How I Make My Videos


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.

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 ToolsStoik 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.

Other Stuff

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.

Comments from when this was a page, not a post

  1. Rachel Hibberd says:

    June 18, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    If you do decide to share the dictionary video, I and probably many other readers will be thrilled. It would be interesting for us NT’s to get a “glimpse” (ignore all the “secret world” connotations that has) into other ways of communicating that are not verbal. Rather, I should say ways of communicating that are different from my way, since I also use nonverbal communication but in a more typical way.

  2. June 18, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    It’s actually not as much about a deliberate form of communication. As much as it’s about… like non-autistic people tend to have a ton of facial expressions and body postures too that are not deliberate. The difference is that my non-deliberate postures and expressions sometimes differ from theirs, and that gets confusing to them. So it’s about a kind of non-verbal communication (even if not deliberate communication) that everyone has, it’s just that mine’s shaped a bit different so I’m often assumed to not have it or to have a lot less of it than I do.

  3. June 18, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    I can see where a “facial expression dictionary” might be of interest to, and maybe helpful to, a wider audience (if accompanied, of course, with the reminder that autistic people, too, are going to vary at least as much as non-autistic people in facial expression and body language–this should be obvious but I suppose some ppl will need to hear it). I’m thinking here of parents, teachers etc who might know intellectually that “autistic body language may be different” but aren’t really sure what that means in pragmatic terms. It might give them a starting point in figuring out the personalized dictionaries of the people they parent or work with.

    At the same time, I can understand why you would feel hesitant sharing something like this with any random reader who happens to find your blog. It sounds like a very personal project, and it’s up to you to decide where your personal “boundaries” are. Perhaps one compromise would be to produce two versions of the video: a full length version for your staff, and an abridged version for the public that would contain only the bits you feel comfortable sharing with a wider audience, if any.

  4. June 18, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    Yeah, it’s personal, and so far I’ve filmed some things at pretty vulnerable moments. I’m not sure which and how much of it I’ll be willing to show in public once it’s done, but the idea of two versions is a good one.

  5. June 18, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    One advantage of the protracted process in making this video is that it gives you plenty of time to decide just how far your comfort level goes vis a vis showing whichever parts of it in public. Good luck with that.

  6. Rachel Hibberd says:

    June 18, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    “So it’s about a kind of non-verbal communication (even if not deliberate communication) that everyone has, it’s just that mine’s shaped a bit different so I’m often assumed to not have it or to have a lot less of it than I do.”

    Gotcha. Still sounds cool, but don’t let me talk you into posting something you’re not comfortable with. I wouldn’t want some of my nonverbal communication on the internet either (for example crying), even though I am accepting of my personality style which includes being easily brought to tears as a way of coping with frustration.

  7. Ivan says:

    June 22, 2007 at 5:13 am

    I’d love to start making vids myself……even if just for me…….I’ve imagined so many in my mind already……..


  8. Sparrow says:

    June 27, 2007 at 7:31 am

    “I’ve noticed that Second Life is often more civil than IRC”

    Many people told me I would love Second Life so I visited. I have been treated poorly in IRC, but it could never have prepared me for what I experienced in Second Life. Three people started punching and hitting my character so that I was flying out of control through space. They were making audible laughing sounds and typing things that I will not repeat but that lead me to believe they were enacting a rape scene on me.

    I logged out and never went back. I still feel like crying when I remember it and then I feel stupid because it was just a bunch of computer drawings, not a real rape.

  9. June 27, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Internet trolls are everywhere, on Second Life they’re called griefers. But the general atmosphere aside from the trolls still seems more civil overall, when you get the same groups of people and compare their behavior between both.

  10. Sparrow says:

    June 27, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    I guess it’s easier for me to deal with being on IRC and having people come into the channel and call us ‘tards than it is to watch the person I lovingly created getting punched and raped.

    Though I don’t go to IRC very often, either. Live chat moves too fast for me. I type fast, but I don’t think fast enough to participate in a conversation flying by on the screen.

  11. June 28, 2007 at 12:12 am

    Sparrow — I’ve never tried Second Life or any of it’s variants, but I think if I had spent a lot of time and energy creating a character who I think of as “me” (or at least, my representational alter ego or whatever), I would find it disturbing to watch that character be hit or raped on the screen, too. Even if it wasn’t a “real” rape, it was still — well, I don’t know what to call it (verbal abuse? sexual harassment? on-line bullying? they have a bunch of terminology out there for things people do to each other that violate boundaries, hurt or scare or upset people etc. But the labels don’t really matter much I guess. The consequences do.

    Sorry that happened to you :-(

  12. n. says:

    July 5, 2007 at 1:37 am

    sparrow, don’t know if you are still reading here or not but i had some ugly stuff happen to me on SL and it freaked me out, but now i mostly stay with the Autistic groups or occasionally with some other groups of people i know and it has been ok since. on the ALF land we have precautions against griefers, so they can’t do *some* of the stuff they like to do. and if they do any other stuff we just EJECT-BAN ‘em. i would say, give it another go and come visit us, but it’s up to you.

