Hello world

20170924_105212-e1514981320349.jpgHello, my name is Brendan and I’m a filmmaker living in east London.

I make video essays and explainers both for online publishers and as independent projects. I’m interested in lots of areas, but the area I’m most focused on is looking at ideas – especially the ideas that shape and control our lives.

Here is some of my recent work:

To get an email when I make a new film please consider signing up here. In a world of ever-changing algorithms it turns out email is one of the most reliable ways to let people know when I make something.

I also write blog posts about making online video. I write about things I’ve learnt and  observations of what’s going on in this highly creative and interesting space. If you’re interested in this kind of thing I run an email list called We Love Video which you can sign up to here.

Here are some highlights from the blog:

Advertisements

I hope this works out…

If you want hear about when I publish a new video please do consider signing up to this email list. It’s the best way to let people know about the work I do. 

Last year I took a decision that meant quite a big change in my life. It’s been nerve-wracking but I hope I will look back on it as the right move.

This post is about that decision but if it’s not too indulgent, I’d like to start the story by going back a bit.

I started in TV ten years ago. I spent a year as a runner getting teas and coffees, fixing printers and unblocking toilets. Slowly I worked my way up: researcher, AP, producer, and eventually I was the series producer of a major BBC One show. But all the time I had a secret: I didn’t like most of the stuff my industry made – and here I’m mainly talking about news, documentary and factual television. 

I found it bland, boring and slow.

This wasn’t because I thought I was “too good” for TV. There’s lots of smart, hard-working and creative people in TV, but for me the pace, the corporate tone and the lack of individuality made it almost unwatchable.

For me the exciting place was online. In my own time I wouldn’t watch TV, I’d watch YouTube. At the TV company where I worked, I’d sit in meetings surrounded by people who were discussing the latest trends in television, and I’d feel like the kid who hasn’t done his homework and who’s hoping he won’t be found out.

Online was different. Sure there was lots of crap out there, but there was also gold. People were allowed to be themselves, to express opinions and show some individuality. It was refreshing.

In 2014 I was given the chance to run my own TV show. It was a politics show for young people on BBC Three. It was pretty small in the grand scheme of things but it was my chance to do things differently. We tried a lot of stuff on Free Speech, but the most exciting thing happened once we thought it was going to be cancelled as part of BBC Three’s move online. A video we’d made called Things Not To Say to A Trans Person (which we actually nicked money from the broadcast budget to make) went viral and got millions of views, and ended up being turned into a series which is still going today.

For me, that was the start of a two year period making online videos for BBC Three. I worked on films about everything from colourism to self-harm – we even made one with women and their grandmothers discussing the first time they had sex. (It’s heartwarming I promise!)

Helping contributors present their perspective to the world was great, but the whole time I was doing this there was something missing for me: the chance to say what I thought about it all.

For years this has been my secret project, working late into the night or on weekends – writing scripts, teaching myself After Effects, and experimenting with different animation styles.

Finally last September, I decided it was time to roll the dice, and see if I could make a living making films that were based on my ideas rather than those of contributors. I didn’t have a job or any commissions lined up, I just decided I’d give it my best effort and keep going until I ran out of money.

So far it’s been nerve-wracking, but I’m making progress: I’ve won my first commissions, and the first one was published this week and I wanted to share it with you guys. The link’s below.

I hoping I can make this work. If not, at least I know I gave it a shot.

The Diderot Effect: Why New Things Can Make Us Sad.

Thumbnail option 3.jpg

How Reddit beautifully illustrated the way communities power the internet

On the 1st April the team behind reddit did something interesting. Without any warning they opened a new subreddit called /place. Here is the description:

There is an empty canvas.
You may place a tile upon it, but you must wait to place another.
Individually you can create something.
Together you can create something more.

The rules were that every reddit user had power over one square on a grid 1000 x 1000 pixels big. You had a choice of 16 colours and you could change any pixel you wanted, but you could only change it once every five minutes.

What resulted was an amazing visual expression of the power of online communities.

Over the few days that reddit ran the experiment, different online groups and subreddits fought and worked together to place their stamp on the canvas.

In the early hours the bottom right corner disappeared in ocean-coloured blue as one group tried to flood the entire canvas. Another group (‘the Void‘) tried to cover the centre with blackness. Other users countered by planting and defending the American flag in the middle of the canvas.

Each corner of the canvas was a different little story. Here Newsweek describes how things unfolded:

“It took less than a day for flags to start appearing on the canvas, as members of Reddit communities (known as subreddits) dedicated to individual countries began to mobilize. One of the largest was the German flag, created through the efficient collaboration of Germany’s subreddit, and it soon began to grow toward a smaller French flag nearby.

Despite calls by some members to not invade their neighbor—one user wrote, “last time we did… well let’s say it didn’t work out that great in the end”—the black, red and gold stripes had completely covered the French tricolor. To bring an end to the battle, one Reddit user came up with “Operation EU Love,” which saw hundreds of users paint the European Union’s flag on the disputed territory between the historical enemies.” (Newsweek)

Here’s where things ended up:

communities reddit.png

I think when I started making video for online, I thought of the internet as a series of interconnected users – nodes spread out evenly on a grid like something from Tron. In fact when you google-image search ‘social network’ you get images like this:

network

But the internet is made up of more than individuals. It’s made up of networks, clusters, subreddits, newsletters, hubs and influencers, and tapping into these can be incredibly powerful. It’s a landscape of cities and towns.

