Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Looking Your Best on Skype

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

You’re probably not thrilled by the way you look on Skype.  As any DP (Director of Photography) in TV or film will tell you, fluorescents from directly above as your primary (or sole) source of light will probably not be the most effective way to show yourself off.  You may look like you’re losing your hair, the shine off of your forehead could be blinding.  The hollows under your eyes, not especially noticeable in life, may suddenly inspire thoughts of Dracula.  A worn-out Dracula.  The shadow under your chin is, well, disconcerting.

In other words, you could look a lot better.  And you know what?  It’s easy to fix.

First, place a desk lamp next to and close by your computer screen, so that when turned on it will light the front of your face (Front Light).  For a more dramatic effect, move it to the side, which will create shadows on one side of your face.  Place another lamp behind you (but out of the camera’s frame).  This will be your Back Light, serving to separate you from the background and focus the viewer’s attention even more on the subject – you.  Don’t switch these lights on yet.

Now, turn off the overhead lights.  Wow, surprising, right?  Although it may seem quite dark in the office, the auto-iris in your webcam has adjusted and you can still be clearly seen in the screen.

Turn on the front light, sit back, and look at yourself.  Add the backlight and again take a look.  Switch off the front light and, once more, check yourself out.  You’ve now seen five variations – overhead lights, no light, front light, backlight, and both front and backlight.  I suspect you’ll like the last one best, although you may want to adjust the position of the table lamps – especially the front light – until you’ve hit exactly the look you’d like for that particular conversation.  For example, if you’re trying to assert a powerful position, more dramatic is usually better, and if you’d like to convey a friendlier tone, the more straight-on, “flat” look would likely be ideal.

Skyping is just another version of website video.  As in any marketing video, be sure you embrace the film-makers’ craft.  After all, thousands of film production artists have been working for well over a century to figure out just how to do it right.


Your Website Videos – Appreciating the Primal – Part 7 – Testimonials

Friday, July 1st, 2011

It’s obvious.

A written testimonial, no matter how laudatory, can never match a website video with a client looking into the camera and sincerely extolling your virtues.  There are several things standing between you and that lovely outcome, however.

The first concern I usually hear is, interestingly enough, the one which is the least problematic.  “What if I can’t get them to come in and do it?”  Well, think about it.  To even be considered, the potential testimonial subject must be someone who is a happy, longtime client, or who has had a truly exceptional shorter experience with you.  How else could they give you the testimonial you want?  And, in either of those cases, they’re usually very positive about coming in to help you out.

The biggest obstacles have to do with time and nerves.  Most clients, no matter how kindly disposed to you, have very little time.  Flexibility and empathy in scheduling are the keys.  You’ll almost certainly want to shoot all of your website videos in one day, so try to fit your testimonial subjects in first.  Plan on those doing the filming (your crew, whether professional or inhouse) to arrive early, say 7:30.  This applies equally to a weekday or a weekend day shoot.  Then offer early time slots to your testimonial subjects.  Most working people are used to starting early and will want to be finished before their day really gets going.  Make the time concrete and limited, ideally a half an hour for each, comprised of 15 minutes for makeup (an absolute must, especially on HD with lights) and 15 minutes on-camera.  That way, you can schedule your testimonial subjects every quarter hour starting at, say, 8:00 a.m., and be finished with all of them by 9:00 (even with glitches, it shouldn’t extend beyond 9:30).  That will leave you the rest of the morning to film your main videos.  If a subject requests a later time, say 11:00, then start on your other items earlier, knowing you’ll be shooting that testimonial at 11:15 when the subject is out of makeup.

In other words, do what you would do anyway – pay attention to whatever will make it easiest for your clients to help you.

You’ve got them scheduled and ready to come in.  You’ve told them what to wear (including no white whites and no tight patterns).  Now, what are they going to say?

