Saturday, March 18, 2017

Why I’m on Patreon

So, it’s official: I have now launched my Patreon page, all the better for my most loyal fans to help keep me from starving. Or, depending your point of view, all the better for me to extract innocent people’s hard-earned cash to splash out on BMWs, private jets, diamond-encrusted bathtubs and so on.
This is what editing a video looks like.

In truth, as much as I would like to be able to make videos in my spare time “for the pure enjoyment of it” (I’ve been told by a few people I should), that’s actually not feasible. It’s a straight choice between giving up making YouTube videos, or trying to earn a living making YouTube videos. Given that my channel is currently on something of a roll, I’m going for the second option.

To better illustrate the amount of work that goes into a video, here are the steps I go through to make a simple vlog:
  1. Think of a subject. This is harder than it sounds: it has to be something people will want to know more about, and it should ideally have fairly wide appeal. It also has to be something that I can actually say something about: the challenges facing working mothers, for example, isn’t a subject that should really be tackled by a childless man.
  2. Research it. Proper research takes time, and I don’t at the moment have enough time to research properly. I can’t just regurgitate whatever I read on a Wikipedia page: you might as well just read the Wikipedia page instead of watching my video.
  3. Write a script. Yes, I script my vlogs. That way, I can minimize the risk of saying something stupid; I also don’t senselessly repeat myself, accidentally leave stuff out, or get sidetracked by some irrelevancy. I can revise and improve the script before I start filming. I have discovered that one page of A4 (the standard paper size in Europe) is about four minutes’ worth of vlogging, which is why my vlogs these days tend to be around the 3-to-5-minute mark, which seems to be about the right length. It’s at this stage I find out whether my chosen subject is going to work: sometimes it doesn’t, so I have to start again.
  4. Divide the script into paragraphs and assign a zoom level to each of them: wide, mid or close-up. The idea is that instead of learning the entire script and having to do it one take (well-nigh impossible for a four-minute speech peppered with statistics), I record it in small chunks, then edit everything together. Doing this at different levels of zoom avoids having jump cuts, which can give the impression they’re covering up for mistakes or the result of sloppy editing.
  5. Set up the camera and lighting. Usually, this is pretty simple, because I have the lights and tripod right where I want them.
  6. Start recording. I don’t record the entire thing in chronological order: I first record all the parts marked as “wide”, then zoom in and reposition the camer to record all the “mid” parts, then zoom in and reposition for “close”. I make sure I have at least two (ideally three) usable versions of each paragraph so I can choose the best take.
  7. Transfer the data from the camera to the PC. That part’s as simple as it sounds.
  8. Edit. This is where I slice the footage up, discard the bits I don’t want, and reassemble what remains into the correct order. It doesn’t take long, but requires precision. Once I’m happy with the rough edit, I can move onto the next stage.
  9. Post production. On-screen captions, graphics and music are added at this point, as well as the closing credits. If I need to create some graphics myself (things like graphs, for example), I have to spend time doing that as well.
  10. Render. This is the process of actually creating the video file to upload to YouTube. For a four-minute vlog in 1080p resolution, that can take something in the region of half an hour, during which time it’s a good idea to let the video editor hog as much CPU power as it wants. Time, basically, for coffee.
  11. Create a thumbnail. I usually take a frame from the video featuring me with a suitable expression on my face (if I can make it an amusing one, that’s a bonus), create a background for it, and then just add the logo to it.
  12. Start the upload. This also means entering all the metadata: title, description, certain settings and so on. I upload as private so that I can get everything just right before publishing. The bandwidth in my tiny bit of rural Germany is really not made for this, so it can take about an hour. In the meantime, I can...
  13. ...write the English-language closed captions. Although YouTube does have a speech recognition system, the technology is still very primitive. It’s actually quicker for me to write my own closed captions from scratch, rather than download YouTube’s automated captions and then try to correct them. And why captions? My videos are watched by many non-native speakers of English who find captions help them understand what is being said, and I want my videos to be accessible to the hearing-impaired. Also — and this is something every YouTube creator should know — closed captions are indexed by YouTube’s search engine, making videos easier to find.
  14. Upload and test the captions. This is to make sure I have no errors in the captions file, and the timings are correct.
  15. Add any cards I need, and the end screen. These are the things that pop up during, or at the end of, the video, begging you to click on them to take you to another video or my website.
  16. Translate the captions into German and upload. Again, although machine translations are available, they generally do a terrible job. There may be a glorious future when machines can do this stuff as well as a professional human, but instantly; but that future is a long way off.
  17. Publish the video, and tweet about it.
So, there you are: my handy 17-point guide to making a quick vlog. This is why it takes me the best part of a day. In theory, I could make a vlog in just a couple of hours from start to finish, but it wouldn’t be anything like as good. And I think you’d notice the difference.

I need to be able to support myself and make a meaningful contribution to our household budget; and this means that if I’m going to continue making videos to the standards I’m currently making them, I have to be making money with them. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I’m now on Patreon.