It’s more like this:

The first time I realised this was when we made a film about vegans. Originally we were going to make a film about vegetarians because it was a bigger group. That’s how we’re used to thinking as broadcasters – we go after the general viewer, we go after big groups.

We never made the vegetarians film so its hard to compare, but the vegan film ended up getting 2.2m views and I don’t think doing a film about vegetarian would have been as successful even if it was a bigger group.

Being geographically dispersed and with a need for information –  there’s even an app to help Vegans answer the question, is it vegan? – they are drawn to the internet and the benefits it can provide internet communities. In our case a popular newsletter featured our film which and acted as a shortcut to the community we were trying to reach.

Making content for niche groups can also work well because a narrow group (vegans, people with red hair, tall people) usually make the audience think of one person in particular. They then tag or email that person.

But if the group is too large (office workers, women) no-one comes to mind because the group is so big. Who will you tag in the Facebook comments? Everyone you know?

So when you’re making internet video, think about who the audience is. Is it a big group or narrow one? Would you get a bigger audience by being narrower? Are there ways to serve lots of small audiences with different videos, thereby adding up to the big audience?

And are there any ways to bring together the groups in the kind of way Reddit did?

How we cast contributors for Things Not To Say

“Casting” is the TV word for getting people (“contributors”) to appear in your TV programme or video. On Things Not To Say we cast scores of people and this is what I learnt from that experience.

What follows is quite long but that’s because this isn’t meant to be entertaining, it’s meant to be useful. For that reason I’ve tried to make it comprehensive, laying out exactly what you need to do.

The first thing to say is:

obama

For some reason a lot of people see casting as drudgery. They can’t wait to get it done so they can talk about what fancy camera lens they’re going to use.

Well, here’s my advice: take it seriously. It’s the heart of your video.

Here’s a summary of how it works:

  1. Casting brief – decide what you’re looking for
  2. Get lots of potentials
  3. Whittle them down
  4. Record
  5. Aftercare & publishing

1. Casting brief

The first thing you need to decide is what you’re looking for. I like to scrawl the qualities I’m looking for up on the whiteboard.

You might be looking for stories or “case-studies” – people who’ve experienced something extraordinary who can be interviewed. Or it might be you need characters to follow – people who facing a big decision or challenge. On Things Not To Say, the quick editing style didn’t really allow a lot of time for stories. Instead we were casting for personality, people who spoke confidently and expressively.

Here’s some of the other qualities I’m always looking for:

1) Larger than life

There’s a phrase sometimes used in TV: “The camera takes 30%.” It means that a performance on screen has 30% less energy, humour and vitality than real life. That’s why you want people who are larger than life – people who are funnier, more energetic, crazy than your average Joe. Normal rarely cuts it.

2) Likeable

If you want your audience to hang out with a person or a group of people it really helps if the people you’re putting on are likeable. It’s a hard thing to define but it doesn’t mean attractive… It basically comes down to whether you want to spend time with them.

3) A mix of humour and substance

I like to produce films that make people laugh and make people think. This means people who have a sense of humour but also people who have some anger or outrage burning in them.

4) Influence?

A tick in people’s favour is if they have some kind of social following. On it’s own it’s not enough, but it is worth noting.

5) A diverse cast

All BBC projects (should) aim to cast diversely. This includes – but is not limited to – the following:

  • Class / social background
  • Race
  • Gender (male, female, non-binary)
  • Disability
  • Region
  • Mental health & neuro diversity (e.g. autism)
  • Body shape / beauty
  • Sexuality

Diversity doesn’t mean taking “B grade” people. Too often I’ve heard producers say something like, “Well they’re not great but they tick a lot of boxes”. No.

We need to think about diversity early, and think about where we’re going to get applications from under-represented groups, which takes us to…

2. Get lots of potentials

It’s important to remember this is casting. One mistake I see a lot with people starting off is they think they’re looking for volunteers. You hear something like, “I needed 3 people and I’ve got 3 people.”

Wrong.

If you’re doing your job properly you will want lots of applications and lots of options.

General casting

There’s two types of casting:

  1. General
  2. Targeted

General casting is putting a call or ad out there and seeing what comes back. Targeted casting is when you’re going after specific people. Let’s start with general:

Writing your ad

You start by writing an ad describing the project and who you’re looking for. Think carefully about your wording and get it signed off. Here’s an example of a recent ad I wrote. Like all the examples here, it’s not perfect but hopefully seeing a real example is helpful.

Don’t forget to include:

  • When you’re filming
  • Where you’re filming

“Useful text” document

I recommend putting together a document with all your signed-off ads / pitches to agents. You can then save time by cutting and pasting key phrases.

