Part 3: Recording and editing your Academic Research Film
In this week’s article, we’re offering a guide to the recording (production) and editing (post-production) of your academic research film – looking at what you need to consider before you even press ‘record’; things to consider whilst you are actually in the process of recording and then we’ll point you in the right direction of some excellent (and free) editing software.
What to prepare for, before you even hit record
We covered this in our last article, but it’s worth reiterating that before you start any production, you need to think through what it is you want to achieve in the video, and to build a script that ensures you achieve it. It’s fairly obvious, but always write your content in advance – don’t ‘wing it’ on the day, even if you know your subject incredibly well. Think about the listener. How can you make the content as engaging as possible? What tone of voice should you use? (Think about how you might explain the topic to a newcomer). How should you present the content? What are the core messages you want to get across? Keep the length of the script down to its bare minimum. A shorter duration allows the opportunity for the viewer to fully engage with the content and want to ask follow-up questions, without getting overwhelmed by too much information and data. And of course, practise reading the script so that it sounds natural.
A great interview recorded poorly is not going to hit the mark
Although webcams aren’t necessarily known for their high-quality output, there is one advantage to filming at home – you’re in a controlled and comfortable environment, meaning that the variables and external factors that you might find in a location-based shoot, are kept to a minimum. At home, you have at least some control over your environment, so take the time to adjust your lighting, check your audio levels and consider your framing (we recommend the camera is at eye-level for a webcam based presentation). Another benefit of being at home is that you don’t have expensive location or studio fees so you can take your time with setting things up, and perhaps most importantly, you have the opportunity to carefully monitor the sound. There’s plenty of research out there that suggests the key to viewer engagement directly relates to the quality of the sound, so it’s essential with audio to pre-check, check, then check again! Give yourself plenty of time to record the presentation and ensure your recording environment is exactly how you want it. Check the sound levels with headphones as they will allow you to hear the background noise you might normally miss, such as computer fans, loud footsteps, electric hums etc. A little bit of noise is fine, but you don’t want to be fighting to be heard, due to a poorly placed microphone.
Once you’re happy with your environment, record a short sample of the script. Play it back, check the levels, make any adjustments and then go for a take. A couple of easy tips; check your timing and pace of the speech – we all tend to rush during presentations so consciously try to slow things down so it feels less rushed and don’t be afraid to do another take if you need to. If you want to do a section again, just go back to the start of a paragraph, give yourself a short pause, and then begin again from there. Trust us, this will save you a lot of hassle in the edit process.
Editing your academic research film
Video and audio editing is much easier and more accessible nowadays with free tools and apps such as Lightworks and Audacity. They’re free to download and use and have plenty of well-written tutorials and supporting information online but we thought it’s worth pointing out a few terms for you to research – essentially the fundamentals that you’ll need to know to put your video together. To edit your video you’re going to need to read up on the following:
This is how you bring the files you’ve recorded on your camera, into the editing software.
Cutting and pasting your content
The fundamentals of editing – such as removing sections of content, adjusting how things are ordered and dropping in other content.
Adding smooth dissolves on your audio allows for an easy transition from one clip to the next but don’t get too carried away with them on your video tracks – use them sparingly (if at all).
Audio normalisation and noise reduction
You’ll need to do and audio edit for all those pesky noises, hums and clicks that were recorded on the day. You’ll also need to adjust your volume levels so that nothing jars when you listen back.
Almost all online social videos are initially seen or watched without audio. Think of LinkedIn for example (which is where a lot of research video content is primarily featured), and you’ll realise that the autoplay function is set to silence. You don’t actually hear anything until you click on the video, so subtitles are absolutely essential to ‘hook’ or grab your viewers attention.
Front and end title cards
Much like a PowerPoint slide, these are great for setting up and introducing the presentation, its subject matter and for crediting the contributors. The end title card can be used to remind the viewer of the contributors, any funding bodies and primarily as the ‘call to action’ to the audience.
When you get round to editing, try to schedule it as close to the recording day as possible. Resist the temptation to start chopping into it immediately and instead just listen to the whole recording from start to end. Make notes on the timings (ins & outs) of sections that you’ll want to use later.
Your first step in editing is to create a narrative for your research film, focusing purely on the messaging. The most important tip we can give you is that before you start working on the visuals, make sure you’re happy with the overall narrative of the film before you do anything else!
Don’t start adding in extra footage, cross fades, music or title cards until you are happy with what’s being said on-screen. The first step of any film is to focus on content first and to get your narrative ‘locked’.
In our final article on video production for academic research films, we’ll be looking into the various channels and platforms you can upload your content to, and how you can generate some buzz around your research.