The Emamo Show: Event Planner Conversations

Conference Videographer Cooper - How to Record Your Conference Talks and Make Them Accessible

Episode Summary

This week we take a peek behind the camera and chat with Cooper from Administraitor Video. The Netherlands-based hacker and videographer spoke with us about his journey from starting as a traditional conference volunteer, to traveling all over Europe to record conference talks for free. We learn about Cooper's technical set up, and hear how he's scaling out his efforts so more people can record conference talks around the world.

Episode Notes

This week we take a peek behind the camera and chat with Cooper from Administraitor Video. The Netherlands-based hacker and videographer spoke with us about his journey from starting as a traditional conference volunteer, to traveling all over Europe to record conference talks for free. We learn about Cooper's technical set up, and hear how he's scaling out his efforts so more people can record conference talks around the world.

 

Learn more about Cooper's conference filming:
Website: https://administraitor.video/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Ministraitor

Follow Emamo:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/emamo
Instagram: https://instagram.com/hello_emamo/
Facebook: https://facebook.com/emamoapp/

 

Intro & Outro music: "Funk Game Loop" by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Episode Transcription

Taylor McKnight: Welcome to The Emamo Show, where we have open conversations with event producers to uncover lessons about bringing people together. I’m your host, Taylor McKnight, and I’m excited about our guest today. Cooper is a bit out of the ordinary, because although he doesn’t organize a conference, he has helped dozens of conferences over the past few years with his nonprofit video recording agency at administraitor.video. Hey, Cooper. Great to have you on the show. 

Cooper: Thanks for having me. 

Taylor McKnight: Yeah, absolutely. So, how long have you been recording conference talks? 

Cooper: About five years now. 

Taylor McKnight: You don’t work with a specific conference? This is just kind of a passion of yours? Or how did that come about?

Cooper: The genesis story involves a relationship that went sour, and in daily life I am a software developer and a hacker, and I found that at the end of this relationship, that I’d kind of let my hacker roots slide a bit. So, in an effort to bring that back up to speed, I looked for resources and found online videos of conferences that… those really helped me get back to where I wanted to be. So, then I wanted to partake in conferences. First just regular volunteering, just hey, show up, be at the door, be at the reception desk, that sort of thing. And in the course of that, I was in a position to help somebody to video her conference, and really poorly.

Taylor McKnight: The first one? 

Cooper: The first one. Somebody else did everything, and in the end, about 40% of the conference could not be published, so I started talking with this individual who was responsible for that one, going like, “How could we do better next time?” Assembling parts, and then about half a year of just playing around with things later, a friend of mine was organizing a conference of his own, and put a note up on Twitter saying, “Hey, there is not gonna be any photography. There’s not gonna be any camera. No nothing. Just show up.” So, I sent him a message going like, “Well, I’ve got this video gear here. I want to play with it, but I’ve never tried it before. Are you willing to give it a go?” 

And he’s like, “Well, sure. Try it.” 

Taylor McKnight: No pressure, right? We don’t know how this is gonna go. 

Cooper: Yeah, exactly. So, I put the thing in, and I had to, I ended up borrowing my mother’s camera of all things, and yeah, I recorded a two tracks conference there, and everything… There were loads of problems. I mean, its’ the first one.

Taylor McKnight: Yeah, of course. 

Cooper: Loads and loads of problems, but in the end, everything that I filmed, the whole conference could be published, and from that moment on I knew I had something to build upon. And yeah, within a fairly short timespan, other people learned that I was doing this, I wanted to do this, and they contacted me asking if I could maybe also film their conference.

Taylor McKnight: And where are you based?

Cooper: Netherlands. 

Taylor McKnight: Netherlands. And so, are most of these events in the Netherlands? 

Cooper: Very few, actually. The bulk is the U.K., there’s a bunch in Germany. I mean, it is Europe, but I’ve sort of set myself the goal that initially, it was it had to be within driving distance, and as time progressed, the scope expanded a bit, because other conferences that I found to be interesting and cool were also interested, and people were willing to pay for the costs that I would make to get there, and in some cases it’s just, well, let’s call it the cost they think of doing business. I enjoy the conference itself so much that I’m like, “Okay.” 

Taylor McKnight: So, most of these events that you’ve helped out didn’t record their events prior to that? Like this is the first time that most of them have recorded it? 

Cooper: Pretty much. The thing, the view at the time was that for hacker conferences, the American conferences tended to get recorded courtesy of Irongeek, Adrian Crenshaw, and in Germany, you had C3VOC, the video operation center of CCC, who did video, and everything else, if it was ever recorded, would be a haphazard one-time thing where somebody just beg, borrowed, and stole bits and pieces from everywhere, and hoped that in the end, if you combine it, you get something that will sort of work. 

So, I believe I’m within, at least within Europe, I believe I am the first one to basically say, “Hey, I’ve got a setup. It works. Grab it. Go play.” 

Taylor McKnight: Right. Specifically for conference talks. Right. 

Cooper: Yeah, that is the goal. Doesn’t say anything about what your conference has to be about, just if you’re doing something interesting enough to put on a conference on about, grab my rig, put a camera in front of it, let the world see what you’re doing. 

Taylor McKnight: Do you have to sell them on that idea? That they should kind of unlock this knowledge and share it with the world on YouTube? Or is that something that they’re already excited about and they just need… They don’t know how to accomplish it. 

Cooper: It depends, because there are a couple of conferences that specifically say, “We don’t want it to be recorded at all. We are like a dark conference.” And that is just, let’s call it a part of their identity, of their specific thing that they say, “Well, we are super special, we have these really high-end, kind of spooky talks on subjects that you won’t see anywhere else, therefore we don’t want a camera there.” But the vast, vast majority of them, as soon as you tell them, “Hey, if you want, I can come down, put my camera in front of it and just film the thing,” they’re like, “Sure. Fun.” 

Taylor McKnight: Why do you think that they didn’t do that before you came along? Is it just cost? 

Cooper: I think it is a combination of cost, of just the fact that for a conference organizer, you’re organizing everything else, and all of a sudden you have to be responsible for video too. So, a really nice example is a conference who I filmed their first conference, and for the second one they were kind of late in setting a date, and by the time that they worked on finding a date, my schedule was practically full. And the only time I still had available was the time that a venue was not. So, in the end, they said, “Well, tough. Maybe next time,” and hired a commercial company to do it, and they were not particularly happy with the commercial company. 

