Level Up Your Videos with Aaron Francis of Screencasting.com

Why elevating your video game matters.

As a serious digital creator, you know that making video content for your audience is essential. Even if you started out as a blogger, shifting to audio/visual formats is a trend that is here to stay.

While podcast have grown rapidly in recent years, video still surpasses it by a long shot. There are about 2.4 million active podcasts today but over 38 million YouTube channels.

But producing video can often seem quite daunting. Many creators don’t have a background in video recording and editing. To move forward, they either opt for quick and simple solutions or they invest heavily in studio-grade equipment. The first option gets videos done, but with a low production quality that presents as “amateur”. The second option often leaves creators out-of-pocket financially, but also on the time it takes to learn highly sophisticated equipment setups and processes.

Get started with creating high-quality video content.

We sat down with Aaron Francis, the creator of Screencasting.com, to understand what it really takes to create high-quality videos. Aaron is a former Big 4 CPA turned developer educator. He has an online audience of over 35,000 followers and creates popular YouTube videos and courses in PHP and MySQL. In this interview with Level Up Creators Founder and CEO Amanda Northcutt, Aaron discusses pro techniques that showcase you as a professional – without breaking the bank. If you’re a creator ready to level up your video game, read on.

Amanda: Aaron Francis is an amazing creator and keynote speaker best known on the internet for his kindness, expertise with MySQL, shed quarters, and of course, Screencasting.com, his new digital course.

Aaron: Hey, thank you. That’s quite an intro. Thanks for having me.

Amanda: Yeah, so excited for this conversation. But before we dive into our main topic today, which is how to make high quality video content, could you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your journey so far as a creator?

Aaron: Yeah, absolutely. I’m reading over that intro you just gave me – best known for kindness, expertise with MySQL, and shed quarters – which is just such a random collection of things! But yeah, let’s see – I’m a software developer and have been for a super long time. And as of the past maybe two or three years I’ve really kind of started to put myself out there publicly on the internet. And that has been the catalyst for a lot of what’s happening in my life today, up to and including launching Screencasting.com.

So I’ve just had this turn of, man, what do I want to do with my life and what’s stopping me? And I found a lot of what was stopping me was fear – fear of what other people would think of me. And so I just pushed past that and the world has opened up before me.

Amanda: Nice! And that’s why we’re here today. I’m so glad you’ve been sharing on the internet and came up with Screencasting.com. That’s how you and I got connected – I was starting a video podcast and was pretty overwhelmed with my video and lighting setup. You have been incredibly helpful and specific, and this was far less intimidating after getting your advice. So thank you, I’ve definitely benefited.

What exactly is Screencasting.com? Tell us about what prompted you to create this course specifically.

Aaron: Yeah, so this is kind of like my meta course. I’ve done several video courses and screencast series in other areas of expertise. After doing a big 8 hour, 65 video course on MySQL, people started asking me to teach them how to make courses like that and do screencasts.

I realized I had a lot of expertise from years of making videos, and a point of view on how to do it efficiently and high quality. So I put it all into this course – my opinions on the best practices and techniques to take your videos from a C+ to an A.

Amanda: I love the model you use in the course. As a busy person, I don’t have time to hunt and gather all this information online. Having it organized from a trusted expert is a total game-changer.

What’s the biggest challenge to making high-quality videos?

Okay, what are the biggest barriers to high-quality video production that you see, and how did you address those in your course?

Aaron: I think the biggest barrier is that it feels like a whole new technical field to gain expertise in. People look at the gear and setup as intimidating.

I jump right to solutions around gear and setup – here are some levels of good, better, best. Just pick something and move on. I think that helps people get unstuck.

Beyond gear, putting yourself on video can be really cringey if you hate watching and listening to yourself. But once you push past that and see the connection you can make with your audience, you leave the cringe behind.

Amanda: I love your good, better, best model for reducing barriers. So let’s talk key ingredients:

What are must-haves vs. nice-to-haves for high quality video?

Aaron: It starts before the technical stuff – who is your audience and what’s your angle? You can’t make the best Excel course for attorneys if they want beginner content and you target experts. Defining your audience and angle shapes your content and marketing.

After that, research helps you structure your content. I think showing your face builds connection with your audience.

On the technical side, an external mic is a must to avoid potato sound quality. I like to record in chunks between signposts in my content structure. It makes editing easier later. Go faster – respect your viewer’s limited time.

Finally, there are little tweaks that add up – hide distracting elements on your screen, have a pleasing background, tight editing with no awkward pauses. Do those and you go from amateur to pro.

Amanda: I love that tip about hiding desktop icons and distractions. Tiny details add up to quality. You said you record without a script – what’s your process there?

Aaron: I don’t use a script, but I still plan out topics and talking points. I’ll record myself explaining it, transcribe that to an outline, then re-record using that structure. It captures my natural energy better than a script would.

Amanda: Cool, everyone has a different process.

Let’s talk gear: a basic set up.

Walk us through a basic lighting, audio, and camera setup.

Aaron: External microphone is a must – avoid built-in mics. The Shure MV7 or Audio-Technica AT2005USB are great choices.

For lighting, one soft key light on you is great. For cameras, quality webcams from Elgato are awesome and affordable. If you want to step up to a DSLR, the Canon EOS M50 is a great choice.

Use camera and mic arms to avoid desk vibration. And whatever you choose, it’s worth investing $300 or so to look and sound way more professional.

How to record in a way that makes editing faster?

Amanda: Awesome, thanks for the specific gear recommendations. Let’s talk editing – you emphasize recording in a way that makes editing faster. What are some tips there?

Aaron: Record in chunks between transitions or topic changes – it’s easier to edit out mistakes. When recording talking head sections, nail it in one take instead of editing together multiple takes.

Leave gaps of silence to mark bad takes for easy deletion later. Do a rough cut right after recording to catch big mistakes while it’s fresh. Spread the work between recording and editing, and you minimize painful editing time.

Amanda: Great tips! Well Aaron, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom today. Creators, do not skip this course – go to Screencasting.com now. Aaron, excited to see what’s next for you and watch your journey unfold!

Aaron: Thank you, this was so fun! People can find me on Twitter at @aarondfrancis or my site Aaronfrancis.com.

Watch the full interview with Aaron Francis here.

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