As much as I believe your lines (or your spokesperson’s) should be scripted and memorized, I believe that testimonial subjects should speak from their hearts, including the occasional hesitation or slight grammatical error.  Don’t forget, they’ll all come in with an idea of what they want to say and how they want to say it.  It’s the job of whomever is directing your marketing videos (and, again, why a pro is by far the best choice) to modulate the pace and content.  It might involve actually re-wording what the subject says on the first pass.  It might be as simple as saying, “Tell me exactly the same thing – in half the time.”  Don’t forget that almost always each pass will improve, and it will be a short road to getting what you want.

The key is not to cut and move on until you’ve got it right.  You’ll have the urge to release the client when the testimonial is getting close, but in the end neither of you will be happy you did it.  It’s always worth another couple of passes, if that’s what it takes.  When it’s just right, you’ll know it, and will be very happy you held your client there for that extra couple minutes.  Also, most often, each take relaxes the subject.  As he gets on top of his breath and in his body, the deeper notes will come out.

Finally, don’t forget that you don’t have to use the entire testimonial.  Listen carefully, be the audience.  The idea is to get approximately :20 seconds for each piece, but if you find there’s a :12 second gem in the center of it, that’s all you really need.  You’ll just edit it out in post.

Now that you’ve got your testimonials handled, the next performance element we’ll discuss for your website videos are those people portraying office workers, clients, and the like.

In the film world, they’re called Background.

Appreciating the Primal – Part 5 – Location

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

You’ve got the script for your website videos.  Four separate speeches, about :30 seconds each, one apiece for your Home, About Us, Services, and FAQ pages.  You’ve gotten your lines down and it’s time to shoot.  Now, you’ve got a big question to answer.  “Where do I film this?”

There are typically three choices for location.  Your facility, a rented/borrowed location, or a stage.

There are several advantages to using your own place.

You control the environment, either it’s yours or, being a tenant, you’re in a strong position with building management.  Interior practical lighting, sound, a/c, space for craft services and makeup.  It’s cheap.  Since website videos are essentially to introduce you as a person, you’ve got personal items at hand to use and film.  It’s comfortable and comforting.  You have or can have employees as background.  If you step outside (recommended for at least the About Us page), you’ve already got a sense of what backgrounds may be compelling.

The primary advantage of a rented/borrowed location is that it may fit your vision of how your company should be portrayed better than your actual office.  For example, at Cloudwalker Videoworks, I had one client which did all of its business by phone.  Its offices, in San Francisco, were small and non-descript.  But the owners wanted to convey a strong corporate image.  So I went to a large office leasing company and rented a space in one of the Century City Towers.  A huge reception area with a striking conference room behind it and, through the floor-to-ceiling windows, exceptional views of two other high-rises.  When we put the owners and one wife in the conference room and another woman at the reception desk, with a couple of others chatting in the hallway, the spokeperson’s background was a powerful statement about the company.  And, most importantly, one which would in no way appear questionable to the viewer.

The potential drawbacks of renting/borrowing a location include expense, limited control over the environment, usually a hard in and out time, and the possibility of someone else working (and not wanting to be disturbed) while the shoot is going on.

The third option is renting a stage, including one with a green screen.  Website videos shot on stage usually are in front of a “cyc,” or hard, flat background.  Generally white, the cyc can be lit to a color and/or shaded to give texture.  There is expense involved, including the facility, lights, a/c, a stage manager, and, perhaps, parking.  Although it can be effective in certain kinds of marketing video work, for website videos I find it too controlled, too careful.  On a primal level, this can cause the audience to wonder what you’re hiding.

I tend to lobby hard against green screen.  Even if done well – and all too often it’s not – the audience is easily smart enough to discern that the subject isn’t really where the key would have you believe he or she is.  This runs counter to the most important primal goal of your website videos – trust.  The immediate visceral reaction is, “They’re trying to fool me.”  Or, “They must think I’m not smart enough to get that this isn’t real.”  Not necessarily something which can be articulated, but a feeling, which is far more powerful than intellectualization.

There’s also a style, especially among attorneys, which has something like a statehouse or a huge U.S. flag waving in the wind behind the speaker.  Without exception, this serves only to distract the viewer from what should be the subject – you or your spokesperson.  Nothing around the speaker should feel more important than the subject himself.

Now that you’ve got a sense of where you’d like to shoot, the next blog in this series will address how.