Casting posters

These can work really well, especially on social media. They can often go viral themselves, being shared hundreds of times. Here’s some examples:

Sister ad

[Link]

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 11.13.06.png

[TNTS example]

Getting the ad seen

…Here’s some basic things to try:

You’re looking for the door

This advice is from Rubina Pabani, the current series producer of Things Not To Say:

“Every online community has its leaders and these people are the access doors to more people. A person who has a big following in the community has already done the hard work of rallying the community to one place, whether it be on a blog, twitter account or YouTube channel these people will open the door to niche groups. I always ask for help and encourage them to be part of the editorial so that the films feel like collaborations between us and that community. When you find the door, open it and read the comments on articles, videos, Facebook threads and find those people.”

She describes how one contributor in her tattoos film ran an influential blog which both cast and promoted the film. Another time, she got help from a red-headed photographer had made a “Hot Gingers” calendar; March, April, May were all in the final film!

So. Think about:

  • Charities
  • Unions
  • Journalists
  • Campaigners
  • Magazines

Try not to outsource your casting

Bear in mind some institutions like to think they know how to cast for television so take all the recommendations with a pinch of salt.

Go outside

Are there physical locations where people hang out? We cast for people with HIV in sexual health clinics. For Free Speech audience producers put posters up in shops and other places, or ask people in the street. [E.g. Rubina in that seaside town]

Targeted casting

Rather than rely on applications producers often target specific people:

  • Look for articles – either first-person pieces about a topic or those where a journalist has interviewed others
  • YouTube videos
  • Twitter accounts
  • Comedians who’ve talked about the topic
  • Ask community leaders / ambassadors who they recommend talking to

From Rubina:

Everyone is an ambassador

“Talk about the series and the topics to everyone you speak to and get everyone to look for people for you. Tattooed people know body mod people, Brexiteers knew Remainers and surprisingly the gingers knew some deaf people. Old contributors who enjoyed being part of the series can be a good in to finding new contributors and even point you in the direction for new subjects. Basically keep chatting about it to as many people as you can.”

Don’t piss off the community

“Making allies is very important and knowing who is respected amongst a group is vital. On one film we were filming with someone it turned out was hated by the community, it caused us a number of problems. Another time we used image we hadn’t licensed in a casting poster and the photographer – who was a key person in the community we were targeting – was very unhappy. “

Do you mind if they’ve done other stuff?

Many people (often in news) want new “case-studies”. Personally, I’m less bothered but many casting producers will want “fresh” people.

Fees

Things Not To Say doesn’t pay a fee. The reasons for this are 1) it has a small budget 2) these are interviews and we don’t want people to be tempted to exaggerate their experiences for money.

The best approach is to be upfront about things but there can still be kick-back.

On the new BBC Three show I’m working on, we’re planning to pay fees to those who are professional performers or have a public profile. But still it’s an argument we have to win with bosses, who argue – as we’re spending licence fee payers’ money – we need to keep costs to a minimum.

Be cautious about what you write

Everything you write can be used in a newspaper article. As I once found out to my cost.

In case of controversy refer up!

When doing social media casting you run into kickback. I recommend avoiding acrimonious exchanges online about a project. You don’t have to deal with the stress, get your bosses to do that.

Be excited about your project!

Believing in the thing that you work on is the best feeling and when you speak to contribs if you show them you’re passionate and excited about making something, they’ll feel like they can’t miss out. Creating a buzz around the topic and episode gets people on your side.

3. Whittling potentials down to your final cast

Now you’ve got (hopefully) scores of applications, it’s time to whittle them down.

Brainstorm questions

Before you start casting it can be useful to brainstorm with colleagues some good questions to ask people.

Is there video?

Watching someone on video (hopefully doing something similar to what you’re casting for) is the fastest way to assess someone. If that’s available go straight for that.

Phone calls

You don’t have to call everyone, start with those most promising and give them a call.

These calls are really important:

  • This is your chance to make a strong connection with the contributor.
  • This is likely to be when a contributor is most relaxed. In the studio when the lights and camera are on them it’s useful if you can say, “When we spoke on the phone I remember you telling me ____”.

As you’re speaking to someone try and continually assess how likely it is you’re going to use them. If they’re not “A+” then bring the call to a swift end. If they’re good then you need to take your time and find out everything you can.

Take notes

I use a spreadsheet and type notes right into one of the squares. It’s really useful for when you come to putting together your shooting plan.

Get one of those headset things

Once you’ve got neck cramp from using a normal telephone you won’t knock it anymore.

head sets

Don’t forget these basic questions:

  • Are you free on the filming date? (Start with this! Don’t presume they read the ad)
  • What do you do for a living?
  • How old are you?
  • Where are you based?

Give yourself wiggle room

Lots of people will think the fact you’re calling them on the phone means they’ve been selected to be in your film project. It’s important to let them know this isn’t the case to avoid awkward situations later. Say something like:

“Thank you for speaking to me. We’re really excited about this project. Before we start I just want you to know that we’re speaking to lots of people and if we don’t end up using you it’s not because you’re not good, it’s just because we’re trying to find the right balance of perspectives and backgrounds. Shall I start by telling you a bit more about the project?”

Skype calls

Skype can be a good test of commitment. If someone agrees to talk to you on Skype but is then a no-show, you can bet they’ll drop out later.

