The ability to develop video for the web is rapidly becoming a necessary skill for careers ranging from drama to marketing. Even well known directors have found it a useful venue for their skills. Joss Whedon, the creator of such television series as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, has created a show solely distributed by the web: Dr.
Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (drhorrible.com). It stars a few big names, including Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser, M.D.). Despite the big names beginning to tackle video for the web, however, it’s still relatively easy to create videos no matter the financial backing involved.
There is any number of types of videos that a person can upload to the web. There are vlogs — the video version of a blog, which is essentially a video diary entry. Videos on the web can serve as presentations for classes. They can even act as portfolios for aspiring producers, actors, dancers, singers and more. Videos on the web generally fall into two categories: entertainment and documentary. No matter which category a web video creator wants to work in, there are similar steps he or she must take.
The key to creating video for the web is equipment. No matter the quality, there is one piece of equipment that any aspiring web producer must have: a video camera. Camcorders vary in price and ability: some record high definition, some write footage directly to DVD. But there’s no need to spend a fortune on a camcorder. Even with fairly
inexpensive equipment, it’s possible to shoot amazing videos. Even something as simple as Sony’s MiniDV camcorders (ranging from $249 to 299) can shoot good footage. Other camcorders can be even cheaper than a MiniDV camera, but those tend to be older and harder to work with. A key feature of MiniDV cameras (and later technology) is the use of FireWire or i.Link interfaces. They’re actually the same thing — FireWire is Apple’s
brand name for the same system that Sony calls i.Link. Either way, though, the system is the easiest way to move video from a camcorder to a computer, where it can be edited and uploaded to the web.`
With higher prices come more camera options. And while it’s perfectlysd possible to shoot excellent videos without those options, they can offer a different sort of learning experience. Shooting high definition videos, for instance, requires a different approach than its older counterpart. HD cameras can be purchased for under $1,000 now. The
technical abilities of HD camcorders can be stretched in different ways, as well. Vimeo, a video hosting website that offers a place to upload high definition videos offers a page dedicated entirely to video creators testing the limits of their equipment.
Software is not an absolute necessity, but does come close. There are a variety of software packages available, for both Macintosh and PC computers. For Macs, the various Final Cut packages are considered the standard video editing option and are available through Apple’s website. The price tag on the most recent version is $1,299 —not a small sum. However, beginning video producers probably do not need the full professional version. Instead, Final Cut Express is a better option — it’s priced at $199, and can even be obtained more inexpensively with an academic discount. Apple also provides extensive video tutorials on their website.
Shannon McPhee, a representative for Sony Creative Software, also has a suggestion: “Full-featured 30-day trials of Sony’s software are also available free on the site, so teachers working on a short-term project would be able to use it freely in the classroom.”
Sony Creative Software is also available through an academic discount program. Their Vegas Pro 8 software is a good choice for PCs. As a professional software package, however, it has a steep price tag: $549. With an academic discount, that price can drop below $100.
There are even free video editing software options. Most are open source and may not be the most user-friendly options, but the price can’t be beat. One example is Cinelerra which can be used on either Linux systems or Macintoshes.
Beyond software, having up to date hardware can make video production simpler. The faster the computer and the bigger the hard drive, the easier it will be to work with video files, which are much larger than a document or even a song. There are no absolute necessities for a computer, although a high-speed internet connection comes close for
anyone wishing to upload a video. It can literally takes days to upload a video on a dial-up connection. Many professional video producers choose to use Macintoshes, but PCs are equally capable of the task.
Deciding where to post videos can be a challenge as well. It’s not necessarily practical to run one’s own site and host videos. Videos use quite a bit of bandwidth, which in turn can be expensive: every time someone watches a video on the web, it is the host who pays to transmit the video. There are, however, many websites that are willing to host
videos for free. It’s a simple matter of saving a video in a format that the host’s software can play — which most video editing software can handle easily — and uploading the file by clicking a few buttons. Once up, depending on the host’s security, just about anyone can see a video. Viewers might leave comments or share links with their friends,
helping the creator to learn what parts of their video work and which don’t.
However, not all comments or visitors are always kind. Especially on high traffic sites like YouTube, profanity and insults are somewhat normal. While fewer people may see a video on a less trafficked site, it can still be a better overall experience.
