Gear Update (2014) – Down-Sized Edition

Canon C100

2014 may be another personal record-breaker for me as far as the number of videos I produce. It will definitely be a record breaker when it comes to the number of minutes produced. Even though I am producing more, I have started to downsize the amount of gear I use.

Last year, I went a little bit overboard. I had been using nothing but consumer camcorders for years. As soon as money started coming in from my various projects, I did what any self-respecting video geek would do – I started buying gear! It was fun but I ended up with too much stuff that ended up bogging down things when it came to production. There were too many options and too many things to think about. I am still a mciro-budget producer and almost always a one-man crew. Time is always of the essence and I already have too much on my mind. So I started to downsize.

My production set-up is now what you see in the photo above. For outdoor shoots, that is the whole thing (except for a collapsible bounce-card that I use when I have someone on-set helping me). We just produced the 5-hour EMPOWER yoga class with this set-up.

A-CAM: Canon C-100. I absolutely love this camera and if 4K wasn’t looking, would have already bought a second one. After spending just a few hours with this camera, I never wanted to shoot with a DSLR again. This is easily my favorite out of all the cameras I’ve owned so far. The only big downside is the viewfinder which is terribly designed and feels really out of place considering how great the rest of the camera is. The flip-out monitor isn’t so great either.

B-CAM: Canon T5i. As much as I love the C-100, I am stuck operating this one most of the time because I use this for tighter shots. If I go very wide on this one the image is way too soft to cut together with the C-100 footage. Close-ups and even medium shots are sharp enough. For an entry-level camera it has performed really well. It’s funny how much better the flip-out monitor is compared to the C100. This camera replaced the Canon 60D that I used for years. I think I just wore it out. I took it in for repairs but it had so many issues the repair guy told me it wasn’t worth fixing. It still works great for stills but overheats or shuts down immediately if I try to shoot video. RIP.

Sennheiser G3 Wireless Lav System. I’ve been using this for quite awhile. I actually have two kits now in case I need to do an interview. I’ve got absolutely nothing bad to say about this kit. I’ve even dropped the receiver a few times but thanks to the solid construction it still works great.

RODE Videomic Pro. I don’t actually use any of the audio from this mic. It serves as a cleaner reference track. This helps FCPX really nail the synchronization of the footage.

Zacuto Z-Finder. I’m not crazy about the Z-Finder but when shooting outside it’s the only way I can see what I’m doing.

Manfrotto 701 HDV Head with 755XB Tripod Legs. These are great lightweight tripods. They’re a little TOO lightweight for the C100 but the ease of set-up and transport make up for it.

That’s all I use when shooting outside. It’s easy to transport and quick to set-up and tear down. I use the same configuration when shooting inside but I add three lights.

Fotodiox Pro LED 508 A. This is a cheap Litepanels knock-off but it does the job. I especially like that it comes with a case and batteries. All you need is a light stand.

Linco Softboxes. I hate softboxes because they are normally just too much work to set-up. Linco has a great design that works like an umbrella. The only part that’s time consuming is screwing in all the lightbulbs. These lights are great for creating big soft areas of light. They also come with cases which is turning into a big selling point for me.

So that’s my current production setup. For the evolution of my Gear check out these posts:

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. And I’d LOVE to hear what gear you use to produce your videos.  Leave a comment and tell me all about it. The comments section has hereby been declared a safe place for Camera geek discussion.

 

EMPOWER – Behind The Scenes

Yoga With Adriene

In January of this year we launched the first Yoga With Adriene product. It was called REBOOT and it was a 4 video online class designed to help people get over their “holiday hangovers” and establish a consistent at-home yoga practice. We had no idea what we were doing. It was the first online video product that I had ever launched and everything that could go wrong pretty much did.

Despite the chaos, REBOOT was a huge success. With the help of the REBOOT community, we gradually worked through the technical issues and polished up the class. It was a significant turning point in the Yoga With Adriene project. In addition to the videos and instruction, we created a closed Facebook group for people to share their experiences.

It was in this group that all the elements came together and a thriving community started to take shape. This group allowed Adriene and me to communicate directly with people from all over the world who were fans of the show and liked it enough to invest their own money to take part in a shared experience. Even more importantly, it allowed people with a shared set of interests to come together and communicate with each other. The community (kula) immediately became the most important part of the Yoga With Adriene project. I’ll write a dedicated post on this soon.

