How I Learned to Create Science Communication Videos on my Smartphone

Editor’s note: In this article, Scott writes about a workshop series he attended through the Science Media Centre. The workshop series is on again soon, and if you’re fast, you can apply for the next round. Applications close 24 July 2020 (with another round in August). Read on for details.

For those who don’t know, the Science Media Centre (SMC) is an organisation that connects and supports journalists and scientists so that both have the support, networks, and skills needed to communicate key science information effectively.

The SMC have a free limited-places video workshop series, where you learn how to create professional quality science communication* videos using only your smartphone. For the first time ever, this series is being made available online with 4x hour-long Zoom sessions with Baz Caitcheon. This year this workshop series is being offered three times.

So, what is it, why should you apply?

I recently completed the series myself, and learned so much. The main crux of the workshop series is to teach you how to put together a 90 second video promoting an aspect of science research – essentially a fancy elevator pitch. This is super helpful to all researchers, but especially to early career researchers. You can use it to promote your research to potential funders or participants, or keep key stakeholders in the loop as to what you’re working on.

I’ve been making a few films already this year, and have been a talking head in a few others, but most of my videos haven’t been much more than taking a video of something interesting/beautiful (and my sister says that my head blocks the view half the time), saying a few words, and whacking it onto Instagram or Facebook. First thing that I realised is that my editing skills are non-existent, and I haven’t been thinking about the big narrative.

The main thing that we all learned is that the video quality in your smartphone is better than you think, but the microphone is worse, and it is the microphone and editing that will put viewers off your video. To that end, I’ve now added a wireless microphone and transmitter to my Christmas wish-list (come on Santa!).

The first workshop covers the basics of filming, setting up your shot, thinking about a narrative, and what your message should be. The second workshop covers how to think about assembling them, and sends you away to film some snippets. The third workshop is an intensive editing skills workshop as you work together to edit the snippets together. The fourth workshop is a chance to look at the clips made during the workshop and get feedback on how to improve your videos. There’s also a prize for best film!

To apply, you’ll need to fill in a form providing the facilitators information about what to expect. The last question on the form is a chance for you to pitch an idea for a short film (in <100 words). Your answer to this question is what is going to determine whether you get one of the 20 places in the workshop. In my cohort, 50 people applied, and 20 were selected; so there is some real competition. Your pitch doesn’t need to be complex or a blockbuster. It could be as simple as interviewing someone in your lab (or yourself) about research that’s going on. Find an interesting aspect of your research and profile that.

I made two films as part of the editing process. One was quite long, and from what I’ve learned, I’ll re-shoot bits and buy some better equipment (e.g. a wireless microphone) before I try it again. I also learned that I overthink the entire process, and filmed about 3 days’ worth of content for a 4-minute video. By the time I made my second video (about the science of bellringing), my thinking was clearer. I cut down on the content and kept it more natural, and was able to knock out the filming in about 10 minutes (I took multiple clips of each thing so that I had a good take and a backup). I’ve uploaded it to YouTube, and you can watch it below.

I’ve realised that in this case, rattling it off in 90 seconds wasn’t doing it justice, so later in the year I’ll break it down into (probably) a few 5-minute videos that take the time to explain what is going on, rather than rattling through. Additionally, I’ve found more aspects of science that I could talk about (including the civil engineering of the church to allow the bells to ring in the first place).

Completing the workshop series has helped me to think of the big picture and process of producing a film, and has helped me to think about ways of communicating science differently. I watch a lot of YouTube videos, and now I (unconsciously) analyse the videos for presentation style, editing, and narrative. I’m able to take all of this together to think about things differently, and now I’m brimming with ideas of ways I can quickly film and edit together short films on a range of science communication issues.

Information about the workshops and how to apply can be found here, as well as some examples from past participants.

Applications close:

  • Friday 24 July 2020
  • Friday 28 August 2020

*While the video series is targeted towards science communication, the skills learned can be applied anywhere. The longer video that I made was a mixture of archaeology and history, and could be of interest to other disciplines too.

About Scott Pilkington

Scott is a Postgraduate Coordinator and Health, Safety & Wellbeing rep at the Graduate Research School. His hobbies include museums, campanology, history, anthropology, cats, dance, fibre crafts, science communication, and gin. He’s a graduate of University of Auckland, University of Otago, Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, and of course AUT. His current research projects include how we use museums to communicate science, and the form and function of doctoral academic dress at New Zealand universities. Past research includes the Albert Park tunnels, taphonomy of burnt human skeletal remains, and the sex-politics-law dynamics of 13th C England. He is weirdly passionate about palaeoecology and urban spaces. He uses the pronouns he/him. You can often see him at GRS events being our resident photographer.

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