Shocking, I know!
How did I do it?
Here’s how, and why.
Table of Contents
- Why video?
- Setting the stage
- Take 1, unscripted
- Taking notes from MKBHD
- Writing the script
- Take 2, scripted
- Editing in DaVinci Resolve
- Using adjustment clips for the B-rolls
- Shooting the B-rolls
- Using photos
- The most difficult part in the editing
- Finishing touches
- Where does the video go?
- Final product
- Key takeaways from my first video-making process
I’ve never enjoyed talking. I’ve rambled and lost my words whenever I tried to speak. And this kept me from ever trying to record myself on camera.
In today’s world where people default to video, I envy those who can fluently speak to the camera without needing a script. I love the creator economy, but a large part of this economy thrives on video.
I love writing. I’m at my best when I’m expressing with carefully chosen words. I can’t do that when I’m speaking.
But I wanted my writings — and by extension, my thoughts and reviews — to reach more people. And making videos seem to be the only way to reach a wider audience these days. (And I’m not happy about it!)
What changed my mind to give it another shot is the insight that ‘talking head’ videos are pretty popular on YouTube. When the topic is interesting and engaging, people watch and listen. Even with no fancy transitions and special effects, there are videos with thousands of views of people just talking about things they’re passionate about.
This was my lightbulb moment. Those videos could have just been blog posts. They were just narrating. (Albeit in a natural conversational tone. So much so that you’d never know their “talk” was fully scripted.)
This is an art. And I wanted to learn that.
Since I sucked at reading scripts, I decided to note down the main points I wanted to discuss and just go with it.
This is the why. I wanted to make a talking head video.
Setting the stage
I recently overhauled my home office/desk setup. It’s not the best you’ll ever see, but it’d make for a decent video background. For that, I had to place the camera on the opposite side so that the desk would show up behind me.
After all, that’s how 90% of tech YouTubers do it, right? 😅
So I cleared the old desk on the opposite side, borrowed an LED rim light from my sister, and declared the table my YouTube studio!
I noticed that the contrast on my face was too strong with just one light source. Since there was no space to put the light in front of me, I had to improvise.
I connected the old 27” monitor to my laptop, opened my photography website (which doesn’t have a dark mode), and kept it at a 45-degree angle to the right. This gave a nice fill light on my face.
I used a small flexible tripod to set up my Canon EOS R with the RF 24-105mm F/4L. I put it on the table facing me straight. I did a few test shots and was pretty happy with how they turned out.
It was time to do the thing I wasn’t looking forward to!
Take 1, unscripted
On my Mac, I opened the outlines/main points I wanted to discuss, took a deep breath, and started *gasps* talking.
I used the MacBook Pro’s built-in microphones to record the audio. I already had too much on my plate, so I kept things simple. (It was fairly easy to sync up the audio with the video coming from the camera in DaVinci Resolve. But some background noise crept through.)
I rambled a lot. I forgot what I was saying, a lot. I couldn’t find the right word, a lot. And of course, I looked stiff and robotic.
I found out that talking unscripted wasn’t as easy as I thought it’d be even when I knew what I wanted to talk about.
Time to be envious of the ‘camera-friendly’ people one more time!
To give myself fake comfort, I thought of the people I’ve seen who struggled to write. “You aren’t supposed to be natural at everything,” I told myself. 🥲 When it comes to writing, someone might be staring at a blank screen while I’m already on the second page. What garbage I wrote that fast would be a fair question, but as they say, you need to put down words first before you can make them better. I’m good at that.
I’m not good at talking.
But I powered through, determined to finish it. And I did.
My first take was over 25 minutes.
I didn’t like the result, though. I still edited them using DaVinci Resolve (more on the technical part later) just so I could see what a finished product might look like.
After adding some transitions and relevant images over the video so it’s not just me talking, I finished the edit. It was about 18 minutes. The topic was long as well, but the video was longer because I frequently kept repeating stuff.
You can only cut down so many repeats before the whole thing looks like a haphazardly taped-together blackmail video.
So it was time to go back to the drawing board, but not before I did more study on how veteran YouTubers actually did it.
Taking notes from MKBHD
I recalled that MKBHD had a ‘how-to’ guide on Skillshare, so I watched that first.
I was pretty surprised to learn that he, too, scripted all of his videos. Adding so much information in tightly-worded reviews couldn’t have been made on the fly, but I thought he got so good at it that he could just do it impromptu.
It was very helpful to learn about his scripting process. It also made me respect him more for how natural and fluent he has become in delivering scripted words to the camera.
His short course gave me some pointers. Especially, I felt like a genius when I saw he was recording talking head in one shot as well. 😅 (He keeps the camera rolling, looks down at his script, memorizes what to say next, looks up, and says it.)
