Recording Excel Videos

So this past Friday, I had the opportunity to go and shoot a couple of Excel webcasts that I'm doing for the Certified General Accountants. This was a pretty interesting experience, as I'm very used to doing live presentations, but I've never been recorded for later broadcast. The opportunity to work with a professional crew was pretty neat too, and I thought I'd share some of my experiences.

So the summary is this: Filming is like a day at the spa. It starts with a facial, and ends up with you getting your chest waxed.

The company that CGA hired to do the shoot was Blink Media Works in Vancouver. I can't say enough about these guys. They were absolutely pro at helping me learn the methods they use to record video, and I've come to the conclusion that being a producer pretty much means that you're half a technical/visionary, and half a motivational speaker. Arthur, our producer, did a great job at both pieces.

I was a little surprised at how many people we had involved in this. In addition to myself and the host, Blink had four people with us for the whole day:

  • Producer
  • Camera technician
  • Teleprompter technician
  • Makeup artist

I wasn't surprised by the first three, but the makeup artist really surprised me. I'm not sure why, but I was expecting that you'd sort of be "done up" and that would be it. Not so.

As I mentioned above, it was like starting with a facial. Justin (my host from CGA) got to go first, then me. Cleansers, moisturizers, some base stuff to make your skin look good for the camera, and some powder to stop my forehead from shining. And apparently she didn't really need to put much on me at all. After that, I got to watch the filming process at work as they recorded the introduction and outro for my webcasts.

And then it was my turn. I stood in front of the camera and they do a final check to make sure you look PERFECT on screen. I can honestly say that I've never had anybody spend so much time getting my hair to be absolutely right. And I'm not kidding here: they stopped the shoot to get one (yes one) of my hairs to go where it was supposed to. There is some serious pride in their work there!

After the makeup side, then came sound check. The camera technician hooked me up with a microphone, and then there was a lot of work to make sure that it was working well. They didn't want to see it on camera, so it ended up taped to me under the shirt, then we had to make sure the shirt wasn't rubbing on it or the sound went scratchy. And that's enough to require re-shooting the scene/part.

And then we started with the actual shoot stuff. Breathe, loosen up, smile, be excited this is where Arthur's passion and motivational side came through. He is just like the classic director you see in a behind the scenes footage on a set. "Okay, we're starting from here. Loosen up, deep breath, and when you're ready take it away KEN!"

I've got to hand him some real kudos here too I'm a pretty skeptical and practical guy overall. I don't do relaxation well, but Arthur worked really hard and was really patient with me as he was getting me to "connect" with the camera. With people it's a lot easier. You can see the social cues, read the tone and see the questions in their eyes. Here you have a lot more room for self-doubt and self-consciousness. It took a while (far longer than I would have liked,) but eventually I hit my groove and we were able to record 5-10 minute segments without hearing "CUT!"

A couple of quick observations about film:

  • They get you to smile to the point where it feels campy and ridiculous. The whole time they tell you that it will come across as natural on the screen. While I haven't seen my own film yet, I watched Justin's and would have to agree that this is the case. He mentioned that he felt like he was overdoing it, but he came across really natural on screen.
  • The producer sits behind, but just to the right of the camera. Letting your eyes flit to him for even a split second is enough to blemish the recording though. It is noticeable on film.

I can say that the hardest thing about this shoot to me was working with the teleprompter. To be clear, this is in no part due to the technician, but rather due to my understanding (or lack thereof) of how they work. I prepared my script as I usually would I kind of figured that the teleprompter would be similar to the binder I usually have a full 8½ x 11 sheet of paper. Boy was I wrong!

Here are the difficulties I ran into:

  • Take your full size sheet of paper that has your script outline on it and put a pad of Post-It notes on it. That's how much of your note page you really see. It left me feeling constrained and boxed in claustrophobic. I couldn't see what was coming any more.
  • In my presentations, I build my slides with the intention of talking around the points and fleshing them out more. It's a real battle not to just read the teleprompter though! And with losing the peripheral vision based on the above, it makes it hard to ad-lib.
  • The teleprompter had no formatting at all. No bold, no colour, no underlines, nothing. It's just text that is all in the same size. So where my slide headers in my script were Bold and in another column, they were now in the teleprompter as normal text, the same size as everything else. This is really hard to follow, as I lost track of which were slide titles, slide points and notes that I wanted to talk about. Part way through we stopped and put in a line of asterisks before each slide point, just so that I could recognize where I was. This made it a LOT easier to transition between points and keep the flow going.
  • Later, when I was getting more comfortable, I did start to expand on my points and go a bit off script. This was great, as it came out very natural, but it had issues as well. A couple of times I read a point from the teleprompter, expanded on it, then read the next point on the prompter. At that point the technician moved the prompter up and I realized that the next point was the one I had just expanded on doh! And being that you're on camera, there is no way to signal the tech to move the prompter up without it being caught on film. Again, an issue with having such a small window into the presentation.

Despite these issues, we got into a real groove later in the day and things sailed along pretty smoothly. I can certainly say that I'll do a lot more work on my scripts next time. Things I'm thinking:

  • More bullet points and less sentences in the script
  • Shorter bullet points so they fit on one line (to get more of them on the screen)
  • I'll put in my own asterisks or come up with another was to indicate slide title or points. (Maybe ST-Slide Title Text and SP-Slide Point Text.)

The next thing that was kind of weird was that we shoot out of order. I totally expected this, but it was still odd.

In the morning we shot all the video that accompanied my PowerPoint slides. I talked about all the points, and the editors cut the slides into the video stream as I talk about them. The challenge was that the two webcasts had a bit of overlap in them. It was tough to remember what you'd said after two or three cuts, let alone when you're doing an overlapping slide from a second webcast and you're on your 2nd cut there.

In the afternoon we did the computer portion. We hooked up Camtasia studio (thanks TechSmith!) to record both the audio and video of my Excel work. In addition, the camera kept rolling to record video and audio. The editors will use the audio and some of the video footage from their shoot, and cut it the excel video recorded with Camtasia. The only reason we recorded audio in the Camtasia side was strictly so that the editing department knew how to overlay the better quality audio with the Excel portion.

And then, almost as quick as it all started, it was done. We ended off the day and it was time to go at least, once the microphone was taken off.

The camera technician was finishing up labeling film I think, so I decided to take care of that bit myself. I reached into my shirt, grabbed the tape he'd used to secure the mic, took a couple of deep breaths and RRRRIIIIIPPPPPP!

I heard the Teleprompter technician say "oh my God!" And there I was, staring through watering eyes at the massive patch of fur that was stuck to the tape and not on my chest where it belonged. Yup just like a day in the spa that ends up with you getting your chest waxed!

All in all (except for the last part) it was a great day, a lot of fun, and I can't wait to see the finished product. My number one recommendation to anyone that is going to do this though? Wear an undershirt.



7 thoughts on “Recording Excel Videos

  1. Glad it went well! Filming can be pretty arduous. My voice always comes across as very high and young on camera, so I have to consciously try to lower it--to the point, where, like you with smiling, I think I'm overdoing it. We're in the process of hunting for a video production company right now, and based on your rec, I wish Blink Media had a Boston office!

  2. Glad you had such an awesome experience. I think that you should go out and grab some undershirts for your next shoot?

  3. Interesting experience you had. Once, many years ago, I did a promotional video, not with all the production support you had, but the video person had experience of some sort, and he forced me to smile in a manner that I thought excessive. But of course, as you indicated, when viewed on the screen the smile looked, for the most part, natural.

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