Background research

Google your contributors – you never know what you might turn up that might be relevant. If your applicant has some kind of public profile it’s important to research them. Read articles, watch videos… it depends on the project, but for TNTS and Sister you should really know the people you’re pitching.

Get a photo

A photo really helps you get a sense of someone. It doesn’t mean picking the prettiest or handsome contributors, it’s just about trying to get a feel for someone.

Beware casting people you know

If you know someone it’s quite hard to know how good they are really. Ask someone else to do the research call.

Keep an eye on your energy

Depending on your personality talking to people can be emotionally exhausting. Stamina is a key quality in good casting. But if you find yourself in a negative place remember that that will colour your point of view of people so take a break. On the other hand, if talking to someone can energise you when you’re exhausted that’s a good sign!

Mental health topics

Get proper advice from BBC’s Editorial Policy on mental health topics. Some quick tips:

  • One question worth thinking about is, have they spoken about their experience before publicly?
  • It’s worth talking to a mental health charity like Mind for advice.
  • You need to make it easy for people to pull out if they’re feeling unsure or unwell. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re tempted to bully someone into staying involved.

Make a wall chart

wall chart

Pitching

In big productions, casting APs and researchers will be pitching contributors to producers and execs. This often involves videos cut from Skype calls or self-shot videos. Even if you’re not doing all this it’s important to pitch your first choices to someone else. It forces you to be clear about why you think someone should be in the film and what they’re bringing to it.

At this point you A+ people only! No second-best. No weak candidates. No not-quite-sure people. You should be excited about these people.

None of these are reasons to cast someone:

  • You had a long chat with them and you feel bad that you might have wasted their time
  • You don’t want them to hate you
  • You don’t want them to be disappointed
  • They already believe (for some reason) that they’re coming
  • They “tick boxes”
  • There’s no harm in having extra options in the edit

Sooner is better

The sooner you drop someone who’s not A+ the better. You think it’s awkward now, wait until you’re filming with them and they’ve told all their friends about it and you don’t feature them in the edit because they’re a bit naff.

Let people down

E.g. I’m very sorry about this but unfortunately we’re not currently able to use you for the filming on Thursday. I really enjoyed speaking to you but because we’re trying to get the right balance of experiences, my producer has opted to use other people this time. However, if you’re still interested I’d like to keep in touch in case something changes. [We also expect to do films on other topics in the coming weeks, if you’re still interested I can add you to an email list to let you know about topics as they come up.]

4. Record

How to organise your shoot day and how to get the best out of contributors is such a big topic, I’m going to post about it separately another time. For now please remember:

Expect drop-outs

Try and have a few people in your back pocket for when someone drops out, which WILL happen. This is one of the main reasons I filmed with 4 pairs of people on Things Not To Say, as with 3 pairs I can still cut a film, but with 2 it’s pretty impossible.

5. Aftercare & Publishing

It’s good practice if you can send people a quick note after filming to say thank you. This is especially important if you’re doing anything about mental health.

Encourage people to share the film

If you’re targeting a community, the people in your film can really help seed it out once its published. This is a good chance to thank them. I say something like:

“Hello _____ ! So after a *lot* of editing – it was so hard to cut down all your great contributions down to just 4mins! – the film is finished: [links]

Obviously it’s so hard to cover everything about a topic in a short amount of time but we’re really excited about the final film and hope it can reach a big audience. If you’re about to share it on any social accounts or know any Facebook groups or email lists that might promote it, we’d be really grateful. (Pretty please!)

Thank you again so much for all your help!”

Remember your applications

One part of being a producer for online video is that marketing is now part of your job. You can’t just “post and hope”. So it’s a good idea to save all the applications you get so you can send them the video once it’s finished.

How to go viral – according to The Game Theorists

I am a big fan of MatPat, the guy behind The Game Theorists and (my favourite) Film Theorist. But as well as writing video essays about games and films he also has done lots on how YouTube works. His insight is based on building 5m and 8m subscriber-strong channels, as well as his work consulting for (he tells us) over 80 other YouTube channels.

He’s made at least 8 videos on how YouTube works, and they’re worth watching, but altogether they add up to about 2 hours so I thought I’d save you some time and share the key points as I saw them. Some of it’s quite basic, but other stuff (like publishing too frequently can backfire) is interestingly counter-intuitive:

1. Subscribe subscribe

MatPat wants popular YouTubers to stop complaining that their subscribers aren’t seeing their videos. Sure, when you subscribe to a magazine you expect it to be delivered through your door every week without fail. But that’s not what “subscribe” means on YouTube.

You might think it means you’ll see all of that channel’s videos but in fact it’s just one indicator – one of many – that YouTube looks at to decide whether to recommend you a video from that channel.

2. “Subscriber burn”

The ideal channel, as far as YouTube is concerned, is one that viewers engage with 100% – meaning they watch everything produced. If you stop engaging with videos, the score for that channel (as far as that user is concerned) will go down. If it gets too low, YouTube will stop suggesting your videos to that user – they will have been “burnt out” by the YouTube algorithm. This is how a YouTuber like PewdiePie can have over 50m subscribers yet only see hundreds of thousands of views on particular videos.

