Tag Archives: howto

Amateur hour: making a school promotional video

In a previous post, I discussed how the school is continuing to reach out to potential students and parents and how one of those efforts was the production of a school promo video.

Now sure, you could hire a production company to do this, but that expertise isn’t readily available in Bamako, and where’s the fun in just throwing money at the problem? So, me being the tech coordinator, I volunteered to do it. Here’s the process I used.

  1. Educate yourself.

    If you use devices in your classroom for video projects, you might think it’s as simple as “pick up device and press record.” This is not the way to make anything even remotely professional. You’ll need to learn a little bit about film production and editing. I recommend reading About.com’s Classic Rules of Video Editing, the excellent Arstechnica howto Cheap Shots, and MediaCollege.com’s Shot Types page to get you started.

  2. Figure out your approach.

    You might be tempted to make a narrated video based around your school mission statement and if that’s the case then you should script and storyboard. We wanted the video to reflect our students voices so we decided to interview them off of a list of prepared questions and then organize the best quotes into themes. This required more time on the editing end, but also produced an organic feel. Location was a challenge – we scouted to find a decent backdrop that would have acceptable lighting in the harsh afternoon glare since we filmed between 1:30 and 2:45pm.

  3. Use decent equipment.

    This kit from B&H gets you halfway there. Add headphones for monitoring and an Olympus E-PL3 and you’ve got a pretty solid filming rig for under $1000. We borrowed most of our equipment, so our budget was $0.
    We used two DSLR cameras for the interviews themselves. Two students were gracious enough to lend their personal units and their time to help us. The two-camera setup helped us switch angles during interviews to hide cuts. We used a third Olympus PEN series camera for the B-roll, although it would have been sufficient for the interviews as well. A shotgun mic was absolutely necessary to get good audio – don’t even bother using built-in mics on cameras. I borrowed one from our music teacher’s personal collection, but this kit from B&H includes everything you’ll need except a pair of headphones to monitor the audio. Use reflectors (ours were white posterboard) wherever you’re shooting, and turn off ACs and fans – you’ll notice that the audio. Also be aware of ambient temperature and battery status. A few times our DSLRs overheated outdoors, which is why we shot some interviews inside, and other times the batteries ran out. Finally, make sure you have ample drive space. I’d recommend two 1TB drives, one to hold the footage and one for backup.
  4. Schedule and conduct interviews.

    I worked with classroom teachers to make a list of students who we thought would be well-spoken on camera and pulled them out of class to film them. The journalism class crewed the shoots: one student on each camera, one to do interviews, and one to manage reflectors. Each interview lasted a few minutes, but we probably used no more than 1 minute of footage from any single student and we completely junked some others that didn’t speak to a compelling theme.

  5. Edit.

    During each interview I made mental notes of notable themes and examples, and directly after each shoot I pulled the relevant segments out of the footage and put them into the timeline of the story. As we did more an more interviews a few clear themes developed, which you can see emblazoned on the back transition slides between segments in the final video. Use prosumer or professional video software for this – I used Final Cut Pro. It took the multicam footage and combined it into a single clip, using the audio to sync them up. Saved me a ton of work.

  6. Transcribe.

    I enlisted a student working for community service to transcribe the final interview segments into English and then translate them into French since we wanted to reach a francophone audience.
    Above: the Google Doc we used to transcribe, translate, and annotate the interviews.
    He did these in groups of 1-2 sentences, since that’s all that will fit on the screen at a time as a subtitle. Then he found the timecodes for each group so that we could make .srt files, which we uploaded to the YouTube video and embedded into the downloadable .m4v/.mp4 files by reencoding with Handbrake. Finally, we added a column to denote what kind of b-roll we’d need to shoot.

  7. Shoot b-roll and add over main storyline.

    If you can’t afford a DSLR, try the Olympus PEN series. They can be had for $250 or less on Amazon.
    Ideally you would have the journalism class doing this throughout the year and would communicate teachers so you catch them when they’re doing their most engaging lessons, but I was on a tight schedule and ended up doing everything within the space of a few weeks. I had to mix in some still images which worked alright, but video still looks better. The Olympus PEN cameras (E-PL1 and E-PL3) that I used were great for the price – they can be had for $250 or less on Amazon.
  8. Distribute.

    We uploaded ours to YouTube so that we could embed it on our main page. Since it’s aimed at prospective families, we also included a link under the Admissions menu. On the YouTube page we also include links to downloads in three sizes hosted on a remote server, since the internet in Mali is often too slow to load YouTube videos in real time and we didn’t want to host it on our school’s limited connection.

Finally, archive your footage. We don’t have enough space anyway to keep the ~250GB of footage I ended up having, but that didn’t stop me from being frustrated when, the day after I uploaded the final video, I dropped the drive with my raw footage and lost almost everything.

Happy filming!