I’ve been in the business of creating training video and film for decades. Most of this time, I’ve worked with a crew. Sometimes a small crew: a producer and a sound person. We’d go on location, shoot the video and record the audio, and then I’d hand my video to an editor. Sometimes my crew was large: a producer, actors, electricians, set decorators, prop people, post-production, and other people who are part of a large video-creation team. I have had as many as 60 people working on a video with me. It’s always a joy to work with competent people who create a project together, and the finished product is one we can all be proud of.

Things have changed over the last 10 years or so. These days, I’ve been experiencing a different way of making video. I’m doing it on my own. I am my entire crew. I’m the complete pre-production, production, and post-production crew. I am a crew of one! And I’ve never had more fun, nor have I felt like I’ve been more creative than now, working as a “team” of one. Alone. Me. Creating for me (well, not just me, I’m always working for a client). When I work alone, I’m the creative voice I listen to. I’m the decision maker on how I want the video to look and work. To be sure, I still have my work reviewed by clients, and frequently they give me even better ideas than I get on my own.

Doing all the work of video creation has many advantages—and some disadvantages. What are they, and how do you deal with them? What are the differences between working with and without a crew?

Lots of differences

The first and most obvious difference is you’re alone (duh!). There’s nobody around to help carry your equipment. Nobody to set up lights and tripod. Nobody to keep you company. So, keep your load light. (See the sidebar “What I carry to a video session when I’m doing it alone.”)

What I carry to a video session when I’m doing it alone


  • Small, high-quality video camera
  • One or two DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex cameras)
  • Tripod
  • Shoulder mount rig (if needed)
  • Wide lens and a telephoto lens (both zoom)
  • At least five or six fully charged batteries for the cameras (note: the batteries for my little cinema camera—see the “Equipment” section of this article—are very small and inexpensive, and only are good for about 30 minutes of shooting)
  • Three battery chargers


  • Three small LED light arrays
  • Spare batteries (the LED light arrays use four AA batteries and almost never die)
  • Some light filters to change the color temperature of the lights
  • A small reflector kit that has three different sizes of reflectors that collapse into an 18-inch circle
  • Stands for the lights and reflectors


  • Zoom sound recorder (it has two built-in mics that can record better-than-adequate sound)
  • Shotgun mic (to plug into the Zoom sound recorder)
  • Omnidirectional mic (to plug into the Zoom sound recorder)
  • Spare batteries (AA again)
  • Lots of different-length cables for the microphones
  • Headphones to hear the sound (never record sound without headphones)

Kit bag:

  • Two 50-foot extension cords with multiple sockets (and the mic cables mentioned above)
  • Extra SD chips and solid state drives (SSDs) to record on, plus the recorder for the SSDs
  • Every manner of clip, attachment, Velcro ties, or anything to hold anything you can think of
  • Tape—gaffer tape, duct tape, Scotch tape (you’d be surprised!)
  • Empty muslin bags (if outside) to fill up with rocks, sand, or whatever to hold down lights when it’s windy

And anything else I think I might need. The key word is “might,” because if you’re out in the field and you need something, you’re out of luck.

Keeping things simple

Now when you’re alone, it’s not as bad as it might sound. When I work alone, I need to think about my productions in a “smaller” way. No sets, only location shooting, is a good start. Sets and studios can add complications that make studio shooting a lot harder, and I’d need more people.

Location shoots are harder in one way: There’s an element of chaos. You get that even with a large crew. If you embrace the chaos and look at it in a Zen-like way, you’ll even get more creative. If you can find a quiet place, it’s much easier setting up for set shooting.

Which brings me to: I don’t do complex lighting. Three lights and reflectors is my personal maximum to carry and set up efficiently. And I use the simplest lights I can, which look like LED arrays these days: little square boxes with a bunch of LEDs in them. Weight is less than a pound, measured in ounces. And I can put the lights on light stands or on a GorillaPod and set it anywhere I can wrap those GorillaPod legs around something.

No complex sound setup, either: A good shotgun or omnidirectional mic is what I need. I don’t use lavaliers anymore because they’re too prone to failure. Did you ever notice that news people always have two lavaliers pinned to their jackets or shirts? There’s a reason to always have a live backup like that. What I shoot and record for sound (even with an external audio recorder) is what I get. I must get it as I see and hear it. And I do—mostly. There are times when I don’t, but that’s a different story.


For my “small” cameras, I now bring either a Black Magic Design Pocket Cinema Camera or a somewhat larger DSLR or two. All have a very wide color gamut (how many colors they can resolve), but the smaller Pocket Cinema Camera has a 13:1 dynamic range, and even though the sensor is smaller, it’s got great video resolution. The DSLRs have sensors with lots of pixels, but I only need just over two megapixels. One of my cameras has 36 megapixels, so I’m only using 1/18th of its sensor! Even big and far more expensive video cameras can’t match the video quality of my smallest camera, and most of those expensive cameras have a dynamic range of 10:1 or so.

The little Black Magic camera shoots raw video (a big deal for color correction), and it’s small, compact, and light. The Pocket Cinema lenses tend to be smaller (as in lighter), and I can connect a follow focus ring on my rig for changing focus while I shoot. The rig also has a matte box to keep stray light out of the lens. It uses micro four-thirds lenses, which is a common format these days.

