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Author Talk: Jefferson Graham on Video Nation: A DIY Guide to Planning, Shooting, and Sharing Great Video

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Peachpit Publisher Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel interviews USA Today Talking Tech host Jefferson Graham about his new book " Video Nation: A DIY guide to planning, shooting, and sharing great video." Jefferson shares information about equipment, lighting, sound and other ideas on how to create great video.

This interview is a transcription of the podcast, Jefferson Graham on Video Nation: A DIY Guide to Planning, Shooting, and Sharing Great Video.

From the author of

Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel: Jefferson!

Jefferson Graham: Nancy, thanks for having me here today.

Nancy: Hey, listen—very exciting having you here today at Peachpit, in Berkeley, California.

Jefferson: On the black chairs.

[Both laugh.]

Nancy: Yeah. You're the one in the hot seat now. You're usually interviewing people, and I get the chance today.

Jefferson: Yeah.

Nancy: So this is Author Talk, folks at home, and we're gonna be talking about a brand new book called Video Nation that Jefferson has just written. Tell me about the book: Who are you writing for, and what will we learn from the book?

Jefferson: Okay. It's for my friend Richard.

Nancy: For your friend Richard. Tell us about Richard.

Jefferson: The book is aimed at anybody who wants to improve their video skills—to make better-looking Facebook videos, web videos, YouTube videos—but doesn't know how, looks up on Google for the production company to help them out, and doesn't want to spend $3,000.

So, my friend Richard calls me one day: "I want to be like you. I want to make videos just like you do. And then, how do I edit? What kind of camera do I buy? What kind of lights do I need? What about sound? What about editing?" It just went on and on and on.

Nancy: It's kind of like overwhelming, really.

Jefferson: It's overwhelming. And I realized when I started looking up stuff, there was nothing out there for him.

Nancy: Um hmm.

Jefferson: I wanted to write a book for Richard—and for all the other Richards out there.

Nancy: Right. 'Cause there's a revolution going on, right? Everybody's taking videos, but nobody really knows what they're doing. I mean, I'll speak for myself—I don't know what I'm doing. You teach us how to do these short videos that are really powerful. What are some tips that you can give folks, to give us an idea of what the book is about?

Jefferson: Well, I talk about how to improve their video skills. There's a lot of tools out there that they can buy that will not break the bank. Now, first of all, people should know my shot's on the iPad today. I'm being shot on iPad, you're being shot on iPhone, and we have a crazy little GoPro camera there for the wide shot.

Nancy: Surrounded by three cameras here.

Jefferson: We're shooting everything on consumer cameras. You can make great-looking videos on these consumer cameras. Just get a tripod, get a light, get some microphones. There's simple little things you can do to greatly improve these videos. Most of them are really shaky, and really short. You know.

Nancy: Right. Yeah, I've tried taking video with my iPad, but I can't hold it. I need a tripod, right?

Jefferson: iPad you could pull off, I think, because it's so large. A tripod would be better. There are a lot of mounts for the iPhone that are simple, like we have a little $10 tripod mount for the iPhone. It's very simple, it's affordable. This stuff is out there, and it just takes the time to sit down and make a plan, I think.

Nancy: How much does all that cost, though? I mean, can you do this under $50?

Jefferson: You can do it in spurts. You don't have to go out and buy everything tomorrow. You can buy the $10 tripod attachment for the iPhone, and start with that. You can buy an audio recorder—that would be one of my big things, an audio recorder. You can get one for under $100. You can get a great one for $300. You can get okay mics for $50—you can get great mics for $500. You just get in there and start doing it. You talked about revolution; there's a YouTube revolution. YouTube will pay you money to put their ads on your videos. If you can get a good audience, you can make a lot of money. My mother makes knitting videos. She has a YouTube channel.

Nancy: Is that right?

Jefferson: She pays her real estate taxes every year with the money that comes in.

Nancy: Wow. That's great. Good for her!

Jefferson: She gets money every month from YouTube.

Nancy: So how did she come up with that idea? How do folks come up with great ideas?

Jefferson: She read one of her son's articles.

[Both laugh.]

Jefferson: I had done an article about seniors making money on Google, and the fact that they could put ads on your website. She'd been a knitter; she thought about doing a knitting website, but there's a lot of knitting websites. So she said, "Well, let's do some videos." So she started doing videos. Not a lot of people were doing it. So she started finding an audience, and bringing in the bucks.

Nancy: Wow.

Jefferson: So, if my mother can do it…

Nancy: If your mother can do it, any of us can do it.

Jefferson: That's right.

Nancy: So we just have to come up with a good idea and build an audience.

Jefferson: You know, I was at YouTube yesterday, and they talked about it. You should just find your passion. If you're passionate about it, somebody else is passionate about it.

Nancy: Well, tell us a little bit about your passion, Jefferson. You've been working for USA Today for a number of years, in the technology space. What brought you to that place? Can you give us a little idea?

Jefferson: I've been a photographer since I was 13 years old. My dad bought me a camera a long time ago. I grew up in the darkroom—I lived in the darkroom. When video became "consumery"… I mean, I bought a camcorder in the '80s, one of the first camcorders that plugged into the VCR.

