Diary of a simple online video

[Sunday, June 20] Tonight, instead of commenting on videos that already exist online, I’m asking you to ride with me as I make a new video. It’ll be a simple story–I’m guessing under two minutes long. As usual, I’m not going to talk much about technical aspects. The focus here is on seeing the story: envisioning a tale to tell that will accomplish my goal, then taking the steps necessary to turn that vision into a reality. OK, fasten your seat belt … let’s go!

A runner on the trail in Cold Spring Park, NewtonWell, that’s a bit over the top. For this saga you won’t need a seat belt, because it’s a jog around the park–literally. A bit o’ background: When my wife and I moved here, to Newton, MA, years ago, one of the things I loved about the neighborhood was a park with a beautiful mile-and-a-half trail around it. It was used and appreciated by neighbors and track teams alike. But years passed and budgets shrank, and by now the trail has become a minefield of protruding stones and roots. When I told our new mayor about the decay of this wonderful resource, he had a city worker contact me. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to walk around the park with arborist Marc Welch, and I’ll take my trusty Canon HV30 along. I’m hoping that a video will help persuade city officials to open the municipal purse for this worthy project.

Ha! The above description already contains Step 1 and Step 2 of seeing my story: I know the audience (city officials) and the purpose (persuade them to revive a deteriorating resource). Knowing those two things should make planning the production much easier. (Rule 86: Even simple “throwaway” videos can use planning.)

This time I won’t script anything in advance (though it’s usually a good idea). I’ll just jot down a few bullet points of what I want to capture tomorrow morning:

  • Beauty shots of park and trail (a great resource for residents)
  • Horror shots of trail deterioration
  • Standups (by Marc or me) establishing the trail, its beauty and its destruction. Include standup where I tripped and required 7 stitches in my chin (!)
  • Brief POS (person-on-the-street) interviews about trail with people we run into

There, I’ve put those bullet points on an index card I’ll take with me. I think that’s all the planning I need. The camera battery is charged. Good-night!

The only shooting script was this index card.[Tuesday, June 22] Yesterday, I shot the video–with Marc’s help–and now the editing is done. Since this blog is about “seeing stories,”  not about the techniques of making videos, I won’t go into the process of shooting and editing. The point I want to make is that a few notes jotted on an index card were all the shooting script I needed for this particular video. I underlined those last words because an overarching point is that most of the time, the more you can write down in advance of your shoot, the better. I described that process a couple of posts ago, in Scripts are power tools for making online videos!

Now it’s time to judge for yourself if my approach to seeing my story was a good one for this simple video. Press the “Play” triangle and you’ll see the finished video. All one minute and ten glorious seconds of it. You’ll notice that not everything on the index card made it into the finished video.

Your comments on what works–and what doesn’t–in this video will be much appreciated by the management. Also, if you want to ask a technical question, about what mike I used on the HV30 or my approach to finishing in Final Cut Express or whatever … sure, go ahead and ask.

4 1/2 tips for videos on your homepage

A gaggle of researchers are telling us that online video is a powerful magnet–it makes people stick around websites longer. And it’s like rocket fuel for what marketers call conversion rates–having people who visit your site do what you want them to do. As for SEO, Forrester Research found that video can multiply your chances of appearing on the first-page of Google results by 50 times!  I won’t bore you with the impressive stats I’ve collected; instead, I’ll just ask you to meditate–and then act–on the 4 1/2 tips I’m about to lay before you.

Tip #1: Just do it … go ahead and put some video on your homepage. While preparing this post by scoping out dozens of websites, I was shocked to realize how few use video, especially right up front on their homepages. Since video is demonstrably so potent, so influential, why don’t more companies and organizations deploy it? Especially folks that have a visual story to tell. A couple of days ago, I was nosing around TripAdvisor. Though I’ve used the site many times, I didn’t remember seeing any videos. And what’s more visual than travel?! It turns out that TripAdvisor does have videos–lots of them–but the ones I unearthed were nowhere near the homepage, and they showed up in a teeny player.

What worked much better for me was the homepage of Stonyfield–you know, the yogurt people. The first thing you see is a player with the familiar “Play” triangle and the single word “Welcome.” When you click on the picture, their homepage will open in a separate window. Watch a bit of their video, then come back and read on.

The video itself may be nothing to text home about: it consists of pretty still pix with message titles and a predictably organic-sounding acoustic guitar track. But it does convey their brand. What shows that Stonyfield really understands the persuasiveness of video is that you can connect to more than a dozen “YoTube” (groan) videos right from the homepage. Let’s give Stonyfield an “A” for this savvy … and move on to the next tip.

Tip #2: Know your audience and what they want. By now, it’s almost a marketing cliché that your customers (or other people you’re trying to reach) don’t care about you and what you have to offer. They care about how you’re going to solve their problems or satisfy their needs. Do you know who your audience is and why they’ve sought out your website? Here’s an example of a homepage video that demonstrates understanding the audience and what they’re looking for. You’ll need to watch about 45 seconds of it to get their premise.

[vimeo clip_id=”4167960″ width=”400″ height=”300″]

This video is clickable from the homepage of Design Continuum. They’re a sophisticated “innovation and design consultancy,” so their potential clients are apt to be connoisseurs of good design. The storyline and graphic approach of this video are subtle and complex. They don’t hit you in the face. Another website with this sort of video might drive would-be clients away, but I’ll wager that Continuum’s enlightened clients are impressed. The company gets high marks for knowing their audience and playing to them.

