How Hard Can Screencasting Be?

screenflow_logoOne of my favorite things about doing the NosillaCast is the emails I get from people when they send in their first audio review for the show. They usually go something like this, “Wow, that was HARD! I had to re-record 28 times and it took me forever to do a 3 minute review! How do you do it every week?” I love it because these people come away really appreciating the sport that is podcasting. Of course after they do a few they get the hang of it and aren’t so amazed any more but at least it’s fun for a while.

I bring this up because I’ve experienced the same thing on the flip side doing videos for Don McAllister’s ScreenCasts Online. You cannot believe how hard it is to do what he does. I’m only doing a tutorial every couple of months and it’s positively exhausting. Here’s the typical process:

  • Spend a week or so perusing the Applications folder to find a suitable application to record
  • Realize that the app you’ve chosen is either too esoteric and not enough people would get something out of it, or too simple so it won’t fill a 30 minute show
  • Peruse Applications some more and find a good app to record
  • Storyboard out what to say. I like to use iThoughts X to do a mind map because it lets me throw out a jumble of stuff I want to say and later organize it by dragging the bubbles around until I get a cohesive story
  • Research the vendor’s website to find out their pricing model, do they have a free trial and to read their documentation to make sure I know how to use the tool well. I often know a tool for what I use it for but it has more capabilities I don’t know about.
  • Now it’s time practice. Even on tools I know really well, I have to practice so I can demonstrate and talk at the same time. I need to be able to explain why I’m doing something, not just click buttons.
  • By now you’ll notice that I haven’t even launched ScreenFlow, the fabulous screen casting software from Telestream.
  • My user account has all kinds of crazy hoopla going on in it – weird extensions, makes strange noises, and has a silly background. I created a second user account called ScreenCasts Online so it would match Don’s. Downloaded his official ScreenCasts Online desktop background. Screen resolution for recording is important so to get the best resolution, Don likes 1280×720 HiDPI. In order to talk a Mac into that resolution, you need to install a System Preference pane called SwitchResX from Madrau.com. Note that even if I’ve been in the account an hour ago, when I log back in, the screen resolution will have reset itself, so I have to fix this every time. The downside of this is that now your computer monitor looks like a Fisher Price toy the resolution is so low.
  • When your’e doing a screen recording it’s really annoying if you ask an application to open a window and it opens on your second monitor. Open up the Displays preference pane, click on Arrange, and then drag the little white menu bar over to your recording monitor to set it as the main monitor. This one ALWAYS flips back on its own so I have to check it every time.
  • Close the windows so the audio doesn’t record the birds outside or the weed whacker the neighbor just decided to use.
  • Unplug the phone, turn down the intercom in case someone rings the doorbell, and take the collar off the dog so she doesn’t make noise when she walks around or does that shake thing the dogs enjoy so much.
  • Ok, we’re almost ready. Probably should go downstairs and get a snack first, and maybe some water. Oh darn, the laundry needs to be folded, better get that done first.
  • Back upstairs. Gotta focus, gotta start. Oh wait, I forgot there’s a file I need back over on my normal user account. Hey look, someone is wrong on Twitter! Better fix that. Ooh, that article looks interesting, I might need to put that on Google+. Darn. It’s dinner time, I can start on this tomorrow.
  • At some point I actually start but it can be days before I do. This week I finally got started recording 2 days before the video was due back to Don. Remember, I had around 60 days to prepare for this. I’m like that kid who wakes up two days before the science fair and realizes, “Oh no, is that today? I had 9 months to prepare and I’ve done nothing!”
  • This week was super entertaining because I had recorded the intro where I explain the problem to be solved, and showed the download and install of the software and started to do the first part of the demo. And then the software started failing. I’m not going to tell you what the software was because it’s wonderful software from a very responsive vendor who is trying really hard to diagnose why it’s failing on me. It’s not failed in probably 7 years but for the life of me it would not work properly.
  • That meant that in ONE DAY I had to find another app, research it, storyboard it, practice it and make the recording.

ScreenCasts Online logoI’m not telling you this story to make you feel sorry for me. I’m telling you because when I told Don, all he said was, “Don’t you hate when that happens?” No surprise at all because he’d lived through it so many times. Another time I actually got prepared well ahead of time and started recording a full week in advance of the due date, only to have the vendor come out with a new version at the end of the week. Again, Don said, “Don’t you hate when that happens?”

I’ve always said that Don’s magic is that he is so skilled at learning and explaining software, but after screen casting a mile in his shoes I think it’s that he doesn’t lose his ever loving mind doing this job.

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