Four years of video – the journey of our production team

Examples of Netskills' video work over the past four years.

This week, I’ve been doing a spring clean of all the video files and folders I’ve accumulated over my time at Netskills.

I found myself blushing as I went through the various clips (did it look this amateurish back then too??) but felt a little bit of pride too – in terms of quality, we’ve come a long way.

First steps

Very quickly after joining Netskills, I took on the unofficial role of attempting to capture the impact of our various events with short video interviews and still photos.

Back in 2010, I was working with a small Flip Video camera which, in retrospect, didn’t add much to the quality when compared to say an iPhone. But back then I didn’t have an iPhone, so a Flip cam it was.

It took a full 100% of my concentration as I was desperately trying to hold the camera steady at an arm’s length while at the same time leaning over to position myself on the opposite side to create a cross-frame gaze. Every now and then I had to glance at the screen to make sure the interviewee hadn’t moved out of frame. All this while asking questions, trying to focus on listening to the answers and engaging in eye contact to encourage them to keep going (personally, I find there’s nothing more off-putting when being interviewed than a non-engaged interviewer).

The results reflected the practicalities. Have a look at this.

Finding our feet

After a year and a half with the flip cam and my own amateur DSLR for stills, I managed to convince the team we needed to invest in a proper camera. We chose a Canon D550 which meant more light sensitivity (pretty essential when operating mostly indoors in dimly lit training rooms) and the ability to take HD video.

That’s when I started to drag a tripod with me too. No more shaky, grainy shots!

There is something to be said in favour of the flip cam though. As soon as you start introducing a lot of gear, the interviewers stiffen up a little. It’s far scarier to be filmed in HD with a big camera on a tripod than saying a few words in front of a tiny, flimsy handheld flip cam.

But that’s just something you have to learn to deal with. Putting your interviewee at ease is an art form in its own right – one which I have yet to master but, with years of trial and error, have manage to develop some skills in.

Along with the introduction of the D550 and the tripod, my colleagues kindly pointed me towards a tiny lapel mic which was hiding in the depths of the office storage cupboard. Needless to say, not using the built-in mics of the cameras introduced a huge improvement in the audio quality. Although, I have to admit that within our video production team, I remain the least worried about the audio quality. It’s something I blame on my background in journalism – if pushed, I will always choose a cracking comment with poor audio quality than a bland one with superb audio quality.

Starting to run

In early 2013, we took a major step forward with our internal video production. Fed up of figuring things out ourselves and learning only by making mistakes, we brought a friendly face in for some tailored consultancy. A fellow Finn and local independent film maker, Arto Polus, worked with us on a trial project, training us as we went and helping us choose the right equipment additions for future work.

Since then, there’s been no stopping us – the videos are flying in!

Well, not exactly. We’re not full-time media professionals after all. But the amount of stuff we’ve been able to get done alongside our day-to-day work is really encouraging. And compared to where we started, the improvement in quality is staggering.

These are some we’ve just produced.

And there’s more on our YouTube channel.

Honing the production process

The improved quality means a lengthier production process but over the past year, we’ve adopted a fairly flexible approach. Whenever possible, we like to work with a polished script, a storyboard and a shotlist.

While it makes the planning process longer, it speeds up the production stage considerably as well as leading to better results. And as we gain more experience, we’ll probably be able to speed up the planning stage too.

The skills we’re developing are helping in other areas of our work too – from producing better digital stories to creating new types of training materials.

For us, it’s been great to get to a place where the production process isn’t an obstacle for using video as a communications channel. As one of the most immersive mediums out there, it remains unrivaled when communicating impact.