Interested in the Emerging Filmmakers Program at Howcast? Check out this webinar from the YouTube Creator's Corner! Darlene Liebman and Heather Menicucci sit down with some of Howcast's most innovative filmmakers to discuss tips and tricks for creating top-notch videos on a tight budget.
Heather: Hey, welcome to our Guerrilla Filmmaking Webinar. Sorry we’re running just a few minutes late. As you can see, we’re in the Howcast offices in New York. Everyone is trying to work while we talk to you guys.
We are Howcast, and in case you don’t know us already, we pride ourselves on making the best How To videos on the Web. We believe that How To videos don’t have to be boring, so we try to make the most creative, most engaging, most fun How To videos. And we work with filmmakers from all over the world, including these guys. Hi.
Darlene: Hi, everybody. I’m Darlene. I’m the Vice President of Production here at Howcast Media. A little background on us. We’re just about two years old. We’re an instructional video website, and we work with wonderful filmmakers, again, from all over the world.
Our filmmakers work in lots of different mediums. Some are great live action shooters. Some use after effects. Some use stop-motion, some claymation. It’s limitless. I always say, “You give one person a How To, you can make it countless number of ways.”
I’ve been working in the film industry for about ten years, maybe a little bit longer now, but who’s counting? I started in the independent film, the indie movies, and then moved on to TV commercials, all that good stuff. And I’m the one who, with Heather, watches pretty much every single Howcast video.
Heather: I run Howcast’s Emerging FIlmmakers Program, and in the program we work with filmmakers who are sort of up and coming. They’re students. They’re recent grads, and they are able to pick topics from our website and they make their videos. They could be in Italy. They could be in Ireland. They could be in South Dakota. They upload them and then they go live on Howcast, as well as on our distribution network.
Before I made it to Howcast, I produced, shot, and edited all kinds of stuff: award-winning shorts, a corporate video, an Aerosmith documentary. But my favorite job of all was teaching high school kids editing. It’s probably why I ended up running the program.
We’ve got some of our most innovate filmmakers here today, and they’re going to talk about how to make the most creative videos on the least amount of money.
Darlene: First a little introduction. First we’re going to meet Jenna and Tripp Watt, these two lovely people. They are not brother and sister; they are in fact married, but they’ve known each other for quite some time. They are going to be sharing tips today with us on production design. I don’t know if you guys have seen any of their videos, but they are high on creativity. A lot of them really remind me a lot of Michel Gondry. They are really crafty and cool, and they use something as ordinary as a cotton ball and make it magical.
They met in high school in Nashville. Tripp spent his childhood fascinated with gadgets and trash compactors, as I’m sure many of you did. And Jenna grew up in South Africa, and somehow ended up in Nashville. Oh, no, yeah, Nashville, which we’re still figuring that out. These two didn’t need art school. They dropped out of art school, and packed their car, and headed to New York City. Now both of them work as freelance directors and animators, and together they run a wonderful company called “Phantasmic,” in New York City.
Heather: We’ve got Michael Sanchez. He has directed more than a hundred Howcast videos, almost all of which he’s starred in. He’s going to be talking about casting and directing non-actors. Hes a filmmaker, songwriter, and standup comedian, living in Chicago. He studied improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City, and recently opened for Tracy Morgan, which is huge.
In addition to writing and directing, a number of award-winning comedic shorts, Michael is currently in post-production on his first feature. He is seen kissing in Howcast’s most watched video on YouTube, which is, “How To Kiss With Passion.” And when Howcast was featured in a Nightline piece, Michael’s face was plastered all over national television.
Darlene: And here we have Keith Hayward. Keith came down from Rhode Island today to share his guerrilla stop motion animation skills. He has been doing a lot of shooting and editing recently for Brown, and he’s also been working for their local public libraries, creating some very cool short videos about the really old, rare collections of books.
He has made over 50 Howcast videos in the Emerging Filmmaker Program, and recently took home first prize — whoop, whoop — in our first ever contest. He did a great video, which you’re going to see a clip of shortly, called “How To Make Olive Bread.” Again, Howcast, we take the normal and make it extraordinary, and you will see why shortly. He also has been entering a lot of contests, online video contests, and recently won the Grand Prize in the DV Video Challenge.
Heather: Okay, guys, so we’re going to look at some clips of your videos, and then you’re going to tell us some secrets about making great video. You ready?
Darlene: I’m ready!
Heather: All right.
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Darlene: Oh, an awesome clip obviously. So Tripp and Jenna, for both of you. You had to show someone driving. A lot of people would probably just think, “Oh, I’ll just go borrow my mom’s Honda, or run out to the corner parking lot, and film it like that.” But you guys took it in a whole new creative direction. You guys always kind of think I think really outside the box, which is really amazing. And again, you take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. So my question is, “Why do you guys approach videos this way? Why not just shoot like an average video in a car?”
Tripp: I guess, you know, it was kind of like a pretty basic topic, and you know, it could have I guess revolved around you know shooting a regular car, like you said. But yeah, I guess we thought of taking the actual context and subject and putting it in a different sort of world really, so that it kind of just even the basic of it is a little more interesting that I guess what you would normally see. It also enabled us to kind of like build the world, even just surrounding the car, so I guess it kind of excited us about that.
Darlene: Had you guys ever done anything like that before?
Jenna: I guess that’s what we mostly do I guess.
Jenna: It makes sense, so…
Tripp: Yeah, we do a lot of sound motion animation in sets, so I guess it came kind of easier for us for that video in turn, yeah.
Darlene: And you guys, I know, used after effects in post, because we were just… We just had that car here in the office and it looked a little bit like that, but you really jujjed it up. You kind of took like a Toyota and you kind of made it like a Lamborghini. So can you tell me a little bit about the process of kind of taking your crafty things and making them even more spectacular?
Tripp: Yeah. We came up with the idea to make the car, and it was this big idea but we kind of broke it down into just playing it out from the beginning. Just from sketching the car out and then cutting it out of the cardboard and putting it together was kind of the first step. But then yeah, actually getting into after effects and touching it up to look a little bit better than just a piece of cardboard that’s falling apart, kind of ends up being a longer process.
Darlene: And then how much background do you guys have in after effects? Were you guys experts? Have you guys been using it for a really long time? Because that looked very impressive I thought.
Jenna: That was our first time using after effects was for that.
Darlene: So you guys had never used it, never taken a class.
