Understanding Our Process

The video content for Oddities Observed is still in such an early stage that I expect to see production process change over the next year and beyond. Over time, I am finding the “voice” of the channel, feeling out what content is most suitable for the brand and producing content that reaches out to a greater audience. As Oddities Observed evolves, key elements will be evolving along with it, including how videos are constructed, polished, and released.

The initial phase of video production starts at the mere concept of a video. Urban legends are always a hot video idea, but I sort through a growing list of ideas that I think may actually make for a good video. If the idea is too silly or too radical, it might get bumped down the schedule to “maybe, maybe-never”. I will occasionally research a Top-Ten scariest true urban legends list for more ideas. I have even gotten ideas from a keyword analytics search. If reading about the subject give me chills or if I can see it being a fun project, then those concepts make the short list. As an example, I have been thinking about doing a deeper dive into the Bloody Mary myth, and it looked promising, so I have chosen it for an upcoming video.

Next comes the research phase. This is often the second most tedious phase because it requires so much data gathering, skimming through books and articles, all to find the juiciest morsels. I am trying to find as much data as I can to substantiate using this topic as a subject for my video. It is in this stage that about one-in-five topic ideas get dropped, because there simply wasn’t enough good information that I could collate, so I drop it and move on. These dropped concepts still may make for a quick article, or may get reviewed again at a later date.

For each project I require for myself a minimum of three different information sources, although the average is usually five. In some cases, particularly for videos that are over eight minutes, I will have ten to twelve sources. Of course, these sources go through a quick but stern vetting process, as Oddities Observed is not intended to be sensational for the sake of being sensational. I want it to pique someone's interest and to feel a certain emotion, without being dishonest or intentionally using false information.

I am looking for good quality information such as:

  • Personal testimonials

  • News reports

  • Documentation from literature

  • Photographs or video of the subjects

  • References from scientific journals

  • Internet articles reviewing similar stories

The writing phase comes next. A script takes about a full day to write, for a video of around five minutes of length; eight minutes would take two days, and ten to twelve minutes of video would take three days. Some of my deepest projects, such as the Helen’s Bridge video, took a couple of weeks to write. Throughout this process I am digging through the notes I had collected, making the material my own, and formatting for recording. Commonly, I will run into a gap in knowledge where I do not feel the information I have is sufficient, and I will have to spend another few hours in research mode once more.

With the gaps filled, the script undergoes a review. I look for redundancies, repetitive words that need replacing, and to clean up the entire script so that it has flow. It is common for me to let it all sit for twenty-four hours before I conduct a final pass. This way I am not hung up on any bad writing habits and I have a fresh perspective. If it feels good and I can read through it easily, the script is locked in and ready for the next stage.

Moving on to the recording phase, this is a time where I can get the most frustrated. Setting up to record in my home can be difficult as I am having to manage the scheduling of when to do it, then set up my space for decent acoustics, and fighting to eliminate as much background noise as possible. However, the part about recording that is most difficult is actually laying down my audio. I find that certain word combinations trigger an inability for me to speak properly, and I struggle with words that had earlier flowed so freely in my head. I flub so hard on areas that I simply reset and start from the beginning instead of trying to retake that singular word or sentence. My first paragraphs can be recorded as much as ten times before I move on.

While speaking correctly is my biggest issue for the first half of the recording session, I also find myself losing the proper rhythm and tone in the second half. As a result, I have to reset and re-record elements to pick up the pace. I try to give my vocals a signature sound, or at least, to make them consistent from video to video, and to set an ambiance for the subject matter being reviewed. Actually, the editing process moves pretty quickly, as I edit through from beginning to end in one sweep, with one final listen through to catch any blatant mistakes. All in all, this recording and editing process takes up to about three hours.

To kick off the video editing phase, I first create what I call a skeleton. This is a loose jumble of elements laid out on a timeline with important pieces laid in order. If I have an intro or outro video element I want to use, I go ahead and add that here. The same goes with the vocal audio tracks or any music that I already know is going to be utilized. It is from this primary skeleton that I begin to build the full video. I am currently using Filmora, as it has a lot of preset elements and is really easy to use. My first two or three videos were edited simply with Windows Movie Maker, as it was the only software I had available. Years ago, I had the entire Adobe suite, so I was using Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects, but I cannot afford them any longer and Filmora is robust enough to get the job done, although I am desperate for them to make more thematic packs based on the genres I cover.

Every Oddities Observed video requires a ton of b-roll video, as well as picture evidence and even full video of actual events whenever possible. Some of this is easy to acquire, from royalty free websites, yet a great deal of it is harder to find. I have to get creative when trying to maintain the subtext of a video when I have such limited resources. If the video is about a old serial killer wandering the streets in the 1970’s at night, I cannot use video clips of a young woman walking down a modern metropolitan street on a bright and sunny day. I am constantly looking for new resources in order to serve the story of the video, and this process can be so tricky that it is hands-down the #1 most tedious part of the entire process.

But, once I have gathered together enough footage to fill in the gaps, often slowing the clips down to 75%, even as low as 50%, just to stretch them a little bit further, then I get into the fun part of editing the video which is bringing it to life. I am playing with the title screen, I am adding thematic elements of filters so that it has the right feel, and I am layering the audio with the music so that it has the right energy. Whenever possible, I like to give it an additional twenty-four hours between final passes, but I usually am editing, exporting, and uploading on the same night just to make my deadlines.

With a completed video sitting ready for a public release at 3pm on Friday, I can now focus on things such as branding and analytics. Other YouTube channels grow because they focus first on their analytics, because they are chasing clout and trends. Oddities Observed will try to take some of that into account, but currently we are trying to service our imagined community first, and then trying to position ourselves the best we can with optimizations on the back end.

The best time for a video to go live may change depending on the audience, time zone, day of the week, etc. My research suggested 3pm EST on Fridays, which hits afternoon and evening viewing traffic, with a couple of hours for YouTube to pick up and start sharing my content. However, I haven’t seen a jump in views at this time, as more views tend to come in over Friday and Saturday nights. Then again, a lot of my viewership is fed in by my posting of videos on Reddit, so YouTube doesn’t seem to care when I post or release content.

Lastly, I add all the details about the video from the title down to the tags and end cards. I am currently using TubeBuddy to assist me here, optimizing as best I can to capture eyeballs and capture opportunities whenever I get them. This process is not a difference maker for me at this stage, being so small and with so few views. But if it increases my chances from 5% to 6% of someone sticking around to watch the video, then I think it is worth it. I am also finalizing a thumbnail which I hope will capture attention and tell the audience what the video will be about with a quick glance. I have been working on a style that I felt was the most impactful, but this too will be evolving over time.

The video is live, the process is virtually complete, and now I sit back and pray for viewers to find me.

I am obsessed with the Japanese word renbukan, which roughly translated means, "a place of constant polishing". It was an unofficial name given by one of the grand masters of Shōrin-ryū Shōrinkan to the dojo where I trained in Karate for years. It was a concept that I always remembered, as an honorific that implied that only by hard work and practice will you get better at your chosen art. While much of the process of building and releasing videos is clunky and inefficient, it is a constantly improving form that is leagues ahead of where I started. If I keep learning and keep grinding, I am excited to see where my process can take me in the future.