10 Tips for Telling GREAT Video Stories
By Brien Lee
Buying multimedia these days is a confusing process. We live in a hype-heavy world. Chances are you've heard of Flash, and I know you've heard of or use PowerPoint. And when you want a sight-and-sound program to tout your company or make your pitch from your computer, what do you ask for? Probably a "Flash" or a "PowerPoint" (or your young advisor did). Problem is, that's putting the cart before the horse. Today's audiovisual world is filled with possibilities-some are found in the way shows are shown; others in the way they are created. One thing I do know is that, whatever you call it, video will be a part of your presentation-at least if you want to make a real splash.
This book looks at the multimedia/video/presentation buying process and offers ten considerations you need to make to successfully commission-or produce-your next major audiovisual communication. Whether you're using video to reach hundreds or millions, these tips are time-tested. I hope you will adopt them.
1. Flash? PowerPoint? Video? Don't Rush to Conclusions.
When you've got a story to tell and it requires sight and sound, be careful not to prescribe the solution too quickly. One man's PowerPoint these days is another woman's video.
When people need something to run off of their computer, they're quick to ask for "a PowerPoint show" or "one of those 'FLASH' things."
Right idea, but not necessarily the right spec.
Flash is considered hip, and PowerPoint is considered a must. But often, the sight-and-sound solution you want needs to provide more control, impact, and end result than these playback methods provide.
The fact is, PowerPoint and Flash often are just containers for VIDEO, just as a VHS tape and a DVD are containers for video.
SO, just because you want your project on the web or on computer CD-ROM, doesn't mean it shouldn't incorporate-or be-video. Video is what the big boys use-often, even in major documentaries and motion pictures.
Video is faster, easier, and no more expensive to produce. And its impact is markedly greater.
Don't choose the production method solely on the distribution method.
2. Sound Is the Secret Weapon.
What's the first thing you remember about "Star Wars"?
Dah-dah, da-da-da dahhhh-dahhh!
Yup, the music. And the sound effects-the hum of the light sabers, the drone of the Death Star. Can you imagine Star Wars without music?
Even in corporate videos, music plays an extremely important part. But you'd be surprised how few producers actually realize that. They'll let a narrator blab on and on, and, to add insult to injury, you'll hear the same piece of music looping for the entire length of the show! (People who produce in Flash are especially prone to this mistake.)
Sound tells your audience how to feel; how to distinguish what should be remembered from less important items; when to react and how.
A picture is worth a thousand words? Music is worth a thousand emotions-like loyalty, belief, trust, enthusiasm-all potent predictors of productivity.
3. Create for the Environment.
Ever see an IMAX film on home video? Is it the same as in the IMAX theater? Ever see your favorite movie on a 4-inch LCD? Was it the same as in your home theater?
No, of course not. IMAX movies and major motion pictures (especially science fiction and thrillers) are created for LARGE screens, in rooms where people are quiet and the sound has impact.
Commercials played in sports arenas on those big jumbotrons generally feature very little dialog. Who'd hear it? You can barely hear the music.
When a video communications project is strategized, the environment in which it will be played is an important part of deciding the style and intensity of production. If your CD-ROM is never going to make it past a laptop, running out and shooting sweeping panoramas of the countryside may not be necessary-but plenty of close ups will be.
If your audience is free to leave the room, you need to consider delivering a level of production quality that keeps them seated. If they are there as part of their job and they have nowhere to go, well, then you know they're not going anywhere-no matter what the production quality.
Play to the room.
4. How Long Should It Be?
We just spoke of the environment's role in helping you decide certain aspects of how your video will be developed. But what about length? Attention spans are short! Shouldn't all videos be short?
Well, there's short, and short. There's real time, and perceived time.
A boring video goes on forever. An exciting video ALWAYS seems shorter than it is, and often bears seeing a second time!
Audiences aren't stupid. They don't have short attention spans; they just don't like to be bored. A good story will transcend time. It will seem shorter but last longer in their minds.
5. $1,000 a Minute? $200 per Slide? $3.99 a Pound?
Pricing is always liable to a lot of subjectivity, and so over the years people have tried to "quantify" the production of multimedia materials. A thousand dollars a minute has been quoted since the late 1960s-for film!
But let's shatter some illusions. Video production (in fact, many creative activities) can not be judged entirely on the running time. It takes $2 million and 9 months to produce a single 24-minute episode of the Simpsons. I've seen industrial training tapes that ran 90 minutes and grossed the producer $2,000. Shouldn't he have gotten $90,000? Not for pointing a camera at a podium and hitting record, and editing out awkward pauses!
It is MUCH tougher to produce a great five-minute video that will rouse an audience and get specified results. To keep up a broadcast-quality pace, to have the right music, to shoot in various locales, to create high-quality 3-D and other animations... well, it'll cost more than $5,000, I guarantee that. Sometimes, not much more, but other times, 10 times that amount.
Your producer should be willing to write a proposal, tell you what she plans to do, and give you a specific quotation for that exact effort.
Time, materials, equipment, overhead. When we know what you want to see, we'll be able to figure out the cost. It's the only way to put a value on something that by its nature doesn't yet exist.
6. What Style Should It Be?
On the surface, communications styles change often. After all, audiences like what is current and hip-to them. But different audiences come from different age groups, economic backgrounds, regions; so what is hip to a 22-year-old web designer in Atlanta might not be hip to the 45-year-old engineer in Dallas.