Taylor McKnight: Just the quality, or the output?

Cooper: It was mostly the quality. Obviously, there is a cost. I do everything for free and this company charged a not insignificant amount of money, and yeah, end result was to their, the way they saw it, it wasn’t near what I was doing.

Taylor McKnight: Well, it sounds like you’re doing it out of passion, right? Like you have that hacker mentality of learning, learning, and trying things, iterating, getting better every time, right? 

Cooper: That is it, but the thing is it doesn’t have to be… The thing I’m trying to achieve is that even if you don’t know and don’t go to a conference, you could still know everything that the people who did go know. And so long as that goal is achieved, I’m happy. So, let’s call, let’s say BruCON. It’s a conference in Belgium. Again, a hacker conference. Pretty well known. And they have been filming and livestreaming their conference for a while now. Obviously, I have an opinion on how they do it, the quality that they produce, et cetera, but when I offered to do it for them, they said, “Well, we have this working relationship with this company that does it for us, has been doing it for a while now, we’re happy.” At that point I’m like, “Okay, fine. If you’re happy with what you’re getting and it’s worth your while, I too would not recommend switching.” 

And of course I’ve got better things to do, too, with my time, then. There are plenty of other conferences that are looking to get filmed, so yeah, go for it. 

Taylor McKnight: Right. Because you’re running this whole thing as a nonprofit, essentially, you’re really focused on the mission of sharing that education, sharing that knowledge, unlocking it. Whether it’s through you or somebody else, you just kind of want that to help other people being put out in the world, right? 

Cooper: Yeah, because that’s what I needed back in the day, and yeah, call it a hippie thing, but that is my inspiration, my drive, and why I do this. 

Taylor McKnight: Yeah, so talk me through, event planners that are listening, what things do they need to consider when they decide that they want to put their talks, go through the whole kind of strategy of recording their talks, putting it online, what things do they need to keep in mind and how would they do that? 

Cooper: I would say start with expectation management. If you’re gonna put a camera in a room, people will notice and people will say, “Oh, it’s being recorded. When will it go online?” And both Irongeek and myself have a reputation of getting things online very fast. Most commercial… I should say C3VOC also has usually same day things are online. With many commercial vendors, this is not something they do often, and as a result it may take a bit longer, and if it’s somebody who’s just doing it from the kindness of their heart, usually the workflow isn’t there and you need to wait a month or two. That may end up disappointing people, even though they are getting something that they weren’t expecting in the first place.

Taylor McKnight: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense, like that step one is really like, “Okay, expectation management. What do you want to do with this? Do you want to release it the same day of the conference? Do you want to release it a week after?” 

Cooper: Can you? 

Taylor McKnight: Yeah. 

Cooper: Can you? 

Taylor McKnight: Okay. Right. Working with whoever’s recording it and getting on the same page as far as when that content will be delivered?

Cooper: Yeah, and make sure that your audience knows that like, “Yes, we are filming this. We are filming that, that, and that room, but not that one, and not the workshops.” And that may cause your attendees to say, “Well, in that case I’m going to go to the workshop, because I can watch the talk that is sort of interesting but not really the thing that I’m passionate about, let’s do that later and just online. And I can talk to people in the hallway because it’s getting recorded anyway.” 

But if, like another conference that tried to get things recorded themselves, and the people had to eventually wait a full year before it got online. 

Taylor McKnight: Oh, wow. 

Cooper: So, for the people who were attending, the video was worthless. The fact that they were recording, well, that’s good on you, but by the time it’s online, I’ve forgotten what everything is about.

Taylor McKnight: Right. Well, there’s different audiences, right? It’s are you delivering that content to people that are there, or longevity purposes, I think it’s still even useful a year later to just put that knowledge, if it’s evergreen content, right? If it’s kind of talking about big ideas and not specific. 

Cooper: There’s also a commercial aspect, so say you charge a significant sum to be there, if you’re going to put the talks online the same day, people might argue what’s the value of showing up? And you need to have an answer for that. If people are there just for the things that are being recorded, so just for the talks, then yeah, you’re gonna have a hard time arguing that people should pay a significant amount of money to be in the room where the talk that they can watch at home pretty much the next day, why would they be there?

Taylor McKnight: Yeah. I really think you need a… Step one is like thinking about the strategy where that video fits. Does it let the audience attend other things? Does it give them more optionality, so they can see this session later online, and attend this workshop in person? Is it something to widen the net? Like I think of Coachella as an example of like they livestream their festival, right? And it doesn’t impact the… They sell out every year, right? So, the 100,000 people still attend, but it kind of lets even more people, who weren’t gonna attend anyways, experience that event anyway, so they kind of grow their brand. It’s a brand-building strategy. 

Cooper: Yeah. But the people who go there don’t go there just for the things that are being filmed. They are going for the interaction with the rest of the audience.

Taylor McKnight: Right. When you go to something like a festival like that, right, the whole thing is part of the experience. Being out in the nature and things like that. 

Cooper: In security conferences, the thing that people might often talk about is hall con. It’s just talking to people in the hallway. 

Taylor McKnight: Right. You can’t replace that. Right. That’s the connections aspect. 

Cooper: And for some people, that is where the real value is, like the talks, the conference talks are your reason for going, and your assurance that at least there will be something for you to take away, but making friends, making connections, and talking to people is where the real value shines through. 

Taylor McKnight: Agreed.

Cooper: But if you cannot convince people for this, so, like you very well mentioned, conferences and events that are sold out pretty much the same day the tickets become available, yeah, they’re not going to suffer if you’re going to put a camera in there. They’re gonna sell out anyway. The only thing you can say is, “Sorry, we are simply at this capacity.” A very good example of that is SteelCon. It’s a conference up in Sheffield, England. Their event is held inside a school. It has a fixed capacity. 550 people. After that, the fire department says no. 

So, they could easily fill a bigger room with their event. It’s very well organized, and well run, but they like the feel of this space. They like the intimacy that it gives. And if they were to go to a different space, first of all they need to pay a different amount of rent, because it is in a school, and then a couple of the people who are organizing it are with this school, so they get a really good rate on the school. If you’re gonna go elsewhere, you’re gonna have to pay a commercial rate, and as a result, may need to up the ticket price, which changes other things. 

