Workbench Con 2020 – Session Recap

I spent last week in a consistent state of “overwhelmed,” but in a good way.  I ventured down to Atlanta for Workbench Con, and it was glorious despite the consistent overload of my senses.  I was not 100% sure what I should be expecting, but from the moment I walked into the hotel, it was go-go-go; meeting people, hanging out with fellow makers, and occasionally sleeping.

I was never really on the fence about attending this year.  I had watched the event play out via Instagram the past two years, and hearing all my fellow makers rave about their experience, I knew I was going to go this time.  I thought I’d recap the experience here, as it’ll force me to review my notes and help cement some of the takeaways I had from the sessions I attended, as well as my chats with the other folks wandering around.

Switch Off Auto – Bruce A. Ulrich

As I sat down for my first session, I still wasn’t sure what to expect.  There were a lot of choices in each of the three time-slots each day, so I had to go with what I thought would be the most bang for my buck.  Bruce set the bar pretty high.  His talk was about taking your camera off “Auto” and making those convoluted settings work for you, without going through the minutiae of each option available.  I won’t steal Bruce’s thunder, but I’ve paraphrased the most important points to me, and how it impacts my workflow:

  • Begin with the end in mind. Don’t just shoot video of every little thing during a project.  Start the project with an idea of what shots and steps I’m going to capture to tell the story of the build/project.  Do a little more prep work for each video, and each scene within that video, to get a superior end result.
  • Shutter speed should be twice your frames-per-second. I had no idea this was a thing.  I know I had been filming in 30fps, because that’s what my camera uses, but I didn’t know shutter speed even mattered in video (spoiler, it does).  I’ve already tried to check this on my camera, but I can’t find the shutter speed setting for video on my DSLR, so I’ll have to accept what it gives me.
  • For more depth of field, increase the aperature number. This is pretty self-explanatory, but again, my camera doesn’t seem to let me change this for video.
  • Use the bells and whistles of your phone’s camera to add flair. Phones nowadays have great cameras.  Most can even do slow motion, take advantage of that for beauty shots of key steps or finished products.
  • Remember that clips can be reversed! To take a cool pan or zoom shot and be sure it ends up in focus, right where you want it; simply start where you want to stop, then zoom or pan away.  When you edit that footage, just play the clip in reverse, and BOOM, you got a neat shot.
  • Check out Purple Panda Lav MicsAudio is important, and you don’t need to drop hundreds of dollars on a good solution.

Those are my highlights from Bruce’s talk.  It’s a lot to think about, and I look forward to incorporating this into my next video.  All-in-all, this talk is among the top-two sessions I attended over the weekend.

Power Carving – Katie Freeman & Ellen Smith

TikTok courtest of Katie Freeman (@freemanfurnishings), because I didn’t take enough photos while I was there…

It’s very simple to say what I learned from this session.  I want to do more.  I got an angle grinder for Christmas, and I can’t wait for it to be warmer outside so I can just go nuts with it.  Thanks to Katie and Ellen for teaching us how awesome this is.

Storytelling through Interactive Video – Donovan from Once Upon a Workbench

This is the session that hangs out in my “top-two” with Bruce’s talk.  Going in, my mind completely ignored the “interactive” part of the title, I was just looking for how to get better at storytelling.  Even with those mis-guided expectations, Donovan found a way to make this very much worth my time.  

He focused more on how to actually get interaction in your content, not the traditional “engagement”, which would consist of just likes and comments.  The key to interaction is to get the viewer invested in how the content gets resolved, “choose-your-own adventure” style.  Donovan has already put out a video this way…

You start with a trail-head video, and then make a choice to continue on with the story of that project.  This leads to a lot more work up front, as you need to have each branching path of that content ready and published, but the viewer retention and engagement is much higher when they’re participating in the project as it evolves.

When I first left this session, I thought it was clever, but didn’t see myself actually making content this way.  Now, though, I think it’d be a disservice to not give it a shot, at least once.  What that project is, I don’t know yet, but I’m sure it’ll come to me eventually.

I can’t distill Donovan’s talk into neat and tidy takeaways.  This was an insightful look into how some brands are already using this tactic, as well as his approach to it.  He talked about the perks, audience retention, longer-lasting impressions, that sort of stuff, but ultimately, to me, it just comes down to doing something different.  And, when executed well, this content feels fresh, and lets your viewer influence how they consume it, a choice normally made for them, not by them.

This isn’t all-encompassing for what I took from the sessions I attended.  Heck, I only talked about half of them.  Not to mention everything I picked up on while just chatting with my peers.  But I can’t sit here and write all day.  Stay tuned for more reflections from WBC 2020.  In the mean time, get out there and make something with your bear hands.

-Justin

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