The Future of Story: A View from Shanghai

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Maryann Brandon, editor of STAR WARS, discusses visual effects edit workflow.

I just got back from China, and the nascent NAB Shanghai conference, where I was moderating the Global Innovation Exchange thought leaders event. The sessions on 4K, UHD, and 8K were packed. Speakers talked about how they are building new audiences through OTT, and how they are developing storage and workflows for complex, multi-platform delivery.  And not surprisingly, the VR track was packed with speakers presenting on this new and evolving format.

But what really impressed me was the focus on STORY. Yes, we need ways to move massive data packets around for a consistent streaming and viewing experience. Yes, we will continue to improve picture resolution and screen quality. Yes, we will continue to evolve the immersive experience. And yet we know that what leads to success—whether of a social platform, a webisode, a feature film or a game–is a good story. Characters that are memorable. Authentic moments that make us laugh or cry. A connection to emotions that make us return and share, again and again.

Maryann Brandon, editor of STAR WARS: The Force Awakens, STAR TREK: Into Darkness and other great films, talked about how through all of the special effects, her focus is always on story.  If the story isn’t working, effects are not the answer.  Her goal and that of the film’s director is always to make an emotional connection with the viewer. Michael Uslan, the producer of the DARK KNIGHT, THE LEGO MOVIE, and many other films, TV series and games, spoke about what compelled him to cobble together the financing to buy the Batman franchise while still in his twenties: “Batman’s greatest superpower is his humanity.”

This could be said of our entire media-TV-film industry. We are of course always taken with technology. Technology enabled us to create the first photographs, the first talking pictures, and the first color films. Technology brought the moon landing into every living room and built the networks that allow CNN to report from around the world. And now technology is bringing us social media experiences, virtual reality programming and AI characters. The future is exciting.

But technology without humanity is nothing.  So as I watched speakers from around the world sharing and learning from one another, talking about the kind of stories that truly engage, I was encouraged. Through all the high tech, we must keep our focus on the stories worth telling: those all around us, and those we have not yet imagined.

***

On my way to Shanghai, I stopped over in London for the IABM conference with broadcast manufacturers.  Here’s my talk on the challenges of Transmedia Production.

December 10, 2016 at 12:38 pm Leave a comment

Women in Production

gng-logoIf you’ve been following the #GalsNGear hashtag on Twitter, then you know I’ve been working behind the scenes with many colleages–male and female–across production and post to put the focus on women in the technical fields of our industry. We want to be sure these professionals get the limelight they deserve, get access to the best gear, and also help bring along the next generation of women across the industry.  galsngear-nabshowSeveral hundred folks attended our most recent VR, production and post gear demos, and enjoyed our killer panel with women in film finance, VR, cinematography, and film finishing during NAB New York (shout-out to our partners NAB,  Adorama and Black Magic Design).  I’m looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues at IABM in London this weekend, and at NAB Vegas this spring.  If you’ve got an idea for a #GalsNGear pop-up event at an industry gathering or film festival near you, give me a shout.

Amy DeLouise is a director-producer with a passion for making the industry the best it can be. Her new book The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera is available from Focal Press/Routledge.

 

 

November 30, 2016 at 3:42 pm Leave a comment

How to Prepare to Conduct a Video Interview

Amy Interviews

You’ve got to shoot and interview and ask the questions. How do you get the best from your interview subject(s)? How do you prepare? These four steps will improve the process every time.

  1. Research. I don’t just mean your basic Google search or Wikipedia page look-up. I mean actually reading something your interview subject has written or watching a speech they have given so you can a) learn from it and b) refer to it and build rapport. Also read articles about your person, so you understand where they come from and what they do.  Talking to people who know them well–a spouse, assistant, co-worker–can give insights into their style, character and personal history.
  2. Pre-Interview. Have a phone conversation several weeks in advance of your interview. Weeks not days, because you don’t want someone saying “As I said to you yesterday…” in their answer. I find phone is better than Skype or Google Hangouts, because people are more honest when they can’t see you. If you don’t have the time or ability to pre-interview, then talking to someone who knows this person is even more important. You don’t want to be blindsided by a strong viewpoint, a difficult to understand accent, or some other element that you could easily prepare for in advance.
  3. Create a Story Arc. Everything is story. Even reality. Find the challenge that your subject had to overcome. This is the high point of the story, and you can work backwards from it as you develop questions to lead up to the main high point. Also think of what might hook in viewers to this story. How can you elicit that bit of the story arc? Then think about how the story ends. What’s a good way to help your subject get to this conclusion?
  4. Reverse Engineer Your Questions. Reviewing your research notes, your pre-interview notes, and your draft story arc. Then build questions that can elicit those answers and topics. The goal is not to control every moment, but to help support your subject as they reveal their story.  people always ask me if I send interview questions in advance. Absolutely not! Send a list of topics, sure. But don’t give away your questions that are designed to elicit a story arc or you will find yourself interviewing someone who has over-prepared. If someone tells you that you MUST send questions, send three or four but write them related to themes. Get into the specifics on site.

