Women with the Confidence to Lead

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Patty Jenkins directs Wonder Woman

#Storytellers are #LEADERS in many cultures. They preserve the past. They envision the future. And they help us frame who we are. So why are so few women the leading storytellers of our times?

 
It’s not for lack of trying.
 
As the numbers from the recent USC Annenberg #Inclusion initiative shows that across 1,200 leading films, women only direct 4%. And numbers behind the camera are equally dismal. Despite small inroads, the film director’s chair remains white and male. Much like the CEO chair and the Boardroom Chair.
 
But, we also know that women make highly competent #leaders. Women score higher than men in most leadership skills.
 
So what’s the deal?
 
There is often a #confidence gap. Society’s confidence in us as leaders. And women’s confidence in our own story as leaders. Which affects our ability to hone leadership skills, find mentors and champions, negotiate for the better positions/pay, and own our leadership brand.
 
This fall I will be joined by several incredible women who have helped boost my own skills and confidence as a leader at our #GALSNGEAR Taking the Lead Women’s Career Accelerator Workshop this fall. Check out these carefully planned sessions to take your leadership to the next level—we’d love to have you! 
Please follow me @galsngear on instagram for up to the minute info on this and other initiatives to promote women in the media and film industry.

Impact Video: Finding Value in Your Media Archives

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The global shutdown is forcing organizations to re-examine the value of their archives–an internal “stock image library” they already own.  Here’s a case study I wrote about last year that is even more relevant today, showing how you can create content with impact that tells an organizational story and propels your brand message–all with internally owned content.

Fulbright Prize Introduction from Amy DeLouise on Vimeo.

The project is a motion graphics opener I just produced for the Fulbright Prize event in Berlin, where this highly regarded international prize was given to Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. As these stories so often start, we had brainstorming meetings about how to tell the history of the prize in 2 minutes. In addition, we wanted to show the breadth of the work of the association giving the prize. Also, we needed to list past prize winners and years. Oh, and show all of their images, some of which were not available in the organization’s archives. Also, we needed to include quotes about the importance of the prize and the value of international exchange from well-known people and prize winners. And…we also needed to incorporate the thematic blue color of the organization’s logo, and create a look and font style that could be incorporated into the print, social, and other materials for the event.

This is all great stuff and just the kind of thing that gets my creative juices flowing! So here was our process:

Step One: Identify existing content that helps tell the story. This involved digging into archives for old footage, transcripts of old speeches, and old newsletter articles. Also pulling together archival images of past awardees, and more recent digital images of association events. We determined in this phase that the quality of archival clips were not good enough to pull footage (and it would make the show too long anyway), so we would look instead for quotes that told the story.

Before the magic begins, we start with raw materials–archival content from a variety of media sources

Step Two: We boiled down the best quotes from the broadest representation of past prize winners, and people who had spoken about the importance of the Fulbright international exchange program, and shaped it into a script. (Note: Scripts don’t have to include spoken words.)

Step Three: We identified the best images of awardees, and then we had to license and request some additional ones, so that we had a full compliment of images of past awardees at the high resolution required for large-screen HD presentation.

Step Four: As part of the image curation process, I pulled together those “action shots” I thought best exemplified the work of the association–as a convener, educator, and source of ongoing cultural exchange.

Step Five: I selected several cuts of music–pacing is critical for animation, and we “cut to the music”, so we have to choose this first. We settled on a piece we felt had rhythm, excitement, and momentum. I also like to lean towards more full orchestrations for videos that will air live in a large space, with quality speakers.

Step Six: Since this was airing abroad, which has different frame rate specs than the US, we sent a test file to the A/V company at the on-site location, to be sure it worked well from their end before we started to animate.

Step Seven (really steps 7 through 10): My graphics team and I went through multiple drafts of the story, honing and tweaking until we–with our client–felt we had the best representation of the story.

Step Eight: We rendered out our final files and shared them, making sure they had been proofed (so many names!)

Step Nine: We delivered the final files via link to the company in Berlin who was running all the A/V at the event.

Final Step: This step hasn’t happened yet, but we need to have the video audio-described, so that a blind or visually impaired viewer can still access this content. Accessibility is not just a matter of captioning, though captions are essential for videos with spoken words and narration.

