Archive for April, 2012

Pretending Can Be So Much Fun!

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

We were hired by our client International Culture Exchange Group to create a television commercial campaign to promote the upcoming event, Global Winter Wonderland, which took place in Santa Clara over the 2011 Holiday Season. (See Susan O’Connor Fraser’s blog post Global Winter Wonderland – A huge marketing success! to read more about the project.). Since we were creating a spot for an event that didn’t exist yet, had not been built, and had never been held in the U. S., we had to come up with a creative way to get viewers excited about a new cultural event never before been seen and was even less understood by our Northern California audience. We wanted it to capture everything the event held from amazing Chinese Lanterns to food, shopping to entertainment but without good existing footage of the event we decided to shoot the spot on a green screen stage, put stock footage as the background and then once the event was in full-swing we could shoot the backgrounds, drop them into the original spot and then start airing a new spot with the “real” backgrounds.

Once we had the concept and the stage, it was time to put the call out for auditions. Tam Communications likes to use Casting Networks San Francisco (image & link to SF Casting) for on-camera actors. Similar to my recent blog about the current process of how we are now booking off-screen/narration talent (See my entry – Finding Great Voice Talent), we can easily post what we need and immediately get a large number of actors to choose from. Since we needed a relatively large cast of all ages and ethnicities, we had an enormous pool of applicants–I’m talking nearly 1000 people responded to the audition posting. We only had a day to see as many people as possible, which meant breaking down the talent into groups of about 15 to 20 people each. We didn’t take everyone mind you who responded to the post. We narrowed it down to a few hundred. Once you get the range of faces you’d like to see—to represent the vibrant ethnic diversity of our Community—now comes the tedious task of scheduling 300 people into the day so you don’t end up with everyone wanting afternoon auditions when their kids get out of school. It takes about three days of work; organizing everyone, scheduling them, emailing them, talking to them, having people change, cancel, and change again.

On casting day we had about 300 people that we saw in 8 hours, in 15 minute increments with a half hour lunch. These kids and adults had to improvise situations since they had no idea what the event was about When they walked in the door. With each group we repetitively went through the task of explaining what Global Winter Wonderland was all about and then it was time to direct them so they could respond to what they were “seeing”. “Imagine,” Susan or I would say, “you’re walking through a village of beautiful lights and to your right is the Eiffel Tower, you’re your left the Taj Mahal.” Then “now you’re in a dinosaur maze and T-Rex leans his head into the maze just as you come around the corner. Now give us your best dinosaur roar.” Jill video taped each group, we gathered pictures, we took notes, and by the end of the day, we were exhausted and overwhelmed by all that we had seen. Overall, the actors did an awesome job and we had a ton of fun, but we were beat.

The next step in the process was to narrow the list even further. We had budget for 20 and probably 50 really great possibilities so it was difficult. So many great kids and adults had to get cut from that final list. Then came the part of contacting everyone that got the part. We also make it a practice to contact those that did not get the part so they’re not left hanging and wondering; I know this is one thing that differentiates us from other production companies (or at least that’s what talent has told us). When I contact them besides breaking the news, we want to thank them for their time and to make sure to look for us again for future auditions. I also use it as a time to help some of the parents with some feedback on what their children can work on for future auditions. If we find talent that we really like that was not a good fit for our final casting, we always encourage them to come again because the next time their chances are very high to be hired. I have already seen that happen a few times. We also like to re-hire talent that do get the parts and really enjoyed on set and will always bring them back in for auditions if the role is right.

Casting for production is just one of my responsibilities that I find extremely stressful, at times, but totally enjoy it all in the same breath. I look forward to our next casting opportunity.

5 Things to Think About Before You Build A Web Site

Friday, April 13th, 2012

When we embark on a new web project, everything is possible. Well, everything within the schedule and budget! But beyond the nuts and bolts, there are still innumerable possibilities, so where do we start? How do we bring a field of possibilities into fine focus, allowing the most important and most interesting possibilities to emerge?

Ideally, we get together in-person, and whenever possible, we try to setup an initial brainstorming meeting and working sessions, armed with analytic data and customer profiles. However, for many good reasons, that’s not always possible. In fact, more than half of our projects happen without physically meeting, and so we use collaboration systems to assist us.

One staple is the project questionnaire. This is a list of five questions that you can ask yourself and your team before we even start, to help us bring the universe of possibilities down to Earth, without losing creative potential.

What do you think your visitors are looking for?
Perhaps you have analytic data that helps you to see where your visitors are going, or perhaps you know your audience well enough, or have some market research to assist you in determining their interest. This information is helpful, but not always definitive. For instance, perhaps there are things that your visitors are looking for that they are not finding because that information isn’t there. So while you can see what they are interested in, it’s also good to consider what they might be looking for that’s not there.

