Ed Driscoll

Evan Coyne Maloney: DIY Video 101

I interviewed documentary video maker/blogger Evan Coyne Maloney for my recent TCS Daily piece about the future of video on the Web. Unfortunately, because of the article’s structure, I could only use a couple of paragraphs of Evan’s detailed responses in the article, so I asked him if he’d mind if I reprinted the rest here. For anyone interested in DIY video–whether it’s for the Web, DVD, or their own personal archives, there’s a wealth of information here. As I once mentioned on my main blog, his suggestion about camera choices is an invaluable tip in and of itself to any budding documentarian.

Ed: What sort of hardware do you use to record video?

Evan: When I shot my first web video, I didn’t own a digital video camera. I wanted something professional-looking enough that my interview subjects would take me seriously. I rented a Sony PD-150. It’s a highly-regarded professional/consumer (“pro-sumer”) DV camera that has been used for low-end broadcast production, and it’s large enough that I didn’t look like some jerk goofing around with a handi-cam. (Instead, I looked like some jerk goofing around with a PD-150.)

I used the PD-150 once more for another shoot, and I was very happy with the results each time. However, when it was time to buy my own camera, I opted for the Panasonic DVX-100. It gets phenomenal picture quality and has a feature that the Sony lacks: a 24P shooting mode, which many contend gives a more “filmic” look to the motion. Also, as an editor, I find that progressive scan video gives me more flexibility than interlaced video.

You can generally get these types of cameras for under $3000 now. And if you have the money, there are a number of high-definition HDV cameras getting attention these days. You can find them for under $5000, and will allow you to distribute high-def DVDs when those become commonplace.

Ed: Do you use different gear for material that will be released to DVD as opposed to simply uploaded to your blog?

Evan: If you’re shooting on any reasonable-quality DV camera, you should be able to use the same gear for the online and DVD versions of a given work. The real issue, though, is often audio. These days cameras are advanced enough that it is very easy to get a decent picture, but you really have to know a lot about your shooting location, how windy it gets, how much background noise there will be, what types of mics to use for different situations, etc., in order to get decent audio. And in most cases, if you get bad audio, you’re screwed. Your footage won’t be usable.

Many people assume that the on-camera mics are sufficient, but they tend to work well only in a very limited set of circumstances. If you’re only looking to distribute low-resolution videos online, then people will generally be forgiving with substandard audio. But on a TV, especially one hooked up to a decent set of speakers, bad audio
will ruin the experience for the viewer. So, if you’re looking to make DVDs of your video production, and you plan on having an audience that extends beyond friends and family, I would recommend investing in a decent set of mics. I would recommend a pair of lavalier mics, a handheld omnidirectional mic (like the Shure SM58–good for recording voiceovers) and a shotgun mic with an attachment that can make it a “short shutgun” or a “long shotgun”. A pair of wireless attachments is also useful in cases where a wire between the mic and camera would be unwieldy. (I’ve had good luck with the mid-range Sennheisers.) But don’t ever rely on wireless exclusively…they are sometimes beset by radio interference and static, so it’s always good to have a backup channel of audio from a non-wireless source.

Lastly, to get the best audio, look for cameras with XLR audio inputs. These are much less susceptible to electrical line noise and radio interference, and all professional mics use XLR connectors.

Ed: Any thoughts on where video is going on the Web in general and/or the Blogosphere specifically?

Evan: What we’re seeing with online video is just the beginning. Three factors point to a future explosion in the availability of online video.

First, simple economics. Ten years ago, the expense associated with putting together even the most rudimentary online video would have put it out of reach for most people. Even if you had your own camera, you probably didn’t have video editing software or a computer capable of running it. If you did have access to an editing suite, then you probably didn’t have sufficient bandwidth to make the resulting video available online. And even with unlimited bandwidth, the people on the other end–the potential viewers–probably didn’t have enough bandwidth to watch what you made. Today, however, none of those are limiting factors. You can buy a usable consumer-level DV camera for around $500. You can buy a “pro-sumer” DV camera for under $3000. You can even shoot in high-definition HDV for under $5000.

Second, near-ubiquitous bandwidth availability. Although high-speed broadband has been available in most corporations for a few years, broadband is just beginning to penetrate the home market in large numbers. This means that we’re really at the very beginning stages of mass viewing of online videos. We haven’t hit the inflection point yet, but I suspect we’ll see, within a few years, the same massive growth with online video that we saw with the web in the mid-1990s. Eventually, maybe 10 years from now, we’ll have full-screen, full-motion on-demand high-definition video available directly to the home. That’s the ideal video delivery platform, and if we’re still a decade away, it means there’s plenty of room to grow in this market.

Third, there will be an ever-increasing number of devices available for watching video. Whereas online video now requires you to sit in front of a computer, in a year, people will be watching it on video iPods, cell phones, Sony PSPs, etc. When high-speed wireless data networks become deployed nationwide, online video will eventually
mean wireless video-on-demand streamed from the Internet. It will no longer be necessary to sit in front of a computer to watch video. If you take mass transit, you can watch video on your morning commute. You can watch video while waiting in the doctor’s office or standing on line at the post office.

Of course, all this means a massive democratization in the production and consumption of online video. More people can afford to put out their own unique messages via video, and more people can watch videos in more settings. Traditional broadcast and cable networks will find themselves facing smaller audiences as people spend their time with other outlets. Shrinking audiences mean shrinking ad revenue, so it will become more difficult for big media to spend as much money producing content. Traditional outlets will be lowering their production values at the same time that individuals or small groups are increasing theirs.

In the future, anyone can be the mass media.