Taylor McKnight: Changes the whole event. Yeah. 

Cooper: Everything is integrated. I don’t have to tell this to an organizer, but this has profound effects. If you can say, “We really like the format that we have. We could grow, but we kind of don’t want to because it’s just a lot more hassle, and we don’t see the gain really in it for us as an organizer,” then don’t. Put a camera in there, film it, put that online, and people might not understand and be disappointed that they couldn’t get a ticket, but at least there’s something. 

Taylor McKnight: Yeah. I talked to Mark Littlewood, who runs the Business of Software conference a couple episodes ago, and he purposely keeps his conference small, right? He had grown it. At some point he talked about how it kind of got too big. He felt like he didn’t know everybody in the room. It was not intimate enough, and so he shrunk it back down and kept it small. It’s been going for a long time. Always sells out. And he cares more about keeping that small community, being able to have those connections, than growing his event into a giant kind of warehouse or something like that, you know?

Cooper: Yeah. 

Taylor McKnight: And then he records the talks. Because it sells out, he records the talks and kind of uses it as marketing material throughout the year, to share that with other people who either couldn’t attend or are thinking about attending. 

Cooper: Oh, that’s another thing. As an organizer, if you’re going to say, “I’m going to film it. I’m going to allow it to be filmed or I’m going to arrange for it to be filmed.” You’re obviously going to have a discussion with the individual responsible for the filming, and you need to be aware of their expectations, as well. When I film something for an organizer, I will have the videos ready for you to do with as you please pretty much same day, but that doesn’t mean you have to put them online that same day. You could say, “Thank you for the videos. I’m going to do one a week for the next period.” Or I’ve sort of set a goal that I want, whatever I film, I want that to be online within about two months. After that, I think we should have a chat just why.

But there are conferences that I film that say, “Well, we want to wait a little longer, or we want to just do one a week.” Because otherwise just you flood people with content, and it may look fun, but to just go like, “Hey, here’s our content!” And people will go like, “Wow, that’s a lot of content,” and then they don’t actually view it. 

Taylor McKnight: Agreed. It can be a little bit overwhelming if you dump 20 talks at once. 

Cooper: Yeah. And I’ve done conferences where it was way, way, way more than 20 talks, and it was like, “Well, we’re done, it’s online.” Okay, well I am the sort of person that will put out a tweet for every individual talk, and I promptly got a Twitter ban because it was a few too many in a row.

Taylor McKnight: Yeah. Talk me through more about that conversation you’re having with the organizer. So, the organizer’s like, “Hey, I’m interested.” Maybe they stumble upon your site or talk to you and they’re like, “Hey, recording the talk is interesting.” You said the first kind of step there is making sure you guys are on the same page about expectations, what are you gonna do with this video, making sure that you’re set up to let the audience know, either the people who aren’t there or the people in the room, what the expectations are, right? So that when they ask about it, you’re not fumbling around and you know exactly what to let them know, like when it’s gonna be online.

So then, what’s the next step? Talk me through these conversations you’re having with the organizer, helping them figure out that whole process.

Cooper: So, I’ve put a page up on my website that details some, well, the main bits. It’s things like I do this for free. That means the videos go online for free. You cannot charge for those videos.

Taylor McKnight: That’s the tradeoff. Right. 

Cooper: And every single conference was like, “Yeah, fair enough.” There was the one or two that were like, “But we are sort of using our conference for marketing. Can we put the videos behind, say, not quite a paywall, but that people have to register?” 

Taylor McKnight: Email wall or something? 

Cooper: Yeah, you throw in your email address and then you can see the thing, and for me, that’s a hard no. You cannot do that. There are others I’m sure that are like, “It’s your video, you do whatever you want.” 

Taylor McKnight: But you’re doing the service for free, so you get to kind of write those rules, you know? 

Cooper: Exactly, and if there is a company that does this commercially, then I’m sure that you, as an event organizer, can say, “Hey, I’m paying this amount of money for you to come and do this. I have a say in what happens here.” 

Taylor McKnight: Sure, so what’s next after that? After they agree like, “Okay, no problem. We’ll let all those videos be released for free.” 

Cooper: Usually the big question that organizers tend to have is livestreaming. 

Taylor McKnight: That’s the next question is they’re interested in livestreaming? 

Cooper: Because it’s perceived as a sexy thing, like we are this very modern hipster conference, because we can do livestreaming. We are so big, we just, we instantly throw everything on the net, and people can just live interact, and it’s going to be glorious. The only problem here is that nobody’s going to remember a successful livestream. Everybody’s going to remember when it went sour. And with a livestream, you really have to be sure that your network can take it. 

So, there are a couple of conferences that I livestream, and where it works, and there are conferences where we livestream and for whatever reason, we tried to get it going, we tested it the day before and everything was fine, and on the day itself, something broke and it didn’t work. Now you have to explain. 

Taylor McKnight: How do you decide if livestreaming is possible or not? Is it just a simple bandwidth test, or what-

Cooper: It’s a bandwidth and connectivity test, because in certain networks, your machine… In my case, I’m bringing a full PC into the room. If that PC, just plug a network cable into it, but if whatever your network does limits which machines can be on it, then this is not going to work. 

Taylor McKnight: Is it a simple question? So, give me some specifics, like what would that event planner ask the hotel or something, like what speeds do they need to do that?

Cooper: In my particular case, it’s a 10-megabit uplink. It has to be wired. I do not want to be on the Wi-Fi network, because that means I become dependent upon the attendees not using a lot of internet. I usually ask, or recommend at least, that they prioritize the traffic from my machines over the rest of the traffic, because my traffic is real-time sensitive. For them to be able to do this, they need to know the MAC address of the network adapter that you’re using, so that on the network they can identify the traffic as being from me.

Taylor McKnight: So, they can prioritize it? 

Cooper: Yep. Sometimes with some fun conferences, they make a point of putting me on a separate network, away from the hackers, because people might go and scan and say, “Hey, that’s an interesting box. Let’s see what we can do with that. Oh, hey, it’s the video rig. Nice!” 