In the midst of all the incredible things that were going on in the Community, one thing became clear. They were ready for more focused classes and now that we (kind of) knew what we were doing – we were ready to make one.

THE CONCEPT

Adriene and I have had a great collaborative relationship for years. But the great thing about having a dedicated community supporting your work, is that they become a partner in the creative process. Instead of just creating a project that WE wanted to make, we asked the community what they wanted us to make next.

Three things rose to the top of the list.

  • Power Yoga – Something a little more intense with a focus on weight loss
  • Inversions – for people who want to work up to handstands
  • Pre-Natal Yoga

We decided to tackle the Power Yoga class first. Our most popular videos are the ones focused on weight loss, so we knew there would be interest from our YouTube audience as well.

Using Basecamp, Adriene and I started brainstorming. We made lists of all the things we wanted to include in the class. We also went through a seemingly endless list of potential titles. This process went on for a really long time.

Our original plan was to launch at the end of May. The perfect time to get ready for summer time (and swimsuits). Also, the weather in Austin is great in April in May and I really wanted to shoot this project OUTSIDE… in Nature! This brilliant idea would come back to haunt me. BIG TIME.

Because of the general chaos of real life, months passed and we never solidified a concept, never found a location and never booked any shoot dates. Before we knew it, June had crept up on us. The abstract idea that we had for what we wanted to make was definitely a summer-y type of project and it seemed like a huge missed opportunity to wait any longer. We could tell the Community was hungry for something new. Not just new YouTube videos, but a bigger REBOOT-like program.

That realization kicked us into overdrive. Out of the long list of potential names, EMPOWER began to resonate. Adriene found a location and we scheduled shoot dates for June 23 and 25th. We ambitiously thought we could shoot everything over two full shooting days.

We started to tell people that a new class was coming on July 15th.

I’ll admit it seemed a little crazy, but sometimes you just have to go for it. We felt like the universe was on our side.

THE SHOOT

Yoga With Adriene Shoot

But then we got rained out.

If you don’t live in Austin, you probably won’t understand how rare rain is in June. We’re in the middle of a terrible drought and even in non-drought times it barely rains here in the summer. We didn’t even take that into account when thinking about our schedule.

So of course, there was a torrential downpour as soon as we showed up on Day 1. The location was beautiful and it was a pretty great place to watch a storm, but I knew in the back of my mind that we were already behind schedule. We looked at weather radars and it seemed like everything was supposed to be clear by noon. Or 1:00 at the latest.

We waited.

Finally the rain ended, the sun came out and we set up the gear and rolled out the yoga mats. Now we had an even worse problem. Unbelievably humid heat. It was so hot that we had to take breaks just to cool off the yoga mat. It was getting too hot for Adriene to stay on it for very long. And when she was on it, she was sweating so profusely she kept slipping off.

I was sweating even worse.

It took us all afternoon to shoot a single video. Normally, we are able to shoot them in almost real time. We have a simple two camera set-up and Hilah had even come to help us out. But, it was way too hot for even non-pregnant people.

By 4:00 we were wiped out and we packed it up. At least we were now familiar with the location and we knew we could start earlier the next day. This was all going to work out for the best.

You can probably guess it rained the next day, too.

Yoga With Adriene Shoot

We were able to shoot a single video that afternoon. So by this point we had finished shooting about half of the course. For various scheduling reasons we wouldn’t be able to shoot at that location again until July 10th. So we had a few options: push back the launch date, find a different location or just hope for the best.

The location was beautiful and we really wanted the class to have a consistent location. And there’s no way we were pushing back the launch date.

THE LAUNCH

July 10th, the weather was finally on our side. We shot the rest of the course.

Yoga With Adriene

Then, we immediately got to work on post-production and creating the written materials.

The production and launch of EMPOWER has consumed every minute of my life for the last few weeks. I have been completely in “the zone” and really unsure if any of this was going to work until just a day or two ago. Adriene and I have both been working 12+ hour days. I’ve been sitting right here editing, building pages on the membership site, compressing video, answering support emails. Adriene has been holed up in the basement of an office building recording voice over, checking edits and writing all the written material that goes along with a project like this.

We opened the course for sale on July 11th.

Unbelievably, nothing broke this time. There were only one or two glitches that were easily solved. Most of the messages to the support account were just notes of encouragement. The announcement of the new class seemed to reinvigorate the community. Suddenly, there was something new to talk about and experience as a group. We even had members of the community buying classes for other members who couldn’t afford it. The outpouring of positive energy was just unbelievable.

