Socially distanced panelists filmed in studio for a virtual event feed – courtesy Interface Media Group 

As part of my continuing series on producing virtual events,  I caught up with Steven Yerman, Vice President of Operations, and Nick Mueller, Studio Manager at Interface Media Group in Washington, D.C. [Full transparency—I’ve hired IMG for their great studios, and they’ve hired me to produce virtual event content.]

Amy: What are some of the pitfalls of planning virtual events?

Steve: Even more planning goes into virtual events than live events.  Typically, a live awards event might take 6 months of planning, but the same group will only allot a few weeks to the same event happening virtually. And yet there are so many more technical components.

What takes the most time in pre-production to make sure the event succeeds?

Nick: Running technical tests takes time – you want that time with all of your “talent” to be sure their connections work right, video and audio look and sound good.

What are audiences expecting, now that we’ve had almost a year to develop virtual content?

Steve: The audience is expecting more than a Zoom meeting.

Nick: You don’t want to have a talking head for 60 minutes. People want dynamic content.

Steve:  You need to think of these events as television productions. The audience wants content that looks tight, like a real broadcast, with higher quality video and graphics.

So how are you taking the risk out of creating that kind of “broadcast look”, especially when most of the people speaking are not on-camera professionals?

Steve: Often we pre-record key segments. Let’s say it’s an awards event. We’ll mail the person the award in advance. We then record them saying their remarks. We’ll edit that nicely, with lower thirds and logo graphics, then bring it into the live event.

There are loads of different platforms for bringing an audience into a virtual event—Zoom, WebEx, Skype, Bizzabo, Hopin, Aventri, etc. (I will cover these in another post). What unique tools do you bring as a broadcast studio?

Nick: We can use Talk Show VS4000 which allows us to bring in four guests via Skype.

That’s a multi-channel video calling system designed to simultaneously connect you with up to 4 remote sources and give you full audio and video control over the signal and what happens next.

Nick: Correct. So this is a great tool for a talk-show type format.  We also use the Tricaster.

You’re talking about the broadcast switcher?

Nick: Right. It can take a signal and push it to YouTube, Facebook, a website, or an external encoder. It will work with Zoom, WebEx, Teams or Skype and can also ISO record audio and video. And it can handle mixed format inputs.

Just to clarify for our readers, ISO means “isolated” audio or video signal—meaning, a separate record that doesn’t mix in the other speakers and visuals.

Nick: Yes. So we have those “clean” sources if we need them to tweak a session after it has been recorded live.

That’s incredibly handy, because mistakes happen and we don’t want the permanent recording to contain any! So how do you bring the client into the picture, so to speak?

Steve: We’ve been using a conference bridge for the client and tech team, so we can communicate offline and not interfere with what is being recorded.

What’s the biggest challenge that gets overlooked when planning for a virtual event that is bringing different speakers and panels to the audience?

Steve: You need to think about the maximum number of feeds and what you will show during the transitions. Another one of the challenges to space out the show correctly to have the pauses to make those technical transitions.

That’s where a show writer like me comes in handy. Just like I do for a live event, I write what’s called a showflow that anticipates those transitions, so we have every segment timed out and also have video content ready to fill any gaps, like prep time for speakers.

Steve: Exactly. You need your speakers on the line 15 minutes to a half hour before they go live, and we keep the connection open while they get ready.

Nick: Because if you wait until 5 minutes before hand and you have technical issues with their connection, you have no time to fix it.

How are you mixing virtual and live, in-studio feeds?

Steve: We’ll often have an on-air “talent” hosting the event from one of our studios, and then we’ll have panelists in the other studio and also coming in remotely from multiple locations. Plus roll-in videos and Skypes from earlier in the day.

And does that work?

Nick: We make it work. The only problem we had once was a guy in his car in a parking lot. He really didn’t have the best connection so I had to go to a different guest.

Steve: But we plan for that. We have a photo of each guest and a name slate ready to go in case we need to switch to audio-only.

