The Republican Convention has been getting flack for a rough start. As someone who helps produce live events, I feel their pain and know the challenges involved. Because while participants might feel the event is just a series of speakers, if produced correctly, the experience can actually be a cohesive narrative. Attendees should come away with a positive feeling, some new information and a commitment to action, never knowing all the logistics, security sweeps, food deliveries, changing of speakers, and other details that are happening under the surface.
How is a live event a story?
A live event is a story with a main character which in most cases is not a single person but rather a company or cause. There are supporting characters, too—usually people who can help shed light on a particular aspect of the company or a particular example of the cause in action. And these characters all fit into a story arc with an introduction, a crescendo (for each plenary if there are multiple ones) and a finale. There might be break-out sessions, receptions and mixers where participants get to learn more and meet one another. And there should also be videos and multi-media elements that help elucidate key themes help the audience get to know the main characters. But at the end of the day, it’s still a story.
What are the key elements for a good live event?
Entertainment. Talking heads never win the day. You need to build in some excitement and fun. This means more than just simply bringing out a musician on stage here or there. Because even a performance must connect to the main story thread. So if your event is telling the story of homelessness in America, then the musician might be an artist who was formerly homeless. If your event is about women’s empowerment, you might create a live-on-stage showcase with cutting-edge products created by women-owned businesses. Whatever can transform the experience of the person in the room and entertain them, while also helping to make an emotional connection to your theme.
Drama. This often relates to having a big-name speaker. But it can also mean keeping your timing tight so that speakers, videos and other elements move towards a crescendo to your climactic speaker of the session. This means vetting speeches—always challenging with VIPs—and being sure they don’t overlap in content, and are as short and thematically interconnected as they can reasonably be. The last thing you want is a tired audience (or one that gets up and leaves), which is exactly what happened to Iowa Senator Joni Ernst when her speech got pushed well past prime-time and almost at midnight during the Republican Convention.
Stories. Stories are most often anecdotes from speakers that elucidate the purpose or theme of the event. As speechwriters, our first job is to interview speakers to be sure we understand their stories, which ones fit into the narrative arc of the event, and how best to write in the person’s natural voice. This is why Melania Trump was so ill-served by whomever wrote her partly plagiarized speech–Googling “first lady speeches” is never a great way to begin the writing process. It must always begin with the individual and their own story.
Video. Video is a way to tell compelling stories weaving together archival video clips, photos, interviews, music. Video can move an audience to tears, or make them rise to their feet in applause. It can tell a more textured story that a speaker can do about a cause or a person. Since I started this post talking about the Republican Convention, I should mention one of my first projects was researching a few of the archival images for the famous A Man From Hope video produced by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason that introduced Bill Clinton to the Democratic Convention in 1992 (minus the 3-min introduction now on YouTube that was not part of the original piece).
Audiences today wouldn’t be able to sit still for a 15-minute video at an event today, but this film is still a stand-out for its ability to introduce all the main characters in this family story. It helped audience members see Clinton’s vision and values within a historical context, such as his growing up in the poor south during the civil rights era and the impact of the Kennedy assassination on his vision for the future. When we produce videos for today’s events, we try to keep them to under 3 minutes, which means we don’t get to develop the texture and depth of those older interview-driven pieces. But the goal is the same: let the audience see a more intimate side of an individual or a cause, and evoke an emotional connection in the room.
Producing live events is always a challenge. And national conventions are some of the most daunting. At the end of the day, the best story will win.
Amy DeLouise is a writer-director-producer who creates content for live events. Her new book The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera (Focal/Routledge) is available on Amazon.com and the Routledge website.
Focal Press/Routledge has just published my new book on a subject near and dear to me: working with non-actors on camera. As an impact filmmaker mainly for nonprofits, my work largely revolves around “real people” stories. When Focal approached me about writing the book, my first thought (other than how to fit it into my crazy producing and family life schedule) was what would be truly useful for working directors and producers? How could I frame the issues, the challenges, and the solutions in a handy, brief text? Here’s a little trailer I produced to give an inside look at what’s covered in this resource. I greatly appreciate your passing this along to anyone you know who tells video stories with non-professionals on camera!
So-called “real people” can add power to a video story. For testimonials, someone who actually uses the product can be compelling. If the story focuses on a charity, someone who has lived the day-to-day impact can help raise funds more effectively than an on-camera professional host. A person who works in an organization might be the very best at explaining a new process or tool.
