Although it goes against everything we guerrilla, one-man-band video-makers hold true, there will come a time when you can’t do it all by yourself. I have done enough shoots where I’ve flown into town with a modest suitcase and carry-on, turned up to the location an hour or two early, scouted, set-up three cameras, separate audio, lighting, run the whole thing myself and caught the red-eye home wrangling data cards in a cramped coach seat. Yes it’s possible and, if you can do this, and especially if you have done this before, you will constantly be expected to work this way because it doesn’t get much more frugal than a one-man-crew. Click for more
I get sent to a few conferences each year. Most of them I working so Adobe MAX is the conference I actually look forward to attending and I get the most out of. For me, in my second year of attending, it’s the perfect mix of the geeky and the artistic.
It’s flattering to be labeled a creative after years of being a hard-core geek, although, I do feel a little bit of a fraud when some speaker looks out into the crowd of six thousand and calls us all “kick-ass creatives”. It does make me want to go away and make sure that my portfolio is up to date, and is the best it can be, so that I feel more like I truly belong in this tribe. This is one of the many reasons that I love Adobe MAX: I go away inspired to create and fight for another year. I may have spent the last two months tweaking a hundred boring screencasts but I leave MAX determined to push harder and find those projects that will make feel like I earned the moniker, “kick-ass creative”.
It is easy to forget that you are Adobe’s paying guest when you’re all fired up to change the world, which probably means that they’re doing a lot right. Creative Cloud has become the defacto standard for a huge majority of creatives. Unless something changes, I can’t imagine not having to pay Adobe every month for the rest of my life – I can’t do anything professionally, or on any of my passion projects, without my CC subscription. Adobe have me, and many others, just where they want us. And yet, I don’t feel any resentment for paying my CC membership as Adobe pushes to develop new tools and expand existing ones, especially when you get to meet Adobe’s agents and they are all so approachable and enthusiastic.
If you work for a medium-to-large sized company it’s likely that your marketing department owns some sort of video production group. These groups can range from one person (usually called Gary), who deals with agencies for the actual production, to a large department, with a fully stocked studio and gear inventory, capable of producing all kinds of video in-house, and out in the field. It makes sense for many companies to have these resources in-house and on-hand, however, being outside these departments, but dealing with them regularly, I’ve found there are few things most of these in-house groups get wrong.
It’s not their fault. Most of these groups are manned by well intentioned, talented staff (we love you Gary), but the way they have been set up, and who they answer to within a company, cripples their effectiveness and their creativity. Here’s the top six things wrong with your in-house video production department: Click for more
In part 1, I talked about the 11 categories of corporate videos that I see on YouTube. I often see people confusing types of videos with styles of video. Animation, for example, is not a category of video but a style. The animation style is better suited to certain types of videos (explainer and overview videos) than others (I haven’t seen animation used in customer testimonials before) but it is best to separate the two. When you are tasked to create a type of video, you should then look for the style that is best suited to that: working the other way around is putting the cart before the horse. When you ask a client what kind of video they want to make, and they answer “Something animated” you need to cut to the type of video they really want before you get to the medium to render that message. You can also use a combination of styles: elements of screencast, animation and live action are often all blended together in overview videos, with high production values.
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There is no definitive list of different kinds of corporate videos that you can create. This list is constantly evolving and changing, but these are the kinds of external-facing, corporate videos that I see most commonly. These kind of videos are the ones you’ll find on YouTube associated with a company or brand. Video can also be used as a very effective internal communication tool but those videos are more typically found inside a company’s firewall rather than out in the public view on YouTube. All these types of videos in this list are the kind a company sees fit to release for public consumption.
One thing to remember is that you may create any of these kinds of videos with a specific purpose in mind, but your audience may use it for something entirely different. For example, I’ve created many, tightly-edited, feature demonstration videos that were intended show new and existing customers, features in a new release that they might be interested in. I’ve found sales guys using those videos instead of a demonstration, to save time, or to show a feature not yet available on their demo environment. Expect and encourage this. Once you put a video out on YouTube it may have it’s own life that is very different than the one you intended. I have seen managers panic about this and try to shut this ‘abuse’ down by taking videos off line. This over-reaction is to be discouraged.
I also see people confusing types of videos with styles of video so I have tried to list both separately. Animation, for example, is not a type of video but a style. The animation style is better suited to certain types of videos (explainer and overview videos) than others (I haven’t seen animation used in customer testimonials before) but it is best to separate the two. When you are tasked to create a type of video, you should then look for the style that is best suited to that: working the other way around is putting the cart before the horse. You can also use a combination of styles, with elements of screencast, animation and live action often all blended together in overview videos with high production values as a common example. Read more about styles of video in the second part of this piece.
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Part of the series that brought me unwarranted attention
If you’re being a successful, creative, disruptive force in your company, and you’re making videos without the ‘help’ of your central marketing group, at some point you will become a target. This happened to me recently. Last year an executive asked me to make a series testimonial videos that the central video production group weren’t interested in – at least not within the budget and time-frame the executive wanted. I went around the world visiting customers, and coming back home to edit the series into something with a lot of visibility at our biggest conference of the year. I’ve never worked as hard, or felt as useful to the company. The videos were a big hit and raised my profile to the point that I become a target of the central video group.
