Interview with Agile Web Solutions’ David Chartier
As part of our ongoing Meet the ScreenFlow-er series, I am excited to introduce David Chartier from Agile Bits. Agile Web Solutions has some very cool, very professional screencasts of their 1Password products, and David is the man behind all those screencasts.
Read my interview with David to learn about his screencasting process and tips.
How long have you been screencasting?
I’ve been making screencasts for around four years now. I originally started when I worked at TUAW, as I began a series of video demos and reviews of great Mac software. I’ve made probably 30 screencasts over these last couple of years, and I’m making them again for my work with Agile Web Solutions.
At first I used a clunky handful of apps to make my screencasts, using QuickTime or GarageBand to record the audio narration, then something like iShowU to record the video, then iMovie or, sometimes, even After Effects to put it all together (I was in school for motion graphics back then, so it was a familiar tool). I discovered ScreenFlow towards the end of my time at TUAW, and I immediately wished that I could just make videos for the rest of my career. ScreenFlow dramatically simplified so many things about the way I create screencasts, switching was a slam dunk.
For what purpose to do you make your screencasts?
I now use ScreenFlow for demonstrations of Agile Web Solutions products: 1Password and 1Password touch.
Do you do all the screencasting for your company?
Right now it’s one person, me. ScreenFlow makes screencasting so easy, I can’t see much of a reason or need to collaborate right now.
What kind of studio or set up do you have?
I have both a Mac Pro and a 17-inch MacBook Pro, though I do most of my ScreenFlow work on the Mac Pro. It has two displays so I can keep my script, images, or other notes on the second display if I need them while recording audio or actually going through the demonstration. For audio recording I use a Blue Snowball, and Apple’s Mighty Mouse, and now Magic Mouse, make it a breeze to work with ScreenFlow’s horizontal timeline.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of creating your screencasts?
Telling a good story. I know I’m not doing Shakespeare here, but knowing how to use software is very different from teaching someone else how to use it, let alone why. I spend a lot of time trying to step out of my own shoes while watching a cut of the screencast and asking myself if it’s informative, entertaining, and effective. A screencast can fail very easily if the pacing is too fast or you don’t properly represent the core appeal of the software or a particular feature.
What’s the process you use for creating your screencasts?
First I spend some time thinking about the features I need to show off, and who the audience will be. It could be existing 1Password users who already know their way around, or potential customers who have never used it. I then draft an outline of the topics I need to discuss, and rehash it a couple of times to make sure I’m stepping through the process in the right order.
When it’s time to start producing the screencast, I use ScreenFlow to record just the audio narration, nothing more. I write an actual script from the outline, and read it word-for-word to make sure I get pacing right and eliminate “uhm’s.” This is a trick I learned in my multimedia design studies only after I’d created my first handful of screencasts at TUAW: always cut the audio first. Always. It takes an enormous monkey off your back when it comes to actually demonstrating the software, so you don’t have to concentrate on nailing your lines and making sure you hit all the right marks, all at the same time.
To create the visual portion of the screencast, I play the audio track back while I actually record the motions with ScreenFlow. This way the audio acts as killer queue system to keep my visual movements on pace so the viewer can digest the final product.
Once both the audio and video are recorded, I edit out the bloopers, add a few transitions to smooth it all over, and export to various formats depending on where it’s going to be published.
Do you have a screencast that you’re especially proud of?
I’m kinda proud of my original screencasts at TUAW because it was a new idea that I jumped on and tinkered with all on my own. It was really fun to explore the screencasting practice, learn new techniques, and of course help indie developers get the word out on the great apps they make. But if I had to pick a screencast that I think I produced the best, I’d have to say “Welcome to 1Password touch,” the demo screencast for Agile’s 1Password iPhone client. I used a lot of great ScreenFlow features, as well as a great iPhone screencast tool from Atebits called SimFinger (it allows customization of the iPhone UI and adds the white dot to symbolize finger gestures). I also found a great Creative-Commons-licensed song for the soundtrack and edited some portions of the narration and video to fit around it.
What other programs/accessories do you use besides ScreenFlow to create your screencasts?
I use SimFinger for iPhone screencasts, but that’s about it. If I ever need to create or crop graphics, I’ll use a mix of Acorn, Pixelmator, and Skitch.
What kind of camera do you use?
Since I mostly work with software demonstrations, I haven’t had much of a use for cameras in my screencasts yet. The best video camera I have right now is a Canon SD200IS, which is sort of in between a point-and-shoot and a DSLR and shoots pretty decent 720p HD video for its size. 😉
What kind of mic?
I use a Blue Snowball, which came highly recommended when I was doing research a few years ago for a “good podcasting mic.” I didn’t try any others because I was a student at the time and basically couldn’t afford to. But folks like Leo Laporte and lots of indie screencasters recommended it, and it retails for $140, though you can usually get it for around $75-100 at Amazon on a good day.
The Blue Snowball comes with a decent table stand that can be raised to a good height if you’re sitting at a desk. There’s no setup, it “just works” on Mac OS X, and if you angle it properly, you can get pretty good pop filtering for those nasty “p’s” and “b’s” that you don’t want to stab your listeners’ ears with.
Are there any others programs or accessories you use?
No, I like to keep my setups simple wherever possible.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out screencasting?
Besides the bit about recording your audio narration first, video second, I think I’d say: there is an art to screencasting. Watch and listen to your favorite screencasts carefully. Find screencasts that grab and engage you and keep you interested, or the one that made you want to go out and buy the product at the drop of a hat, because those are the ones that rocked it. Watch them over and over, pause and replay sections to figure out how they highlighted a particular area or pulled off something cool. If you need to know more, try and get in touch with the creator—usually they’re happy to chat about their tools and techniques.
What’s the stupidest mistake you’ve made when creating a screencast?
I make plenty of mistakes, but I can’t think of a particular one that sticks out as a knee-slapper. However, I have started a segment plenty of times thinking I that I hit the right keyboard shortcut, only to get through the 3 minute audio narration without a single mistake, or a complex series of visual steps to demonstrate a feature, only to realize I never hit the record button. That’s always a groaner.
Besides ScreenFlow and 1Password, what’s your favorite program for the Mac?
Geez, my favorite? Why don’t you ask me something easy, like how to end world hunger?
Seriously though, I think I’d have to say MacJournal from Mariner Software. Throughout writing at TUAW, Ars Technica, and now Macworld, I’ve written the vast majority of my posts in MacJournal. It’s a great, feature-packed journaling app, but it’s also the only Mac OS X text editor I can find that lets me write in rich text (with hyperlinks to websites, bulleted lists, blockquotes, etc.) and copy it to the clipboard as proper HTML for pasting into a publishing website. It saves a ton of time and lets me look at the piece as it will appear on the web to readers, which is great.
How do you listen to the audio while recording the video? Is that something you can do with Screenflow, or do you need to export the audio and play it back using a separate program?
I’m also interested in the reverse… watching the video while recording audio.
Let me know if either of these are possible in Screenflow itself.
Yes, you can use “add additional recording” to add either an audio or screen recording to an existing project. So, for example, if you’re doing an online demo, you can record all the screen actions first. Then with your project open, select “Add Additional Recording”, and configure the additional recording to only record your audio. Then just push play on your project (which has the recording of the screen actions you just did), and while you watch that, you can record your audio. The recorded audio will then be added to your project as a separate audio track.