But here’s the catch.
Using real people as opposed to actors affects the bottom line costs of your video, in both production and post. Often executive producers focus on the cost-savings of not having to hire actors–no actor fees, no casting fees, no pension and welfare payments (for union actors). However, pro’s bring their ability to hit their marks every time, to become characters convincingly, and to deliver a particular line the same way in the wide shot, the closeup and the shot that gets done after a lunch break.
So if you are using real people, you need to focus on 3 areas to minimize the budget negatives:
- Casting. While you may use an informal process, you’ll still need to “cast” people to be sure they can work with you, they have an interesting story, and to build a relationship prior to the day of taping. While actors can step onto a set filled with strangers and go, most regular folks can’t. Always avoid using someone solely on the recommendation on another person. If you will be the day-of-production interviewer, producer or director, you’ll need to talk to them yourself to be sure you have a good rapport.
- Scheduling. Build extra time into your shoot schedule. Not just for each angle or shot, but also breaks for your “talent.” Unlike pro’s, who can muscle through a long day, most regular folks need some time out of the lights. Plus they will likely need to make calls, check on the kids being picked up from soccer, etc. I’m always surprised how often I’ve got someone telling me they’ve “blocked out” the whole day for our shoot, and then when we arrive, they’ve actually got several hours of phone calls, errands or other work scheduled. No one outside of production understands that what we do is a really focused, full day or more type of job.
- Post Workflow. Your post-production workflow will also need to be adjusted. If you are conducting interviews, be sure you get transcripts made (from mp3 or wav files of the interviews) so that you can make a preliminary set of selects and then choose from those for your final edits. This will save massive amounts of time slogging through footage to find soundbites. If you are creating a re-enactment or a direct-to-camera video, you’ll need excellent field notes via Adobe Live Logger, Google docs, Lumberjack, etc. that allows you to correct for the usual mistakes and changed dialogue or non-matching action that commonly occur when using non-actors. Again, this will save massive amounts of time and frustration during editing.
I’ve built some handy templates and other prep, shoot and post resources into my new book The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera. Use code FLR40 at checkout for 20% off (not available on Amazon). Let me know any other tools you think I should add here on the website.
It’s been a cold, rainy spring here in DC, the perfect weather for planning and strategy (not so great for outdoor shoots). And post-NAB Show, it’s a great time to re-assess workflows, consider new technologies, and tidy up that digital media library.
So what key steps do you need for great video storytelling? It all comes down to Three Essential Questions you need to ask yourself when planning your edit.
Wait, you say. planning my edit? What about my script? My shoot? But let’s face it, the story all comes together during the edit. And when is the optimal time to start planning your edit? Is it a few days before you step into the edit suite? Is it when you start digitizing your media? Not surprisingly, the answer is well before you even shoot the first frame. Working in the digital media space now often means drinking from the firehose of assets–millions of frames to choose from as we acquire with more and more flexible cameras. So it’s even more vital to be prepared before you start working with all of that content. Ask and answer these questions before you shoot, and you’ll be ahead of the game for your edit:
- What tools can I use in the field to help my edit go more smoothly? (Tip: any tool that allows you to identify best takes and best soundbites–use Adobe Live Logger, paper notes, or Google docs with notations on your script. And don’t forget to metatag camera footage with more than just date and time–for example camera operator initials or some code that tells you where this footage fits into the story line)
- What workflow can I use to ensure that the media gets transferred accurately? (Tip: use the 3-2-1 backup system–make two additional on-site copies of digital media files so that you have 3 in the field, travelling back from the shoot have 2 identical copies (and the one original stays behind). When you get back, ingest one of your two copies and check for accuracy before blowing away the original field cards. And yes, it costs a few more dollars to have extra cards–which is way less than a re-shoot and lost time will cost you!)
- What other assets can I collect before or during my shoot to augment my edit? Think about field sound clips, archival photos and other visuals. (Tip: always collect as much as you can in the field–I’ve even brought a mini-scanner on site and scanned old photos after conducting an interview.)
Every ounce of planning will deliver impact on screen. Go for it!
Amy DeLouise is a producer-director, speaker and author. Her new book The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera (Focal Press) is available here at a 20% discount for blog readers! Use Code FLR40 at checkout!