  13. Melody says:

    October 28, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    I probably missed this, but I was wondering how you transfer from the camcorder to the computer. In my classes for Film and TV at my school, we use tape decks to digitize from mini DV tapes into digital files, but these are really expensive (in the thousands I think). I was wondering if you are using and/or know of a cheaper way to digitize files. I use Final Cut Pro to edit (I am still an amateur, just began making videos in mid-September 2007), although I don’t imagine that this would be a difficulty, as I can convert from Windows Media format to Quicktime files. I am AuRatio on YouTube. I still need to upload my finished Water Quality PSA.

    It was nice that you have shared your insight of how you create these. I have not yet made a video of the sort that you have (in that sense that mine have not been about autism, or mistreatment of people, or other such issues as this). Certainly you have inspired me in writing fiction about social issues as well as to make communication (through film and through essays) nonfictionally about the issues.

  14. annette says:

    February 29, 2008 at 5:16 am

    I saw your video, and it was so beautiful.

    I especially like the soundtrack.

    Your explanation of interacting w/ the environment is very helpful. I see that recently I may have totally misinterpreted a guy w/ autism movements as frustration (someone else interpreted them as aggression) .. I guess we tend to project our own concerns on those we don’t understand.

    anyway thanks for your movie and your words

  15. March 1, 2008 at 1:05 am

    It could easily be frustration or a number of other emotions as well. Not every person does the same things for identical reasons.

  16. Melody says:

    March 1, 2008 at 11:44 pm

    Yes. Recently my dad asked, with some degree of concern, that he seemed to be noticing me rocking more lately. I explained that just because I rock doesn’t mena I’m stressed, but it doesn’t rule it out, either. One of the ways I respond to stres is by rocking. It’s also just how I am at other times.

    Then, he told me, that when he was younger and he rocked, that it was about having so much energy, and that was one means to use it, but that he didn’t want to just assume that because I do the same thing that I do it for the same reasons.

  17. Jennifer says:

    March 21, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    I recently picked up a mini DV camcorder so I can start making so youtube videos. As far as transfering vids goes. My camera can plug into the USB port on my computer. I can then record with windows movie maker. Basically anything on my cameras screen or viewfinder can be recorded onto my PC. It can be live video or stuff I am playing back on the tape. Given the cost of DV tapes. Most of my videos will probably be recorded straight onto my PC or laptop rather than on a tape.

  18. Ettina says:

    March 26, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    Pretty off topic, but – how do you get autistic gestures and gait in second life? I want my character to act more like me.

    What I really want is:

    * a hair-twirling gesture, especially if I can do it fairly continuously

    * a hand-flapping gesture, especially combined with jumping and trilling

    * ability to sit with knees against chest, especially if I could get my character to automatically do that whenever I stand still longer than a certain time

    * walking with arms bent near chest rather than straight

  19. March 26, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    You can get any sort of gestures you want, if you learn how to work an animation program like Avimator.

    And learn the different override levels (because different ones will override only certain amounts of the built-in gestures, with different consequences).

    And use an Animation Overrider to put the animations into it and set the settings so it uses the gestures you want.

    I have given out of a few of mine to other autistic people, but I haven’t been able to get on much lately or I’d offer to make those for you. (I can also normally customize people’s avatars for realism in appearance, to a point at least, but I have to have a pretty good idea what they look like first, and I have to be up to spending long amounts of time in SL.)

    If I end up in SL a lot again I’ll try to make some animations for you.

  20. hyd says:

    April 3, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    hey amanda. love your site. what software do you use to add captions to the bottom of your videos?

  21. Joanini says:

    April 16, 2008 at 9:37 am

    Everytime I am able to check out your site, I am ever grateful that I stumbled upon it.

    I hope to share your site with other compassionate people and I wish you the best.

    You and your community ( which is also part me and mine) are very dear to me.

    I hope you continue to share with the world your insight and your gifts as well as those who join you.

    Sincerely and with admiration and gratitude,


  22. Melanie Garn says:

    April 25, 2008 at 6:33 am

    Love your video’s and the seemingly random sounds, and the humming is beautiful! yeah you go girl!


  23. charlotte stace says:

    May 6, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    do you know who coined the term curebie and when where first in print


  24. Hilary Ann says:

    August 2, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Re: “Yeah, it’s personal, and so far I’ve filmed some things at pretty vulnerable moments. I’m not sure which and how much of it I’ll be willing to show in public once it’s done, but the idea of two versions is a good one.”

    I am just amazed that after all the bullying, the ignorant and insensitive and even over compentatory comments you get, that you’d even be willing to share anything. Never mind opening it up like this. When I read about what goes on in chat sites, I am horrified. I don’t know how you handle it without getting all bitter about humanity in general. You have a generous soul. I don’t want to gush (so I won’t) but fact is that it has impacted me hugely. I hope that for the sake of those who actually do want to understand and to communicate with the non verbal, you’ll put it out there at some point. Maybe if you charge for it, it will keep the bullies and nuckleheads out.

    Thanks again for your videos and your blog.


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Developmentally disabled, physically and cognitively disabled. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died in 2014 and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

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