Grow the success of your YouTube Channel through more efficient production. A pro reveals tips you can use to create quality content with less work.
Stale content is a sure way to put your YouTube channel at the bottom of the heap. Successful YouTube creators know that new, high-quality content must be churned out with rapid dispatch. But how do you balance the need for speed with the desire for a high-quality video product? Can you have both? Let’s talk to a successful and seasoned creator to find out.
The Fast Lane Car
Video Views: 250,805,260
Channel Type: Autos
Created: March 26th, 2009
The Fast Lane Truck
Video Views: 105,045,988
Channel Type: Autos
Created: May 2nd, 2012
For the past eight years, Roman Mica has been the publisher and executive producer of the popular YouTube channels TFL Car and, more recently, TFL Truck. TFL, in case you were wondering, stands for “The Fast Lane.”
The channels have roughly 896,000 subscribers and 354 million total video views, including two additional smaller channels, TFL Now and TFL Classic. Roman holds a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Northwestern University.
After college, Roman worked for a small-town television news station where he was basically a one-man operation, fulfilling the roles of talent, camera operator and editor. This early experience gave him precious skills in getting work done quickly and accurately.
Roman’s news station boss gave him this admonition: “If you don’t have it done by 5:00 P.M., you don’t have *#@^!” In more polite terms, if production took too long, no one would see the story on the evening news. Fast forward a few decades, and this advice still guides Roman in the quest to be first to break a story from events like the Chicago Auto Show.
The TFL team consists of five full-time and five part-time staffers. Not only does the team produce video for YouTube, they also write stories for the websites TFLcar.com and TFLtruck.com. The mainstay of their content is “news, views and real-world reviews” of cars and trucks.
Planning Saves Time
As a result of producing and publishing upwards of 3400 YouTube videos, Roman picked up a few tricks that help him produce high quality productions with an emphasis on speed. He estimates that his team churns out about 10 videos per week, spread across four channels. That’s a lot of content.
On Mondays, the TFL staff assembles to map out the ideas that will drive the week’s work. These meetings are critical because Roman views the concept as king. He points out that bad production quality can ruin a great concept, but even great production quality can’t save a production based on a flawed idea. To Roman, an engaging concept has a hook and answers critical questions viewers want to know.
The pre-production meeting helps the staff create shot lists, define key points the video will explore and produce a loose script. These documents give the team what they need to efficiently produce the segment. Roman is careful not to over-produce; he never wants his real-world reviews to appear scripted.
One big challenge of automotive reviews is finding shooting locations. Whether it’s a muddy hill climb in a Jeep or filming at a fire station, Roman avoids shooting delays by always securing permission before shooting on location. No one wants surprises that waste time on shooting day.
Good Tools Speed Production
For capturing audio, Roman relies heavily on wireless lavaliers and directional shotgun mics. He lives in Boulder, Colorado where the Rocky Mountains sometimes produce strong winds. Wind noise is often a challenge, so he carries artificial fur wind shields (a.k.a. dead cats) to help minimize noise when using shotgun mics.
Roman knows that fixing audio in post-production consumes valuable time and often only minimally improves the quality of the audio anyway. He does everything possible to capture clean audio during the shoot. He’s also learned that adding more mics to a shoot just adds to the complexity and increases time spent in the editing process.
There are even occasions when he’ll use the mics built into the cameras. Roman’s goal is simply intelligible audio; he knows he’s not producing Hollywood-style productions, so a tiny bit of audio roughness is consistent with his “real-world reviews” mantra.
Roman believes that production value should be high, but also recognizes that the YouTube audience is not expecting Oscar-earning quality. He avoids extra work that won’t change the viewing experience significantly.
He describes his philosophy: “A classic mistake that people make is when they try to create extremely high quality video. YouTube is the wrong place for that.” He talks about an overproduced project as “right video, wrong platform” and how Vimeo is a better place for the highest quality work.
For example, Roman tried shooting in 4K, but did not realize enough YouTube image improvement to offset the editing challenges and file storage headaches. He settled on shooting HD at 60 frames per second to clearly show the granular movement of a vehicle in slow motion.
The TFL team uses splash-proof 4K Sony Action Cams. He likes these Action Cams because of ease of audio recording, use of a standard tripod mount and their splash-proof design. Roman uses Delkins’ Fat Gecko mounts for securing the cameras to cars and other surfaces.
His main camera is a Sony 4K FDR-AX33. Roman loves its small size and ease of operation. Also used is a Panasonic Lumix GH4 when there’s a need to manipulate depth of field with more image control. Roman also owns a DJI Phantom 4 and uses it extensively to capture expensive-looking overhead shots of cars and trucks in action.
Roman typically uses three to five cameras during a shoot; he might have two or three inside a vehicle capturing the driver and passenger. Other cameras might be mounted outside the car, or mounted to a chase vehicle. Roman keeps the number of cameras to a minimum, because he knows that adding more cameras quickly increases the complexity of the shoot and increases time spent in subsequent editing.
One production tool is always present in the 50-pound backpack that Roman schleps to shooting locations: a DJI Osmo. He loves the smooth-as-silk images the Osmo produces, which are akin to the results from a Steadicam costing much, much more. Roman also owns a slider, but prefers the simplicity and portability of the Osmo in most situations.
Roman prefers Apple’s Final Cut Pro X because he’s found it to be faster and easier to use than any other editing software he’s tried. MacBook Pros and desktop Macs support the team’s editing tasks. Uploading the finished work on slow hotel Wi-Fi networks has sometimes been his biggest post-production challenge.
When using multiple cameras simultaneously on a shoot, the team honks the car’s horn to synchronize the audio. The sound of the horn serves as a type of audio time code used to match up the timing of the resulting video files. It’s a clever way to reduce synchronization problems and speed up the editing process.
His real-world reviews mantra also manifests in his editing approach. “We try not to show cameras in a shot, but if it has to happen, so be it. We want our audience to know that we do unscripted reviews, and showing a camera makes it real,” Roman explains.
A recent TFL Truck segment involved using a stopwatch to time a truck as it towed a heavy trailer up a steep grade. The TFL team dubs this frequent towing challenge the “Ike Gauntlet” because it traverses the Eisenhower Tunnel on the Rocky Mountain’s Continental Divide. The towing challenge only took about 20 minutes, yet even for an experienced team like Roman’s, it took one day to prep, one day to shoot, and two days to edit, resulting in just 12 minutes of video. These numbers underscore the importance of efficiency in producing content at the breakneck speed a successful YouTube channel demands.
Here’s a number that pretty much sums it all up: Roman Mica and his team fill up a six terabyte drive every two weeks. That’s a lot of video.
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You glossed over the lesson of using what you have; you mentioned the “Ike Gauntlet” but it’s a great example. Being Denver-based has to be a hassle in terms of getting press cars – they’re mainly based out of New York, LA and Detroit – but opens up some unique opportunities for car testing, like the high-altitude drags and off-road hillclimb (“Gold Mine Hill”) as well as that towing test.
Since this article ran they’ve added an electric-car range test; EVs are unaffected by altitude but how much range they lose climbing uphill and how much they can recapture through regen braking on the way back down are important info. They’ve also spun an unfortunate scrape on a Tesla Model 3 into a series of pieces documenting that make’s notoriously difficult collision repair record.
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