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Should quality matter in web video?

By Heather Menicucci

Director, Howcast Filmmakers Program

Heather Menicucci, Director, Howcast Filmmakers Program, is writing weekly guest posts for the YouTube blog on filmmaking in the digital age. You can catch up on previous posts here.

Since I started working in web video, the most common misconception I face is, web video equals low quality video. This week we asked “What do you think the differences are between making videos for the web versus other venues like film festivals or TV?” on YouTube's Facebook fan page. Though there were a lot of positive voices talking about the immediacy, democracy and audience engagement of web video, some of the comments unsurprisingly echoed this idea.

Quality, quality and um.... quality!

Quality, length, content, plot.

The web accepts anything.

Sure, one of the most exciting things about the web is that anyone can upload. Of course, that means that not all the videos we see are going to reflect even our most basic standards for quality video -- a steady camera, clean images, good lighting, clear sound. On the other hand, right alongside the cat videos (which I admit, I do get a kick out of), works of video art can happily coexist.

We've spent the first "section" of our “Modern 101 for Emerging Digital Filmmakers" providing an overview of web video -- talking to filmmakers about why they make web video, sharing websites every filmmaker should know, and offering tips on taking your first digital steps as a filmmaker. We're about to move into our production section where we'll interview filmmakers on the equipment they use, go behind the scenes to hear how they make their videos, and demystify uploading, codecs and metadata.

Before we enter this nuts and bolts section of the series, I wanted to tackle this last misconception regarding quality. Quality concerns are some of the most common reasons I hear filmmakers saying they aren’t interested in uploading their work, and there are a couple counterpoints I’d like to offer:

Click around. Don’t just watch the videos that appear in your Facebook feed. Sure, I got that video with those poor fainting kittens emailed to me yesterday too, but I also spent 15 minutes watching this beautiful, quiet short, “Mei Ling,” which I discovered on the Futureshorts channel.

I asked Luke Neumann, a filmmaker who constantly impresses us with his stellar Howcast videos, why he puts so much effort into his web videos and he said, “Because you never know who could stumble across them." When you watch his videos, I think you can see he’s driven by much more than that -- for this spot alone he rented a crane and “moved” a building in After Effects:

  • Player, length and file sizes are increasing because viewers actually want to watch high resolution, great-looking video on their computers and even TV, as devices like Google TV come on the market.
  • Filmmakers, like the Neistat Brothers who recently landed an HBO series, but also like our very own filmmakers who use their Howcast spots to woo clients, are getting jobs based on the videos they upload to the web. Make sure every spot you upload is one you’re proud to put your name on because web videos = calling cards.
  • 60% of internet users watch videos online and that number is up 33% in 2.5 years. In other words, the audience is here and growing. And as more and more television viewers migrate to the web or simply plug their televisions into their computers, they will come to expect and want higher and higher quality video from the web.

Still, access to potential fans, funders and future employees is at least one simple, solid argument for filmmakers who are skeptical about quality work having a place on the web.

Next Friday, we’ll learn Neumann’s tricks for making great video like this on a budget while he walks us through how he shot “Zombie Attack.”