Mtek Interviews Stephen Robinson of 52Skillz

Meet Stephen Robinson, a YouTuber and Filmmaker from Edmonton, Alberta.  As the creator of 52Skillz on youtube, and the new series “How to Learn Anything” with StoryHive – Stephen shares the technology that empowers him.

Transcript of Interview with Stephen

Hi.  My name is Stephen, and I’m the guy behind 52skillz.  52skillz started out as a passion project where I’d learn a new skill every week and then document the process on YouTube, and it kind of grew into this brand, and now it’s my full-time job.

What technologies are important to you?

Well, I think, probably one of the interesting things to talk about with me is just how I have adapted to use technology and how I learned to use technology throughout building the YouTube channel.  When I first started, I knew nothing about cameras.  I just found a cheap camera that I thought could be interesting.  I googled, “What’s the best camera for the least amount of money?” and the first, like, link that I found, I clicked on it and bought it, and that was it—an NEX-3.  A Sony NEX-3, which I think was, like, not a bad choice.  I still use it from time to time for stuff where I don’t mind if it gets destroyed.  For one of the episodes I actually just released recently, I was doing the splits while driving a remote control Jeep Cherokee, like a full-sized Jeep Cherokee, off of a jump, and we set that camera up as the camera that could get run into by the Jeep after it came over, and it still works!  So I still use it today, but yeah, I think kind of my journey along appreciating technologies really depends on what I focus on and become passionate about. 

So for me, I think that looking into, like, the different types of tech in the camera world is really interesting for me right now, and just editing software, different types of hardware I use to edit—that’s really the only technology I care about right now.  I shoot with a Sony α7s II and I think that the amazing thing with the α7s is that you can use it for YouTube videos; you can use it for really high-quality stuff that can shoot in 4K, S-log, all that kind of stuff.  So it’s a super versatile camera that can be used for a lot of things.  It can shoot 120 fps.  You can get good slow mo with it.  We shot a show that is on TV and we shot the entire thing with that camera, whereas, you know, 20 years ago, the same sort of level of quality to hit the standards that they were looking for at that time might cost you, like, fifty thousand dollars, right?  So I think that’s really interesting. 

When you’re making videos, there’s a lot of really subtle things that people don’t necessarily consciously pick up on that make a really great video, and I think audio is one of those things.  Yeah.  I think there’s a lot of videos with incredible content and terrible audio that I’ll click out of it without even thinking, “Oh, that audio’s terrible.”  It’s just “There’s something wrong with it.”  So, I think that’s probably one of the biggest steps I’ve made this year, is that I’m trying to make things sound good. 

Trello has changed my life, just as far as, like, being able to organize my goals.  When you’re, you know, a solo entrepreneur, or just any level of entrepreneur, it’s so important to understand what your goals are and the different tasks that you have to complete, because there’s no one holding you accountable to it except for yourself.  So I just have a whole bunch of, like, different things in Trello where I just track stuff, right.  Whereas, like, you know, taxes this year:  “These are the different things I need to do,” in, you know, 52skillz, marketing, you know, video production.  So there’s just like… Trello has made me a far more productive and calm person, because I don’t need to juggle all that stuff, you know.  So Trello, and keep a calendar.  Those are my two real tech things, and other than that I’m pretty basic when it comes to the app world.

So when I first started, I just shot a whole bunch of stuff, and then my very first video took me, like, 80 hours to edit, because I was learning the software, while I was, like, editing this video, and I really had no workflow.  Like, I didn’t really even think of workflow.  I was just like, “Let’s just look through these clips and put some funny stuff in, and we’ll find a song and…”.  I think it’s, like, an okay video, but just, you know, it looks like a video who someone who thinks they’re good at editing makes, you know.  So I think that, workflow wise, I think what’s really interesting about editing and shooting stuff is that people will say, “Oh wow, you’re so good at editing,” but, like, the good edits start with thinking about how to shoot it in a way that you could edit it in an interesting way, you know.  So I think, for me, I’m always trying to think of what are the different phrases and different, you know, kind of sound bites that I can provide for me when I’m editing this later to make the edit a lot easier, and I think that’s been probably the biggest change for me since I started to now, is just recognizing if you’re spending so much time editing my own stuff, it’s just recognizing the different points that I typically pull out of it.  So, in like a skill learning video, it would be like, for sure you want the “when I finally get the skill for the first time,” you know, just like “Yeahhhh!  F--- yeah!”  You know?  Like, those kinds of moments I think are really valuable, and then talking about the different frustrations.  Yeah, so I’ve probably cut my edits down, you know:  First video, 80 hours.  Season 1 of 52skillz might have taken me 15 to 20 hours per video.  And then now, you know, I can get it in probably like 10, 6 to 10 hours, depending on the quality. 

