A lot of people have asked questions about how I make my videos, so I’m just going to answer everyone in one spot. I’ll start with the technical stuff.
I used to use a digital camera that could only record a minute and a half at a time. It had no tripod mount so I had to set it on flat surfaces. Sometimes that meant stacking books up to get it to sit right, and it often fell over nonetheless. Then when I was on CNN, many of my relatives and a family from the neighborhood I grew up in saw me. Together they bought me a real digital camcorder with a tripod, which I’m very grateful for because it makes things a lot easier.
After I get the videos recorded, I transfer them to my computer. I can edit the individual videos in the software that came with my camcorder. Sometimes Windows Movie Maker will deal with those files, and sometimes it won’t. When it won’t, I have to convert them to another file format. I use a variety of freeware tools for manipulating and converting video files, because I can’t afford commercial editing software. I use RAD Video Tools, Stoik Video Converter, and VirtualDub.
Then I put the videos and any effects I want together in Windows Movie Maker. I might record sound separately or straight over the video. I use a Dynavox VMax these days for spoken words, and may use my voice for other sounds like humming or singing, both of which I use an old, borrowed computer microphone for. Windows Movie Maker has a feature that allows you to record sound straight over the top of the video project. But sometimes I prefer to record it separately, in which case I use Audacity. Then I can just drag and drop that into the Movie Maker project.
After editing all that stuff is, I save the Microsoft Movie Maker project as a WMV file, which I then have to convert to AVI. Then I use the DivXLand Media Subtitler to add subtitles, and by then I’m usually done.
Then there’s the less technical end of things. I don’t work from written plans or scripts or anything, although there is an element of planning involved. I know what I want to do and then I film everything I think I need for that purpose.
I’ve found that because I’m autistic there’s a strange expectation that everything I do on camera should be absolutely spontaneous, and that if it’s not there’s something wrong. This is not how most non-autistic people make videos and it is not how I make videos either. I use a combination of planning and spontaneity.
I’ll give examples from the video I made to show what happens when I try to boil water.
I had to show the ways that I respond automatically to various aspects of my surroundings. I did not wait until I was trying to boil water and then film my attempts to do so (which is what people in the “must be absolutely spontaneous” camp would expect of me). I set up the tripod in the living room pointed into the kitchen over the kitchen counter. I carried the remote control with me in one hand. And I walked in and out of the kitchen repeatedly.
The spontaneous aspect of this is that I did not plan out which objects to interact with, or how to react to them. That evolved naturally. I deliberately wandered around the kitchen in the manner that I do in real life, but the interaction with the objects was for the most part spontaneous, as was the stopping and not moving at certain points. The part where I sat down was my body’s attempt to take a break (I don’t normally stand as long as I did while filming this, I’m also physically disabled and normally use a wheelchair). It was a good deal longer than what I showed in the end product, and I just later filmed myself rocking from the back to fill in that gap where I sat down.
So there was that combination of deliberate planning of how the actions would take place, and then spontaneous reactions to things around me. That’s how most of my videos work, there is a combination of the two, just like there is in non-fiction videos by non-autistic filmmakers. Being autistic does not change this, it only changes what sorts of things spontaneity and plannedness look like.
I am actually working on a much more difficult video project, in which I really am trying to capture spontaneous expressions that I cannot do deliberately. I have been working on it for quite some time and it’s meant to be a dictionary of sorts of expressions, I don’t know whether it will be public or just for my staff. But it is much harder because I have to be able to set the camera up or have it set up already, while I’m still doing whatever it is that I’m doing. This is why most filming does not work this way. It’s also why this project has been going on since last December and I still haven’t come anywhere near to completing it, and why the parts I do have tend to be expressions of continuous things like pain or overload rather than fleeting expressions of emotions. (See Future Video Projects for other projects I’m working on.)
Why I Make My Videos
For the same reason that I write: To convey information that I think is useful to convey. It’s just another way of doing it, and one that I prefer in many respects. Because my interaction with my surroundings in everyday life is not word-based, it’s movement-based and all kinds of other things, and those are easier to capture on video than in a word-based blog. I really enjoy being able to communicate with people in other ways than words, and videos (even the ones with words) are useful in trying to do that.
Also, it’s one thing to describe at length what happens when I try to do things like boil water or cook for myself. It’s another thing to be able to show people, “Here is what happens, for me and a lot of other people like me, when we try to do these things.” It makes it so much more obvious how hard we are working, because it’s not just words, it shows what life is like for many of us, and it’s harder to ignore than just “And this is difficult for me.” It’s one thing to describe the way I interact with my surroundings, it’s another to actually show people, as in “In My Language,” the ways that have always (whether I’ve had words or not at the time) come more naturally to me than standard language has.
Also, a lot of people online tend to think that I and other autistic bloggers all somehow magically “look normal”. Videos counteract that impression quite well, I’ve found.
And I’ve found that it also lets people know they’re talking to a real person, not just a bunch of words on a screen. I’ve noticed that Second Life is often more civil than IRC even though they can be used for the same sort of chatting, and I think it’s because people can see that there’s person-like figures on the screen, and that they’re interacting with human beings, not just words. It’s harder to hate a person than it is to hate a bunch of words.
Hopefully that’s answered most questions people have about this stuff. I’ve tried to cover everything I’ve been asked about before.
Note: On YouTube and LiveVideo I am silentmiaow and amandabaggs only. Anyone else claiming or appearing to be me should not be believed unless I change this space.