How to make a video about the Electoral College that won’t bore you to death

Nov 05 2012

When I decided to create a non-traditional video about the Electoral College, I was a little skeptical about my personal ability to pull that off. I had never written, directed, filmed and produced something like this before, and I felt the pressure to do this right. I wanted to show (a) some of the problems associated with the Electoral College and (b) what scholars predict would happen if we did not use the Electoral College system to elect presidents.

NPR’s video on population change was the inspiration for my approach to this video. It is a cleanly composed video that represents an abstract issue in a simple way. It had no interviews with talking heads or traditional cutaway shots.

With the help of other lab staffers, I decided that reading about the problems of the Electoral College would be rather dull. Interviewing a bunch of scholars about the problems with the Electoral College, and the theories of what would happen if we didn’t have one, would have made for snooze-inducing video. A simple, static graphic would have explained too little to make it attractive to audiences. Combining those three formats into one turned out to be the best way to tell that story.

The resulting video is a strong piece that pushed the limits of my skill set and fit nicely into the “experimental” mission of WhichWayNC. But there were several ways that could have increased efficiency and quality.

A group effort
The Electoral College video would have been a perfect example of what can be accomplished through group effort, if we had actually applied it. I am a videographer and editor, rarely a writer, occasionally a public speaker and never a graphic designer. Yet in this video, I tackled all five roles at once, under a strict deadline. It is important to encourage staffers to get out of their comfort zone and try their hand at another media role, but under a tight deadline, it would have increased efficiency to bring in others more apt at those roles.

Here is how I would have divided duties if I could do it again: Pull together a team with a graphic designer, a videographer, a reporter and a coach (or an editor if I were working at a mainstream news organization). The coach would team up with the reporter to decide what the objective of the piece would be. The reporter would research and write the script for the voiceover. The graphic designer would help the videographer decide how to graphically represent what was being said in the voiceover. The videographer would actually film the graphics and then edit the final product with the guidance of the coach.

This division of responsibilities would have made the most of everyone’s talents and the collaborative effort would have produced a more organized, and probably higher-quality, product.

Another lesson from the project is related to the amount of time required to produce a video of this caliber. If we were not full-time students, the project could have been done in two days. But since we are students, it takes longer to conceptualize, produce and finish a project like this. Experimental projects are wonderful but if you have never done something like this before, you should expect it to take longer than usual.

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