Your producer needs to think like a chameleon. Yes, we all have our own strengths and styles, but we are working for you. And you have a corporate style and a defined audience. Too slow a pace, not enough hip animation, and maybe the twenty-somethings will snooze. Too kinetic, too flashy, too loud, and maybe the chairman of the board will have your head.
Well, we don't want that. You have to be willing to listen to audience constituencies. Maybe you've never seen American Idol, but that doesn't make it unpopular with a large part of the population. If you're not hip on the likes of an audience, trust someone who is-your producer, or that DJ-wannabe who can name everything ever produced by Jay-Z.
7. Can I Have That Tuesday?
If it's your dry cleaning, yes.
If it's the multimedia project or video that is going to convince 5,000 that downsizing is good for them, well, no.
As we've said, video projects come in all shapes and sizes. But if you are producing a good company overview, orientation or sales piece, or fundraising or political piece, you have got to allow some time.
How much time? We've created miracles in two weeks. But that entails compromises. If you're willing to accept that, let's talk.
But the reality is, a well-designed, strategized, outlined, planned, written, and produced project (already it sounds long) takes time. Here's a planning guide for a 10-minute video introducing a mid-market company in all its aspects, from its history to today's operations and products, to new employees and customers:
Write proposal--1 week
Production planning--2 weeks
Logging and digitizing tapes--1 week
Music selection, voice tracking--1 week
Rough cut--1-2 weeks
Review time (script, rough cut)--1 week (it's up to you)
Final edit and effects--1.5 weeks
With overlap, overtime, and some real sweet talking from you and me to the hard-working staff, maybe we can cut that down or work some things in parallel. But don't kill the messenger. Allowing sufficient time for the project will get you one hell of a program. So-always plan on three months; you could allow four, we can get something done in two; less than that, we're all cheating-using old footage and old stills (even they have to be scanned), skipping the effects, etc.
In the long run, when you do it right, it shows. And the spin-off benefits are enormous.
8. Use Interviews for Believability
Interviews-with your customers, employees, suppliers, even you-can have a dramatic impact on the credibility engendered by your video.
This is especially true for "softer" subjects, such as fundraising, public opinion, HRD company introductions, tributes, etc.
Interviews are not what they seem. They appear candid (and are); they seem unscripted (and are); they seem easy to do and a way to skip scriptwriting (they ARE NOT).
Interviews require research-who has the best stories, attitude, presence. Interviews require testing-a pre-interview. And they require scripting, if only as a target goal to help the interviewer frame the right questions.
Never let your producer put words into people's mouths-a pet phrase, an endorsement, a rah-rah statement-unless the interviewee came up with it candidly. There's no faster way for all of you to look boneheaded.
And I don't think THAT was the purpose of the video.
9. Video's Hidden Value
It would be tough to buy a car if you were going to drive it only once. Thirty thousand bucks for a one-night drive? "Well, it was a heck of a drive, but it's over-and now I feel guilty!"
In business, feeling guilty can be equated with taking responsibility. Why drop big bucks on something that will be used only once?
Many "big" videos and presentations are created for meetings. They unveil the theme, set the stage, introduce a new product, whatever.
But when management realizes they will be used only once, they often become "unnecessary." Staging, projectors, production costs-that's a lot of cabbage for 500 sales people. Couldn't we add a second entree at the awards dinner?
Fact is, I agree with your boss-to the extent that everything should have a repurposing value. And today's video does. Plan it right, write it right, and in no time your video-or at least scenes from it-can be used on the web, on CDs and DVDs, and in your salespeople's PowerPoint presentations.
Now you can justify the purchase and sleep a bit easier.
By the way, even WITHOUT a reuse value, there is nothing like a rousing video opener at a big meeting to set the tone, redefine a company, begin the change process, and build a roaring fire under your sales team's butts. The difference is seen in sales; they have the energy-AND new video tools to take with them. The increased revenue more than pays for the cost of the video.
10. A Good Video Producer Knows Sales
And not just because he sold you a project.
Video done right is a form of persuasion. It follows all the good rules of sales (with some exceptions).
First of all, videos must get audiences saying yes. We have to start with common ground and then build our case.
Video incorporates logic. "If, then, and after that, then..."
And video promotes emotional connection. Yes, logically I want to do that, but logic alone doesn't sell. Add the emotional punch, and now you've got a sale.
If a video producer doesn't know this, then he's not a producer-he's a craftsman working at some aspect of our trade. And that is fine.
But those who can sell audiences-they are few and far between.
The care and consideration that goes into producing your company's video overview, sales presentation, or funding solicitation is no less important than the wording of a direct mail piece, the design of your ad campaign, or the development of a corporate identity. For, indeed, a video presentation becomes your corporate identity. Recruits see it, and know more about you. Employees see it, and are better able to represent the company. Customers see it, and see beyond your products into the personality of the company and its people.
Use these ten tips and you're on your way to perhaps the most successful communications project you've ever undertaken. That just might mean a raise, a corner office, or at least a slap on the back. And that's all good.
About the Author
Brien Lee is founder and president of Brien Lee VideoStory, a leading video and multimedia producer located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has nearly 30 years experience producing motion, video, and multimedia presentations for major corporations across the United States, including the Walgreen Company, PSE&G, Borden, Johnson Controls, Underwriter's Labs, Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, Miller Brewing, Mercury Marine, and others.. His independent documentaries have been shown on PBS, and he is a multiple-award winner from the New York Festival, Addies, Tellies, and others. He was awarded President of the Year by the American Advertising Association. His organization, Brien Lee VideoStory, is celebrating its 10th year of leading-edge DVD, CD-ROM, documentary, and meeting-module production. http://www.videostory.com/
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