I started out with Final Cut, and I think for people who are just starting out and are by themselves I think Final Cut X is great.  If you want more of, like, a professional look, Premiere’s the way to go, and throughout this year I’ve started to move over to Premiere, because I’m starting to colour grade my episodes, and yeah, there’s a lot of stuff you just can’t do in Final Cut, where Premiere is, like, you can do literally everything.  Yeah.  So the project I’ve been working on, and which has kind of really accelerated my abilities as a film maker and as somebody who can talk about, I guess, tech in the film world, is called “How to Learn Anything.”  And how it started was we got a grant from Telus to make a show, like a pilot of our show, and ended up winning a broadcast license with them and got a bunch of money to make, like, a legit show is incredible.  But, you know, when you’re living on YouTube and you’ve grown up on YouTube and all you understand is YouTube, when someone says, “Make us this, like, TV show,” I had no idea what I was doing.

So I found all the people, you know, that could kind of cover those bases, and I think it got a lot better through them.  My understanding of, like, tech and film got a lot stronger through them.  So the show “How to Learn Anything” is this Telus-funded show that we just completed, and the concept of the show is you learn two unrelated skills and then combine them to do something ridiculous.  So the show that got us the funding was “Learning How to Solve a Rubik’s Cube While Skydiving.”  The second episode, I learned the basics of robotics and then attempted to build a cake-baking robot.  I got, like, 90% of it done.  Still working on it—some parts just came in today.  So the difference between, like, the TV show and the YouTube series:  The YouTube series was, like, Final Cut Pro, a6000, out of focus, you know, wouldn’t change white balance, but, you know, the story was really strong.  And then move over to the show where, you know, like, light everything, labs on everything, triple-check focus.  So just all of, like, the really, like, little details where when the viewer’s watching it they might not notice, like, a massive difference in production value but it’s just, like, I think, the difference from, like, you know, a 6 production value to, like, an 8 production value—it just gets exponential.

Final Cut, a6000, not a lot of focus on, like, making things look perfect, and then on this side is, like, Premiere, α7s II, FS7, and, like, audio and focus and just, like, really, really making sure that things look good.  And, like, setting up shots for 52skillz content might take, like, 5 minutes, but, like, you know, maybe like 15 to 20 minutes for stuff for “How to Learn Anything,” which adds up. 

I don’t know!  Like, a drone would be sweet.  Probably a Mavic, just because I value portability a lot more than quality, and I think if you’re doing stuff for YouTube, you don’t need crazy high bit rate because most people are watching it on their phones and they can’t tell the difference.  So yeah, Mavic would be sweet.  I think the funny thing with the camera world and the film world is it’s, like, a never-ending pit of money that you can spend.  So I would probably get a second α7s II so I can have, like, matching profile pictures.  I’d like a stabilizer, like a hand stabilizer.  So the α7s we have right now is an occasion, it’s, like, pretty heavy because it has all the audio equipment on it; we can attach a monitor to it, and everything.  I’d like to have an α7s where it’s just, like, a light lens that has great autofocus that I can stick on, like, a hand stabilizer and get some really beautiful shots with that.  Who knows if that will happen any time soon.  Yeah, but if I had infinite money, it would disappear in the film world.

So in conclusion, really, in, like, my tech world, film is one side of it, and then just productivity is the other side of it.  I have really started to enjoy working with higher quality tech whereas before I was like, “You don’t need that.  That’s, like, totally BS.”  But now I started to see the value in it.  And then productivity apps—if you’re, like, a solo entrepreneur or someone who’s just trying to get their life organized more, and you don’t have a calendar, and you don’t have something like Trello, get those things.  And also subscribe to 52skillz, because it’s awesome!