I record two ways: on a solid-state drive (SSD) attached to a recorder that sits under the camera, and the SD chip inside the camera. Belt and suspenders. I also record the sound in the camera—OK, it’s not good sound, but it can work if absolutely needed. I record good sound with good microphones and on my Zoom portable. It has pro connectors on the bottom and costs less than $200. Everything is digital, so getting the video and audio on my hard drive is a piece of cake. The sound is synced with a clap of the hands or my clapper, if I can use it, but hands are fine. You take the camera sound and the recorded sound, sync the claps, and voila! Perfectly lip-synced sound. Everything is backed up with at least two versions of the video and audio. Harder to get burned that way. And believe me, I’ve been burned even with a big crew. It’s video production; it happens. You either make it up or you punt.


Doing video on my own can be exhilarating, exciting, and hugely rewarding. It’s important to know the limitations of what I (or you) can do alone. I do frequently hire others to run sound or run the cameras or whatever, when I know it will work better for my client and I have the budget. But these days I try to keep it small and have fun. That fun shows up on the screen and can engage learners. The video you do on your own will, by its nature, be a bit idiosyncratic, but this is one of the (many) things that can work for eLearning and eLearning engagement by the viewers. And that’s what matters. Same-old-same-old video doesn’t work anymore. People don’t and can’t get engaged with something that seems like it’s been through the rinse a bunch of times.

I believe Daniel Pink might have said it best in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us: mastery, autonomy, and purpose. That’s what drives us in three words. Becoming the master of something, having the autonomy to do it the way you believe is right, and having the purpose to do it right. We also get purpose from having a mastery of our craft and autonomy to work as we see fit. There are other ways, to be sure, but I believe when you gain all three things, your work will be better; your attitude will be better, and this will make your work greater. When you work on your own, you’re the ideator (the idea thinker-upper), the producer, the shooter, the sound person, the editor, and the creator of the special effects. It’s all good. But it’s all “stuff” you have to learn.


With advantages, there are always disadvantages. There are several and they are mostly obvious, but I’ll note them anyway. When you’re creating video alone, your scale has to be smaller. You can’t do a production with a lot of people walking around on a set (or in an office) and lots of movement inside the frame. You have to create movement another way. So, scale is a disadvantage. If you have big video productions, you’ve got to hire and be the producer rather than the director—a job we usually do anyway. Another disadvantage is you can’t rely on someone to do sound, choose the correct lens, light the actors, create shot sheets, and all the other tasks that need to be done in video production. As long as you keep these things in mind along with the advantages, you won’t have difficulty. I could say more about the chaos and the control you lose, but you gain other things with a larger production.

Skills you need

Video creation is a considerable skill set. In addition to knowing where the front of the camera is located and how to turn it on, there are a lot of things you need to understand about the images you’re creating. Then there’s putting the images (scenes) together in some sort of coherent time-based story. (See the sidebar “The skill set: A summary.”) Even with all these things said, it’s not a difficult skill set to learn and master, if you’ve got the desire. Desire gets you 90 percent of the way there. It’s that last 10 percent that takes the learning.

The skill set: A summary

Here’s a basic overview of the skills you need to have or develop.


  • Camera setup.
  • Which microphone to use, where to place it, and how to deal with different sound conditions.
  • Basic three-point lighting or reflecting to get the best result.
  • Knowing when to swap out batteries and change chips and things like that are also important, but are no different than when you had to change rolls of film or magazines of film in your cameras.
  • Shot selection—when do you take a close-up and when do you use a long shot? Much of it is logical; all of it is important.


  • Just getting the files from your chips or drives to the computer is important; so is organizing them. Most cameras have file (image) numbering systems of their own, so shoot a little video slate or clapperboard at the beginning of each shot or a card.
  • Editing software (Premiere Pro, Magix, DaVinci Resolve, Final Cut Pro, or whatever). Editing is pretty much the same no matter what program you use. You can be a fan of one or another, but you should realize that it really doesn’t matter.
  • Compositing software like After Effects is good to know. Although most of the programs mentioned above can do some compositing like supers (superimposing words over the screen) or multiple images, no editing program is like a Swiss Army knife, and none of them does everything really well.
  • Audio software like Audition is what you really use to build soundtracks. Again, the above software can do it, but real audio-editing software can do it better, and you can use your imagination to make your sound even better.
  • Video formats—you’ll need to know a bit about video formats and what your LMS or whatever you’re putting the finished video onto can use to display your creation in the best way possible.
  • It doesn’t take years and years to learn the software, but it can take years to master. You can learn the software in days. As long as you know how the software programs work and understand the paradigm behind what they do, you’ll be fine.

The last word

About 14 years ago, I worked for Borders (for those of you who remember what Borders even was). I wasn’t directly involved with training, but I did some video to help out. For a multibillion-dollar corporation, there wasn’t the budget (let’s say none) for the video production we saw as necessary, but we did it anyway and some of it was pretty darn good. It was my first experience as a department of one, and even though my tenure at Borders wasn’t all that great, I did get a lot of satisfaction from creating video on my own. And it kept me motivated to do the rest of my job, which wasn’t much fun.

Sometimes, making great eLearning means keeping yourself motivated. It’s not always that easy, but being a video department of one can help you stay motivated. Lots of creative thought and creative process occurs when you’re doing it on your own, and that’s fun. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s fun. Who says our work can’t be fun?