I can be a control freak. So when it was time to produce a video for the Kegbot Kickstarter Campaign, we had to do it ourselves.

Shooting the video was a mysterious, time-consuming, frustrating, and rewarding process all in one.

A big reason we were able to do it was thanks to exhaustive Google research on other projects, and on amateur filmmaking in general. In an attempt to give back (and on the off chance it can benefit someone else), here are a few notes and observations from the process.

Deciding to Go It Alone

I decided somewhat early on that we’d shoot the video ourselves rather than hire a pro. Beyond anything else this decision will have the biggest impact on your video’s cost, quality, and delivery schedule.

Here’s why I decided to do it:

  • Flexibility. A friend of mine is an awesome professional video director, but he was only available for 8 hours. Doing it ourselves allowed time for re-shoots and changes to the script if day 1 wasn’t perfect. (Which it wasn’t.)
  • Cost. While wannabe trendy new tech startups can afford to pay pros like Sandwich Videos tends of thousands of dollars to produce an awesome product, our budget was in the mere hundreds of dollars.
  • Fun. As a kid I loved making videos featuring all manner of cheap video effects and pyrotechnics. My partners wisely disallowed these for the Kegbot video, but I still had a lot of fun shooting and editing the video.
  • Education. This was the first in a long time that I seriously tried to make something non-technical; reason enough to dust off Final Cut Pro. There were many late nights, but ultimately I hope they’ll carry over to (and go faster on) the next project.

The Script: Don’t Be Funny!

My original script was going to be a hilarous masterpiece, or so I thought: Multi-camera re-enactments! Visual puns shot on a nudist beach! A cuddly live animal!

Fortunately my friend Brian, a professional ad strategist, gave us some valuable advice early on:

The worst thing you can do is try to be funny and fail.

This sage advice haunting me, I scrapped the first script and tried to boil it down to just the facts.

I also spent a bit of time looking for screenwriting advice. I found several word processor templates for 30-second commercials and screenplays that looked like they’d be fun to minic (just like the “big boys”!), but ultimately decided the formatting exercise wasn’t adding anything.

Getting The Shot: Equipment

Quality matters. The next important step was to decide how to actually record the video and have it turn out nicely.

We shot the entire video with a few pieces of equipment rented from BorrowLenses.com:

Taking advantage of a coupon for a few free rental days, the entire rig cost less than $600 to rent and was ours for 2 weeks.

Overall I was really happy with this setup. The lighting kit even included a pretty detailed insert on how to configure basic 2- and 3-point lighting setups; obvious stuff for the experienced director, but precious education for the amateur like me.

The cinema lenses were all manual focus and designed for use with a focus ring attachment, details I had overlooked when ordering. Happily, we had no trouble operating the lenses manually. (This could have been a bigger problem if we had more moving/action shots.)

One piece of equipment I rented and ended up not using was a shoe-mounted shotgun mic. For static indoor shots, the shotgun quality was simply much worse (and noise much higher) than the lav mic, although it could have been useful in an outdoor shot.

Getting a Director

I didn’t plan it this way, but my good friend Theo ended up becoming the de facto director for the shoot.

Even thought I had assumed responsibility for writing the script, planning the shoot, and editing it, it was tremendously valuable to have an impartial person on site to give instant feedback, suggestions, and keep things moving.

If you have a friend who is sharp-eyed and up to the task, ask them nicely.

Royalty-Free Music and Sound Effects

By far the most unexpected challenge was finding the music and sound effects. I started with requirements that seemed easy enough to meet:

  1. A bright, optimistic-sounding instrumental track to open and close the video.
  2. A progressive, subtle, “innovative”-sounding track as a backdrop to the explanatory section of the video.
  3. A short, dramatic, “horror”-sounding clip for the slow-motion “doing it wrong” reenactment.

Simple, right? Then it hit me: How the fuck do I search for “innovative”-sounding music? What the hell does “innovative”-sounding even mean?

It turns out transcribing a sound or melody in your mind to a textual search box is incredibly difficult – at least for an amateur like me. (Maybe scoring pros have a better vocabulary for this stuff.) In the end I brute-forced the problem by spending hours listening to track previews.

After looking at several royalty-free music shops, I selected the Vimeo Music Store for all three tracks. The store features:

  • Royalty-free licensing and lossless audio downloads.
  • Search by genre (including the goldmine of Corporate/Industrial hits – my new favorite type of music).
  • Re-configurable tracks: you can alter length and instruments for certain tracks, which are surely simple MIDI files on the backend.

I can’t say this was a pleasant experience, and it didn’t help that Vimeo’s search engine had some maddening usability problems. But in the end, I was happy.

Closing Thoughts

Shooting this video was a ton of work – and a ton of fun. I’ll never know how much more successful our campaign could have been with a professional video, but I’m very happy with the result.

I’m sure there’s a lot I’ve forgotten, so if you’re looking for advice in shooting your own video, feel free to reach out in the comments.

New Project: Kegberry

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