Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Making a video

Not everybody, it seems, appreciates just how much work actually goes into making even a deceptively simple video. My latest video, for example, consists of me talking to camera in pretty much one take for five minutes, plus a few modest visual effects. It is, in fact, this video:

Nothing to it, right?


Here are all the stages I had to go through to make this video. It took me the best part of two days (I probably could have done it in one if real life didn’t get in the way).

Initial research. This involves finding out about what I want to talk about, which is things you might want to do if you’re in Germany in June. And this involves trawling the internet, looking for likely candidates. Out of countless hundreds on offer, from barbecues to rock festivals, I noted down about twenty-four that caught my eye.

Narrowing down. Having got my shortlist, I had to whittle it down to a small number (I ended up with seven), because frankly, a half-hour video was never going to be an option. The goal was to end up with a mix of different types of festival scattered about Germany. Among those that, for different reasons, went by the wayside were Luther’s Wedding in Wittenberg, the Strawberry Festival in Wolgast, the Ironman contest in Berlin, the Kite Festival in Wyk auf Föhr and (most regretfully of all) the Great Boiled Potato Feast in Nienburg.

Further research. The things left on my final list had to researched more fully, including looking up the official websites (if any). It’s no good, for example, just saying that there is a festival called the Röbeler Fischtage; you might want to know what happens at that festival, and what kind of fish is involved in what way.

Graphics. Each one of the maps is a separate graphic. I don’t have graphics for every single town and city in Germany, so I have to make new ones.

Rehearsal. I want to speak as fluently as possible without reading off a script (although having a list in my hand is pretty much necessary). That means walking about the house talking to myself for a couple of hours.

Setting up. This means setting up the camera and the lighting, and making sure everthing is working properly.

Filming. Even after all that rehearsal, nothing ever goes smoothly while filming. I managed to get through the piece in one go about three times, but each successful attempt was preceded by several false starts, fluffed lines and the like. Because I wanted to do it in one take, each mistake meant starting from scratch. At one point, the battery died, so I had to take the spare and refocus the camera.

Editing. This is almost the easiest part. First I got the most successful shot, added the intro and outro, and then added the other visuals on top.

Rendering. This is the name given to the process whereby the video editor takes the project and uses it to generate an actual video file. This takes half an hour or so.

Review. Simply watching the video to make sure everything went according to plan.

Writing the subtitles. Now I have to write the subtitles, which I do by hand as this is much more reliable and actually less hassle than letting some unpredictable automated system loose on it.

Thumbail. The custom thumbnail comes next, a simple design which takes just a few minutes.

Upload. This took about an hour to upload to YouTube on my connection. This is nail-biting stuff, as any little glitch or power failure could wreck your plans for the rest of the day. This is also where I get to write the video description, with all the handy links to websites for all the events I mentioned.

Adding subtitles and testing them. Subtitles are uploaded separately. I then have to review the video to make certain the subtitles are completely correct, making final edits as necessary.

Publishing. That's just a simple matter of switching the uploaded video to “Public”.

So there you have it. One simple five-minute video: that’s how totally not easy it is.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Why I won’t endorse a political party

Last week, comedienne Susan Calman appeared on a satirical BBC radio show, The News Quiz. On it, she had to answer a question about the pending referendum on independence for Scotland. Being the consummate satirist that she is, she poked fun at politicians on both sides, but consistently refused to state which side of the debate she was on. With good reason: her job is not to tell us what we should think, but to bring the politicians down to earth and expose their little hypocrisies.

As she relates on her blog, things got out of hand, and she found herself on the receiving end of some particularly nasty abuse.

I’m not really a political satirist, although I have come close on occasion. I have certainly expressed political views in my time, but I rather imagine — hope, really — that those who don’t know me personally would have a hard time pinning me down to one particular political ideology or party. Basically, I try, in public, to be apolitical — not for exactly the same reasons as Susan Calman, but certainly because I want to maintain my image as the outsider looking in: the curious and slightly perplexed man with his nose pressed up against the glass trying to work out the rules of the game being played within. If I compromise that, I am no longer credible as an innocent bystander.

I say this because today I was asked by somebody I happen to know if I would appear, if his political career takes off, in a party political video with him.

Well, no.

There are some things I can’t really avoid. If his party wants to embed one of my videos on its website, then fine: it’s a legitimate party, I have not disabled embedding, if they think it will do them any good, okay. This is the internet, links happen.

Just not in any way that implies I endorse the party or any of their candidates. Or in a context that distorts the import of what I was actually saying in the video.

But actually appear in a video made for party political reasons? Never.

Similarly, if any party, as long as it is legal under the German Basic Law, wants me to make a party political video for them, then okay — but I won’t have my name or my face associated with it.

I believe that all political debate is important (until you get into the outer reaches of the fruitcake zone), and that even unpalatable or unpopular views should be heard, if only so that facts and arguments from the other side of the debate can be brought to the table. We live in a democracy, and this is what democracy means. If a party wants to ban women from voting, let them say so, so that other parties can remind us why women should be allowed to vote. And if celebrities want to endorse those views, that is their business. (Am I celebrity? I’ve just been asked to help somebody’s political career by endorsing it, so I feel like a celebrity.)

But to everyone out there who watches my videos, reads this blog and follows me on Twitter: I promise that you will not see me endorse anyone. Maybe a product, if it’s a product a genuinely like. But not a political party. I have built up a reputation as an outsider, and this extends beyond my de facto status as a foreign national. And that, at least in public, is how I intend to remain.