Tripp: We actually, for that video, went to Barnes & Noble and purchased a book on after effects and taught ourselves the process as we were doing it.
Jenna: Yeah, for that, yeah.
Darlene: Was it as hard as you thought it would be?
Jenna: It’s actually really easy.
Tripp: Yeah, it’s really fluid and very easy. Yeah, and like forcing ourselves to actually just work with it and learn it, I think we learned it 30 times faster than we would have if we just kind of went step by step, and tried to teach it to ourselves on our own time.
Darlene: Yeah. I was going to say that I work with a lot of filmmakers who work with after effects. Very few of them really learn how to use them in class. Most people I think have most success just teaching it to themselves. So anyone who is interested in using it out there, I would definitely get yourself a copy, and if you can, get a project from a friend that’s already built out. Deconstruct it and then reconstruct it again. It’s a great way to learn it, and if you really want to do it, you’ve kind of got to teach it to yourself.
So it looks like, I mean all you guys need to make a great video is a lot of imagination and creativity.
Tripp: Yeah, and just a quick note. For some of the supplies, always hold on to your old props. If you have boxes, or just like drawers you can shove stuff in, it’s better just to hold on to all the old stuff.
Jenna: Yeah. We have a room full of stuff that we always go back to using.
Darlene: So your apartment is like a prop house. You never know what you’re going to need again.
Tripp: Yeah, yeah.
Jenna: Yes, yes.
Tripp: We shop at a lot of garage sales.
Darlene: Can I come over?
Heather: I have a quick question for you guys. You were saying earlier that you are actually not super duper crafty, like with… There is like paper, and cardboard, and all this stuff. But you draw everything out and that sort of helps you get started?
Jenna: I guess we’re not very creative, like with drawing and everything, so we draw something very simple and we use… Thank you. We use… I guess then we can take it into the creative field and then use the paper and everything like that. But the drawings, we’re not very good at drawings.
Heather: Thank you guys.
Tripp: No problem.
Heather: All right, Michael, next up. I took a count of your 100 videos that you made for us, and 93 of them are starring you, including this one, where you are seen making out again. This is “How Do You Make Your First Kiss Memorable.”
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Heather: I think that you look great and whoever you cast in your videos always looks great. I think that finding actors and being able to pay them is really one of the biggest hurdles to making great videos when you’re maybe not living in a major city, and you also don’t have a big budget. So I’m wondering first if you could tell us what some of your tips are for casting your friends and family. How do you decide whom to pick?
Michael: Well, even before… I mean, depending on the project, sometimes I’ll cast people off of Craigslist. You can usually find people, like non-actors, who are interested in acting and they will do it for free on Craigslist. You just kind of have to sift through and maybe audition a few people to see who can actually act. I’m actually pretty lazy when it comes to casting, and that’s why I’m in so many videos. Because I would rather just act in it myself, or get like a girlfriend or another friend, who lives super close by, than have to actually cast and do all that stuff. Yeah.
Darlene: Do you have any tips for auditioning people?
Michael: Yeah. I find that with… There’s been some mistakes that I’ve had. Like I’ve thought people would be a really good actor, and then I get them in front of the camera and the second the camera turns on they freeze up. And they’re like a terrible actor, you know. So I find, put them in front of the camera, turn it on. Maybe have them even go through some emotions, like anger, happy, just to see if they can actually act.
Darlene: And is there anything about what they look like that you’re looking for? Anything special?
Michael: Not really. I mean, I tend to go for… I mean, I don’t want… I don’t know. I mean, I usually go for like young, hip, 20-something type, types.
Darlene: I feel like your people — maybe it’s just you — you have great facial expressions, and can really go from happy, to sad, to confused…
Michael: Right, right.
Darlene: …to despondent.
Michael: Well I know a lot of comics too. I know a lot of comedians in Chicago, so they’re always pretty…
Michael: …animated and pretty self-aware when it comes to emoting.
Darlene: Got it.
Heather: Where do you hold auditions if you do have to invite some people from Craigslist?
Michael: Well, if you don’t want to be too creepy, and invite them back to your house, which has happened, and it can be creepy. Usually I’ll just invite someone to like a coffee shop. I’ll find out where they live and then we’ll choose an in-between point, and just meet at a coffee shop. And I might have them just read, you know, whatever they’re going to be acting.
For Howcast videos, there’s never any speaking parts, so I really have to be smarter about that, and just have them go through emotions. Or I also find that, if you can act as a director,like that’s also good, because you can say, “Well, this is what I’m going for,” and then you can be like, “Hmmm.” Or whatever. Because a lot of times it is hard to translate what it is that you want from them. So if you can show them and they can kind of mimic you or do their own interpretation of that, then it still might work.
Heather: Right. That must be a really great way to deal with people who don’t have a lot of acting experience.
Michael: Yeah, yeah.
Heather: So you sort of mimic what you want them to do.
Michael: I also find that it’s really important to make non-actors especially fell comfortable on set. That’s really pertinent, because if they’re uncomfortable they’re going to be stiff and they’re not going to give you what you want. So yeah, I do whatever I can as a director to make sure that they’re at ease and they feel comfortable with whatever they’re doing.
Heather: Right. How about when you’re the star? I mean, I cannot imagine how you’re starring in the videos. You’re directing them, and you’re shooting them too. So tell us the secrets for that.
Michael: Again, me starring in so many videos just came out of laziness, but it turns out that, being in so many videos is also difficult in itself. It’s just that I would rather waste my own time than some actor’s time. Yeah, I mean basically I’ll just set my camera up. I’ll get the shot ready how I want. I’ll set the camera up, and then I have a remote for the camera. So I’ll get everything ready, hit “record,” and then I’ll go through the motions a bunch of times, until I think one of those takes will be good, and then I stop.
And if I want, like if I want like a really high-budget-looking shot, and I want the camera to zoom in, I’ll do other things. Like I’ll stick a clothespin on the zoom button on the remote, and then just hide it really quick, and then go through it while the camera is zooming in. There’s a bunch of stupid tricks.
Heather: I’ve always wondered how you did that.
Heather: That’s awesome. Yeah, really cool. All right, thank you.
Heather: Keith, we have questions for you. We’re about to watch the video that won you $2000 from Howcast, in the How To Video Video Challenge, which I think is pretty amazing. So let’s watch this. It’s called, “How To Bake Olive Bread,” “How To Make Olive Bread.”
