How My Failure on Video Turned to Success

How My Failure on Video Turned to Success

Today was the day that months of effort, research and investment would have paid off if I hadn’t failed on video.

The Setup

I have been talking to a couple local photographers to figure out lighting equipment and environment issues. I bought the softbox lighting, and light stands. I bought the backdrop, then secured it in place with copious velcro. It took me hours just to first create a loop at the bottom using fabric tape, then fill the loop with a bag of black aquarium gravel to weigh the fabric down evenly across the length of the backdrop.

After talking sound with everyone I know, especially Justin Vincent, audiophile extraordinaire (you should hire him, but he’s not looking), I have purchased and returned many hundreds of dollars worth of handheld recording devices, microphones, and recording interfaces. When the guy at Guitar Center sees me coming, he thinks “Oh shit, not this guy again…”

I went through two cameras and a tripod before talking to my friend Richard Thompson who is an incredible photographer and video guy (you should hire him too, but you can’t afford him). I finally settled on the Panasonic TM700 based on his advice.

Even though I knew it would barely be visible in the final product, I searched high and low for the perfect table, which is 2 feet by 4 feet long, and has a black, reflective surface. IKEA had it.

I hired a great designer named Jeff McIntosh to do a slick video opener, and worked with him to fine tune it (you should hire him, but only if you promise to be nice to him).

I brought it into my new copy of Adobe Premiere, and did a couple test projects to learn the ropes, all the while leaning heavily on my good friend Fidel Watlington to help me beat the learning curve (you should hire him if you want some real talk).

I wrote and polished a few of my talks over the course of some months in my Toastmasters club (you should join it). I practiced each talk over fifty times and delivered them multiple times to multiple audiences.

The Payoff

And finally, after all that expense and months of effort and planning, I spent all day on Sunday shooting my first video. It’s a modified version of my About page. Shooting video for the site will introduce a new group of people, so it makes sense to introduce myself to them the way they found me.

I cut all the video together, and rendered it glorious 1080 high definition.

But it sucks.

This is how much time, effort, and learning I had to put in in order to fail valiantly.

  • The sound equipment worked admirably, but the workflow to sync the sound and video files is unmanageable. That’s why I just have sound from the onboard camera mic (yuck).
  • The lighting in the studio isn’t strictly controlled because I thought I could get away with just softening the light from the windows. In reality, I began shooting when it was light out, and ended when it was dark, and the lighting visibly changes when I cut between shots. Plus, my rim light was too far forward so it blew out half of my face, while the back light was positioned too close to me so every time I moved my arm back, it lit up brightly.
  • I didn’t have a good technique for organizing each clip, so I had to rewatch hours of footage over and over to find the decent takes.
  • I didn’t have anything to drink while I was shooting, so my voice becomes more gravelly as time goes on.
  • Despite my best efforts looking at the lens, I’m still not quite looking directly into the camera.
  • The list continues.

This is how much time, effort, and learning I had to put in in order to fail valiantly. So how do I move forward?

Picking myself up

  1. The first and maybe most important part of the answer is that I have a video that actually exists, shitty though it may be. This is a critical starting point to creating success out of failure.
  2. I hoped that everything would come together right away, but I know from experience that learning curves can be steep, so the next part of the answer is that I’m not going to let my initial failure deter me. Tenacity is your best friend if you want to do great work.
  3. I have the good fortune of having an amazing group of friends who can support me too. But remember that we create our own luck by working hard to be available to opportunities as they arise. I’ve spent years getting to know most of the people I mentioned here, and countless others. I’ve spent years producing valuable work, and supporting them when they need my help. Just this Saturday, I spent five hours of my free time implementing a cute HTML5 physics simulation for a friend of mine who was out of his coding element. That guy is an amazing graphic designer. It’ll be pretty “lucky” to have him around when I need some help with visual work, won’t it?

I won’t be sharing the shitty video with you, but I will show those very talented friends of mine, who can catch mistakes that I don’t know about already. I’m going to use what I’ve learned about my studio to rearrange and improve the lighting. Based on my hands-on experience with the audio workflow, I’m going to head back to Guitar Center yet again and pick up a boom mic that can plug into my camera.

I worked hard to produce something, instead of nothing, and I’m using that learning experience as a building block toward producing success. That’s what I write about here week after week, and that’s what I’m doing. That’s why this post, even though it isn’t what I planned, is a success.


  1. RJ Ryan ()

    I’m really enjoying the theme you’re on right now — how to deal with failure and its associated emotions (fear, pain).

    The line of reasoning in this post, essentially that had you not tried, you
    a) wouldn’t have the real video you have now (a ‘failure’, but a failure that exists)
    b) wouldn’t have the expectation of a better video in the future

    My main worry is that your brain can warp this line of reasoning into a rationalization for why you need to keep going. When doing projects and building startups, an important component is to know when to recognize a dead-end for what it is and move on. I’m worried, at least in one of my current projects, that I’m at that point. After a year or so of progress, I’m now faced with a series of failures, and I’m pretty uncertain about whether to cut my losses and move on, or to keep pushing forward. It’s easy when you have a clear set of next-steps to follow (in this case, improve the lighting setup, get a boom mic that integrates with the camera, etc.) but oftentimes it isn’t so clear. This leads to uncertainty, which leads to fear, which distorts perception. It’s hard to know what to do when you take for granted that your brain is working against you.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post,
    RJ Ryan (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      Excellent point RJ. It’s something I’ve been thinking about, actually.