Taylor McKnight: Is that 10 megabit per stage, or how does that work? 

Cooper: Yes. 

Taylor McKnight: So, if I have three stages, I have to ask for 30 megs? 

Cooper: Yep. 

Taylor McKnight: Okay. 

Cooper: And that is continuous, so it’s nonstop, just 10 meg a second, nonstop, and the consistency is the important bit. So, there is a conference in Luxembourg that has really good network, but it’s not stable. It does a bit of that in terms of throughput. So, for them, I recommended and we chose to instead of livestreaming, just… It’s a single track, so I could just sit there. As soon as the talk is over, I immediately on my laptop start editing. My workflow is such that that takes me about five to ten minutes and then I’m already uploading, so before the next talk is over, your talk will be online. For most people, that is well more than good enough. 

Taylor McKnight: Right. 

Cooper: It also has the benefit, because if you livestream, there is no time to really clean up the signal. If you’ve got like a professional setup, with a professional audio engineer, and some proper video people, et cetera, yeah, they can do all that on the fly. It’ll cost you an arm and a leg and you will have five people there running the show. But if it’s just me, then well, what comes in is what goes out. So, if the audio signal isn’t very great, well, sorry, that’s what’s going online. If I edit it, I can clean it all out in that five to ten minutes. I clean up the audio, make sure that I raise the levels, that it all sounds good, then I upload it, and that means that you walk off the stage having given a talk, and within an hour your talk is online and it is online exactly as it’s supposed to be. This will be the final version. We’re done. 

Taylor McKnight: Right. Right. 

Cooper: That is, for pretty much every conference, if they’re not entirely sure that they can deliver the network, this is more than good enough.

Taylor McKnight: Are there any gotchas there? I mean like, again, I imagine event planner going to the hotel or convention center and saying, “Hey, we need this.” And them just saying, “Yeah, no problem. We have 10 megabits.” Right? You know, and then there’s a whole marketing strategy in your work and stuff. If people are like, “Okay, livestreaming is on.” How do we save them some trouble? Are there any other troubleshooting or ideas here to prevent a poor livestreaming experience, or to prevent people from going down that road when they shouldn’t? 

Cooper: Well, I have stories, of course, like we had one place where I’d been drawn because they bought a fixed internet bundle and couldn’t prioritize my traffic over the rest, so the audience being excited about a talk meant the livestream went down. 

Taylor McKnight: The better the talk, the worst the livestreaming went. Yep. 

Cooper: I’ve had experience with a hotel somewhere that charged the equivalent of a modern sedan for a day of network, at not even spectacular speeds, but good enough, and the event planner wasn’t willing to pay that, so instead we worked out who the admin was and we bribed him with alcohol. 

Taylor McKnight: You gotta do what you gotta do. Yeah! 

Cooper: You gotta do what you gotta do. We also had a CTF there, and the CTF guy was asking, was saying like, “Okay, all my challenges are cloud based. We have to have decent internet.” And we tell them like, “Yeah, yeah, its’ fine. We’ve got like a five-megabit uplink.” And he just white as a sheet, like, “No! Has to be more!” And we’re like, “Shut up. Don’t tell anybody!” Because hotel doesn’t know, is not allowed to know, you got way more, and we got super priority, but…

Taylor McKnight: So, is there some kind of tool that they would use to… Do they ask for one of those MTR reports or something? How do they find out ahead of time that they can properly support livestreaming? Do most venues know this ahead of time, or is this something that they should do their own investigation? 

Cooper: It’s a normal question to ask. You basically say, “Hey, we need this amount of bandwidth reliably. Can you give it to us?” And they will say, “Well, yes, and that will cost you so much.” And in one case, we also said, “Well, that’s too much money,” and we went out to a telephony store. This was in Singapore. Turns out in Singapore, at the time, the 4G or LTE network is much more advanced than whatever landlines they’ve got, they’ve put in everywhere, and I tethered my phone to the 4G network and livestreamed over that, because it was that reliable. 

Taylor McKnight: Wow! That’s amazing. And that went pretty well?

Cooper: It went flawless. 

Taylor McKnight: Wow. Wow. 

Cooper: But you have to be in Singapore for that. 

Taylor McKnight: Yeah, of course. They have really good internet there. Okay, so talk me through more of that strategy. So, the event planner has kind of decided livestreaming or not, like what else are you helping them, what does that conversation look like where they’re trying to figure out how to accomplish recording their talk successfully? 

Cooper: So, from that moment on, this is us establishing do we want to do it, can we do it? 

Taylor McKnight: Right. 

Cooper: Now that we’ve gone beyond that, it’s how are we going to do it? 

Taylor McKnight: Right. 

Cooper: I will have all sorts of questions about what does the room look like, where’s my signal coming from, do I have to come and collect it, what does the projector support, very practical things that you need to talk to the venue about to make sure everything connects and interconnects. 

Taylor McKnight: It’s mostly like technical questions between you and the venue. Is there anything else that the organizer should keep in mind, or that strategy-wise, they should know ahead of time when they decide to do something like this? 

Cooper: Usually with me, it’s been rare that an event planner links me directly with the venue. Usually they want to be in between, and that tends to involve then conversations where I’m throwing jargon to some tech on the other end, and the event planner is in between and going like… As soon as I’ve got a floor plan, that usually is a big help, or if there is a rider for the venue, if they’ve got technical specs of the space, I will want that. 

Taylor McKnight: Right, right. 

Cooper: It’s not a requirement, and I can… I’m set up to do things mostly on the fly. I can just walk in and go like, “Okay, this is, where is everything?” As long as there is a projector out there that is somewhat standard, and you’ve got four walls and a speaker, done. I can record. 

Taylor McKnight: Right. I saw some of your talks. Do you always do the person on stage and the slides?

Cooper: Yes. This is a specific format, because you’re seeing… If you for instance look at the videos from other conferences, from CCC, they will at times show the slide full screen. At other times, they will show the speaker full screen.

Taylor McKnight: Right. 

Cooper: And in their opinion, that makes it more interesting. 

Taylor McKnight: Okay. 

Cooper: But it is a technical decision you make when you decide on how you are going to video something, like how much involvement is there going to be from the crew to make this happen? Because this is… It’s a good thing you brought this up, because one thing that the event planner would need to know is how many people do I need to commit from my crew to do this work? 