Here’s the big takeaway: saving your archival assets is essential–you never know when you will need them. Digitizing them at high quality, retaining the originals, and metatagging them with important information is even more important. Your media archive contains gold, if you know where to find it.

Amy DeLouise is a video producer, author and trainer, helping organizations tell their best stories. She has a new LinkedIn Learning course out on Multi-Platform Storytelling, will be giving workshops at NAB Show this Spring (see Speaking page).

Video Scripting 101

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People come to my workshops all the time looking for help with scriptwriting. Often they are videographers and editors who are tasked with managing the entire creative process, from concept through delivery. The classic “one man/woman band”. If that person is you, or you manage that person, this blog post is for you. (Note: If you have hired a pro scriptwriter to work with your team, then you will only need to brainstorm steps 1 and 2, and then share feedback on revisions through the production process.)

  1. Start With Outcomes, Not the Shoot. Don’t worry, it’s a pretty common experience. Folks rush out to shoot some footage, and only later try to figure out how to piece that footage into a story. But unless you are a news crew, this is not the best workflow. Start instead with your Outcomes—what is it that this video should accomplish? Choose not more than three. And ideally just one main outcome. And be as specific as possible. For example, “Our top outcome from this video is to increase sign-ups for our next conference.” That’s pretty good. But even more specific is “Our top outcome from this video is more sign-ups among 35-50 year-olds for our next conference.” That outcome will drive your creative process, including the key elements of your story arc.
  2. Develop a Creative Vision. What’s the look of your piece going to be? What’s the editing style? What kind of music? Is there a graphical theme? Color scheme? Can you link to some videos that have a similar vibe to what you want? (And how much did those cost? Remember that big brand ad campaigns may look deceivingly simple, but actually use complex production techniques or post-production skill sets.) Your creative vision can be represented by a few simple frames on a Powerpoint. Or you can use tools like Storyboarder Plot or the more high-powered Frameforge. But don’t forget that even a crappy sketch can help everyone on the team visualize the look. A tool I’ve just started using for mood boards is Milanote. You can include all the elements discussed in your kick-off meetings, color swatches, fonts, deliverables lists, even links to inspiration videos.

    Milanote project board

  3. Write an Outline. If you have an interview-based production, then whenever possible conduct pre-interviews. I can’t tell you how many people come to me talking about scrubbing through footage looking for soundbites, which is a big waste of time. If you’ve pre-interviewed folks, then you already have a sense of who your primary characters and who your supporting characters will be. You can outline your story, which will help you construct your interview questions (more on that in a future blog post). You will want to consider what the peak of the story arc will be—what is the main heart or turning point of this story? Whether you are talking about a new piece of software or the mission of a nonprofit, you will still need a peak to the story that makes people want to keep watching. The other pieces then fall into place: the backstory or introduction, the resolution and the conclusion or call to action. This doesn’t mean the entire production can’t evolve organically. But if you have a plan for the story arc before you start shooting, you are more likely to shoot the b-roll shots and cutaways you need to cover the story.
  4. Make a B-Roll List. It’s amazing how many video shoots go forward without this simple tool. Make a list of all the shots you might need to bring your story to life. For reality-based stories, consider little moments—I call them “interstitials”—that can help you transition between scenes, but also deliver some important content. For example, if you are interviewing a young mom and dad, shoot a montage of baby bottles and toys. For a business owner, that might be a tracking shot of awards on her office wall. Once you’ve written your outline, dropped in your potential soundbites and b-roll–well, now you’ve written your shooting script!
  5. Get Interviews Transcribed. Once your shoot is over, you have one more step. Going to my earlier point about wasting time scrubbing through footage, you’ll save yourself enormous time and aggravation if you get transcriptions made of all your interviews, and even some b-roll sound if it is important to the story. You can get transcripts back in a day or two using automated services like https://www.speechmatics.com/ , semi-automated systems like https://www.rev.com/ , or human experts like Noble Transcriptions. For $1-2/minute, you’ll have accuracy not provided by the YouTube automated tool, and you can use the transcripts for all kinds of content—pulling quotes for your website and social posts, SEO keywords, and making revisions in the future.
  6. Cut a Paper Script Before Editing. I know, this seems like wasting time. Why not get right to editing? The fact is, if it doesn’t work on paper, it won’t work on the screen. So take a stab at sequencing your soundbites, figuring out what music cuts fit where, and which b-roll or stock images might best support your scenes. This, in fact, is your editing script. Once you build your story arc on paper, then you can hit the edit room. If you are using AVID, you have a built-in tool called ScriptSync that lets you import all your transcripts and conform your edit. Here’s a handy blog post on how that works. In FinalCutPro, you have the built-in tool Lumberjack, which lets you live log on your shoot and tag soundbites in the field, and also set up your top soundbites for editing. For those working in Premiere Pro, the plug-in Transcriptives from Digital Anarchy is a great way to go to simplify the soundbite-tagging-to-editing process. And all three of these systems allow you to speed up your captioning and subtitling workflow.
  7. Make a Final “As Aired” Version. I can’t tell you how often my team goes back to these “final” scripts as we make new versions of our videos. And since we also have all our original interview transcripts, it’s easy to swap out bites if we need to. Always be sure you have a PDF of your final version saved with your editing project files as well as in your desktop files.

