Top Writing Challenges for Short Nonfiction Video

“Helping people understand what can and can’t be communicated through video” and “Keeping viewers engaged” are two top sticking points for the video writers who attended my workshop during GV Expo this morning. We covered strategies and tools for writers to get better results with video. Top tips include:

  1. Define the goals for your video. Use a Creative brief to outline these goals, along with your story approach, point of view, creative look, and any budgetary or scheduling requirements.  Include a few success measures–“if this video is successful, what does that look like?” This might mean a lot more than number of views. It might mean the number of minutes reduced in customer service calls, or the number of registrations for next year’s event. Think measurable goals!
  2. Define your characters. A 1-2 minute video doesn’t need more than one main character.  Supplemental characters include setting and music, which play an important role in how the audience views your subject.
  3. Define your story arc. Everyone thinks about narrative arc with fiction, but engaging nonfiction stories have them, too.  What’s your hook? It needs to grab your audience in the first 15-30 seconds, before the dreaded initial drop-off in viewing happens. What’s after your hook—how do you give the back story quickly and efficiently? What’s the central challenge of the character and how do they overcome it (the climax)? And as your story winds down, do you include a call to action?
  4. Use tools and workflow. Get transcriptions done if you are creating an interview-based story. The roughly $25 per person will be worth it! Then you can focus on finding those elements that move your story forward. Plan a writing workflow that gives you the flexibility to find the hidden stories, but develop creative that meets your goals. Especially if you are writing for animation, you will have to be very detailed in your approach to story so that you allow time for storyboarding, keyframes and animation tests.

Amy DeLouise is a scriptwriter and video director working in short form nonfiction. A slide deck from her writing workshop at GVExpo is on the Speaker tab of this website. Don’t forget it’s #GivingTuesday. Join me in buying a gift for a child in need through Central Union Mission Operation Christmas Miracle.

December 1, 2015 at 3:29 pm Leave a comment

Ram Tough Branding to Women

Women are Ram tough. That’s the message from Ram Truck’s newest commercial “The Courage is Already Inside” featuring women doing hard things. It’s a well-produced and welcome message in the usually testosterone-obsessed truck segment. (Dodge has even produced some negative portrayals of women, notably in its Charger commercial during Superbowl 2010.)

As many of you readers of my blog know, I am a car-lovin’ gal, and so whenever there’s a convergence of great branding and car stuff, I’m all ears and eyes.  This new ad from The Richards Group agency caught my attention. Directed by Jaci Judelson, the spot breaks new territory in car marketing to women. Judelson’s images are gritty, nuanced, and human. She has worked on Dove’s “Real Women” series, among other commercial ventures, and directed the new Sundance series Single Stories.  Marketing to women has come a long way.  And by positioning this brand to appeal to strong-minded women and men, Ram is leading the charge.


Amy DeLouise is a nonfiction Director/Producer and consults and speaks on branding, marketing, and digital storytelling. Join her with fellow speakers at GVExpo December 1st and 2nd at the Washington DC Convention Center.

November 28, 2015 at 12:04 pm Leave a comment

Board Diversity Impacts ROI

It’s hardFoliage as Shapes - IMG_0052 s.c to find an organization today that’s not focused on, or at least giving lip service to, diversity. But have you ever considered the cost to your organization of not having a diverse leadership team? When Catalyst first came out with their study about the ROI for investors of companies with more diverse boards, many were surprised. But the numbers were clear: Return on Equity, Return on Sales and Return on Invested Capital were all significantly higher (53%, 42% and 66% respectively) for companies with more women on their boards.

The same is true for nonprofit boards.  Boards lacking diversity can make poor financial decisions, such as investing the bulk of their endowment with an investment manager  “everyone knows.” Boards lacking diversity can miss big opportunities to reach new communities and new donors. They can miss out on creating new partnerships.

So how can you create a more diverse board?

First, let’s define diversity. When I meet with boards on this topic, everyone’s first instinct is to think ethnicity and gender. These are important. But just as vital to decision-making are having people of diverse ages, life experiences, socio-economic backgrounds, family structures, and more.

Range of Ages. The most common lack of diversity I see on boards is related to age. And the most common form of ageism I see is against younger people (which on boards tends to mean under- 35). Yet the views of the 18-35 set, and their facility with the internet and social media tools, makes them especially valuable on boards.

Varied Life Experiences. Another area where boards often lack diversity is in life experiences. That’s because so many people are recruited to boards by friends, business associates or college/grad school classmates. So if you have one corporate lawyer on your board, you’re likely to have two or more. That’s not to say anything against lawyers, but there is also diversity among types of legal expertise and it could benefit your board to have more than one kind. Life experiences also include living overseas, blended families, military families, LGBT, and religious background.

Personal Attributes. A third area for boards to focus on when attaining diversity is a mix of personal styles and personality attributes. Even if you’re board is every color of the rainbow, if every person on it is a forceful leader, you’re going to have trouble filling your committees. By the same token, if everyone is a quiet, behind-the-scenes type of operator, you’ll have trouble finding committee chairs every year. You need a mix of several personality types to make a board fully functional.