Bringing video production into the classroom can be something of a transition. For teachers who have more experience working with television or film, there are some differences in web video that can be key. The most obvious difference is that instead of framing a shot for television — with plenty of room around the figures and perhaps some of the scenery — web video must be framed for smaller screens. In general, there are more up close shots simply because the average video viewer is significantly smaller than even a computer screen. Many are smaller than a note card, measuring only a few inches on each side.
There are a wide variety of contests available to students capable of creating videos. In addition to giving students opportunities to hone their skills at every step of the video production process (screenwriting to promoting their work), these contests can provide opportunities for students to build their portfolios. One such contest is Technology in Motion. Sony sponsors this contest and while prizes are not monetary, for a student truly interested in making videos, the cornucopia of equipment is well worth their while.
Ryanne Hodson, author of “Secrets of Videoblogging,” recommends vlogging as an easy introduction to producing videos for the web. Vlogging requires the bare minimum of equipment. Hodson says that the tools a vlogger needs are “a camera, some software, a computer or phone and an internet connection. As long as you have a way of capturing an idea and uploading it, with whatever tools you have available, you’re good to go. I always
recommend using what you have already. Most digital still cameras take video, most computers come with web cams built in, most phones are shooting video.”
Free tutorials on all aspects of vlogging are available online at sites such as Hodson’s own Freevlog. Many of these tutorials can translate easily to a more formalized process and are ideal resources for students working on vlogging projects.
There are a few concerns anyone considering bringing video into the classroom should consider before starting. Simply allowing students to browse for videos is problematic. While most video hosting sites enforce some sort of restriction on content, it can take time for inappropriate content to be removed.
The question of what students should post also deserves consideration: discussions of just who can see video posted to the web should be a part of any class covering these skills. It is easy to control what students post in the classroom, but once they have the skills to create videos, they can post whatever they choose. But students do not necessarily realize just how many people could wind up seeing their videos. Students should be educated on the potential effects of including personal information, comments about their friends or other potential sources of trouble in their work.
Students may also need some information about the basics of copyright law. The same software that allows them to put together different parts of their own videos allows them to splice in parts of the work of others. Depending on how a video’s creator distributes his work, including parts or all of that work in a new video can cause legal issues down the road. The reverse can also be an issue. The U.S. Copyright Office (copyright.gov) offers a number of documents on copyright, which are available for free on their website. The Media Education Foundation has also created a very effective teaching video about fair use and other elements of copyright, titled “A Fair(y) Use.”
There are a number of opportunities to incorporate elements of film into other classes. For a drama class putting on a stage production, for instance, it can be worthwhile to create a video recording. Robert Abrams, who creates videos of dance productions for Explore Dance, explains the basics: “f you want an archival record of the show, the
optimum way to do this might be to do a three camera shoot. One camera would be fixed to show the whole stage the entire time. The other two cameras would shoot closer in, and would pan to what ever is critical…If the video is not intended to be an archival recording of the stage show, then I would shoot the video for its own purposes, making
decisions about when to use close-ups, when to pull back, etc. Either way, the video is never going to be an exact copy of the stage show.” The same techniques are useful in recording classroom lectures or events — especially for documentaries or other projects.
Video can even be used to create a dramatic production available beyond the stage. Just like a variety of shows can be produced for television, students are capable of developing their own entertainment. A few more skills might be useful, like script development or costuming, but these elements only tie video production closely to the drama classes that can often teach the skills necessary for video production.
There are thousands of examples of good videos produced specifically for the web, all easily accessible online. There is the award-winning Alive in Baghdad, a vlog about day-to-day life in Baghdad. There is The Guild, an episodic series about a fictional group of video game players. Each of the major web host sites even offer a ‘best of’ service,
showcasing the best videos uploaded to their sites, making it easy to find samples of great videos.
Video production is not quite the necessary skill that writing or mathematics are, but it’s rapidly becoming an element of technical literacy — an skill set that a student might be asked about for a variety of jobs. It can be taught in conjunction with drama, or as a separate subject. But beyond an initial cost for equipment, it can be a simple subject to teach. There are even a wide variety of teaching materials available online, at no cost. Video for the web doesn’t have to be difficult.