Across the creative spectrum, the pandemic had a huge influence on the content created in 2020. And it hit the Penguin video team perhaps hardest, limiting the availability of our studio and the way we could interact with interview subjects.

So, we leaned in. Many of our favourite videos this year were shot remotely, and when we weren’t providing a smidge of escapism, we tried to address the issues that shook the world. Here are 10 standouts.

How To Prepare For The End Of The World | Dr Bradley Garrett

The title is perhaps a bit foreboding, but at the very start of the year, in the shadow of the Australian bushfires, we spoke with Bunker author and urban explorer Bradley Garrett about what he learnt from ‘doomsday preppers’ and their planning for the end times. This was the start of our move towards longer, more topical videos that mixed interview with illustrative imagery and graphs.

Should Cannabis Be Legalised? | Big Questions with Big Narstie

We continued our Big Questions series with a hilarious but also deep and personal conversation with the iconic rapper, presenter and author Big Narstie. This further cemented Big Questions as a flagship series for our channel, a great way to turn a standard interview into something more significant. 

Marian Keyes | Facebook Live Stream | At Home With Penguin

In March, we found ourselves working from home, far away from our video studio. Quite shortly into the first lockdown, an initiative was launched to create a weekly live stream with our authors – and thus, At Home With Penguin was born.

We moved quickly to set up a functional and entertaining live stream, and only two weeks later, we were asking people to join Marian Keyes live on Facebook and YouTube from her home for the first episode. The series was a huge success, featured in write-ups across the web and drawing in tens of thousands of new viewers to both Facebook and YouTube.

Why a Coronavirus vaccine could take longer than you think | Footnotes

Around the same time – and again born out of a need to work remotely – we launched a new series for the channel titled Footnotes. This is a series in which we approach authors with certain expertise to try and understand a topic currently in the news cycle. The videos are a mix of an interview (conducted remotely) and imagery, with graphics that help illustrate the author’s points.

The first video in the series asked Meredith Wadman, author of The Vaccine Race, to explain the challenge in developing vaccines and how long it might take to develop one for Covid-19. 

The Artist Behind Radiohead's Album Covers | Work In Progress with Stanley Donwood

Another series launched during the time was our Work In Progress series, which dives into the creative process behind some of our fantastic illustrators and artists. Our first was with artist and Bad Island author Stanley Donwood. Though it was filmed much earlier in the year when it was safe to do so, a lot of time was spent editing to ensure the video had a distinct style that could be replicated in further episodes of the series.

We focused the video on Stanley’s work for Radiohead as a way of hooking in their large fanbase. The video quickly found its way to the top of the Radiohead subreddit and became a huge success, with 310k views and some wonderful comments such as “I love everything about this video” and “This is the video I have been waiting for my whole life - thank you very much Penguin!”

Is the British media racist? | Footnotes with Afua Hirsch

For the second video in our Footnotes series, we approached Brit(ish) author Afua Hirsch to discuss racial bias within British media. This was at another pivotal moment in the year, following the unlawful death of George Floyd. We further built on the premise of our series, covering topics that feel relevant and leveraging the expertise of our authors.

We worked hard here to build on the graphics and style we had introduced in the first video, proving it’s possible to create engaging content through a remote interview. The video was hugely successful on Afua’s Instagram. 

This Astronaut Explains How She Survived 6 Months in Space

This video is a favourite of mine mainly because I got to interview a real-life astronaut (and author) who had been to space, but also because Samantha Cristoforetti’s description of witnessing the sunrise for the first time onboard the ISS still sends shivers down my spine when I hear it. 

Viking Expert Breaks Down Famous Viking Movies & TV Shows

For this video, we had to adapt our Break It Down series so that it could be filmed remotely. The series involves authors reviewing how their field of expertise is portrayed in film and TV, and this episode with Viking expert and author Neil Price is one of the best we’ve done. Neil is extremely charismatic, and manages to provide great insight into some pretty terrible Viking films. 

Can Men Be Feminists? | Big Questions with Caitlin Moran

During a brief window of time where it was possible, we managed to shoot both this video and the final video in the list. Caitlin Moran was someone we were keen to add to our Big Questions line-up for some time and the resulting video is, like her, both hilarious and insightful.

Covid: How it all went wrong | James O'Brien vs The Government

This video feels fitting to end on, given the year that’s been. Filmed again during a small window of opportunity when it was possible, we asked James O’Brien to dismantle the government’s handling of the pandemic by presenting him with a timeline of events and asking for his reaction. The video clearly resonated with people as it quickly gained traction online and led to some great endorsements on Twitter.

Jonathan Pie wrote: “Me and @mrjamesob have our disagreements on occasion. But this is seriously excellent viewing”. And we received this great compliment from another Twitter user: “This is a phenomenal video. I am terrible at watching anything for more than about 30 seconds on youtube, and this is a 15 minute video and I've just watched it all. I wish @mrjamesob and I were actually related and didn't just share a surname!” 

What did you think of this article? Email editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk and let us know.

The video team is Oisín Bickley (senior video producer) John Trevaskis (assistant video producer) and Zahara Andrews (production coordinator).

Image: Tim Lane / Penguin

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