Varied Connections. Finally, board diversity requires diverse community connections. One of the most overlooked areas for recruiting board members is among the clergy. Rabbis, priests, and ministers tend to know a lot of people in their communities, as well as other organizations that are making a difference there. That makes them great “connectors” to have on your board, irrespective of whether your organization has a religious mission. Other great connectors are people who volunteer in communities in which your organization wants to reach. And also don’t overlook individuals who serve on national boards, where they make contacts all across the country.

Tapping diverse talents always leads to a stronger board. And a stronger board helps you avoid costly mistakes and deliver on your bottom line: the mission.

Amy DeLouise is a video producer/director and consultant who works primarily with nonprofits and their leadership teams.

September 5, 2015 at 12:18 pm Leave a comment

4 Ways to Keep Restricted Gifts From Killing Your Mission and Brand

Every fundraiser should cringe when offered a restricted gift. Sweet Briar College found out the hard way.
$56M out of their $84M endowment is restricted. That’s  2/3 of its endowment, but even more if you consider past, present and future earnings on those funds.  And so it makes sense that the recent reprieve for the women’s college, which was about to shutter its doors, included an effort to waive some of those limitations. 
Restrictions are popular with donors. Who wants to give millions for playing fields and find out they’ve been used to renovate the cafeteria? But the overarching driver should be delivering on mission. And tying the hands of leadership in making decisions for today’s students/patients/recipents etc. can, in fact, compromise the overall mission.
Of course, many donors have personal projects that motivate them to give. And tapping into those interests is part of Fundraising 101. But even when donors have the institution’s mission at  heart, changing times and future needs are hard to plan for–in Sweet Briar’s case, many gifts were made over 100 years ago.
So how can a nonprofit institution ensure that funds raised today support the mission tomorrow?
1. Pose the What If’s. When speaking to a donor interested in a restricted gift, offer some examples of unforseen, mission-focused challenges. Use examples from other segments of the sector: Food banks once conceived to serve the urban poor are rethinking how to feed suburban underserved populations. Girls schools are grappling with how to meet the needs of transgender students. Pediatric hospitals are figuring out how to serve HIV survivors now in their twenties and thirties. Environmental groups focused on once endangered species are now pivoting to tackle the massive implications of global climate change.
2. Be Proactive. Board leaders need to think ahead by staying engaged with donors. Before a donor becomes elderly or infirm, they should discuss how restrictions can be eased to support original intent (as tied to mission) without limiting opportunities (the vision for the future of the nonprofit).
3. “Self Insure”. If a substantial gift is permanently restricted due to the donor being deceased, the financial leadership should target raising a percentage of that base gift every year to “insure” the institution against too much imbalance in the portfolio, much like they already adjust the balance in stock, bond or real estate holdings.
4. Just Say No. Occasionally, institutions have bravely declined large gifts, because they knew the restrictions could substantively alter their brand for decades to come.
Restricted gifts can be a godsend. But they can also kill your nonprofit brand, which means how you deliver on the mission for those you serve. Hopefully Sweet Briar’s experience will be a shoot across the bow for any other nonprofits–not just colleges–with too much restricted giving putting their mission at risk.

Amy DeLouise works with nonprofits on telling their mission story through video and other content. She has chaired nonprofit finance comittees and knows what it’s like to be responsible, as a volunteer board member working with staff, for overseeing endowment finances.

June 21, 2015 at 2:57 pm Leave a comment

Hacking Video in 10 Essential Steps

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.

May 21, 2015 at 11:05 am Leave a comment

5 Ways to Close the Gender Gap in Media and Tech

GendergapTweetI’m not a hand-wringer. Neither are most women in TV/film/media production. We’re do-ers. That’s how we got into this business in the first place. At NABShow, the annual conference of the broadcast and media production industry that draws 100,000 to Vegas (and about 85,000 of the attendees are men), I was privileged to moderate a panel on the subject of closing the gender gap in production. The panel included Ellen Wixted, Adobe; Siân Fever, Editor (UK) and GBFTE Governor; Megan McGough Christian, WGBH; and Kylee Wall, Editor and blogger on Creative Cow –who pushed to have the panel be part of the event.  You can watch the whole discussion here:

Special thanks to Creative Cow, Adobe and FMC, who supported and publicized this effort, and helped to make it a priority in an industry event known for, well, a lot of “Vegas booth babes.” Prior to the event, we pulled together some dismal statistics across the industry. But we also talked about solutions. I was thrilled by the number of men in the packed room, the number of millennials ready to tackle this challenge, and the interesting and continued commentary online afterwards (primarily on Twitter—see #postgendergap).  Please pass the link along and share your solutions using the #postgendergap hashtag.