Scriptwriting may seem daunting if you didn’t start your career as a writer. But by putting your creative on paper, and then working through soundbites and visual options before hopping into your edit, you’ll be more likely to deliver on stated outcomes. And that will make a stronger ROI for your company’s video investment.

For more nitty gritty tips and tools for video scripting, try my LinkedIn Learning course http://bit.ly/HowtoScript

Going Virtual With Video

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Covid-19 has entered all our worlds  with a bang. Many of us are having to rework existing workflows–which were only partially virtual or cloud-based–and develop entirely virtual processes and end-products.  Here are some key things to know as you transition to all-virtual.

The blue mic works well for podcasts

1) Streaming video requires excellent audio. If you are going to spend money, put it into microphones that will do he job right. You want to acquire 48kHz audio (24 bit). When you stream, your CDN may compress the files, so it’s

Mevo streaming setup is an affordable option

even more important to start with the best quality. If you’re hosting a podcast, consider the Blue Snowball microphone, that is easy to set up on a home desktop. If you are looking for an all-in-one 4K streaming option, for example for a worship service, wedding or meeting that now must be hosted virtually, take a look at the Mevo, and all-in-one system that allows recording in 4K, streaming in HD, on-board audio or the option to add an outside source, and even some mobile phone-based video editing capabilities.

2) Now’s a great time to dig into your photo and video archive. Since you won’t be able to capture new content out in the field, be sure you have tagged and identified source materials that can be repurposed to tell your story. Pull together folders of clips that can be repurposed to deliver messages about your mission, products or services.

3) Transcribe interviews. If you haven’t already, now’s a great time to get those old video interviews transcribed. You can cut them up into new videos, add quotes to your website or e-newsletters, and spice up your website with personal impact stories. Online services like Rev and Noble Transcription make it easy and affordable, all from your virtual work-at-home office.

We’re all in this together. Watch this space for more tips for building virtual community.

Launching Your Video Business: Branding

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Everyone wants to get into video. It’s the most-shared form of communication on the internet. It’s a great way to deliver messages with impact. And it seems easy–you can shoot it with your phone! But launching a video production enterprise–whether a one-woman-band or a fully staffed shop–can be daunting. There’s much to consider: legal form, liability insurance, what gear to buy and where to store it, how to acquire and service clients, and how to yourself and what you do. In this article, I’ll tackle one element of video business ownership that often eludes those of us busy with creative work: branding.

Defining Your Brand

I live in Washington, DC, where you can’t attend any event without someone asking “What do you do?” It’s easy to fall into the trap of exactly responding to this ask. Telling the WHAT of your work. But whenever I’m at a networking event, I try to practice defining my WHY, which is the essence of any brand. So I say, “I’m a filmmaker. I make short films about important issues that make people cry and write big checks.” If people are still interested, then I continue “And I consult and teach workshops because I love to help others tell a better video story.” Sure, the WHAT is in there. What people remember is the WHY.  I always love this Simon Sinek Ted Talk that speaks about the importance of Why for leadership, and I think it translates directly into branding.