3. YouTube is a dating service

I like this analogy. YouTube is trying to pair you with videos you want to see. If it fails to do that you won’t use the service.

The problem is there’s more videos to see than you could ever watch even if you sat there 24/7. For that reason YouTube sifts through your subscribed channels and other videos on YouTube and picks out ones it thinks you most want to watch. YouTube decides these recommendations (on the homepage and next to videos you’re already watching) based on two “neural networks”:
The first is the candidate generator which decides the videos to recommend. Then comes the ranking filter which decides the order of those recommended videos.

Factors for the candidate generator include:

  • What you’ve searched for recently
  • Where you’ve spent the most watchtime
  • How recent the video was uploaded (its “freshness”)

Factors for the ranking filter include:

  • How long have other people watched it?
  • Are you subscribed?
  • How many of that channel’s previous videos have you watched?
  • How good the thumbnail is (apparently YouTube has had a thumbnail algorithm for years)

A bunch of things follow from all this:

4. Remember YouTube is a search engine

YouTube is the world’s second most popular search engine and search is how many people end up watching a video. He argues that part of PewDiePie’s high-profile troubles in 2016 were because he wasn’t titling his videos with searched-for terms or topics. Instead of making content about video games which are always being searched for he was making videos with titles like “SOMETHING HAPPENED”. When he did do something that aligned with what people are searching for – a Halloween makeup tutorial – it did really well. 

For that reason – if you weren’t already – make sure your titles, description and metadata talk about the subject your video is about.

5. Go for long videos

MattPack argues that watch-time is incredibly important. Create things that viewers are going to want to watch for a long amount of time.

The change came in March, 2012 when YouTube switched from prioritising clicks to prioritising watchtime, which led  to the domination of Let’s Play, and gaming channels, and was behind the success of Minecraft.

Obviously this can backfire if your videos become boring and viewers start skipping them, but it’s worth remembering that YouTube sees itself competing with other video providers like Netflix and Amazon, and wants to encourage videos that encourage immersive viewing behaviour.

6. Back catalogue views have seen a decline

Starting in the summer of 2016 MatPat argues that YouTube started to emphasise daily engaged users as part of its effort to be a daily habit. This meant that it started to emphasise the newness of videos and that has meant a decline in the performance of archive, often a key way channels make money.

7. Consistent format + new trend = good content

Because of the emphasis on ‘freshness’ a good YouTube strategy is to have a format that allows you to comment on popular things quickly. For example, all the “try it” formats are ideal for jumping on a trending topic, whether it’s fidgit spinners or slime.

8. You can ignore likes and comments

According to MatPat the amount of likes and comments a video gets are “largely meaningless”, and has little impact on how likely YouTube is to recommend it to viewers.

9. Know who your target audience is

“When channels we consult for say their audience is everyone […] that is a big red flag to us […] by trying to appeal to everyone you’re a lot more likely to reach  no-one.”

10. Too many uploads can backfire

MatPat argues that uploading too frequently can be bad because if there’s too much content, users will start skipping videos and YouTube will take this as a sign that you don’t want to see that content as regularly. He says he’s recommended some channels half their uploads and seen their views double.

11. …But upload frequently

At the same time he says that since July 2016 when YouTube tweaked the algorithm to favour daily engaged users, it’s important to upload frequently. They did this because they wanted to make watching YouTube part of people’s daily routine, similar to the way that people switch on Netflix or the TV at the end of the day.

He argues that channels like Epic Rap Battles of History (which use a season approach similar to television) walk a very dangerous line. If the first episode of the season doesn’t work, all the subsequent episodes will struggle.

12. Consistency is key

MatPat argues another reason PewDie Pie suffered was his content changed a lot. It went from video game playthroughs to personality-led vlog pieces. He says this was what hit the cover artist scene really hard in 2015. “One channel started vlogging between songs. Others bandwagoned to follow suit and as a result all the channels died. Because the vlogs started to water down the content that everyone was coming for: the cover songs.”

13. Use your popular uploads to support your new shows

MatPat’s channel publishes a range of different shows, the most popular of which is Game Theory. However, because it takes a long time to produce (100 hours he says) he has to have other content in between.

However these new shows aren’t as popular as Game Theory. If he does too many of these shows his subscribers will be burnt out and stop being recommended his content.

For this reason he’s very careful about how he does things. To support a new show – e.g. Smash History – he’ll release an episode just after a more popular Game Theory episode. That way it’s more likely to be seen, and less likely to cause subscriber burn.

14. Being international is an advantage

In one video MatPat argues PewdiePie’s domination was helped by the fact that the YouTube algorithim promotes videos created locally. So PewDie was promoted in Sweden where there was less competition, and later in Italy, after he moved there. 

15. We hate clickbait but we fall for it anyway

Your brain is wired to dislike unfinished stories so when someone writes “I can’t believe this happened” or “Why I’m deleting my channel”, you get a shot of dopamine by clicking on it – in fact he argues you get the dopamine even before you know the end of the story. That’s why even though clickbait is annoying, people don’t actually give clickbaity videos the thumbs down. We like it. 

