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WHEREIN we talk with Nick Jenkins from Sexplanations and Crash Course about what goes on from the production point of view!

Crash Course:

Hi. My name is Peter, and this is Go Verb a Noun.

Last week, we talked to Dr. Lindsey Doe, the host and writer for Sexplanations. She told us about what it was like starting up a channel and some of the differences between educating online versus educating in person. And some of the challenges that present themselves when educating about sex ed online.

This week, we're talking to Nick Jenkins to find out what goes on from the production point of view. He works on Sexplanations and Crash Course, and to both of these channels he brings the viewpoint of somebody who comes to YouTube from a background in film. 

The result of this is, in my opinion, a degree of polish that you'd don't often see in YouTube. Even though more and more channels are upgrading their equipment or shooting high-def, the kind of polish I'm talking about isn't just technological. It's the result of a lot of people putting in a lot of work and of a process that, hopefully, is about to be a little bit demystified for you.

So, let's check it out.


 Nick Jenkins Intro

Hi! I'm Nick Jenkins, and I work for Hank Green and Lindsey Doe on Crash Course and Sexplanations. Sometimes on Sci Show.

 (00:59)How did you get involved in YouTube?

Peter: How did you get involved in YouTube?

Nick: So, I was an independent film maker for a long time. I had my degree in film making and graphic design, and I was doing freelance work around Missoula. Because I like Missoula, and I wanted to stay in Missoula after I finished college.

So, ah, I'd been putting together a reel over the years and got an e-mail from Michael Gardner, who was basically Hank Green's assistant at the time, talking about, "We're starting a YouTube channel. And we're doing this, and we're doing that. And would you like to be a part of it? We've seen your reel, and blah, blah, blah."

I'm immediately ignored it. Because I . . . You get a lot of e-mails when you have a good reel that just don't amount to much. And it sort of had all of the ear marks of things that I had sort of learned were not going to pan out correctly.

And I didn't know who Hank Green was. I didn't know about Vlogbrothers. I didn't know, really, about anything.

I had used YouTube as a resource. But I was not a YouTuber, and I had not worked with YouTubers. 

Ah, then, I don't know . . . About a week or two later, I had a really bad day. Something just . . . It was a just a very frustrating day for some reason. I don't remember if it was because I was teaching or if it was because I was freelance, but I got another e-mail from them. It was like, "Hey, we don't know if you got the first e-mail . . ." And since I'd had the bad day, I was like, "All right. Yeah, I'll go. I'll go meet you guys."

Had the meeting. They told me about Crash Course and Sci Show that weren't named that yet. They were just saying, "We're going to start two educational channels." It sounded great. They explained to me more who Hank was, and what they were planning to do, and why they wanted my services. And I said, "Okay. Yeah! I'm on board with this." And that's pretty much it.

 (2:30)What's surprising about YouTube as a medium?

Peter: What's surprising about YouTube as a medium?

Nick: I do consider myself a filmmaker, but more than that I consider myself an educator. So I was most impressed and surprised with the ability to reach a big number of people for education. That was one of the biggest things to me.

And as I've gone on, over the last few years, I think the most surprising thing has just been sort of the, the, fandoms and how passionate they are. I think that's one of the biggest surprises.

That Hank is Hank, and Tyler Oakley is Tyler Oakley, and all of these things don't really surprise me. The passion and the sort of good-natured passion.

Because I grew up as a rock and roll fan. I grew up as a, um, horror movie fan. So the good-natured side of it is the side that I'm most impressed with and surprised by, I think. I think that's how it works out for me.

 (03:20)On educating online versus in-person

Peter: On education online versus in person . . .

Nick: First of all, it's numbers. The biggest difference for me is just numbers. Because I'll have a class, online class or a live class, you know, that sort of maxes out between 20 to 100. Something like that. And to look at the views we get on Crash Course for instance, you realize, oh, there's a lot more people who are able to view this. And a lot more people who maybe can't go to university; who don't have access to for-profit education. And so that's important to me. 

Because it was always the case with me that I was not interested in an institution as much as I was interested in educating people and helping people get education. So, that is one of the most stark differences to me. It's like, this is free. This is people all over the world -- for the most part -- can get access to this information.

One of the other things is, it forces me. Because I have my own little channel, and I do stuff on there, and I've used what I've learned here to channel into the classroom. The biggest thing that I've learned is that it forces you, as a teacher, to think about performance and to think about how you're delivering information. What information is valuable? And the speed with which you can deliver information, especially in an online format.

Because I would go back and look at some of the videos that I had done before for my online classes. Or I would go back and just look at lectures that I would have to give. Or in-class discussions. And just sort of be aghast at the pacing which which I would do that.

