By Sally Ericson, Bellingrath Gardens

Sally Ericson
Bellingrath Gardens & Home

Everyone loves a social media video, but until recently, I shied away from embracing the technology. If you’ve had the same hesitation, read on. I’m here to hold your hand and reassure you that if I can do it, you can, too.

(Full disclosure: I am not comfortable being on camera, so much so that someone recently took enough pity on me to order a copy of “TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking” and send it to me anonymously, which was mortifying. I read it, and I’m not sure if it helped me, but I do recommend it.)

The situation that started me down this terrifying new path was actually a series of events, or rather, the fact that Bellingrath Gardens and Home had quite a few scheduled. We had so many events coming up that just the thought of doing our usual social media posts felt inadequate. As the month of April loomed, I started thinking more in terms of trying different tactics.

It’s not that we haven’t tried video before at Bellingrath, but the results have been mixed. In fall 2017, my colleague, Angela Strickland, filmed me for a Facebook Live post as I talked for several minutes about our Boo at Bellingrath event. I knew it was a dismal failure when my mother gave me some unfiltered feedback: “It seemed kind of … long.” I also tried to take a video at the start of the Wiggle Waggle Rescue Run a couple of years ago, but it took forever to snap into focus and came across as amateurish.

The event that set me on course to make a fresh dive into video was the February PRCA Mobile luncheon, “Video Storytelling for Any Budget,” with guest speaker Chad Kirtland. He held up his smartphone and assured us that all of the tools we needed were right there. Those of us who felt that we couldn’t do much without sophisticated equipment and a lavish production budget no longer had to accept those limitations. No more excuses, I thought.

He gave us great advice about lighting, reducing background noise and which apps to use. I left the luncheon feeling inspired, and then I did what I always do when in doubt about my abilities with technology – I roped in my daughter to take charge. She packed up her docile dog, Dean, and met me at the Gardens to film our first official unprofessional video. I thought it would be fun to use Dean as a guest star to promote the April 27 Wiggle Waggle Rescue Run, which is a great cause and also the only day of the year in which dogs are allowed in the Gardens.

Problems shooting: Fountain background noise, which led to a change in location; and a delay for cleanup when Dean relieved himself on the Great Lawn.

Problems editing: We couldn’t figure out how to add captions to the video on her phone, and we realized later that the azaleas, while a great backdrop, may lead to disappointment from viewers who may get the idea that the flowers will still be in bloom at the end of April.

Overall evaluation: Dean behaved himself, and while I didn’t exactly look relaxed, at least I made a wee bit of eye contact and didn’t stammer too noticeably when enunciating “Wiggle Waggle Rescue Run.”

Pleased with our first effort, we decided on a different approach to promote the Easter Egg Hunt, an event that seemed truly made for video. My daughter arrived at the Gardens in the late afternoon for the shoot, when, we hoped, very few guests would be around to see me transform into a giant bunny. I hauled the bunny suit and a few plastic eggs out to Live Oak Plaza and we conferred about what we wanted to do. Because bunnies don’t talk, this video would have to have a voiceover, as opposed to the Wiggle Waggle video, and my daughter said she could figure that part out later.

I hopped around a few times, and then my daughter suggested that I hop across the Great Lawn and scatter the eggs. “Mom, you’re a terrible hopper,” she said. Directors – they’re so picky.

When we got home, my daughter edited the segments together in about 10 minutes, added some music, then had me sit next to her and watch it as I recorded a voiceover to match. After a couple of takes, we had a 28-second video.

Problems shooting: Very few because we weren’t doing live audio. It was hard to see out of the bunny head, and I ended up stepping on one of the plastic eggs that I was supposed to be scattering, but c’est la vie.

Problems editing: At first, my daughter was afraid that it was too short. (Facebook recommends longer videos, with the rationale that a longer video gives more people a chance to view them. However, in my own viewing habits, I prefer short. Whenever anyone’s post pops up in my feed with the advice that “these four minutes are worth your time,” I just keep scrolling.) “It’s fine,” I said.

Overall evaluation: If you can avoid live audio, you really should, especially when you’re shooting outside. It’s so much easier to do a voiceover.

We posted the bunny clip on Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, the post reached 3,461 people, had 202 engagements and was shared 10 times, which are all robust numbers for us. On Twitter, we had 877 impressions, which is also a big number. But I choose to believe that the best evaluation is our attendance for the event, which was more than 700. I would like to think that at least a few of our guests saw the video and were inspired to put our event on their calendars.

I also decided to try making a video to promote our Easter Sunrise Service. I made this one using iMovie on my phone, with a great deal of assistance from Angela, who isn’t as afraid of technology as I am. My first idea was to patch a few current Gardens shots together with some photos of past Sunrise Services, but then another colleague pointed out that I had a great chance to shoot an actual sunrise that very weekend when we would be getting ready for the Easter Egg Hunt. “You’ll be here early enough,” she pointed out, and she was right. That Saturday morning, after I helped set up some of the Easter-themed games, I ran down to the riverfront as the sun was well on the rise, tucked my elbow into my ribs, and took a couple of panning shots. Later that day, I took some still shots of the Gardens around Live Oak Plaza. I also emailed a couple of archived Sunrise Service photos to myself, then downloaded them into my phone. (I did this after a frustrating attempt to plug my phone into my computer and transfer photos from computer to phone. No dice, the devices said.)

Problems shooting: The panning video shots looked OK (i.e., not too shaky), but there were a few gusts of wind that made loud, startling sounds right in the middle of most of them. Angela helped me trim them out of the final product.

Problems editing: iMovie was surprisingly easy to use, once Angela gave me some pointers. I could easily “pinch” the segments to trim them, and it automatically converted my still photos into panning shots between the riverfront video segments. Once again, I didn’t have the patience to figure out how to add captions. Also, there wasn’t any appropriate music available in the app for a video about a church service. I could have gone online and tried to find some uncopyrighted spirituals, of course, but I just decided to go without.

Overall, I am still evaluating video and how we can use it to promote our events. I learn new things every time I try it, and Angela and I will keep working on coming up with better, creative ideas. It’s certainly been encouraging to have a new tool to work with on social media.

Now, then – does *anyone* know a quick and easy way to put captions on an iMovie video?