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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.
If you’ve produced a few tribute, legacy, or memorial videos by now, you know what your clients want: lots of pictures and videos accompanied by their favorite music. Music is the soundtrack of their lives, and they want to hear their soundtrack to match the various periods in their lives, be it the Beatles, Herbie Hancock, or Ella Fitzgerald.
In the privacy of your own home, or that of you’re client, that’s not a big deal. But if you’re making real money for your services, working for a major corporation, showing the Tribute at Carnegie Hall, or– putting it online, there will be the possibility of major problems. This may wake up the copyright “police”, and Dad’s Favorite 50’s tune may have to find it’s way to the cut-out pile.
What I want to deal with here is the online use of copyrighted music, which dominates many tribute videos.
The Dirty Little Secret of the Home Market Producer
It’s easy to find public domain footage to help start off a period section of a tribute or wedding or retirement video, but almost impossible to set the tone for an era with copyright-free period music. Over the years, Congress has extended copyright protections to the point that those protections will outlive the lives of authors and performers. Radio stations pay an agreed on statutory rate for using pop music, even as the very use promotes that same musc. TV uses pop songs, but they sometimes disappear when the DVD or streaming versions are released, simply because home market rates are higher than broadcast rates.
When my brother Dennis and I started our Tribute business in the nineties, we involved a composer to build us a suite a music we could use for the tributes we produced. We knew about copyright, and wanted to set a higher standard with our emotional orchestral music to set scenes, as opposed to “Small Town” by Mellencamp, “Jersey Girl” by Springsteen, or “These are Days” by 10,000 Maniacs (notwithstanding the fact that these are all excellent choices).
Well, that didn’t last long. If a client producing a 50th birthday video for Uncle Don wanted to use Don’s favorite Sinatra tune, well, dammit, that was the client’s choice, and the client is always right– if you want to get paid.
In the short run, it was a risk we had to take– after all the audience for these tribute videos may be only 5, 10, or even just 100 people. But then this online thing came along, and tribute and wedding video producers were eager to put their work online, both for promotional reasons and as a nice add-on for their clients. After all, 90-year-old Aunt Judy in Seattle might not be able to make it to the engagement party in Maine.
Enter YouTube, Exit the Wild West
In the early days of the Internet, on-line video was difficult. It involved proprietary compression schemes to get around the slow bandwidth rates. Chances are the producer would compress the video, post it, and require the viewer to download the right codec (like Flash or Windows Media, RealMedia or Quicktime) to play it backed. Kludgy, but it worked, if you could put up with video no larger than an eighth of a screen.
Then along came YouTube. YouTube did not arrive fully grown. It had its limitations, and was happy if you were uploadingm no matter what the content. But as YouTube grew, things slowly changed, and when it was purchased by Google, well look out. The quality and playback capability slowly improved, and the gold rush was on.
YouTube had competitors, with the two remaining today for consumers being DailyMotion (free) and Vimeo (subscription for the producer). We’ll leave Twitch out of this for the moment).
By the md-2000’s, all of these platforms were aware of copyright and warned uploaders about the legalities of same. But in the last decade, all of them had installed sophisticated algorithms to detect primarily audio copyright infringement, and agreements with various large corporate owners to automatically stake claims to copyright upon upload. Yes, that fast.
These sample videos include copywritten music. In the case of the business videos, all music is paid for because it was carefully selected “Library Music” for which we paid for the right to use in the video. In the case of the tributes, it was a mux of library music and pop tunes. Recently, after seeing how YouTube reacted to this music, I decided to look ito DailyMotion’s and Vimeo’s reaction as well. Here are the results:
YouTube has the most thorough tools to seek out copyright issues, but is also somewhat lenient (at a potential cost to you).
YouTube’s arrangement with copyright holders allows the owner of the copyright to determine the penalty for using their music. In many cases, they will allow it, as long as they can monetize your video instead of you. (Monetization– getting a cut of the ad revenue generated by your video only kicks in when you have 1000 subscribers.) So the penalty is that your video cannot be monetized and is instead monetized by the copyright holder or holders. HOWEVER, some copyright holders with a more stringent view will block your video from being shown in the markets for which it has the copyright (in most cases, the United States). This cuts out your primary viewers so you might as well take the video down. This happened for me in a Tribute Video for a client in which a romantic section used Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight”. It was the couple’s favorite song.
