My experiences making a video


I’ve made exactly two videos, both of which were based on our research but which nonetheless differed significantly in terms of how they were put together and how they ended up. The first is a video abstract for Developmental Cell that the editors solicited from me after a paper of ours was accepted. The idea was to explain in video format what the paper was all about  There were not really any rules about what the final product was supposed to look like; rather, the editor referred me to examples of what other people had done. The second, which (strangely) is most easily found not by going to the Celldance website but by going to the blog of Francis Collins arose from our lab being asked to participate in the ASCB Celldance. While there was plenty of freedom for this as well, it was not as open-ended as the video abstract because the idea was to tell the story with the data, without recourse to shots of people.

While I planned to generate the videos by myself, in fact, I had essential help. For the video abstract George von Dassow made a number of important suggestions and generated a very cool and very informative rotating kymocube that appears toward the end. Additionally, Jenny Sider provided several important suggestions, filmed an amusing shot involving the Pacific Ocean and briefly appeared in the background of another shot. For the Celldance video, essentially everyone in the lab viewed and made suggestions concerning the video and its narration when I was selecting clips and again when I was putting it together.

I had an enormous amount of fun doing both videos. Fun aside, having the videos out there has been quite useful as a means to communicate what we do in the lab to my family, friends, and others who are interested.

I seriously underestimated the amount of time it would take to prepare the videos, albeit for different reasons. The video abstract took far more time than I expected simply because many of the shots involved me sitting in front of a camera and talking. To my surprise, I was not very good at this, particularly in the initial going. I screwed up take after take by laughing, coughing, errrming, uuhhing, making unconscious gestures with my hands, making unconscious faces with my face, or looking away from the camera at exactly the wrong time. Often I caught myself but often I didn’t and thus did not realize I had to repeat a shot until I had carefully looked at the movie on my laptop. The Celldance video did not rely on shots of me as a talking head, but a lot of time was consumed by chopping, merging, editing, and putting text on very short clips and then engaging in more rounds of chopping, merging, editing, and putting text on after it became apparent that the product was less than satisfactory. Additionally, deciding what to put in the narration was more difficult because the target audience for a Celldance video is more general than that of a video abstract. How do you describe the effects of things that your audience has never heard of on an object your audience also has never heard of?

General Suggestions: 

  • Start early with very simple clips, so you get an idea of what you are in for when it comes time for the more complex stuff. For example, if you are making a video that will involve you talking on camera, try simply filming a shot in which you introduce yourself.
  • Get help, and get it early. It doesn’t have to be help with the filming, editing, or narration although if you can get it from someone who knows the project and knows their business, you should definitely take advantage. But simply having someone provide input on the early stages can be helpful. Is the text on the movies too big, too small, or too ugly? Do the movie clips shown actually make the points you are trying to make?  Is the narration appropriate for the intended audience?  Is the organization logical?
  • Don’t worry about your voice. It always sounds that bad and there isn’t really anything you can do about it.
  • If you are making a video that involves clips of you talking to the camera, and if you are having trouble getting through a clip without screwing up, try making the clips shorter and then stringing them together by linking them via still images that emphasize a point you are trying to make. Or try having someone else film you while you are doing the talking. Having an audience can actually make it easier, particularly if you are used to teaching large classes.
  • If you are making a video that involves telling a story entirely with movies or stills, go through all of your data early on to ensure that you can, in fact, tell the story you want. Pick a single, representative clip and test different font sizes and colors to see what it will look like with the final product.

ASCB offers a toolkit in video production that can be found here.  To see all of ASCB’s Science Communication Toolkits, visit here.


About the Author:

Bill Bement ( is a long-time ASCB member who, with the members of his lab, studies cortical pattern formation in cell division and cell repair. He is the Hans Ris Professor of Cell Biology and Integrative Biology and the director of the Center for Quantitative Cell Imaging at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.