Male voice in video: Welcome, everyone. My name is Oliver, and tonight I’m going to show you how to make a delicious loaf of olive bread, using your very own sourdough starter. Flatten the dough out on a floured surface, and fold in a cup of lightly chopped, Kalamata olives. Divide the dough and shape them into two smooth, round loaves. Whoo, that is hot!
Heather: When all the olives come running in. So when we asked you, once you won, we called you. We were so excited, and then we asked you, “Tell us some stories about the making of the video because we want to be able to talk about your experience.” And you said that you shot it, and you did the whole thing yourself in one weekend over the Fourth of July, and you were totally by yourself.
Heather: And I thought that was just so inspiring, because it made me think, “Hey, I could probably do this.” I’ve never made a slow motion animation. So we want to know all your secrets. First, what’s your animation background?
Keith: I don’t have too much animation background. For stop motion, my girlfriend, who is also a videographer kind of got me involved in videography and animation stuff. She loves making stop motion while we cook, so she really likes, especially, stop motion of beets in particular, and other root vegetables. They look really cute in stop motion.
Heather: She’s right. They are cute.
Keith: And so, she would always do that, and she taught me after effects, the basics, and also final cut. And we did another contest, where we made a similar thing. It was kind of a music video, but making a cake, like a birthday cake. It’s really painstaking but fun. So that’s really all the animation background I have.
Heather: It’s awesome. So Step One: Get a really talented girlfriend.
Heather: So what do you need to produce a short video like this on a budget by yourself?
Keith: First and foremost a camera. For stop motion, it’s great to have a still camera, like a digital SLR, a digital still camera, and a tripod to make sure the camera doesn’t move. Because it’s going to be sitting there for a long time. And lights, and a lot of time and patience, because you’re taking a still frame for every frame. That video is a few thousand pictures.
Darlene: I have a question. Do you use any special programs? Because I know there are some stop motion programs that like they go right to the computer.
Darlene: That I’ve seen people sue.
Keith: For this, I wish I had that program when I did this.
Keith: Especially if you’re by yourself, you can, you know… One thing that makes stop motion good is that every shot, the background, nothing changes, so lights and stuff. So you want to be in the same place while you shoot it, or you may make a shadow and you’ll get flickering shadows. So they have programs like iStopMotion, or Dragon Stop Motion, which is probably the best. And that way you can just hook it to your computer. You can see what the previous shot was, overlaid with the shot you’re going to take, and that makes things… I have that now, and that makes things a lot easier. But you can still do with just a camera, tripod, and gear.
Darlene: How long did that video take you to make?
Keith: Hours or days?
Darlene: Yeah, well like days.
Keith: It was over Fourth of July weekend, and it was, you know, two days of maybe 10, 12 hours of pushing the photo on my camera.
Darlene: It was worth it.
Keith: Yes! I guess so.
Heather: So speaking of budget, how much money did you spend making it?
Keith: I mean, not including what I already had as far as a camera and stuff?
Keith: Nothing. Flour. Water.
Darlene: How did the bread taste?
Keith: The bread was not good actually. It’s a good recipe. It was like a simplified version, because you know, but it had been sitting in front of really hot lights for 20 hours, and it…
Darlene: So not the recommended way…
Darlene: …to really make olive bread, with stop motion photography.
Keith: Yeah. I originally… You’re supposed to let the dough rise for several hours, and you knead it and let it rise again. I was trying to get like a time lapse of it rising, but the lights just… I think it was so hot that it was just killing the yeast, so I sat there, like for five hours, with the camera, taking shots every few minutes. And then it didn’t rise. It actually went down, and so I had to scrap that and make another loaf.
Heather: You’re a super patient person.
Heather: You must be.
Darlene: Very Zen.
Heather: So other than that, the lights ruining the bread, what were some other obstacles that you ran into?
Keith: Well, I was house-sitting for a friend, and dog-sitting her new puppy, so it wasn’t really potty trained. So it was difficult doing everything, and then every hour or so, having to walk the dog, or take it to the park, or clean up after the pee on the floor. And then that was a big obstacle, but it’s a really cute dog, so it was kind of worth it.
Heather: It was worth it.
Keith: I tried actually incorporating the dog into it, where it was like an olive falls on the ground. The dog comes in and I would like stop motion the olive, and then put the other side of the screen, the dog chasing after it. But it didn’t work.
Heather: The dog wouldn’t cooperate.
Darlene: You know the rules: No dogs. No children. You know, didn’t you get the memo?
Heather: Right. So, I feel like I would have come back from walking the dog, or even just sort of you get I think google-eyed, and you’re like — or googly-eyed — and you forget where things were. Did you tape everything? I mean, do you have to tape the tripod legs? Or tape the props?
Heather: Or how do you remember?
Keith: Prior to everything I did a lot of planning, as far as figuring out what shots I wanted. And I put out just it on final cut, to figure out how many frames each shot would be. So then I could figure out, “Okay, I want it to move this far.” I would mark off where I want it to start, where I want it to end, and I would calculate. “Okay, one centimeter per frame,” I would move the thing and then I would do that. But being just me, I would forget count and so, it didn’t always work out perfectly. But then for the tripod, yeah, I usually put tape on the ground. But even… It’s really, just a little bit of movement, you can see that, so you know, in after effects afterwards, I had to like reshape things a little bit.
Heather: Got it. Okay. So you must have learned a ton if that was only your second animation. Can you give us some secrets that maybe we wouldn’t know if we had never done this before?
Keith: Plan out everything beforehand is a good thing that I learned. Even though I planned out a lot, I could have planned out a lot more, because even though taking a still frame every, you know, for every shot takes a long time. It takes just as long, or longer, to like edit it. So if you make a mistake, like you have your hand… You know, I would get tired, and I’m hot and sweaty from the lights, and I’m just like, “I don’t want to prop something up.” So I would just hold my hand and I’m like, “I’m going to just Photoshop my hand out afterwards.”
Keith: And then that takes a lot longer per frame than just doing it right the first time.
Heather: That whole theory, like, “We’ll fix it in post. We’ll fix it in post.” I hate that.
Heather: It’s not true. It doesn’t work. I was just talking with one of our interns the other day, and she was talking about… Well now she’s a production assistant, whoo-oo! But she’s talking about working on a video where they didn’t want to white balance. They were like, “Oh, we’ll fix it in post.” But it just, it will take hours to do that, so we don’t advise that.