      In my Improv essay I talked about just trying stuff, going for it, and committing to the course. When I wrote it, I knew that could have dangerous consequences just like what you describe.

      In Improv, you only have to commit until the end of the scene essentially, and they are generally short. You try something, and you know when you’re off the hook from it.

      In life, YOU decide if you’re still in the scene or if it’s over.

      The thing is that in improv, the director yells “scene” to end the scene, BUT everyone on stage pretty much has an intuition for when the scene ends, even before the director calls it.

      So that tells me that if you’re an experienced improv player, or entrepreneur, or software dev, you know when to call it a scene and move onto the next one.

      A fundamental point is that to BECOME experienced you have to play scenes, start businesses, write software, whatever, and you have to do it a lot. Not just one long scene, but lots and lots and lots of scenes. You have to watch scenes, and participate in scenes, and critique scenes, and read about scenes, and talk to other players and everything. Then you get that gut instinct about what smells like a good scene, and when that scene is over.

      Still though, with all that, sometimes–just sometimes–you get so wrapped in the scene you’re playing, and character you’re in, that you should be thinking “aaaand scene,” but you’re too busy bailing milk out of the basement to realize you’ve lost the audience.

      That’s when it’s good to have a director that you trust to call it.

      So maybe that’s a call for mentors? Or maybe for a strong peer network? I don’t know, I haven’t written that essay yet 8) (Reply)

  2. LostMyMap ()

    You may know me from the Pavlina forum, I used the same handle here!

    I’m taking a forum break, but I did peek this morning and saw your post so I watched your video. Congrats! Amazing how much work it is just to shoot something simple like that! Imagine that when you are watching a full blown TV show.

    But I think you did a great job. Once you sort out things like lighting and sound, they become easier the next time. Here are my thoughts on the video.

    My first thought was “dude, what happened to your hair?” :) OK, I’m just being silly.

    In your main, wide shot, you are on the right, and have a large blank area to the left. I kept expecting some sort of graphic to show up there. If that isn’t your intent, I would recommend reframing a little to balance out the space. I realize in shooting in HD, you have do deal with all that wideness when you don’t always need it. The close up shots are better, why not just go with that?

    In all seriousness, I don’t care if you shave your head, but you don’t want to be a “chrome dome”. The lighting setup is making your head shiny and it kind of distracts. You want to be well lit, but not have a viewer be able to discern where the light is coming from. Just keep tweaking, you’ll find the right setup. And when you do, shoot pics or video of your setup so you can set it up that way again.

    As you learn Premiere, try this. Instead of a hard cut between each shot, do a fade. It can be really quick so you hardly notice it, but it’s less jarring than the hard cuts.

    You can learn tips from video editing pros, for free! Record some TV show, then replay it back, with the sound off, and focus on how the shots are set up and put together. Run some sequences in slow motion. You’ll see a whole world you never noticed when you watched the show normally.

    I really like your writing and your style, and your message. I think you will have great success, and I’ll be watching! (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      Thanks for the awesome feedback!

      I’m trying to use the rule of thirds to frame the shot correctly, you’ll see that my center line is lined up with my buttons and my face is at the top right intersection. And you’re right, my idea is that in the future, you’ll see a graphic there related to what I’m talking about. I’m going to stick with it for a while and see how it works, especially as I put other things in that space. It may be a good setup for video interviews, even.

      I will definitely be learning all I can about how to really cut the video together. I’ll also work on the lighting.

      Thanks again! (Reply)

  3. Pingback: Begins Video Casting « Essays « Pete Michaud

    • vicki wright ()

      you made me think. i have written several childrens picture books,chapter books. i have sent two of my stories to three publishers. i have been rejected by one publisher on one story. but my thought was it doesnt matter. i have been read by a publisher in boston mass.that made me feel good.But that is not what it is all about. i am creative and maybe a little more than average.but what was good for me was that i did what i set out to do.i sent what i had written to a publisher. in the meantime i learned alot about publishing.i have gone to librarys and read books for children. i h ave learned about trends in i want the attention.yes and no. i want my family to be proud of me. my daugher is proud just because i tried. this does not mean i have failed.acutally i amazed myself.whether my stories ever get published i actually wrote very good stories. i think that is the beginning of self actulization.i hope u the best.just by writing and learning about how to be published opened my mind to other areas of creativity. creativity is what its about.but it helps creative people to have support from people who have thier feet on the ground, (Reply)

  4. neil ()

    Hi Pete

    I am enjoying reading your essays … stumbled in here from Steve Pavlina’s forums.

    As someone who has worked in the entertainment industry I would suggest not worrying too much about the technical side of making videos unless you actually want to become a video-maker.

    The most important thing is the performance/presentation of the material which you can practise using a webcam.

    This in itself is a big challenge .. as many trained actors struggle to master the transition from stage to screen.

    All the best in your endeavours


    PS Would you rather watch a bad recording of a good performance or a good recording of a bad one? (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      Thanks Neil! Good point, I’d rather watch the good performance. But I call shenanigans (false dichotomy): I’d rather watch a good recording of a good performance 8) (Reply)