What’s more, because it’s a thing of chance (sometimes the video is disappointing, sometimes not) it’s extra addictive. It’s the same reason all games of chance are fun. Sometimes we’re disappointed but when we’re not, the dopamine hit is all the higher.

16. Creative burnout means media companies own the future

With such emphasis on daily engaged users, it will be really hard for individual creators to keep making daily videos without suffering creative burnout. Going on holiday for two weeks will hurt your views and income, so only media companies like news organisations that are used to daily output will survive.

17. Are you ready for the next algorithm change?

In 2012 YouTube switched from prioritising clicks to prioritising watchtime. This meant some YouTubers going from 20m views a month to 3-5. Are you ready for when that happens again? What if YouTube switched from an algorithm that looked at watchtime to one that looked at most revenue from advertising? Is your channel ready for that?

9 things to think about when making video for Facebook

1. You’re making for mobile

I could give you all the figures but you know it already: most people are watching on mobile. Despite Facebook changes, that still means most will watch your video without sound. So don’t make your graphics I-went-to-film-school tiny. Don’t build your video around voice-over and stick on subtitles as an after thought. You end up with graphics in two places which is hard to read and there are more creative ways to do subtitles (you can even combine them with VO if you get the pacing right.)  

 

2. Don’t make it too long

People will probably be watching your stuff on the bus, on the toilet, and in those other in-between moments. This probably means your video should be short, though this might be changing and personally I’ve always thought this point can be overemphasised. Things Not To Say, the series I developed for Three, is always at least 4 minutes long and when we’ve experimented with shorter versions they haven’t done better. For my money it’s much more important to…

3. “Lead with awesome”

Is there a question, message or arresting visual you can start with that will make people want to keep watching? You’ve got 2 – 4 seconds at the start to catch people’s attention as they scroll down the Newsfeed, so start with a bang. I think this is a great example from Zinc, it combines a moment of drama (fat ranting Islamophobic man) and an intriguing question, “Is Islam at war with the West?”.

(Sometimes this is just about being clear to the audience what they’re watching. Compare these two versions of a heart-warming film from Denmark’s public broadcaster: one version got 7m views, the other got 74m.)

Also put any branding, your channel logo, the series title etc, at the end. If you must have it near the front, use a pre-titles tease to keep people watching to keep them watching. (E.g. Every Buzzfeed YouTube video ever

4. Optimise for platform

If you go for square video you can use more of the mobile screen than if it’s 16:9. What’s more the battle against vertical video has been lost, so get on board. Good example of the possibilities here.

5. Keep the pace up

You want a faster pace than television and you don’t need to stop and explain *everything*. Rather than the ‘lean back’ state of traditional television – when you’re winding down on your sofa at the end of the day –  people are in a ‘lean forward’ state – bored at work or on the bus, their phone is bristling with entertaining distractions. Confusing people is a lesser crime than boring them, and audiences are used to rewinding and Googling words they don’t understand. 

6. Reason to share

Traditional TV is about getting people to click – the title and idea have to make people think, “oh want to watch that”. YouTube is similar. 

Facebook is about getting people to share. A good example is Netflix’s Hot Girls Wanted . The title and thumbnail might make me click on it when I’m watching at home, but I’m not going to share that fact with my friends and family. Viral media is different to traditional immersive media, it’s consumed publicly and that means you need to forget concepts like “sex sells” that might work for TV but fall flat on social. 

hot girls wanted

Only around 1% of an audience will usually share your video, but its ability to reach an audience is largely down to these people. So think hard about the psychology of what makes people click share. 

Some useful questions:

1) Will it make me look good? What people share reflects on them. If somethings funny, some of its funniness rubs off on you when you share it.  

2) Does it tell the world something about me? 

3) Does it deepen social connections? Maybe it reminds me of someone specific so I want to @ them in the comments… E.g. Your best friend, your partneryour mother… (Keep the group small enough that it makes people think of someone specific – e.g. This film about tall people makes you tag that one tall friend of yours; but if the groups too big – e.g. People who work in an office – it’s hard to know who to tag.) 

4) Is it useful? E.g. Life hacks, a recipe you want to cook later, the way to hack King’s Cross Station (the first thing I ever made that went viral!) 

5) Would this be good for lots of people to see? Because it busts a mythhighlights an important issue, tells the world about your problems (see below), or says something people need to hear.

6) Will this film make people feel good? Either it makes you laugh, motivates you, gives you a meditative chill, inspires you, give you warm and cuddly feelings…. People lives are hard and they look to their phones to give them a little boost. People will share stuff that does this for them. (This basically explains why cat videos are so viral.) 

7. Promotion is part of the job

You can’t just post & hope. A large part of your job now is emailing people, bloggers, influencers and telling them about what you’re doing. If you’re smart you can include them earlier on, or even in the film.

8. Start with an audience in mind

You need to know who your audience is and where you want your film to be shared. This is especially important if you don’t have a big Facebook page. (Good exercise: is there a subreddit or Facebook group for your audience?) 

