Videotaping RubyNation 2010

I'm one of the founders of the annual RubyNation technical conference, which will be held for the third time on April 9 - 10, 2010. Each year that we've held the conference, we've tried to up the ante in producing a bigger, better conference. One of the exciting developments for RubyNation 2010 is that we're planning to videotape the conference sessions this year. This is the first of a series of articles that will cover this video production effort.

Videotaping RubyNation 2010

But we're doing more than just videotaping the conference. We're also going to produce a documentary about what it takes to organize and run a conference. I will be functioning as the producer for this documentary, which currently has a working title of "The Road to RubyNation: The Making of a Conference". When completed, this documentary will be shown on public television and will be streamed online.

Editorial Note: (2010-02-27) The working title of the documentary has now been shortened to "RubyNation: The Making of a Conference."

All of this video production work represents a significant investment in time and resources over and above the usual conference-related work that we've done in previous years. Video production breaks down into two separate, but related, projects:

  • The Conference Sessions
  • The Documentary

To assist in both of these projects, we'll be working with two organizations and a host of volunteers. The first organization is Arlington Independent Media (AIM), a non-profit organization that promotes and facilitates free speech by ensuring that diverse viewpoints can be expressed through public media. AIM will be providing equipment, training, advice and access to a known pool of video volunteers.

The second organization assisting in the endeavor is MetroStar Systems, a local IT company based in Reston, VA (and also a Diamond sponsor of RubyNation 2010). MetroStar will be providing equipment and volunteer effort.

Finally, it should be stressed that neither project will be possible without the participation of a whole bunch of unpaid volunteers. These volunteers will be drawn from RubyNation, MetroStar Systems and the numerous video production enthusiasts who belong to AIM.

Conference Sessions

RubyNation is a two-day, dual-track conference. Except for two keynote sessions and a Lightning Talks session (multiple 5 - 15 minute presentations from multiple speakers), there will be two presentations going on simultaneously in separate rooms. Keynotes and the Lightning Talks sessions typically run one hour, while all other presentations are 45 minutes in length. In practical terms, this amounts to about 24+ sessions that potentially need to be taped.

There are a few tactical considerations. First, not every speaker will want his talk recorded, although we'll try to pick speakers that don't have an issue with this. For promotional purposes, many speakers are perfectly happy to have their talk recorded, considering it to be free promotion. Others, however, promote the same talk to multiple venues, and may feel that having it eventually available online damages its attractiveness to other conferences.

This means that presenters will have to sign a Video Release Form that allows them to specify:

  • Whether their talk can be recorded in its entirety.
  • Whether excerpts from their talk can be used in the documentary.

Recording the conference sessions is where professional equipment from AIM will be the most heavily needed. This includes two professional field cameras for the main room plus a third camera for the small room. Additionally, many other items will be needed including microphones, cords, lights, etc. We'll also need volunteers to set up, operate and basically babysit the equipment, plus a secure place to store it overnight (probably a hotel room).

Editorial Note: (2010-02-27) The original concept was two stationary field cameras (one in each room) plus two roving hand-held commercial video cameras. This has now become two stationary cameras recording the speakers, two stationary cameras recording the projector output, one roving camera for interviews and one motion-activated eyeball cam (for a booth where attendees can sit down and say whatever they want).


The idea behind the documentary is to show the type of effort it takes to put on a professional conference. After watching the documentary, interested viewers should have a better idea of what it takes to produce a public event of relatively significant size, and should walk away with a host of useful tips should they ever be involved in producing a public event themselves.

The documentary will provide a general, non-technical introduction to Ruby and related topics, but the emphasis will be on the activities involved in producing the conference.

To create the documentary, we're going to need a lot of footage, much of which has to be shot well before the conference. We're going to need interviews with organizers, sponsors and maybe a few past participants. We're going to need footage of organizational meetings, conference preparations, etc. We're also going to need footage of the conference itself, including the facility, crowd shots, at-conference interviews with participants, etc.

Most of this footage will be shot using small, portable video cameras. MetroStar will be providing one such camera. Some of the volunteers also have portable video cameras suitable for capturing this footage.


When the conference is over, the work is most certainly not over, because this is when all the editing work needs to be done.

First up, the conference sessions. The sessions themselves are fairly simple from an editing perspective — we're going to show the entire talk from one camera angle. However, since the eventual target for distributing the content is the web, our goal is to produce an extra-wide view that shows the presenter's slides (or laptop screen) side-by-side with the recorded video. Relatively easy to do, but nevertheless a significant amount of work given the number of recorded sessions.

The documentary is where most of the work will be needed. The task for the documentary is basically to create a coherent and logically organized hour-long documentary from a wide range of video content, all shot at different times and in different places by different people with several different types of cameras. Oh, and the show has to be accessible and easily understood by a non-technical audience.

For the documentary, it's all about the editing.

When completed, the documentary will air on AIM's public television station. It will also be made available on the web for conference attendees and others (although it may be broken into logical "chapters" for easier viewing over the Internet).


Videotaping RubyNation 2010 and producing a documentary at the same are both significant challenges. A lot of work is going to be needed from a diverse group of volunteers to accomplish these two tasks. Nevertheless, I think the end result is going to be worthwhile, both for conference attendees and the viewers of the documentary.


David Keener By dkeener on Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 07:43 AM EST

I was talking with Chad Fowler, one of the top Ruby experts in the world, about this video production effort during RubyNation. He was amazed at the scope of the effort, and really intrigued by the documentary. He told me he was interested in seeing the documentary when it was completed, which I thought was pretty cool.

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