Bernhard Kast have created a very successful and highly educational Youtube channel called Military History Visualized, followed by the creation of a support channel Military History not Visualized. In them he covers many military and military related topics from naval to land warfare, various past military conflicts, strategy, tactics and many more. In making these presentations he does a lot of research from various sources (academic literature, books, expert interviews…), putting a big emphasis on quality.
In your channel you present many military and military related topics, with videos being long from a few minutes to half an hour. How do you go about creating your videos? Do you choose a topic at random or do you have certain criteria for this?
Well, the process changed quite a lot over the 3 years I am running the channel(s). At the beginning is usually an idea, a question, a piece of information or sometimes a “visual idea”. Based upon this initial “piece”, the work can sometimes be rather straight-forward. It means reading up on the topic or information. If a topic “dies”, it is usually at this stage, since when the sources are not good enough or the topic is just not appealing to me, the project might get postponed or completely scratched. The next step and likely the most important is writing the script. Originally, this was the hardest part, yet, nowadays it is often rather straight-forward. Once the script is ready, the design and animation process begins, which means visualizing various aspects like numbers and arranging other elements, depending on the issue this can be quite complicated. Now, the final steps are recording my voice over, editing everything together and “publishing” it, which is a fancy word for adding the description and other elements on YouTube.
The way I choose my topics is rather chaotic for the VISUALIZED channel, but since I created a second channel last year named Military History NOT Visualized, I am focusing more on videos that require actual visualization. Additionally, I also look more at the popularity of topics now than I did in my early years. The ideal case is, I stumble across a topic / idea and immediately get to work, e.g., this year the “Napoleonic Infantry Tactics” video was actually almost ready 6 weeks earlier, yet since two other topics basically just wrote themselves (“Ghost Division” and “The most underrated Panzer?”), I postponed the “Napoleonic Infantry Tactics” video. So, some topics like “Ghost Division” happen basically over-night, while other might take years. Also, I have a list – or better several lists – of topics that I continually update and dismiss. Quite often what sounded like a great topic 5 months ago, fells now stale or I am surprised that I didn’t cover that topic yet. In a way the “topic decision process” it is rather chaotic, but the creation of a video itself is rather organized.
For your presentations you do a lot of research, with links to research sources always in the description. How much research do you do for a video, on average? Is it difficult to gain access to information sources? How do you organize your research?
Well, that is hard to say, although I use a stop-watch to measure all my activities and put into an excel sheet the data without context is misleading, since I note “reading” and “script” as different processes, but a lot of the time in the “script” phase, I read or re-read a lot of information and double-check. Additionally, in some cases, I can start writing immediately since in some areas I have a decent foundation of information already. For 2019 the statistics are basically, about 17 % of the time was spent on reading and 25 % on scripting, but that is only for the “Production” category, I also have a “Support” category, where I do reading that is preliminary for finding topics (“scouting”) and/or for improving the “general knowledge base”. Additionally, for visualized videos a lot of time goes into design and animation, whereas for NOT visualized videos the most time is spent on reading, since they also don’t have a script, just simple bullet points with structure. I would guess that NOT visualized videos usually have about 40-80 % spent on reading.
About the gaining access to sources, well, in some cases it can be difficult, but it really depends. Primary sources like documents or army regulations can be quite tricky, but the latter sometimes can be bought rather easily, well, in some cases at least. For secondary sources, it is usually quite easy, ordering something from amazon. The main problem is that sometimes the information one is looking for is not there or in other cases the problem is actually too much sources. With secondary sources, there is strong difference between German and English books. The first usually have an excellent table of contents, well-structured and headings that describe what is in the chapter/section, but German books usually only have an index on people names and sometimes also on locations, but extremely rarely on general topics. This is in stark contrast to most English books that usually have an excellent index but have chapter names that have more of an “artistic character”. Just yesterday I had to check several chapter names for the actual content since a chapter title like “Rampage” is not particularly insightful and have seen far worse.
Highly researched and very informative videos require a lot of work and time. How do you support your content creation? What are the difficulties you face in maintaining and expanding your Youtube channels?
I use crow-funding sites like patreon and subscribestar to support my work financially. Additionally, I take donations via paypal. I also have an amazon wishlist for books, which allowed me to expand my library last year, I want to particularly thank Jack from the United States here! Additionally, I also have merchandise. I do the occasional sponsored video, but usually decline. And of course, I make money form the ads YouTube is playing in front of my videos, although from what I know the rates are far lower since I cover a lot of sensitive topics and some videos get completely demonetized.
The main issue with maintaining is that there are more content creators now than in 2016 in the general area of history and also military history. As such, I improved my channel in various ways and put a stronger focus on various aspects. Questions like: why do people watch my videos, what do I want to be known for and with whom I want to work together were important key questions here to define my overall strategy and approach. Additionally, feedback from military historians and similar professionals was very important as well.
Youtube is your primary base of operation and videos with visuals your primary mode of operation, supplemented by a few podcasts and interviews. Do you consider videos to be your primary way of presenting your topics or do you intend to diversify your ways of presentation (more podcasts, interviews, museum visits)?
Well, for VISUALIZED the idea is to continue with visualization videos and occasionally have an interview there, but I am not entirely certain if I continue this approach or will move interviews completely to the NOT visualized channel. Podcasts will continue yet only on the YouTube channel not an additional podcasting platform/host. Additionally, I will do less of the podcasts myself, Justin (a long time supporter and regular on podcasts) did a few podcasts with guests himself and that was great. Since, I really enjoyed meeting people like David Willey, Nicholas Moran (the Chieftain), Ralf Raths and Roman Töppel in person and recording interviews with them, I will definitely continue the interviews. Additionally, museum visits are also increasing, since – thanks to my supporters – funding is less of an issue than in 2016/2017. Furthermore, I have gained valuable experience that make such trips more worthwhile. Yet, still a lot of aspects are not set in stone and I had many ideas that I never tried and many that just did not work out.
Last but not least. What do you intend to do with your channel in the near future?
There are two major avenues I want to expand upon, the first is more visualization of large amounts of data, since I want to harness some of my Computer Science skills. The second aspect is that I want to include more primary sources in my work.
Interview by Anže Švajger