What you’re describing is a lot like television, but also it isn’t.

Steve: Yes, guests (panelists) need to understand that once you get going there is no stopping the train. We can’t drop out and go to commercial break.

It’s been an interesting ride so far. What’s next?

Nick: I really see [remote and in-studio production] staying even if we “get back to normal” because of significant cost savings like hotel and travel.

Steve: I think people will still want to get together and give awards in person and see each other face to face. But you’ll see more panel discussions with a remote interview added into the panel. And folks will still want to produce segments in the studio where you have a controlled environment, good branding, and a good looking set. But virtual opens a whole new world to engage people from anywhere in the world.

 

Frederick Van Johnson’s POV while he records us on his podcast This Week in Photo

I’m so honored to have been interviewed on #podaster @frederickvan amazing series This Week in Photo, the world’s most popular photography podcast network! We had a great discussion about creativity, filmmaking, and what it takes to be a multihttps://thisweekinphoto.com/-platform content creative. #podcasts #ageofconversation #contentcreator #storyteller #videoproduction #GALSNGEAR

The Transcriptives Premiere Pro plug-in allows editing video with text (courtesy Digital Anarchy)

Transcripts rule. If you are a video content creator like me, you know that getting transcripts of interviews, and even transcribing b-roll audio, can massively speed up the video editing and publishing process. Here’s how.

Faster Video Editing. If you’ve ever scrubbed through footage listening for soundbites, you know it’s time-consuming. Even listening at double speed. It’s much faster to scan through an accurate transcript, then pull your top pick soundbites together into a timeline for final selects.

Making Your Selects. Once you have your interviews in hand, it’s time to log your best takes.  Thankfully there are great digital tools to make the transition from field shoot to final edit seamless. In FinalCutPro, you have the Lumberjack system, 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 Transcriptives plug-in from Digital Anarchy is a great way to go to simplify the soundbite-tagging-to-editing process. And these systems also speed up your captioning and subtitling workflow.

Blogs, Websites and Social Posts.  Be sure everyone in your communications department has access to your interview transcripts.  Transcripts are great source material for pull quotes that can be sourced for social media posts, blogs, publications and e-newsletters.

Captioning. Once you have accurate transcripts, captioning is a breeze. You can output your final transcript of a show and upload it directly into a publishing platform such as Vimeo or YouTube. Or you can create your own captioned version. (Processes like Transcriptives captioning workflow makes this extremely simple.) My preference is for the latter.  After speaking to many users for the accessibility chapter of my book Nonfiction Sound and Story for Film and Video, I learned that auto-captioning can not only be inaccurate, but also poorly timed. If a caption comes too early, for example, it can give away a story line without letting the viewer draw those conclusions for themselves.

Where to Get a Good Transcript.  These days, you can get fast turnarounds on transcripts—often in a matter of hours. For straightforward and brief interviews, I’m a fan of automated services like https://www.rev.com/. For people with accents, those who speak very fast, or lengthy interviews, I prefer the human touch with a service like Noble Transcriptions. Don’t count on the YouTube automated tool. For $1-2/minute, accurate transcripts are your best tool for storytelling.

Amy DeLouise is a video content creator helping organizations tell a better story.

Photo by Gabriel Benois/Unsplash

You just got invited to moderate a panel. Great! By the way, it’s going to be virtual. Oh dear. As a virtual event moderator, you are the stand-in for the audience. Your engagement throughout the interview or discussion will make a difference in how the audience perceives the experience. And if the recording will include you and your reactions and questions, it’s even more important to consider how you will appear on camera. Here are some tips for making your event more lively and interactive.

