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Produce your own semi-professional videos - Part 1

Oscar Cool Little Video AwardsThere comes a time in every savvy, blog-reading techie type person's life when you want or need to produce a smallish, but good-quality-ish video that looks decently like it is at least screaming "cool little video" if not "Oscar." For me this time came at work when I was asked what could be done to really spice up our sales pitch to hook a really big and important customer. What better way to inspire confidence and awe in the customer, but to put together a video on the cheap (nearly free) and wow the customer with a timely expose of one of our new state-of-the-art distribution technologies? When my boss didn't answer, I knew I had hit pay dirt. He enthusiastically said "go for it" once I elaborated on the idea of a video a little bit. Honestly, I didn't quite knew HOW I was going to do this, but I knew I could figure it out, I mean we're talking about tipping the scales in our favor on a $10 million/year deal here, so why not give a shot? I typically give myself more work this way, volunteering for tasks like this, but now I can share my experience with you and the best easy and free ways I found to produce such a video in a day and a half on no budget that looks decent and make customers drool. You don't need excellent computer skills either, but a little will to learn and a few hours time depending how involved you want this video to be. Take one, marker, action!

Setting up your rig, Action!, and Pre-production after the jump...

Task One: Setting up your video rig

What you need:
Kodak DX75901. Digital still (with video capability) or video camera
I used a Kodak DX7590 digital still camera that records video to shoot my small video, sure, not the best gadget for the job, but when it's all you have, you make what you can out of nothing. Almost anything will do a decent enough job, if it is fairly new within the last year or two. You will get decent video out of it. Beware of video format though. The DX model I have is capable of 640x480 video and saves to QuickTime's .MOV format.

2. Tripod or other similar rig
TripodMy wife is a photography buff, so I borrowed her tripod. It was like $18 bucks at Wal-Mart, so if you must, it isn't going to break the bank. Usually your digital camera will have a small hole underneath that fits the universal tripod mount, but if not, simply tape the camera to the tripod so it doesn't move. You want a secure and fairly immovable camera and tripod setup so you get very smooth and unshaken video. Shake what your mama gave you, but not the video, unless she also gave you the camera. Then it would be okay. You owe it to your audience; film-makers don't let other film-makers shake their video. Stop the madness.

3. A rolling apparatus
Multimedia cartI used an inexpensive and ubiquitously available multimedia cart we had sitting around my department, you know, the ones that are textured, doomed to carry around video projectors or transparency machines all their lives. That works well, but you could use a rolling desk-chair, a rolling hard suitcase, a moving piano dolly, or any other type of cart. The rolling part is important since you will be moving for many videos, but it may not be needed for stationary videos. It does help for moving the camera and making adjustments to move with the action without video shake. Use your imagination here a little bit.

4. Duck tape, preferably black
Black duct tape is the tape of choice for A/V savvy techies everywhere, but hey go crazy if you want, they now sell blue, red, yellow, green, paisley (not), and one that closely resembles the Power-puff Girls color scheme. The tape is to fasten the tripod and camera rig to the rolling cart. I know it sounds ghetto, but it actually looks bad and works well. I would set the tripod and camera setup as far forward on the cart as you can, so you'll have ample room to handle and move the cart without bumping the video recording process on the business end of this rig. Duct tape also ensures that no one comes along and crashes into your camera knocking it to its death before its time and to your chagrin. Duct tape, depending on the color, actually makes you look friggin cool while filming. The duct-tape stigma is as follows: black=ominous & dangerous, blue=daring & revolutionary, red=serious & moody, green=green & inexperienced with a hint of youthful innocence. Pick your poison.

5. A laptop, Audacity and a Microphone
LaptopEveryone has a laptop, can borrow a laptop, or knows someone who would allow the use of their laptop under close scrutiny, so don't even start thinking you'll have to buy that new wide-screen monstrosity of a laptop to shoot this video. If you borrow the laptop from someone, make them the stand-in director while you are shooting, so they can make the difficult video-making decisions like turkey or ham for the caterer (later today). This also makes them a suitable decoy so the media circus can attack them, and leave you (the true director) to focus on shooting. Do I hear evil laughs from the peanut gallery? Next, be sure you have Audacity (or other suitable audio capture program) installed on your PC and your microphone connected. Be sure to check your levels to make sure you are recording at a nice volume. A big note here is that this is the hard way to do this. If your video camera (or still camera) is recording audio you are happy with, then by all means skip the Audacity and microphone, and just use the audio from the video recording. This allows for much easier editing later on. My particular video had to have the audio recorded separately because of our new warehouse technology.

Task Two: Action!
So now you have your camera, securely fastened to the tripod, which is securely duct-taped to the rolling cart (or whatever) which has your laptop and microphone on the back of it. Great, now you're ready to rock, and roll both your cart and roll film. You are ready for action.

First, if you are using the separate audio recording method (as described above), turn on Audacity and start recording, noting the seconds that click by until you begin your video recording. This will allow near precision to sync the audio and video portions later. Then start your video camera recording and shoot. Each time you have the urge to cut different scenes of your video, it may be a good idea to keep rolling instead, since it is quite difficult to sync audio and video together if it isn't continuous. This works well for most small projects. Most cameras will also hold plenty of video footage so you should need to worry about it too much. When shooting is complete, you will want to convert the whole thing to the right format for your editing software. Sure you can split the scenes into clips, but again it is harder with audio syncing to do, not to mention the sheer difficulty of keeping track of all the clips of video and audio mingled. After all, this isn't supposed to be the most extensive how-to ever; we are trying to keep it relatively simple.

Task Three: Pre-production and video conversion
Many times, the video format in which you record will not be compatible with the editing software you have. This is especially true of QuickTime .MOV format, which seems to be popular among camera manufacturers, but not among video software writers. For Apple users, this is no big deal. For Windows users, and for the purpose of this how-to, you will need to convert your video to .avi (or mpg) format, because it plays nice with Windows Movie Maker, which we will use to edit and arrange our video in a minute. There are several video tools out there to help convert video, but none of the ones I found for free would convert .MOV format into AVI. A mere $30 later, I was the proud owner of QuickTime 7 pro (a download unless you already have iTunes, then you just get a license key), which does allow almost every export option know to man or beast from MOV to AVI, MPG4, AIFF, and many others. You may need to play with this a bit to get the best conversion rate and settings for your particular project, but a good stock of options are all there for your video delight. Other converters for non-MOV videos are the free downloads: STOIK (good for many formats), AutoGK (XVID/DIVX mostly), VirtualDub (good for AVI and MPEG).

Come back soon for Part 2, where we'll cover editing, effects, sound loops, rendering, and finishing touches.

Tags: coollittlevideo, DIY, Freeware, Freewarevideoediting, howtos, Microsoft, opensource, video, WindowsMovieMaker