Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Video Production From The Road: Interviews

October 26, 2012

One of the great upsides to shooting corporate videos at locations around the globe is that we spend our days at facilities with people with whom we have the privilege to become acquainted. After all, we are usually interviewing them on camera, and even when we’re not – such as in the production of a video that uses musical backgrounds without words – we are interviewing them off camera to understand the nature of their work so we can properly capture and present it.  Formal interview time is always bookended by plenty of informal chatter, making the former more comfortable for everyone. And so we learn things like colleges that interviewees’ kids attend or where they went on their recent vacations. Those conversations lead to others, and before we know it, we often all discover how much we are enjoying each other’s company. Sometimes dinner invitations follow, and even when they don’t, recommendations for good dinners (and all the colorful context) are usually a good bet. By the time we are departing, we find that we have collected valuable insiders’ perspectives about the places we have visited even if the trips are only for small amounts of time.

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Of course, we don’t always hit it off as good ol’ buddies with the folks we are interviewing, nor do we have any expectations. But we do maintain an attitude of “work hard, play hard,” so we find fun spots to spend the off-hours, with or without our professional colleagues. A few days ago at a pub in Rouen, France, we met a woman at the next table who had come to have a drink after week. After a few friendly comments, we all found that we had many things to discuss, and we spent quite awhile talking, laughing, taking pictures, and sharing stories. Today, of course, such encounters don’t end with the last drop of distinctive French wine. We have become Facebook friends, and if prior such meetings are an indication, I am confident our knowledge of each other’s lives and cultures will continue to expand over time.

Video Production From the Road: Interview Space

October 24, 2012

This is not atypical: We travel to the other side of the world for a corporate video shoot, then the interviewee takes us to a generic conference room that could be located in Anywhere, USA. I say, respectfully: Are there any other options for a background, and they respond, respectfully: No!

If possible, the story can’t end there. It just doesn’t seem fair to our clients, who – trusting our production values and committed to consistency in video production — invest in these international jaunts. And so the search begins for elements that resonate place (Melbourne or Hong Kong or Paris – or Houston or Wilmington, Delaware) or industry space (software or manufacturing or law or whatever). Decisions about backgrounds depend first, upon the substance of the material in the video; second, upon availability; and third, upon creativity.

corporate video production, travel, business, melbourne, australiaFor example: Two weeks ago we videotaped at two different companies in Australia, both of which escorted us straight into their conference rooms upon arrival. The first company is in the medical software business, the second in HR compliance materials for online consumption. The actual industry background for these speakers are rooms occupied by individuals at computer desks – a setting almost as common as white-walled conference rooms. But in both cases, the companies sell solely into the Australian market, so backdrops that say “Australia” fill in some color. In the first case, we set the interviewee in front of a large window that overlooked a recognizable panorama of Melbourne. For the second, we added to the side of a window view some distinctive company props that had just been used at a trade show the week before, emphasizing both geography (the view) and branding.

Note that skylines can be tricky. Natural lighting is not uniform in places around the world or during different times of day, and familiarity with details of how it might fall in a particular place at a specific hour cannot be easily predicted from another corner on the globe. Key to successful execution is a good knowledge of lighting that ensures thoughtful yet expeditious set-ups as well as a good kit that not only contains all the necessary components, but is also mobile-friendly.

At a video shoot a few months ago in Washington DC, the nondescript conference room into which we were taken was windowless.  With only about 20 minutes to set up a two-camera shoot, our director of photography washed the walls in colors reflective of the interviewee’s agency – another alternative when few tools and no time were at our disposal.

Hong Kong, corporate video production, business travel, video marketing, interviewsOutdoor interviews work well, too, if the choice is between a quiet space that says nothing and an interesting street scene where noise might be a challenge. Here the interviewee must feel comfortable with the setting, and proper audio is crucial; if carried out well, the end result can be very visually interesting.

