I’ve said it before: the most important component of a high quality video story is the audio. Note the use of the word story: YouTube ramblings, addresses from the marketing director, and explainers don’t count– their audio is the person speaking or explaining and music may be a distraction.
I didn’t come to this conclusion without practical experience. I first started in the business doing “twin dissolve slide shows” for business and arts groups. a twin dissolve slide show is compressed of two Kodak Carousel slide projectors, a “dissolver box” connected to the two projectors, and a tape recorder with the soundtrack and a cable to the dissolve box telling it when to advance slides. Going from one slide to the next involved a special effect: a dissolve or fade from one slide to the next, so there was never a blank screen. The net effect was cohesive, whole sight and sound show, the less expensive version of an industrial film.
The cable between the dissolver box and tape recorder was used to record “pulses” on a separate audio rack which triggered the slide advance and dissolve effect.
Script-> Shooting-> Soundtrack-> Editing.
This was our production path, and any video producer will tell you this is wrong. Editing is a dance between audio and video, and the editor needs to play with both elements to create a well-paced, engaging end result.
But our challenge was the slides part. Slides and audio were necessarily edited separately, usually by two different people. You could lay out the show on light tables as per the script, but you wouldn’t know exactly how to time and pace the show until there was a soundtrack to tell you how long a sequence would be, whether the pace was slow or fast, emotional or humorous, etc. So the soundtrack preceded the final edit, placing the slides in the slide trays, and “pulsing” the show. In other words, it was providing the majority of the editing decisions simply by being first.
Even when we moved into video, we kept this as our editing model.Budget video editing in the early days was cuts only from one 3/4″ deck to another. The soundtrack was created first and then laid onto the audio tracks on the videotape to act as an editing guide. It wasn’t until “non-linear editing” on a computer appeared that a single individual could edit both audio and video with an array of both audio and video transitions and effects. (Large video “post production houses” had this capability somewhat earlier).
Lesson Learned: Audio Drives the Pace and Emotion of the Project
Our books The VideoBiz and How to Create Tribute Videos both have extensive sections on audio production and may be a help to you. They’re available in Kindle and Paperback. Check out this blog’s past entries for more thoughts on audio as well.
A weak soundtrack will bore audiences, causing them to disengage, start coughing, shimmy in their seats, and slow the perceived passage of time. Which means you will have failed your client. Which means you’ve put your job or your company in peril. And you’ve made your direct client look bad.
We’re all getting older, passing milestones on our way. Anniversaries, weddings, birthdays, retirements, awards and more cn all pass in what seems like a moment. And then, it’s too late. Uncle Johnny was an important part of the family. Mary was the backbone of accounting. Grandma knew so much about the family, from Ellis Island to living through war and peace. As Dean Martin sang, “Memories are Made of This”.
Of course, there are boxes full of photos, and cabinets full of videotapes or films, and plenty of newspaper clippings– wouldn’t it be nice to pay tribute to Aunt Winnie while she’s still with us? That company founder that’s retiring– doesn’t he deserve a “Tribute”?
Tribute Videos: The Secrets to Doing Them Right
The art of producing a good tribute video informed my professional video path for forty years. There is simply nothing more satisfying creating a tribute and then seeing and hearing the tears and cheers from the people who know and love the person you’re honoring.
That’s why I wrote this book. You’ve got a camera or camcorder. You’ve got a computer. You’re halfway there to producing your own tribute! This book is chock full of technical tips and creative techniques that will help you develop your talents as a storyteller and place them within the confines of an outstanding tribute video. It gives you all the sources and resources you need, downloadable video and music to recommendation for equipping a small studio to do your work. Skip the silent slideshow that runs in the background at the honoree’s dinner– turn it into a video that everyone will want to have.
As an author on the Amazon platform, I’m given the opportunity to offer my books for free for 5 days a year. It’s a marketing ploy– develop word of mouth and hopefully get some nice reviews. But nonetheless my Kindle version of the book– which sells for $3.49– is free from August 3rd to August 7th. By downloading the book during this period, you’re helping me, and maybe you’ll be helping yourself as well.
And if you love it, say so. Tell your friends. Write review. Let me know what you liked, and what can be improved. Here’s the location for the freebie– click here! On August 3rd through 7th, of course, all though you’re welcome to preview the book on Amazon right now.
It joins “The VideoBiz” book in my attempt to share my knowledge gained in 40 plus years of slide, multimedia, meeting, and Interactive production.
Tributes are where I got my start, producing a tribute for my father’s 50th birthday, the College of Journalism Dean’s retirement, a class graduation, and my sister’s engagement party. All were celebrations of people. Despite a life of producing new product intro’s, training tapes, corporate overviews, rah-rah rally-the-troops rousers, and major meetings with actors and flying vacuum cleaners, I always loved tributes the best. And we did them for the corporate world: retirements, award biographies, military ceremonies, memorials, and more.