So I decided to write the script for a new video. This would be about my desk setup. Something that I’ve seen countless times on YouTube.
Writing the script
Opening Ulysses, my current writing app, I started writing. This was my territory as a writer. But I kept in mind that I would have to say those words. That made me naturally avoid complex and long sentences.
As any ‘get better at writing’ course will tell you, writing short and concisely makes it easy for the reader, but writing like that is harder.
Someone once said, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
That’s because writing shorter takes more time.
So, in a way, writing for video turned out to be a great writing exercise. I was writing shorter sentences. I found ways to add clarity to my words.
Some convoluted sentences slipped through, but I enjoyed the scriptwriting process.
Take 2, scripted
Keeping in mind how MKBHD does it, I hit record, kept the camera rolling, tried to memorize at least two-three lines at a time, and delivered them to the camera.
While this sounds easy enough on paper, it was hard. I had to look down so many times because I was forgetting what was next. This became frustrating to the point I was about to give up. But I decided to power through and just narrate different sections while looking at the laptop.
Ulysses said the reading time for the script was 10 minutes. I had recorded 28 minutes, with all the repeats and mistakes.
I was happier with the result this time. Although there were large sections in the video that had to be covered with a B-roll — because I was reading from the laptop screen — I was happy that at least I got something.
So, in the next phase, I got to editing.
Editing in DaVinci Resolve
I recently made the leap to DaVinci Resolve from Final Cut Pro. I still love the efficiency and speed of Final Cut Pro, but the magnetic timeline just doesn’t make sense to me. I like the freedom of moving stuff around in the timeline. And DaVinci Resolve seemed to be pretty powerful and well-optimized for the M1 Macs.
The first step to the editing process was simple: Move the file from the camera to the Mac and import it into the timeline. Remember I shot everything in one go? This made things so much easier because now I had only one file to import. And it gave me one long clip in the timeline to sift through, review, and cut.
In the second step, I started watching the video and roughly cutting out silences, repeats, and other mistakes. The idea was to arrive at a point where there was one continuous track of me delivering all the words from the script, no matter where I was looking.
This step took a lot of time. In reality, it took less time than other edits, but it was so boring that I felt like it took the longest.
Recording the full video took me 28 minutes. Cutting it down to 15 minutes of usable footage took me 2 hours.
I guess you get better at it the more you do it. But this was definitely the least enjoyable.
Using adjustment clips for the B-rolls
After I had the final clip in the timeline, I created a new video track and added empty adjustment clips. I changed the color of those clips to orange so they stand out.
The idea was to put those empty adjustment clips over the time when I’m reading from the laptop instead of looking at the camera. Laying out those clips took a good long time too, but by the end, I had a timeline that looked like this.
That’s a lot of B-rolls to shoot. Only if I could memorize more lines when recording!
It took one full night to get to this point. The sun came up and I had to go to work (yes, I often go to work after a sleepless night).
Good thing my workplace is on the opposite side of my YouTube studio. 😛
Shooting the B-rolls
The fact that I needed so many B-rolls made me feel overwhelmed. But on the second night of post-production, I decided to just go for it. If the mosquitoes flying around won’t let me sleep, I might as well do something productive.
So I opened DaVinci Resolve, jumped from one adjustment clip to the next, and created a mental note of what I needed to shoot. An actual note on paper/note-taking apps would have made things easier, but it would be one more thing to do.
There’s not much to say about shooting the B-rolls. I handheld the EOS R with the 24-105mm f/4 and shot things around the desk.
The EOS R doesn’t have IBIS (in-body image stabilization), but the lens does.
I knew the videos would be shaky, and no one was expecting them to be top-notch on my first video, so I just tried my best to keep my hands steady and recorded everything I talked about on the desk.
After two sessions of B-roll shooting, I had most of what I needed.
I had taken photos of some of the products I talked about in the video. I decided to add those to the video as well thinking they’d be valuable as b-roll shots. You can see some of those photos on the written version here.
This meant importing a number of RAW photos into Lightroom, editing them as fast as possible to get to a usable state, exporting and bringing them into DaVinci Resolve, adding and animating them on the timeline.
Static images without any animation would look super boring on a video, so they had to be animated. I did a mix of zoom and pan effects on the photos.
Fun fact: I was exporting Lightroom photos at the same time I had an export running on DaVinci Resolve (I was exporting to see the file size). The M1 Pro-equipped MacBook Pro didn’t even flinch.
The most difficult part in the editing
As I didn’t want to go too fancy with anything (which might just be an excuse to hide my inability to actually do anything fancy!), the editing process was fairly simple. It was repetitive and time-consuming, but pretty straightforward. However, I did have an idea that I wanted to implement.
In the part about AirPods Max automatically connecting to Mac, I wanted to somehow bring the top-right notification that you get on the Mac into the video. The end result is a hacky job, but I did it!