Last week in Hong Kong, we conducted an interview from the top of the Peak, overlooking the city below. It was a beautiful scene, unmistakably highlighting the speaker’s location, which is an important aspect of the nature of his work. We walked around the path for a bit to find a spot less populated with passersby. Nonetheless, there were a number of cold stops in the middle of sentences as people passed or made other noise. It was a small price to pay for the beauty and inherent message of the background. And it was a far better solution than videotaping in another typical conference room, indistinguishable from millions of others everywhere.

Read last week’s entry for Video Production From The Road on Flying Tips.

Video Production From the Road: Flying Tips 2

October 12, 2012

Having become a semi-learned student of the airline rules, I wield them like constitutional rights.

Last year I chose to become an APP (my designation for the 25,000 plus mile status) on two airlines: United and American. The former is part of the OneWorld network, and the latter is a member of Star Alliance. Since my home bases are Montclair, NJ – 10 miles from Newark Airport – and Los Angeles, the most convenient airline for me to fly in the US is United, which has the Newark-based hub of its recent mergee, Continental.  American sometimes flies out of Newark, but more frequently its NY flights originate in and go to JFK and LaGuardia, making it a second choice for me.  However, the Star Alliance has more airline partners than OneWorld, and they fly to many more destinations, so I’m glad to have at least the APP-1 (more than Any Passenger and less than Any Passenger Plus) benefits.

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I write this blog now aboard a flight from Melbourne, Australia to Hong Kong. I am traveling with my husband/business partner Curt. We are videotaping for a corporate client in both locations. The decision to do the shoot happened late in the game, so arrangements were made last minute, when few flights were still available.  The only feasible and affordable option required traveling with Cathay Pacific from JFK to Hong Kong, then Hong Kong to Adelaide, Australia, then Adelaide to Melbourne, where we worked for three days. This flight goes from Melbourne directly to Hong Kong, where we will stay for two nights. The next leg is to San Francisco, where we will work for a day. The last segment will take us from San Francisco back to Newark.

Cathay Pacific is a Star Alliance member. With our American gold status, we are classified as Ruby travelers on Star Alliance, going through the first and business class check-in and security lines, and boarding earlier in the game than other passengers. Since the economy class tickets had been sold out for the eastward bound flights at the late time of our booking, we purchased the next level: premium economy. That gave us a little more room and an APP+ status. But here is how being a partner airline APP member served as an advantage: The flight from NY to Hong Kong was 15 hours; the one from Hong Kong to Adelaide was another 9. When we arrived in Hong Kong, a ticket agent was waiting for us, informing us that we had been upgraded to business class. With open seats on the plane, priority went to us instead of others who had bought premium economy tickets since we had a combination of those slightly more expensive tickets and APP status on another Star Alliance partner airline.

Business seats on these eastern airlines are amazing for a number of reasons, but best of all, the seats fold down flat like beds. As someone who has a hard time sleeping in planes, I slept more than half of the journey, waking up refreshed enough to work for the afternoon in Melbourne. It made a huge difference!

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Director of Photography, Curt.

The seats en route back west are only economy. But because of our APP status with Star Alliance member American, Cathay Pacific was able to offer us bulkhead seats, ie, front row in economy, with unlimited leg room.  For non-ruby passengers, these seats would have cost an additional $100 each, but our status ensured we could get them, and at no extra charge. We have reserved the same seats for the trip from Hong Kong to San Francisco.

The last leg of our trip will be provided by United, enabling us to return on a direct flight to Newark Airport. Checking over the seat availability, it seems we will be doomed to the last row. But as APP members, we stand a chance of getting upgraded, if anything is available.

I am well aware of the disadvantage of accruing miles in more than one airline per year. By this year’s end, I will have accumulated just short of 100,000 miles on all my flights combined. Had I stuck with one airline or partnership and taken a few extra trips to reach that mile marker, I would have been a lifetime status holder. Instead, the status I’ve earned over the last 10 months – which in another three weeks will be APPP on United and APP on American – will be good only through 2013. Come January 1, I will have to start all over again for 2014. But the offerings didn’t leave me much of a choice. The flights that gave me the most miles were available at specific times on particular airlines. At least I will enjoy my status in the coming year, always keeping an eye on changing rules and new opportunities.