As freelancers in the creative disciplines—graphic design, video, set design, etc.—we’ve got a lot on our plates. Every day we’ve got to be, well, creative out-of-the-box thinkers, able to leap small budgets in a single bound, staying on the bleeding edge of trends, and up on the latest hardware, software and teams that make it all possible. Plus we’ve got to run our businesses, paying our bills, invoicing our clients, and thinking strategically about our careers and where we want to go next. It’s a tall order. Here are some ways we can break it down and get it done.
- Energize Your Creative Self. Take on a project outside your usual comfort zone. This might be a pro bono passion project (see #7 below). Or it could be a totally new approach to work with a regular client. Push your limits and create something you wouldn’t typically do. Or check out work by others to inspire you. For example, this week I’m in New York City where it’s Design Week http://nycxdesign.com/ with all kinds of wonderful gallery and design-focused events.
- Connect to Creative Communities. Lots of independents get so busy with projects and life that we fail to make time for human connections. It’s too late to attend a networking event when you need the work. So get out and go to conferences, coffees and meet-ups. Get to know people in real life, not just in online communities. Real relationships are important, not just for business, but for our mental health as solo practitioners. Join a group like the aiga.org or www.wifv.org, www.aicp.com or www.asmp.org . If you are just getting started in your industry, many groups have a “junior” category with lower dues.
- Keep Learning. Take an online class. Attend a workshop. Read books and articles. Learn not just about the tools of your particular trade, but the fields that connect to your work. As a filmmaker, when I learn more about audio mixing, I’m going to do a better job directing field audio on my next shoot. As a filmmaker who’s been in the business for…ahem…awhile, I especially need to keep pushing myself to expand my horizons. It’s one reason I teach classes on lynda.com –to teach something you have to be sure you are up on the latest and greatest.
- Share. The corollary to learning is sharing. Share with your online communities. Share with your professional association. Share with a mentee. One of my favorite creative directors always has something interesting to share through his twitter stream. I’m much more likely to want to work with someone I can learn from.
- Give Back. Volunteer for the organization you join related to item #2. Or volunteer to speak on Career Day at your local school. Or mentor someone coming along in your business. Whatever you give, you will get back a thousand fold. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true!
- Get Tools. I see so many creative stuck in workflow of tools past. Don’t. So you used to edit on AVID but now you need to learn Adobe. I’m super-comfortable designing content to shoot with a C-series camera or FS-7, but now I’m pushing myself to develop storytelling that can leverage the power of 360 VR like this.
- Charge Appropriate Rates. I have left this one for last. Let’s face it, we creatives hate dealing with money. It’s not why we got into this work. Despite flat wages and the constant dilution of our various industries, we need to support one another by charging a living wage. When I see someone posting on a professional list-serve that they are looking to hire (fill in the blank creative position) at (half the standard industry day rate), I want to shout “doooon’t do it!” to all respondees. Sure, if you’re new to the biz and building your portfolio, you can discount your rate. But don’t go too far. For one thing, people tend to value your work by the value you assign to it yourself. For another, we’re all in this together.
Amy DeLouise is a video director-producer and author, and occasionally an industry speaker.
From Las Vegas, NV NAB Show 2016 –
I’m just back from NAB Show where I was privileged to co-host #GalsNGear Live! by Women in Film and Video (WIFV-DC) with Adryenn Ashley of Crowded TV to help showcase the amazing women working in production and post-production in broadcast, feature films, docs, commercials, branded content and more. Live-streamed by Broadcast Beat, we featured Megan Donnelly, DP and Camera Technology Specialist with AbelCine; Rose Fadem-Johnston, DP, Luisa Cassasnovas Winters, Drone Operator/Adobe/Apple Certified Trainer; an iZotope demo by Cheryl Ottenritter, Senior Mixer/Founder, Ott House Audio; Katie Hinsen, Senior Finishing Artist, Light Iron (on TWO Oscar-winning teams!) who is also a founder of the Blue Collar Post Collective; and Jillian Arnold, Video Engineer, Local 695; Lucy Seaborne did a demo for us at the Snell Advanced Media booth, and Christine Steele of Steele Pictures also conducted #GalsNGear interviews with Victoria Nece, Adobe After Effects and Alissa Johnson, Adobe Anywhere as well as Stefanie Mullen, the impressive woman behind the effects of Rampant Design. Christine also took time to make us an animated logo bumper. What an impressive crowd!
