How councils can create engaging website videos

Local authorities can avoid creating a video nasty by following ten simple tips, says Colin Burgess.

A growing number of local authorities are now creating their own educational and promotional videos to showcase specific initiatives and events. Some are even creating advice-related videos, for example showing councillors explaining the local planning process. There’s a simple reason why they’re doing this: people like video.

It is often said that a picture paints a thousand words. Well, video delivers 25 pictures per second (which equals 1.5 million words per minute!), so it offers the ultimate opportunity to communicate information to your residents, businesses and visitors, in a way that’s easy and accessible to receive. The fact that many of us can now record HD video on our phones means that it’s easier than ever before to create your own video content. But it’s not so easy to get it right.

At Video Arts, we have spent over 40 years making training films and we have helped organisations such as Epping Forest DC and City & Guilds to create engaging video content. 

Here are our ten tips:

1. Start with a plan. One of the most common mistakes that people make is that they don’t start off with a clear objective. What are you trying to achieve? Are there internal experts on these issues that you need to consult with? Think about what budget you have and the resources you have available (expertise, equipment, software). Then consider your audience and decide what style of video will best suit your need (for example: an instructional ‘how to’ film, an interview with ‘an expert’, a ‘presenter to camera’ video, an animation or a story-telling ‘case study’). Decide who will present or be involved in the video.

2. Storyboard and script your scenes. Think about how you can get your message across in a sequence of shots. What scenes do you need to shoot and what camera angles can you use? Include a selection of close ups and cutaways. For example, if you’re showing someone talking about a local attraction, you could cut to scenes of that attraction and then cut back to a close-up of the speaker. If you’re writing a script, keep it snappy and relevant. A good script will engage the audience; whereas clunky dialogue will distract them. Many people tend to skip this storyboarding/scripting step. They then end up shooting far too much footage and, as a result, they’re forced to spend more time editing their final film – and often they’ll be left without an important shot. Here’s an example storyboard with pictures and descriptions:

3. Check out your locations. Always have a pre-shoot ‘recce’ to check the suitability of your chosen locations. Consider the backdrop that you’ll be filming against. Will there be any issues with sound? Beware of ambient noise such as traffic or air conditioning. Think about the lighting (don’t film against a window, use lights and reflectors). Watch out for the moiré effect. This happens when patterns (especially closely spaced straight lines) are distorted, causing a distracting ripple effect on screen. Make sure people don’t wear stripey shirts.

4. Shoot your footage at the highest quality you can. Using the best camera, tripod, lights and microphone that you can get your hands on will inevitably make your video look more professional. Anyone old enough to remember Crossroads will know that poor production values can be very distracting! It will be hard for people to concentrate on the messages you’re putting across if the composition or lighting are not up to scratch. Ensure you have all the shots that you’d planned in your storyboard.

5. Frame your subject. Put people in the picture so they fill the space. Aim to get the top of their head just inside the frame. If you can’t do this while filming, you might be able to do it while editing, by cropping in.

6. Don’t compromise on sound. An audience may forgive hand-held camera work but if they can’t hear the audio, they’ll soon give up on the video. Try plugging headphones into your camera so you can listen while you’re filming; you’ll hear if your subject is loud enough or if there is background noise. Don’t be afraid to record a separate audio track, as you can add this when editing. Most basic video editing software allows you to separate the audio from the pictures – and synchronising a soundtrack that has been recorded separately is very easy. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a good voiceover. In the clip below, you can hear three recording scenarios: the first is an amateur voice talking into the onboard microphone of a camera, the second is an amateur voice talking into an external headset-microphone on a smartphone; the third is a professional voice artist in a recording booth. You will see that just by plugging in an external microphone and finding a quiet place, the recording is much closer to professional quality.

7. Make your graphics interesting and relevant. If you are presenting information, don’t show someone standing in front of a flip chart. Let your presenter stand to one side and then add the text during the editing process.

8. Edit your video to make it bite-sized and pacey. Most web videos are three-five minutes long, so edit yours accordingly. If you’re including music or images, don’t use copyrighted material without permission. Also, avoid flashy transitions (fades, effects and dissolves that separate one scene from the next). Home movies often include cheesy transitions and they’re a tell-tale sign of amateurism. Instead, use a straight cut (no transition at all) between your shots.

9. Share it. Simply creating a video is not the ultimate goal. If you want to share it with everyone get it out on your website and your YouTube or Vimeo channel. If the audience is less general (for example it’s targeted at employees or a specific group of customers or stakeholders, then an online video platform (OVP) will let you upload your content and get it to a specific audience, on any device. OVPs offer a personalised, secure and accessible environment and you can track usage with analytics.

10. Learn from your mistakes. The more videos you make, the better you’ll become. So stick with it. Once you’re hooked, creating videos is a lot of fun and it’s a very engaging way to communicate. Follow these tips and you’ll not only improve the way you plan and produce your videos, you’ll be able to create much more engaging content in less time.

Colin Burgess is head of content at Video Arts, and was formerly a producer and director for the Discovery Channel and senior producer of online videos at the Central Office of Information.

Colin Marrs

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