Look, we all know that nothing is ever set in stone when you conduct an interview with a “real person” (i.e. not an actor or someone highly media-trained) on camera. Good preparation makes the shooting and editing process go much more smoothly.

This blog post is based on one of the chapters of my new book The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera (Focal/Routledge).  Order copies here.  For more details on specific interviewing techniques and post-production strategies for working with interviews, see my Lynda.com courses here: Amy’s stuff on Lynda.com

October 25, 2016 at 5:02 pm Leave a comment

What Makes a Great Video Info-Graphic?

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).

 

 

September 9, 2016 at 10:48 am Leave a comment

Using VR to Free Local Space from its Boundaries

Who isn’t intrigued by the storytelling capabilities of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)? My friend and colleague Danilda Martinez shares some of her experiences exploring this new frontier of media-making. Check out her post!

VR and The Quest to Free Local Space from its Boundaries

By Danilda Martinez, guest blogger

Danilda shooting 3D tour-web

My partners and I founded Immersive Spaces earlier this year with the goal of bringing a seamless VR offering to our local community and businesses. West Palm Beach, Florida has both a warm local vibe and a swank international appeal all at once. We knew that whatever we brought to market here had to feel world-class, not clunky, and accessible.  Immersive Spaces started mainly with real estate tours, and we’ve organically evolved into other spaces like galleries, and entertainment.

VR Challenges

The challenge was that producing 360-video through a traditional production approach is time-consuming and expensive. Not many local businesses have this kind of budget for marketing and content creation, especially for something as new as new virtual reality. So we had to find acquisition and editing technology that would work for our budget. We also had to consider lighting, and tried to take advantage of the best possible ambient lighting since moving lighting fixtures in and out of shots can affect the ability to “stitch” them together efficiently in post.

Exploring VR Tools

With that in mind, we approached the whole process from the end-user and client’s perspectives, which lead us to focus on acquiring technology that would produce fluid intuitive feeling tours for the end-user, and speedy turnaround for our clients. After researching options for gear and services we chose to work with Matterport, a turn-key solution which has proven to be the most effective solution for our start-up, offering affordability and quick turnarounds for us and our clients.  Rather than shoot everything with a traditional 3D set up, using production cameras or Go-Pro rigs, and Cinema 4D or Kolor for stitching, we purchased Matterport’s camera and use their cloud service to stitch and manage the 3D scans. The “Dollhouse” is a feature our clients and their audiences love, and it is essentially a 3D birdseye view of the space that can be interacted with so you select where to go next in the space.

Dollhouse-web

the “Dollhouse” view

While we wouldn’t use Matterport for producing traditional 360 video narratives because of its limited options for shooting flexibility and post-production, for now we can get VR projects going while we take our time exploring other in-house options.  At the heart of it all, we’re just having fun with new VR technology while connecting our community to the world both virtually and literally. We have an exciting year ahead of us as we constantly look to push the limits of how our local community uses VR in telling its stories through exploring space.

Danilda Martinez is the Chief Space Agent for Immersive Spaces in West Palm Beach, FL Her work can be found at www.ImmersiveSpaces.com and at facebook.com/immersivespaces.

 

 

August 14, 2016 at 2:00 pm Leave a comment

Student Filmmaker Next Steps: Getting Work in the “Real World”

Through the wonderful serendipity of conferences, I got into an extended conversation with a film educator about what film students, and particularly young women, can do to better position themselves for careers in the technical fields of our industry. As someone who hires production teams regularly, and meets many starting out in our industry when I speak at events like NAB Show or interact with my online students on Lynda.com, here are a few ideas to consider.

Resumes

Credit others, too. When you are just getting started, you are probably not the Director unless it’s your student film. So, if you were the AC on a shoot, be sure to identify the production company and DP (we probably know them and may want to contact them to verify your work).

Be concise. One of my students recently sent me a draft resume of 3 pages, which I reduced to one. He’s got terrific camera department credits, but he’s only been working for 4 years, so one page is sufficient.

Provide references. This might seem self-evident, but your references should say nice things about you. I had a young woman once provide my firm as a reference when she had quit her summer internship with us about a week into it, and not shown up to an important shoot. Hmmm.

