Business, Customer Service, How-To, Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes: Making a Video

20 years ago, if you wanted to broadcast a video to the world, you needed to work in the Media industry. But now, anyone with a smart phone or a camcorder can be the star of their own show. In 2007, The movie Once was made with two rented "handy cams," a cast of amateurs, and it won a Grammy Award.

My very first Wine Living video was done with a $200 Kodak flip camera and iMovie. It was a modest beginning, but looking back at it now, I can see it wasn't very engaging.

Yes, technology has made it much easier to produce video. But there's a big difference between making something that entertains friends and family, and telling a story that is interesting to total strangers. Over the past two years, I've learned just how much effort it takes to make good content. I thought I would share some of my process.


Good Video Begins With a Purpose.
My first video will always hold a special place in my heart, but the truth of the matter is that it had no real point. You can't just start talking on camera and expect it to be interesting - there has to be a plan. Fortunately, there is no shortage of topics to talk about when it comes to wine and spirits!

A few of the things that go into the preparation of making a Wine Living video.

Once I've decided on a topic, I then:

1) Collect The Facts
Make an outline of the topic, the people involved, the locations and the important points. What do I want to say? For Wine Living, the goal is to help people who know little to nothing about wine. My approach must be simple, easy to relate to and fun.

2) Start Contacting People
Wineries and Distilleries, Restaurants and B&Bs are cool places, but they're still serious businesses. I can't just show up and start recording video without asking. Long before I go, I make a list of key individuals and contact everyone ahead of time.

3) Set Up the Schedule
Most locations would like to know what time I'm showing up. Wineries only have a few people on staff and the owners/winemakers are not always on site. If you're interviewing people, they need to know when. Once I have all of the locations and contacts, I create the schedule.

4) Write a Story/Script
At this point I complete the story, with a beginning, middle, and end. It has to have continuity and flow from front to back.

A video shoot can be hectic and confusing. It's easy to forget little details when you're on camera. Improvising is risky, so I print my story in large type and hang it by the camera. It helps keep me on point. I use a script less these days, but it's still good to have.

5) Storyboard the Project
People are surprised to find we don't shoot scenes in the same order that they appear in the video. This is because we can't visit every place in a linear fashion. Things can get confusing without a way to keep track of details.

A storyboard is like a map, a schedule and a script, all on one matrix. It tells us where we need to be, what I'm saying at on camera and what the scene looks like. We can check each shot off as we go. This way, you don't miss any parts.

6-10) Last-Minute Flim-Flam
These are the other little bits needed before the shoot: Maps, Contracts, Equipment Manuals, a notebook and Business Cards to keep things on track.

Learning what works and what doesn't takes a lot of trial and error!


Content is King, Gear is Queen!
I'm a Content Creator, Graphic Designer, a musician, and a D.I.Y. kinda guy. Oddly, I've never been a gear-head. Even when I played guitar in bands, I kept my rig simple. I felt the real talent should be in my hands; the equipment should amplify that.

I feel the same way about video too. The equipment should never get in the way of telling the story. If something takes longer to use than it actually helps, it's time to drop it.

Chasing technology can really get out of hand. In the first year of Wine Living, I bought no less than three cameras; two of them were over $1200 apiece. The "conveyor belt of consumerism" never stops rolling out new gear, but the madness has to end at some point. I'll make do with what I have for a few years.

You don't need much, but it pays to have some high-quality stuff. Here is what we usually take to a shoot:

1) Camera
This is the most important tool: It should be good. You'll see the camera looks like a 'regular' one. These days, the DSLRs (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) actually shoot better quality video than most dedicated video cams.

When I enlist help, we shoot with two cameras to get different angles and B-Roll. B-Roll is the additional non-speaking footage that gets spliced into a scene.

2) Sound Equipment
On a visit to the Cinque Terre in Italy, it rained the entire time and my camera ended up recording nothing but wind and rain. The video was fine, but you couldn't hear my voice. I didn't find out until we got back home. Big mistake! I now use wireless clip-on mics.

3) Lighting
Lighting matters! This is one of those things you won't notice until you see it. I have two battery-powered LEDs that are adjusted to look like daylight. I use them to fill in facial shadows and highlight background features.

4) Juice
Video equipment has to be portable and quick to set up. Everything runs on rechargeable batteries these days. I have a ton of backups and chargers in my bags.

Bri Isserman of Primer Studio, up in the gondola for the Karamoor Estate shoot.

The "Crew"
I often do WL videos by myself. But when I have a big project, I call for help! I have a very supportive wife (she is my main cameraman) and I also have a circle of very creative friends. My buddies at Primer Studio have been a huge source of support with their camera work and visual direction. I can't thank the people who help me enough. It would be almost impossible to do some of the videos I've done, without them.

Keep Moving!
The Day of the shoot is a whirlwind. Contrary to popular belief, there is very little wine drinking going on in a Wine Living video! Most of the day is a juggling act of remembering lines and details, doing interviews and driving from location to location, fixing gear and replacing batteries. From start to finish, there are challenges. You just have to keep moving: All the while, making the on-camera delivery convincing and fun. The day almost always ends late, with a shower, a quick meal, then you crash into bed, exhausted. 


Editing Makes or Breaks a Video.
This is where the footage comes together to tell the story. I literally have to sit and review every take we did to get the best version. That's the most time-consuming aspect of editing. I then choose how to cut them, arrange and enhance the picture and audio. All of this sets the tone and mood for the video. Good editing gives a video an emotional depth that viewers can feel more than they can describe.

Editing in the home studio. The microphone and headphones are for doing my Voice-Overs.

Equipment & Software
You need a nice computer to edit video. It has to be fast, have lots of RAM, and a good video card. I'm using a souped-up IMac and Apple's Final Cut Pro X to do my editing. I also have lots of backup storage (video files can eat up space very quickly).

These are the parts of a video where my voice is recorded over top of footage to articulate part of the story. V-O can also be used to fix areas where the audio is messed up. You'd be surprised how many times I get back from a shoot and realize we're missing audio.

Titles and Text
One of the last things to go in the video are all of the names and titles you see on the screen. See those business cards scattered all over my desk? That's how I make sure everyone's name and title is correct.

Music Track
Music plays a big part in video. Two very different pieces can change the vibe immensely. The track has to sit nicely behind the narrative, enough so that you hear it, but not so much that it's distracting.

By the way, you can't just use your favorite artist's song. You have to pay a licensing fee to use a piece, and some of the more famous tunes can run as high as $100K (yes, thousand) for one use. A little out of my budget. Fortunately, I can buy music from indie artists at more affordable prices.


This is the fun part. I get to put my baby out there into the world and see how the audience receives it. If I've done the story justice, people connect with it. My online metrics tell me how many are viewing it and which videos resonated the most.

At this point, I distance myself from the project for a little (or move on to the next). I may wait a week and then revisit it. Michelle and I will grab a glass of wine and put it up on the HDTV to give it the, "Living Room Test."

Pretty simple, eh? Making engaging, effective video content is certainly not easy, but in the past two years I've learned a lot and it's getting easier. With each project, I'm more prepared and a little better in front of the camera. I have a great support team, have traveled to some amazing locations and met some really fine folks. Plus I get to drink wine. Tiring as it may be, it's a pretty cool gig.

I welcome the challenge of entertaining and educating people with each new project. Every bottle has a unique story in it. My job is to uncork, decant and serve it up in the most enticing way possible.


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