I learned over the years that I had developed (in my head) a set of rules for producing good tributes. I communicated them over the years to many of my writers and producers. So years ago, I took a first stab at writing a book about tribute video productions.
But things have changed, technologically and generationally. And I now have much more time to build out the book I’d really want to share with people. Except now, it’s freelancers, video enthusiasts, or anyone who suddenly has to produce a tribute and doesn’t know where to start.
This book covers it all:
Theory of the personal story
Equipment, from soup to nuts (with an emphasis on saving money)
Acquiring and inputting assets for your story (photos, movies, clippings, interviews)
The art of building a story
The sequences you can follow to guarantee success
Public Domain photo, video and music resources
Sample of successful tribute productions
Web resources for additional learning, equipment purchases, even software
And that’s just off the top of my head (well, at least there’s something at the top of my head!)
I’m also building a home for tutorials and sample tributes at http://www.tributevideobook.com. There you will find samples of tribute videos, links to resources, and of course, more about the book.
For more than a decade, my Aunt Virginia Lee ran the Prudential Theatre in New Canaan, Connecticut, called the New Canaan Playhouse. My father’s family lived in Norwalk, Connecticut, and New Canaan back then was about a half-hour ride down a two lane highway. So I, my brother and my sister alternated taking “vacations” with the Lees of Stevens Street. My grandparents, being grandparents, and having worked in the hat factory most of their lives, would on occasion persuade “Aunt Ginny” to take the visiting minikid to the theater with her, to give aging Ma and Pop Lee a few hours off.
This was the best thing that ever happened to me. Starting at age 7, and ending at age 15, I spent a few weeks, then a few months every summer at the theater. The last two summers, I was employed as an usher and learned how to walk backwards with a flashlight (when theaters were still truly dark). And a saw a lot of movies. In those days the Playhouse was a single screen theater, there were two or three shows a day: 7pm and 9:30pm, and on Tuesdays and Saturdays, a Matinee as well. My grandfather worked the matinees as the ticket taker, resplendent in his starched shirt and bow-tie.
Of course, as I spent more and more time at the theater, I got to see some great movies, as many as 16 times in a row. Some of the those films really affected me, and I’m here to list the top five and why.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
This is now regarded as one of the great science fiction films of the fifties. It uses an all-electronic score, even for the opening credits, which were credited as “tonalities” not music.
It is the story of a spaceship from our planet (led by square-jawed pre-Airplane Leslie Nielsen) going to a remote planet to retrieve a scientist who is the sole survivor of an exploratory crew sent 20 years before. Leslie falls in love with his daughter (miniskirted Anne Francis), the doctor has strange mental powers, there are weird howls and images of large lions jumping through the air It’s all because of some left-behind technology by a prior civilization, who built a giant underground machine to pump up their intelligence.
For a 7 year old, it was frightening. Sitting in the tenth row, I actually called out repeatedly to my aunt when one of the monsters showed up on the screen. She wasn’t happy.
But this wasn’t a creature from outer space movie. It was actually a take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and very thought provoking, even for a seven year old. Repeated viewings much later via dvd and vhs proved that to me.
Lonely Are the Brave (1962)
Kirk Douglas is a cowboy lost in a modern (the 1960’s) world. He’s the last of a breed, and wanted by the law. The film is a study of a man trying to adapt to a new world, one which he has ignored most of his life in favor of the “old ways”. But modern police methods, big city traffic, new attitudes and the pace of a new world are seemingly too much for a man on a horse. I only saw this one once, and I don;t remember the ending. But the empathy you feel for Kirk and his own view of the world are very real, and you root for him to elude capture (if I remember, he doesn’t but I may be mixing it up with “Cool Hand Luke”).
Irma La Douce (1963)
Well, if I hadn’t already reached puberty, this would have done the trick… Shirley MacLaine as a Paris prostitute. This was a Billy Wilder film with all of his typical humor, and features Jack Lemmon as a naive cop. Shirley teaches him a few tricks. It also features Lou Jacobi in the role that really made him, but that’s another story. Great music track, basically studio shot (I know Paris streets can be small but not that small). I only saw this a few times, so I don’t remember the whole thing, but took a look at a few minutes on Amazon the other night and got reacquainted with my Catholic guilt.