Last night we opened the doors to the first video. Amazingly, people from all over the world have already been working out to videos we shot less than a week ago… and they’re posting photos of their sweat drenched faces to prove it.

Here’s a map showing the global locations of members of the EMPOWER community.

empower-map

Everything is still pretty much a blur. I am writing this post while I wait for videos to compress so hopefully it makes at least a little sense. I’ll be back with a follow-up post soon that goes into geeky detail about the infrastructure we are using to pull all this stuff off.

Meanwhile, if you have any questions, leave a comment below. I never leave my computer anymore so I will answer it.

Thanks for reading.

If you’re interested in EMPOWER, here’s the Launch Page.

Consistency is Key to Building a Successful YouTube Channel

Content is King is a popular concept in the world of bloggers and internet content creators. Apparently it was first used in an article by Bill Gates wayyyy back in 1996. The concept of the original article was quite prescient. Unfortunately, a lot of content creators have pulled that slogan and put a Field of Dreams spin on it: “If you create content, they will come.”

Since you’re reading this post, I’m sure you are already convinced of the importance of creating and owning content, but what good is your content if nobody can find it. For building a successful YouTube channel, I’ve found that Consistency is one of the most critical factors.

There are countless things to think about when planning the content for YouTube. Over the past year, I’ve been experimenting with quantity, quality, upload times, scheduling and even not publishing anything. I’ve found that implementing a clock-work like schedule can help to increase views, audience engagement and subscribers.

Last summer, I decided to see if publishing more videos would increase overall channel views and subscribers. We ramped up publishing frequency for both of the main channels I produce. At Hilah Cooking, we published three videos a week. For Yoga With Adriene we attempted two a week but didn’t always make it. Even though we had increased the amount of content, our publishing schedule was inconsistent.

It was a LOT of work, but I figured it would be worth it if it boosted all our numbers.

It didn’t.

Here’s what our views look like for the last part of 2013. We published videos on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, but not always at the same time.

Hilah Cooking 2014 Publishing Schedule

Looking at December is particularly disheartening. We published 5 videos per week to take advantage of the holiday season when food/recipe traffic is normally really high. The videos were great and we weren’t slacking on quality, but it was still a flop. I believe we were publishing TOO MUCH content for our audience to consume and this was causing our engagement and watch time to drop – which means these videos were not getting pushed out in Subscriber Feeds or Related/Recommended Video feeds.

By the beginning of 2014 we were burned out and took some time off. When we had regrouped we made the decision to publish once per week – every Friday at 7:00p Central Time. Here’s what the analytics look like since making that decision:

Hilah Cooking 2014 publishing schedule

It takes a few weeks before anything becomes noticeably different. There was a peak when we release the first new (heavily promoted video) but then there are minor upticks on the days we released new videos. Nothing crazy. Then after we hit this publishing schedule on a consistent basis for four weeks, the peaks start to get regularly higher and now we are exceeding our previous publishing day numbers.

So what’s going on here? Are we just picking better video topics and optimizing the videos better?

Nope.

The views we’re getting on publish days are NOT via the search feature. Instead, they’re coming from subscribers feeds and the What To Watch area of their logged-in home pages. Engagement with a channels videos is one of the key factors for how these are selected. So two things are happening:

  1. Our subscribers have come to expect a video is coming at a specific time. They watch the video (engagement).
  2. YouTube picks up on this engagement and delivers more of our videos to the subscribers during those key engagement times.

We also get a nice boost in subscribers during this time period.

I’ve seen similar growth on the Yoga With Adriene channel. Here’s what the views look like for Yoga With Adriene in 2014 since implementing our once per week schedule:
Yoga With Adriene 2014 Publishing Schedule

January is traditionally an awesome month for traffic in the fitness and health niche but it starts to drift downward in March. But this isn’t the case here. The consistent schedule increased engagement across the board.

KEY TAKEAWAY: If you’re creating content on a regular basis, publish it on a regular basis down to the exact time of day. Use your analytics to look at certain times when your subscribers are engaging with your content, pick something that looks good and then stick with it for at least three months.

5 Things I Learned at “YouTube Camp”

Last summer, YouTube asked Hilah and I if we wanted to take part in a top-secret program. The program involved three trips to LA to go to workshops and shoot collaboration videos with other YouTubers at YouTube Space LA. It sounded like summer camp for internet video creators. Of course, we said yes.