Keith: It will just take, like you know, a few seconds to push the white balance.
Heather: Right. Do it then.
Darlene: Work smarter, not harder.
Heather: There you go.
Darlene: For sure.
Heather: All right. Thank you. Thank you, Keith.
Darlene: Okay, guys, well we are just about to be ready to take questions from our live stream viewers for our filmmakers. But right before we do that, we want to know if you guys had any film-making secrets, any other secrets you wanted to share with everybody that you could think of.
Tripp: I guess the one that we had was just in terms of compositing and green-screening, working with animation and live action. Just it’s so many people try to make things look real, but really the best thing you can do is make it look good. You know, it’s not all about making everything look realistic, because movies aren’t even about being real. It’s about just looking really, really good. So if you have to throw a fake fan on somebody just to get their hair blowing, even though there will probably be no wind. But if that motion makes it look more vivid, then go for it.
Darlene: That’s a great tip. It’s true. Movies are not real, and they often have a lot of beautiful cheats, so I like that a lot.
Michael: To kind of go along with Tripp’s comment, like I didn’t do green screen for the longest time because I thought it would be super difficult. And it turns out that it’s not at all. After just a little bit of research and looking at a few videos online, I found that I could just go to a thrift store, like a secondhand store, and I bought just a huge bedsheet, like a green bedsheet. And then I went to just any Home Depot and just get a bunch of lights.
I mean, you kind of have to mess with it and figure out a nice way to make everything work, but with a little experimentation you can really have a cool green screen at home, for cheap cheap.
Heather: That’s what you’re using? I mean, you’ve been doing green screen actually more and more in your Howcast spots.
Heather: Is that what you’re using?
Michael: Yeah, I’m using just a…
Heather: It’s flawless.
Michael: …just a bedsheet. It’s like tacked to my wall.
Darlene: And Home Depot lights.
Michael: Yeah. Yeah.
Darlene: I love it. That’s all you need.
Heather: That’s awesome, really great.
Darlene: Who knew that Home Depot was really your local film-making resource.
Michael: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Heather: Really, yeah.
Darlene: Keith, do you have any tips? Or are you tipped out?
Keith: I think just that, you know, make as may videos as possible. If you don’t think you have enough money to do a shot, say you want camera movement, just like, try to make a dolly. Look online for a do-it-yourself dolly thing. Or just find a nice smooth surface and put it on a mat and push it. Just try things and you may find that it works for getting that, like, adding a little bit extra to your video.
Darlene: That’s cool. So just be creative with your film-making.
Darlene: And try to think outside the box. You know, it doesn’t have to always be what you’re taught in school, or what you read in books. You can figure it out and come up with really cool ideas. We had someone create a dolly right out of that Magliner. They had put the tripod on the Magliner, rolling it around. I’m like, “That is brilliant!” Like nothing gets me more excited when I see film-making hacks, and people do amazing stuff like that.
Heather: I have a question actually for you guys I’m curious about. Do you all have professional lighting kits? Or do you just sort of use Home Depot stuff?
Jenna; We actually have a professional lighting kit now. Thank you. But beforehand though — we just got it maybe this year or something — but beforehand we used all, I guess…
Tripp: Like desk lamps.
Jenna: Desk lamps and duct-taped it.
Tripp: We just duct-taped like actual lamps, like lampshades. We would like duct tape them to the wall and stuff.
Jenna: Right. Right.
Tripp: But yeah, we just had like a starting lulla[SP] kit. It was pretty inexpensive and has, you know, kind of everything you need. So I mean, that’s great for like live action, but you know, if you’re just doing animation and stuff, you really don’t even need 1K light. Because all you really need is like a little 60-watt light, and it’s the same thing. So, yeah, but I mean, lighting is really important. But if you do just kind of go to Home Depot and kind of get it all sorted out, then it can look just as good as long as you’re kind of smart and test around with what you’re doing.
Heather: Okay, what do you guys use?
Michael: I use a lot of natural light. Like I do a lot of cooking videos, and usually in my kitchen I’ll just open all the shades and get as much light in as I can. And I use a lot of reflecting boards as well, but I don’t have a pro light kit at all. I have some Home Depot lights, yeah, and just reflecting a lot. That’s basically it.
Darlene: Have you guys ever not lit enough?
Michael: Oh, heavens yes.
Darlene: Like what happens? That’s been my biggest pet peeve is when I’m watching a video and nothing… It’s not lit correctly. Like just turn on every light in your house, and like, go to your neighbors. Borrow their lamps.
Darlene: If you don’t light, your video goes down in quality I think so much. And it’s a shame because it’s an easy fix. I mean, you know, Thomas Edison, thank you. We’ve all got it at home.
Darlene: That’s cool. Keith, do you have a professional lighting kit?
Keith: When I first started I didn’t, or I kind of did. My girlfriend kind of…
Darlene: Thank God for your girlfriend
Keith: My first few videos for Howcast…
Heather: Talented, equipped girlfriend.
Keith: … which Howcast was like my first videos ever making money kind of, and my girlfriend supplied the camera and tripod.
Darlene: I love your girlfriend! She sounds really cool!
Keith: And lights. And then I was like, “All right. I can make a little money doing this,” so I started buying stuff. But now I do a lot of interview things, for like Brown University, and stuff like that, so now I have a professional looking set up, just to appease other people.
Darlene: Yeah, you don’t want to show up to do an interview and have like a lamp!
Darlene: There you go. Can you stand in…
Keith: But typically for the Howcast videos, I still, you know, try to use natural lighting, or reflectors, because it’s just, if you can do that, it’s so much quick and easier.
Tripp: I just want to say a quick note on like a lighting kit. They will annihilate your power bill if you’re paying your own utilities. If you have 2000 watts of lights pumping away for 11 hours, I think we use the most power in our entire apartment building.
Jenna: I think so too.
Tripp: So yeah, that’s something to look out for.
Darlene: It’s impressive!
Keith: You can get compact fluorescent lights that last forever, that are equivalent to a 500-watt incandescent light, and it’s just like 100 and so watts it actually uses. So you can plug it into a household bulb and it’s super bright.
Heather: That’s awesome.
Michael: Kino Flos.
Keith: Yeah. Like those.
Darlene: Good tip for you.
