3 ideas for making video out of almost nothing

Videos are the current pinnacle of the digital content business, but video doesn’t always come easy. When you’re working on deadline or with tight resources, sometimes you need to invent video to help spread your message. Here are a few ways to do that.

1. Ken Burns

For those times when you have only still images, or even documents and drawings, take a page out of this master documentarian’s playbook. Animating an image can allow you to draw the viewer’s focus or reveal something over the course of a few seconds. This can be useful for the viewer too, because it can advance a story in the same way that a character’s action can move a video forward.

Keep in mind, much like jump cuts in normal video, it is awkward to make cuts that move instantly between two identical moving effects. If you move one image along the x-axis, try using the y- or z-axis on your next moving image.

2. Play with time and perspective

Sometimes a few seconds of content are all you have. If you’re creative, that’s all you need.

If you have a few seconds of video containing a crucial moment, consider playing it back at a slower speed. Or maybe, manufacture a picture-in-picture moment by layering a zoomed-in version on top of the original.

Or maybe you have a few angles of the same moment that are worth showing to your audience once in sequence and then again simultaneously with a split-screen.

Don’t be afraid to replay a moment or an image if it is worth emphasizing. But, if you’re producing news, be sure to indicate how and where you’ve manipulated the images to show people what they need to see.

3. Animated text

Remember those old sing-along videos with the bouncing dot? What about the karaoke screens where the text changes color as you sing the words?

When communicating ideas through video, reading the text takes time. Animating certain words onto the screen helps us to control when the viewer consumes them. It can also be a form of punctuation for certain words, especially if the text appears in time with music or another audio cue.

If you’re using text as a key component of your video storytelling, it also draws attention away from your images. Keep that in mind, because you may not want to put distracting text animations over your best images.

Sometimes, I give a full second for viewers to contemplate an important image before I begin putting text or animations on the screen.

(Also, see my recent post about strategies for highlighting that text)

In summary, work with what you find around you

Don’t get hung up on the footage from one camera. Merge it with images from your phone, drawings, text, maps, scanned documents, whatever you can find.

Even if they notice a change in quality or format, the audience is surprisingly willing to overlook the fact that their pixel-dense screens are not being used to full potential IF the content of your video is compelling.

Often, you need to roll content from many sources together to make the most compelling version of your story. Just make sure you watch your work from the viewer’s perspective, because that is how you’ll know if the content is compelling enough to lead them to overlook the imperfections.

In my work, the most current example of this scrappy creativity is a series of videos I am doing featuring new building projects in the Boston area. I want to tell people about something that doesn’t exist yet, and therefore I must assemble my video out of drawings, maps and b-roll of whatever the current property looks like.