Your Brand Promise

No, this isn’t a tag line. It’s what kind of experience you deliver every time, to every client, on every project. It’s the HOW of what you do. And it should be integrated into every platform you use to promote yourself, including when you speak to people about your work (the famous “elevator pitch”).  How do you deliver your services? Are you lightning fast because you have all the latest integrated cloud-based systems and can easily work across continents with integrated teams? Are you a boutique shop that delivers personalized, customized work that focuses on one-on-one client relationships? Whatever it is you do, you need to explain HOW you do it, and what sets you apart from everyone else in the field (which is a lot of us!).

Your Brand Across Platforms

When launching a business, you may be focused on getting those first clients in the door, and maybe setting up your website. But be sure you are present across a couple of social media platforms. If you are targeting tech industries, Twitter is still the place to be. If you want to show off your creative chops, it’s Instagram. For the widest possible consumer reach, Facebook is still idea. And if you want to promote yourself as a professional, and make contacts across industry sectors (and be able to search for new clients among your connections), then LinkedIn is your platform. Tik Tok is making a fast break, but I wouldn’t put all my eggs in that basket in terms of personal branding and marketing.

You will also need a portfolio page where you can direct prospective clients. This can be a page integrated into your website on a platform like Squarespace, Wix, or WordPress, or it could be a separate link to your Vimeo or YouTube pages. And don’t forget the most important brand-messaging platform of all: your email address and signature line! I’m amazed at how many people overlook the value of the email signature as a place to tout your website, offer links to new work or special events, or simply include a tag line. Remember that your emails can and will be shared and forwarded, so they are an optimal way to promote your brand–for free!

For more information, try LinkedIn Learning including my new course “Running a Video Production Business”.

 

Why Silence Belongs in Your #Video

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Heinz History Center: Sound engineers record on the original    Mr Rogers set

I had trepidation about seeing “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” I worried no one could play Mr. Rogers, even the gifted Tom Hanks. I worried the film would be a treacly portrait with too many kid scenes.  Luckily, I was dead wrong. The film works in large part because director Marielle Heller tackles the same darkness Rogers was willing to examine with and for children. Hanks was brilliant. And Chris Cooper—one of my favorite character actors–should be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor for his nuanced rendition of a hard-living father trying to reconnect with his son.

The thing that really struck me in this film was its respect for Silence. Silence was an important part of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. It’s what made some people hate the show: those pregnant pauses where he looks at the camera, waiting for small children to consider what he has just said. The silences in the film were, of course, not entirely silent. (Beautiful sound design by

Cheryl Ottenritter (Otthouse Audio) and I collaborating on a sound mix.

Damian Volpe and team that will likely go unnoticed by an Academy who loves to reward explosions and bone-crunching in soundtracks.) If you haven’t seen the film yet, listen for the barely noticeable ticking of a clock in the background of a tense scene between Rogers and Lloyd Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys of “The Americans” fame. Or the very gradually building silence in their meeting at a restaurant, where clattering cutlery, conversations and shuffling feet of waiters gradually come to a pause while Rogers and Vogel share a moment of silence before a meal.

Working in short form nonfiction as I do, there’s often little patience for silence. Short form videos are often limited to under 3 minutes. They’re designed to engage a hyper-busy audience and connect them to a community, a cause, and a brand. But as my co-author and sound designer Cheryl Ottenritter and I say in our new book, Nonfiction Sound and Story for Film and Video (Routledge), it’s critical to “fight for the silences.” They can make a story work. When stringing soundbites together, find a moment where the story arc turns and put in a beat of silence instead. When laying in your music tracks, consider a break from music entirely so the audience can refocus on the story. Rather than inserting a voiceover telling the entire story, create moments where natural sync sound or wild sound can be layered into a scene to help support the story.

Sound is more than half of every video. And silence should be part of that soundscape. Silence is what, in many ways, made Mr. Rogers’ video work unique.  It can elevate your work, too.

