Twenty-four hours. That’s a tough deadline for any video production to meet, especially when you’re going above and beyond simple live-to-tape productions. Adding elements to your show such as lower-thirds, picture-in-picture, and special effects are all ingredients that add up to a complex and time-consuming cocktail.
I’ve had the privilege of working in media environments that included local radio stations, nationally syndicated radio, live and pre-recorded Internet television, machinima, and even documentary productions. Every one of these media outlets had one thing in common: They all worked from a budget that was a fraction of what you would find on network television. Sets can be built in home offices, virtual studios, and even the living room of a one-bedroom apartment.
Contrary to popular belief, you can make a daily video show on a tight budget that has the same quality, gloss, and shine as a production with costs into the tens of thousands. It’s easy to throw money at a production and land on something that looks stellar, but the real trick is creating interesting and gripping content with as little financial influence as possible.
Here at LockerGnome, we’ve accomplished the task of creating a daily video show on a pure staffing budget. Files are stored and transferred using a free service (Dropbox), coordination takes place using simple chat programs, and distribution is handled through services that are freely accessible to virtually everyone. We produce these programs with a staff of between 3-4 people, every day.
Making the leap toward a daily video release can be a difficult task, especially if you’re aiming for top-quality programming without the drawbacks typically associated with an easy edit.
For example, it is relatively easy to record and release multiple one-shot episodes if the content is extremely flexible and a basic format is not followed. Editing may be rudimentary and lacking the gloss that a more time-consuming process would entail, but it’s easier.
Here are some tips on how to produce a professional daily video show on a shoestring budget.
Most video editors in the industry like to brag about their speed and ability to crank out stellar productions in a fraction of the time. Speed is an important factor when producing a daily show. Throwing too much at an editor can quickly become overwhelming, especially if they’re working on a time table that doesn’t have a lot of breathing room.
If you’re editing, you might want to consider building templates out of graphics and elements that you intend to use frequently. For example, a lower-third that doesn’t have a date on it can be rendered once and used as much as you need with a simple copy-and-paste of your editing program of choice.
The lower-third element on TLDR, the daily show produced for the LockerGnome channel on YouTube, is modified and saved as a separate template that is easily altered and exported to a transparent ProRes file for each article title and name featured in the broadcast. A repetitive third, such as Chris Pirillo’s name, can be rendered once and kept in a resource folder within the editing program for use as frequently as it’s needed. This is a huge time saver that may cost you a few minutes at first, but will save you those same few minutes every day you need it.
Your title sequence should also be pre-rendered and pasted into each program. Try to avoid putting an episode title in the opening sequence if you can avoid it. For a weekly or bi-weekly production, this is fine. Daily shows shouldn’t have their names in every title sequence. Rendering times alone are more hassle than they’re worth.
The best rule of thumb to follow here is that anything you use more than once should always be moved to a special folder that you can access whenever you need it. Don’t repeat a process that you don’t have to.
Live Production Vs. Post
For over two years, I produced a daily video show that spanned three to four hours, often six days per week. This production was made possible by a Tricaster. The Tricaster is a Windows-based computer with multiple video and audio inputs and outputs that allow you to recreate the workflow accommodated by million-dollar studios for less than $12,000.
If that price tag didn’t scare you off, then you’re probably working on the kind of production that would truly benefit from this type of resource. Using the Tricaster, you’re able to pre-load the board with overlays and graphics that you would otherwise add in post using an editing program on a live basis. You can use a live controller to either fade or cut to various cameras and/or overlays. Doing this live means that your production time from start to finish is only as long as your pre-show graphics production and recording. Once the host is done saying what they need to say, you can export the recording to a distributable format and send it on its way to YouTube, your podcast feed, or an encoding machine to split into any number of various formats you might need.
Consider this: The vast majority of your production time is going to be spent in post unless you add the elements you need for the broadcast live. Timing something out in person while it’s happening is much easier than scrolling through raw video and positioning that same element on a timeline. Swapping between video source is also much easier and faster than it would be in post, for the same reasons.
Other, less expensive options are available. You could use an open source or commercial software package coupled with hardware from Blackmagic Design and other similar manufacturers. You might be able to recreate the all-in-one solution found in the Tricaster for a fraction of the cost.
If you’re wondering how I could possibly recommend a $12,000 piece of equipment and call this a shoestring budget, consider the daily expense your crew burns through to do post-production edits. An editor spending four to six hours on a broadcast that lasts less than 15 minutes can really add up when compared to an hour or two that it would take to preload the Tricaster and work the controls on a live basis. If that editor makes X per hour, you’re looking at a savings that could pay for the Tricaster inside of the first six months to a year.
The teleprompter is an easy way to keep the timing of audience engagement in perfect harmony. Not only will your host be sticking to the script, but they’ll also be able to connect with the audience through more direct eye contact. Think about it: How hard is it to come up with viable information to share with your audience on a daily basis? Memorizing all the points you need to make can be a nightmare when you have to remember and relearn the script every day of the week. This is a nightmare that can be avoided by using a teleprompter.
You can find a good teleprompter for under $100 if you have an iPad or Android Tablet already. There are some solutions available for smart phones, as well, if you’re not quite in the budget for a tablet.
The important thing to remember about teleprompters is that they only really work if they’re actually covering the lens. Sticking a cue card or smartphone next to the camera will result in the appearance that the host is looking slightly off-screen.
Doing a show by yourself while attempting to recreate the quality and finesse of a big-budget production is very difficult. Most small professional shows have at least a crew of three. The host may know a thing or two about editing, and the editor may know enough to do quick script rewrites, but you’ll very rarely find a combination of talents in a single person that wouldn’t result in that person being burned out very quickly. Stick to what you know, and find trustworthy people who know your content and can fulfill their roles on a consistent basis. Your editor may be just an editor, and that’s all right.
