How to create video on a shoestring budget

Can’t afford Hollywood-style video production? That doesn’t mean you have to stick to text and photographs. Gather tips from Verizon Wireless.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

Sure, you’d like to have visionary executives who understand your need for a full, state-of-the-art video studio.

Yet when you want to post internal videos, you’re stuck with a smartphone.

Don’t give up. You can get high-quality video through affordable tools such as your own phone, says Jeremy Godwin, a manager on Verizon Wireless’ culture and employee communications team.

In a Ragan Training session titled “Creating Video on a Shoestring Budget,” Godwin takes you through the ins and outs of improving your videos even if you can’t afford a full production crew.

Video is consistently among the most engaging content on Verizon’s intranet, Godwin says. It conveys the message: “We are people. We are able to have fun.”

Here are a few of his tips:

Tell stories.

Verizon produces a daily video series called “Up To Speed” for all its employees. The videos are under two minutes in length, and they are among the most viewed and engaging pieces of content on the company’s intranet, Godwin says.

Verizon’s team can crank out a video quickly and produces many of its movies on smartphones. It responds to events such as the Super Bowl or a strike by employees that necessitated long hours by managers.

“Be yourself,” he says. “Have fun. Tell a story.”

Start with basic equipment.

It doesn’t take much in the digital era to get a video up on the intranet. When “Up To Speed” started, Godwin was using an iPhone 6—”and that was it,” he says.

So, what do you need to make this happen? A smartphone or prosumer camera, for starters. A cheap tripod will steady your shot, and if you want better lighting, buy a cheap LED at an electronics store for about $40.

A microphone improves sound quality, whether it’s a wireless clip-on or a TV reporter’s stick mic that you or your subject holds. A mic isn’t essential if you find a quiet area to record and set up your camera within four or five feet of your subject, Godwin says.

“You just need creativity, and don’t let the tools hold you back,” Godwin says.

Watch the lighting.

Face your subjects toward the light so they aren’t silhouetted. Bright windows in the background are a no-no. Though you can make do without a mic in a quiet office, don’t shoot outdoors unless you have a microphone.

“Think about your surroundings,” Godwin says.

Rotate your phone.

A vertical video? Aaaaagggghhhhh! No!

You see it all the time: People who hold their phone vertically, in portrait mode, when they’re shooting for a horizontal window, such as an intranet or YouTube. Instead, rotate your smartphone 90 degrees so you don’t end up with a shrunken-down video with black bars on either side of it.

“My biggest pet peeve, when I see video, is people not turning the phone the way they should,” Godwin says.

Use a computer cam.

In many organizations, employees are eager to hear updates from the bigwigs. Production values don’t matter as much as getting the straight scoop. Sometimes it’s fine to flip open your executive’s laptop and record the way a video blogger would, with the built-in camera. Also consider having executives record quick video messages from smartphones on the road.

“You’re going to find leaders who are more comfortable in doing that, or folks that you can set as your internal or external spokespeople,” Godwin says.

Use bloopers as content.

We know you’re serious about your work. Still, how about using of some of that video that would otherwise end up on the cutting-room floor?

“On a good day, we get it all in one take, so you’re looking at a five-minute [shooting time] investment,” Godwin says. “On the bad days, it may take 15 to 20, and you get a lot of good bloopers out of that, which employees like to see.”

How about using outtakes that, while being funny, still underscore your message? If nothing else, it might make your videos popular internally. “People love to see people mess up,” Godwin says.

Use video and editing apps.

These days, the native apps on the iPhone and many other smartphones are pretty good. This means you don’t need professional programs to create videos.

“These should be really simple, straight-to-the-point videos,” Godwin says.

Keep trying.

Have fun, and feel good about your product, Godwin says. If you don’t like the video you shot, do it again. That won’t cost you any extra.

Do develop an agile mindset. Tell yourself, “That was a good one for today,” Godwin says. “How do I make the next one even better?”


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