YouTube gives you the option of automatically substituting the offending song with music you choose from their free library. This is good, if generic, music and will allow your video to be shown. It’s a decision you’ll have to make: Does the meaing of the section disappear without the copyrighted material, or will the pictures running over the new music suffice?
Clearly Daily Motion is an “All or Nothing at All” situation. If they find ANYTHING offending, the simply kill the video. They don’t let you know what songs have been flagged, and have no means of automatic substitution. It’s up to you to make the substitutions in your video editor and try again.
Despite clear copyright warnings, Vimeo, which charges $12 / month for its service, did not automatically flag videos which YouTube and DailyMotion bounced. Whether they simply expect you to act in good faith, or whether they do manual reviews or rely on viewers to report infringement is unknown, at least to me. The above video, for which I had to use substitutions in order to make it available on YouTube, is residing on Vimeo in its original form.
I have read (but not tested) that live streams are far more lenient on copyright issues, but once you post those live streams as regular videos, they do get flagged.
Facebook does have a stringent copyright policy but is somewhat lazy in the way it enforces it. When I attempted to upload one of the above videos, it called out a single instance of song rejection, told me to make a substitution manually, and resubmit. I did, and then it found another single instance of an offending song. This went on one-by-one until I realized it was never going to end, and didn’t end up posting the video.
This article does attempt to offer real legal advice. It is only anecdotal in nature and your mileage may vary. It does not condone or recommend copyright infringement in any form.
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.
At some point in your communications career, you will be faced with writing a video script. It comes with the territory. How you respond to this distraught pleasure will say a lot about you and your understanding of visual media.
What makes writing an av script hard is not knowing how easy it can be. By the very nature of the written word for a visual medium, the key to success is less, not more.
For one thing, you’re writing to be heard, not seen. For another, the medium is a visual one, which means it prefers the visuals to do the talking. Finally, a script for video needs a lot more than just words. It must provide visual direction, audio direction, and the essential creative blueprint that leads to the success of the project.
Let me give you an example.
Let’s say that your goal is to write a short script about a new software program that helps people track their spending. Let’s call it “Fast Money”.
It’s a simple, easy to use program which can help people budget, save, an ultimately have the money they need to fulfill their dreams.
The goal of all video productions is to engage the audience by appealing to their desires. You could talk about how “Fast Money” has been written by coders certified in C++, how it is delightful in its use of a user-friendly GUI, and how it automatically sends back error messages to “Fast Money” HQ so that the program can be constantly improved.
But you’d be talking to yourself, because the potential buyer doesn’t care about any of that. They care about money. Their money. Their life. Their future.
SO you need to create a hook. A way to start the script that talks right to them and their needs.
SO you begin writing:
ANNOUNCER: You want to make Money! VISUAL: Picture of Dollar Bill. SOUND EFFECT: Ka-Ching. MUSIC: Money, by Pink Floyd.
Well, it’s a start, if you want to hit your audience with a sledgehammer.
Hitting audiences with sledgehammers doesn’t create intrigue. But this is often the approach an unseasoned writer will take– they’ll cover all the bases.
The good news is, luckily, you don’t need to know or present all those technical facts. What you need is a way to engage the audience on their terms.
Instead, try writing without using words– ie, skip the narrator for now and create a scene instead.
SCENE: Slow zoom in on man working at kitchen table, He has a yellow legal pad, a checkbook, and a calculator. He looks worried and is wiping imaginary sweat from his brow. A woman, his wife, walks in behind him and looks over his shoulder.
HE: It doesn’t look good.
ANNOUNCER: Too familiar? It’s hard to save a buck these days.
VISUAL: Alternating close-ups of the couples faces, cutaway to their checkbook showing small negative balance, cutaway to pile of bills.
Now, that was fun! Instead of a litany of facts and figures, suitable only for the engineer that developed the product, we’ve now created an emotional scenario almost anyone running a household can identify with. They’re ready to hear more.
And we didn’t use corny music, jangling cash registers, overblown prose, or dollars marching off a cliff.
Now you’re on your way to being a scriptwriter. Yes, you should know the facts. But no, the audience doesn’t need all of them. They need reasons to care. And you’ve just given that to them.
Now, they’ll listen to more– even if there are a few facts thrown in.
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.
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.
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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.