Appreciating the Primal – Part 5 – Location

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.


I’m Mighty Thor

May 22nd, 2011

Back in the late sixties when I first discovered the wonderful world of Marvel Comics, it was not only their terrific and varied artwork, their primal human insights, and their action which caught my eye.

Mainly, it was their humor.

From Peter Parker to J. Jonah Jameson to Doc Ock to The Silver Surfer to Ant Man (and his alter-ego Giant Man) to Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Captain America and Bucky to Iron Man to the Avengers to The Hulk to The Thing to The Fantastic Four to Doctor Strange to blind superhero Daredevil to Kid Colt, Outlaw to The Ghost Rider to, yes, The Mighty Thor – the great, late Stan Lee kept it all fun.

I mean, would the hyper-serious DC brand (Superman, Batman) ever have produced a comic takeoff on its own superheroes like “Not Brand Echhh?”  Could a young DC reader have joined anything like The Merry Marvel Marching Society (MMMS)?

Jon Favreau understood this when he directed “Iron Man.”  Combining his innate humor with that of Robert Downey, Jr., was exactly the right way to translate a Marvel property to film.

Which was why I cringed when I saw that Marvel Productions had handed the first (and likely last) of the “The Mighty Thor” franchise to Kenneth Branagh.  If you’ve ever viewed Branagh’s work, you know that he never fulfilled his early promise to be the next Olivier due to one major failing.

He takes himself too seriously.

For example, the trap in “Hamlet” – a version of which had Branagh as both director and lead actor – is to play the “melancholy Dane” as, well, melancholy.  In “Henry V,” also acted in and directed by Branagh, it’s to portray the reformed ne’er-do-well turned ruler as the utterly heroic, dyed-in-the-wool Englishman who leads his hundred to victory over the French ten thousand by pure dint of intensity.  In both cases, Branagh planted both feet firmly in the center of those errors.

There’s a whole school of film work which takes itself so seriously that it believes when it deigns to allow a moment to be humorous, we, the audience, will howl with gratitude.  What they never seem to realize is that we’re so uninterested by then that it’s lucky if it garners a smile.  Branagh is a master of that kind of work.

Now, “Thor” has a lot of problems.  I mean, any film which makes Anthony Hopkins look even vaguely pedestrian is not healthy at its core.  The screenplay is all over the universe, with only one character of any substance (the tormented villain, Loki), a rather denigrating take on not only Middle America but even our scientists, utterly overblown CGI and creature effects (what the heck was that whirling bronze cannon thing which propelled the Asgardians through the cosmos?) and a complete lack of decision about whether this was Star Wars or Star Man.

Okay, I did sort of like The Gatekeeper, but it was mainly because he seemed as befuddled about what was going on as I.

But the worst problem of all is “Thor”‘s humorlessness.  It’s not only anti-Marvel, it’s anti-audience.  And as anyone in the business knows, you’d better know your audience.  Even in my current incarnation doing website videos and marketing videos, every choice I make is based in my assessment of and empathy with the audience for which that particular film is geared.

So, Mr. Branagh, I, as a Member Emeritus of The Merry Marvel Marching Society hereby declaim your butchery of one of Marvel’s most beloved properties. In “Not Brand Echhh!” the takeoff version was “The Mighty Sore.”  Well, that’s me.

After grinding my teeth through your film, I’m Mighty Thor.

Appreciating the Primal – Part 4

May 14th, 2011

In writing your website videos, we’ve determined that what’s necessary is the skill of a television writer.  After all, when you or your spokesperson pops up on the website visitor’s screen, it’s much like a TV commercial.

Or is it?

Think about this – when a television ad comes on, are you expecting it?  Were you actively looking for it?  Is it always something you’re interested in purchasing?

Of course not.  The TV ad is designed to catch the attention of someone heading to the fridge or the bathroom.  To halt the conversation about to start during a break in the programming.  Maybe to get you to stop cleaning the living room for thirty seconds.  Which means it has to be loud, in-your-face, and perhaps funny.  Or absolutely quiet.

Regardless, something which will make you look up and pay attention, and on the fourth or fifth pass, get you interested in buying.

Not so with website videos.  This audience is sitting at the computer or PDF searching for exactly what you sell.  They’re already sold on the idea.  They just need to decide on whom to place their trust to deliver the goods.

So when writing the teleplay for your website videos, remember the following:

1. As hard as it is, don’t sell.  No elevator speeches here.  Be comfortable and conversational.  Don’t be inappropriate for the intimate relationship between the viewer and the device, or you’ll be back-buttoned into the ether before two seconds have passed.

2. Keep your eye on the ball, which is to immediately relay a sense of who you are.  While not so casual as to be sloppy, don’t shy away from relaxed dialogue.  Use contractions.  Throw in a “well” or “yep.”  Stay away from arcane terminology, particularly if it’s grossly multi-syllabic.

3. Make sure, however, that it’s all in the context of what you do.  We don’t want to see (as I recently noticed on a substantial law firm’s site) you putting on your scuba gear, or dancing in your ballet tutu, or sitting before your easel covered in paint.  It’s great that you do those things, but that’s not what we’re there for.

4.  Keep each piece short, not much over :30 seconds, if that long (keep testimonials, which I don’t like to script, even shorter).  Four short website videos on four separate pages is easily preferable to a single piece four times as long on your Home Page.  A couple of reasons:  Longer videos are more difficult to download and watch smoothly.  And if the visitor views a compelling video on the Home Page and then clicks on the, say, About Us Page, without any video, it will feel deader than Frank McCourt’s chances of keeping The Dodgers.

5. Read it aloud.  Over and over.  If something doesn’t come out of your mouth comfortably, then rewrite it until it does.

Hey, you can’t always hire a professional TV writer.  But if you follow these rules, and take your time doing it, you may just find that the script for you website video or marketing video will be pretty darned good.

Once the script is right, the next step in making effective website videos is the filming.  We’ll begin on the various elements available and which are necessary in the next post.