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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.

 

Hacking Video in 10 Essential Steps

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AmyDirectsTalentSo you want to make a video for your company or nonprofit. You may want to capture a particular event or person on camera. But what’s next? Actually, a lot comes first, before the shoot ever happens. Let’s break it down into all the steps that go into production. Then you can decide which parts you want to manage yourself. And you’ll understand the workflow if you decide you want to team up with a Producer or Production Company to help you.

Step 1. Define the Goal. Wasn’t it Yogi Berra who famously said “if you don’t know where you’re going, you probably won’t get there”? So knowing what you want to shoot is great, but if you don’t know WHY, and what kind of outcome you want for your production, you might miss your mark. Do people need to learn a key skill from this video? Do they need to get motivated to take action on a social or political cause? Do they need to feel good about their new company? Buy something? Attend your big event? Knowing your goal here is essential to how you design the video, but also how you measure success afterwards.

Step 2. Define the Audience. Success will rely partly on knowing your target audience. And please don’t say “everyone.” Have you noticed how many cable channels there are? And how about YouTube channels? We don’t live in a one size fits all world. Take advantage of that, and determine who you want to reach—age, demographics, viewing habits, and what information they bring to your subject matter. You might end up shooting 3 different versions of your show for those different audience segments.

Step 3. Consider the Viewing Environment. Are folks going to watch this video on their laptops? In a busy office environment? At a training session? At a purchase counter? On a noisy trade show floor? Gathered together with thousands of other activists for your cause? The viewing environment—the “envelope” as I like to call it—matters a lot. It helps determine length, emotional content, style, sound design, and many other factors. In addition to thinking about where people will view your video, this step is vital in determining your output specs. And output specs will influence your shooting specs. If I know something needs to be very high quality, on a big screen, I might shoot it in 4K or higher. If it could air on broadcast, we need to shoot interlace. If it will never be seen on anything other than the web, I might acquire footage in 1080p. All of these decisions need to be made up front by you, typically with the Director and Producer, in consultation with the Editor.

Step 4. Hire the Production Team. Pulling together the right team—for writing, directing, shooting, sound, editing, graphics design, sound design—is a key step. You might decide to do all of this coordination and management work yourself, or hire and direct a crew and editor you’ve worked with before. Or you may hire a Video Producer. She has a rolodex of folks she’s worked with, or perhaps a production company, who work as a team every day.

Step 5. Define Creative Concept and Budget. OK, Now that you know Why, Who and Where, you can start thinking about How and How Much. How will you best connect with this audience? Does this need to be fast-paced? Funny? Dramatic? Documentary style? Will the end product need to be less than 90 seconds long, for web viewing? Can it be longer–more like a brief news package (2-3 mins)—for group viewing? You’ll want to develop a creative treatment and maybe a few storyboards, so you have a sense of how things will look, and how much they will cost. You’ll also need these documents for internal approvals before moving forward with production. Here’s where a Scriptwriter and Creative Director can be helpful to your project. They have loads of experience developing concepts that are creative, but also achievable. Cost drivers will include schedule (is this a rush project?), how many shooting and editing days, and complexity of the concept.

So how about cost? People used to define video budgets in terms of “cost per finished minute.” I think it’s more useful to consider cost-per-impression. If your video costs $10,000 and reaches 20,000 people live and online, that’s 50 cents per impression. If those people go out and raise $4 million for your cause because the video helped inspire them, that’s a pretty cost-effective outcome. If your video costs $40,000 and reaches 2,500 people worldwide in online training sessions, that’s a cost of $16 per person. If you would normally spend $150 per person to send trainers to multiple locations, then you have saved yourself a bundle. So you need to know from Step 1 what the goal is, and whether this cost is justified. There is also a direct relationship between cost and quality, there’s no getting around that. Some situations do not merit a full-scale production. You may be able to get away with recording someone with an iPhone. That’s another cost-benefit analysis you need to make when weighing your options.

Step 6. Plan the Shoot. The shoot takes 10% of the time spent a given production, but it’s the part everyone thinks about most. Typically, the Director will work with the Producer and the Writer to develop a shot list. These could be very scripted scenes, or more documentary style “we hope to get this” kind of scenes. If it’s the latter type of shoot, be aware that you won’t get everything you dreamed of. But you might get some cool stuff you didn’t even imagine. If you think you might need footage for multiple platforms or purposes, it’s a good idea to bake this into your shoot plan and schedule. It will take more time and money, but save substantially on the back end.

