If you’re hoping for your latest content to go viral, it has to do one thing: evoke strong emotion.
– Scott Stratton, Fast Company
Audiences expect quality these days. I’m not just talking about production quality, although in many cases that’s quite important. I’m also talking about the quality of your video’s story. Does your video even tell a story? If it does, is the story simple, honest, and direct? And does it appeal, on an emotional level, to your audience?
Video can be incredibly powerful, it’s the most effective way to intimately connect, to convey ideas and get your message across. But video has to be done right to be effective, and even more so if you wish the video (or better yet, the ideas you’ve presented in your video) to go viral.
These days, even corporate videos are expected to evoke emotion and tell a story. The old ways just don’t work anymore, audiences are more sophisticated and have higher expectations. And it doesn’t matter if your audience is the general public or your employees at a sales meeting. If you don’t work hard to tell your story in a way that grabs them, you’ve lost them.
Google expects their people to spend 20% of their time working on pet projects. That’s a whole day a week. It’s a really great idea, and not just because it often results in new products and services for Google to offer the world. It also makes for better performance at one’s “day job”. Google’s not the only big company pushing the idea of encouraging their people to spend time working on projects not directly related to their “real jobs”, either. 3M’s been doing it since forever. And they brought us post-its, so you know they’re onto something.
That insistence on working on pet projects and playtime gets me thinking about our business, the business of video & film production. Often there’s not enough playfulness involved- I know a ton of talented guys who spend all their time going from video production gig to video production gig. Never resting. Never tinkering with pet projects. I’ve watched a lot of them get burned out, and most of them fall into a rut, where their videos get stuck at a certain quality level and never progress to the next level.
I really believe that all push and no play makes one a dull person. That’s why we’re always working on a couple side projects while we do our paid projects. It makes our paid work better, and it makes us more well-rounded people. Sometimes, it even opens our minds to new ways of doing things.
Whatever kind of films or videos you make, this is a great time to be a filmmaker. There’s amazing cinema-quality cameras out there that are affordable (Blackmagic Cinema Camera, 2K Raw footage), super high-end stuff that’s becoming affordable for professionals to own, not rent (RED Scarlet-X), and now, finally, ultraportable “crash cams” like the new GoPro Black Edition (2.7K footage).
The big drawback of the GoPro is its codec: it only records in H264 mode, which isn’t as robust as what professionals like. But it does have a HDMI out, so it’s likely possible that you’ll be able to hook up something like an Atomos Ninja to it someday, for better quality footage. Here’s a link to the GoPro announcement.
They’re hoping to start shipping in November. Which may mean you won’t be able to actually get it until Spring, who knows. But I do think this is a camera that every professional video production company will have in their filmmaking kit. Again, not as a main camera, but as a specialty one.
I’m excited. These are the kinds of tools that even a wealthy person, or a high-end production company could not afford even a few years ago. It’s a great time to be a filmmaker, and I can’t wait to continue using these tools to tell amazing stories, both for myself and for our corporate video clients.
Most of you know we shoot primarily on RED digital cinema cameras, in 4K (that’s a lot more than HD) resolution for our corporate videos, TV commercials, web spots, and so forth. It’s one of the many things that set us apart from the competition, as RED helps us deliver images that look as good as feature films for a fraction of the price.
When I bought our original RED One, we qualified for the very generous trade-in to RED’s latest generation cameras. Problem was, I was shooting a film and those cameras weren’t ready, yet. So instead, I just upgraded our RED One to a RED MX (new sensor, new SSD storage, etc). That camera performed amazingly on my film “Unlaced”, and it’s done a lot of work for clients, too.
But I’d always pined for the latest generation of RED cameras. Why? Because as awesome as our RED MX is, it’s a beast. It’s heavy. It gets really hot. And it’s a pain to travel with on airplanes. Still, our window for the trade-in to the latest generation had closed, so I figured we’d just suck it up for a couple of years and deal with what we have.
I considered jumping ship to BlackMagic Designs for smaller jobs, to still deliver quality work to our clients, even putting in an order for their new 2K Cinema Camera.
But today RED made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. They’d rented out a limited number of Scarlet-X cameras for a big project, and they are re-selling them for about 40% off their list price. I just had to jump on that, and we cancelled our BlackMagic order. For what we do, staying on the cutting edge is important. Moving down to 2K from 4K doesn’t seem smart. Plus, we already own all the stuff we need to make REDs work, and we know how to make gorgeous pictures with RED.
And now we can offer our clients multi-camera shoots, which will come in very handy going forward.
We do a lot of local and regional TV commercials, along with the occasional national spot, and we’ve won a ton of awards for some really good work we’ve done in that space. After working with a variety of clients from the Fortune 500 to Mom-and-Pops, it’s become painfully obvious: the reason many spots just don’t work is a total lack of focus and the absence of a solid concept.
Conversely, if you create a local TV commercial that has a strong concept and message, one that’s focused and not scattered, you’re miles ahead of the competition.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
We do a lot of broadcast video and corporate films, but we also do a fair amount of video designed for the web. So I’ve learned a few things about how to do web video right.
