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Movie Review: Shallow Plot, Flat Character, Lack of Direction

cc licensed flickr photo Day 200/365 “Yawn” by Wellstone

This may be in the “pot calling kettle black” category> tag, but I have this long standing growl in my belly about Screencasts.

The technology is great, lots of tools, free ones, but when we talk about them it seems to be always about the tools.

We rarely talk about the production quality, and I find nearly all of them to be yawn inducing.

I can count on one paw (maybe) the number of screencasts I have been able to watch from start to end. Maybe one tail. Maybe.

Why are they all delivered in monotonic voice? Why is there little human conversational voice? Where is the inflection? I think what happens a lot is we turn on the camera and just start recording, perhaps with an outline list. Or it is too organized, and we get someone reading (monotonic) us in what ends up to me being the informational equivalent of Mrs. Donovan‘s voice.

And these movies take so damn loooooooong to get to the plot. Way too much set-up, and zero character development

Am I too picky?

And who am I to criticize? I’ve not done a Sundance/Cannes level screencast myself. Heck, mine have not even approached public access channel quality.

Of course, I am basing this in a rather poor sampling (well just everyone I have bothered to tray and watch).

So while we hone the craft in digital story telling, why do we not use some of the same approaches in teaching how to do screencasts? Why do we focus only on the tools and not the craft?

And like most movie reviews, this is 10000% subjective and your mileage may vary. But for me… most screencasts are useful when I cannot sleep and need a nap.

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Hey Alan,

    Yeah, screencasts are usually pretty boring, totally agreed. The problem is the rapid development mentality that supports the use of screencasts.

    Building and publishing a screencast is faster and cheaper that writing support documentation. Therefore, organizations cut the corner by putting the tool in the hands of the subject matter experts and instructional technologists, asking them to produce “multimedia” web content.

    Not a lot of time is spent on building a scenario, adding interaction, adding a support character, putting in dialogs, use cases or real-life scenarios, etc.

    Just because a tool which has a lot of potential is put into the hands of people doesn’t mean the results will be spectacular. Look at Photoshop for instance…

  2. Without disagreeing, here are two other parts of the issue to think about:

    1) isn’t this a subset of a general “problem” with technical communication? From manuals to textbooks to how-tos to you-name-it, there’s a lot of boring stuff out there

    2) I did a series of screencasts about some aspects of In the first I purposefully went with a very dry, just-the-facts-ma’am approach, essentially acting like a live technical manual. In the second I tried to be a bit different, make it more fun– the students have vastly preferred the first! Making me reflect that perhaps I’m not only not very entertaining, but maybe length and getting to the point matter more.

    3) Need often trumps aesthetics. If something is unimportant, optional, or just of personal interest, then I’m quick to turn it off– whether screencast or television show or movie– or put it down if it’s a book or web site. But if I *need* it– and students are not typically desire-based users– I’ll put up with a lot more… I might even find the rest of the frippery annoying when what I want is the information, the technique, the understanding.

  3. @Chris @Scott – I accept your points/examples, and need to retract and think the assumptiomns and the differences between my general casual viewing of casts versus when someone needs to do a specific things.

    I do accept there is a lot of value in demonstrating through the screens how to do tasks. I have used a few of these, and sometimes they just still take to long to get to the point… maybe the problem is screencasts are made en masse trying to provide information for all audiences… text I can skim and get to the exact point I need.

    @May Dude- whats your point? It ain’t my photo and iss just a metaphor. Dude….

  4. I haven’t seen a lot of overly long screencasts, so maybe you’re living in a different screencast world than I am. Most of my exposure has been through Atomic Learning. Theirs are all short like mine…

  5. I’ve used both Camtasia and Adobe Captivate. Both are very robust tools. (from the makers of Camtasia) appears to be a decent free tool for making screencasts…

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