In 2006, Sachi and I picked up a little handheld video camera while traveling and I learned to edit short travel videos on the road. The videos were not sophisticated or particularly well made, but they left an impression. Using this video camera and computer, I could make amateur videos.
As I was learning to work the controls and edit the footage, the technology world was changing quickly. YouTube was new and growing fast. Social media was starting to become popular and I was fascinated. I started blogging in 2003 and became an early adopter of Twitter and social networking. I had a very strong sense that these tools were going to be big.
Aside from us, these are the main characters in this story: do-it-yourself videos and social media.
In 2007, Sachi joined Common Craft, which was my one-person consulting practice at the time. My consulting was going well, but we both sensed that we could do more and talked endlessly about how Common Craft could be a part of the social media revolution. Above all, we wanted to identify a problem and solve it. We wanted our work to be useful.
Years earlier, I had developed a series of blog posts
that were designed to explain online tools like wikis and social networking. Those posts were popular and I felt at home explaining technology. Looking back over these old posts, an idea emerged. What if we turned the blog posts into videos and shared them on YouTube? It seemed worth a try.
I started creating a DIY studio in our basement. I filmed myself explaining social media with markers while standing in front of a whiteboard. As I quickly learned, this type of video is much more difficult than it seems. I had zero experience on camera, we didn’t know how to light the space properly, and I couldn’t organize my thoughts on the fly. The memory of it still makes me cringe.
The failure of this first experiment was discouraging and caused me to lose faith that we could work with video. Maybe we needed training? Seeing my frustration, Sachi went into problem-solving mode and made a suggestion: what if we put the whiteboard on the floor, pointed the camera down onto it and used only hands, markers and paper cut-outs to explain an idea? By showing nothing but the whiteboard and our hands, the focus would be on the explanation, instead of me. It made sense.
Within a day or two, I had reconfigured our basement studio with the whiteboard on the floor. It was lit by a constellation of bedroom lamps that represented our best estimate of what an actual video producer would do in our shoes. We were making it up as we went along.