Interview with MailChimp’s Joshua Rosenbaum
I recently connected with Joshua Rosenbaum, the resident ScreenFlow guru at MailChimp, providers of email marketing software and services. Joshua has created some really professional, not to mention, fun and unique screencasts for MailChimp.
In this interview Joshua gives us some great insight into his screencasting process, as well as some of the tools he uses, and the lessons he’s learned along the way.
How long have you been screencasting?
I’ve only been making screencasts for a little over a year. ScreenFlow was recommended to me by Ben Chestnut here at MailChimp. He had used it for a while and was very pleased with it, so I gave it a try and was off and running in no time. I realized pretty quickly that ScreenFlow was a unique blend of power and simplicity. It’s not bogged down with a lot of unnecessary features, but has just the right amount so it remains easy and intuitive while still being a powerful and versatile app. I consider it a very elegant application in that sense.
For what purpose to do you make your screencasts?
MailChimp is a pretty powerful application, lots of features and so forth, so we use screencasts to help introduce new features and educate our users about them. We have them sprinkled throughout the application as “Show Me” videos, and embed others into promotional pages and blogs that discuss or promote new features or best practices.
Does one person do all the screencasting for your company, or is it a collaborative effort?
There is one other person, Jennifer, who does some “micro-casts” which display individual controls and functions of the MailChimp app. But for the more substantive pieces, these folks here are brave enough to just tell me what they need, and I usually work independently to produce the product. Occasionally I’ll ask our graphic designers for some illustrations, and I’ll almost always consult with people in other departments to discover what it is I need to convey or illustrate, then I’ll run the finished pieces by any stakeholders when I think it’s ready for prime time, just to make sure I did what they needed me to do effectively.
What kind of studio or set up do you have?
I’ve got a pretty great studio set up in a pretty large, versatile space with good light. My workstation is made up of two really big Apple monitors and a Mac Pro Quadcore tower. In the area behind me I have a photo/video set with a seamless, a light kit and green screen. Then in another corner I have a wonderful soundbooth I cobbled together out of unused cubicle components. Inside of that I have a MacBook Pro laptop, and MXL mic and a Tascam audio digital converter. There are a few keyboards and musical instruments, as well as some puppets and other wacky toys lying around here as well.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of creating your screencasts?
I would have to say that each one poses its own unique challenge. How can this be funny? How can I keep it compelling? But in terms of difficulty, sometimes I have to make screencasts that include captures of so many different things, and sometimes some of those things don’t even exist yet, so it can get a little unwieldy trying to keep track of all the elements sometimes, especially if the project extends past one work session.
What’s your process for creating your screencasts?
I always start with a script. Then I’ll do a few reads in the soundbooth, then I’ll take the best voice over and create a soundtrack with it. When the soundtrack is finished, I’ll crack open ScreenFlow and begin capturing, animating the moves and stitching things together. In the midst of that process I’ll sometimes create or collect some other assets to pull in, which may be still graphics or other animations. When it’s all complete I’ll export a H.264 file right from ScreenFlow and upload it to a test server so that people can review it. Then if it is ready I’ll upload it to the video host and one of the other folks here will embed it into its proper place in the MailChimp site or application.
Do you record audio and screen recording at the same time, or at different times?
I really try and make sure my script, VO, and soundtrack are totally complete before hitting the animation and editing phase. But, at times I’ll have to go back to the soundbooth to add or adjust the voice over, and that can cause a little bit of a domino effect in terms of having to make other adjustments in the edit.
What processes have you changed as you’ve gotten more experienced?
I can’t say there have been any huge “Aha” moments, however there has been lots of little things that I’ve learned along the way. I have a tendency to try and one-up myself with each project, even if that’s done with something small or insignificant. So it might not be the process that changes, but little techniques here and there. Such as keeping the objects on screen moving at all times. This can be annoying if done wrong, but it can add an elegant quality if done correctly. Many subtle things can add a lot of polish to a piece, and it’s mostly these things that I’ve picked up along the way.