The “viral strategy” behind Things Not To Say  is to target a specific group. The idea is to make the film that that group has always wanted to be made. The idea is that it’s better to hit a niche and really entertain/satisfy them than aim for a bigger audience and give them something only luke warm. The first time I saw this working was with our Autism film. Because it felt like a video for them rather than about them (e.g. Rainman) they shared our film, posting it in Facebook groups and on email lists etc, and that gave it the boost it needed to be seen by the general audience.

9. Don’t make it over-complicated

There’s often a simplicity to good viral videos. I sometimes think that viral video is almost closer to memes, gifs and smileys than it is to film or regular television. It’s fundamentally about social communication. (Extreme examples here and another here)

One good test is, when you’re watching, how much do you have to watch before you know you’re going to share it? On a good viral it’s usually long before the end. The idea or concept is simple and good and it’s executed well. 

How to apply for a job in TV

When I recently advertised for some positions on a new TV project quite a few unsuccessful applicants asked for feedback. Often I don’t have time to respond to everyone individually, but I thought it might be useful to write some general points.

This is the summary:

  • If you know someone in common mention it – stops your application getting skipped
  • Sound like you specialise in the type of project advertised
  • Write your cover letter with personality
  • Don’t write too much
  • Don’t start your cover letter by talking about yourself
  • Ask for feedback

I’m basing this advice from my experience as a series producer or exec for the last 5 years during which time I’ve probably recruited about 25 people, which means I’ve done dozens of interviews and read hundreds of applications. Nonetheless this is just one person’s point of view so remember other people might see things differently.

Also, before I start it’s worth saying the advice here is mainly for roles like runner, researcher and AP (Assistant Producer). As you get more senior the way you get jobs changes, but this should help for starter positions.

First, understand where the employer is coming from

I remember when I was spending a lot of time applying for jobs. It sucked. It was time-consuming and draining.

What a lot of people don’t realise is that that’s often how employers feel about the job application process too.

People come into TV to make things, not to spend their days reading scores of applications. The truth is many producers dread the process. You’ve got hundreds of potential people to look at and assess, you feel pressure to give everyone a fair shot, but you haven’t got enough time to read everything. At the same time, you’re constantly fearful that you’re going to hire someone and regret it. You might hire someone difficult, bad at their job, and unpleasant to work with – and it’d be all your fault!

Do you know someone who knows the person advertising the job?

Many producers prefer personal recommendations because interviews seem like a gamble, so see if you know someone in common. A bit of Facebook stalking or googling might throw up a connection. Mention this at the start.

This doesn’t mean you’ll get the job – it doesn’t even mean you’ll get an interview – but the person reading is less likely to skip over your application.

They might also email the person and ask about you. If you come back with a glowing recommendation, it’s very likely you’ll get an interview.

Personally I always try and meet new people. If we just rely on recommendations the industry will just keep regenerating itself in its own image, and that’s bad for creativity and lots of other reasons.

Cover letters / emails

Most freelance jobs involve sending someone an email with your CV. The email you send is effectively your cover letter and it’s worth getting right. For me the decision to ask someone to interview is usually 90% down to what’s in the cover letter. They could have made some amazing things but if they don’t mention it in the cover letter their application will probably be skipped.

For jobs advertised via the BBC website, the place where you put your cover letter is question 10: “With reference to the Job Description please use this section to fully explain how your skills, abilities and experience meet the specific requirements of the role, providing examples of where you have demonstrated these.”

The Job Description is actually a separate document here. It’s easy to miss but give it a read:

JD

By the way, while I’m on the BBC – please don’t be put off by the bureaucratic website. It’s a great place to work! Also, they have a system of pay grades which they don’t make easily accessible outside of the BBC. I’ve put the latest numbers I could find down the bottom of this email.

People prefer specialists

If you’re a creative person you probably have lots of diverse interests. However generally people want you to be a specialist. So when you’re applying for a job you’re kind of pretending that this show is the one you’ve always wanted to work on, or that this type of programme is the one you specialise in and love. (Hopefully it’s true.)

Don’t be boring

I recommend writing with a bit of personality! When I’m reading application after application, if I come across one that’s fun to read, it really stands out. Here’s an example from someone applying for a researcher position (who got the job):

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 10.36.51.png

TV is the business of engaging and entertaining people. Even people who work in news (especially in news) have this challenge. If you go too far you might seem unprofessional but if your spelling, grammar and punctuation is sound I think it’s hard to go too wrong. Remember this isn’t The Apprentice where the game is about avoiding elimination. You have to stand out.

This comes down to the two fundamental things employers want in TV (as explained to me by an SP when I started). They want you to be:

  1. Good at your job
  2. Fun to work with

People want to know you’re going to fun or pleasant to work with. Writing something fun or engaging is a good way to communicate that.

Don’t write too much (unlike this post)

When you’re writing about your experience, the biggest mistake is to put down everything you’ve ever done. The more put you down, the more likely it is the person reading will scan past the thing you want them to read. Be selective. Don’t just list your work history.

For me the most important things to highlight are:

  1. Whatever I asked about in the job ad. There’s nothing wrong with just breaking down the ad into headings. So if the ad asked for comedy experience, make that a heading and write some bulleted points about what you’ve done in that area.
  2. If you’ve worked on something similar or related to the project.
  3. If you’ve made something off your own back. A podcast, YouTube videos, etc
  4. If you’ve made videos that have reached a large audience. Don’t be shy, include links and the numbers.