Taylor McKnight: Yeah. 

Cooper: And I specifically make my video rigs, I design them so that they can be operated by one single individual, and if everything goes to plan, that single individual doesn’t really have to do a lot. They have to make sure that the speaker stays within the viewfinder of the camera, and that means that if the speaker doesn’t move that much, the volunteer… It’s usually volunteers. I don’t know if that’s the norm in your opinion, but for me it’s pretty much always volunteers.

Taylor McKnight: Events are very volunteer-driven. 

Cooper: Yeah, so the volunteer will sit in the room, and with a bit of luck, can just sit back and enjoy the talk. I find that a critical aspect of the way that I do things, because it makes it easier to convince a volunteer to come and help, help me film a talk. You’re helping the conference, but you’re helping the conference also because you’re interested in the content and wouldn’t mind partaking or being there for an actual talk. So, if you’re in the room and you’re not as an attendee distracted to the point where you don’t know what’s being said, that is very beneficial. 

The other thing, and that is then, so the organizer will commit a number of people to me. I always ask for at least one extra, so that we can cycle, so you don’t burn people out. But I ask the volunteers to work out amongst themselves who does which track when, so that they can swap positions. So long as every room is covered, I’m perfectly happy. If it might appear that some room will not be covered, ping me and I will fill in myself. But every room has to be covered, and work out amongst yourself that you are in the talks that you find interesting, because the one thing that you will, as a volunteer, the one thing you will hate is to be doing a job on a track where you don’t have that much to do, so the only thing you can do is listen to the talk, and the talk is about something you absolutely do not give a-

Taylor McKnight: Right, right. We shouldn’t downplay that part, which is so huge. You have created a rig and a playbook where anybody, with no technical experience, like I’m not a videographer, you have this playbook and this rig set up, and this process where anybody can successfully record a talk and post it online. Is that right?

Cooper:  Yes. 

Taylor McKnight: That’s huge! That’s very unusual, right? 

Cooper: I haven’t seen it elsewhere. I know Irongeek’s setup, because that’s where, what mine was originally started from. He has a similar process, so there as well, the person who is manning the camera can mostly sit back and enjoy the talk. The biggest difference between the way he does it and the way I do it is that I film in portrait, whereas he films in landscape, and because he films in landscape, but only wants a vertical sliver of the speaker, as you mentioned from the layout of how it looks in the final video, because he films in landscape but wants only a vertical sliver, the person filming it needs to be aware that only this section is used, and you can’t see if you look at the camera where this line is. 

Taylor McKnight: Right. 

Cooper: So, when you are videoing, when you’re helping out videoing the talks for him, you sort of need to imagine for yourself where that line would roughly be, and based upon that, adjust the camera. With my setup, I simply chose to rotate the camera 90 degrees. That means that I can… It has quality benefits, but it also means that for the person who is manning the rig, you’re sitting there and just making sure that the person is visible on camera, and it is literally as simple as looking at the screen. Can I see the speaker? Then we’re good. 

Taylor McKnight: That’s amazing. So, I’m a speaker… I mean, I’m sorry. I’m an event planner. I’ve decided to record my talks. Talk me through what is the cheapest cost to record one stage of talks, and then talk me through maybe what mid and higher-end budgets look like. You know, obviously nicer equipment and things like that, but if I just wanted bare minimum, what does that rig look like and how much would that cost if I wanted to do that? 

Cooper: If you’re going to basically replicate my setup, as in buy a rig, you’re talking about 2,000 euros. 

Taylor McKnight: Okay, and what does that include? 

Cooper: Everything. 

Taylor McKnight: Okay. 

Cooper: Like everything. But I should say everything that you need to record, and it ties into everything you need to display images, and put your… You would have to put on your normal conference, and then on top of that, there’s 2,000 euros, one-time cost, to make a rig that will plug into whatever you have, and that will then record what would otherwise have happened anyway. 

Taylor McKnight: And tell me, what’s in that rig? Just, I have no idea. The camera, what else? What does that rig look like? 

Cooper: It’s a tripod, it’s a camera, it is a full PC with a couple of capture cards, and there are bits and pieces on the lectern, where the speaker will play around with a laptop. I can film stuff where there are no slides, but it’s not what my rig is best suited for. 

Taylor McKnight: Okay, so you usually record technical conferences, so you want to see the slides and the speaker at the same time. Is that right?

Cooper: Exactly, but there is also the option to film panel discussions.

Taylor McKnight: Okay. 

Cooper: But for me, because as I mentioned, I film in portrait, and so that does not really translate well with a panel discussion. Also, what are you gonna fill the rest of the screen with? Because the final video is still regular, full HDTV, essentially, so you need to take the camera off the tripod, rotate it to landscape, change a few things on the rig, and then we’re good to go. But the camera I use is a pretty standard consumer camera. It’s a decent one.

Taylor McKnight: What camera? 

Cooper: It’s a Panasonic HC-V770. One thing that is unique for me is I have… I’m with the hackerspace, and the hackerspace includes a metalwork shop, which is very handy, and a friend of mine from the hackerspace made this 90-degree bracket, and that allows me to take just a standard camera, you put the bracket on top of the tripod, which is a pin and a screw, it just connects, and now I can take my camera that would normally be like that on the tripod, and I can do it on an angle. 

The benefit of it is that if I end up filming like that, the sensor of the camera, which is meant to make full HD, so a lot of pixels, I can use all… I canuse the entire size of the sensor to shrink it, and then shrink it down to the size that I need, which means I can, just from that alone, it sharpens the image immensely. So, even if it’s not perfectly focused, this fact alone will vastly improve the quality of the video. Anyway, so that’s camera. 

If I fly out to conferences, say I go to Singapore or whatever, I take one of those… You know the Pelican cases that you can use as hand luggage?

Taylor McKnight: Yeah.

Cooper: I can fit two full rigs in there, provided that the event planner or the event organizer makes sure that there is a power supply unit, a monitor, and the tripods, because those things are both bulky and heavy-

Taylor McKnight: Take up a lot of room, yeah. 

Cooper: The Pelican ends up weighing nearly 30 kilos, but there are airlines within Europe that will fly you around so long as your hand luggage is within the dimensions of hand luggage, everything’s fine. 