Step 7. Tag and Digitize Footage. This step is usually done by the Producer with the Editor. It’s a time-consuming but vital process for reviewing, prioritizing and organizing all your content–footage, photographs, logos, audio, music–in a digital Nonlinear Editing System so that you can use it now and in the future. Make sure the tags are something that would make sense to someone not intimately involved in the project. So don’t label a shot “MS w JJ.” Label it “Marilyn Smith CEO _ Jarvis Jackson CFO”.

Step 8. Editing. Footage editing typically goes through several rounds. The first round—the rough-cut—might be done with only temporary or “scratch” VO and music. Later rounds will include professionally recorded voiceover, if that’s the style of piece you’ve planned, plus music that the Producer needs to license for your specific usage. Even stock music has a license, and YouTube will pull your video down if you can’t demonstrate that you have it. I tend to go through about 4 rounds of edit drafts: a rough cut for only internal folks to comment on, a finer rough cut for their bosses or decision makers to comment on, and then two rounds of final refinements for graphics, audio, narration and music. A sub-step of editing is graphics—whether simple text or more complex animation. If you have a million shots from various sources, you’re also going to need a color-correction step so it looks like a unified piece. The same goes for audio—an audio mixing session will help even out interviews or other audio from multiple sources.

Step 9. Compressions. In the world we live in, there are many platforms and many output specs. Hopefully you already figured out what you needed in Step 3.  My clients usually need several different compressions for projects—one version for Vimeo, another for YouTube, and another for a live event projection system.

Step 10. Future Proofing. Be sure you archive all your edit media—you’d be surprised how often you’ll need to go back for shots and use them in another production. Back up your project files. And be sure you also output one master file, at the highest possible resolution such as ProRes 4444, as well as a version with separated audio tracks, so that you can always go back in and reversion as needed in the future.

Hacking Video Interviews

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LyndaAmyInterviewingCoupleYou’re on deadline and need a great sound bite from your boss for the new podcast. Or you’re building a long-form documentary and are interviewing an expert. Or you’ve got five minutes till broadcast and are trying to get a moment with a VIP. Whatever kind of interview you are producing can be made a little easier with a few simple techniques.

  1. Make Your Subject Comfortable. It seems obvious, but often the interviewer is distracted by the crew chatting, the room getting uncomfortably warm, and the fact that, oh, a Camera is Pointed at Their Head. New low-heat lights prevent sweating, thank goodness. But there are many other little touches to keep an interviewee comfortable: hide as much equipment as necessary (I use silks in larger spaces, or just put things away in cases or adjacent hallways in smaller ones); place water on a small table at arm’s reach; Smile when you ask questions (unless you’re on 60 Minutes). And–not for the faint of heart–consider interviewing the person while they are doing something (working, driving, walking), since most people don’t just sit still and talk. These little things will go a long way towards making your subject feel and speak more naturally on camera.
  2. Familiarize Yourself With Content. Again, it seems obvious. But I can’t tell you how many times I hear an interviewer ask a basic question that they should have researched in advance. The result is your subject now thinks you’re an idiot, and you aren’t going to get the story you really wanted. Oh, and stop looking at your notes! Memorize them. Focus on making eye contact.
  3. Find Out Your Subject’s Learning Style. With a few quick questions in your warm-up chit-chat, or by watching previous interview footage, you may be able to discern whether or not your interviewee is a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner. Why does this matter? Because the way you ask questions to each should be slightly different, and the kinds of answers you will get will be much richer and more useful when you do. More on this in my Lynda course The Art of the Interview.
  4. Plan a Story Arc, Be Prepared for Something Else. Ideally, your interview will follow a narrative arc. Within this arc, you’ll be gently guiding your subject along the path of the central story for your video—the introduction, the central theme or challenge, and the conclusion. Along the way, there will be meanderings, of course. But if you map out the story – not just bullet points for questions–you’ll be that much closer to building a better final video.

If you’re attending NAB this year, I’ll be presenting an In-Depth Session with the talented Director of Photography and Producer Eduardo Angel on How to Capture Great Interviews.  We’ll cover equipment, lighting, camera position, as well as interview techniques. We hope to see you there!

 

The Art of Storytelling: Alive and Well in Vegas

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I’m just back from Vegas for NAB—the National Association of Broadcasters Convention. What an awe-inspiring assembly. By the numbers: more than 92,400 attendees, with more than 24,000 from around the world; 1,600 exhibitors in 900,000 net square feet of exhibit space; plus 1,700 press.  The people were broadcast execs, Directors of Photography, audio engineers, producers, directors, and more. Exhibits ranged from DJI Phantom mini-helicopters to suspend Go-Pro cameras to the latest Black Magic pocket camera , plus the latest in Digital Asset Management systems, sound systems, lighting rigs, you name it. Over at Post Production World, where I was teaching, packed classes included Digital Publishing, an all-day Time-Lapse and Panoramic DSLR workshops at Red Rock Canyon and Nelson Nevada Ghost Town.