Read Flying Tips 1.

Video Production From The Road

October 5, 2012

Day 1: Departure from JFK

Our corporate headquarters is in Montclair, NJ, about 15 miles from Newark Airport, but unfortunately for us, the majority of international flights still depart from JFK – a one hour drive when there is no traffic (a rare occurrence). When we are shooting a documentary about which we feel passionate and are working on the hope that funding will follow, we become beggars for free rides from friends on the much-disliked trek from NJ to Jamaica, NY.  And when we travel for quick stints, we take the car and find parking lots near airports that are priced less expensively than an hour of parking in midtown Manhattan. But when we travel for a more lengthy time for corporate clients who pay for our expenses, a car service saves the driving stress and guilt for swallowing hours of friends’ time.

Warning! Not all car services are the same! Most of those coupons in the Val-Pak envelopes that come in the mail suggest discounts of all kinds, but when you call the company to get a quote, you often hear about a host of other add-ons to the rate they advertise as total – things like tolls and extra bags and tips and taxes. You do the math and realize the discount drowns under the supplementary fees. There are exceptions, however, if you do the research. (All good things in travel come with extensive, time-consuming research. But once you’ve got it figured out, the knowledge goes a long way for a long time.)

We use a car service that is truly a one-price, no gimmicks. Tolls and even driver’s tip is built into the fee, which gets charged on my credit card at the end of each airport drop-off. The car of the driver Kenny (973.573.7142 or abovelimo123@yahoo.com)  is a bit old-world – a Lincoln Town Car that was probably a “beaut” about a decade ago — but it is a smooth ride and does the job, even if the permanently-jammed front window requires the driver to open his door to dunk in the change as he goes through the tolls for which he does not have EZPass. Those are his choices, but I don’t care. I’m usually busy in the back seat, distracted from the road by the constant flow of new messages into my smartphone.

The next hurdle at the outset of a videotaping trip is checking bags without paying for extra weight. Considering that we typically carry two professional cameras; one or two camera tripods and several more for lights; a full light kit; a set of microphones including wireless, lavs and shotguns; supporting equipment such as cables, batteries, chargers, and all kinds of Mary Poppins’ bag accessories – not to mention a few weeks’ worth of clothes to be worn in different climates – this is no small matter.  First on the list of packing is thinking about which items must travel with us onboard, either because of their fragility and expense, or in case the suitcases don’t arrive when we do. Over the years, we’ve had luggage end up in all parts of the world, sometimes opposite sides of our destination. That unfortunate occurrence is not an excuse for failing to work upon arrival, so back-up plans need to be considered in advance.

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Susie (available from B&H Photo/Video)

Ordinarily two of us travel per shoot, with two carry-ons each. That leaves the checked luggage, which in the days of BetaCam SP were numerous but now are down to three, each of which comes close to the 23 kilogram or 50 pound maximum weight. One is our 28 inch suitcase carrying all our clothes and some smaller pieces of equipment that lightens the load of the other bags. For this trip we’ve added a 21 inch, two-pound screen since we’ll be setting up a mini-editing suite in the hotel room.  Another bag has our full lighting kit, and a third has the tripods, light tripods and cables. Our big suitcase and light kit have wheels that roll on all four.  One additional carry-on is our prized possession, so important that she merits a name: Susie (derived from “wuski” – Polish for “carts”) – a powerful baggage cart holding up to 250 pounds that folds up into a flat item less than three feet tall and one inch wide. Susie, who we wheel into the airport with the tripod case and carry-ons, has seen more of the world than most people I know! After we check-in the bags that get stored under the plane, her load goes down to the heavier carry-ons, which we wheel through airports with ease except in LaGuardia where there seems to be a prejudice against her and they require her to go the way of the rest of our luggage.