  1. Make sure your face is “alive”—your facial expressions, your engagement directly to camera, and your responses to the speaker are all essential for making the experience feel more personal for the audience. Practice in the mirror or in a private video call with no one but you on the line.
  2. For livestreamed events, let the audience know at the top of the interview and at regular intervals that you will be taking questions.
  3. Don’t expect the audience to immediately ask questions when you open the floor, so have a set of relevant questions ready for each panelist.
  4. Be sure you have a production team member save the Q&A and/or Chat so that any questions not answered live can be followed up by you and/or your interviewee. You can then post these questions and answers through your website and social channels–another way to promote post-event engagement.
  5. Come up with creative ways to engage the audience and make sure they feel represented, even if their faces do not appear in the livestream or recording. Ask people as they arrive to type in where they are tuning in from, if this is a nationwide or global event. Ask people to share one obstacle or challenge relating to the session topic.
  6. Promote virtual applause. One fantastic tip I got from my friend Jeff Greenberg who is an experienced virtual trainer, was to come up with a letter that stands in for applause. I usually change the letter depending on the topic. On a recent panel I moderated during the One Woman, One Vote Film Festival, Wonder Women Behind the Lens about visual effects artists and editors, we used the letter “W”. I asked attendees to “throw down a W in the chat pod any time you want to applaud the speakers or support what they are saying.” We had a lively discussion with lots of “WWWWWWW”’s in our chat that helped our panelists know there was an audience cheering them on.

Keeping an audience lively and engaged when you can’t be with them in person is a big challenge. That’s why being a virtual panel moderator is much more like being a television host or MC than it is like moderating a live panel. But with some advance planning and these tips, you’ll increase your audience engagement.

 

Amy DeLouise is a digital media expert, and virtual panel curator and moderator.

Well produced videos are essential for informing and engaging audiences during virtual and hybrid events.  In this article I’ll take a look at some best practices to ensure your pre-recorded videos support the success of your virtual event.

1. Make Video Content Snackable – At a live event, you have a captive audience. Plus the dynamic that occurs when everyone is together in a room.  In this world, a 5 minute or longer video can keep the room engaged. Not so for virtual events. Everyone who tunes in has other distractions in their immediate area—children, pets, emails, and work on their desktop that needs attention. Enter snackable content—short videos that engage, entertain and inform, while propelling the theme of your meeting or event. Roll-in videos for live events, with the exception of panels—and we’ll talk about them in a moment—should be no longer than 2 minutes.  Better yet, a series of 1:00 spots that work to set the stage for a particular session, or act as transitions between sessions.  This length will also allow your video to be hosted natively on Instagram during or after your event—an added social media bonus.

2. Video Transitions are Key – At a live event, when a speaker is late, you can ask your MC to take a few more questions from the audience. At a virtual event, remote feeds can fail and tech problems can result in your team needing more time.  If you lose your audience now, you might not get them back. Having a few videos of various lengths available to you to play at any time can be helpful. This could be a Year in Review video, a light-hearted video put together by staff, or a promo montage of upcoming sessions. Having at least two videos of 2-3 minutes in length on standby each day of your virtual event will give you a little breathing room for those unexpected moments. You should also create a little animated “We’re having technical issues but we’re working on it!” video that you can play if all else fails. After all, you are effectively putting together a broadcast and you don’t want any dead air.

3. Ensure Your Video Plays Back Properly – It’s amazing how often organizations spend tons of money producing great video content, but forget to test the delivery formats prior to output. If you are streaming your event from a platform like YouTube, be sure your video is optimized for that platform rather than asking YouTube to convert your specs. The conversion process will introduce garbage—technical term!—that you don’t want in your video.  Unless your platform is a professional 4K streaming system or specifies otherwise, I’d recommend a frame rate of 30fps and 1920×1080 as your video delivery size, with an audio sample rate of 44.1Khz and bitrate of 128kbps.

4. Provide an Engaging Home for Your Videos – Where will your videos live after the event is over? Can you set up a hub on your website or the event site? You can still host the videos elsewhere, such as your YouTube or Vimeo page. But putting the videos on your website—with and without subtitles—can ensure more hits post-conference. Be sure you have already created written content that explains the context for each video, and any action steps you want the audience to take after watching. For example, if your event was a fundraiser, a video featuring one of your organization’s projects can include a link to a Donate Now button. Don’t wait until after your event to set up your video hub. Be sure to write the copy and links in advance, and have it ready to go.