What are the three most important things the web site should feature?
This is a great question for organizations of any size because it challenges the organization to really look at itself and its mission to make sure it is presenting itself in a clear and concise way. And, just because you feature three things, doesn’t mean that the site won’t have everything else. It’s just a way to make sure you communicate clearly to the audience what you are about, and what they can do on the site.

What’s the most important thing for a user to do on your site?
After you narrow the focus on three things, zoom in on the one thing that is most important. Knowing this, we can design a site that meets your core objectives.

What feeling or impression do you want them to have after visiting the site?
The first and sometimes the last impression someone has of your organization may be because of the web site. Think about that. You definitely want that first impression to be a positive one, but in what way? Thinking in terms of emotions and feeling brings up images, design, quality of experience. Do you want them to feel excited? Do you want them to feel curious to know more? Do you want them to feel like their needs are going to be met? What’s the feeling?

What makes your organization unique that you want to make sure comes through clearly on the web site?
And finally, look at your organization and consider what makes you who you are. How do you express the strengths of your organization through the web site? What are those strengths? This is a way of reaching out to your visitors so they know who you are, and it is potentially the start or continuation of an ongoing relationship.

With these five questions, we’re ready to start work on building a great site that truly reflects your organization and brings forth your most important objectives. And sure, it’s probably a good idea to take a look around, to see what your competitors are doing, to consider features that will make the site interactive and smart, but we tend to do that anyway!

Timothy O’Connor Fraser is a web developer and owner of Dewdrop Media, which partners with Tam Communications to build web sites and mobile apps.

The Lab Burned My Neg

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

The year? 1989. The place? The beautiful Filoli Estate in Woodside, California. We were working on the trade show video “Amadeus” along-side Cadence Design Systems’ in-house Creative Genius (not his title but what he was), Larry Eberle. My stomach was turning, hoping we were going to pull off what was one of our biggest and most ambitious projects to date.

Emperor’s Royal court on-location at Filoli.

Since we were following the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart playing for his mentor (Mentor Graphics was, at the time, the #1 EDA company), we needed a location that would look like the Royal Court of Vienna in the late 1700s. Filoli was the natural choice even with the hefty location fee. It was cheaper than building it from scratch or in CGI and shooting on a sound stage and shooting in Europe. (although that would have been fun). We had rented wigs from the San Francisco Opera, even hired their wig master. We had costumes rented from several shops throughout the Bay Area We had an amazing cast—the late Sydney Walker and Dean Goodman. Our star was the spitting image of Tom Hulce (the one who played the role of Mozart in the Oscar-winning film).

The court breaks out in dance as Mozart moves from chamber music to rock and roll.

We had a big crew (make-up artists, hair stylists, grips, gaffer, etc.), a chamber ensemble (who couldn’t play but looked good), an adapted version of the Mozart composition, and we had a choreographer and dancers. Uh, what? Because every good performance of “Eine Kleine Nachtmuzik” should end with a hip-hop flavored flash mob, right? And because this was in the days of standard definition video, we were originating on 16mm film.

Bottom line it was a big deal for us and for our client. We had collaborated with Larry on previous ECAD/now Cadence productions but this was definitely the most elaborate so far. It was truly a creative partnership. After two days of extremely satisfying production, we all went home to anxiously await what we had just “put in the can.” The film was dropped off at the lab, costumes were returned, actors and dancers went on to other jobs or day jobs, the wigs and wig master were on a flight to New York, Larry went back to Cadence—our fun-filled weekend of fantasy role playing seemed destined to produce something amazing.

Emperor Joseph II (the late Dean Goodman) and Salieri (the late Sydney Walker) on set in the first scene of the video.

Needless to say, none of us were prepared for the phone call we got two days later. Some not-so-lucky person was handed the assignment of calling us to tell us that the technician left our first reel in the developer for too long and it blew out the first scene we shot—the entrance of Emperor Joseph II and Mentor Salieri (Goodman and Walker). We had done several takes of this vital scene that set the stage for the entire piece—so many, in fact, that I was afraid we’d be into overtime if we didn’t move faster.

We were in a panic. While Tam drove like a bat out of hell to San Francisco to survey the damage, the rest of us were on the phone trying to figure out if we could reshoot. It was appearing highly unlikely. As we all held our breaths for the verdict and fearing the worst, we recalled the magic of the two days of production–how everything had come together so beautifully in a relatively short amount of time and on budget. It was a dream turned nightmare. Finally, we got the call. Tam tells us “The entire first scene was totally blown out.” As I’m about to burst into tears, he continues, “Fortunately, we were able to salvage the scene with the Bosch Film to Tape telecine. Viewing the raw film before the correction it was so blown out there was only a trace of the image. After the correction, it’s barely noticeable, although if you watch the scene closely you can see some flicker and it doesn’t quite match the vibrancy of the rest of the piece.