So, pacing and really a self-evaluation. I think that's the biggest thing that I've learned is just a self evaluation where you have to sit and look at it and go, "Okay, well what is the point of this? What am I trying to do? Am I doing that? And is it enjoyable? Is it enjoyable for the students? Is it enjoyable for anybody who would be watching this? And if not, is it something that I can fix?" So.

 (05:19)Differences between working on Crash Course versus Sexplanations

Peter: Differences between working on Crash Course versus Sexplanations

Nick: The main difference between Sexplanations and Crash Course is that Crash Course has a lot more hands in it. So we have a writer who then reports to our Chief Editor who then gives me the script and Hank the script, and then we both go over it. And then if there are any changes, it goes back to the Chief Editor, those changes happen or there's a discussion. It comes back to us, we film it with a script supervisor, take it, I edit it, and then give it to our graphics team, Thought Cafe.

They do their stuff. That goes back out to the Chief Editor, as well as  our consultant, Ranjit Bhagwat right now, for psychology. If there are any changes there, that goes back to Thought Cafe, then it comes back to me. I prep the graphics to go to our sound designer. The sound designer then does sound, gives it back to me. I export, upload, and do all of that.  

With Sexplanations, it's just me and Lindsey. Lindsey does the writing. I look at the script -- if I have time, ha! If she's given it to me with enough time, Lindsay. We then organize a shoot schedule. 

We shoot it. Come back, I cut it. We both look at it, make sure there are no changes. Sometimes that's really quick; sometimes that takes, you know, 24 hours to really get everything done. And then, I do graphics. I do sound, if there is any, and then it goes up.

So, really, it's just the number of hands involved. There's the still the same amount of passion on everybody's level on Crash Course as there is on Sexplanations, which is another thing that's sort of fascinating to me. Like, everyone -- from Thought Cafe to our writers to our Chief Editor to our consultant -- they're all very passionate about getting it right. Making sure it's useful, and making sure it's good. And entertaining and whatnot. 

So, it really is to me just the amount of people there. And that adds it's own stress. There's a lot of stress in it just being me and Lindsey, and then there's a lot of stress in having 15 people having a lot to do with it. So, one is not easier than the other. One is not better than the other one. They're just different experiences.

 (07:20)What's something that's important, but maybe not thought about?

Peter: What's something that's important, but maybe not thought about?

Nick: I think one of the most important things that happens that not a lot of people know about -- whether it's Sexplanations or Crash Course or Sci Show -- is the amount of real thought and preparation that goes into it.

Because I think a lot of people . . . You notice in comments (it's one of the only hurtful comments that I ever see) is that people can get angry and whatever, but there are times when they say, "Well, why didn't you know this?" or "Why didn't you cover this?" And it's like, man, we put so much time and so much effort into making sure that it works as a cohesive whole and that we're not saying anything incorrect. But, we're human. So, sometimes something might slip through.

And on Crash Course it's a lot of people that have to miss it. And occasionally something gets missed. So that's something that I think is important: how many people have their eyes on this stuff. How many times we review it. How many times we talk to each other about it and just try to make sure it's all good before it goes live. 

And I sometimes sense that there's a feeling, like it's being thrown together, or -- and I think a lot of people think that it's all Hank. Like, Hank writes it, Hank does everything. Because they'll say, "Well, how come Hank didn't know this?" And it's like, Hank didn't write it. Hank obviously reviewed it and made sure that he knew what he was talking about in the script, but you know, it's not a one-person job. It's a lot of people.

And so, yeah, I think that is one of the biggest things to remember: You have a host, and that host is important, but there are a lot more cogs in the machine going on. And they're all good cogs. We're all trying to make it be something good and be something we can be proud of.

 (08:57)How important is editing to the learning process?

Peter: How important is editing to the learning process?

Nick: The importance of editing changes from show to show. If that makes any sense. 

For instance, on Sexplanations editing can sometimes completely reinvent an episode where we thought originally it was going to be this way but we figure out it works better in a different order, or by completely removing something. And so, it's very much editing in the macro on that, so it's a lot of big edits that really sort of change -- that can change -- an episode. Doesn't always happen, but sometimes it does. 

With Crash Course, that script has been so finely tuned and reviewed by so many people, that normally my rough cut of a Crash Course is the same as the final cut. I've gotten so good with the, how they need to be cut and everything, that it's more about what we call editing in the micro, which is the frames. How many frames on the cut? Is it two frames? Oh, that's too much. Let's back it off a little bit. You know, how much is Hank talking over himself? All of that stuff.

Those cuts in the micro are important. Because I've gotten to where I can feel it, and audience members can feel it, when it cuts too long -- or too short. Whether it's just a complete piece of chaos, or whether it's just too long and drawn out.

So, I've gotten pretty good at that, but occasionally I'll miss one. And in the final cut, I'll be like hmmm, I need to tighten that by a frame. Literally a frame. So. You know, one twenty-fourth of a second. You've just got to, eh, just a little bit. And that makes the cut come alive.

