10 Tips for the Best Year End Compilation Video

Earlier we talked about 10 tips to making a Holiday video for family and friends. That was kindergarten – this week we tackle a much more daunting task: the End of the Year Video Compilation. BTW – These tips are good for your annual Sports Team highlights, School Yearbook, special events, "This is your Life" commemorative birthdays or anniversaries and Family History videos. What sets them apart from one-theme videos is the time it takes to gather all the elements, and remembering where everything lives on your hard drive. So, the first step is obvious – organize. Ugh! Our LEAST favorite thing to do, and the most important. So let's start there.

-1- Organize – To compile a year-ender, you need to start in January – obviously, but don't fret, if you're just now planning there's still hope for a good compilation video, and you'll be better prepared for the more intensive one next year.

  • First thing to do, after every shoot, I file all the video to an external drive then copy the "best of" and "highlights" right away to another folder. This will be my Working Folder. I don't touch the Original Folder. Now, if you are shooting on video-tape, you can delete all of the files you won't be using for that year-ender after you've copied to your Working Folder, because your tape is a good archive medium – for now.
  • Protecting your work by backing up your projects is important – so don't skip this step! If your camcorder shoots to an internal hard drive or memory card, well, the first thing you have to do is make sure you have a good external drive for storage – you're going to need all the space you can get. I have 2TB, and I consider that minimum for a project like a year's worth of video… especially if you're loading other stuff, too.
  • If you're shooting to tape, one thing to learn if you don't already know is "Batch Recording". Don't be lazy and dub an entire 60-minute tape. Batch Recording gives you three advantages: You can name individual clips (instead of just "All the December footage"), you can bypass stuff you don't need (thus saving hard drive space) and you are also logging as you go along, (thus getting that step out of the way.) You're also more familiar with the footage when you log it as opposed to just dumping the entire tape and trying to remember where a shot was nine months later.
  • If you're doing a decades long "This is Your Life" video, you're going to be working with a lot of other mediums from film to VHS tape. It's best to get these converted as soon as possible, whether to DVD or some other usable medium.
  • The next thing about organizing is getting a good log and file name system. The Name of the Game is keeping it simple. When it comes to file naming, you want to be able to read it when it's laid out on a path. Usually, if it's a year-ender, the entire folder is going to be the "2012 Compilation", then the clip filepath or file name won't need the year, but use the months as numbers, so they'll file in numerical order. Then create a system sort of like this: follow the month date with a person's name, (shortened) and event, if needed.
  • Keep each of these short, so you can find them easily. For instance, I wouldn't write "Jennifer", I'd write JEN, or JE, to keep it shorter. FAM means the entire family, and NL means in-laws. CH means Christmas, BD means birthday, etc. So you might write: 11-nov-JE-BD2 to indicate this video is Jennifer's November birthday party, clip number 2.
  • If I need to break that down more, it might be 11-nov-JE-BD2_Cakenface1. (which means "Cake in face, clip number 1".) (You can eliminate the 'nov' since you have the number of the month, but I like to keep it for quick reference.)

-2- Start Early – A year-ender or a compilation of any kind can't be done in a day – or even a week. It takes a lot of time. So start early.

  • Like I mentioned earlier, I work every month on the previous month's video, and although I might not have established a theme or beginning yet, at least I can get some of the trimming and effects done. For instance if I'm editing to a music bed, I'll lay the music down first, and edit that month's video to the beat of the music.

-3- Sound Full or Sound Under? – I have two different ways to let myself know there's sound on a scene that I might want to use. Many scenes can work with just a music bed, but in many cases, you want to bring sound from your events in, but months later you're thinking: "where was it again? On 11-nov-JE-BD2 or 11-nov-JE-CH7?"

