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July 08, 2011

Some Long Thoughts about Short Videos

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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."

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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?

Hickory open 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

223227_181510538565995_132766150107101_450748_2669480_nThat 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...

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Comments

Rasputin

What are you kiddin'? More Eva, more Vermont...I gotta go with the long versions.

Eva Sollberger

Thanks for the vote of confidence Rasputin! :)

Ken Haggett

I think it's an art and the reason you are successful is that you are a true artist! I also think you have a great sense of how much time a story can take. Some are fine in 2 min. some take 5 to cover. Knowing where to draw that line is a skill. I am afraid the attention span of people is becoming shorter and shorter though. New ads on TV for example; they drive me crazy! The images flash so fast my 49 year old brain can't even process them. You know you're getting old when....

Keep up the great work; glad you're still enjoying it!

Tessa

LONG, LONG, LONG! love the 6-7 min length. I have NEVER been bored watching a Stuck In Vermont video, keep em long!

Calvin

Long for sure. Love Stuck in Vermont. Plus, as a viewer, you can always skip through parts, but never add more. A neutered New Duds?! Don't do it!

Iveena

Like 'em long.

Corinne Meharg

Hi Eva,
Love the longer version. My daughter, UVM grad, would love to BE Stuck in Vermont. She is a bead shop owner in Cazenovia, NY (I personally think my town is similar to VT) whose ultimate goal is to get back to Vermont. Friends of Tessa and Torrey, I hope you get to do a story on her sometime. How about "Wishing to be Stuck in Vermont?"

Eva Sollberger

Aww! Thanks for the encouragement and blog love! I think I like this medium!

Ken - I am still enjoying myself and I hope you are too - your job is another one of those "best jobs ever." And have you noticed all the comments and hits on your dogsledding video? Over 12,000 views last time I looked?! YouTube loves you and your dogs! :)

Tessa - really? That makes me glad cause boredom is bad. you have a best job ever too, thanks for the feedback and the awesome New Duds which I have been jogging in!

Calvin - I agree, neutering is wrong especially when creative people like New Duds are so bleeping interesting!!
Corinne - your daughter sounds lovely and I hope she can make it back to Vt one day? I've never covered a bead store so who knows...? On occasion I get unstuck for Ny escapades.

Jeff Connor

I enjoy the longer videos but some short ones from time to time are OK. I think a key reason I enjoy your videos is that you always look like you are truly enjoying your various experiences even if they might not be activities you would naturally gravitate toward. The fact that a video of yours in longer than a minute or two is that you are genuinely interested in the activity and the people involved.

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