Racing commentary, finding the balance
This race video from GTR Diecast prompted a nice side chat and one that I think might be worthy of some broader discussion. The challenge of finding the balance between action in a video and the commentary.
A lot of the trending diecast racing now is quite heavy on the commentary, mimicking real world racing and highlights like you'd see on TV. I'm always rather impressed by the detailed commentary because I know how challenging it is, but sometimes it can be a little too much.
In the video linked above, I commented about how the action felt slow. Our friends at Chaos Canyon suggested the lack of perceived speed is a biproduct of the commentating. Finding the right playback speed to allow for commentating can be quite difficult...and I appreciate that challenge.
That made me curious about how people approach commentary for their videos. I believe commentary is an art, for sure. But that also made me wonder if people adjust/produce the action to meet their commentary, or the other way around?
Now...I know in a race that only last a few seconds in real-time, that the video needs slowed down. I slow down videos too, even without commentary...that's not the issue. I don't expect anyone to try and commentate a 5 second race, but I'd also like to think that commentary isn't planned out so much that editors feel the need to adjust the action to match the script. Shouldn't it be the other way around?
Find a good video speed for the race first. Get it so the cars look good, look fast but can still be easily seen, etc. And then once you're happy with that, adjust your commentary to meet that timing. Everyone does a bunch of replays and slow(er) motion anyway...that's where you can spend time elaborating and diving into your script more.
I know it's all a balancing act. And I also write this as someone that never commentates their race videos. That's partially because I know the expectations that comes with it, but more so because I only have a drag strip and that style does not lend itself to commentary as much as the open tracks. It's something I want to try and do more but have talked myself out of it due to the effort and time needed.
All that said, thankfully there is a buffet of racing out there that runs the spectrum when it comes to commentary. There are races like mine that never get commentary, all the way to videos that have too much commentary. So there's something for everyone. I'm not trying to crap on anyone's work or preference, but rather just hoping to get some insight into the challenges of commentary and how that impacts production, and, ultimately, how it impacts the audience.
It's definitely something that can take a lot of tweaking to balance. All of the commentary at the canyon is unscripted, it's done on the fly and then edited and adjusted after the fact. So editing is done more around the racing than trying to fit the commentary. I tried scripting it, but for me at least, I found it was too disconnected from the actual race, and ours are too short to have long conversations about stuff.
Our races are generally slowed down to 65% of full speed or 50% (for the actual race) and even slower on the replays. I felt that this gives the best balance of speed and commentary time. Just saying "Carhooner Corner" is about long enough for the cars to have made it from the corner to the finish line before I say anything else, cause our track is so short but if the video is any slower and it feels like the cars are dragging.
Interestingly sound design makes a huge difference here as well. I remember watching a talk by video game designers who, when testing their games, were told the cars were all too slow. The only thing they adjusted was to make the cars sound like they were moving faster, and everyone thought they'd sped the game up by 25% and were much happier. But obviously that's won't look right if the engine is screaming and the cars are only moving past scenery very slowly.
Going back to the commentary. I know we aren't as polished as 3D's commentary, but then we also aren't trying to be him. Our background comes form making movies for the 48 hour competition, so you get used to doing stuff on the fly with little time, and producing 2 videos a week (on top of a full time job and a part time design job) it doesn't leave a lot of time for finesse, so we go with what we feel works. Sometimes you strike some comedy gold while doing it, othertimes not, but I'm not going to let that stop production.
For us, we only really need commentary that's scripted if there isn't much happening in the racing. That's where the commentary takes precedent over the racing because there's no close racing, or crashes etc - for us there's nearly always someone crashing in carhooner corner or the jump so kind of takes care of that.
For the DSPN reports (FYI we're renaming them to DRN - Diecast Racing News), we edit it all together as a rough cut with all the footage from the different tracks, then the commentary is done completely off the cuff, usually in one take start to finish, whether we mess up or not. We then go back and re-edit, so where there are gaps or problems, we trim and tidy or re-record, so the final product can end up being 2-3mins shorter than the rough cut. So that is a different mix of making the editing and the commentary work together, but then it's not normal racing, so is a bit different.
On a drag track, you really don't need the commentary: just drag 'em, show the entire run plus a couple of extra shots of the finish at different angles, post up the results. Quick and easy.