  • One thing I do when I'm organizing my clips for the first time is to add simple notes in the filepath. SOT is an old TV term that means "Sound On Tape", and, of course, most all video will have sound on it, but in TV terminology, SOT usually means you want this clip to be sound full. So to remind myself that a particular clip has sound I want to use, I'd name it 11-nov-JE-BD_SOT.
  • Another way to organize video with sound clips to show video clips only or audio clips only is to can set the SOT reference at the beginning: SOT_11-nov-JO-BD1 or VID_11-nov-JO-BD2. When you sort them, all the clips that have audio that you want to use would be lined up, and all the clips that you only want to use the video (VID) would be lined up.
  • A third way is to make copies of the ones you know you want to use with sound full and place them in a SOUND folder, while another folder called VIDs has all video-only clips.
  • Again, the name of the game is to be organized up front. At the end of each month, I take all the files from that month's folder and log, sort and copy or delete what I need/don't need. Then come December 1st, I've got at least got the first 11 months of the year prepped.

-4- Make a Plan – are you going to do this compilation in Chronological Order? Or by Subject? That is: by the calendar: "First we celebrated the New Year with noise-makers, then Valentine's day came, followed by Sammy's birthday in March, etc." Or by subject matter? "Our Vacations", "The Family Birthdays", "All About Jenny", "School Fun", "Sports", etc.

  • Sometimes it's easier to make your compilation one way or the other, other times it might feel like one subject has too much coverage, while the other too little. That is your compilation might have 10 minutes on sports, but only 1 minute on school events.
  • I've done several "This is Your Life" compilations that covered many years, even decades, and each was done differently, but I try not to start editing until I have a clear plan which direction the video was going to go.
  • Calendar order is the easiest to do; but don't get stuck on the chronological order. For instance for a 10th birthday video, the little boy had been playing soccer for 5 years, so I had a lot of game footage. Instead of "Year 1, Year 2," etc., I showed his growth through soccer. I have him kicking the ball down the field as a f-year-old, then at one point, when he kicked the ball out of the scene, the next shot started with a closeup of the rolling ball, but as I pulled out, you see he's retrieving the ball at an older age.
  • The music you use can drive your theme, too. I try to use only parts of a song, after about 30 seconds or a few lines; I might fade the music under and go with sound full from the event I'm covering.
  • Usually the song that begins the 20-30 minute video is also the song that ends it. But in between I have a lot of other music – depending on what works best for the shot I'm using.
  • iTunes is your friend! But remember, if you use copyrighted songs, you can't share your video online or air it in any arena other than your own living room or the copyright police will be after you.

-5- Tie your Theme Together – OK. We've organized our clips – now let's have some fun. Compilations usually have a running theme, but they also need to follow traditional storytelling techniques. Consider a classic story arc, it has a beginning, middle and an end. Just because this is following a calendar or specialized subject doesn't mean it shouldn't be tied around a common theme and follow good storytelling rules.

  • As stated above, soccer was the little boy's game, so soccer was the main theme throughout his video. Sometimes, though, I'm not sure how I want to start a video, and I feel rudderless, so I'll begin to compile and edit the video chronologically until I've gotten a good way into the middle of the piece and a running theme reveals itself.
  • For instance, my daughter-in-law's name is also Jennifer, and I started her 30th birthday with the usual: baby pictures, growing up, school pix, etc. That was OK, but then I found an old 45-record I had from the 1970s of the vocalist Donovan singing "Jennifer Juniper" which was released just about when Jen's parents met. The 45 was old and scratchy, so I used that to my advantage, borrowing an old wind-up Victrola record player and playing just the opening lines of the song full. I used a scratchy-film effect and sepia-tone on the video image of the Victrola playing the record. Then after a few bars, I faded up to the first photo of Jennifer as a baby, using this same sepia tone, while fading down the scratchy song. It helped tie the beginning of the video to the end – which started with a closeup shot of Jen putting on her modern iPod earphones as she took off for a run, with the "Jennifer Juniper" song fading up for a bar or two, then out as I slowly faded the shot of her running off in the distance to black. Since I began the "old time" stuff with the 45 record, I added historical facts throughout the piece, i.e., "When Jennifer was 3, the movie Star Wars hit the big screen…" etc.
  • Don't forget that if you're doing a year-ender it doesn't HAVE to be all about this year. Some scenes from the year before can be used to get you started – especially the stuff in December. No one is going to know that the close up shots on last year's tree aren't from this year. Using stuff like that can help you expedite the process.

