In the previous post we began exploring screencasting through a cinematic lens – how we can use lighting, framing, camera position, window matching, and cutaways to create visual interest and engage our viewers. This article builds on those techniques and begins to explore additional storytelling and cinematic concepts, such as:
- Humanizing your video.
- Using narrative structure.
- The editor’s role in pacing and its impact on audience attention.
- Lifting production value with sophisticated bumpers / credits.
As usual, we’ll begin with an exploratory screencast and then return to the article for a bit more color on the intent / techniques utilized.
Screen video alone is not enough. You need to humanize your content by getting in front of the camera and engaging your audience. And no, I’m not talking about long-winded monologues either. Several 5-7 second talking-head elements can go a long way toward winning over and maintaining the interest of your audience. Let people see your face and don’t be afraid to be emotive / loose. Let them see the twinkle in your eyes and the smirk on your face. As social creatures its how we empathize and bond with each other.
Viewers are most alert at the beginning and end of your screencast (true whether its a meeting, presentation, or screencast). In a recent webinar, noted presenter / storyteller Andy Goodman emphasized how important it is to take advantage of these naturally occurring periods of high focus. That’s why its critical to let viewers see your face and make a connection with you at the beginning of the screencast. It’s also why there’s a talking-head call to action at end of the screencast (during the closing credits segment).
Screencasts aren’t just raw data spewing out of an organic database. Make your screencasts accessible by breaking them down into logical elements that together accomplish the emotional, psychological and instructive goals of your narrative. Structure can help you engage your audience, build your brand, send your message, and motivate your viewers to take action. In this screencast, the structure – intro, bumper, message, bumper – was deliberately constructed to: create rapport and pique viewer interest, establish credibility and build personal brand, teach software functionality, and build brand while motivating viewers to watch other screencasts.
Making a connection with viewers, getting them to watch, and teaching them something they want to know are obviously the most important elements of this screencast. However, by thoughtfully utilizing structure we can add credibility, build brand, and make calls to action in such a way that they actually reinforce / enhance our top level goals.
In the context of filmmaking, pacing is the speed or rate at which the narrative happens, transforms, or develops. It’s important to realize that pacing is more about the viewers sense of narrative speed rather than the actual speed of the event itself. Pacing, then, can be controlled by the rate at which you change what or how the audience is seeing.
In typical filmmaking, lots of “coverage” (extra footage) is shot from a variety of different angles and distances. This allows the editor to control how long any single shot is used by cutting to other views of the scene. This cutting can give a sense of activity and motion, or be used to create dramatic impact. All of these elements keep the viewer more interested in the scene than they would otherwise be if a single camera from a fixed position was used.
How does this all apply to this screencast you might ask? Good question. In order get good “coverage” I did two things:
- recorded the entire desktop
- filmed all of the actual hand / keyboard interaction.
Recording the entire desktop allowed me to create a versatile array of wide, medium and tight shots. If you notice, the majority of the shots are either zoomed in (medium / tight shots) or zoomed out (wide shots) from the actual recording dimensions (you aren’t limited to just selecting quadrants of the screen at 1:1 scale). Filming the hand / keyboard interactions allowed me to cutaway to an alternate view of the scene (the hands interacting with the keyboard).
In order to control pacing I alternated between wide, medium, tight, and keyboard cutaway shots every 2-8 seconds (2-5 seconds is the optimum range). This technique creates visual interest and lends speed to the narrative by changing the shot frequently. In effect, I never let the viewer’s eyes get bored by frequently changing what or how they are looking at the scene and I get to “weight” the importance / impact of each shot by the length of time the shot is on the screen.
Production value: A method, material, or stagecraft skill used in the production of a motion picture or artistic performance; the technical quality of such a method, material, or skill.
One of the simplest ways to improve the production value of a screencast is to use sophisticated bumpers and closing credits. The quality of these segments affects the perceived value of the enclosed content, reinforces the message, helps establish your credibility as an expert, and, as an added bonus, can help you define your personal brand.
Remember, you’re not just presenting static information. You’re selling it. You’re selling your authority as a subject matter expert. You’re selling the quality of the content the audience is about to watch. And, all the while, you’re establishing a style and building your image / brand.
High production values set your screencasts apart and give your audience another reason to believe in their investment in you. At the beginning of a screencast you’re looking to make your audience believe they should invest their time. At the end, you want to reinforce that the message they just heard was special and significant. Use these elements wisely and you can make all that effort expended recording, editing and compositing worth it.