Terrific GNG graphics for our signage, logo and buttons were created by Deborah Humphries of True Color Chrome.
Shout-out to our amazing sponsors, including our lead sponsors Black Magic Design and Media Central! We had more than 100 people watch the show live, and thousands more watched online. Sponsors gave us more than $4,500 in giveaways–everything from cameras to graphics packages to audio software and tickets to creative conferences. Let’s do this again at another industry event! How about Cinegear, IBC, Sundance, Cannes?? Let us know what you think!
While I’m out at NAB Show, I thought I’d share a guest post by Matt Barker, a self-described tech geek, filmmaker and entrepreneur. He is a co-founder of getfilming.com, where he manages the online course production and the filmmaking community.
By Matt Barker
As the owner of an online start up, I spend a lot of time online. Some would even say I spend too much time online (my wife, mainly). I have to admit, staring at the screen all day long can become a little tedious but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I love what I do and I love how the tech and the internet has opened up a whole new world of possibilities. A particular favourite innovation that the online world has brought with it, is online education.
Gone are the days when you’d enrol for a course at your local college or university a year in advance and just wait for the learning to start. You can learn anything online from coding to filmmaking, from algebra to cake decorating and the best part is, you can learn from anywhere in the world, instantly and on your own schedule.
Lots of people reading this post will have enrolled in lots of courses online already. They would have learned a ton of information from expert tutors both on sites that house a plethora of courses like Skillshare or Udemy and from more specialist sites like Team Treehouse or GetFilming, an online Film School. I urge anyone and everyone to at least try online learning but if you still need some convincing, here’s five reasons why online education will help you succeed.
Unlike traditional learning, when you enrol in an online course you get to choose who you want to learn from. There’s such a huge demand for online courses that there is an endless supply of new tutors, courses and schools opening every day. What this means is that working industry experts are realising that they can make a lot of money selling their knowledge. In some cases, they can make more teaching a subject online than they can make practising it in their day job – but this also means there is a lot of competition. To make decent money from teaching online, they have to produce a complete course for a specific topic that is better than any other course online. Having experts compete with each other to provide amazing education for us, is a great thing.
Netflix and other streaming services introduced us to the world of on demand video. We’ve been spoilt and now everyone wants everything yesterday. Fortunately, it means if you decide you want to learn any topic, you will be able to find a course straight away and start learning instantly. If you’re thinking of a career change you can find a relevant eLearning site that caters for your topic and find out if that career is for you in a few days. How many people have spent years in education only to realise they don’t actually like the career they have invested so much time in?
Community of Learners
When you learn online, you don’t just get an expert tutor teaching you what they know. You have a whole community of people learning with you. This is great for motivation, for help if you get stuck, to find recommendations on other courses and it’s also great for networking. That all important element of any career path. It’s all about who you know and by learning online, you instantly connect with a community of people studying the same topic and who knows, maybe that person who helped you with your course can also be the person to give you your big break.
The real beauty of learning online is that the curriculum isn’t static. Let’s take creating websites as an example. If you go to college to learn how to code a website, chances are that by the time you finish your course, the technology you have learnt will be outdated. With online courses, it is not just important but necessary for the tutors to keep the content up to date. Any new technology that replaces old technology will be updated in the course to reflect the changes, almost in real time.
Something for Everyone!
The more you look into online education, the more you will find courses in topics you didn’t even know existed. Every single person can find a course that suits them to either learn a new hobby or to completely change their careers. Some eLearning platforms like Skillshare try to cater for every taste (and they do a very good job). Skillshare is more for the casual learner, someone who perhaps wants to develop their skills or make themselves more attractive to their boss. There are subscription learning portals such as Lynda.com, which started out as a platform for office software learning, but has rapidly expanded with hundreds of courses on Photography, Video Production and more. Then there are sites like GetFilming, which is an online film school and community. They specialise in teaching you everything you need to know to pursue your dream career as a filmmaker, whether that’s as a director, screenwriter, VFX artist or any other job in the Film and TV industry.
There are many reasons to want to learn something new. Personal development is a privilege we now have at our fingertips, so I say let’s take full advantage of it. Traditional education for years has been an exceptional way to teach and to learn, there’s no denying that. But if you are thinking of learning a new topic, I would highly recommend looking into online learning.