Posts Tagged ‘informational video’

Finland: First Impressions on a Videotaping Shoot

October 28, 2012

Since we spend a lot of time videotaping in different countries around the world, I am frequently asked my impressions of local communities and places. Often my response harkens back to the opening scene in the movie Blue Velvet. The viewer first sees a helicopter view of a perfect 1960s-era postage-stamp looking community with cute little houses and pretty green lawns. The camera lens then begins to zoom in, and imperfections appear on screen. The objects grow closer, and the viewer sees more details that paint a fuller picture mixing positive imagery with negative. And then, to foreshadow the harrowing movie to follow, the camera zooms into the creepiest microscopic insect behaviors, suggesting the ugliness of what lies beneath the surface.

The full analogy to this opening is apt when I describe the most awful of situations we’ve witnessed while videotaping particular documentaries, such as dangerous territories still reeling from recent wars.  But thankfully most of our travels take us to daily life in peaceful situations, so the Blue Velvet comparison stops before the last zoom-in. Yet it underscores my acute awareness that an accurate description of the pros and cons of real life anywhere on the planet lurks far beneath those first, surface-level impressions. I am therefore hesitant to convey opinions about places where we stop for only a few days to do a corporate video shoot for a marketing video or investor relations video .

And yet, of course, those first impressions linger. So I sometimes bow to the inquiry, hoping those who ask will recognize the shallowness of my responses.

It took that introduction to make me feel comfortable launching into my very favorable initial impressions here on the ground in Helsinki!

First one: Last week we were working in Paris. We had pre-rented a car online, as we did for this trip. At Charles DeGaulle Airport, we spent literally 45 minutes at the rental car desk with only two people in front of us. The experience was like waiting during a work slowdown, except there was no formal slowdown.  Questions we asked were answered in as few words as possible with looks of annoyance, despite our use of French language. In comparison, after arriving in Helsinki, we were second in line for our car. Our total time at the counter was under ten minutes. We spoke no Finnish at all, but the woman at Budget spoke fluent English. She smiled as she imparted key information, did not try to sell us anything we did not need, and literally mapped out our car ride from her counter to the rental car parking lot to our hotel, the Sokos Flamingo Hotel in Vantaa.  I felt stress-free despite a total lack of familiarity with the culture and the ancient and unique language spoken there. I even perceived the cold air that enveloped us when we walked out the airport doors as crisp and healthy rather than an unwelcome reminder of the upcoming winter.

Next: Thoughtful layouts. The wide roads were well-marked, sensible, and lined with sprawling landscapes – after all, this large country is populated by a total of only five million people. The hotel receptionist gave us a parking pass for the garage even before requiring us to check in, and the parking lot had plenty of spaces to accommodate all the cars. The spotless room was styled with simple but comfortable Ikea-type furniture. One entire wall was covered in windows enabling us to look out into the horizon, where fiery red sunrises beneath puffy dark clouds greeted us in the morning.

The food was less impressive, though I am spoiled by living bi-coastally in Los Angeles and the metro NY area – specifically, NJ’s restaurant capital of Montclair. Didn’t mind it too much – we had gone to Finland to work, not to eat.

One other footnote: A friendly encounter on the elevator with a businessman from northern Finland led to breakfast together the next morning. A few things I learned from him were:

  • Children in Finland learn to cross country ski when they are very young, and get around that way much of the winter in southern Finland, which is not mountainous
  • Ski country is northern Finland, but often the freezing temperatures (below -30 degrees centigrade is not uncommon) prohibit outdoor activity until February or March
  • In much of the country, you can see the Northern Lights
  • In the summer in the Helsinki area, darkness falls around 11 pm and dawn comes by 4 am. In the winter, of course, it is the opposite. (October wasn’t too bad. It got dark at about 6 pm and light before 8 am.)
  • The Finnish and Hungarian languages share the same root
  • Swedish is the second language of Finland since Sweden ruled the country for 600 years, from the 13th through the 19th centuries
  • In World War II, the Finns fought against the Russians, who had occupied the country after the Swedes. (This, of course, made them allies with the Germans, though they saw their participation as anti-Russian rather than pro-German, and they protected their Jewish population.)

Had the businessman not had dinner plans that night, we would have met again, underscoring my impression of the friendliness of local people. Of course, he was not talking in front of the camera lens. But those who were featured in the business video that brought us there shared the warm spirit of our hotel acquaintance.

Visitor Center Video for National Historic Site

June 7, 2012

Sitting amongst New Hampshire hills, ponds, state forests, rivers, and covered bridges is an idyllic former summer colony in Cornish that was once home to America’s greatest sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Unbeknownst to me prior to Voices & Visions winning the National Park Service contract to produce a documentary-style film to screen at the Visitors Center of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, I had actually encountered the artist’s work many times before. A large equestrian statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman, led by the winged angel of Victory, is the centerpiece of the Plaza Hotel entrance to Central Park. First exhibited as a work-in-progress at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair, the General is depicted leading the march through Georgia to seize Atlanta for the Union forces. History has oft-quoted his candid statement that “War is Hell,” and in this great work of art, Saint-Gaudens creates motion and emotion in the bronze, with wind billowing back Sherman’s cloak and tension straining his facial features.