-6- How to Begin – There are many ways you can begin, but figuring out that first edit can be worse than writer's block! Here's a couple examples I used:

  • My first "This Is Your Life" video I did of my grand-daughter was when she was only 2. An obvious start to this might have been her day of birth – but that's a pretty private scene, so I started with a pre-birth shot of her ultrasound photo, slowly zooming in to the still image while the sound under had the labor-room sounds: groans, encouragement, 'pings' and 'beeps' of machines that faded out to the heartbeat monitor followed by the sound of the baby's first cries – video fades up to the baby.
  • At the end of the video, I faded to black, with sound full of the now 2-year old child not crying but laughing, then just as people thought it was over, I faded up to a shot of the 2 year old watching the first scene of the ultrasound video on a big screen TV – and then I faded back down again to black.
  • The next "This is Your Life" video I did of her was 3 years later, and I started with that same shot of her watching the video, but then I dissolved to her watching herself watching the video at 5 years old, but this time she ejected the DVD and inserted a new disc into the player. On the TV we saw her ejecting the DVD, then I dissolved to the same shot of her as she turned and walked out the door to go to school. I used the ABBA song, "Slipping Through My Fingers", which is haunting tune of a little girl growing up too fast.

-7- Be Creative – Segues in a compilation video can be just as important as the video itself.

  • Segues – that bit that ties one event to another, can be as simple as a calendar-changing month to month using a page-curl wipe. But you can add more depth to the calendar by having special dates marked on the calendar, "Jennifer's Birthday", "Thanksgiving", with even a photo or moving video of that person or event on that date.
  • While Videomaker usually doesn't advocate using wipes – we instruct readers that dissolves and straight-cuts are more professional – in a case like this, you could use wipes in a compilation, but use them sparingly. For instance, if you're tying a Star Wars theme, it might be fun to use a similar infinity opening graphic as Star Wars, and follow events using the top-to-bottom or left-to-right wipes that Star Wars used. But don't over do it, and don't add more wipes, like star wipes, page curls, window blinds, etc. Cheesy wipes aren't what your audience is coming to your showing for – it's the story, so tell it well, and use creative dissolves.
  • A long dissolve or fade to black work very well in this type of video. Usually one would limit a dissolve to 15 to 30 frames, or longer for 1 to 2 seconds. Here you can use a 4 to 5 second dissolve easily. With purpose.
  • Are you planning a look at your family history? Maybe make a family tree for an opening graphic.
  • Are you going to have people talk about their life? Put them in a comfortable setting without a busy distracting background. Remove nick-knacks from walls and tables that are in view, unless they pertain to the interviews.

-8- Incorporating Stills – Many people want to bring still photos into a video compilation for many reasons: sometimes a still photo is all you have, other times a still shot illustrates an event well.

  • I love adding stills to my videos. Keep this tip in mind, though: using still photos in a video requires them to have some sort of movement, however subtle it is, because viewers expect to see movement. Going from a video to a still shot is jarring, so slow move ins, pans, etc, connect that movement that the still photo lacks.
  • For an even more creative way of incorporating still shots into your video, try doing a fly-over on a Tableau to add even more movement, depth and interest. I love creating a specialized tableau as an opening to a series of still photos.
  • If you're a Videomaker Plus Member, this video will show you what I mean. For those who can't view the video mentioned above, here's a brief explanation. This is how they used to shoot photos in the old days, before we had access to [image:blog_post:13062]editing pan-and-scan techniques, and it's still a very elegant way to use still photos in your video project. [Photos at left and below help illustrate this set-up. Bear with me, I took these photos quickly with my point-n-shoot camera the night before I wrote this report !][image:blog_post:13063] [image:blog_post:13064]
  • Create a unique way to add depth by setting up a scene with physical photos in frames along with interesting artifacts from that person's life: a flag for a veteran, baby shoes, ballet shoes, favorite toys, flowers, etc. Then shoot the scene, using tricks like pans, dissolves and fly-overs for movement, instead of the usual pan-and-scan techniques.[image:blog_post:13065]I run this for about a 20-second "open", then I dissolve to the traditional digital pan-and-scan techniques.
  • To make the tableau, throw a nice soft wrinkle-resistant fabric over a table – a blanket or tablecloth would do, even un-trimmed fabric, as long as it doesn't have much of a pattern, which can be distracting. I've used flags, too, when doing a veteran's video.
  • Stagger framed photos along a horizontal plane, about a foot apart, some to the left, others to the right of the plane. Staggering the distance between the pictures allows you to add depth of field between them. This adds texture and depth to the tableau.
  • To add staggered levels, you can prop up some photos by placing various boxes of varying heights under the cloth. I used a Kleenex box, my Star Wars boxed DVD set, and my toaster!
  • You can rack focus between the photos or do a fly-over between the shots or dissolve from a pan. You can then pan from the photo to nothing (like a blank out of focus wall) and then dissolve from the wall back to another shot.
  • Lots of choices – just be subtle, remember, elegance is key to these tricks and stability. All of this will give more depth and dimension to your still pictures.
  • Follow this tableau as your opening scenes, then dissolve to the scanned photos and continue with your traditional pan and scan imaging.
  • A 20-to-30 second sequence is all you need, and if you plan to use this technique for the end of your video, you can slowly de-focus the last shot and hold it, which will give you a nice background to add end-titles.