Social media. Remember prospective employers will be checking out your Twitter feed, your Facebook page, your blog. Since a lot of millennial crew members use Snapchat, someone on the team might have seen your posts there, too. I’m not suggesting being someone other than who you are, but think about how these reflect on your personal and professional brand.

Apply for appropriate jobs/Help others. I recently put out a call for a Set PA on our DC Women in Film and Video list-serve and got dozens of resumes from DP’s. I’m not likely to consider these folks for DP work, since they didn’t seem able to read instructions. Only one of them prefaced their email with “I realize you’re not looking for a DP for this shoot, but…” etc.  Even that is not really a great way to market. I was much more excited about an email from a DP telling me about a Set PA she thought was terrific, and giving me that person’s contact info. You’ve been helpful to me so now I’m going to keep you on my short list or try to be helpful to you in some way. Karma!

Send only as a PDF. ‘Nuff said.

Portfolio

Balance student work with paid work. Make sure you are posting those clips that best represent your best qualities. A brief line of explanation is helpful—i.e. “I was able to bring this low-budget feature in on time, and on budget, with a team of 6.”

The sizzle reel. I have mixed feelings about these. They can be overly selective and not representative of your work. On the other hand, for aspiring DP’s, editors, and graphics designers, they can be very helpful in demonstrating to a prospective client/employer your unique voice or style. You need to update regularly, so that can become costly/time intensive.

Offer links on your resume. You can include links to your work on company websites, YouTube or Vimeo pages, just be sure to make clear what your credits are on the show.

Networking.

Be polite, be bold. At conferences, workshops, guest lectures, go introduce yourself (especially you, young women!). Don’t apologize. Don’t brag. Make a Specific Ask. For example, would you review my resume? Would you speak to me for 10 minutes by phone about a job offer choice I have? (Do not ask to take us to lunch or coffee!)

Say where you want to go. “I’m working towards being a DP and currently working as an AC…” “I’m a production office PA but working towards becoming an editor…”  This helps the person you’re speaking to understand the big picture quickly and how they might (or may not) be able to help.

Amy DeLouise is attending the University Film and Video Conference, where she’ll be speaking on Tuesday, August 2nd at 11:30 AM about Multi-Platform Production Strategies (6P La Sirena III). Her new book, The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera (Focal/Routledge) is available in the Vendor room.

 

 

 

 

August 1, 2016 at 7:19 pm Leave a comment

Immersive Storytelling 101

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Henderson, NV – Today I’ve been surrounded by immersive storytellers, sharing their experiences with virtual reality, CG characters and the future of entertainment. 100 professors and filmmakers are taking this journey with me (several hundred more arrive for the main event starting tomorrow, where we’ll get to “hack VR” among other hands-on experiences). We’re participating in Digital Innovation Day, the prequel to the annual conference of the University Film and Video Association, “Content Creation in the 21st Century” where I’ll be speaking on Tuesday. As a self-taught filmmaker, I never took courses from the brilliant educators and industry leaders here this week, so this is an exciting opportunity to learn from them. Here are a few takeaways from the folks on the bleeding edge of this new generation of digital storytelling:

  • the workflow and camera technology are new and still evolving, and costs vary widely (from the $350 Ricoh Theta-S, good for shot planning, to the Nokia Ozo that can cost $60,000)
  • the role of sound is critical–we “see through our ears” (if we want a user to turn in a certain direction to catch some action, the sound might give them a clue)
  • throw out what you think of as “script”–VR doesn’t work that way (there’s not a beginning, middle and end or story arc as you traditionally think of it)
  • where do you hide the crew and gear when you shoot 360? (answer:  VFX is needed in post, and sometimes the director hides in plain sight as one of the talent)
  • promising collaborations between industry and universities are pushing the bounds of this new medium (we watched innovative productions involving professors and students from Florida State University, Loyola Marymount University, University of Nevada Las Vegas, and more)

and…most importantly…

  • the story only works when we have an emotional connection to the experience. (some things don’t change after all!)

I’ll be back with more from the conference. If you’re looking for the slide deck for my prezy, click on the Speaking tab of this website. Tweet to me @brandbuzz if you’d like to connect during the conference. My new book will be at the Focal Press/Routledge booth.

Amy DeLouise is a director-producer of short form nonfiction who speaks at/occasionally gets to attend cool conferences.

July 31, 2016 at 10:03 pm Leave a comment

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Real People on Camera

Amy DeLouise Producer/Director/Author

Amy DeLouise Producer/Director/Author

Video and multi-media producer, brand wrangler and marketing collaborator, waking up audiences nationwide as a workshop leader/speaker, love creating mission-driven, advocacy communications. Violinist and a cappella singer.

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