Taylor McKnight: But they don’t weigh it. Yeah. 

Cooper: Airline security, airport security, they love me to bits.

Taylor McKnight: Oh, I bet. 

Cooper: Because you put the thing through the machine and it practically starts smoking. It’s just one giant, solid mass. But one of the things I have, so I record all onto a full PC, but a full PC can be simply this. 

Taylor McKnight: Oh, wow!

Cooper: This is a mini ITX motherboard. It’s as standard as it goes. Standard Intel, whatever. I’ve custom made this plate on the bottom that is essentially, it’s just a chunk of plastic. Literally just a chunk of plastic. Its sole purpose is to make sure that I don’t short out anything on the motherboard if I put it on a conductive surface, because that just happens to be the table that I get. So, you take this, you connect the power supply unit, connect a mouse and a keyboard and a screen, done. You now have a PC. Literally done. 

Taylor McKnight: Wow. Is it sitting open like that on the counter at the talks? 

Cooper: I mean, at hacker conferences, they love that stuff to bits, obviously. 

Taylor McKnight: I bet! Yeah! Yeah. 

Cooper: But yeah, it’s open and exposed. If you have… I bring this setup to pretty professional conferences where they have local AV team that does all sort of things, and they have high-end gear and whatnot, and hear I come and I plunk that next to them, and they’re like, “No!” But hey, it works, so it’s not wrong. This particular thing, it has a couple of USB3 ports. That means that I can shove full HD video through there and it will process. I used to have a… It’s there, but never mind. I used to have a different motherboard, where it had enough USB3 ports, but the older USB connectivity went through a chipset that didn’t have enough bandwidth to the CPU, and as a result, it couldn’t take two full HD feeds in there. 

So, there are some technical aspects to it. I won’t bother you to add up too much, but the capture cards I use, when it’s a full PC, I take a PCIe capture card. It just slots in like a video card or whatever. And that will all look beautiful. With these guys, it’s more practical and safer to use… I have a USB3 capture card that is essentially in a fully enclosed box. For transport, because that’s the thing that matters for me here, for transport this is vital that it is a fully enclosed box, because nothing in it can break, or snap, or whatever. It’s a thing. So, I shove that in a toiletries bag, no protection, no nothing, with all the other gear. It gets smushed and whatever. It can take it. It’s safe. 

Motherboard, CPU, et cetera, that is… So, the camera is, new, it’s about 350 Euros. Motherboard, 100, 150. The CPU needs to be pretty high end, so this is… When I started, the highest end you could get was an i7, so this has an i7-6700K, and it needs it. I’ve recently started replacing some hardware… Well, replacing. Buying more hardware. And we’re now at the i9 stage, and I tried to use an i5, and it just doesn’t have enough potency in it to make it work, but I’ve got a full build of materials. I’m gonna put it on my website as soon as I get around to it. 

The first conference where I basically said, because I’m doing a thing where I’m taking my rigs and just giving them away to people that I know are going to a lot of conferences themselves, so that they can help make it happen that those things get recorded without me being there. 

Taylor McKnight: Right. Yeah, talk me through some of that. So, you have eight rigs now? 

Cooper: So, I  started from the first beginning, where I had one rig. I built that out to have four rigs where it was a PC, and I had another four where it was basically this. That allowed me to do pretty much everything, because it’s rare to run into a conference, at least in Europe, where there are more than four tracks. And even if there are, then I can fill in the blanks using what I would call the mobile rigs. The problem I ran into is that I found something that works, and that people liked, and so everybody who was now organizing a con, the de facto, it’s now a standard thing to ask, “Is it getting filmed? Do we know anybody who can film it?” And then my name comes up. Which is flattering, but on the one hand it shouldn’t be about me, whether or not your conference gets recorded. I don’t want to be in that position. 

Taylor McKnight: You don’t wanna be the limit of like if you were already booked or something, and the whole conference doesn’t get online, you don’t want to be the limiting factor there. 

Cooper: And it happened a number of times where it just, scheduling wise, it didn’t work. And conferences would be going out of their way to accommodate me, which is nice, but it’s kind of the opposite of how it should be. You pick. As an event organizer, you pick your dates for a specific reason, and that specific reason shouldn’t be the videographer is only available on date X.

Taylor McKnight: Right, right. So, back to the mission of trying to share that knowledge and unlock it, you’ve started kind of optimizing that process and lending out the rigs?

Cooper: Yeah, so I had eight. I’ve taken four of them to England last December, and they’ve been used without me being present for the first time in this, with this concept, just last Friday.

Taylor McKnight: That’s exciting. 

Cooper: It was. A lot of things, again, didn’t go entirely to plan, which is kind of good. For me, it’s a learning experience. For the event organizer, the one thing I have to ensure is that I can tell the person things went wrong, but whatever is going wrong, we can deal with it. And it needs a bit of faith and it needs a bit of trust, so in my particular case, I’ve been filming conferences for five years. Most of the conferences I’ve done many years already. 

Taylor McKnight: How many conferences have you done? Just curious. Roughly. 

Cooper: Last count, about 130 in five years.

Taylor McKnight: 130 different conferences, multiplied by multiple sessions. 

Cooper: Individual conferences, multiple talks, multiple tracks, multiple talks.

Taylor McKnight: That’s amazing. 

Cooper: Let me, I can-

Taylor McKnight: That’s so cool that you’ve helped put on or put hundreds of talks online through your work and dedication through this.

Cooper: So, in 2015, I did one conference that had 16 talks, of which 15 could be published. By 2016, I was already doing 26 conferences in a single year. That made up 36 individual conference days if you, because certain conferences do multiple days. 

Taylor McKnight: Right. 

Cooper: If you multiply it by tracks, we are talking 49 track days already, and in, so this, we’re still talking 2016. In that-

Taylor McKnight: Yeah, talk me through each year. That’s interesting.

Cooper: So, in 2016 I was there to see 328 talks, and I was able, I was allowed to put 288 of those videos online. If we now jump forward a bit, 2019, I was there for 46 conferences. Those conferences spanned 68 days. If you then multiply it by the amount of tracks, we’re already at 149. That resulted in 750 talks that were recorded, and of those, 720 could be put online. 

Taylor McKnight: 720 just from 2019?