Heather: I mean, I think a lot of filmmakers maybe under light because they don’t realize that these are the kinds of work arounds they can use.
Heather: So I think that that’s really promising, that you don’t at all need professional lighting.
Darlene: Yeah, you can totally hack it at home yourself. You just have to be smart about it.
Heather: So we’re getting some questions, and we collected some questions on YouTube a couple of days ago. Everyone seems to… A question that keeps coming up is everyone wants to know what editing program you guys all use.
Jenna: We use Final Cut.
Heather: Final Cut.
Tripp: Yeah, Final Cut and After Effects, I think are the two best programs to know.
Michael: I agree.
Heather: Everyone’s going to agree.
Darlene: I agree too. That’s our favorite. Yeah, if everyone could just edit on Final Cut, I would be very happy.
Tripp: It’s what the industry is changing to.
Darlene: Yeah, definitely.
Darlene: Industry standard.
Heather: I should say that a lot of the filmmakers in our Emerging Filmmakers Program might use Premiere. They use Sony Vegas. They is Final Cut Express. Some of them use Avid, so those… I think those programs are certainly still somewhat on a professional level for sure, if not professional level. So, although Final Cut is the standard, and I do actually think that it’s easier to use because of all the tools that it offers, those other programs are pretty fantastic as well.
What about Express? I mean, that’s so much cheaper. I think the only limitation is just that it really doesn’t allow for as many like exporting capabilities, right? But it’s pretty solid.
Tripp: Yeah. I think also, just whatever you can get your hands on to edit is perfect. I mean, if you can only start off… I bought a FireWire card that came with an editing program, at like $19.99, and edited for three years on it. It had like one video track and one audio track, so you would have to keep on exporting and pulling back in to add new effects. So whatever you can start off on, just keep making stuff, and then kind of build up as you go along. But Final Cut is definitely, I mean, the best you could probably get into.
Heather: That’s good to know. And so that’s a trick, because we have that problem too, where our graphics require, you know, multiple video tracks. So you would export and then re-import it. Cool, very cool. Okay. So there’s a few more questions. A lot of people are asking, you know, “Does this advice only pertain to short form videos? Or can you tell us about some of your longer form projects? And how maybe these sorts of tricks relate or help you with those?
Michael: I would actually just say that they would be exactly the same, just in a larger scale. I mean, obviously you’re looking at more time, and more actors, and more commitment in general. But for the most part, all these tricks can be done on a larger scale, for sure.
Darlene: Yeah. I would say the most important thing about larger scale things is just being what Keith said, really organized, you know. You need to have every single thing planned out. You want to be efficient, and you want to have it thought out. And you just want to have a really, really solid game plan. But as long as you’ve got plenty of lights, you should be good.
Michael: You know, I would like to actually, there’s been a lot of talk about lights, but I feel like people forget about audio…
Darlene: Oh, yeah.
Michael. …as well. Like I see so many films, like short films, that look fantastic, and maybe are written really well with great acting. But they have terrible audio.
Darlene: Yeah, nothing worse.
Michael: Yeah. And I feel like…
Darlene: Actually, maybe a bad picture is worse than bad audio. I don’t know.
Michael: I mean, it’s weird to talk about it within the Howcast circles, because we don’t really use audio. Like there’s narration on the films. But I find, when I’m shooting stuff, you know, in my personal projects… I mean, I came through film through music, and recording music and stuff, so to me, audio is super important. And I feel like there’s just not enough emphasis on it.
And if I could recommend anything to new, starting out filmmakers, or even old hands, is get like a lapel mike. That’s like the easiest possible thing you can do. I have a lapel mike that I use, and they’re totally easy to hide. Like you can hide it inside a shirt. You can hide it in a hat, like wherever.
Mine happens to have a 25-foot cable, so I can’t go any further than 25 feet, but I get great sound on it. Like it couldn’t be any better, and it’s definitely better than the mike on the camera, you know, which is fine if you’re totally desperate.
But again, like I feel like I’ve read something somewhere, where 75% of our movie-viewing experience is audio, and only 25% of it is actually visual. And this same book went on to explain that, if you were to watch a movie with really crappy sounds, you would pay less attention than to a movie that looks bad but sounds really good. So I don’t know. It’s just something to think about for young filmmakers.
Darlene: That’s an excellent tip. Yeah, I think it’s totally overlooked. And I always say, like I watch a lot of YouTube videos, and just that’s the one thing. The biggest discrepancy I think is the audio. If it’s really echo-y, or it’s crinkly, or you just can’t hear anyone well, it’s a fatal flaw.
Heather: Is there any way to get better audio from your on camera mike?
Michael: get as close as possible. I mean, of course the further away you get, the less sound, the more echo you’re going to get. So before I had the lapel mike, like whenever I had to shoot like an actor, I would get as close as I possibly could without it being too awkward. That’s really it I think.
Heather: But you have to.
Heather: Do you guys all own your own mikes now?
Tripp: Yeah, we have a lapel as well, a wireless lapel, and we have a shotgun mike that we use. Yeah, we always try to stay away from audio unless we have somebody to do it for us, because it’s a different world. I’m not very good with it.
Heather: Right. It is an art form, in and of itself.
Tripp: Oh, yeah.
Darlene: That’s good advice also, find someone who is really good at it, you know. You don’t have to do everything by yourself.
Darlene: Like reach out and find different resources. Like if you’re the filmmaker and you have a friend who is really into sound, let them show their stuff. Film-making is a collaborative effort. And I think sometimes people try to do everything themselves, which is great, but at the same time, you know, play to people’s strengths.
Keith: Yeah, I also have a lot of mikes, a big collection.
Darlene: Are they all your girlfriend’s?
Keith: Most of them! Or, now it’s even. It’s even now. But we do a lot of documentary stuff, and interviews, and promotional videos, and for that, it’s good to have a good arsenal of wireless mikes, or just wired… I mean, we have a wireless mike, but then we have a wired mike, because that’s a little bit better for a sit down interviews, and then shotgun mikes.
Darlene: Do you have any advice for like when you’re doing interviews, how to get people… People always say I talk too fast. I don’t know why. Or maybe I mumble my words. Do you have any advice for when you’re doing interviews? And how to get like actors or performers to have better diction perhaps?
Keith: I don’t. I obviously have poor diction, so it’s hard to relate, or it’s easy to relate to those people. But I don’t know what, you know… I liked, when I interview, to speak with them for a while beforehand, so that they feel comfortable.