Here are some of the simple ideas we proposed, plus a few more I’ve thought of since:

  1. Take Names Off Resumes. All of us have bias, and it’s not just gender-related. So give yourself and your company the advantage of finding the best person for the job by removing bias in the hiring process. There’s all kinds of data to back this up, by the way. A University of Melbourne study  showed that people with “simple” names were promoted more easily. In other words, people with less ethnic-sounding names. A University of Ohio study showed that women with more feminine sounding names had less career success in traditionally male jobs. And a Wharton study using mock email addresses with 6,500 professors at 259 top US universities found them more likely to meet with and mentor students with white male names.
  2. Promote Young Women for Potential. A 2011 McKinsey report—famously quoted by Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In–showed that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on performance.  This means young women get shut out of the tech leadership pipeline more quickly than their male counterparts. We know that is true, because the statistics on gender in film schools is about even. Yet 10 years out, women only hold 17% of the industry jobs. We also know from the recent Women in Film/Sundance study that men and women win awards at film festivals at an equal rate, yet men are offered their first major directing gig by big studios afterwards, and women are not. In other words, men are snapped up for their directing potential. You can change that, by seeing the potential in a young woman behind the camera, or in another “technical” job, and help her climb that ladder. Oh, and if you are posting a job for Director of Photography, please ask for a DoP and not a “cameraman.”
  3. Promote Experienced Men and Women Based on Performance not Style. Once we get into the higher ranks of leadership, the tables turn. The very leadership qualities that make someone effective—being bold, being assertive—are often held against women. Women need to be more choosy about when they are assertive, or they will be perceived as not team players at best, b*tches, or worse.  As an employer you can change this by promoting women and men for the job they accomplish. Period. On the flip side, if you are a woman, you’re going to need to be more assertive about asking for more pay. But somehow do it in a way that isn’t b*tchy Hmm. This strikes me as forcing women into some kind of no-win situation regarding what kind of “style” they will present in the workplace. So how about promoting based on performance?
  4. Hand Out Clean-Up Jobs Equally. Invite Women to the Party. Study after study has shown that women tend to be asked to get coffee and clean up after meetings, no matter what their role. It’s easy to change this. Post a sign in the office kitchen: “This week’s kitchen boss is…Bob” and rotate among all your employees equally.  The flip side of this coin is making sure women int he office are invited to after-hours happy hours and meetups the same way men are. Only then can they be seen as colleagues and friends, and develop personal relationships with mentors.
  5. Put Women on Stage. At conference after conference that I attend in the tech and media industries, there is just one token woman on the stage as a speaker. Surely we can find more women for these high visibility posts? Conference planners, look for women to speak. And reach out to groups like Innovation Women, which offers a women-in-tech speakers bureau. We’re out here. So the onus is on you to change the balance on stage at your next event.

Amy DeLouise is a multi-media director, producer, speaker and author in the media/content industry. She’s happy to bring everyone coffee on the set, as long as someone invites her to the happy hour after the shoot.

May 5, 2015 at 10:59 am Leave a comment

8 Good Eats at #NABShow

Caesars Palace ADGreat food and Vegas go together. But if you’re attending #NABShow, as I am this week, you may want some finds beyond the big name restaurants on the strip. Here are some  of my favs. Please add more!

1. Lotus of Siam. Excellent, authentic, and seriously spicy–Thai cuisine. Try the spicy prawns or the sea bass in any of the three sauces–I’ve had the ginger sauce with mushrooms and it was divine.

2. Kaizon Fusion Roll. Asia fusion with interesting (and gigantic) sushi roll combinations in a low-key, hip bar atmosphere. Just across street from Hard Rock Casino, but not nearly as pricey as their famous sushi spot.

3. Lindo Michoacan. A local Mexican 3-restaurant chain well regarded, including by my local friend whose wife hails from Mexico.

4. Sen of Japan gets rave reviews and is more authentic Japanese, for purists.

5. Pamplemousse. Locals go here for special occasion, reasonably authentic French fare. Haven’t tried it myself, so give me your feedback.

6. Echo and Rig Pick out your cut of steak, then have it grilled up at the restaurant next door. Talk about “on-demand” dining!

7. Piero’s. A Las Vegas institution and close to the Convention Center where we’re all living for this conference. Dinner only.

8. The only Vegas eatery on the strip that makes my list is Beijing Noodle No.9 at Caesar’s. Try the Soup Dumplings–the soup is actually IN the dumplings, not the other way around!–and a bowl of Lanzhou noodle soup.

Amy DeLouise is a writer/producer/author speaking all week at NABShow–the National Association of Broadcasters convention–in Las Vegas. Her Post/Production World classes are listed here. Please stop by!

April 8, 2015 at 10:05 am Leave a comment

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About Amy

Amy is a strategist and digital storyteller who helps people connect with great brands--mostly nonprofit ones. She's a popular speaker, consultant, workshop leader and multimedia content producer. Find Amy at amy [at]amydelouise[dot]com. or join her on Twitter: @brandbuzz.

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