I’ve alluded to my recent batch of LA trips, but because it was a top-secret program, we couldn’t talk about it or even say what it was called. Until now. YouTube has finally spilled the beans with the video above and I’m happy to report that we were participants in the first ever YouTube Creator Accelerator — and that it was an incredible experience.

There were some really great workshops, but – just like summer camp – the real lessons were things I learned from hanging out with other YouTube Creators (and pestering YouTube staff with questions about my analytics).

Here are my 5 big takeaways from “YouTube Camp”:

1. YouTube Space LA is Worth The Trip.

youtubespace

In case you’re not familiar with it, YouTube Space LA is a huge production facility that YouTube has built to help improve the quality of YouTube videos. For someone who started out shooting and cutting on 16mm film, this place feels like a utopian film school.

There are several huge studios to shoot in, smaller green screen studios, a post production area with workstations for editing and motion graphics and just about every kind of camera you could possibly want to shoot with. The building was once an airplane hangar where Howard Hughes built the Spruce Goose. It’s been complete remodeled with a Google-sized budget and they did a beautiful job. Everything is still brand-new and in great condition.

Hilah Cooking at the youTube Space
Hilah goofing around at the YouTube Space

You can use the Space for free if you have over 10,000 subscribers and have taken a workshop. The only other qualifications are that the videos you create be approved by the legal team and premiere on YouTube first. They also have open Happy Hours on Friday afternoons which are great for connecting and networking with other video creators.

TIP: If you’re close to LA, I would highly recommend signing up for a workshop or just making an appearance at the next Happy Hour. The Space and the staff who work there and the people who use it will definitely inspire you.

2. Watch Time. Watch Time. Watch Time.

In the workshops, one concept was hammered home over and over again: Watch Time. This is the metric to pay attention to right now. If you want your videos to rank well in YouTube’s search engine you can forget about thumbs up, social signals and even subscriber and view counts. YouTube wants people to stay on YouTube for as long as possible so they can watch as many ads as possible and Google can make as much money as possible.

watch time graph

You also get “credit” for session time. I’m not totally clear on the details of this, but even sending viewers to other channels helps you out to some degree.

TIP:If you want your videos to rank well, make things that people spend a lot of time watching. That’s why video game play-throughs do so well. Make playlists, do series of related videos, interlink between your videos with annotations and do whatever you can to keep them watching.

3. Use End Cards to Keep Viewers Engaged

End Cards are the graphics at the end of your videos that you can use as a Call To Action. Popular uses for them are to ask people to subscribe, check out another video or click through to a website. For most of my YouTube “career,” I’ve been really lazy when it comes to end cards.

We did a deep-dive into our channel with a member of the YouTube Analytics team. While almost everything was positive, she pointed out that we had a lot viewers bouncing off about a minute before the end of each video. It seemed to be pretty consistent across our videos and when we looked closer we pinpointed that people were leaving the video as soon as the recipe was complete. Our videos tended to spend another minute or so wrapping up. So we changed our video format and added annotations to subscribe and check out other videos as soon as the recipe was complete. We basically moved our end card stuff to inside the video. This has actually helped our overall watch time and boosted our rate of new subscribers.

YouTube End Cards
We moved our “end cards” to before the end of the video.
TIP: Check the watch time for your videos and see when people are clicking away. Put an end card or some other kind of call to action before the big drop-off. If they’re going to leave the video, send them somewhere else on your channel or even to somewhere else on YouTube. Keep them watching.

4. Beware Content ID

The number one concern of the creators in this program was: How Do I Make More Money?

The number two concern: How do I keep my videos getting flagged with Content ID claims?

The Content ID situation at YouTube is very serious and I’m not confident it will be resolved quickly. Content ID is the system that allows copyright holders to easily identify and monetize their content on YouTube.

An overly simple example: You use a Justin Bieber song in your video. Content ID scans the video and flags it. You have a window of time to appeal it. During that time, Justin Bieber makes all the revenue from your video. If your appeal doesn’t go through, all the money from that video will go to Justin Bieber. Forever.

Of course, you aren’t going to use a Justin Bieber song. The above example is how the system is supposed to work. Unfortunately, the real problem are Content ID claims from shady companies. Videos have even gotten flagged for featuring chirping birds in the background. It’s very similar to patent trolling. This is one of the reasons you have to be really careful when using stock music on YouTube. Several creators in the program had Content ID claims on some very high profit videos on which they had used legally licensed stock music. Their appeals didn’t go through and they lost all the revenues on those videos. Personally, I’ve had two videos flagged with no reason given. The only music used in the videos are ambient tracks made with Garage Band loops. I own the license to Garage Band and this still wasn’t good enough. Even though I appealed it to YouTube AND own the rights to all the content, someone else now makes the revenue from those videos.