Darlene: So maybe just rehearsing a lot, and making sure they all know what they’re going to say.
Michael: Yeah! And not necessarily like asking them the same questions, but let the camera roll, ask them questions that may not even be related, so they feel comfortable. So they’re having a conversation. Because I feel like when people get nervous they speak faster and faster. Yeah.
Darlene: That’s good advice.
Heather: We have a bunch more questions coming in. Just really quickly. Where do you guys get your lapel mikes? Or do you have any suggested places?
Tripp: Amazon is great. We’ve bought most of our equipment…
Jenna: Most of our stuff, yeah.
Tripp: …on Amazon.
Heather: Oh, wow, that’s great to know.
Tripp: Yeah, Amazon, and B&H Photo, is two great places.
Jenna: Yeah, they have everything.
Jenna: We bought everything online.
Tripp: Yeah, we buy all of our stuff online. I don’t think I’ve purchased any equipment from stores, just because it tends to be a little bit more overpriced.
Tripp: Yeah, and you can read, just do a lot of research before buying anything. So that’s probably my biggest bit of advice on that.
Keith: I am very into used equipment. So for a lavalier mike you can get it pretty cheap used, and a lot of times you get them without a plug, so it’s just unwired, and they are even cheaper if you get them like that. And you can look up a wiring, you know… I don’t know if anyone solders or not, but then you can just solder the mike clip and that cuts down the price as well.
Darlene: That’s smart. That’s really smart.
Darlene: That’s next thing we hack cast, we’re going to start buying secondhand equipment and making post-department store soldering. Watch out, guys.
Heather: Where do you get them? Do you get them on eBay? Or Craigslist?
Keith: eBay, yeah. I mean, I just recently bought, you know, a Sennheiser MK2E, which is, I don’t know, like $300, and I got it on eBay for $80.
Heather: Oh, that’s awesome!
Keith: And it works perfectly. It took many hours of me trying to figure out how to wire it and stuff like that, but it was a great. great deal.
Heather: That’s fantastic. That’s great. There are a few questions coming in about PC software, and I just want to reiterate. If you’re looking for good PC video editing software, Sony Vegas and Premiere, we recommend, and we’ve got lots of filmmakers who use them.
Darlene: Those are pretty much the industry standards, I would say, for a PC.
Heather: A few people are asking about your YouTube channels, and how you guys use them, or how you guys might use the Web to promote your work. And you know, do you think that the name of your YouTube channel, or how it looks, does that help you sort of get views? And get popular? How much are you guys out there sort of promoting yourselves on the Web?
Michael: I always… I feel like tags are really important. I mean, if you’re looking for like more views, I always try to put like “nude women” in my tags. I’m just kidding. I mean, unless there’s nude women in the… No. No like, I try to put as many different things in the tag that are pertinent to it, or even things that loosely apply.
Like if I put up a music video, maybe if it’s like even remotely similar to another band that’s really popular, I might put that band in the tag. And I also tend to repeat post videos. Like I have stuff up on YouTube. I have stuff up on Vimeo, Facebook, just wherever you can put videos up for more exposure. And then always have links back to your own website or whatever.
Heather: Right, great. And your Howcast channel.
Heather: Anyone else want to weigh in on how they use the Web.
Tripp: I pretty much agree, yeah.
Heather: Someone was asking about — I don’t know who mentioned this — but some sort of green screen software? Is there a green screen software? Or was it the stop motion software?
Keith: Stop motion software. I think that probably the best is Dragon Stop Motion. I think it’s like under $200, so compared to Final Cut, or After Effect, or Adobe, it’s pretty cheap. But there’s also iStopMotion, and lots of really basic ones that you can get.
Michael: And how do they help? I’ve never used one.
Keith: So, if you have a compatible camera, for Dragon you would set up your camera. you have it hooked to your computer. You take a picture, then it will… It’s call an “onion effect.” It will kind of drop the opacity on the last picture that you took, so you can actually match it up perfectly with the picture you’re going to take. And then it’s just set up so that you can quickly view it at full frame. the video preview, or slower. You can also shoot a video and overlay the video, so you know how to match it. But that all requires a compatible camera for that.
Michael: Do you guys use it?
Tripp: Actually, no, we’re looking into it still.
Jenna: So we have one thing to get.
Tripp: Yeah. And if anyone did have a question I guess about a green screen program, the best one… I mean we’ve green-screened just in like Final Cut for a really long time. But like the best thing to use is Keylight, which is a plugin for after effects. It’s really, really easy to use. You can actually… I learned how to use it. You can actually just go to YouTube and type in “Keylight,” and learn it in five minutes, and it works wonders. It actually won a Technical Academy Award for being such a great plugin. They used it in like Harry Potter and stuff, so it’s a fantastic plugin.
Heather: What does that do?
Tripp: It’s just for green-screening. And I mean, you can actually key out any color you want, you know, green purple, and yeah, it’s like real time, and just really easy to use.
Darlene: Do you guys have any tips for people about how to shoot green screen? Like do’s and don’ts.
Tripp: I mean, definitely the father you can get away from the green screen is the better. I think that’s like the number one…
Darlene: Do you mean the camera? Or the person?
Jenna: The person.
Tripp: Oh, the person, yeah.
Darlene: What happens if the person is close to the green screen?
Tripp: You will deal with like green spill on the… Because not only do you want to like look out for shadows and everything on the green screen, but you want to look out for the green screen bouncing onto your subject, which is just as bad.
Tripp: And also, just like it’s so much more important, like you know, you may feel kind of rusty or whatever. Just sort of like just shoot something how the lights are, but if you just take the time to really compose your shot on the green screen to make it work really well, you will spend so much less time in post.
Darlene: I’m curious, because I mean, I’m not obsessed with green screen, but I watch a lot of it. And I just wonder like, since you guys don’t really like have professional, especially Michael, you don’t even have like really professional lights. Do you find it hard to light green screen? I feel like everyone is like, “You have to light it with Kinos, and you have to light the back perfectly, and then the front perfectly. Or you’re going to be keying up people for freaking weeks. And it’s miserable.”
Michael: There’s definitely like little tricks that I have to do. I mean, I really only have two lights at home, so I have…
Darlene: You must have a very dark apartment.