This took quite an effort since I wasn’t familiar with the tools I was using.
I could screen-record the notification and mask it frame by frame so that only that notification shows up. But I’m still learning the masks in DaVinci Resolve. Doing so would have taken an eternity. So instead, I cheated.
I set the desktop background on my Mac desktop to bright green to replicate a green screen. I recorded the notification showing up using QuickTime. I brought that recording into Resolve, added a Chroma key to remove all the green, and added a small rectangle mask around the notification.
Having done such a great quality Hollywood-level work, it was time to pat myself on the back! 😝
When I imported the b-roll footage, I only put them over the adjustment clips. Some of those clips got moved around, so I had to continuously play back and forth to make sure the b-rolls were going in the right place.
When all the videos, text, and images were added, I added background music from YouTube’s free audio library. Generally, I’d add the music first and cut the video based on the beats, but since I’m not making travel or cinematic video, this process worked.
The sound would just be in the background, so I didn’t do much editing there. In hindsight, the background music should have been quieter. But by the time I realized that I had already rendered at least six times (Resolve renders fast!) and uploaded them to YouTube.
(I kept seeing a “Checks still running” message on YouTube hours after uploading, and per some suggestions online, I re-uploaded multiple times before it finally worked.)
I wanted to add two blog posts linking from the video. I wrote them at this point, waiting for the “checks still running” to finish. The posts are this one and the text version of What’s on my desk 2022.
Once these two posts are done, I’ll go and upload the video so that everything goes online nearly the same time. You’ll have everything ready for you to enjoy when you’re reading this. 😁
Where does the video go?
When I recorded my first video, I planned to upload it for a channel made specifically for my photography adventures. It would accompany my photography site. However, after looking at the output, I began to reconsider.
Initially, I planned to have two or three different channels targeting different niches. While that would have meant getting subscribers who knew what they were subscribing for, I would have lost the personality (and personal branding) that so many YouTubers become known for.
So I scrapped my original plan and decided to create a new one, in my name, and upload the new video there.
As a blog addict (bloddict?), I keep making different blogs with the intention of writing niche articles. So I’ll keep some of those blogs separate to keep the topic relevant. But as far as well-made, ‘talking head’ YouTube videos are concerned, I’ll upload them in my name.
Chances are, if you’re here, you’ve already seen the video. But if you haven’t, here you go:
Don’t forget to check out the full written version of my setup tour.
Key takeaways from my first video-making process
- Scripting is the way to go if you’re doing some sort of reviews or sharing specific information.
- But if you’re not awkward on camera, you could do without a script.
- Scripting is extra work. Finishing up a script is like you’re ready to publish this, but since it’s for a video, it’s just the start of a lengthy process.
- The script can be turned into a blog post with minor editing.
- Keeping the camera recording, even when I was making mistakes, helped me put down the first cut pretty fast. (Well, it took two hours, but it might have taken four if I had 20 clips to sort through. 🙂 )
- Syncing audio-video from different sources (Camera and Audacity on Mac) took two seconds. I was worried for nothing.
- When the first rough cut is done, it became clear what I needed to shoot next. MKBHD bolds the part of the script he wants to say on camera, which is a far more efficient way to get a shot list, but I couldn’t do this because I couldn’t do some lines talking to the camera. I believe this will become easier as I make more videos, thus reducing the “need” for B-rolls.
- The 28-minute 4K 30fps footage from the EOS R (recorded in normal mp4, not even RAW) was 99 GB. So, I need to find a storage solution since these files will get larger and larger as I make more videos.
- Even after 10-15 passes, I still found things in the video that I preferred to cut down. It was just like writing a blog post. The more time I take to edit a post, the sharper it gets. A lot of jargon/unnecessary things made past the first few edits. So it was helpful to sit on it for a day to come back later with a fresh mind.
- Giving me a deadline helped me finish up the process. (The deadline was for a work thing. Can’t discuss here. 😛 ) – So if you’re struggling to finish a video project, give yourself a solid deadline and realistically try to finish up the project. I never would have finished it this fast, on my first attempt at making a video, if I didn’t have a deadline.
Overall, it was definitely a great learning experience.
I still love writing more than talking to the camera. I’ll keep writing. But I’ll strive to make videos out of some of those writings. My goal is to become more confident and natural at ‘talking head’ videos. I already write, so if I can narrate them conversationally, I’ll get the best of both worlds. 😁
If you have any suggestions for improvement, thoughts, or questions about any of this, feel free to drop a comment.
Shout out to the folks over at BetterOn who helped me get better on video. I had access to them as part of the coaching perks available to Automatticians (where I work). Thanks to BetterOn’s guidance, I’ve gone from a “miserable soul” on camera to “maybe he’s just hungry,” which is still a huge improvement for me. 😅