This is a major problem. The people from YouTube we talked to know it’s a major problem but there doesn’t seem to be anything in the pipeline that’s going to fix it.

TIP: Be VERY careful about the music and sound effects you use in your videos. Garage Band loops are incredibly risky. I’ve never had a problem with Premium Beat or the Vimeo Music library. Keep records of every piece of music. I would go as far as printing out the licenses and keeping them somewhere very safe. If you can’t prove that you own the rights to everything in your video, somebody else might end up earning money from it.

5. YouTube Wants You To Succeed

Considering it is a free platform on which anybody can make and share videos, there is a LOT of hate out there for YouTube. And let’s face facts, it can be easy to hate. We were at the Space for week 2 of the program when the notorious Google+ comments switchover happened. It did not go over well. Even though YouTube had funded an amazing trip for all of us, the rage was palpable. You would have thought that Google was killing kittens.

Every tiny change to YouTube provokes a huge uproar of angry complaints and threats to leave YouTube. I’ve been guilty of this almost every time YouTube has rolled out new features. But ultimately, people who are much smarter than me are steering the direction of the platform in a direction that they think will create more views and more money. Your success on YouTube means that YouTube makes even more money.

YouTube can seem like a faceless machine when you are first starting out. But there are real people hard at work behind the scenes. All of the YouTube staff involved with the program were incredibly smart, nice and helpful. They were authentically invested in helping us make better videos and grow stronger channels. Of course with an hour of video uploaded every second, even a massive company like YouTube is not going to have enough staff to help everybody.

It’s definitely a tiered system and it isn’t perfect by any means. Your channel won’t even be on their radar until you have 10,000 subs or a ridiculous viral hit. But as you put in the time and build a following for your channel, you will start to gradually see the human face of YouTube. Despite having some medium sized channels, I still often feel like I am on the bottom rung of the ladder. But when I step back and look at it, YouTube has really made what I do possible. In addition to building a great platform, I’ve had the opportunity to take part in programs like the YouTube Creator Accelerator, YouTube Next Chef and more.

(Now if they can just do something about Content ID.)

TIP: I don’t have anything ground-breaking on this one and I refuse to be another person telling you to make better videos and everything will fall into place. Spend some time checking out the YouTube Creators Hub. Stay up to date on the Playbook. If there is any YouTube program or contest that fits what you’re doing, ask your viewers to nominate you for it. Getting accepted into YouTube Next Chef was a huge turning point for our channel. On The Rise is another great program. These are all great ways to get on the radars of actual people at YouTube.

IN CLOSING

I feel really honored to have been part of the YouTube Creator Accelerator. It was a great experience and while the education was great, the best part was connecting with other video creators. It’s easy to feel like you are creating all of this stuff in a vacuum. Most people have no understanding of what I really do. Then suddenly you are in a room filled with 50 people who all “get it” and are doing similar things.

The YouTube ecosystem is a real and growing thing. There are huge corporations investing lots of money in online video. But to me the really exciting part are the thousands of thriving businesses being built out of people’s houses. A few years ago I never thought I would make my living producing a cooking show in my kitchen. But now that show is seen all over the world and the business around it continues to grow every day.

This is a very exciting time.

This is not movies. This is not TV. This is not radio.

Online video is a new medium and we are here on the ground floor of it.

BONUS TIP

Pann’s has the best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever eaten.

Pann's restaurant
Pann’s Restaurant

Yoga With Adriene – Progress Update

ywa-reboot-shoot
It’s been a little over a year since we launched Yoga With Adriene. I figured it was time to finally update you on how things are going.

Right now we’ve got almost 40,000 YouTube subscribers and our daily video views are consistent and trending upwards. Our email list is healthy and growing (despite a lot of neglect). We also just had a very successful product launch. Despite some really bumpy spots in 2013, I think things are actually going really well.

YouTube views for Yoga With Adriene
YouTube views for the Yoga With Adriene channel.

I knew YWA had a lot of potential, but I had always planned on using it as a case study. I had learned a lot through the creation and production of Hilah Cooking and I wanted to implement some of those things and launch a new project. Yoga seemed like the perfect fit and I knew Adriene would be the perfect host.
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