A viral video is one that becomes popular through the process of Internet sharing, typically through video sharing websites, social media and email. Viral videos often contain humorous content and include televised comedy sketches, such as The Lonely Island's Lazy Sunday and Dick in a Box, amateur video clips like Star Wars Kid, the Numa Numa videos, The Evolution of Dance, Chocolate Rain on YouTube; and web-only productions such as I Got a Crush on Obama...
So emotion + humor = viral video?
I've wasted hours and hours of my life watching countless web videos trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. I even have a job making video content for the web, but am I any closer to the golden formula? Nope, not a bit (don't tell my boss).
Sure, everyone wants to be famous, but when your "Fried Egg" moment comes and you become the punching bag of the interwebs, do you really want to be Rebecca Black?
In my opinion, creating a consistently popular web series is a far better goal than making a singular viral video hit. Of course, some one-hit wonders manage to eek out a career (that dude who dances all over the world comes to mind) but personally, I'd rather be a Michael Buckley than a Chris Crocker.
Getting there is all about longevity. You have to continue to produce quality content that's relevant to your viewers. You have to trust your instincts. You can't try to be like everyone else. And you can't get distracted by the ever-changing media landscape, or by negative feedback.
It's like balancing on a rotating, slippery sphere while angry birds launch themselves at your head. In my experience, pulling this off takes guts, lots of them.
I'm not deluded enough to call myself a web video superstar, but I have been getting paid to create lots of web video content for the past four years, so I figure I can spout theories like the best of 'em. Here is my advice for how to become the next Lisa Nova, Shane Dawson, What the Buck or Mary Katherine Gallagher (smell those armpits people).
Today I was talking to my friend Kate about this new blogging venture and she suggested I discuss the process of editing. It's something I could talk about for hours so here goes.
At Seven Days, every story goes through an intense editing and proofreading process with several sets of eyes perusing each bit of copy (and one set belongs to my sister, Margot Harrison).
In my case, I am the only one editing my videos. And as much as I sometimes loathe the process of editing, I doubt I could stand sharing this unique experience with another person.
The planning, shooting, interviewing and lugging of equipment certainly takes time and effort but the real work, the hardest and most excruciating bit for me is the editing.
Imagine Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill, over and over again. Well that is how I feel when I begin to edit a project — overwhelmed, exhausted and as though it will never end.
There are too many options when editing: How do you choose the "right" clips? How do you make it all blend together seamlessly? What sort of pace do you choose, which images?
Some people say editing is their favorite part of the filmmaking process and I say, "Get back to me after you've tried editing a piece every week for four years." Not to say that I despise editing, I both love and hate it, it pulls me apart every week without fail but I would not spend my time doing anything else.
Of course, the editing process does end on Wednesday mornings when I publish the Stucks, but every week it starts again and I feel just as helpless next to that heavy rock and that steep hill (this explains my Facebook procrastination on Mondays and Tuesdays).
So here is a quick breakdown of the grueling process of editing/whittling/weaving that I perform weekly. I am sure all editors have their own technique, this is just what works for me when crunching huge amounts of data regularly.
Every week I post a fresh video in my "Stuck in Vermont" series. This past week was my 230th video and I have been working full-time on this series for the past four years.
I cover just about anyone and anyplace in Vermont but my preferences are profiles on passionate artists, crafters, and quirky oddballs.
I am pretty much a one-woman band, doing all the shooting, producing, editing and posting by myself.
In case you are of a technical persuasion, I shoot with a Panasonic HMC150, edit on a iMac Intel Core i7 and edit with FCP 7.
In February of 2007, I began making "Stuck in Vermont." Why?
I was sick of being a paper-pusher and wanted to take my videos to the next level. I had been making a cable access show called "The Deadbeat Club" (pop culture mish mash made with my family) for three years and wanted to focus on the creative people in my community doing things they love. On a crazy whim, I quit my job and took a leap of faith.
That leap was "Stuck in Vermont."
Stuck began with an episode about a comic exhibit in Stowe and truth be told, I was scared to death. Afraid to interview anyone, nervous about sticking a camera in people's faces and not even sure what to call the series (it began as "VT Vlog").
Seven Days, a local alternative weekly newspaper in Burlington picked up my series after the fourth video (which featured Sonic Youth without actually featuring them in person). I was hired as a full-time staff member in June of 2007.