Michael: It’s pretty dark, but I have… Like the way that everything is set up is I have one light that shines on the green screen, and then I have a light that is on me. But then on the other side of me, I have like a reflective board, to light my other side.
Michael: And it’s taken me a while to really like work the bugs out of me doing that, but I’ve got it down now.
Darlene: And I guess just trial and error, and once you just do it enough times, and you keep looking back…
Darlene: …eventually you’ve got your lights set up, and then your green screen is good to go.
Michael: Yeah. I do wish I had like a bigger room, so that I could get further away from the green screen.
Michael: And I do wish I had a bigger green screen, because I can only get so far away before I start have to… I have to like crop stuff.
Darlene: Got it. Now I know what to get you for Christmas.
Heather: Lots of folks want to know what cameras you guys use, and what cameras you can maybe recommend for on a budget.
Tripp: We use it’s a Sony V1U. It’s a… I guess, I mean like the best camera you could I guess possibly get would be something that shoots 24 frames of progressive, and you know, at least 7, I guess 720p. But really, I mean, I guess the industry is all going towards high definition, so I mean, you don’t have to get a really expensive camera. People argue that this camera is better than this camera, and it will be like a $3000 difference. But really, I mean if your video is going to end up on a website, or compressed on YouTube, or something, it really doesn’t really matter too much. You might as well just save your money and put it towards making a movie. Yeah. So I guess something on the lower end of just something that shoots 24p.
Darlene: Do you guys shoot HD?
Tripp: Yeah, we shoot HD.
Heather: How much… Oh, I’m sorry.
Jenna: Oh, I was going to say also for a while, we used — I guess you did as well — like the camera for stop motion, we just had, you know, just a film camera and we pushed the photo button.
Jenna: So we didn’t have an SLL for a long time. Now we do, but we didn’t for a while, so you can also use that.
Heather: How much is the HD camera that you mentioned, Tripp? Approximately.
Tripp: I guess, so we bought it like a year and a half, two years ago, and it was $3400, so I’m sure it’s probably gone down now. It’s like not even the… Yeah, I think they came out with like a new one.
Tripp: I know also, like there’s a lot of SLR still cameras that shoot video, that actually shoot better video than like our video cameras, and are cheaper. And then you could use those for stop motion as well.
Darlene: Right. People are obsessed with those now.
Tripp: They’re amazing!
Darlene: I hear great things about them.
Tripp: The depth of field is phenomenal. And you can switch out the lenses.
Heather: And the lenses are so amazing.
Darlene: Yeah, so compatible, right? You could kind of take it anywhere.
Heather: Michael, what do you use? Because I think it’s way more affordable that that.
Michael: Yeah, I have, well, I have two cameras. The old one I used to use is a Canon GL2, and if you watch a lot of my Howcast videos, the ones that aren’t HD, like the square ones, are the old Canon. And then, I just got a Canon VIXIA HF10, which is an HD camera, and I think it’s like, maybe like $600 to $800 for that. That camera is awesome.
When I first got it out of the box, I was trying to figure out where the tape went, and it doesn’t take a tape. Like I… It’s a hard drive camera.
Darlene: It’s broken! There’s no place for the tape!
Michael: It’s really awesome. It shoots, I think, somewhere between four and six hours, like on the camera, which is…
Darlene: In HD.
Michael: …crazy. Yeah. It’s in HD, and it’s awesome, like not having to use tapes.
Darlene: And how much was it? I’m sorry. Did you say?
Michael: Between like six and eight, I think.
Darlene: Oh, very affordable.
Michael: Yeah. It’s an awesome camera.
Heather: Super affordable, and I mean, I think your footage looks amazing. If you compare it… If you go to Howcast or your YouTube channel and you compare it side by side with anybody else’s HD, that they’re shooting with like an HVX or something, it looks fantastic.
Darlene: Yeah. You would never know.
Heather: I don’t think you would know.
Michael: Yeah, and I don’t use anything. Like I’ve been thinking about getting like a wide angle lens for it. I don’t have one, and it still gets great, great footage. I mean, you do sort of… Like on my GL2, I do miss being able to like have manual focus right on the lens, so there is a few things. But you can’t beat it really, I think.
Heather: Some day.
Darlene: Yeah. You know it’s funny, because some of our filmmakers have been shooting with the Red camera, which everyone, you know, talks about. “Ooh, the Red camera, the Red camera.” They love it. But the thing about that camera is, if you don’t light it correctly, like I feel if you don’t have a crew, and like, expensive lights, and people really thinking about it and being really technical, the footage looks not so hot, especially compared to just some of these smaller, run-and-gun cameras that are just so much easier to use. So sometimes more expensive is not always better.
Heather: And one thing that we tell a lot of our emerging filmmakers too is like, if you have your camera on a tripod, or something steady, and you have a lot of light, most cameras can be made to look great.
Darlene: Yeah, absolutely.
Heather: It’s really more about lighting and keeping your shots steady.
Tripp: And knowing your camera as well.
Heather: Yeah, right.
Tripp: Like knowing how to manually control everything is incredibly important.
Darlene: And your settings.
Darlene: And obviously…
Heather: That’s true.
Darlene: …like white balance. You know, the little things, just paying attention and like setting it up in advance correctly.
Heather: Right. Let’s see. really quickly. Is 720 enough for YouTube? Or is 1080 preferred? I mean, I think 720 is…
Michael: Yes, it’s still fine.
Darlene: Yeah, for sure. For anything online, 720 should be plenty. I mean, when we request our videos, and we distribute on YouTube, and on Howcast, and on lots of other platforms, we only ask for 720. So I think 1080, maybe if you’re going to blow it up in one day maybe a movie theater.
Heather: Darlene just touched on something that I wanted to add too, before when we were asking you guys about your YouTube channels. It’s that, you know, Howcast is really all really into distribution. We’re all over the Web. We’re on video-on-demand platforms. We’re on cell phones.
And if you’re really interested in getting your work out there, I think that we certainly prescribe, you know, the same, like Michael was saying. He’s on Vimeo. He’s on Howcast. He’s on YouTube. And get on Facebook, Every time you make a new video, poi st it on Facebook, tweet about it.
Darlene: Yeah, put it out there as much as possible. And Michael made a very good point of always including the link so people can find you.
Darlene: Because you know, what’s the point of having it all out there if someone can’t reach out to you and be like, “Hey, you’re a great filmmaker. I want to hire you.” Or you know, just reaching out to you. So it’s really important, when you’re distributing, about marketing yourself in a smart way.
