- Mon, April 06 2009
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Katya’s commentary: A while back I met Mark Horvath virtually (via this blog and my book, as I recall). Mark, it turns out, was once the person directly responsible for the worldwide distribution of Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Married with Children, 21 Jump Street, plus many other syndicated shows. He also had some rough times and was once homeless. Today, he has drawn on all of his extraordinary background by dedicating his time and energy to filming the stories of homeless people in LA at Invisible People. And, lucky for me, he offers this guest post. Be sure to check out Invisible People when you can. Here’s what Mark has to say about video for nonprofits - and nonprofit marketing. Take it away, Mark. If you want to reach Mark, he’s at Twitter.
Telling Stories with Moving Pictures
by Mark Horvath
There is no denying the power of moving pictures to tell a story. In fact, you have probably taken in one or more forms of video media already today. Sure, I may be biased, but videos are the most powerful way to transmit emotion. If you can transmit emotion while telling a good story you will no doubt increase response.
When I started in commercial television in the early 1990s, I managed logistics for a large syndicator. Although I had also spent time producing music videos and working on a feature film, I really knew nothing about the production end of media. However, this changed pretty quickly when I became the executive producer of a weekly tv show for the Los Angeles Dream Center. As far as religious broadcasts go, this show was very different. Rather than a simple “talking head” the show consisted of three independent “testimony” segments. Not only did this require a great deal of production and editing, but it had to be completed each week by an all-volunteer staff with a budget of zero.
The best advice I can give you is what was given to me back then. Someone suggested that I start watching news magazine style shows and take notes. 60 Minutes, 20/20, Dateline, even Behind the Music on VH1. They were the professionals at video storytelling, so the TV set literally became my teacher. I also watched lots of infomercials because they are the very best example of long-form response marketing. Local news gives a good example of how to tell a story fast and how to effectively use b-roll when you don’t have lots of time to edit. Everything you need to know about video production is already right in front of you. And best of all, it’s FREE!
That said, I’d like to offer a few tips to help you get more results from short-form media. Long-form is a little different, and since many non-profits are trying to figure out how to produce a video for their webpage or fundraising event we’ll just focus on short-form. Some “pros” who went to school for media may argue with these. But in the last five years, my video productions have broken response records and literally raised millions of dollars for cause campaigns.
So without further ado, here are my tips for getting more results from short-form media:
Content! Content! Content!: There has always been a battle over content vs. quality. Many old-school shooters just want to make pretty pictures and put the story second. Yes, by all means necessary, work hard to get the very best quality (especially since quality transmits credibility). But remember: the most watched video of our time is Rodney King, which was shot on VHS. Compelling content is by far the most important ingredient of a successful story.
Work backwards: What result do you want produced from the video? Do you want people to call, write, stand up, talk, yell, give money – what action do you want taken after they view this video? Figure out what the call to action is and then produce your video backwards knowing the desired end result.
Know and target your audience: This should not even have to be started, it’s so obvious. But producing video for a kid is a lot different than producing video for old folks. Like attracts like. If you are trying to reach women, do stories featuring women. ‘Nuff said.
Produce for delivery: The graphic treatment on a video that will be seen on a computer directly in front of the viewer is different than a treatment used on for a viewer who is 300 yards away at an outdoor event.
Short means short: One of the greatest challenges of producing video is cutting out content. But it’s absolutely necessary, otherwise your finished product ends up too long and boring. Between 3 and 5 minutes is a good rule for both online and live events.
Sound bites, not voiceover: Of course, there are times when you just have to add a voiceover. But there will be more emotion in the story if you interview the person and let them tell their own story. This will also save costs. I once heard Larry King say he usually never reads his guest’s book and does not prepare. He simply is interested, which helps him ask the right questions.
Here are a few of my Larry King-inspired tips for conducting good interviews:
Never give questions in advance: I have found people speak from their heart best the first time. Give them questions in advance you’ll get rehearsed emotionless answers.
Be a good listener: You never know what new topic is going to be brought up in an interview. Don’t be afraid to explore. Be flexible. You may even get a better story than your original.
Take notes: I don’t write down my questions in advance. As the person speaks I write down things that come to my head that I may want to ask later.
Acknowledge and affirm the person: Mirror the emotions you want returned.
Never put words in their mouth. Put them in your question: Integrity is extremely important when producing nonprofit videos. I never ask a person to say “something.” But I will paraphrase what I would like them to say in the question I ask.
Ask them to repeat your question when answering: I’m not in the video, so if I ask, “How did you get to the shelter?”, and they respond “By bus”, the story is missing. I start off each interview by asking them to repeat my question each time so I’ll get, “I came to the shelter by bus.”
Have fun: Be friendly and relaxed. Cameras make people nervous and you may be discussing a touchy subject. Help the interviewee feel comfortable.
Location is important only if it has meaning: I would much rather see the emotion on a person’s face then a wide shot revealing some cool location. You can always cut in images (called “b-roll”) to help tell the story. Again, this is not your normal school of thought. Shoot a medium close up and use lots of b-roll. It will save you time, money and will be far more effective! There are times when the location may cause an emotional response for the person being interviewed. If that’s the case, GO THERE!
Overshoot – ALWAYS: a good editor/producer will eat b-roll. Always shoot more than what is needed especially if you are on location. Chances are you may never be back, so it is better to have and not need then need and not have. Shoot lots of dumb stuff. Watch Survivor and you’ll often see a lizard crawling up a tree used as an edit point. Be creative. Video tape is cheap, so use it!
Have fun: Working at Burger King sucks. You are producing video that might just change the world. Have some fun while doing it.
Make it happen: The invisiblepeople.tv concept had been in me for a long time. But I couldn’t make it happen until I figured out how to get the past not having professional video gear and editing equipment. I only had $45, a low-end camera and a laptop. I’m so glad I didn’t allow not having the right gear stop me. Today, MySpace’s Impact Channel is featuring one of the invisiblepeople.tv videos. That is amazing since it is not what the “media industry” would classify as a quality production. It’s just a kid talking about being homeless into a $500 camera. Several thousand people will watch that video today alone simply because I didn’t follow the rules and I made something happen.
The last rule, there are no rules! Take a risk, do it different and make something remarkable!