Cooper: Yes. 

Taylor McKnight: You put 720 talks online in 2019. 

Cooper: Yep. 

Taylor McKnight: That is amazing! That’s truly amazing. You’re like a one-man education resource, right? I mean, that’s so cool that you’re helping out these events share all that insight and discussion. That’s huge. You should be very proud. 

Cooper: I am, and the thing is it’s still, it’s a mission, it’s a love. There isn’t a single day that I go to a conference and go…

Taylor McKnight: You still love it.

Cooper: Every single one I go to it’s like, “Awesome. I’m going to learn things. I’m going to do things. I’m going to interact with people and it’s gonna be awesome!” And at the end of the day, I’m doing something that I am being appreciated for, so everybody’s gonna give me a pat on the back, and what’s not to like? Everything about doing a conference this way, for me, is joy. 

Taylor McKnight: Is that nearly every weekend? 

Cooper: Last year it was nearly every weekend. Yes. 

Taylor McKnight: So, circle us back to… We kind of walked through the different steps event planners can use. When you think about, we talked about the rig for $2,000. I guess both-

Cooper: 2,000 euros. 

Taylor McKnight: I’m interested in both routes. 2,000 euros. I’m interested in both routes. One is like for European conferences, quickly talk about what’s involved if they want to get you to help them out with their event? To record their talks? How would they… Do they check out your website or-

Cooper: There is, if you go to my website, it administraitor.video. Administraitor is spelled in a peculiar way. There is an extra I, because traitor as in betrayer. 

Taylor McKnight: Got it. 

Cooper: There is a little button there that says for organizers, and it will say, it will make quite clear what needs to happen to get me to show up. This is going to get changed soon. Because of this change that I’m now doing, because we discussed that I had eight rigs. I am currently building that out, so that I don’t have eight, but that I have at last count 21.

Taylor McKnight: Wow. 

Cooper: And the specific plan here is that I leave behind rigs in certain areas where just conferences happen often, or where I have friends, as well, who are able to be that they’re the caretaker of the systems, which would put you, as an organizer, in a position to simply say, “I want this filmed. Is there a rig nearby?” And if the answer is yes, you go and collect it. There are instructions online on how to use it. We’ve reached the point where it’s simple enough that if you have… If you can find a volunteer amongst your crew that is slightly technically proficient, doesn’t even have to be an expert, doesn’t have to be a whiz kid, guru, whatever, no knowledge on videoing or audio tech is required. 

Taylor McKnight: They can run it. 

Cooper: They can just read a fairly lengthy page on the website and from that moment on go, “Okay, I can now assemble the rig.” The benefit in that for me is that I don’t have to be there, because as you mentioned, nearly every weekend last year I was out and about. Not all conferences are on the weekend, so at some point my employer, because I have a full-time job, my employer was going, “Why do we even have a desk for you? You’re never there.” Which was bad.

So, I’m trying to reduce the amount of conferences that I am personally involved in, but I don’t want that to mean that less conferences get filmed. I think it would be unfair to the conferences. I think it would unfair to the speakers. And I just… My mission from day one has been to get this knowledge out, and I would be betraying the mission, if you will, if I were to let that happen. So, I started a fundraiser. I put out a call on the internet saying, “Hey, you know who I am, you know what I do, I’ve shown quite clearly that I am capable of doing what I’m setting out to do here. I need your help so that I can buy more video rigs, so that I can leave them out and about, and so that if you or somebody you know is organizing any event, it could be a Meetup, it could be a conference, it could be a giant conference or just a small thing. If it’s worthwhile for a couple of people to get together and discuss something in a slightly formalized setup, so speakers, that sort of thing, put a camera in front of it.” 

So, of the four rigs that I left in England, they were all needed for the conference last Friday, but they will now travel. One is going to the Abertay University. I hope I say it right, because there’s a university and there’s a college. There’s two of them, and they hate one another. I hope I get it right, but there is a ethical hacking society, and they do I believe it’s monthly if not more frequent, they do Meetups at the school, where they invite speakers, and they give their own presentations, and for me, I’d be really interested to see what these students are in to, and what are they researching, and what comes out of that research? 

Taylor McKnight: The next generation. Yeah, that’s exciting. 

Cooper: And similarly, there is a ethical hacking society in Edinburgh. The ENUSEC Hacking Society. Same process. You guys, I love what you’re doing. I want to see it. Why don’t you take a rig and film those things as well? These individual student groups also have their own conference. For Abertay, it’s the Securi-Tay Conference. It’s Tay as in T-A-Y. It’s named after a river in Scotland that the university is next to. 

ENUSEC has a very famous called Le Tour Du Hack. These two schools, they are not far, not that far apart, so students from the one go to the other’s conference, and both conferences are two-track conference, so you both get a rig, you go and use that for your own event, and as soon as the conference appears, you invite the others, tell them to bring their rig, and voila! You can record everything. 

Similarly, there is a friend of mine who’s up north there, who organizes the Lockpicking Village for a lot of conferences. He’s not interested in video, per se, but he’s going to these conferences by car, because he has to, due to the weight, et cetera, of all the lockpicking gear. He can easily bring a couple of video rigs. So, he gets two, and that way his or those two video rigs are already there when he shows up, so now all you have to do as an event planner is find somebody with a bit of technical know how, and willingness to put a rig together, and voila! You can be recorded. 

Taylor McKnight: Have you thought about founding this as an international organization of… The International Organization of Talk Recorders or something, and really spreading this message? I feel like people all over the world, again, with your knowledge, and the rigs, and the documentation, and your help, all over America, South America, the world should be using this idea and this goal. It’s such a awesome mission to record talks and put them online. Seems like something that would go-

Cooper: I’m trying to turn it into a blueprint. 

Taylor McKnight: Yeah, it seems like it could be something that really goes global, you know?

Cooper: And so, it literally is. Spend some money, then you have a thing, and for… I’m sure there are plenty of conferences that go, “2,000 euros? Equivalent… I have that. No problem. We buy a rig. Done.” That’s fine. That’s great. You buy a rig. You then have, you then film your conference, and then you have it basically collecting dust in a cupboard somewhere until next year’s event. 

Taylor McKnight: Right. 

Cooper: You can do that, but I find that that is not quite ideal. 