Suddenly, a project that they wanted nothing to do with last year, they insisted was their exclusive domain this year. Some one up my management chain caved, and my big, high-profile project was taken away from me. I am now used as a threat rather than a solution: “If you don’t make these videos as we want, we’ll send in our guy and do it ourselves.” I am a missile, in a silo, pointing at Moscow, cooling my jets, and starting to go rusty from lack of use. I knew this was a possibility with this project. A mentor told me that, if we did our job right, people would always want to take the credit and to take over. He told me that, when this happened, we should count it as a success and move on to bigger and better things. Easier said than done: it’s hard to count something as a success when it is the biggest, and best, thing you’ve done to date, and it’s taken away from you. I learned so much on the first round of this project; things I was hoping to be able to apply to the next round to make the result even better. I thought I would get to create one more series before it was taken away from me.
If this does happen to you then allow yourself to morn a little. It’s only natural to feel hard-done to, so take a moment to work out your next move. Another instinct is to lash out: to threaten to quit or to try to sabotage anything in the project you still have control over. Again, this is a natural instinct, but this is one you should not give in to. Don’t make any decision, or say anything in haste, that you might regret later.
Once you’re done grieving, and controlling your self-destructive tendencies, the next thing to do is to work out what that bigger and better next-something is. This is the hardest step. Until you’ve got over the loss of your previous project, it’s nearly impossible to see what you should focus on next. So take a moment: mop up anything you neglected while the lost big project was the center of your attention. Channel your anger into making sure that your reel is up to date and is looking great: make sure it contains segments from that project that you’re so proud of.
Take time to explore the work of your peers, and your competitors, and look for the cool thing that they are doing, that you would like to do, and are capable of. The easiest way to get over losing a great project is to start work on something even better. The biggest issue is that, at this moment, a great project is probably not going to fall into your lap. The temptation is to sit and brood but get over that as soon as you can. It’s up to you to create your own next, great opportunity. The only way to do that is to get rid of that negative energy, get out of your own way and to start being creative again.
In my opinion, the kind of success that results in losing a project is harder to deal with than any failure, but it is part of the life of the disruptive creative. Some times the reward for doing something well is losing that something to someone who thinks that thing is their job, not yours. Right now, I’m finding it hard to take my own advice: I’m still grieving but I’ll let you know what the next big thing is once I’ve worked it out for myself.
I know that feeling: it feels like there’s a video show about everything already and that there’s no room left to find your niche. If everything’s already covered, what’s the point of trying to start a new show?
There is no point in being a second rate clone of something that’s already out there but that doesn’t mean that there’s no room for you in the same, or very similar, space. Case in point, gear-head (or petrol-head depending on your location) car shows. The undisputed market leader is Top Gear. It is a giant that holds the Guinness World record for the most watched factual program in the world. Each episode has Hollywood style effects and cinematography, massive budgets and crews, big name stars and million dollar cars as subjects. They are the best at what they do and those who try to follow them, or even out-do them, are doomed to fail (I’m talking about you Fifth Gear and the country specific Top Gear franchises). But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for other car shows with much lower budgets.
There are those who take just one element of what Top Gear is known for, and concentrate on doing that well. Chris Harris is well known on YouTube for his authoritative and entertaining car reviews. There are shows like Road Kill that do the popular, challenge-type segments, but they do it with a much more American, hot-rodder attitude. Although these shows don’t have nearly the Top Gear budget, they do have backing from parent organizations (MotorTrend and Drive), so they do have decent budgets and production values.
What if you don’t have that kind of backing but you still want to start a car show? You don’t stand a chance do you? … or do you?
I recently stumbled on Regular Car Reviews which isn’t nearly as dry as the name would suggest. Regular Car Reviews is a parody car show. They poke fun at the likes of Top Gear by reviewing everyday, beater cars. It’s made by two guys, with very basic equipment, no budget, and a deliberately bad taste in graphics and fonts. And yet they’ve grown to having around 50,000 subscribers to their channel in a very short length of time. That’s nothing compared to Top Gear’s viewing figures, but Regular Car Reviews’ fans are just as enthusiastic. They survive off fans offering them their cars to review “in verbosely disgusting ways” (their own words) and they currently have more than 600 cars at their disposal. When they recently totaled their own car (a fantastically modest Toyota Echo), their fan based stepped up and gave them the funds for a replacement just to keep the show rolling. That’s loyalty.
Regular Car Reviews is hard to describe in the best possible way. Is it car comedy? An exercise in vulgar, stream of conscious, prose? Could it be called poetry? Not everyone will get it, or like it even if they do. The camera work looks like a 12 year old trying to copy the Top Gear style. They seem to dwell on every patch of rust, worm out seat fabric, and design mistake. There’s lots of mundane POV shots from a GoPro. It’s half-awful, but totally genius in my opinion and, even if you don’t agree with me, there’s still something to be learned here: there’s still room for your show, if you have a novel idea and the passion to execute. Regular Car Reviews works because, even though it is in an over populated marketplace, it is totally different from anything I’ve seen before. I doubt their format has the staying power of Top Gear, but for now they’re breaking new ground and entertaining car nuts along the way. The takeaway is that production values matter far less than the industry thinks and that good ideas and passion are the characteristics of a show that matter.