Basic Training

You may not think so, but training videos make richly satisfying projects, because a how-to program has everything youre looking for as a video producer:

  •  A ready-made "story" just waiting for you to shoot it.


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  •  A short length, so you can complete the show in a reasonable time.

  •  A modest production level that you can handle with prosumer equipment.

  •  An audience eager to view your program more than one time voluntarily!

    And dont forget: a short training project makes a great showcase for your skills as a professional videographer. To land a how-to project you dont have to sell your ideas to some big corporation. All kinds of folks need instruction and will be grateful for your skilled assistance.

    Who Needs Training?

    Step one is to find a suitable subject. We cant even begin to suggest all the possibilities, but here are some places to start your search.

    Do you or friends operate a business? Look for tasks that you have to teach over and over to new hires. How to Close Out a Cash Register is an excellent subject and you can find a dozen more like Professional Telephone Courtesy or Completing Your Time Card.

    Even at home you can find an audience for a training program. How about that amazing dish your spouse prepares – the one your grown kids are always begging to learn. Expose the secrets of the culinary triumph and give VHS tapes (or video CDs) as gifts.

    At school, training videos can preview an entire student project in a short time, so that students understand what they are about to do. For example, you could document a class garden project from preparing soil flats to enjoying full-grown plants and condense it into a five minute teaser. By showing the video to the next class, youll give them a feeling for the whole picture and whet their appetites for doing it themselves.

    School also means sports, and here, training videos are invaluable, especially when limited to specific skills. How to Play First Base is a good topic for a ten minute program. How to Play Baseball is not.

    Out in the community, every kind of organization can use a training video. Is your place of worship raising money by turning in newspapers, cans and bottles? How to Prepare Materials for Recycling is a natural.

    Did your Rotary or Lions Club adopt a stretch of highway? You can make a great video about keeping the road clean and staying safe while doing it.

    Everywhere you turn you find tasks, processes or skills that need teaching, and you can often teach them best by creating a how-to video.

    Is it a Video Subject?

    Some topics just dont lend themselves to video. How to Write a Poem may sound easy at first; but you soon find that the whole task is invisible to a camcorder because its hidden inside someones head.

    So the first criterion for a good subject is visibility. How to Drive a Fork Lift, How to Arrange Long Stem Roses, How to Use a Chain Saw Safely are all great subjects because the camera can see the whole process.

    The second test of a good subject is its sequence. Does it have a beginning, middle and end? A task made up of orderly steps is easy because you simply cover them in their natural order.

    This test makes rose-arranging a great topic while fork lifting is more difficult. Sure: you start the machine in the beginning and shut it down in the end, but in between you can do several different things with a fork lift, and the order in which you do them is not pre-determined. Structuring a video like this would take a lot of thought.

    In fact, the whole fork lift topic may also fail the third major subject test: limited scope. Ten minutes is a good limit for a training program (15 minutes, max) and you could indeed cover everything about fork lifts in that time. But could you cover every step in close enough detail to make the training useful? For example, you could show "insert the forks under a pallet and lift the load six feet" in the few seconds it takes to read that quote. But buried in that summary are several separate steps and a dozen things to watch out for. Offhand, Id say that sub-topic needs 60 seconds rather than six.

    The Tools of the Trade

    And make sure, too, that you can shoot the darn thing. How to Count the Bat Population is not a good bet unless you have military night vision optics. To make How to Regulate Antique Watches you need all kinds of macro capability, plus a ton of lighting to achieve sufficient depth of field in very tiny distances.

    In most cases, however, you can do a good job with high-quality prosumer equipment. Start with the best camcorder you can manage, keeping in mind that a 3-chip camcorder is much better than a single chip camcorder. On the analog side, Hi8 and S-VHS units generally deliver better images, but go for Mini DV or Digital8 if you can. The initial image and sound qualities are excellent and they suffer the least damage in post production.

    For training programs, you want an external microphone. A wireless clip-on lavaliere microphone is great for the woman explaining chain saw safety as she demonstrates it. And if you lack an audio studio, a lapel mike works very well for recording off-camera narration as well. If you have the luxury of a second mike, a directional shotgun type is excellent for general production work.

    In the lighting department, reflectors are an absolute must, especially big white ones to bounce interior light and provide shadowless illumination for closeups of how-to procedures. As for incandescent lights, you can probably get away with a couple of twin-headed halogen work lights on stands to bounce off ceilings and walls. (I like halogen floor lamps available at many department stores. They cost less than $20 and if they accidentally get into the picture, they look like they belong there.)

    When you get to post production, youre better off with a nonlinear digital system, for several reasons:

  •  You can maintain camera-tape quality through several edit generations.

  •  You can easily create and superimpose complex titles like lists that start with a single line and then add two, three, four….

  •  You can handle multiple audio tracks, like production sound, narration and music. (These three are about the minimum required for professional sounding audio.)

    If you havent yet made the move to digital, a prosumer analog edit bay with a good mixer/switcher and a high-quality titler can yield fine results, especially if your release tapes are no lower than third generation.

    In this outing, then, weve showed where to find program topics, how to evaluate them, and what you may need to do them justice.

  • The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.