It was, however, enough to get us what we needed and I don’t think anyone ever knew the difference. In fact, “Amadeus” went on to be honored with some of the most prestigious awards in the industry.

Finding Great Voice Talent

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

When I first started working full-time for Tam Communications and took on the task of arranging auditions and booking voice over talent for our digital media projects, I worked strictly through talent agencies like Stars and JE Talent. Between the two of them, they provided access to the amazing variety of talent in the San Francisco Bay Area. We’d send a script, they through it out to their clients who recorded a portion of our script and sent us an mp3. These were, for the most part, union talent. Between the talent’s hourly rate and union fees, agency fees, insurance, etc. (all of it well-earned), it was running close to $700 and up.

As we did more local and regional, non-union commercials and as budgets on many corporate projects were slashed, we needed to find a way to trim costs throughout the process without impacting the end product. Enter the Internet. Specifically as it pertains to cutting the cost of the voice over without compromising quality, we found our way to Voice123 and later where voiceover talent can upload their demos and companies, like us, can post jobs that we need talent for and they’d can then record their custom demo to, hopefully, get picked.

All I have to do is fill out what I am looking for (age, accent, character, gender, type of read), the budget, the deadline for auditions, and then copy or attach a portion of the script. Within days, if the request is not too obscure, I can have hundreds of auditions (I can also limit the number). Everything is already online, I can listen to each read, rate the submissions, so I know which are my top choices and then download an mp3 file of my favorites to send to the client for their final decision.

Once we have our talent chosen, I can send the lucky voice actor an email and we’re off, scheduling a session and sending final script. Since the chosen talent might be from Toronto, Canada, it would make in-studio directing challenge. Fortunately, most narrators have home studios these days and the quality of the final product is fine. We can be “patched” in over the phone line and can then direct the voice over session. Clients can join us and make sure everything is properly pronounced or be on-hand for potential last minute script changes. Afterwards, the narrator sends us the raw files and we’re ready for the edit suite.

So, not only have we been able to reduce cost with and but it has also streamlined our efforts, making it quicker and easier to find talent and record voice tracks. When our schedules are tight, which they are, giving the client the option to walk to a quiet conference room to “sit in” on the narration versus blowing a whole afternoon driving to a studio is just another added bonus. And I guess that makes it the green alternative as well.

We do miss working with so many of the great Bay Area narrators, casting agents, and sound engineers. And when we can, when it makes sense, we’ll look forward to reconnection.

From Our POV: The State of the Corporate Video Industry

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

It’s been an interesting decade and corporate video has evolved as a result enabled by all of the technological advancements, many of which were born right in our own backyard. As I said, it’s been interesting.

I remember “back in the day” working with high tech Silicon Valley companies that were (and many still are) chasing the elusive “Smaller, faster, cheaper, better” in a never-ending game of leapfrog with their competition. Nowhere has this slogan been truer than in the video arena. After all…just about anyone can own an HD video camera (a lot of us have one in our phones). And just about anyone can own the equivalent of an HD editing suite on a beefy laptop or desktop. And anyone can get a video up on YouTube. So does that mean that anyone can tell creative, compelling, and powerful stories that can effectively communicate key messages in a way that supports the overall brand? Of course not.

So you’re probably thinking I’ll now tell you that’s why you need to hire Tam Communications for all of your video work. Actually, just the opposite. I believe a lot of companies would be well served to have an in-house producer (if they don’t already) that can tackle, at a minimum, many internal videos and external product demos, white board discussions. Depending on the hire, he or she may fill the role of producing or just managing bigger projects, hire out-of-town crew, or screen production companies for projects that are outside their core competencies. We believe there’s an excellent opportunity for today’s freelancers, shooter/editors, and independent producers to thrive in a corporate setting, where they can enjoy the steady work, employee benefits, and the possibility of a paid vacation (what a concept!).

With YouTube and other Content Delivery Networks (CDN), companies can distribute training, education, product demos, a whole world of content, to a worldwide customer and perspective customer base at a fraction of what it used to cost. And they have metrics that were simply impossible before – who watched the video, from where, in what language? But the ease of producing and distributing simple videos in-house does not mean that all video communication should be “just the basics” or “good enough”. That same CDN can help you define your brand to people who may have never made their way to your industry trade show to learn about you, to meet you and get to know your products. That money you spent on a video that wowed at the product launch or trade show floor for three to four days now has a life as long as…well, who knows how long.

At one point I realized that when someone asked, “Do you produce ‘YouTube’ videos?” it was code for cheap. I’d like to see more and more companies realize that you can use that same infrastructure to create content the whole industry will be talking about and sharing.