What makes a good video?

What does every director yell when they want to start filming? “Action!” Notice that they don’t say, “Stand there and talk into the camera!” or “Do nothing!”

The director yells “Action” because that is what makes a good video, be it three minutes or three hours. So when you want to make a video or have one made, start thinking about the action first. Put yourself in the viewer’s seat and think about what they will see. A good three-minute video requires about 20 different, engaging shots.

If you are doing research on cows, that means you need shots of cows in the field, in the barn, researchers interacting with the cows, researchers taking samples from the cows, researchers back in the lab conducting experiments.

If you are doing a story on a program that teaches young kids a skill, you need to show people interacting with the kids, showing them how to do projects, the expression of kids’ faces as they get excited, and the high-five when the project is completed.

There is a strong likelihood that someone will need to be interviewed about what is going on in the video and giving some details about the project, but this can be done in voiceover or interviews. The person only needs to be on camera for a short time. This is a good example: Jamie is telling you details about the program, but the video is showing the details of the program.

So, obviously, the time to shoot film for a video is not when the project is over and you are compiling results. It is best to do as it is going on so you can capture the action.

A few other things to think about…

  • Length. Remember the last time you watched a six minutes video online? Me neither. Keep them short – three minutes is about as long as you want it. The most popular videos on the Virginia Tech video page are under one minute. This 22-second one got more than 20,000 hits.
  • What it’s not about. videos are not meant to tell the viewer everything about an entire academic program or research initiative. They are meant to complement much more detailed information.
  • The story. Every good story has a beginning, middle, and end. Most have characters, a sense of place, dialogue, and more. This is still true of a short video. Think about what is the story you are trying to tell: The tale of how I became interested in this area of research; the story of 13 students traveling to Senegal ; the story of bugs. Every story, no matter how simple, has a narrative arc.
  • Audio. As much as the viewers see images, they hear the sounds. The sounds of the river the scientist is testing. The sounds of pigs oinking. The sounds of the breeze blowing through infected trees. What sounds will you use to make your video more interesting? These are often layered under the other videos.
  • Lighting. Do you like that golden hue that you see on movies? It’s because the videos are shot right at sunrise and sunset. Try to avoid shooting your video in the midday sun.

When you think you have a good video, take a look at this short list and think if your story has these elements to make it great. Some other great pointers can be found on the web:

Videos are a fun and engaging way to tell stories, some of which are best told through the medium. Take a spin around the CALS video site to see how we have worked with some of our colleagues to tell their stories.

And start prepping your acceptance speech to give to the Academy.

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1 Response to What makes a good video?

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