Part 1: A guide to creating effective video content for your Research Film

Creating effective video content for your Research Film

Before you start creating video content for your research film, you’re going to need the essentials: a camera to film on, a microphone to record sound, and a computer to edit on (you’ll also need a tailored script and digital assets such as slides, photos and graphs, but we’ll be covering that in a separate blog post later). It’s the careful selection of these technical resources that will inform and guide the creative approach you take in producing your research film. In the first part of our series, we’re going to look at some of the considerations you should think about before you begin creating your research film.


Webcam or the real deal?

You have a few choices when it comes to deciding how to film your video content; the easiest choice would be a webcam, your second choice would be your smart-phone, or, if you’re feeling a little more ambitious, you could invest in a digital video camera which will drastically increase production values and give you far more creative options.

Filming using webcams has become the norm for research films; they’re fixed in one position and require little to no actual operation from the user (think the Teams or Zoom look). Dependent on your choice of webcam, you’ll get varying degrees of image-quality, but with audiences increasingly comfortable seeing this type of footage, this approach can be perfect for explaining research concepts, presenting ideas and introducing yourself or your team in an efficient and less resource-intensive manner.

On the flip-side, due to the generally lower production values, this approach doesn’t always have the capacity to produce video content that sustains viewer engagement (there is a reason TV shows use more than one camera angle). With a digital video camera (such as a DSLR or camcorder) you will of course have more creative options; they’re mobile, they produce imagery and sound that is in most cases, significantly higher quality than a webcam, and you’re able to shoot footage from different angles and locations, which obviously has an implication on the engagement aspect. However, to make it worth the additional effort, you’ll need some understanding of how to operate a camera, how to light and frame a shot, and of course, how to record clean audio. If any of these aspects are not up to scratch, then you might end up with a video that doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of the research being presented.


Testing, testing…

Whilst we’re on the subject of sound, this can quite often be the most overlooked aspect of any production, and ironically, it’s easily the most important. Content is key with research films, but if you can’t hear (or understand) what’s being communicated, then the entire objective of the video is moot. Regardless of whether the microphone is built into your laptop, webcam or smartphone, or whether it’s something more portable and professional, you must ensure that the mic is picking up good, clear sound. Webcams are often placed near keyboards, research notes or computer fans, and these extraneous noises will be quite distracting for your viewer, so it’s important to be happy with the placement of the microphone and the quality of the sound before you start recording.

So, if like many academics you’ve opted for the webcam route, recording the video content is fairly simple. There are several free video capture apps out there on the market place, but you’ll also find that on most modern computers the ability to capture video and sound is already built-in. Rather than go into specific detail, we’ve found two handy resources that can guide you through the process.

Here’s a useful article from Laptop mag, which details how to capture video from a PC, using Windows 10

And if you’re using a Mac, Apple has support and guidance via this link.

Essentially of course, it’s your choice, but our recommendation would be to consider the amount of time and resources you have available to put into your research film, and let that inform the approach you want to take. Of course, if you don’t have much time, or would simply rather hand it over to somebody else, you could always talk to the experts! (shameless plug)

In next week’s article we’ll look at how to write and structure the script for your research film, but to wrap up today’s article, we thought it would be useful to list some simple camera, microphone and free-editing software set-ups to get you started on your research film journey!

Best camcorders for 2021

Best webcams for 2021

Best USB microphones for 2021

Filming on a smartphone

Free editing software


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Thinking about using video or animation production in your next project?
Or just want to chat through a video idea you may have…

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