Nancy: Oh, wow. That was about this big? [Laughing, mimics holding a large gadget.]

Jefferson: Remember you had to walk around with a VCR on your shoulder?

Nancy: I do.

Jefferson: And it was shot in black-and-white. I was editing videos on a VCR, on VHS tape. So I'd been into it for a long time, and just always loved it. In the year 2000, there was a beat open to cover technology. I was covering entertainment before that, and I asked to switch, and I did. And here we are, all those years later. Who knew that the technology beat was gonna morph into photo and video?

Nancy: Exactly.

Jefferson: Writing about cameras, writing about video cameras, and writing about video editing. I mean, photography is bigger now—as you would know—than it's ever been, right? More people are taking pictures than ever. I don't know what they're doing with them, but they are taking a lot of pictures.

Nancy: They're uploading them to social sites. Tell us a little bit about social—Facebook, and what you can do with your videos on some of the social sites.

Jefferson: Well, let's look at it from the small business perspective. The small business person who doesn't have videos out there is losing a lot. You know, you tell your story, tell it from your perspective. Ten years ago, you'd have to buy an ad on TV, you'd hope to get a local TV ad that would run at midnight, because that was the only thing you could afford. Now you're telling your story your way, featuring you. Not just, "Hey, this is Nancy, and I make the best books in town." You can tell a lot more; you can open up pages and show close-ups. There's just so much you can do. And you shouldn't be hiring a production company to do it. You can do it yourself.

Nancy: Right. So what about editing? You talk about editing in the book.

Jefferson: Editing, people hate to do, because they never do it.

Nancy: Right!

Jefferson: But if you do it, you say, "Hey, this—" I love editing. It's one of my favorite things to do. Take raw footage and turn it into something. Your raw footage—you've got a lot of junk in there.

Nancy: Right.

Jefferson: You think it's gonna be overwhelming, but it's not. You just have to get your feet wet. Just do it, and do it, and do it. I can't imagine handing the editing over to somebody else.

Nancy: So you recommend people learn how to do it themselves.

Jefferson: Yeah.

Nancy: Is it true that—I think you might mention this in the book—most people shoot way too much video, and make editing too daunting?

Jefferson: Well, I think they worry about it.

Nancy: They worry about it?

Jefferson: Yeah. They worry that it's gonna be too daunting. You don't have to shoot that much. But on the flip side, I come back from every shoot wishing I'd had that shot [pointing to a spot in the air], and that shot [pointing to a different spot], and why didn't I have that shot?

Nancy: Oh, really? Okay.

Jefferson: We did a shoot yesterday, and then we were sitting in the car and I wrote the script while we were driving, "Wait, did we get that shot? No, we didn't get that shot. Did we get that shot? No, we didn't get that shot." There's always another shot that you want to have.

Nancy: So your recommendation is to shoot more than you need.

Jefferson: Shoot more B-roll.

Nancy: Shoot more B-roll. And what is B-roll, for people who don't know that that is?

Jefferson: B-roll—if you watch television, that's what you're watching. Because, video is telling a story. B-roll is the storytelling. It's all the shots of Obama waving when he steps off the plane, and all that sort of stuff. That's B-roll. It's the stuff that you're doing the voice over, over the pictures. It's what you use to tell the story. If we were doing a tour of Peachpit, w would be talking to you, and I'd be asking about Peachpit, but we'd hit the sign outside, and we'd hit the books, and we'd get the stack of books, and people working on their computers. That's B-roll. That tells the story.

Nancy: Okay, good. That's good to know. That's another kind of graphic effect, instead of just taking a picture.

Jefferson: Because nobody wants to watch—as beautiful as you are—they do not want to watch just, "Ba ba ba ba ba ba" [making "talking" motions with one hand].

Nancy: Talking heads, right.

Jefferson: They don't want to see talking heads.

Nancy: Good.

Jefferson: And [B-roll is] how you illustrate the story.

Nancy: I didn't realize that. So, what are your favorite gadgets? If you had to say to somebody, you know, "My three favorite gadgets in video-making…"—aside from cameras?

Jefferson: Aside from cameras?

Nancy: Yeah. Yeah.

Jefferson: Gadgets aside from cameras. Okay. But it's video-related?

Nancy: Video-related. Things that help you.

Jefferson: Well, it's my sound recorder and my lighting; it's all that sort of stuff. You want to talk about apps? I have a really cool app; we're shooting you on FiLMiC Pro right now on the iPhone, which lets you adjust the exposure.

Nancy: So what's the advantage there?

Jefferson: The advantage is that you had some overexposure in the window over here [points behind Nancy] and I was able to adjust it.

Nancy: Oh, okay.

Jefferson: Which I couldn't do with the Camera app.

Nancy: So you can do this ahead of time.

Jefferson: Well, when we're setting up the shot.

Nancy: When you're setting up the shot. Right. Great! Well, you've come in here and you're shooting the creation of this shot.

Jefferson: Right.

Nancy: So will this appear in the book as well?