Amy DeLouise is a video producer/director and the co-author of the new book Nonfiction Sound and Story for Film and Video: A Practical Guide for Filmmakers and Digital Content Creators (Routledge). Use code HUM19 for a 20% discount at checkout!

 

 

Tips for Making Your #Video #Story

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Amy on Set 2nd camera on slider FA ShootVideo is some of the top shared media online. It’s a great vehicle for telling your brand story. When talking about video, everyone imagines lights, camera, action! But there are several steps that must happen before and after the shoot to help you deliver a great project.

Preproduction

  • Creative Brief. Getting everyone on the same page at the start of your project is critical to success. The creative brief is a short document–often just a page–that sets out your goals, your target length, your target audience, your distribution channels, your timeline, and who has approvals. You can also include your stylistic approach, main characters, and key scenes for your story arc. Often, I like to attach storyboards or style boards to help everyone visualize the stylistic approach.
  • Technical Brief. Before rolling footage, you need to determine two key specs: for acquisition (for example, 4K UHD, 29.97fps) and distribution (for example, H.264 file compressed for Vimeo, to be embedded in a website).
  • Pre-Interviews. When interviewing “real people” to tell your brand story, you’ll want to get to know your characters before you put them under the lights. A phone call can help you do that. Find out how they talk, their approach to your subject, and any issues or concerns they might have. It’s also important to give them guidance on what to wear (or not wear–such as don’t wear green clothing to a green-screen shoot).
  • Shooting Script. Many people skip the step of a shooting script, and this makes it harder to pull together a story efficiently in the editing room, because you may have missed filming key scenes or soundbites.  A shooting script should outline settings, scenes, possible soundbites (which you got from the pre-interview), any narration, and even ideas for music bed styles.
  • Shot List. Your shot list derives from the shooting script. Without a shot list, it’s hard to be sure you are getting every scene you need for your video.

Production

  • Field Notes. It’s important to have someone take script notes, to be sure you haven’t overlooked key scenes, footage or audio. I often make my notes on the schedule, and shoot time of day timecode so that the schedule pretty much lines up with our footage timecode. Then my editor has a great tool for navigating the footage.
  • Audio Notes. Your sound engineer should make notes along the way as well, and these notes go with your audio files.
  • Backup Audio. For interviews, be sure your sound engineer is recording backup WAV files (either to the mixer-recorder or a digital audio recorder) just in case there is an issue with any audio recording to the camera. You’d be surprised how often that happens. These files can also go out to your interview transcription service, to speed up your post-production workflow.

Post-Production

  • Editing Script. Lots of people just start ingesting footage and scrubbing through it for clips. That’s fine. But you’ll spend less time editing if you take time to review your footage, review your field notes, and rework your shooting script into an editing script. For interview-driven productions, this means pulling soundbites from transcripts and making a “radio script” that reflects your story arc.
  • Transcriptions. These days, you can easily send your audio for transcription, either to AI services like Speechmatics, automated combined with humans such as Rev.com, or all humans such as the folks at Noble Transcription. I often send out meeting scenes and other b-roll audio for transcriptions, so that I can pull just the moment I want for a sound-up. Plugins like Lumberjack (for Final Cut Pro) or Transcriptives can help you stay organized inside your NLE (non-linear editing system) so that you can use transcripts to build your story arc, and then be ready to create captions at the touch of a button.
  • Graphics Plan. If your project includes graphics, don’t wait until you are done with your edit to put together a graphics plan. This includes fonts, effects for transitions, and samples of work you really like. All of these can help your editor or graphics guru develop the right look and style for your project. Often, we will have our graphics artist develop “proof of concept” videos–short motion sequences to be sure we like the way the 2-D or 3-D animation will work in our story.
  • Voiceover Artists. If you are using a voiceover artist, you’ll want to audition your talent before you begin editing. Sometimes I like send out a couple of lines to a few different male and female talent, so that my client can hear how they deliver the message. In the meantime, I’ll record a “scratch track” so we have something to cut to. In another post, I’ll go into some tips for directing and working with voiceover professionals.
  • Music Curation. I’m a fan of a custom music score for many stories, because it can precisely evolve, change pace, and support your story arc. But often, producers must rely on stock libraries for music cues. Don’t wait to curate your music at the end of the production. Some segments may need to be edited to the beat. Try tracks and experiment. There are a wide range of great music libraries, from the extensive Killer Tracks to the more cost-effective Premium Beat Soundstripe and Jamendo.

