How Long Does It Take to Make a Video?

This question is the one I get most often from science professionals attending my workshops and seminars. Everyone is busy. I get it. You get it. People want to know how much of their valuable time is going to be diverted toward an activity that is not going to contribute to their h-index.

So I’m going to try to answer that question in this blog post.

The most honest answer is: it depends. People vary wildly in their abilities to craft a compelling story, to visualize how to tell it, and to operate the recording equipment and editing software. The actual amount of time you will spend will depend on your skill level at using the equipment and software required for making a video. If you’ve never used movie editing software, then it’s going to take you longer to edit your clips compared to someone who’s played around with iMovie, for example. The same goes for designing and filming.

Consequently, I’m going to give some ballpark estimates based on a relatively inexperienced person–someone who typically takes a video-making workshop.

In my workshops, I’ve found that people can generally design their video (overall story and how to tell it) in an hour or so, especially if they are given a template to follow. Filming can take a couple of hours or days, depending on your topic, length of the planned video, and where you need to film. Workshop participants, working in pairs and using smartphones or tablets, were able to film the main segments of their 3-minute video in two to three hours. Another hour might be spent shooting B-roll or searching the Internet for video clips, animations, photographs, maps, and illustrations to augment the filmed segments. After a brief tutorial, editing might take another couple of hours.

Based on these estimates, the total time required to produce a rough cut is six to seven hours. Another couple of hours will likely be needed to polish or reshoot problematic clips. In other words, plan on spending (at a minimum) the equivalent of an entire day making your video.

As you gain experience, though, you will find that you can use your phone to shoot and edit a video on the fly. For example, when you are conducting fieldwork, it’s easy to shoot brief clips that are immediately imported into an editing program such as iMovie. While waiting for your electrodes to equilibrate or for sample bottles to incubate, you can do some trimming and editing of those clips. I can take this approach while on a field trip and have one or more videos ready to upload by the end of the day. See this example that I filmed with my iPhone:

Before I went to the site, I spent some time searching the Internet for information about the mangroves growing in the region. Armed with that information, I began planning the video (in my head) during the drive to where this mangrove stand was located on Yakushima. I spent around two hours at the site filming various aspects of the mangrove stand and jotting down notes about some of the plant characteristics I observed. I started editing this video on my phone with the iMovie app for iOS while I was on site and could retake any clips that needed improvement (I had to reshoot the segment in which I spoke several times).

As the story began to crystalize, I walked around shooting B-roll to illustrate important points to be made. By the time I was ready to leave, I had a rough cut of the video finished and ready to polish. After returning to my hotel room, I added voice-over to the video and also some images of maps and other items that I had to download or modify using my computer. Making this video was fun and informative and made the excursion to see this unique stand more memorable.

How long does it take to make a video? For me, the answer doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that I’ve made a video and, in the process, learned something new.

Use Video to Enhance Class Lectures

Video is a fantastic way to augment class lectures and let students see examples of habitats, organisms, and various physical/chemical/biological phenomena. Instead of just listening to a lecture about mangrove forests, students can go on a virtual field trip by watching a video. Quite a few educators are now using videos routinely to illustrate scientific concepts. The number of videos suitable to accompany science lectures is growing (here is a great list of videos for teaching ecology). Many of these are produced by professional filmmakers, but some are created by science practitioners and students.

Ecologists who work in different types of ecosystems and study various processes can make an important contribution to science education by making short documentaries (three to five minutes) focused on a particular topic. You may be doing research in an alpine forest, a grassland, or a coral reef. Or, you may teach a field course in a tropical rainforest or a desert. By shooting some footage and putting it together with a brief explanation, you can provide a unique insight into that ecosystem. If you get into the habit of creating short videos during such excursions, you will eventually build up a library of footage to augment class lectures. Students who take field courses or who are conducting field research can also produce informative videos in which they share their experiences and insights with other students or the general public.

I recently visited a unique ecosystem in southern Japan and decided to make a short video about it. I spent about two hours at the site shooting footage with my iPhone (attached to a monopod). I would have spent that much time anyway taking photos and just exploring the site. I additionally spent about five hours over the subsequent three days editing the clips (with iMovie) and incorporating information from the literature. Whenever I had a few minutes during my travels (waiting for a plane or bus), I trimmed the footage or searched the internet for information to include in the video. I did most of the initial editing on my iPhone, but finished the video on my computer using the desktop version of iMovie.

The resultant 4.5-minute video would be suitable to show in a lecture about climate controls on plant distributions or a more specialized lecture about mangrove ecosystems.

Now, some of you may be hesitant to make such a video, thinking that it will take a lot of time or will never be as good as professional science documentaries. Well, your videos don’t have to be of BBC quality to be effective. Also, you don’t need fancy equipment or a film studio to produce an informative and high-quality video. I used an iPhone 6 to film this video, which was rendered in high definition (1080p). As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the iPhone is easy to use to capture video, especially if you know a few basics. Movie-editing is also quite easy with applications such as iMovie. Video-sharing sites allow creators to easily upload their videos online where they are readily shared with others.

The main point here is that with a little effort, I was able to create a mini-documentary about a topic of interest to students and researchers studying mangrove forests. Students may read about the distributional limits of mangroves, but text descriptions are dry and often not very interesting. A video, on the other hand, takes the viewer across oceans to a remote site they will likely never have the opportunity to visit and creates a memorable example of mangroves growing near their northernmost limit. The video is also understandable by non-specialists who might travel to southern Japan and want more information about unique coastal vegetation found there.