Yes, it’s clear: I loved this project! The footage that we used was shot in 2009 by a company that produced a PBS documentary, but it was owned by the National Historic Site. Upon getting the job to produce a 15-minute informational video to be viewed by visitors to the grounds, we were provided with 60 hours of unedited interviews and b-roll, as well as the opportunity to become art history students of the life and work of Saint-Gaudens.

As a writer, this job started with me. I spent a week feeling like I was researching for a major term paper, but the library was mostly in the form of oral accounts that I transcribed and imbibed. I supplemented this knowledge base with Internet-based facts and one old-world source of information: a book. Slowly the vision of Saint-Gaudens came to life in my imagination, then on my computer screen, subject to some minor revisions by the experts who have made the Historic Site their professional home for decades.

The sensitivity, beauty, and craftsmanship, yet novelty and originality that were the hallmarks of this sculptor’s works and were vivified in the script, inspired the motion graphics created by our designer Lori Newman and the flow of the archival and still images and video footage our editor Curt Fissel wove together. Diane Moser, a music historian, composer and performer, found and re-created period music from the Cornish Colony (recorded by audio engineer Chad Moser), adding era-appropriate feeling to works that were largely focused on Civil War heroes. And narrator David Rosenberg was so taken by the story that he has already made a trip up to Cornish to see the National Historic Site!

 

In retrospect I realize it’s a funny coincidence that all of our video production partners who worked with us on this film (Lori, Curt, Diane, Chad, David, and me) are from Montclair, NJ – a town long known as its own artistic colony of a sort. During the course of this project, we were all highly inspired by learning about the Shaw Memorial across from Boston Common,  honoring Civil War Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment — the first volunteer regiment of African American troops raised in the north; the monument to Civil War naval hero Admiral David G. Farragut, which sits in NY’s Madison Square Park; and in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, the impactful statue of a contemplative Abraham Lincoln in bronzed motion, rising out of his Greek-style chair.

Examples of Saint-Gaudens’ works can be seen in a number of spots across the US, but the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site is filled with works that spanned his lifetime and give color to US history and his unparalleled personal experience. This national park is open from Memorial Day weekend to Halloween, 9 am to 4:30 daily, and is located at 139 Saint Gaudens Road in Cornish, NH, just off NH Route 12A. Please wander around and enjoy the grounds, but first watch the informational video to give yourself the contextual background that will elevate your experience.

Updates to Business Videos

April 11, 2012

A little about the substance and process of the informational video makeover I wrote about yesterday, in the production of which we stumbled upon The Tejano Monument in Austin, Texas…

Once upon a time a business video – whether for marketing, recruitment, or any other purpose – was budgeted to last for several years since overhauls were almost as expensive as original productions. Today, if the project is thought through and planned properly in advance, the video can go through periodic easy and inexpensive revisions, ensuring it is kept current at a fraction of the cost of the first time around.

A perfect example is the video we created in December 2010 for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas called “TRS: A Great Value For All Texans.” (Though we are based in New Jersey, we produce videos everywhere!) The video provided a visual rendition of a brochure TRS had published with the same title. It discussed the myriad ways that TRS is an asset in the state, rooted in the reality that its membership of over 1.3 million people live in all regions of Texas, and the retirees spend their pension money in their local economies.

The informational video was filled with facts and feelings about the ways participants benefit as well as the advantages that accrue to communities. When we were initially engaged by TRS for this project, we were well aware that the numbers would constantly be in flux, so we structured the graphics and interview questions in a way that would enable future changes without a complete redo. In fact, while the basic concepts and visual elements of the original video have remained intact in the year and a half since it was released, many of the statistical numbers cited have changed, and significantly, some members of the TRS leadership team have also been shuffled.

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Utilizing the pre-existing textual motion graphics, our graphic designer was able to make revisions with the latest statistical information in a short period of time. Sound bites of newly promoted executives were needed to replace those of former interviewees, but our field production required only one day, not three as the 2010 shoot had mandated. After transcribing the new interviews we recorded and thereby easily accessing the exact digital spots where interviewees made relevant points, we were able to slip out the old and slide in the new, adding a few additional b-roll images we captured to enhance the production. Some color correction, audio sweeps, graphics swaps, tightening of the timeline, and a bunch of other small tweaks – altogether taking a fraction of post-production time compared to the original work – and TRS has a very handsome, up-to-date and affordable video to re-upload.

V&V: A great value for all our clients!