There’s a lot of planning that goes into creating a video. I hope these guidelines help you as you deliver great content through this powerful medium.  For more tips, try my LinkedIn video courses.

 

Multi-Platform Madness: A Day on the Set

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This week I produced and directed a fun shoot for an international education association. What might appear at first glance to be a simple studio shoot  was really a multi-tasking day that allowed us to gather multiple content streams at once, for later multi-purposing.  Here are some of the elements we shot in less than 8 hours:

-5 interviews with a Canon 300 Mark II camera

-Secondary/side angle of all interviews w/a Canon DSLR camera on a slider

-6 direct-to-camera reads of a brief :30 appeal

-BTS (behind the scenes) video and photos

-Samsung Gear VR footage of our setup

-Hyperlapse time lapse footage of our setup

-Smart phone photos and videos of our day on the set

And now here are all the outputs we can achieve for this client: 

-A short video about the association for their website combining the interviews,  BTS footage, and other existing content from the association

-Social media sharing content using the BTS photo and smart phone content

-A Facebook video campaign using the direct-to-camera content

-An Instagram video campaign using the direct-to-camera content

-Interview transcripts that can be mined for quotes for website and newsletter sharing

-VR and timelapse content that can boost social sharing

 

Planning For Multiple Content Streams

Of course, this all takes advanced planning. You can’t accomplish multiple outputs without having the right people on your production team. You need to have a designated BTS Photographer and ideally a separate BTS Videographer.  These roles are different, but can sometimes be combined as long as you are clear about what you need from each format. You will also need a DIT–Digital Information Tech–who can be offloading, ingesting and verifying your footage and photo media cards as you go, because you will need to keep using cards throughout the day.  That person will also be meta-tagging your shots so you can find what you need for quick turnarounds later. Again, this person could have another role such as production assistant, but you had better be darn sure they really know what they are doing when it comes to media management. On some shoots I rely on my director of photography (camera op) to do this job, but then you have to wait until the end of the day. This means you need to purchase more media cards up front, since you won’t want to “blow them away” until you have ingested, duplicated, and verified all your footage. For a multi-camera shoot like the one we did this week, I did not want to distract my camera guy with that task, so we had our BTS photographer do it because she is also quite experienced at this DIT role. She also pulled up all our footage in a laptop version of Premiere Pro, our NLE (nonlinear editing) platform, so that we could check our colors “in the real world”.

Designing Your Workflow for Spoken Word Content

You’ll also need a workflow plan for your Transcripts. I like to use a real, human transcriber for long interviews or anything involving speakers with accents.  The folks at Noble Transcription do a great job. If you live in a town with lawyers, you can find a transcription service! For quick interviews, Speechmatics is an AI platform that does a pretty nifty job. You might have to correct things like acronyms, which it isn’t good at recognizing. I then import my transcripts into PremierePro using Transcriptives, a new plug-in from Digital Anarchy. Transcriptives attaches speech elements to every clip from the interview, allowing you to build your script, output drafts that everyone can review on paper, and output your final captioning.

Archiving and Future-Proofing

Really, the future-proofing comes in the planning stage. I like to shoot everything in 4K these days. That gives me enough lattitude to compress content for small screen delivery without compromising quality. It also allows me to crop images to 2K, giving me the ability to add a second “angle” without moving my camera.   It also gives me enough color space and pixels to crop unusual specs like the awful Facebook vertical, while keeping high quality color and resolution for larger-screen delivery.  Future-proofing also means ensuring that you have permissions “in any and all media” from all your participants, so you don’t have to go back to them every time you change your output. You also will need to get the right licenses for any music or stock images you add into your final products.  As far as archiving goes, we really don’t know what the next digital medium will be, so the best policy is to save all your content in its highest quality form, without any added text or soundtracks. This will allow you to continue multi-purposing well into the future.

I’ll have a new LinkedIn Learning course on this subject soon, so watch this space for updates!