Now, on a open road course, there's going to be more random action. Cars are going to crash into anything available, flip over the sides of the track, run backwards, and generally do all kinds of unpredictable stuff. This is where the commentary gets to be fun. Basic scripts help, but the more ad-lib that can be done should be done. Run the races first ... get your raw footage... see what can be edited in and out of the replays. Once you have that diwn, then go back and do the commentary. Replays are where the gold kicks in ... go nuts and have fun, because that is what it's all about.
Like Blueline says, 3D is amazing at doing what he does and I love every bit of it. In fact, I got into this hobby thanks to him and the entertainment value of his videos. Now...theres more to it than just talking during a race. For him, there is context, a story line and a point to everything and a longer track allowing races to take more than 2 seconds to occur. Racing quick spurts in elimination style events does not lend itself to commentary much if at all and makes it harder to do and harder to enjoy. A little bit goes a long way and honestly, editing in a quick cut scene with some words can do the job wonderfully.
- Plus his little outtakes are great! The lineup for the waivers booth, the guy pouting “medical motor oil” on the downed bystander .... all the little touches that make it fun (although the guy that got a Beemer to the face probably wasn’t too happy ....) — SpyDude
- YES! You have to almost watch numerous times to see all the silly fun stuff he does outside of the action — Mattman213
It does feel like a lot of channels are trying to me more about Them than the racing itself...kinda what Blueline was talking about. I appreciate people trying to create some story and drama out of thin air but at that point you might as well do what Flat Rabbit does with his complete narrative universe. Treat it more like an episodic show than a weekly sports report.
It's been interesting seeing how people are using diecast racing...whether as creative storytelling or just a shrunk down version of regular racing. But whatever people do, I think it's all enjoyed most when the focus is on the action rather than talking heads and looks-like-TV gimmicks.
I wonder if for people looking to generate a bunch of content if making 2 videos per race would be a better path. One video is pretty much just straight racing with "real time" commentary. Then a follow-up video is the analysis and highlights show that does the deep cuts and progresses storylines. That lets me choose if I'd rather just watch the core racing and/or get the talking heads.
I'm a big F1 fan and really dig their approach...there's usually a core racing highlights video and it's just the action from the day with the live commentary. But then they put out other videos that continue to dig into the race and find/create the drama between drivers and more slow-mo replays of specific moments. None of them are particularly long and they compliment each other, and I often return to watch more of the extra videos after I watch the core racing.
- Love the idea of multiple versions. It would be fairly easy to produce, since you're just remixing race content. If nothing else it could help you discover what your audience prefers. Numbers don't lie. — jdensillegg
- It's an interesting concept, and kind of what we're aiming for with the DRN (DSPN) reports, but without the full race breakdowns as it would take too long to produce. — Chaos_Canyon
Every race video should tell a story. Sometimes commentary helps tell a better one. The linked video at the top focuses too much on trying to brand a tagline, which (in combination with the blaring music) drowns out some potentially good narrative. I imagine, with time and constructive feedback, the production value and commentary will rise to the quality of the track.
I'm hopeful we'll have more good examples to emulate as people continue to get drawn into this awesome craft.
Thing is you have mail in racers. Who mostly want to see racing but who tune into channels that have great content and production just because they love everything HotWheels.
Then you have mail in racers that want to see nothing but races and couldn't care less about commentary or pick your ride or become a driver type production races.
Then you have people who just want to be entertained by diecast racing and have no intentions of actually racing cars.
Im assuming two or three years ago it was mostly just about racing and maybe building cars. I know a lot of guys who only care about racing who have racing leagues on FB and have distanced themselves from some of the extra stuff.
The hobby is evolving and it really comes down to what suits your taste. There are people who hate 2 second 1/4 mile races. I will never have 500k people watching my races and that is fine with me. If you're trying to have that then you need to have the right combination of commentary, great production and be ever evolving because right now the market is flooded and people only have so much time in a day to watch diecast racing.