Now, how do those help in education? Obviously with Sexplanations we're doing the same thing on the micro level, but we're doing more on the macro level. So, a lot of ordering everything helps to get the information across in a way that is not only "useful information" but is also what we feel a good way to lead someone through the topic. So, it's not just: bit of information, bit of information, bit of information . . .

And it all comes back to storytelling, for me. So I'll always be talking to Lindsey about "the story" and just sort of saying, "Well, we sort of talk about this information here, and then we drop it and come back, and that's gonna be kind of hard to see. Is there a way we can thread that through a little bit more?"

With Crash Course, and with editing in the micro, it's about making something that is timed well so that somebody is going to sit down and not feel as though they're wasting their time. So, it's ten minutes. A long time to be watching, you know, and educational episode of something. So we want to make sure it's cut well so it feels like one thing. Like, almost one sentence. So it's not so broken up that people just start to fade or look elsewhere. That's the hope anyway. 

 (11:33)What might someone do to make their channel a more effective learning tool?

Peter: What might someone do to make their channel a more effective learning tool?

Nick: The first is you need to look at who's doing it well. And I'm not saying copy, but pay attention to what makes it work so well.

A lot of times, when we watch a great film for instance,  we sort of end up saying it's a great film because of . . . plot. Is usually where people go. But, usually great plots are accompanied by also great camera work and great acting, and there's a lot of things coming together to make that thing be successful, on some level.

I mean, this is one thing I would always tell any student: When you're watching something -- whether it's good or bad -- you need to pay attention, and be able to articulate to someone else, what's working and what's not working.

Now typically, a student, when they're first starting out in film education, will look at something and say, "Well, I don't like it because it's stupid." That's not helpful. You know, what makes it stupid? Why is it stupid? And they'll try and articulate, "Well, because of this one special effect that was bad." And you're like, "Okay, they had a bad special effect. That's not stupid . . ." 

So you have to try to get at it. So the key is: Really pay attention to things. Look at the comment. Why do they like it? What about it do they like? And try to come up with a holistic feeling. Like, what is really making this thing successful?

And then, look at your work and see what from there applies to my work. Don't just take it all, and say, "Well I'm going to make Crash Course 2." I'm going to make something that utilizes what I think is effective, would be effective for my work. 

You know, initially I would say, well, make it short. But you know, Veritasium isn't short all the time, and he makes epically good videos. So, you know, it can't always be that way. Whereas, you know, CGP Grey makes very short videos -- most of the time.

But there are ways to test yourself, too. If you're starting unscripted, write a script. If you're starting scripted, do one without a script. If you're starting out and your videos are ten minutes long, make a three-minute video that has to convey the same information. 

One of the greatest pieces of editing advice that I ever got was for a film I made. And I was showing it to an editor, the guy --his name was Brent White who edited Knocked Up, 40-Year-Old Virgin -- terrific guy. And he came up, and he watched my film, and he said, "This is really good." And it was at the time, it was fifteen minutes. And he said, "Now you need to make the two-minute version."

And that piece of advice. Of course, I didn't go and make the two-minute version, but what it did was it made me go though and pinpoint what's important. What can I get rid of? What can I keep? What's necessary to tell the story, and what are just things that I like?

And that was the most liberating thing I could do as an editor. It was just to basically say, no, I need to tell a story and I need to tell it quickly. So what's important? And then you build from there.

You start saying, here's what I need. How do I then take what I need and then add a little more to it to make it enjoyable, and to make it fun, and to make it whatever. How do I take that and make it fun or enjoyable or whatever?

So there are things like that. And that applies to screen writing, as well. When you're writing a script for an educational piece of content, you can start off with, "Oh my god, it's 400 pages long. That's going to be horrible." Okay, well go through. Let's circle what do I need to actually have in here? And then cut it down from there.

Force yourself to do those things. You know, if you just are in it for you and you just want to have a good time making videos, that's great. That's, you know, vlogging, really. You know, you go out and do it and have a good time. Work on, you know, working with the community and everything.

But if you're trying to really build education, you need to pay attention to who you're educating and what else they are responding to. I think that's the biggest thing for me. 



Peter: So hopefully by now you have a good appreciation of just how much work goes into each of these channels. But more than that, I hope you have a deeper understanding of just how much everyone cares.

To be honest, that's what stuck out to me more than anything as I'm talking to these folks. That everyone cared so deeply about what they're doing. And it's so cool and so awesome to see that translated into action. 

So if you like hearing from passionate people, tune in next week. But for now, let me know either in the comments below or on whatever social media of your choice -- you know, twitter or Tumblr or by owl -- how do you translate your passion into action?

Alright guys, that's all I've got. Stay tuned, thanks for caring, and until next time . . . go verb a noun.