Why I Make Such a Big Damn Deal about Audio for Video!

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.

A peak inside our audio production studio- two 4 track tape decks, a turntable and a mixer.

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.

Tribute Video Book Free for Kindle August 3rd through 7th!

Tribute Video Book Free for Kindle August 3rd through 7th!

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.

The Ken Burns Effect and Me

The Ken Burns Effect and Me

The famous movement on stills technique had its Roots in Slide Shows.

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March 14, 2019

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.

Enter Video

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.

Storytelling is Still in Style

Storytelling is Still in Style

And long form video isn’t dead!

April 16, 2015

It’s still the way of the world: Young beats old, new triumphs over the status quo. I know. I was young once, and part of a generation that was taught to not trust anyone over thirty.

Okay, 40 MAY be the new 30. but the attitudes still prevail, and moreover, we live in a world where youth is celebrated, envied, targeted, ogled, modeled, OMG’d and TMZ’d.

There is a begrudging nod toward the “classic” or “Old Skool” (sp), but this is usually when some idea that transcends time is adopted and “mashed”.

I have a career because my partner and I though we could bring something new to the communications game, something beyond the traditional. We adopted new media, refreshing visual techniques, snazzy soundtracks, and incorporated a new style of writing.

But eschew classic forms? No way.

All of us came from journalism and communications colleges. We studied film, documentaries, and in radio production techniques. We learned what worked. Then we added our style to it.

And told a story.

The proliferation of videos on the web is proof that video cameras are reaching typewriter (ok, make that word processor) status– various uses, techniques, styles prevail, from simplistic POV to eye-bending storytelling. From screen-capture training to dramatic time lapse. From 6 second Vines to 2 hour dramas.

Short videos prevail, but these are mostly informational or slice of life, camera tricks or just plain look at the camera rants.

But a recent New York Times article pointed out that videos on the web are actually getting longer. Longer doesn’t mean better, but it does provide more room for storytelling

Perhaps today’s hyper-connected people have discovered the joys of the explorations of thought and emotional catharsis longer forms can provide.

That would make a nice ending for this story.

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