The last major obstacle on the departure side – assuming no plane delays – is getting through security. Since the essential equipment accompanies us on board, we are usually subject to bag checks –almost always a delay, but never a problem.

Significantly, we’ve finally splurged the extra annual $250 for the American Express Platinum card, which lets us use US Airways lounges regardless of the flight we will be taking as well as American and Delta lounges when we travel with them. We also have access to Priority Pass lounges around the world, where I write this now from Hong Kong. (After the next trip, we’ll have enough miles on United to get into their clubs at no charge, too.) These spaces provide a much more comfortable waiting area, replete with free wi-fi, large comfortable chairs, snack food, drinks, and nice bathrooms. I’m doing the same thing in this lounge as I would be doing back in my office in New Jersey.

Next week: Flying Tips.

Corporate Video on the Road

October 3, 2012

The end of the calendar year brings corporate meetings of all kinds. In today’s visual world, a constant flow of intermittent video throughout the course of these lengthy gatherings ensures more interest and participation, which ultimately translates to greater success for hosting firms.

Enjoying fish soup in the Traveler’s Lounge in HKG Airport (Hong Kong).

As a full-service corporate video production company working in this world, autumn ushers in a heavy travel schedule for us at Voices & Visions Productions as we work this year in Australia, Hong Kong, France, Finland, and various cities in the US – all in a single month.

Success with a schedule as hectic as this requires a deep-seated knowledge of how to travel as lightly but completely as possible to ensure the video captured looks as beautiful as it does when we shoot in our home territory.  Another important factor in preventing plane and road burn out is knowing how to plan the travel experience on a limited budget, to ensure comfort and even playtime in the after-work hours (when they happen). Over the coming few weeks, I will write blogs that address a bunch of video tips on the heavily traversed road.

Traveling with Equipment

September 21, 2012

curt, photography, video production, lighting, voices and visions, corporate video production, professional video production

This week’s tip is for businesses who travel with equipment and comes from our director of photography, Curt:

“When you travel as much as we do, it’s crucial to ensure our equipment can take the abuse of the road. I would never check a camera underneath an airplane, but a lot of the rest of the equipment can be thrown around if it’s well protected. I recommend investing in a hard, waterproof, protective case for microphones and other delicate equipment. I remind myself that these are my tools and I need to make sure they’re going to be in proper working order when we arrive on the job.”

Optimizing Photos For SEO

August 31, 2012
The Facebook Timeline update and the increasing popularity of Instagram and Pinterest demonstrate how visual the marketing climate has become. A study by Skyword analyzed 78,000 pieces of content and found that articles containing at least one image saw an average of 70% more views than articles with text alone. It isn’t enough to just add a few photos, however, to ensure the maximum SEO power; the images must be fully optimized themselves. Here are a few key aspects of photo optimization for SEO:
santa monica beach, photo optimization, SEO, photography, corporate video production, video marketing, video productionFile Format/Name
First, make sure that each image is saved as a .jpg or a .gif, as these are the preferred formats. Second, never use the default file name for a photo. Before uploading it to any blog or site, save the image with a name that is descriptive. If the photo is saved as GDB00002.jpg, for example, Google or other search engines will have no idea what  the image depicts. If it’s saved as beach-santa-monica.jpg, it will be seen as such by search engines.


Alternative Text (Alt Text)
Think of “alt text” as doubling down on keywords. There’s more space here to use more words, so pack it in with keywords that are relevant to the content. Google will read this and be able to paint a larger picture of what the photo actually is, which will increase the relevance of its search results.

Share on Social Sites
Publishing a piece of content used to be the final step in this process, but thanks to social media it is now just the beginning. After publishing a blog or press release, share it across as many social sites as possible. Facebook and Google+ in particular are important for SEO. Facebook should be obvious, as it is far and away the most popular social network, and photos are among the most shared content on the site. While Google+ doesn’t have the same volume of users, Google owns it. If optimization on this search engine is a priority, don’t write off Google+ .

Instagram users, please post your handles in the comments!
Follow our photos: @voicesvisions.