Please keep in mind that Seven Days is a newspaper (yes, people still ask me, "How can this video be in the newspaper?") with a staff of about 30 and a circulation of 34,000. Seven Days is one of the only alt weeklies that I know of who has a full-time Multimedia Producer (yes, I made that title up myself) on staff.
Hiring me four years ago was a pretty gutsy move on their part. But at Seven Days they are innovative like that. Building up their website before many weeklies got around to it, trying online and phone promotions, thinking outside the box and hiring a Videographer/Ethnographer to make video content for the paper. So are they crazy, or crazy like a fox?
In the four years I have been full-time at Seven Days, I have learned a lot about internet video and the community I live in. Just about once a week someone tells me that I have the coolest job in the world (I know).
I get to travel all over the state and meet random people doing things they love. I get tons of email pitches or people stopping me on the street/at the supermarket/at the gym/shopping for shoes/eating at Penny Cluse to tell me who/what/where I need to cover next. If there was no audience, I would not be doing this.
In the five years between 2007-2011, online videos have become the next Big Thing with more and more people devouring video content on their mobile devices, iPads and TVs.
But there is such a glut of content, how do you set yourself apart?
And how do you get a job making internet videos (another question I get a lot)? I have no idea really. But for starters, you have to make them, and make them regularly. I play it by ear and follow my gut. I work hard and am doing what I love - hopefully it shows and will continue to grow and improve over time.
I talk to a lot of local high school students about online video and the job market and how they can snag their dream job too. You can quote facts and figures but what really counts is, will anyone watch your videos?
And the ever pressing question - what is the proper length for an internet video?
When I started making "Stuck in VT" in 2007, I averaged a 5-6 minute video every week. In an attempt to be more palatable to the fickle internet audience, I started whittling the vids down to 3-4 minutes but this process nearly killed me.
In editing they call this "killing your babies" and indeed, when you are so close to the footage, it does feel like killing loved ones for the good of the story. But you do it and make the painful sacrifice to keep your viewers entertained.
Over time, that number has crept back up to the 5-7 minute range. And all along I asserted that the viewing audience would eventually sit for longer videos if they truly gave a crap about the topic.
Of course, some people think my videos are too short and frenetic. A friend who works at a local cable access channel said she hated editing down her content and joked that this shorter video trend was all my fault! Personally, I blame Mtv which changed the way I thought about TV when I was an impressionable teenager who felt truly "stuck in Vermont."
On the flip side, some Video Journalists who work at dailies advise shorter, more focused videos with a voice over to glue it all together. Instead of focusing on multiple people and interweaving their stories into one, they think I should focus on one person whose story epitomizes the event, and this should be done quickly.
Every one has an opinion. See what I mean about trusting your gut?
Every week I post two versions of Stuck in Vermont. There is the full version that airs online and plays on our homepage and runs 5-7 minutes in length (8 minutes if you are the Auer family of Charlie's Boat House).
And then on Friday night, a short 2 minute version (I have an extra 5 seconds if I really need it) plays on the 11pm WPTZ news. That's right, "Stuck in VT" is on the news and has been for months, maybe even years now.
In order to achieve these two videos, I have to edit two different versions. And every week I get to struggle with the painful reality of "killing my babies." Each version of the video is unique and has a different feel to it.
Here is an example from this week.
RODEO LONG VERSION - 7.5 minutes
RODEO SHORT VERSION - 2 minutes
It takes me about an hour (if I maintain focus) to shorten the longer video to 2 minutes (this does not include compression and upload time - video is notoriously time consuming). It can be a tricky process and the story usually changes significantly.
Sometimes I wonder if the shorter version is better?
And sometimes the short version feels neutered, a pale shadow of the meatier long version.
Here is another example:
NEW DUDS LONG VERSION - 6 minutes
NEW DUDS SHORT VERSION - 2 minutes
That is the great thing about video, it is an ever-evolving medium, a forver moldable mound of clay - you could spend the rest of your life editing one of these videos, or just a 24 hour period sans sleep. The choice is yours, but a weekly deadline certainly helps if you want to create a body of work.
So I ask you, which is better? The shorter or the longer video?
Judging by the length of this post, I think you can tell where my preferences lie...
PS I plan on posting more blogs here about video content and the creative process. I am online 24/7 so I might as well start blogging again...