Jefferson: This will be on the special website edition of the book.

Nancy: Folks who are listening to this will be able to see how he set up this shot with the three different cameras—is that right?

Jefferson: Right.

Nancy: That's exciting.

Jefferson: On Peachpit.com/VideoNation.

Nancy: I would love to find out what it's like to interview all these celebrities. I saw your latest one with Kevin Smith. That must have been a lot of fun. You meet so many interesting people.

Jefferson: Kevin Smith. Yes, it is a lot of fun. The most fun for me is just going in there and producing a story in these settings. For him, it was at the set of the new show he's doing for Hulu.

Nancy: Oh, that's what it was.

Jefferson: So that was fun. Though they're spending a lot of money. They're actually using big-time cameras. We met Carson Daly, who does the Late Night talk show on NBC, and he shoots on the same cameras that we shoot on, which is DSLRs.

Nancy: Wow. You're kidding me!

Jefferson: So when I got there, I was like, "Wow. I'm doing a little web show with Canon 5D Mark III, and so is he—but his is running on NBC!"

Nancy: That is very interesting. Wow, DSLR.

Jefferson: So Kermit the Frog was my favorite celebrity.

Nancy: Was he really? Okay, that's what I was going to ask you—who's your favorite.

Jefferson: My all-time favorite.

Nancy: Why is that?

Jefferson: To interview Kermit the Frog about technology. I mean, how cool is that?

Nancy: [Laughs] When was that?

Jefferson: That was a few months ago. That was in March.

Nancy: Okay, yeah.

Jefferson: But how cool is that?

Nancy: That was very cool.

Jefferson: You send out an email, you say, "It's an off-the-wall idea: I want to talk to Kermit about technology." And they write back, "Yeah, sure."

Nancy: Tell me about it. What does Kermit know about technology? Anything? He's not a techie.

Jefferson: Not that much. But he wants to get a new video camera, he told me that.

Nancy: Oh, okay, right. So what would you choose for him?

Jefferson: He doesn't tweet that much, because it's kind of hard, and iPhone…because his fingers are wet.

Nancy: Wet.

Jefferson: Fingers are a little wet for that, yeah.

[Nancy laughs.]

Jefferson: But he was a lot of fun. He let me do a duet with him. I got to play the guitar.

Nancy: Wow, are you serious?

Jefferson: And he sang for me.

Nancy: Well, you're a jazz musician, I read that about you. Wow. There are so many people who are into photography and video and the arts who also play music.

Jefferson: But you were gonna say, what kind of video camera would I recommend?

Nancy: Actually, yes, that's right. So, what would Kermit want?

Jefferson: Well, I actually recommend not buying a video camera, because the new DSLRs are so great. Start off on the iPhone, start off on the iPad, use your point-and-shoot, but graduate. You can get, for $800, the new Canon Rebel—it's amazing. The problem with the DSLRs is the focusing has been really rough and tough. They've been working at it. I just saw the new Rebel a few weeks ago, and it's continuous auto-focus. Before, you could get the shot, and then, once you start recording, if the camera moves, you're out of focus. The new ones stay in focus.

Nancy: Wow. Okay.

Jefferson: The new Rebel is amazing. The Nikon D3200, which is less expensive, is really good. The Sony A77 and A55 are really good. They're about $600 to $700.

Nancy: Okay.

Jefferson: My favorite: I shoot on the 5D Mark III. It's an expensive camera.

Nancy: Ah, okay. It is expensive.

Jefferson: It's about $3,500.

Nancy: How much is it again?

Jefferson: About $3,500. But it's amazing. You can shoot in low light, you get cinema-like quality. I'm also a photographer, so I can afford it because I get paid to do photography.

Nancy: Right. Video Nation is a DIY book.

Jefferson: That's "do it yourself."

Nancy:  That's "do it yourself." We've seen a lot of growth in the DIY movement, right? And what you're saying is, don't farm this out, even if you're a business person.

Jefferson: Totally.

Nancy: So what does this do to all the small business video production folks out there? Are we gonna take their profession away by telling small business owners to do it [themselves]?

Jefferson: No. They have so much work, they can't keep up with it.

Nancy: Is that right?

Jefferson: Yeah. I feel strongly about that. You should take control. It's the same thing as when a small business person says, "I had someone do the website for me. I had a guy do it." Why? You should be doing it. You should be in control. You can make the changes. I think sometimes it's too daunting, but the small business person can be in control, can write the script, and can do a better job—and make it affordable. They can't afford $3,000 to have a slick video done. I interviewed a real estate agent who does a weekly video, and I interviewed a photo software guy who does three videos a week. He's doing it because he can't afford to have a production company do it, and he says his business has gone way up. They need to be feeding the beast, and the beast is at least once a week, better is twice a week.

Nancy: Okay. Did you hear that? [Talking to someone offscreen.] Thank you, Jefferson. I really appreciate taking your time today.

Jefferson: Thank you, Nancy.

Nancy: It's been a blast. Can't wait to see how people are gonna enjoy your book and create really great videos.

Jefferson: Okay. Thank you.

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