A few months ago, we spoke to several companies that marketed extensively on YouTube, and they shared their YouTube strategies with us. All of them produced videos in-house, and we were struck by the practical nature of their approach to production, as well as how economically they produced high-quality and effective videos. In this article, we’ll look at their production techniques and offer best practices to companies that prefer creating marketing videos in-house.
We spoke with two of the companies again. First was AmeriFirst Home Mortgage, which specializes in FHA loans, VA mortgage loans, USDA Rural Development loans, home improvement loans, and conventional lending, and has offices in 12 states. A few years ago, AmeriFirst tapped Dan Moyle, formerly a senior news producer from the local Kalamazoo news affiliate, to lead its video production efforts. With a single in-house shooter, Moyle produces three to five videos a week, including tips, case studies, and executive interviews. Despite his professional background Moyle was and remains quite parsimonious when purchasing gear, and produces high quality results on a relative shoestring.
The second company, Ceilume Ceiling Tiles, manufactures ceiling tiles. In addition to marketing its products on YouTube, Ceilume hosts multiple product and installation videos on its own site. We spoke with president Ed Davis, AKA the Ceiling Tile Guy, and in-house producer Jan Pechbrenner. Unlike AmeriFirst’s Dan Moyle, both Ed and Jan are almost completely self-taught.
What are the biggest mistakes you see in business-oriented internet videos?
Dan: A couple of things turn me off. First is video shot without a tripod, which usually ends up shaky and grainy. Second is video shot with a smartphone or tablet, which typically has poor exposure and inadequate audio. If you’re going to shoot video regularly and do it well, you need a video camera.
Ed/Jan: First is video that runs too long; a video that takes 5 minutes to tell a 90-second story. We avoid that by editing before we even shoot a frame. By that, I mean we script tightly, have a time target before we start shooting, and then try to pare that down even further when shooting and editing.
Second is video that doesn’t tell me upfront what’s in it for me. If I can’t tell why I want to watch a video in the first five seconds or so, I click away. So, no artsy branding animations that cost a fortune and nobody wants to watch.
What kind of camera do you need to produce high-quality videos?
Dan: You don’t need an expensive camera; we have a Panasonic HDC-TM700 that cost around $1,000 when new. We bought it because it has a hard drive—we didn’t want to rely on tapes or SD cards—true 1080p capture and an external audio jack. We can also shoot in full manual mode, with control over the iris, shutter speed, and gain, with zebra stripes to help set exposure.
Shooting in manual mode is essential to get the best exposure, but it’s not brain surgery. We’re not saving lives or sending someone to the moon. Just watch a few YouTube training videos and you’ll learn everything you need to know.
Ed/Jan: We started shooting ages ago. For a long time we used a Panasonic 1080p camcorder, but we recently switched to a Blackmagic Design Cinema camera, which gives us higher resolution capture. We find that works better when we shoot against a green screen, which we’re starting to do more and more.
What about audio gear?
Dan: A lapel microphone is essential, but you don’t have to spend a lot. Our Audio/Technica wireless lavaliere microphone cost under $200.
Ed/Jan: We have two microphones, and a separate recorder. We only capture reference audio with the Blackmagic Cinema. The recorder is a Zoom H5, and we have a Sony lapel microphone and a Rode NTG1 shotgun microphone.
What other gear is essential?
Dan: We have several soft lights, including a couple of old incandescent lights with umbrellas. Recently we switched to lightboxes that have four bulbs that you can control individually. They cost around $300.
Ed/Jan: We have multiple sets of soft boxes and some older incandescent lights. If you’re going to shoot green screen, you need to light the background. We have three lights on the subject, two up front, and one as a hair light. Lighting on the background has to be even or you’ll see a weird aura or halo that just looks bad.
We also have a teleprompter. We used to use an iPad-based prompter, but recently switched to a larger, more professional unit with a larger screen.
Why and when did you install your studio?
Dan: We created our studio when we moved into a new office building; it’s really more of a portion of an office than a studio. We needed a controlled environment where we could record without interruption, and shoot greenscreen and similar videos. While we still shoot many of our videos in our offices or in the field, it’s definitely nice to have the lights setup and the camera on standby so we can shoot on a moment’s notice.
You don’t have to spend a fortune; for example, instead of spending $100 or so on a gallon of chroma key paint, we bought sparkling apple color, which works just as well. With that and a muslin curtain we were pretty much set up, since we already had the lights, camera, and tripods.
Ed/Jan: Frankly, we decided that we needed a studio when we saw that our competitors and distributors were producing higher quality videos than ours. We refurbished a building already on our property to use as a studio, though video production-related purchases, including the Blackmagic camera, were still only a few thousand dollars. It’s been a long time coming, but now we can create a few videos as needed without disrupting other critical areas in our facility.
It’s funny how buying the camera forced us to raise the bar on all gear. We saw the output, and realized that we needed new lighting, and then a greenscreen background. Then video quality was great, but audio was lagging, so we bought the new Rode and Sony microphones. Now we’re really pleased with the overall quality.
What about editing and graphics?
Dan: We recently switched over to Final Cut Pro X. We were using Adobe Premiere Elements, which was fine, but then we wanted an editor with more power so we could do more emotional pieces with highly saturated color and background music.
Ed/Jan: Final Cut Pro X and Motion.
What does high production value mean to you?
Dan: Production value speaks to watchability. If the video is shaky, grainy, vertical, or the audio is bad, I’m not going to watch it. On the other hand, if the video is beautiful, but delivers no useful information, and no value as end-user, I won’t watch that either. I want quality info that’s easy to see and hear without getting seasick.
Ed/Jan: High production quality means a well-rounded production with quality graphics, video that’s not grainy, and high quality audio. Better than home video quality. In the context of multiple videos from the same organization, it also means videos with a consistent look and feel that viewers instantly recognize.
What’s the fastest way to learn how to produce high quality videos?
Dan: if you have absolutely no experience, consider hiring a production team for your first shoot or two. Or, if there are TV stations in your area, see if any of the producers will freelance; it will be lots cheaper than a production team and the result should be just as good or better. If there’s a university around with a production curriculum, see if any of the students will freelance. If you’re totally on your own, you can get a long way by watching videos on shooting and editing.
Ed/Jan: Watch other product videos, particularly your competitors. If you find a technique that matches what you’re trying to do stylistically, try to implement it in your productions. Usually, it’s not that hard to do.