Tip #3: Use a sharp hook to catch your site visitor. OK, you know your audience. Now what are you gonna do to catch and hold them? I suggest you use a sharp hook–find some images, words, music that will go straight to their amygdala, a part of the brain that deals with strong emotions. Here’s Apple, that master of marketing magic, trotting out the iPhone 4 on their homepage. Watch the first 20 seconds or so:

What a well-honed hook! The first words you hear are, “iPhone 4 is so much more than just another new product. I mean, this will have a lasting impact on the way we actually connect with each other.” What could stimulate the salivary glands of an Apple early adopter more than this pitch, coupled with the techno-porn shots? The guy’s tee shirt and stubble cut down the appearance of slickness (which makes this even slicker). And he’s a Senior Vice President of Design at Apple, so you know he’s cooler than you are. Admit it, you want an iPhone 4, at least if you’re part of the company’s demographic.

Before you give up and slink away, mumbling that you can’t duplicate Apple’s core (groan) appeal, let me say that none of this requires Apple’s marketing muscle. You can achieve Panavision results on a Flip budget. Just use your imagination … and take the time to find a great hook for your demographic.

Tip #4: Production values are important. That said, you don’t need the best production values, just ones appropriate to your company or organization. Look at a bit of this video, which visitors can click to from Greenpeace’s homepage:

Nobody would give the videography a prize: the shooting style is just off-the-cuff casual. But there’s enough light on people’s faces, and you can hear every word they say. Greenpeace’s only goal here is to get viewers to buy their “Energy [R]evolution” message, and that comes across loud and clear.

It’s all about production values that are appropriate to what you’re trying to communicate. You could even upload raw video from your cellphone to YouTube, embed it on your homepage, and call it a day. That may be perfect for you if you’re a teenager hawking your lawn-mowing service and we can see you doing wheelies on your John Deere. Maybe not perfect if you’re a medical center promoting its liver transplantation unit.  As usual, to do it right doesn’t always cost more money, but it likely will take more time.

Tip 4 1/2: Jot down your ideas right now. I’m only calling it half a tip because it’s not so much a tip as a piece of advice: You’re thinking about video on your homepage at this very moment, so why not take a few minutes to jot down your basic ideas for a video that will greet your visitors? To make it easy, I’ve uploaded a very basic 1-page form you can print and fill out for yourself. Its simplicity will encourage you to think of a simple video structure, which is usually best. It should help you to see your story. Once you’ve filled out this form, you can work out the details of making a homepage video that’s just right for you. Good luck! Now click here for the form … and please let me know if it works for you.

I’m looking forward to your comments.

Scripts are power tools for making online videos!

Today’s post is not about how to make a great video. It’s about how to make a quickie video better–in this case, one I put together in just two hours. But I think the tips I’ll offer will apply to many of your creations.

With Dupuytren's contracture, the pinkie is bent and can't straighten.Last March, I glanced at a headline in The New York Times–Bringing Movement Back to Clenched Hands–and realized it was about people like me. Dupuytren’s contracture had caused my pinkie to bend–I couldn’t straighten it out. The article touted a drug treatment, but I felt it gave short shrift to a very effective treatment I’d had.

Since you can see the effects of Dupuytren’s, I thought making a video would be a perfect way to comment on what was missing from the article. But it was a Tuesday morning and I didn’t want to cut into my work week by spending a lot of time  making a masterpiece. The situation called for a quickie video.

What’s the first thing you would have done under the circumstances? What tool would you have reached for? Your camera? A microphone to record your evanescent thoughts?

I did what this video cowboy usually does: I pulled my trusty script template out of its holster … duplicated it … and began writing. (And pardner, if you stick around and read on, I’ll upload a template just for you.)

Five or ten minutes later, I had a finished script. Was it as good as Casablanca? Here’s the opening narration from that classic:

Opening narration from the film "Casablanca"

And here’s the opening narration from my blockbuster:

Opening narration for the Dupuytren's contracture video

OK, so Casablanca wins. The point is not how great my prose was. It was serviceable, which was the mandate. So why do I call the script a “power tool”? Because as I was writing, it gave me the power to see my story in advance of shooting. The script told me what steps I would need to take before uploading the finished piece. After writing the narration and checking that it said what I wanted to say, I quickly filled in the video column. I didn’t need to fill in the scene number column for such a simple project.

The rest of the process was simply following the instructions the script dictated. If you want to see the completed script in all its glory, click here.

This blog is not about the technical side of video-making, so all I’ll say on that account is that I recorded a few standard-def shots with my Canon HV30 and edited in Final Cut Express. I imported some still pictures and a couple of screen shots of the newspaper article into FCE, then added slow moves (mistakenly called the “Ken Burns effect”).

Here’s the finished product–all one minute and twenty-one seconds of it:

It took about two hours to make, start to finish. It hasn’t been viewed as many times as Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” but as of this writing it’s had more than 800 views. And maybe it’s helped some people get better treatment for their Dupuytren’s contracture. That’s all I wanted to accomplish with this video, and starting with a script helped me do it easily.

If you’d like to download my tried-and-true script template to use on your own videos, right-click here. One of the options that pop up should allow you to download the file.

As usual, your comments are a power tool for this blog!