Posts filed under ‘video’
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.
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!
Every April, 103,000 of my colleagues in media and I descend on Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters Convention. Here are some of the out of the way eateries I’ve discovered over the years. Please add more! See you in Vegas!
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 http://bit.ly/ADatNAB16. Please stop by!
It happens more often than we’d all like to admit that inexperienced speakers are selected to deliver important information directly to the camera. Whether they are the head of a department, the leader of an initiative, an enthusiastic volunteer, or the child of the executive producer, this person might not be all that comfortable with a teleprompter, or might not work with cameras and crews every day the way professionals do. That doesn’t mean you can’t direct a confident delivery. But your approach will need to differ from how you’d work with an actor or an experienced on-camera speaker.
I Need to Direct My Boss on Camera, Now What?!
One strategy for encouraging a natural delivery from your speaker is to do a quick Q&A with them off-camera first. I often stand farther away than is truly necessary, and lean forward. This is to encourage a slightly louder speaking voice from the talent. It forces us both to connect on purpose, not simply by default. It’s surprising how often this Q&A approach works quite nicely, and feels natural.
Another strategy is to suggest in advance of your shoot day that the “host” practices a bit by recording themselves with their phone. Even though I have spoken before rooms with hundreds of people, before I taped my first Lynda.com course, I did the same thing. Speaking to a lens is vastly different than talking to people who react in real time. The first thing that struck me about my pre-recording was I didn’t smile enough. Even thinking about smiling helps the delivery seem more natural and congenial.
What About a Teleprompter?
Most folks aren’t aware of how much skill goes into reading from a teleprompter. Some people also do better with bullet points, rather than full copy. If you intend to use a prompter, you will need to add 30 minutes to your recording time for several rehearsals, to let the person get used to reading the words naturally. Most people trip up on one major issue: that the prompter follows them, not the other way around. They will get progressively slower as they read, waiting for the prompter to “catch up” when the prompter is actually following their speed. You’ll also need to add some big gaps to force people to slow down their read.
How to Work with Kids for Direct-to-Camera Videos
Kids are naturals. Don’t over-coach them. Do give them examples in advance from kids’ shows they like to watch. Remember that audition pre-interview? Ask a few questions about shows they like, so you can reference them just before and during the shoot. Encourage kids to practice with their i-things at home. But the best thing you can do with kids is be a supportive cheerleader. Use the same tools for keeping parents out of sightlines that you use with other gatekeepers: give them their own monitor, preferably out of the room. But check in periodically to be sure they’re happy. Because a happy parent will be a great ally for you as you create a positive experience with your production team
This blog post is excerpted from my new book The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera (Focal Press/Routledge). Purchase the book here Buy Real People on Camera. Or if you are coming to #NAB16 please stop by my Post|Production World session on getting the best with real people on camera – info Amy at NABShow on Real People.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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 upcoming book The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera (Focal/Routledge). Details and pre-orders 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