Teams cost money, and this is an unavoidable and necessary part of professional production. Sure, you can do a great job on your own, but if your goal is to make money, you might be shooting yourself in the foot trying to tackle every element of production by yourself.
Think about it this way. How much good is it to have a host who is forced to live a life of a recluse that spends his or her every waking hour dealing with every aspect of show production? In order to grow, your host needs to be able to be seen and heard on social media, at events, and throughout the industry.
Even in a nationally syndicated capacity, the host still needs the freedom to unwind and do publicity from time to time. This is a vital part of longevity. You may have a hit on your hands, but keeping it that way depends on having the ability to take time out and promote your content. You simply can’t do that if you’re a one-man production crew.
Take time out of each day to coordinate with everyone involved and find out what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and when it’s going to be done. The editor needs to know when he (or she) can expect the raw video, the writer needs to know what has to be included in the script, and the host needs to know any key points that may differ from the regular script so they can prepare themselves mentally for the task of coming off as genuine.
Equipment & Lighting
Camcorders and microphones available at a consumer price today are extraordinarily useful. Some consumer-level camcorders available for under $350 can record 1080p video at a detail that professional cameras costing thousands more could only dream about just five years ago. With the right settings and combination of lighting and audio, you should be able to accomplish the same basic look and feel of a more expensive setup at a fraction of the costs.
Green screens are also fairly cheap, and you can probably get away with using any matte green fabric to accomplish the effect thanks to the advancement of chromakey technology with digital video. iJustine, one of the most prominent chromakey users on YouTube today, used an Ikea blanket as her primary green screen for a very long time.
Use an external microphone if you can. For LockerGnome’s TLDR, we use a $25 lavalier microphone and handle most of the audio in post using a set of pre-defined compression and equalization settings provided through Final Cut Pro X (a much less expensive product than previous FCP releases).
Graphics are handled through either pre-defined FCP titles or another Apple product called Motion. Motion allows us to perform special effects such as Star Trek style transporters, explosions, and the opening title sequence and lower-thirds. These are all (as I’m writing this) based on a template provided by Motion, so no extra expense was required for these operations.
Lighting doesn’t have to be purchased from a professional video supply retailer, either. Work lamps that can be purchased for pennies on the dollar online and at supermarkets can do the job in a pinch, especially when coupled with true-white bulbs that are also available almost anywhere lighting products are sold. You can even purchase LED bulbs that shine at a true white and set up cheap lamps for a great overall lighting effect. Gels used in the industry to soften skin tones are relatively inexpensive, but the most commonly used solution for budget film makers is the same tissue paper used for stuffing gift bags given during birthdays and holidays. Make sure you’re mounting them in a way so that they aren’t at risk of catching fire due to the hot bulb; mounting them using clothespins between the light source and yourself can soften your skin tone and diffuse the light very well.
Avoid soft white bulbs like the plague. I’m sorry, but these bulbs are actually yellow and can ruin a production if white balance isn’t set perfectly on every camera you use.
Set Reasonable Deadlines
Everyone on your team needs to have a general idea when everything they need to get done should be done in order for productions to go out on time. Your writer, host, producer, editor, and anyone else involved with the set need to be on the same page. As stated before, sharing duties is common among small teams; making sure that any absences or other setbacks are met with capable substitutes is never a bad idea.
For example, having two people who know the editing process is a great way to insure yourself against the occurrence of a sick editor causing your show to miss its deadline. Two people capable of writing allows for some back-and-forth that may result in better gags, smoother writing, and faster output. Even the host should have a capable substitute ready to go in the event that illness, vacation, extended travel, or other barriers from production occur.
You should also have enough footage in the can for an off day. Holidays sneak up faster than you may think. Having a best-of or blooper reel ready for a day when the team needs to take a break is a great way to avoid last-minute scrambles.
Scrambles happen in the media industry. Breaking news comes out at a moment’s notice, and your team will respond accordingly. Having a process in place for when events like these happen is a great way to safeguard against communication breakdown and reinventing the wheel.
Crowdsource Your Material
Once you start building your audience, you’re going to want to turn those pre-made templates into something more custom-built for your show. You might be amazed how many people in your audience are actually quite skilled at programs such as After Effects and Motion, and will be happy to throw together an opening title sequence and lower-third set for your show.
Students who hope to build their resume are also a great source of material for your broadcast. While you may not receive the kind of attention a multi-million dollar production cycle would receive, you might be surprised at just how good a college-level media student is at creating something unique and fitting for your production. For the most part, students will be willing to do this for credit so they have some leverage above their diploma when it comes time to seek out long-term employment in the field.
If you need music, you may be surprised at how much your audience may be able to help. Yes, iMovie and other basic editors may come with a package of pre-recorded jingles, but eventually you’re going to want something that hooks your audience and brands your show as your own. Independent musicians are a great source of theme music when they want to get the word out about their primary work. Don’t be afraid to connect with musicians in your community (or outside) and see what they might be willing to work out. At the very least, they could say no. Your show is an asset to everyone involved, and having someone’s music play as your show’s theme is a benefit as it helps get the word out about the music. Believe me, people will ask what that song was if it’s unique. I’ve worked on a show that eventually released a “music of” album that was comprised of various tracks frequently used during transitions. It sold, and everyone involved benefited from the arrangement.
Bottom line: professional media productions are pretty much the same whether there are two or 20 people behind the camera. Money should never be a barrier of entry in a day where YouTube and Blip.tv are available to content creators for free. Some of the best Internet TV shows have been founded on a principal of simplicity. By sticking to these simple tips, you may be able to save money and time while creating something that blows away the competition.
The most important component of any production is content. Everything else is icing on the cake.