How do professional instructional designers manage video development? They don’t “wing it". They follow a specific process and they use software that does as much of the heavy lifting as possible.
Video is one of the most useful tools for an L&D organization when creating instructional content for asynchronous delivery. Video production can be complex and for all but the simplest of productions, video may require coordination of work by individuals who possess a variety of skill sets. Even a basic video production, involving only the instructional designer, will call for an appropriate workflow. Without a way to keep track of all the tasks, the video creation process is very likely to suffer from inefficiency and increased cost.
You have read or heard of workflow management systems such as Kanban, and of digital project management apps such as Trello, Asana, Jira, and many others. These are online collaborative apps with which everyone who's working on a project can log in, see what they're supposed to do, when they are supposed to do it, and the progress of the production. This supports getting projects done “on time and within budget". Good as they are for some situations, they are not ideal for video production out of the box.
Video pre-production software can provide tools and collaborative capabilities that are better matched to the workflow. More recently, some “all in one” and specialist apps have appeared that cost less and may be more suited to less complex projects and smaller teams. Some may have the flexibility to address other types of collaborative work.
In this article, I will introduce you to the way in which three apps can be used for managing part or all of the pre-production stage of video projects as well or better than the complex project management and task management apps I listed above. Video pre-production may involve one person or a small team. At the same time, there is plenty to track, manage, and coordinate. None of the three that I introduce here is the ultimate video production management tool, but they are more than capable of handling video pre-production for eLearning.
Video production: Three phases
There are three phases in video production: pre-production, production, and post-production. Each of these phases encompasses a number of tasks and activities.
- Pre-production activity includes tasks around scriptwriting, scheduling, logistics, casting, obtaining props and software, and administrative details including getting permission as needed for shooting on location, releases from the on-camera cast, forming the team, and budgeting.
- Production activity is capturing the video content (including any required computer screenshots and still images).
- Post-production activity involves combining the video clips through the use of editing software.
It is easy to think that making a quality instructional video is as simple as “point and shoot” with your mobile phone. Or that it’s only a matter of having the right equipment. Or that success depends on talent alone. What it takes is thought, planning, and a good understanding of the workflow. A solid process during pre-production makes a big difference.
What are the apps?
I will outline the use of three software applications for pre-production: Google Sheets, Boords, and Notion. Links to each and pricing are in the descriptions below.
Google Sheets are the simplest way to approach video planning, and they are ideal for putting together lists that will help you do basic planning.
A Google Sheet can document your Shot List. The Shot List is a focused to-do list that identifies the video tasks that will be done during the video production stage, with all the relevant details that the production crew will need to know (including equipment, setup, shot angles and size, camera movement, audio, and more), when the crew will be involved, the equipment and props needed, the camera, and sound crew. This Sheet is shared between all the personnel involved in the pre-production and production stages. Creating the Shot List is part of pre-production because it must be done after the script and storyboard are completed and before actual video shooting begins.
The B-roll list is a kind of inventory of all the shots that will be needed in addition to the main filming activity. Fillers, close-ups of various details, anything that does not necessarily appear on the Shot List. During production, you will probably be shooting B-roll according to plan and according to opportunity. You will want to record these shots in a way that will help you find them later, during editing, and Google Sheets provides a convenient way to do that. (Note that the template for video production provided by Notion contains a database list for B-roll. You can convert that to a Sheet if it is more convenient.)
You can also use Google Sheets to put together a simple workflow checklist based on the breakdown that Jonathan Hall provided in his Learning Guild eBook “8-Step Checklist For Producing Engaging Instructional Video”.
Google Sheets are free for personal use (your situation may require a Google Workspace for business use), although they are not going to support everything in the pre-production process. Boords provides a guide and link to a Google Sheets for Shot Lists. You can convert that design to a database and list in Notion. You can also edit the number of columns in the Shot List depending on the nature of your project and your storyboard. There are a number of other guides to Shot List creation on the web, especially on YouTube, but the one from Boords is the most useful in my opinion.
Boords is a web application that you will use to create a video storyboard at the beginning of the pre-production process, right after you have the script. Video storyboards are not the same as eLearning storyboards, but Boords covers both kinds and many others. All storyboards involve sketches and information that are the basis for your shot list and also instructions for camera and audio operators and for the director. Many instructional designers skip the storyboard for eLearning video, thinking it is outside of their skill set, but in my opinion that is a mistake. Boords makes things much simpler by handling the details and the sketches, as well as the scripting.
Boords provides templates for various types of video production. It also supports documenting such matters as camera shots and angles and transition effects in industry-standard language and abbreviations. Those details will be important when you bring in outside help to produce your video, and if you will be doing this often, these are terms that you will want to know even if you are not behind the camera. There are a number of guides available from Boords that will help you use the software and the terminology:
- A step-by-step guide to making an eLearning storyboard. (There is also a step-by-step guide to making a video storyboard and one for storyboarding a short film if one of those is more suited to your project.)
- Basic camera moves and most common camera angles
- Video transition effects
Along with other tools, Boords includes a script editor to help developers provide industry-standard documentation. There is also an animatics tool so the developer can visualize the final film faster with one-click animatics, complete with frame timing, subtitles, and sound. Developers can share their animatics online, export to MP4, or import directly into After Effects.
Fees for Boords range from $29/month for up to three users, $49/month for up to 10 users, and $99/month for up to 50 users. All fees provide role-based access and the features are the same for each level, including unlimited storyboards and unlimited animatics.
Notion is a web-based tool that can perform the functions of different software types that support collaboration. Notion makes it possible for users to build whatever functionality they require. There aren’t many tasks in video production that can’t be supported with Notion, and Notion has a design that works as well for teams as it does for solo operators.
Using Notion involves a serious learning curve, and on the other hand Notion provides templates for many applications, including video production. Templates have the benefit of being reusable and shareable. There are also a lot of YouTube videos that will help fill in details, as well as online Notion courses that make up for whatever is lacking elsewhere. Many users simply try to figure out how to build a template that does what they need, but the online resources will save a lot of time.
Although Notion is a web app, it also supports apps under Windows, MacOS, and iPad OS. Setting up Notion works the same way across all devices. Users need an email address to get started, after which they import a project management template to their Notion workspace.
Getting started with video project management in Notion
Begin by downloading Notion for Mac or Windows, or Notion for iOS or Android from the appropriate app store. Notion provides basic templates for a variety of uses. To access a template for video production, open this link to obtain “Video project tracker for YouTubers” from the Notion template gallery. This template works for more than YouTube videos, and you can always modify it where it does not fit your needs.
Follow the instructions on that page to load the template into your workspace. With the Project Tracker open, click on the popup “Open” link next to the title “4 Habit-building mistakes” and the sheet for the project will open so that you can fill in the details for your video project. Delete the project names that are not relevant. Notice that there is a lot more information here than you can see at first. Open the various views and their parts. You can then document the details for your project.
As you move around in the Project Tracker to see what is there, note how you can access different views and change information in them (you will be editing in Markdown). You can change the template in any way that works better for your video projects.
Notion is free to use for an unlimited number of members on a team, but storage is limited to 1000 blocks. For team use, there is a fee of $10 per user per month. You should start with the free plan and use Notion for a while to make sure it suits your purposes.