Photo Optimization Tip

August 29, 2012
This week’s tip for photo optimization comes from our marketing director, Lea:
marketing director, video production, corporate video, voices and visions, professional video, business video, photo optimization, SEO
Never use the default file name for a photo. Before uploading an image to any blog or site, save it with a name that is descriptive. If the photo is saved as GDB00002.jpg, Google has no idea what the image depicts. If it’s saved as beach-santa-monica.jpg, it will be seen as such by search engines.
Tune in later this week for an in-depth discussion of photo optimization techniques.
See last week’s tip on video production.

Professional Videos Vs. DIY Videos

August 24, 2012
When Google bought YouTube in 2005, video on the web exploded, and sometimes it came in the form of pets walking across kitchen floors. For a short time, audiences became accustomed to amateur videos, which seemed to give license to uploading nonprofessional productions even as the face of companies and organizations. More recently, however, this impression has changed. Just as a DIY newsletter filled with grammatical errors and a disorganized presentation is not as effective as one created by professional writers, the viewing audience has come to appreciate the superior value brought by videos created by experts. There are several important details, often overlooked by amateurs, which separate a DIY video from one produced by a professional video production company.
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The setup before our shoot with the Riverside Company

new jersey video production, lighting, professional video production

This is what the shot looked liked inside the camera

Lighting
Lighting is a delicate but crucial step in the interview process. Often shot in interviewees’ offices or corporate boardrooms, it is the Director of Photography’s job to “paint” with light, transforming a plain white room into an interesting and relevant interview space. For Curt Fissel, V&V’s seasoned DP with 30 years of experience, expert lighting is in his DNA. “I don’t like shots that are either over-lit or under-lit,” he says. “Poor lighting tenchniques will result in a longer time in post-production and even then may not yield the appearance sought.” Curt thinks proper lighting is often overlooked because today’s cameras can be so forgiving. Nonetheless, he believes lighting plays a vital role in separating a home movie appearance from a commercial video look.
Audio
When a video has good audio, most people don’t notice, but when sound is poor, it may be the most prominent aspect of the production that most people remember. While amateurs may become complacent with the abilities of editing equipment, professionals, like Curt, know a video is only as good as its audio. “Digital filters can help improve original audio recorded, but to ensure the sound is as pure as possible, it needs to be captured cleanly,” notes Curt.  This is the case whether one or multiple microphones are utilized on a particular shoot. To demonstrate the emphasis placed on audio amongst professionals, Curt recollected: “I went to a seminar years ago called Audio is more important than video, which I don’t quite agree with, but I do think they are close to being equally important.”
Depth of Storyline
The quality of an interview has a huge impact on the depth of the final video product. Writer and producer Ellen Friedland draws upon her journalistic background when preparing for an interview. “What’s crucial is to really understand the underlying concepts of what it is we’re videotaping,” Ellen begins. “If we go into a medical device company, I do a lot of research about that medical device. This way, even though I am not a scientist, I can prompt interviewees to share more profound points that will be reflected in the final piece.” Video production is, at its heart, storytelling.  Notes Ellen: “If the interviewer does not probe for a more multi-layered understanding of the subject, the story will have more of a superficial feel , often lacking a consistent thesis or message.“

Video Production Tip: Proper Lighting

August 21, 2012
curt, photography, video production, lighting, voices and visions, corporate video production, professional video productionThis week’s video production tip comes from our Director of Photography, Curt:

Proper lighting is an often-overlooked aspect of production because cameras can be forgiving, but this separates home movies from professional videos. You need a location that’s correctly lit. Poor lighting techniques will result in a longer time in post-production and even then may not yield the appearance you are seeking. Occasionally I keep the cameras rolling as I’m setting up so I can see the interplay between the lighting and the images I’m creating as they develop. There are many books and other reference sources about lighting techniques. Do your homework!

Tune in later this week for an in-depth discussion on some key differences between amateur video and those produced by professional video companies.

See last week’s tip on business travel.