A Shot in The Dark (1964)
Now we start the summer where I worked for three straight months, and these are the films I saw 16 times each. Let’s start with a “Shot in the Dark”, the second Pink Panther film and this time I fell in love with Elke Sommer, the femme fatale of the movie. Peter Sellers is in his prime as police detective Inspector Clouseau, and Herbert Lom is his long suffering commander his first appearance in the series). George Sanders is the perfectly oily villain, setting up Elke Sommer to take the fall for a murder. And speaking of falls, there are plenty, from the tumbles in the suprise practice judo attacks of manservant Cato, and all kinds of pratfalls , both dry and wet, by Sellars. Also, in this film he began using the exaggerated French accent that he would use for the rest of the series.The main theme by Henry Mancini uses an early synthesizer as the lead instrument, and is perfectly paced for the cartoon vignettes that used to populate the credits in comedies like this. I can stil laugh at this film!
The Carpetbaggers (1964)
Was a fifteen year old boy ready for this film? No, but I loved it. “This is the story of Jonas McCord”….so begins the narration, and so begins this story, really, of Howard Hughes, as Hollywood would see it. There is sex, big time fights (Jonas and Alan Ladd as Nevada Smith– his last role), more sex, an unrequited love, crazy airplane daredevilry, and lots of alcohol. The music by Elmer Bernstein is incredible– pulsating western motives, in a big movie large orchestra style. Get the soundtrack on CD if you can. I never stole any f this music for my early slide shows but I should have.
EXTRA: A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
My Aunt told Headquarters she would have nothing to do with it! So I went to see it that summer in Pleasantville, New York with my friend Dave English. I would have preferred seeing it 16 times at the New Canaan Playhouse.
The New Canaan Playhouse was a single screen theater back then, and the last time I was there (begging to be let in for a looksee) it had been split into two theaters. It is now run by BowTie Cinemas, which is a good sign.
During my run as an usher, I broke up two lovemaking sessions in the balcony, ate a lot of candy working at the candystand, read and collected a lot of press kits (where I was introduced to the world of blatant PR), and spent an inordinate amount of time in the projection booth with Jimmy, the potbellied old man who I had to assume worked there forever. I also learned to drink gallons of coffee in paper cups from the variety store next door.
This is the most popular form of “first time” video use in the corporate world. I say “first time” because everytime a new marketing manager or multimedia corporate manager is hired, this is their first video, even though it may have been produced by others dozens of times. But time marches on, and the basic “Corporate Overview” is never out of style. Humble beginnings, incredible growth, state-of-the-art products, remarkable people, and of course, god-like management who can see the future– these are the basic story points. And as for the future– we’ll be there.
Our Country, Our Company: We Grew Up Together!
If your companyhistory is boring, this is the way to jazz it up. Dress up your company’s minor accomplishments by surrounding them with parallel happenings from history. To open a meeting for a boiler company whose product hadn’t changed much in 45 years, we did just that– did a decade by decade rundown of world wars, pop culture events, moon landings, wars, and, oh yes, the one or two acquisitions the company had made and pictures of their aging sales agents along with a dash of “Aren’t We Great”. It was an unbelievable success. The company’s current sales malaise? We blamed it on the hippies.
New for The (Insert your decade here)!
When your decade gets past the five year mark, it’s time to start talking about the next decade and how much greater the company will be then. New technologies, new ideas, new products, new marketing– it’s all around the corner. Couple this with flying 3D text and psychedelic motion backgrounds, and you’ve just made it past another sales meeting.
You’re Not the Slug You Think You Are!
Getting more out the company’s people is the job of the Human Resources Department. Every so often, it comes time to remind the employees that they are an important part of something REALLY BIG (and it’s time to get their collective asses in gear)! So you come up with a theme for some posters and then decide to do a video based around that theme– Let’s call it “Dare to Be Great!” Now it’s time to toss around phrases like “Exceeding Expectations” and “Paradigm Shift” and “Core Competencies” and blend them with employee interviews with scared, shell shocked (those lights are bright) employees trying to say something positive about the company. You’ll save it at the end with a nice, motivational montage of workers waving at the camera.
The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread! (Alternate: Even Better than Before!)
It’s time to roll out the new products. (If your product is actually a first of its kind, skip to the next section). Next year’s model has…uh… a NEW logo, an incredible 1% increased efficiency in the deeblewopper, and a new model number. This calls for sexy slow pans across the product, every damn inch of it. Big music tells the audience this is important, and, if this is at meeting, maybe impress the audience with a 10X scale model of the Dominator 3000 (always use next century in your model numbers). And, oh, yeah, dry ice all over the damn place for that foggy glow.
He’s 75 Years Old, Let’s Give him a Tribute Before It’s Too Late!
