Video Cheat Codes: Creating an Office Documentary in Under 24 Hours

May 19, 2014

Alyce Currier


You’ve been asked to take part in a pretty sweet contest, and the stakes are high, but you’re also kind of short on time. In fact, everyone else has probably already started work on their entries, and you might be kind of behind. What do you do?!

Try to figure out how to hack the system, of course.

A while back, Chris and Dan, our resident video experts, announced the first Wistia Film Fest. In true Wistia form, the competition was announced with a video:

Anyone who signed up for Film Fest was assigned to a team to work together on a video, in hopes of getting more Wistians to take a stab at shooting a video of their own. (The whole team participated!)

Each team was limited to a smartphone, a GoPro, and a computer, with a two-minute length limit for each video. Dan and Chris also offered three 20-minute “lifeline” sessions per team, but we didn’t even feel we had time to tap into that (the procrastinator’s burden). Ezra, Jordan, and I wanted to achieve an acceptable video with the laziest possible approach. (Actually, we thought the idea was cool, too — but it sure was convenient to realize how much time it would probably save us!)

Why am I describing our lazy tendencies with such candor? Well, sometimes constraints work wonders for creativity, and once we nailed down an easy idea to work on, we were actually pretty pleased with the final result.

We decided that instead of working in usual Wistia form, from idea to script to table read to shoot to edit, we’d shoot a National Geographic-style nature documentary of our office.

Capturing the footage

Instead of scripting out lines and acting, we decided to have voiceovers drive the piece. We decided to shoot lots of footage, pick the best stuff that aligned with our idea, and write the script later to match the visual. We wrote down a few ideas for shots that we wanted to get, but we didn’t put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do anything perfectly or to capture all of them.

We ended up getting quite a few of the shots we wanted to, and even used a couple of lines we’d thought up during the initial brainstorm, but this gave us lots of flexibility nonetheless.

Our office is a pretty silly place, so luckily, our coworkers’ regular habits lent to plenty of fun, strange footage, and also left us some room to experiment. We shot a couple time-lapses and captured some gold by hiding the GoPro in various locations.

Organizing the footage: a post-it bonanza

After a week or so of gathering our respective footage, we got together a second time to look at what we had. We wrote the subject matter of each clip down on a post-it note and began to organize them on a whiteboard. From there, I took the clips we had gathered and made a very rough edit in iMovie. This cut was 3 minutes long, so we had some trimming to do:

I sent that file around to my teammates, and we deliberated on further edits to the order and length of different clips. Then, I made a more precise edit and we got to work on the voiceover.

From video to script

Using a voiceover was liberating — we were able to put the video clips together like a puzzle, and then decide piece-by-piece what we should say to match. We built a story from images alone, and tying them together with words was a fun exercise.

We wrote our script out in a text document, and then recorded Jordan’s silky smooth voiceover using an external microphone and Quicktime. From there, it was super easy to drag the audio clips into iMovie.

We also added music from the Jurassic Park soundtrack for the background. Mostly, we wanted to suck up to our Jurassic Park fanboy judges, but it also turned out that the music was a good fit. We ended up piecing together three different tracks to tie the narrative together with audio.

Although I was tempted to play around in Ableton, I decided to stick with iMovie for the audio editing, and it worked fine, although I was annoyed by the (apparent) lack of a master volume control for any given section.

Final tweaks

We nailed down the basic cut of the video before the end of the workday before it was due. From there, I took the files home (in a highly secure steel briefcase, how else?) and made some final tweaks, including:

  • Evening out the audio levels across voiceover and music (fading out at the end of the final “sweet dreams” made a pretty awesome difference)
  • Making tiny edits to the flow and length of different clips
  • Adding a Jeff Goldblum laugh easter egg

Other than the filming of clips, which we spread over a week, we ended up creating this video in under 24 hours! It’s no Chris Lavigne masterpiece, but we learned a ton. If you’re ever crunched for a video idea, we encourage you to steal our formula!

May 19, 2014

Alyce Currier


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