GV Expo: Mathew John Shares Four Steps to Creating Low-Budget Video

Produced National Park Services’ centennial video with no funding November 29, 2017

WASHINGTON—It was harder than it looks to create the most-watched video in the history of the National Park Service—currently with more than 1.6 million views—Mathew John, the audiovisual production specialist for the National Park Service, told the 2017 Government Video Expo crowd. Given no budget for the project, John was able to piece together a beautiful depiction of America’s parks in time for the National Park Service’s centennial in 2016, which even got the attention of then-President Obama.

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To achieve this, John told the GV Expo audience, he employed four key methods for creating impactful videos: Trust your vision; take it all in; be creative; and give sincere credit.

Chief among these, according to John, is the vision. “If you don’t have that vision, you’re not going to be able to do all the things that you have to do to make a video; especially if it’s low budget,” he said.

For this important project, he followed his second point of taking it all in by finding content all over the place. This included old audio and video clippings that he found among the materials left behind by his predecessor; public domain content he discovered on Google or YouTube; created content from himself and other National Park Service employees; and, what made up most of the centennial video, original content from individuals or companies.

As he told attendees, “it’s not hard to find content; it’s just kind of difficult to try and obtain content.”

“I watched at least 20 hours worth of footage, and I would find one or two seconds of video that I wanted to use,” he said. Ultimately, it required a lot of creativity to sort through all this footage and audio clips to create what he described as a more seamless video. In total, John says he took materials from about 24 people and companies for the video, whom he acknowledged with “sincere credit.”

“I make sure to give everyone credit, because it may look like it’s my video, but without these people there’s no way I’d be able to finish,” John said.

The success of the video has made some in the government sector think it’s not so difficult to create a video on no or low budget, says John, but others are witnessing the power of the video and are more willing to provide funding for future endeavors. Even if the budget doesn’t increase for future projects, John trusts in his methodology and believes it can serve as an example for others.

“I hope I kind of motivated people that you are able to go out, and you can make videos on a low budget, too,” he said. “And, hopefully, you can make something beautiful.”

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