Do you have a screencast that you’re especially proud of?
I am pretty happy with a couple in particular.
The video announcing MailChimp’s integration with WordPress is probably my favorite so far. It combined all of the applications, processes, and creativity that I’ve got at my fingertips and resulted in a really dynamic and enjoyable informative piece. I captured everything with ScreenFlow, but then brought those clips into AfterEffects to get the more advanced animation techniques that it provides. I had fun making the music for it too.
I also like this one, about MailChimp’s VIP Reports feature, because it is a solid example of the typical type of screencast that I do here on a daily basis. It was all captured and edited in ScreenFlow–even the simple animation in the beginning — and it displays the snappy pace and sense of humor we like to inject into our screencasts.
What kind of camera do you use for your screencasts?
I’ll use just about any video camera I can get my hands on. Luckily a coworker here at MailChimp has parked his Panasonic AVCCAM in my studio, which I use regularly. It records progressive HD to an SD card, so it makes transferring footage into Final Cut very quick and easy. It also has some in-camera features that really come in handy when shooting against a seamless or greenscreen, as well as full audio control which I find important.
I’m a bit more picky about my still cameras. I really have to have a camera with a real lens that I can control, so I’ll only stick with an SLR. The Canon I currently use is a real workhorse, but I am looking forward to updating this year to a new model that shoots HD video through the interchangeable lenses. The dreams I’ve had for years about video with depth of field will soon come true!
What kind of mic do you use?
I’m pretty happy with the large diaphram MXL mic that I use. It’s a great mic for the price, has an accurate and warm sound. But what is just as important to getting a good sound is the digital audio converter. I’ve been through several of them, and I like the Tascam the best when compared to others in its class.
What other programs/accessories do you use besides ScreenFlow to create your screencasts?
I use AfterEffects, Photoshop, Illustrator, Garage Band, Final Cut Pro, Text Edit, various musical instruments, microphones and sound gear, Canon EOS Rebel XT DSLR, Panasonic AVCCAM, Flip MinoHD, seamless and greenscreens, hotlights, toys, costumes, puppets, unicorns, and occasionally I’ll hijack a co-worker and use them or their voice somehow, usually against their will.
Garage Band is a great app for recording sound and composing soundtracks. It’s not ProTools, but for what I’m doing here it’s just fine.
FinalCut is like PhotoShop to me because I use about 10% of its capabilities. So it still befuddles me a little bit sometimes, but it’s a workhorse, and makes it pretty easy to capture and edit video.
Compressor is also a necessary application for compressing final renders and cooking them down to a manageable size.
AfterEffects is a playground. I love it for its headroom. To me it’s kind of the opposite of ScreenFlow, in that it has limitless possibilities. But sometimes that’s what you want, and other times that can be a burden.
ScreenFlow remains at the core of my process. It’s stable, easy to use, fast, and has exactly the features I want and need. I love the interface, it makes compression super easy, and pretty much takes anything I can throw at it.
What’s the stupidest mistake you’ve made when creating a screencast?
Well, I am always tap dancing around the line of what’s appropriate or going too far from a humor perspective. Recently I may have “innocently” crossed it, and my boss and I had one of those talks that I like to call a “learning moment.” But seriously, this company really fosters creativity and part of that process involves pushing the limits sometimes. So we tend to find (or at least look for!) the value in the mistakes we make.
Besides ScreenFlow and MailChimp what’s your favorite program for the mac?
Well, those are definitely the top two. Third would have to be a tie between the limitless playground of AfterEffects and the app that is always open, Firefox.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out screencasting?
Put yourself in the audience when you make your screencasts. No one wants to sit through a boring 8 minute video where they have to squint to see things and strain to stay awake through droll narration. Keep things snappy and to the point both from a script and visual perspective, and you’ll have a more successful result.
Thanks, Joshua, for your insights!