What does it all mean?

The art of storytelling is alive and well. For a while, we thought the internet killed stories. It certainly made it harder for print newspapers and nightly news shows to compete with a new 24/7 news cycle. But now, the digital revolution has democratized the art of creating content. And NAB is proof that there’s a storyteller’s tool for every price point. And while the conversations were about new gear or bandwidth or asset management or distribution platforms,  at their heart, the discussions were about how to get great stories to audiences who are consuming them at an exponential rate.

Sure, we can sometimes let the newest gadgets distract us from the Real Tools of storytelling:  great ideas, great scripts, great interviews, a dab of decent project management (some of the things I taught) to be sure we’re telling the best stories in the most compelling way.  But the accessibility of low price-point cameras and editing tools had clearly made its mark. I saw a new generation grabbing the reins and putting their content out there (mini shout-out to Kanen Flowers here) with or without the traditional distribution channels that used to comprise the “broadcast” industry.

My only complaint about NAB? No lines at the ladies rooms!  (Seriously—they’re like empty caves at all hours).  As a past president of Women in Film and Video/DC, I’d say that there’s still room for more women at the table, especially in broadcast management and the technical fields. Just sayin’.

So if NAB was evidence of a Renaissance in the Art of the Story–and I think it was–then thank goodness what happened in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas. Adapting what our fondly missed film critic Roger Ebert always said, I’ll see you at (or behind) the movies.

Five Tips: Video Content to Support Your Brand

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth ten thousand.  That’s why You-Tpower snackube, Vimeo and other online video tools have become so useful to small businesses, nonprofit organizations and federal agencies who in the past may have avoided video because of the cost of mass distribution. (The cost of quality production isn’t necessarily cheap, but if you are able to get your video 100,000 views rather than 100, obviously your cost per view goes way down).

So what are video content best practices?

After having produced roughly 400 such projects, here are my Top Five Tips for Creating Successful Video Content:

1.  Know How the Video Fits Into Your Brand Plan. You have a great story—someone touched by your organization, or some important piece of information that needs to be disseminated to the public. Great. But know how it fits into your overall messaging and branding strategy. Will your name or the name of a particular product/service be consistently mentioned? Are you trying to promote recognition for your organization, for a particular project or person? Do you need to build support for an initiative or connect viewers to your larger mission? Will there be other supporting media for this video content? (i.e. direct mail and/or email campaigns to drive traffic?)  Do you need other lives for this content after it is first published (see #4)?

2.  Know Your Target Audience. If your audience is “everyone,” think again.  Develop target sub-demographics and learn what kinds of content appeals to them.   If your story has multiple parts/levels, consider breaking into smaller pieces and placing the content with different headings/links in order to attract the right audience.

3.  Buy the Best You Can Afford. Remember what your mother once told you about buying a dining room set?  “Buy the best you can because you want it to last.”   Many organizations make the mistake of thinking that if something is going to appear on the web or in a podcast, it can be produced on a shoestring because it’s a one-use item.  To the contrary, every penny you spend should be powerful and credible.  The production plan should include multiple ways to use your source material after the initial roll-out.  For example, if you have an interview-driven story, plan the interviews so that other selects can be used elsewhere (and make sure your permissions cover this alternate usage!).  Background footage (“b-roll”) can also be re-purposed.  My personal preference is to shoot high definition, widescreen video because it makes a bigger impact even when compressed for the web, since it degrades less.  But whatever your format, a polished production, professionally produced, will also allow you to “multi-purpose” the end-product more reliably, pulling parts for your website, your intranet, an email campaign, or a large-screen projection at a major donor event.

4.  Make it Short and Sweet. When watching television, people can relax in their favorite comfy chair, and even then the average program contains only 22 minutes of actual content.  On the web, viewed in a tiny box, in a show that likely does not contain professional actors and perhaps offers a glimpse of you speaking or some kind of advocacy message, your time-frame for catching attention drops to minutes.  And when you consider mobile video going to iPhones and the like, we’re talking seconds.  So make every second count. That means using visuals, music, audio, graphics–everything at your disposal–to make a message with impact. (Important note on copyright: make sure the visuals and audio belongs to you, or that you’ve licensed it for mass distribution!)

5.  Measure Impact. Speaking of impact, measure it! So many organizations produce video content without a handle on whether or not it is effective. Plan a way to find out. It could be a short email survey to a random sampling of people who received your web link or signed up for you podcast. It could be an audience survey for a live event. It could be simply aggregating the data already provided to you by You Tube or your podcast distributor.  Analyzing and disseminating this information amongst your leadership and communications team will help you refine your approach the next time.