- I have to say my thoughts in general line up with all you have said here. I do generally like commentary, commentary that supports the racing content, ie the cars / teams participating. At times I have watched some racing, and without commentary it was extremely difficult to work out who was compteing, and what was going on. It turns one off. Cheers. — CutRock_R_Marc_D
- I like what Simon is doing now on Road Warriors. It’s a nice balance. He gives the race a chance to breath and is giving just enough commentary where is doesn’t seem he’s trying to force in every move the cars make in an eight second race — BlueLineRacing
I loved the F1 commentary. I think the thing that really made it great was they kept it simple and they sounded excited for it. Making it sound like you love what you're talkin about really helps the people or at least helped me get into it with them. Personally I just try and commentate on the races off the cuff. It definitely doesn't always turn out great and a lot of the time I'm slightly behind the actual action but I like it a lot more than watching the race thinking of what to say then re watching the race and commentating on it. It doesn't feel quite right to me. I like giving people my first well Second Impressions of the race and I try not to know who won before the end.
- We like your race commentary. It is raw. You also have good race concepts, which adds to the overall experience. — AB_IB_Racing
Great topic. Recently the channel We Race Diecast added commentary for the first time. He did great, but did not start adding it to every race. (His course has a rad jump, which I think is the best, and needs little commentary.) His races are fun to watch no matter what. I suppose that's the balance one is trying to achieve.
We got sucked into die cast racing on YouTube by RaceGrooves. That guy has a unique style we enjoy. He seems comfortable and confident - and lands a joke from time to time. It kept us coming back.
I don't know if the commentary on my videos is great or terrible. My wife finds it acceptable. LOL. I try to give my daughter chances to find her voice. It is a work in progress for both of us.
Great topic. I think the key is to know your audience and produce something that scratches that audiences' itch. The GTC Diecast Racing League is a bit of an interesting mix. All of our races are done before a live audience. We have 25 league members and each gets to enter 2 cars in a race. We set our track up the day before a race day and video all the races for the day. Yeah so if you can imagine getting 50 cars through multiple heats of 4 cars per heat. It makes for a very long day. Then I edit the videos. I slow the race down to what looks "realistic." I then send the video over to two brothers who love to do the commentary. It is not scripted, so they are "calling the race" as they see it. We do try and add a little fun track drama and stories just because it is fun to try and be a bit creative. We do the video production primarily to allow our league members who missed the race to see how their cars performed. However, everyone in the league (our primary audience) loves the production and commentary. No delusions of being the next 3D. We are doing it because we are having fun. Many of us got into diecast racing because of some great YouTube channels.
I want to see the hobby continue to spread and grow in popularity. I believe the best forum for that is YouTube and threads like this certainly help all of us think about ways to improve our production. Better prodution means more popularity for the hobby.
First off, RedLineDerby, thank you for linking my track into your article. I sincerely appreciate it. I'm not some full-blown racing league with dozens of members like many of your subscribers. I'm just a guy who had an idea and went with it. There's a world of tracks and racers that (for the most part) I was completely unaware of. I've got much to learn about this hobby. This discussion is a good one. I will continue tweaking things because I love the journey. I'm an engineer so I have to tweak things. Lol! Cheers everyone!
- Thanks for joining the conversation and welcome! You got a great track and lots of fun racing happening. We all know it takes a lot of effort and is a constant tweak show when it comes to producing videos. It's a journey for all of us, that's for sure and there's no end in sight. — redlinederby
Normally I go at .8x speed it's fast so just kind of get excited for whoever is winning and the meaning (example an underdog ect) then on the replay I slow it to about .3x and look at the details as to what happened. My track is small so I can replay the whole race slowly and it doesn't take long
- That's good to know. Before asking anyone I thought about 65%. 3Dbotmaker does his at 50%. I started there, but realized that my track is just slower in general. I'm at 55% with my latest video. Who knows where I'll end up.. — GravityThrottleRacing
I think less is more when it comes to commentary. 3dbotmaker is very good at it and even he can go on too long arguing with 2d while the race is playing out. In my opinion when it becomes more about the commentator and storyline and less about the racing it's too much. I was watching a race video the other day on what was really a nice track, where I was definitely interested in the racing but the commentator was screaming like he was being attacked by a Shark. I had to turn it off and move on.
This kind of goes back to a comment I made a few months ago about racing being lost in everyone trying to be the next YouTube star. Some is nice on a road course, none is good on a 1/4 mile drag but when it's too much commentary it can be a bad thing also.
The opinion of someone usually just interested in racing except for a select few tracks where the production quality is so good I'll actually watch it for entertainment also.