-9- Let it Go – the hard part of putting a compilation together is letting go of shots you love but can't fit in anywhere, or shots you love but that aren't up to par and are lacking in quality. The hardest, though, is knowing when enough is enough.

  • Remember – this is about an entire length of time – whether it's for someone's 30th birthday, a 50th anniversary or a "Year in the Life", and any shot longer than 20 seconds is going to be too long.
  • If you're making a DVD to hand out you can have an "Extras" sequence where viewers can see the ENTIRE opening of presents at a party, or a sporting game from beginning to end, or Jenny's full 1-hour dance recital.
  • In some cases, you might just have an Extras Page on the DVD menu you're compiling, in other cases you might want to make it a 2-disc program.

-10- Start Planning for Next Year!  With a new year comes new ideas and new beginnings. It's never too late to begin planning for next year's compilation video, and who knows – you might just enjoy it enough to want to do one every year or for every event!

Bonus Tip! -11- Presentation is Everything!  Here's a final tip: they say presentation is everything, right? Although we can put videos on Vimeo, YouTube and anywhere else nowadays, sometimes you really want to illustrate your hard work and extremely time-processing project wrapped in a nice presentation.

  • [image:blog_post:29814]If you present it on a DVD you can print a lovely DVD cover, and match it to the DVD jewel case – well, depending on the size of the case you use, I discovered that a standard 5×6-inch DVD cover is just slightly wider than a square Kleenex box. So rather than just presenting my family with a wrapped DVD of their daughter's first year on this earth on her 1st birthday, I attached the DVD to the bottom of the Kleenex box, then wrapped a ribbon around them and placed it in a gift bag.
  • When my daughter-in-law pulled the Kleenex box out of the bag, she was puzzled, but her mom saw the DVD at the bottom, and declared: "Oh, oh! I know what the Kleenex is for…"
  • By the end of the 20-minute presentation, there wasn't a dry eye in the house and the Kleenex box was passed around the room. Ah… Can I tell a story or can I tell a story!

Happy New Year, Everyone! Good luck with your own compilation videos – it's extremely rewarding, despite the agonizing hours in takes!

Jennifer O’Rourke is an Emmy award-winning photographer, editor & producer and Videomaker’s Managing Editor. 

Below are a few more links to help you organize, plan, shoot and edit your own Year Ender Compilation Videos!

"A Call for Backup" https://www.videomaker.com/article/14243/
"Shooting Reunions" https://www.videomaker.com/article/1392/
"Video Taping Sports" https://www.videomaker.com/article/12978/
"Schoolyard Video" https://www.videomaker.com/article/14291/
"Making a Better Baby Video" https://www.videomaker.com/article/14220/
"Video Yearbooks" https://www.videomaker.com/article/3158/
"Kindergarten Yearbooks" https://www.videomaker.com/article/9846/
"2.5d Animation Tutorial for Still Photos" https://www.videomaker.com/article/13742/

Jennifer O'Rourke
Jennifer O'Rourke
Jennifer O’Rourke is an Emmy award-winning videographer & editor.

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