2 months and 5 learnings about making videos

Photo by Aryan Singh on Unsplash

So it’s been two months of India Ink so far and that means we’ve made two videos. Each one has been a huge success in terms of reception – at least as far as we are concerned. We’ve been hearing stories from friends and well-wishers that they’re being forwarded the message from different sources – which tells us our videos are living things, being shared and discussed by people all over the country, and maybe the world! It’s a great feeling. And we feel really lucky.

But the learning curve – even after two videos – has been really hard. None of us have made videos before. And we’re doing everything ourselves – from writing to production. All of the mistakes we’ve made would’ve probably been avoided if we were working with a professional video producer. But we don’t have that kind of funding.

So if you’re in the same boat, here’s some lessons we’ve learned:

0. Develop robust processes: This is like a meta-point. All our learnings can be seen as coming under this – but at the same time, this isn’t useful advice. What is a robust process anyway? I don’t know! So that’s where all the more specific points come in – if you have any more specific questions, you can ask us on twitter or instagram or email. 

1. Audio is the defining part of the experience: Even though we make videos, the audio is probably what decides whether the video is good or bad. When I say audio, I mean both the style of the narration and the quality of the audio. We’ve received lots of compliments about the narration style (thank you!) and lots of requests for better / louder audio. For our first two videos, we would do a rough cut of the video and then discuss audio and video together. For our third video, we’re specifically recording audio and then discussing it separately so we can give it the attention it needs.

2.  Closed captions / subtitles are essential: We didn’t even think about subtitles in our planning stage but one of the first things we learned right after the first video is that subtitles are non-negotiable. If your audio isn’t perfect, it’s just even more essential. For our first video, we did it manually. Youtube has a subtitle editor – and we spent an hour (for a six minute video) matching lines from the script to the specific times in the video so they displayed correctly. For the second video, we generated subtitles using otter.ai and then uploaded that to Youtube. Saved us a lot of time.

3. Plan for mistakes: One of the big things we discussed recently is, “what happens if we discover we made a mistake in the script?”. It’s a hard question to answer. Because if the error is simple to rectify, we can fix it. If the error is so big that we need to make big changes, we have to fix it. But if the error is small and difficult to fix, what should we do? Right now, we handle each such situation on a case-by-case basis. But if we find an error after the video is on Youtube – like in our last video – we post a correction in the description and nothing else. At that point, it makes more sense for us to focus on efforts on making the next video, rather than endlessly iterating on the previous one.

4. The script needs time: Everything needs time. You’d be amazed how much we struggle to make even one video a month. Each part of the process is time and effort-intensive. But the script is full of invisible labours – research, writing, editing, etc – that the three of us have spent the last ten years or so doing in our own lives. It’s hard for the audience to imagine these things – but it is the most important part of our process. Right now, we plan for one to two weeks to get to the first draft. Then the middle of the month goes in discussion, improvements, editing, more research, etc. Last one week is production. As the most collaborative part of the process, the script needs time for everyone to discuss and build consensus – so we need to make sure to give it that one time.

5. Longer is not always better – but it’s always more work: Our first video was about 6 minutes. Our second video was more than double. While we were scripting, we felt it was a bigger topic and needed the space. But we didn’t realize how much work that adds to the production cycle – we factored in the same amount of time. We had to crunch so hard to get the video done as per our deadline. It’s a mistake we don’t want to make again. Another unintended consequence is that since Instagram (where we upload our videos natively) has a 10 minute limit, we’ve now decided that for our sake, we will keep a 10 minute limit on our videos.