Web Video Tip #1: If you’re still shooting using interlaced video- stop that! You shouldn’t be shooting interlaced anymore, anyway, unless you’re shooting sports videos. Even corporate videos deserve progressive-scan video signals, and web videos look a ton better when you get rid of that ugly “1980s” look by shooting with a camera that can shoot progressive, not interlaced.
Web Video Tip #2: Shoot to deliver your video at 24p. It looks way more filmic and cool.
Web Video Tip #3: If you’re going for a cinematic quality (and you should be, to stand out), try to minimize shaky camera moves. They scream “cheap amateur”. This is why you invest in things like tripods, dollies, and Steadicams.
Web Video Tip #4: Make sure you expose properly! You have no idea how much crappy video we see, here. Usually we’re asked if we can fix it. If the video involves blown-out highlights, we can’t fix it at all. Some places to watch for blown out video: foreheads of men. Noses. Anything that gets too shiny when you shoot. And yes, some video has blown out backgrounds. That’s usually not so bad, it doesn’t look as amateurish as blown out faces.
Web Video Tip #5: Audio quality matters! If you can’t use a dedicated soundman, then at least record with lavaliere microphones and listen to the audio as it’s being laid down. Ideally, you’ll be recording into a separate audio system. Why? Because most cameras’ onboard audio sucks. Sometimes, we run a mike into the camera and still record a separate, higher-quality mike into our dedicated audio recorder. Then, in post we use software that automatically syncs the good audio to the camera audio. Then again, we almost always use a dedicated soundman, too.
Upon reflection, each these tips applies equally well to almost any kind of video you create, if you’re going for a quality look for your message. But many companies and organizations don’t put as much thought into creating a web video as they do when creating, say, a corporate film or a TV commercial. As the web becomes the dominant medium in our culture, learning to do your web video correctly will help you stand out, and give your message the best chance possible of connecting with people.
According to Dr. James McQuivey of Forrester research (and really, he’d know, right?), a minute of video is worth about 1.8 million words. That’s something like 36,000 web pages. It’s a stack of novels. It’s… well, it’s a lot.
I’m not sold on a minute of video being the equivalent of almost two million words. But a well-crafted video that really shows off your company is an incredibly smart investment. It makes sense- the average attention span of an adult is now hovering at around 8 seconds. What’s going to grab and maintain that interest- reading words, or watching a well-made video? Video engages like nothing else: over 70% of consumers online watch online videos, and experts say that the amount of online traffic that’s video-related will jump to 90% by 2013.
That’s huge. You want a part of that for your business, right?
Now, for a company that wants to put its best foot forward and engage its customers, video’s a win. Pretty much everyone knows that. But a problem still remains- how do you stand out from the competition with your video? I have a few thoughts on that, but they’re for another post. Stay tuned!
We’re in the middle of a pretty large project that involves CEOs from major companies from around the globe. I wish I could say more about the project, but I cannot. I can say this: the corporate video departments of these multibillion dollar corporations really ought to invest in some quality video equipment, especially with regards to new cameras. Much of the footage we’ve received has been in the dreaded colorspace 4:2:0 that cheaper HDV cameras put out. And that’s a problem.
It’s not only a problem because the footage comes in as interlaced video. We can fix that. But 4:2:0 video doesn’t key well, and many of the shots we’re dealing with involve greenscreen keys.
I feel bad for the corporate videographers shooting this stuff. It doesn’t matter how hard they work it, they’re stuck with a colorspace that makes their video look bad.
As for us, of course we shoot on RED. Which is a digital negative, basically a 4:4:4 full colorspace image. The difference is startling. Yes, it costs a lot more. But it’s absolutely worth it to get rid of that cheap video look that 4:2:0 gives. That’s technology from the early 2000s. It’s time for it to go.
And yeah, it’d make this project a lot easier if we could have gotten quality video footage. Ah, well. We’re not just great cinematographers, we’re also pretty handy in the edit suite. We’ll make it work, and we’ll make it look outstanding.
Brandon, our friend at MidasMount, has been working on a special new prototype SnapFocus/Shoulder rig for our RED MX camera. We’ve got one of the very first prototype SnapFocus devices, which allow us to pull focus on the fly as we shoot, without needing a second person to pull focus, like traditional film cameras do. The SnapFocus is a huge advance, and will let us get some amazing shots that previously wouldn’t have been possible.
I’ve donated the shoulder pad support from our Birns & Sawyer shoulder mount to the cause, and Brandon’s bringing out the acetylene torch and the welding kit to build us a one-of-a-kind, RED MX version of his awesome invention.
Stay tuned for pictures, as this project develops.
A couple years back, AdWeek wrote about a study by Dynamic Logic on the effectiveness of reusing your existing TV commercials on the web vs. creating new, web-focused video advertising for your brand. The results? Both have a place, and you can use both effectively. Original web video does better on converting people to customers, though. Here’s a link to the original article.
And a special shout out ‘thank you’! to our friends and colleagues at Explore Media in Indiana for pointing out this ‘oldie but goodie’!