Make it easy to read

Go for short paragraphs. No-one wants to read a wall of text.

Some people like to do everything in their email client. So it’s worth putting your CV into the text of the email below your cover letter. Alternatively, others like to print everything off, so it’s worth including a copy of your CV and cover letter as attachments as well.

It’s worth saving your documents as PDFs so your formatting will be preserved. Sometimes word documents can look weird or the person might not have Word on their computer.

Start by talking of something of interest to the person reading

Don’t start by talking about yourself (“this would be a really good move for me because…”). Start by talking about something of interest to the person reading.

That might mean:

  • Talking about the programme they’ve advertised and what sounds exciting about it.
  • Talking about the channel or company they’re working at and what you’ve liked.
  • Talking about a programme they’ve made and what interested you about it.
  • Seeing if you have a common contact or friend.
  • Giving a list of ideas.

… anything that is giving value to the reader.

If you’re applying for a programme that’s already running, it’s worth watching it and seeing if there’s anything intelligent you can say about it. If you do that you’ll probably stand out.

Avoid silly errors

Don’t spell the person’s name wrong. I regularly get Brandon, Brendon, Ben… etc

If you’re not a great writer, see if you can get help from a friend. Not everyone’s a great writer (and you don’t necessarily need to be to be a great filmmaker) but at least put it into Word and run the spell-checker.

Be careful when copying and pasting sections of your cover letter from other applications. Often you might not see the differences on your email client but those differences will show on the computer of the person reading. Hit “clear formatting”, and then redo everything.

CVs

There’s a million ways to do CVs but I recommend sticking to a pretty standard format. If something is too weird to read (obscure set-up, fancy fonts etc) it can be frustrating to find the information you’re looking for.

Having said about keeping to a standard format, one job applicant I know (who got the job) sent a multi-page document full of colour. It was clear to read and really stood out.

The biggest mistake with CVs is including everything you’ve done.

The CV with everything you’ve done is your master CV, and it’s a separate document. On your master CV goes everything from your latest job to your swimming certificates. The CV you send for each job is an edited version of this.

Remember the point about specialising. People want to feel like this person loves the type of programme they’re applying for and is a specialist in it. One trick is to have different CVs for different genres. So I might have one focusing on my love of studio shows, another on my love of journalism, etc – all for different roles. (Just don’t give away that you’re doing this with a file name like “Brendan Miller CV – Studio shows”).

Be selective about what you include. If there’s lots of extra information the reader will miss what you want them to see. See if you can get it on one page.

If you include your personal statement, it’s worth adapting it to the role.

Putting in industry names is not a bad idea. If the person reading knows the SP (Series Producer) or Exec on your production, it’s easy for them to hear what you were like from a source they trust. So something like this might work:

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 10.37.56.png

I often find myself skipping over the skills section because I don’t really believe a lot of what’s written there. Generally I think the skills section is better off short, focused on a few relevant things, and includes evidence. I’d include things like:

  • A driving licence and are over 25 (cheaper to insure I’m told)
  • Cameras you’ve filmed on
  • If you can use editing software (add a link to something you’ve edited)

I’ve seen a few CVs that have logos of the broadcasters they’ve worked for on. I think this works quite well. After all broadcasters have spent huge effort in making those logos symbols of quality and you can borrow some of that shine.

Be confident

Many people are put off from applying by the list of ideal qualities that is described in the job ad. For example the job ad will ask for “experience of casting, comedy and a strong journalist background”, and they’ll not apply thinking, “Well I don’t have all of those, so why should I bother?”.

Don’t worry too much about gaps in your abilities or experience. Job ads often describe an ideal candidate that doesn’t actually exist, and the person advertising knows this.

If you’re passionate about the project go for it anyway. You might not have comedy experience but you do have a big love of comedy and can talk fluently about what you like and know. Sometimes a lack of experience can give you an advantage because it means you’ll be more motivated to prove yourself.

Follow up

If you don’t get the job, ask for feedback. Also, if you think it’s worth it, you might want to ask for a coffee anyway. If you promise lots of ideas, or ask for advice people might say yes. E.g.

“It was a shame to get your email as I was really excited about this project but of course I totally understand. If there’s any advice you can give me on my application (be as brutally honest and frank as possible!) I’d love to hear it. Also, I’ve got lots of ideas on this project I’d love to share with you. Would you have 10 minutes at some point to give some feedback on them?”

This is all part of an approach to job-hunting which is basically about getting the job before it’s advertised. That basically means introducing yourself to, and keeping in touch with, people who are likely to be advertising jobs at some point in the future.

The time just after someone has advertised a job is the worst time to be trying to get to know them. They’re suddenly really busy with meeting lots of people so you’re easily lost in the crowd, and they know you’re after a specific thing. If you can make a connection with someone at a different time, it’ll be much easier to make contact and then they’ll remember you when your application arrives for the next job.

Appendix 1

BBC Pay grades – Jan 2017

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 16.07.16