 

 

How To Make Effective Explainer Videos

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There are three keys to creating effective explainer videos. Whether you need one to promote a for-profit company, product or service, or you are looking to help explain/advocate for a nonprofit enterprise, these are the most important tasks at the outset:

  1. Know Your Target Audience

People often start the video production process, understandably, thinking about their company, their product or their service. But actually, when planning a video, it’s smart to start with your audience. Who is your viewer? How old are they? What language(s) do they speak? Will you need to make your video accessible to the visually impaired or hearing impaired community (and if you are a federal agency, this is required by law.) What does your viewer already know (or not know) about your company, your nonprofit, or the featured product or service? Most importantly, what do you want them to know, and how does it affect their lives? Once we delve into these questions, we can start developing a conceptual framework or creative direction for your video.

  1. Know the Viewing Environment

Some of my work gets shown on giant screens at big events. Many of my videos get viewed on a smart phone. How we approach each project—from the visual design to the audio planning—depends largely on the primary viewing screen and environment. For example, if you think someone will likely be watching your video in a fairly quiet, home or office computing environment—let’s say for a training video—then we might use graphics that move pretty quickly and some fun music. If, however, this is a video that might be watched on a smartphone without the audio on, we’ll need to plan a design that has impact with only subtitles.

  1. What Do You Want the Viewer to Do Next?

When working in the fundraising and nonprofit arena, you often want the viewer to Volunteer Their Time, Write a Check, or encourage others to Get Involved.  If you are selling a product or service, you want someone to Click and Buy. These are very specialized goals that require the right kind of crafting of the story and message, because causing behavior change can be quite challenging. Usually we (or your in-house marketing team) spend time in pre-production interviewing people who are the target market, or in the case of a nonprofit have become involved as volunteers, to find out what triggers made them care.  We also may spend time out on location, meeting those people who have been affected by the product, or by the work of the nonprofit so we can hear their first-hand stories and scout the location to figure out the best way to show impact on the screen.

This pre-production preparation is essential to successful storytelling. Only then can we craft a design, the messages (script), a production timetable and budget.

What about some examples?

The video at the top of this post is an animated explainer I produced for a children’s hospital, to ensure families engaged in rounds while their child was in the intensive care unit. We had to translate this into multiple languages, thus the choice of mouth-free animated icons.  Animation by David Fuchs at RHED Pixel.

 

Here’s a fun US Postal Service explainer using what we in the production business call a “practical” visual effect (in other words, a real effect created on set, not done through the magic of post-production) to accomplish the visual “flip”. (Shot by Matt Gottshalk)

Here’s an animated explainer I created for an issue advocacy organization, in the style of the famous Monty Python graphics, in order to capture attention at a large membership event.  Animation by David Fuchs at RHED Pixel.

Here’s a fun stop-motion style explainer about a subject that isn’t always fun–dental care–produced by Rachel Rasby, with co-producer, Julia Hoppock, and cinematographer, Lee Gillenwater at the Pew Trusts.

This video for a farewell gala was created entirely in After Effects from archival photographs, interspersed with some original graphics and quotations that we solicited from supporters about the leader of this performing arts organization.  Animation by, you guessed it, my favorite animator David Fuchs at RHED Pixel.

What about costs?

It’s best to set firm parameters for you project, including the number of reviews you want to be able to have, whether you want live-action or animation, and any significant or quick turnaround deadlines, plus the target length. I know 2 minutes seems short, but it is double the number of frames of a one-minute video, so can take twice as many resources! For the purposes of this blog post, and based on my years of experience, I can give you some fee ranges.  If you’re project is entirely animated, and you have a very small team helping to guide the project and do reviews/approvals (i.e., there aren’t layers of bureaucracy or board members etc who might make significant changes along the way, thus adding to time and costs), then you can get an explainer for as little as $5,000-$7,000. Remember that on the low end of the scale, you must be sure any quote you receive includes proper licensing of any stock graphics, photos and music!  (Be VERY skeptical if someone tells you they can produce an explainer for much less than this.  I’ve seen some websites advertising $500. The professional rate per day for an editor or graphics designer and their equipment is this amount, and that’s just an average rate and doesn’t include time for scriptwriting, storyboarding, meetings with you, and working with your team to research and verify the factual content to be included, not to mention the creation or licensing of music, hiring and directing a narrator, etc.)  On the higher end, if live-action videography is involved, for example, because there are impact stories and interviews to be filmed, perhaps with travel to various locations, then you are more in the $20-25,000 ballpark.  Many videos will fall somewhere in between, and with a streamlined internal process for content design and approvals , you can get a quality product for about $12-15,000.