Taylor McKnight: Versus again, yeah, it could be helping year-round, right? 

Cooper: Yeah. 

Taylor McKnight: It seems like a great, also like a great project for students, too? Right? I just imagine like every university should have a club with a couple rigs, where these kids can go out and again, share, record these professional conferences for whatever they’re interested in, right? Tech, or fashion, or business, or finance, or whatever. Record these talks and put them online for, again, events that wouldn’t have done it otherwise.

Cooper: Yeah. I was very surprised last year when I found out that libraries do conferences. It was an eye opener for me. 

Taylor McKnight: I knew library associations go conferences, like there’s like associations of librarians that get together. 

Cooper: But I wasn’t expecting this at all. I mean, what do I know? I mean, I love the library. 

Taylor McKnight: There’s an event for everything. 

Cooper: Yeah! 

Taylor McKnight: Yeah. 

Cooper: And because they really take their role as the social glue of a community, that is very much a library, and I had a thought about that. I went, “You know, yes! I totally agree with this. I love the mission of the librarian.” So, I offered to film them, as well. I don’t think they took me very seriously, but you know, at least I offered. 

Taylor McKnight: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, not everybody’s gonna go for it, but yeah, I think that that’s really interesting. I love your mission again. I guess I’ll kind of end with my last question about… I’m in America here. If Americans, event planners, want to try something like this, there’s directions on your website? Could they spend the 2,000 euro, they do this, is it… Can they figure out on their own? Can they contact you for help? 

Cooper: I am super generous with my time when it comes to helping you work out making sure everything connects, everything works. I would, of course, recommend that you test everything before actually doing anything. 

Taylor McKnight: Day of. Yep. QA testing ahead of time. 

Cooper: The BSides Conference that happened last Friday, in the end, everything went fine, of course, but I’ve got this little gizmo. I made this myself. The design, it’s on my website. That one is. The idea here is you need power for your camera. You need power for the boxes on the lectern, et cetera, and I had the interesting experience where I was… So, camera had a power lead come into it, and everything was plugged in, everything’s good, and an attendee at some point realized that their phone was low on power, found a wall socket, unfortunately, there was a cable in there, so they figured, “Eh.” Yanked it, put the charger in, turns out that was the cable that led to my camera. 

Thankfully it got noticed within roughly the first 10 minutes, and basically just means in my set up that only for that first 10 minutes, there’s no camera feed, but everything else is there, so you still… So, we put a little image over the bit where the camera should have been, that says, “Due to technical-“ 

Taylor McKnight: You still have the slides. 

Cooper: Yeah, you still had the slides and you still had the audio, so we put a bit over where the camera was and said, yeah, “Due to technical difficulties… Video will resume from this point in the video.” And everything for that one was fine. But because of that episode, I changed my setup so that power comes from the main PC out towards the bit on the far end. I feed 12 volts to it, and everything I’ve got on the end is 5 volts, so these guys are voltage converters, and at the conference last Friday, one of these blew up. 

Blew up sounds a bit spectacular. Essentially, smoke came out, it stank a lot. I know that these things, that they can do this.

Taylor McKnight: Yeah. 

Cooper: As mentioned, I’ve been filming for five years. For I would say about four years, I’ve been using these sorts of boxes, and in that time, about three or four of them died. And you don’t know when-

Taylor McKnight: That’s a pretty good ratio, right there. 

Cooper: Exactly, so it is a reliable thing, but I know it can happen. 

Taylor McKnight: Absolutely. 

Cooper: And because I know it can happen, every single rig comes with two power boxes, so if it happens, just swap them out, it can continue and happily ever after. And as the universe has a wicked sense of humor, the spare power box in that particular rig was also defective, so we had to sort of cut our losses there and say, “Okay, we’re not going to record the slides live, but none of the talks that are happening have actual live content displayed from the laptop. There’s no demo with technical bits.” So, if the speaker just sends me their slide deck, I can manually edit that in, and everything will be fine. You won’t notice the difference. It’s more work for me, but that’s the sort of thing that happens. 

But yeah, on my website I describe how you can make these. On my website I’m going to put a full build materials. I’m going to discuss it at length how you package everything, how you can make sure that everything stays alive, remains functioning for… Yeah, basically that you get your money’s worth. 

Taylor McKnight: Absolutely. Yeah. I just, again, I love your mission. I love that with that hack mentality, that you’re getting better every year, troubleshooting, making it more bulletproof so that it can go out in the world with these backups, with this process, so that anybody can successfully record talks. Awesome! That’s all I have. Is there anything else that you wanted to mention before we end the show? 

Cooper: If anybody is interested, contact me on Twitter. That is the obvious one. Because I am making all these extra video rigs, I am doing a fundraiser, trying to get people to help me pay for them. If you want one yourself, by all means, contact me and I will share what isn’t on the website yet. And if you’re like, “Hey, this sounds cool, I want to make a rig and put it like…” Because what we’re going to be doing is set up a system sort of like a shared agenda or something, that shows where each rig is being used. So, if you’re willing to put together a rig and share it with the community, obviously-

Taylor McKnight: Right. You could be added to that map. 

Cooper: Yeah. I can get you added to that map. You will still have full control of everything if you want to. One of the conditions, obviously, can be somebody wants to record a Meetup there, you have a rig, that means you go there with your rig and you film it. If that’s the sort of thing you want to do, fine. All good. Essentially what the agenda’s gonna be is just points of contact. Other people can decide if they can bring rigs, and how, and transport and logistics. But yeah, if that’s the sort of thing that makes you go, “You know what? That would be cool!” Then yeah, come talk to me and we’ll do it. 

Taylor McKnight: That’s amazing! I’ll include your link, and your Twitter and website, and all that information in the show notes, as well, so that people can find that. Wow. This has been really cool. I just love your passion for everything. It’s a really good mission. I wish you absolute luck in 2020 and beyond, in recruiting more people and recording more talks. I know you’ll be successful. Thank you so much for being on the show. 

Cooper: Thank you. 

Taylor McKnight: Thanks for tuning in this week, and thanks again to Cooper for sharing his mission and the steps required to record your conference talks and share them online. Find links to his site in our show notes and visit us at emamo.com. That’s E-M-A-M-O dot com. See you next time!