Someone at corporate has just discovered Willard S. Smocks, a store manager in Staten Island, is 75 years old and has been with the company for 50 years. Time for a nice tribute. Send a crew out to get shots of him at work, record nice words from his fellow workers, and gather old pictures if there are any. Make sure you get the passing of the plaque from the regional assistant director (that’s all the company can muster) to Willard surrounded by his loving co-workers. At the shoot, you discover he’s camera-shy, kind of grumpy (he never made it to corporate), and his co-workers are hanging on for his oft-threatened retirement to vie for the store manager position. Fix it in post with a freeze frame of his half-smile and the words “Congratulations, Willard” underneath.
Ken Burns has been credited with devising the “smooth moves on stills” effect that has permeated his various award winning productions. But, for history’s sake, I’d like to claim that this effect was developed simultaneously across the country by “multi-image” slideshow makers.
I’ve written here previously, and in my book “The Videobiz: A Practical Guide for Video Startups”, slidemakers using 2 or more projectors and the capability to transition smoothly between each image pushed the envelope to imitate motion. This, coupled with a great soundtrack, often convinced audiences they were seeing “movies”.
The slide shows often used historical still mixed with original photography. The historical images were shot on a camera stand, first manually– cranking the camera up and down to frame the picture– then, automatically, using programmable copy stands manufactured by Marron-Carroll and others.
The smart director would ask the camera operator to shoot three or 4 shots in a row “pushing in” to the picture (or pulling out) or panning left or right or diagonally. Combining these sequences with dissolves or cuts between the pictures simulated a sequence that added visual interest to otherwise static medium. Above is a short excerpt from such a show we produced in 1977 for Cleaver-Brooks.
Eventually this became second nature, and became part of the language in “multi-image” slideshows. It was a phenomenon I used to call “spontaneous combustion”– the fact that many people working along similar paths wouldld develop similar techniques and solutions to keep progressing along those paths. In other words, we in Milwaukee weren’t the only ones doing this.
In early 1978, we were asked to produce an opening “module” (as we used to call them) tracing the history of the credit union movement for the Credit Union Executives Society based in Madison, Wisconsin. This was our fourth or fifth assignment from them, having produced multi-screen slideshows for their annual and marketing meeting the last few years.
Feeling a bit bored, I suggested we should do the opening module in video instead of slides. Video projectors were pretty rare back then, but we had successfully used video projection for advertising awards shows in the past. That way we could show commercials that had been produced on video in their native format, rather than transferring them to film, which wasn’t cheap.
Renting the projector wasn’t cheap either, but the manufacturers of the one giant projector that coud actually do the job was willing to cut us a break on the $9000 rental cost in order to expose it to an audience of advertising pro’s. Yes, $9000. This giant behemoth, which stook five feet by four feet, had to be transported by train or truck. And allow two weeks.
So we worked out a deal with the manufacturer, got approval from the client, and went about starting to produce the video opener. We rented a video camera, and borrowed a Sony u-Matic editing system from the owner of the local Milwaukee Sub Sandwich Shop Suburpia. Why exactly he had such gear I still do not know. But it had come up in conversation at a bar, so I took advantage of that.
Soon we had hundreds of great black and white photographs detailing the history of the credit union movement. Now, what would we do with them to make this opener visually interesting?
Well for one thing, I had already developed a rather quick paced edit style in slide shows, so I wanted to keep doing that, only with video. We didn’t have any graphics or special effects capability other than quick cuts, so whatever we wanted to do would have to be done in camera. No problem. Photographer (now videographer) Linda Barton and I arranged our pictures chronologically, including shots of United States events to give it a universal flavor. Then, we proceeded to choreograph pans, zooms, pull outs, tilt-ups– anything we could do with camera movement and the zoom lens– and shot the historical video section of the video sequentially in camera. Live video was shot in a more traditional style, but still allowing for the long shot, medium shot, wide shot cutaway basics. It’s interesting to see this now (a short segment is below (sourced from vhs; please excuse the dropouts) and compare it to the earlier Cleaver-Brooks slide show– especially since we used some of the same historical photos.
Editing was then done to a soundtrack assembled– for the first time– as part of the edit. (I had done the majority of our soundtracks up to that time, so this was a natural extension for me.)
When it was all said and done, we had a video. We created some special title effects at a local “real” editing studio– it took all of an hour at most– and inserted those into the opening and close of the video.
Perfecting the Technique
Six months later, we were working on our first documentary– the life story of Eugene O’Neill, in concert with the Milwaukee Rep. By this time we had film editing equipment, and one of my partners, Rob Riordan, did similar magic using stills shot in a faux “rehearsal” by my other partner Ric Sorgel. It turned out beautifully, and that short segment in shown below.
I don’t remember when Ken Burns emerged on the scene, but I do remember mentioning to my wife at home watching one of his beautiful videos, “That style looks familiar.” I’m sure many slideshow makers across the country were thinking the same thing.