I was hired to by Ali Abdaal (@AliAbdaal) to create a trailer for his online course, The Part-Time YouTuber Academy. (If you’ve got an online course with a dedicated cohort and lot of leftover zoom recordings, click here to see my work.)
This post is the first in a series I’m calling How I Design. If other creators like these posts, then I’ll keep sharing behind-the-scenes looks on how I make my videos, oversee projects, consult with creatives, make podcasts, write, and more. This is for the nerds, geeks, and behind-the-scenes junkies.
In this post I’ll take you through:
- How I landed a gig to create a trailer for a YouTuber with over 1 million subscribers
- My design philosophy
- How I sorted through over 350(!) YouTube channels to find clips
- What it was like to work with Ali Abdaal
- Advice for freelancers
Alright, let’s dive in.
Getting the gig
In the summer of 2020, I joined an online group of writers, playfully dubbed ‘Writer’s Bloc.’ After 2 months of joining their weekly group sessions over zoom, I had an idea while talking to Cullin McGrath, co-owner of the group. It was 6:00 p.m. I asked him if I could make a little commercial/trailer/video thing for Writer’s Bloc. Cullin had seen the video trailers I made for my podcast before.
His answer? Hell Yeah.
I finished the video at midnight. It took me six hours.
To note, I wasn’t paid to make this. I did this entirely out of a love of the community. It’s my favorite piece of work. The first domino. (That’ll be a blog post one day about creating one thing that leads to many opportunities.)
Echoing Cullin, I said Hell Yeah!
Key takeaway: even if you’re making something for free, pour your heart and soul into the work. It will pay off later. I promise.
Three days after Robbie pinned the video to his Twitter profile, Ali Abdaal dmed me to ask if I could create a video for his online course.
Can you guess what I said?
I said NO.
Kidding. I said Hell Yeah!
Key takeaway: keep making good stuff. People will take notice, and opportunities will come your way. This is inevitable.
Meeting and working with Ali Abdaal
Two days after getting the DM from Ali, we met over Zoom. This was the first time I had ever spoken with him. I was nervous. Looking back, I had no reason to be so nervous. He’s only another human being, after all. When we meet with people with high numbers, we tend to put them on a pedestal way higher than we think we can reach.
I was nervous I hadn’t yet accepted my new role/identity as a freelance creative. I couldn’t yet believe that people were taking notice of my work, and willing to pay me for my services.
Key takeaway: If you’re working with someone who seems bigger/better/funnier/more than you, take a deep breath and remind yourself that they’re human just like you.
This nervousness quickly subsided thanks to Ali’s friendly disposition. Working with him on this project was incredibly easy, as he gave me what every creator dreams of: nearly unlimited creative freedom. Being granted this much freedom came as a surprise. But when you cultivate a style that people enjoy – a joke that people get – don’t be so shocked when clients let you express your best judgment. So much of the creative process is about cultivating good taste. Taste is a skill that anyone can learn.
Creating the video
Ali gave me access to an excel spreadsheet which contained nearly 400 YouTube accounts created by students of the course. He also gave me access to a Google Drive with all the marketing assets.
I had to decide which clips from this huge amount of YouTube channels to use for the trailer.
98% of the channels missed the cut. There were so many good ones. But I couldn’t use them all.
I wish I could tell you that I had some fancy pants process for selecting which clips to use.
I clicked at random!
When I finally found a clip that fit my design philosophy (see below), I recorded the clip using OBS screengrab software (Archaic, I know. I also use archaic video editing software.)
This part of the job took the longest. Editing is the easy part. Choosing which clips to include is the part that drives editors insane. Choosing, though, is an act of taste. And taste, as I’ve said, is something you practice.
Which clips I used, and why
“Is this thing rolling?”
I like to begin each trailer with someone saying something snappy. The first clip is always the most important clip. You have half a second to set the tone for the video. Half a second. That’s all you get. If you don’t set the appropriate tone within this microcosm of time, you miss the opportunity to convey the message behind the video.
“My name is…”
These clips (calling them cohort clips) convey a sense of community. These clips show viewers that this cohort or community is full of people who see things the way you do. I first employed this technique back in my video for Writer’s Bloc.
“On this channel…”
Shows viewers that this is a community of YouTubers, not a community of plumbers. Specificity! Who is it for? YouTubers. Got it? Good!
Cut to first graphic of course logo
Now the viewer knows exactly what this trailer is for. It’s for The Part-Time YouTuber Academy. Not Spanish class. Again, specificity matters!
“Welcome back to my channel…”
Callback to the previous set of cohort clips. Further reinforces the assertion that this is a course for people who want to learn how to grow a YouTube channel. Also features the variety of content that these people are creating.
Quick text flash 1: fashion music food tech people
I have a fetish for this cut. I don’t know what it is. I love these quarter second cuts of words that express the values, themes, and characteristics of the project. I think I get it from watching the opening of Neon Genesis Evangelion a thousand times.
It’s become part of my signature, and I’m going to keep using it in my projects until it gets old (and then I’ll keep using it because I love it so much.) It’s extremely simple, easy to do, and effective at conveying a lot of information in a short timeframe.
The only draw back to this clip is that sometimes it’s too fast. For me, the faster the better. But for some clients, the slower the better. My rule of thumb for this dilemma? Respect your clientele. If they ask you to change something near and dear to your precious creative process, don’t let your ego takeover. Listen to them. They might be right.
Speedy clips of Part-Time YouTube Academy students in their videos -> speedy clips of students talking to the camera
Besides having clips of people saying they’re making YouTube videos, I wanted to show the audience exactly what they were making videos about. Also wanted to convey communication, without bombarding listeners with too much noise. Less, but better.
Quick text flash 2: creators
This cut shows the who of the course. For whom is this course for? Writers, programmers, chefs, doctors — creators. Once again, I’m a total bitch for snappy cuts like this. There’s no technique. Anybody can do this. It’s all a matter of taste.
“Do it a hundred times…one day at a time, that’s all it takes…”
To convey that this course is hard work. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s okay. We’re here for you, and we’re in this together.
“Welcome to homemade…today I’m going to talk to you about…”
These clips show off how Ali’s course teaches students of any professional or hobbyist background how to combine YouTube with their craft, expertise, or passion.
More sped up scenes of cohort members. Just music.
Nodding to one of my favorite directors, Makoto Shinkai, I use shots of people facing the camera to further convey a sense of community and belonging.
Final: Just hit 100 subscribers!
This is the transformation that Ali and his team deliver through the course: an audience eager for more.
Though I relied on random selection, I aimed for a diverse selection of clips. The course is for YouTubers, but it’s actually about teaching doctors (like Ali), dentists, chefs, students, tea drinkers, coffee geeks, and creatives of all kinds how to make a living off of YouTube. Which brings us to,
Like all the trailers I make for online communities and courses, I wanted to convey these two core elements:
Considering the tone of the project, I always ask myself: how can I make this exciting? How can I take these clips and leftover zoom recordings, and turn them into a work of art? How can I do this job better than anybody else? How can I best deliver my services in a way that will delight not only the client, but everyone involved in the community or course?
Finally, for those of you who were wondering, I don’t storyboard anything.
I play the music by ear.
Alright folks. That’s everything I could cover.
Cheers, and here’s to your good health.
If you have questions about creativity, design, or just want to say hello, reach out to me on Twitter. If you’re a creator, my DMs are always open. And if you’re interested in hiring me to work on a project, here’s a link to my portfolio.