While we hope for live events to be back soon, virtual and hybrid events will be the norm for the future. And well-designed pre-recorded video content will be a big part of those events.

Amy DeLouise is a producer, interviewer and moderator for live and virtual events and videos.

Covid has changed video production, possibly forever.  Elements of remote workflows will likely remain, even when we “return to normal.” Let’s take a look at some options with respect to post-production collaboration (editing, audio mixing, color grading and effects).

Realtime Collaboration

Ensuring that real-time collaboration happens has always been a challenge as teams have become dispersed, and often include a mix of staff and freelancers. For years, we’ve had a remote-team setup in my production company, but have always liked being “in the room” for final edits, audio mixes and color grading. One tool that brings creatives “into the room” remotely is Streambox . Check out colorist Robbie Carman’s article on remote set-up using Streambox software for synchronous color-grading sessions with his clients. Sound designer and mixer Cheryl Ottenritter, of Ott House Audio also uses Streambox when offering remote synchronous client-supervised audio mix sessions. Cinesync, Evercast, Source Live and Session Link Pro all offer low latency, high quality synchronous reviews of video productions. Evercast also includes pre-Vis options, such as streaming Maya or other animation platforms. A slightly different post-production tool for the work-from-home user is BeBop.  This system was designed to help avoid costly individual hardware and software purchases, and allows the user to remotely access a powerful virtual computer in order to create VFX projects, edit media files, animate, process images, or collaborate in real-time.

Photo: Matthew Kwong, Unsplash

Frame Accurate Reviews

Other collaboration tools for reviews and feedback that were once “nice to have” are now becoming essential. Frame.io, Vimeo and Wipster all provide frame-accurate client reviews and the ability to share comments back to the team. I’ve been a personal fan of Wipster—that’s my affiliate link in the previous sentence–because I think they’ve been especially responsive to the needs and interests of the post community. Project management software such as Basecamp, Slack, and Teams is even more vital to keep teams and projects organized across different time zones.  I’m also becoming a fan of Milanote for sharing storyboards, vision boards, deliverables lists and more at the early phases of a project. Rich Harrington recommends using these kinds of tools, but reserving a Slack channel for quick-turnaround internal discussions that need to happen outside the channels with clients.

Wipster side-by-side comparison feature

Fixing Flaws, Speeding Up Delivery

While we are capturing some less-than-ideal footage these days, there are some fabulous tools to solve problems. Three great tools from Digital Anarchy can really help. The first is Flicker Free which removes flicker and rolling bands out of footage. The second is Samurai Sharpen, a plug-in that does just what it says–helps to sharpen out of focus footage. The third tool is Transcriptive, which will rock your world if you haven’t used it before with interview-driven content. I have other posts on this topic, so won’t delve into it today, but this plug-in transcribes footage, makes it searchable by words, and makes your captioning workflow a breeze.

Editing with Transcriptive from Digital Anarchy

Tapping Your Archives

I started my career delivering archival content to feature films.  And while the internet has certainly made digging easier, the process of tracking down rights holders can remain elusive.  Just because you find an image on Google doesn’t mean you can get the sync rights. And even images you source from a well-known archive like Getty may still require tracking down certain rights holders. If you need to source outside content, consider buying a package plan with the highest level of usage clearance, so you can use the shots for multiple projects. Shutterstock is currently offering several specials. And don’t forget national treasures like the Smithsonian Digital Archives and the National Archives collection, which often contain federally-created content that is free to use, or historical content that is no longer under copyright (but you still need to check!).

Remote video production isn’t as fun, frankly, as collaborating together in a room. But it’s workable. And some tools and workflows are improving quality and efficiency along the way.

Amy DeLouise is a writer and digital creative director working from home.  She has authored a variety of LinkedIn Learning video courses and a new book on nonfiction audio from Routledge Press.

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

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.

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!