The opportunities and the options are endless with video. So start with 1, 2 and 3, and then engage some professional help to get you across the finish line.

Amy DeLouise is a writer-producer-director and love to explain things using video!

 

What Makes a Great Video Info-Graphic?

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Trick question. The important query is WHY? Why will this information be better conveyed through graphics than through, say, a more documentary approach with powerful interviews or a personal story? Why will the audience care more about the content when this infographic ends? Once you’ve answered why, you can get to WHAT.

Info-graphics for Issue Advocacy

Sometimes, infographics can be used to tell a powerful emotional story that must convey facts and figures but also turn that data into advocacy. In this wonderful piece called The Girl Effect, music plays a powerful role in drawing us into the story line. By the end, we want to take action!

Info-graphics to Inform

Sometimes the goal is actually to DE-personalize highly emotional or difficult content, so people can absorb it and act on it.

In this info-graphic video I produced for a children’s hospital, we decided to use animated characters rather than interviews with doctors and nurses. Our goal was to help parents of very sick children admitted to the Pediatric ICU understand how to better participate in their care. Our creative team and consulting parent advisory group decided that parents already see enough “talking heads” in the ICU, so that our piece would take a different approach with friendly characters and a friendly, soft-spoken voice-over. We also wanted to be able to translate the graphic into multiple languages. The finished info-graphic appears on monitors at a child’s beside, part of an internal “TV” system within the hospital.

Infographics for Branding

TIAA (formerly TIAA Cref) decided to hedge its bets and use both the personal story approach and an infographic one to roll out its new brand. Here’s a look at the TIAA brand story using real people and commercial-style footage:

https://ispot.tv/a/A2bc

Here’s the same brand in an info-graphic approach:

https://ispot.tv/a/AMee

Right away, the first difference you notice between these two cuts is the music. While one approach is poignant, the other is in your face.  My guess is the creators decided there were two audiences to reach—one an older person thinking about the next generation, and one a younger person looking ahead to their future. The two distinct approaches work well for each audience.

One of the great things about infographics is that you don’t necessarily need to make way for a narrator. As with the TIAA piece, a brief story told entirely without spoken words can get across not just your message, but your brand personality. In this case, the creators are trying to tell us “TIAA is an up-to-date institution. This is not your father’s TIAA.”

Info-graphic Workflow

Whatever approach you decide, infographics require a very specific and disciplined workflow in order to stay on budget.

  1. Define the Look. You need to decide the approach, which might take a few rounds of “look boards” before you come to a decision.
  2. Define the Specs. It’s important before starting any video project—animation or otherwise—to determine the output specs from the start. What is the screen size and frame rate? Will you be showing this on a big screen from a ProRes file or on the web from a Quicktime or H.264 file?
  3. Whether or not spoken words are involved, there is still a written script that tells the animator exactly what happens in each frame. I often use approximating clip art or stills to help the artist understand what I’m going for.
  4. Key Frames. These are still frames that map out the entire story line before it’s animated. Settling on the right key frames for each part of the story will save you from costly re-animating expenses.
  5. If the story has a narrator, this must be tracked as timing with animation is precise to fractions of a second. If there is only music, this still needs to be settled on so the timing works precisely. (If there is going to be a post-score, then the artist may still want to work to what is known as a “temp track” or even a “click track” to keep the pulse exact.)
  6. Once script is locked, soundtrack is in and script is approved, you’re ready to start animating your sequences. There may be several approval rounds within this step.
  7. Final output and mixing. Getting back to those first specs, you’ll need to output whatever versions you need for live events, online, email campaigns, etc.

 

Amy DeLouise is a director/producer and author of the book The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera (Focal Press/Routledge).