to upload footage that wasn’t just a talking head, or me ordering food in a restaurant or talking on the phone.

Since I was arriving three days before the start of the conference, I thought of creating a video series showing the locales surrounding the conference hotel for attendees arriving later in the week. The NSA conference takes place in a different city in the United States every year.

My plan had a few challenges. First, the conference was taking place in St. Petersburg, Florida, a city where I have never been to before.

Secondly, this was also my vacation and a much needed break from a computer screen. So the videos I needed to produce had to be quick to edit.

I had planned on using my DSLR camera to shoot film and the iMovie app on my iPad and put all my blind faith into hotel wi-fi for uploading.

I had no idea if my plan would work out. Hotel wi-fi tends to be flaky, I wasn’t familiar with the area and really, the last thing I needed on this vacation was more screen time.

Despite all this, I ended up shooting seven videos.

So how did I do it?

1. A bit of research beforehand

A few weeks before I left Toronto, I announced my plan and asked fellow attendees what they’d like to see in the video. They asked for nearby shopping malls and bars.

I took a gander on Google to see what was nearby. To be honest, it didn’t help much. Nor did Street View. Also, I wasn’t up for researching the area in great detail as I enjoy exploring new places in person (and I really needed my digital sabbatical). But I liked the challenge of finding these things out as I explored the hotel’s surroundings.

Read up on best practices in shooting video. Especially in framing the shot and how to avoid bad lightning.

2. Have your camera on you always

It was lunch time when I arrived to the hotel so it made the perfect opportunity to get a first look at the surroundings as me and my friends searched for a restaurant.

Keep your camera with you in case of any spontaneous moments worthy of recording– funny or interesting landmarks or animals, interesting architecture, buskers, etc. My DSLR is rather bulky so sometimes I carried my iPad instead (yes, I did feel silly using it to shoot video but it came in handy for spontaneous interviews in the hotel lobby and bar as I was editing).

3. Would you watch this?



Before you hit the record button, or even while recording, put yourself in your viewer’s shoes and ask yourself if you’d watch it. Content needs to stay relevant to your viewers and also short if it’s being posted online. For instance, I knew my fellow attendees were also eager to hit any beaches in the area so I filmed them when I found them.

And food. You can never go wrong with shots of food these days. In our case, we noticed the abundance of ice cream parlours in the area. So we ordered a few and provided our reviews on camera.

As you work on the final version of your video, take out any parts that cause you to start growing bored. Remember, you need to keep your viewer’s attention. Just because you shot and posted the video, it doesn’t mean people will watch it.

4. Think of questions to ask before you hit record

If you’re planning to interview people on camera, make sure you know what questions to ask before you start recording. I know this sounds pretty obvious, but you do need to do some planning when it comes to shooting video regardless of spontaneity. Ask open ended questions which can prompt the interviewee to elaborate and share stories.

Knowing what you’ll ask can also help you set up a theme for your video. Or in my case, series of videos. Each episode that I shot during the conference had its own theme. This way, things stay fresh and interesting.

5. Be open and work with unexpected content


What I enjoy most about shooting spontaneous video is being able to take advantage of unexpected content that comes up. I’ve stumbled upon exotic birds, interesting scenery and useful information (and comedy) by my friends when I asked them to co-host. And background conversations being taken out of context can provide a lot of humour.

6. Timing is both everything and nothing



Hotel wi-fi pended up being hit or miss. Why prolong the agony of restarting uploads over and over? So I decided to wait until I got home to upload my final episode which was a bit too long to upload. I sacrificed timing for content. I didn’t want to take anything out and I knew viewers were still in transit or busy uploading their own photos. So I took advantage of being able to upload my final episode once the post-conference depression hit.

Learnings

I didn’t buy an external mic as I wanted to keep this project as low maintenance as possible. Plus, I like closeups in video so I figured my interviewees would be close enough to hear.

Unfortunately, once I had shot and uploaded the video, I realized I had ran into a weird lens issue. It kept blurring! It turned out that I was too close to the interviewee to realize that I was too close. In other words, I couldn’t tell how sharp my image was from the liveview on the back of my DSLR.

I wish my camera allowed me to shoot video from the viewfinder. I don’t like using the liveview.

Up for seeing the fruits of my labour and experiment? I’ve made and embedded a playlist of my video series below:

I didn’t completely abandon my audio podcast during my stay in St. Petersburg. I did manage to record some audio and included clips the video in case listeners don’t quite get around to viewing my series.

 

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