Farm phone movies

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Your smartphone is with you all the time, but you likely ignore one of its functions that could really benefit your farm: recording videos. That’s why MidAtlantic Women In Agriculture presented “Smart Phone Movies,” led by Michele Walfred, communications specialist with University of Delaware.

“There’s no better way to communicate with those outside our bubble than video,” Walfred said. “Let them see who you are.”

To those concerned about creating professional, polished-looking videos, Walfred said, “They don’t always have to be perfect. It could be Facebook Live. We need to connect and video can be a great way to do that.”

Some farmers are concerned about being interesting enough for people to want to watch. “It’s the little things we take for granted that your audience will find very fascinating,” Walfred said. “Really, anything goes.”

To keep it interesting, farmers (or anyone making videos) should keep the videos two to three minutes long. Walfred believes that 10 two-minute videos is better than one 20-minute video.

“Begin with a hook,” Walfred said. “If you’re talking about growing tomatoes, don’t go on about who you are with a 30-second introduction. Hold a tomato up and say ‘Do your tomatoes look like this?’ and maybe it has blossom rot.”

The video should answer a question or solve a problem. That brings value to the viewer.

It’s also helpful include branding in phone videos. Walfred said like the nightly news, farmers making videos can put the farm name and their own in a band across the bottom.

“That’s called the lower one-third,” Walfred said. “A ‘bug’ is a logo on the top or bottom right. Think of the History Channel’s golden H. If you’re going to be doing a series, you might want a logo to create as a bug.”

Farmers should also create what’s called B-roll. Also called file footage, it’s 10 to 15 seconds of video, usually with the sound removed so that it can be dropped in behind narration. Still photos can also be dropped in similarly.

“If you look at a recent spot on the news, it might have someone onscreen as they talk, then cut to something else as the person is still talking,” Walfred said. “It helps move your narrative along.”

Using B-roll or still photos keeps videos more interesting than if viewers just watch someone talking. Walfred calls the B-roll “the secret sauce to success.”

“Start accumulating a stock library of film clips or B-roll while you have downtime,” she said. “Any kind of scene or activity going on in your business or your world, take close-ups or wide shots of it.”

It could include your tractor driving on the farm, a close-up of something running on your tractor, children doing chores, crops blowing in the wind, processes such as hands picking, packing, grooming, pruning or cleaning, or any of innumerable moments on the farm. Walfred said including the family is vital. Family shots make a connection with viewers.

“Talent” or a “talking head” refers to the person being interviewed, the primary subject or a narrator providing the voiceover and content.

“Use horizontal; don’t use vertical,” Walfred said, referring to the phone camera’s orientation. Horizontal orientation works better for most platforms.

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram “all have different requirements,” Walfred said. “It’s better to upload directly to Facebook rather than a YouTube link. They will give more traction if we upload directly to Facebook.”

Though a few rough edges are fine to keep a video natural, Walfred warned against two flubs that make smartphone videos appear unprofessional: human handling and poor sound.

“If you hold it in your hands, it will wiggle when you breathe,” she said. “There are gimbals you can get, or a monopod or a tripod. You can get cell phone grips for about $5. That is going to reduce a lot of your shaking and instability. These are very inexpensive.”

Many of the venues where a farmer wants to create videos aren’t ideal for sound for the built-in microphone on smartphones.

“It’s good if you’re in a small room with fabric, pillows and cloth,” Walfred said. “If you’re outside, you’ll get that wind shear noise. The omnidirectional mics will pick up the fire truck going down the street and the wind noise.”

Walfred noted filming outdoors can result in harsh shadows on the subject; however, “you can have someone offscreen with a white poster board holding that to balance back some of the sunlight.” That technique can drive away the shadows.

Just as with the TV news, it’s better to hide microphones if possible. Walfred said it’s easier to do so if those being filmed are wearing collared shirts instead of T-shirts. The best location is near the collarbone.

Walfred said in addition to the phone, about $150 of equipment should do. “I have a $3,000 video camera I don’t use as much because this is so good,” she said. “It may not zoom as well though.”

To make video editing easier, Walfred recommends Filmic Pro, an app available for Android and iOS for around $15.

“You can do more advanced videography,” Walfred said. “You can change the resolution. Normal filming is 16:9, the default widescreen resolution. If you want something to market on Facebook, you might want to use the 1:1 resolution. You can change the resolution or orientation very easily with Filmic Pro. It also has a temperature bar. If you have incandescent lights on, you can correct that right in the app, or in an office setting with fluorescent lights that are unflattering.”

She also likes the Filmic Pro feature that allows the videographer to focus on the subject and blur the background or vice versa.

She advised using background music or having a talented family member strum a guitar, for example. Never assume it’s okay to use others’ music. Facebook will block videos using music you do not have permission to use. Even royalty-free music must appear as a credit and in the description on YouTube or on the video.

“Most professional films that feature humans talking uses the rule of thirds,” Walfred said. “Being dead center isn’t advised. Don’t be afraid to try different positions and venues.”

If you want to go DIY and film yourself, Walfred said it can work; however, you should have a less formal style.

“Be dressed well,” she said. “Be entertaining. It could be your look. Everything doesn’t have to be completely polished.” If you choose the formal route, stick with it. It’s better to remain consistent than to hop back and forth between styles.

Walfred advised against using the zoom on the smartphone because it reduces the quality. It’s better to crop to zoom while editing.

It’s important to record the subject’s name spelling and title; don’t assume you know these. Many people are unaccustomed to being recorded, so it’s important as the director to coach the subject on answering questions so they make sense when you edit out yourself. You should pause between questions, encourage the subject to take breaks in sentences and remind the subject to look at the camera. A white board or script with keywords can provide prompts. Notice the background and remove personal or undesirable elements.

“You can cut out mistakes,” Walfred said. “If you keep making them, go to the very beginning; maybe they got two-thirds right at the beginning. You can piece it together in a seamless way. B-roll is a great way to do that.”

She said filming a person head-to-elbows is a good distance for filming, but not just a head or the whole body at a distance. Of course, exceptions to the rule, such as kneeling by a newborn calf or during a crop inspection, make sense.

Walford said the subject or host should not read a script or launch an introduction on what they do. The name and title will appear as a caption. It’s far better to get to the point.

“Make sure the background is free of personal information,” Walfred said. “There are kooks out there who will see your phone number on your bulletin board. Is the fence painted? Is there rusty equipment in the background?”

She added that any animals included should look well-groomed. Many people who don’t understand agriculture would view a muddy animal as neglected.

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