Heather: Right. And one thing too that I do as a filmmaker, and also that I do on behalf of Howcast, is just see what work other people are making. So sort of explore the Web and see what other people are doing, and get to know them by commenting on their work. And the you sort of, you know, get a dialog going with other filmmakers who are like you.
Darlene: Yeah, building your community is really important.
Darlene: Because there’s definitely a film-making community out there, and I think when people communicate with each other, and you never know like how you could all help each other out. Just like you were saying with audio, you know. You find somebody else out there who is great at audio, and then you can partner up and do things together.
Heather: So we have a few last questions that I would love to squeeze in. They’re not really technical. They’re more big picture questions, but I think they’re really interesting. What do you guys think is more important to succeeding in film-making? Would you say that it’s creativity? Or technical skill? Tough question.
Darlene: That is tough.
Keith: Well, I don’t think I’m very creative, so I think it’s…
Darlene: Oh, I disagree.
Keith: For me, I think I always think of like everything I do as being like technical. I think that’s the way, before two years ago, I was like — I guess I still am kind of — a scientist, you know. I studied biology and I was working in a lab, doing genetics. And now I’m doing… And I’ve never done… I’ve never taken like an art class, or you know. So, I always…
Darlene: Okay, you’re out of here.
Keith: I always thought of it as like, you know, “Oh, you want… “You can read about how you like things, and I can look at something, how it’s made, and I think of it in technical aspects, of, “Oh, the light is hitting it this way. This is how you would set up the light to get that effect.” Or you know, if you want depth of field, this is how you can arrange your set to get better depth of field, or things like that. And then, and then I have my girlfriend who is more creative, and she does all that.
Heather: It’s a combo. Yeah.
Darlene: So it’s true though. It’s both, you know. I mean, I don’t think… I don’t think it’s just one. I mean, just like one person has to be really technical on the team and one person has to be really creative.
Heather: And I think if you ask every filmmaker, they’re going to say something different. So what would you guys say over here?
Tripp: I would say it’s always good, I mean, just like you said earlier that it’s always great to have, I mean, somebody who can actually be really technical, and you know, help you out with everything. You can totally harness your creative control, if you know even just a little bit about the technicalities of just how your camera works, different Codex, and everything.
But I mean, I guess it really depends on how you want to succeed in film-making. I mean, if you want to make a lot of money, you know, working at a job, then learn the technicalities. You will get hired. I guess if you want to just kind of keep making things, but maybe not have much money, I mean, work on your creativity, because it’s fun. But yeah, a little bit of both I think.
Darlene: No, I disagree. I think when I’m, you know… If you’re looking to hire filmmakers and you want to spend money on it, you want people who are really creative.
Tripp: Yeah, that’s true.
Darlene: It’s really about both. I mean, you can’t… Neither one is going to make a great video, you know.
Heather: Now alone, no.
Darlene: Not alone. You need combo.
Heather: So I would say too that technical things you can learn.
Darlene: That’s true.
Heather: But creativity you can’t learn.
Darlene: It’s kind of innate.
Heather: So I think you might be wrong.
Darlene: That’s Keith’s girlfriend! If in doubt! Michael, what do you think?
Heather: I don’t know. I would like some of the viewers to tune into some of those math videos of yours and see if they think you are being creative! Let’s see. There’s another question we wanted you guys to [inaudible 00:55:58]. Oh, okay. How do you guys go from taking your ideas, that are sort of amorphous and out there, to reality? To paper? To video? To a final product?
Tripp: Yeah. I guess, I mean, I always just kind of like whatever it makes. I think everyone is completely different. Whatever makes sense to get inspiration going to where you can actually get your ideas down, then just do it. I mean if it takes like putting on weird clothes and walking around a parking lot.
Jenna: That’s what he does.
Tripp: Get ideas, just do it. I mean, just, yeah.
Jenna: Not me, okay.
Tripp: Or even just like, I have a typewriter that I write on, that kind of helps me get all my ideas. There’s something melodic about writing on a typewriter that gets my ideas out. So it’s really like whatever you like… I feel like it’s whatever you personally find that works to get started.
Jenna: Right, but once you can visualize something, then you can put it into action.
Jenna: So I think that’s how we work. He visualizes, and then I start working with that.
Michael: I watch a lot of… Like I watch a lot of movies, like I watch so many movies, it’s probably unhealthy. Because I feel like it really… I don’t know. I feel like when I watch a movie, I’m sitting in school almost, you know. And so I see all kinds of techniques that I would like to try in my own stuff. Yeah, I don’t know.
Darlene: I was going to say, you find inspiration from other people.
Michael: Yeah, yeah.
Darlene: Which is very common.
Darlene: I just wish I… I don’t see that. I kind of have this suspension of disbelief, and I’m just kind of a very passive viewer.
Michael: It’s kind of hard. I mean…
Darlene: You only notice the mistakes. At least I do.
Michael: Yeah. I mean, it’s weird. Like when I visualize something, like I actually have to like really sit down, and I type it out. I don’t know why, because I am visual and I can draw. But I’m really good at just typing it out, just like a stream of consciousness sort of thing. And then I’ll go back and analyze it, and dissect it, and think, “Well now, how can I make this?”
Darlene: It sounds like both of you, again, are saying like, “Just have it really well planned out.” You’ve really got to think about it, and write it out, and you know, take some time in the pre-production. You can’t just jump into it and make it make something amazing and creative. You just have to really kind of just work on it. You know what I mean? And really have it well planned out and thought out about what you want to do.
Heather: All right, guys. I think we’ve got to wrap it up. I see that there’s a few more questions coming in, and folks are asking how they can continue to ask questions. I just want to say, go to the Howcast Emerging Filmmakers YouTube fan page and we can all continue this conversation there. I’m sure these guys would be willing to answer your questions if you post them on the wall.
Darlene: Yeah. Thanks for tuning in everybody!
Heather: Yeah, thank you!
Darlene: Please, check us out on YouTube!
Michael: Yeah, thank you!
Heather: Yeah, you’ll be able to see more work from these guys. And if you’re interested in making videos for Howcast, absolutely check out our Emerging Filmmakers Program. We would love to work with you.
Darlene: Yeah, we’re always looking for filmmakers! Come join! Join our team!