Run and Gun Videography Boot Camp

Chalabre, France from the Chapel on the Hill

 

Some of you will have gleaned from some of my posts that I am an American living in England with another house in Southern France that we’re renovating.

It now looks like I’ll be spending more time in France than England, mainly because we own the French house lock, stock and barrel. It’s a matter of economy.

Anyway, it got me thinking.

You see, the house is pretty big. When we’re done with the major renovations next summer, we’ll be able to sleep 20 people. Two kitchens, 5 bathrooms across two connected houses (one 17th century, one 14th century) with a private terrace (which is actually within the ruin of a 3rd connected house) on the market square in a historic French town about 1000 years old with a castle on the hill in the foothills of the Pyrenees, steeped in history and in one of France’s best wine regions.

My wife, a sculptor, wants to start some sculpture master classes here, so I wondered if there would be any interest in my starting up a Run and Gun Videography boot camp. It would be based on the book Run and Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide, and the idea is that you’d come here for 10 days and we’d do some basic courses and then go off on forays to anyone of a number of fascinating places around here to shoot a video and edit it on FCPX. We can even do multiple video edits as there are always interesting events happening around here throughout the summer (concerts, street parties, etc.) regardless of the various historic or geological destinations that abound. If you use some other NLE, I guess you’d have to bring along a laptop.

You’d have a room and you’d be wined and dined with great food, including the best vegetables you’ve ever had (no Monsano here) and there’d be time for social activities and other fun as well.

I realise that many of you might think that is all wonderful, but sadly out-of-budget, but I also know there are those of you who have either had successful careers or have taken up video as a hobby or second career and the idea of travelling to France for some training and fun is not out-of-the-question.

But if you do come, I promise it will not only be the trip of a lifetime but also extremely valuable in terms of what you will learn and be able to do from here on out as a professional videographer.

I look forward to some comments/feedback on the idea.

Cheers, Joe

The Video Whisperer

 

Free Book Offer: Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide

Run 'n Gun Videography

I’ve decided to enrol in KDP Select which gives me some promotional options including making the book available for FREE for 5 days.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m doing it for two reasons.

  1. I’m locked into KDP select for 90 days during which period the book can only be available on Kindle. So that gives me a sort of deadline for making the book available in soft cover and putting it on other platforms. I can’t promise it, but it’s a good target for me because I’m going to be pretty busy before then anyway. Plan is to update it and make it available in hardcover next fall.
  2. Though the book has sold a few hundreds copies, it’s only gotten about a little over 30 reviews between the UK and US markets. They’re all good reviews, but I’d like to see a lot more reviews.

The Free Download Offer is NOW LIVE on Amazon and runs through Sunday.

I hope that most of my subscribers here who don’t have it yet will take the opportunity to download it.

In exchange I have a humble request: Please review it on the Amazon page once you’ve read it.

US Amazon Link

UK Amazon Link

Available world wide.

Lie Back and Think of England

 

The campaign to create a life-size statue commemorating the 300th anniversary of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s 300th birthday is now officially live!  Capability Brown Statue Crowd Funding PageCapability Brown Statue Campaign

This is my first crowd funding video.

Its purpose is to raise the funds necessary to create a life-size bronze statue of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, England’s most famous landscape architect. It has been said that English landscape architecture is one of England’s greatest contributions to world culture and it is, indeed, Capability Brown who is behind the meaning of that sentiment. Yet, unlike his French counterpart Andre Le Notre who has statues, busts, paintings and engravings all over France, Capability Brown is without similar recognition in the UK. No busts. No statues. Only two paintings, one of which is in a private collection.

The video tells the story, but since this is the Video Whisperer blog, I thought I’d fill you in on some details behind the making of this video.

My wife Laury Dizengremel is a sculptor and is also the artist-in-residence at Belvoir Castle. Two years ago the last known plans of Capability Brown were discovered in the Castle archives which were supposed to have been his crowning achievement. They were started, but never completed due to the financial problems of the 4th Duke of Rutland. So the current (11th) Duchess of Rutland decided to have a go at completing those plans as part of her legacy.

She called in Alan Titchmarsh, England’s pre-eminent gardening expert, TV personality and author to help her and both embarked on a two-year program to execute the first phase of planning resulting in a 3 part national TV program which recently aired in the UK.

Laury found herself immersed in all of this and asked the foremost expert on Capability Brown, historian John Phibbs  (who was also part of the process) if there were any statues of Capability Brown. “No”, was the answer.

Some weeks after the dust settled from all the filming activities and airing of the program –and after we ourselves found a break in our own activities, Laury decided that she was going to take it into her own hands and get the funds raised to finance a life-size bronze statue of Capability Brown to gift to the nation.

For that she wanted a crowd funding video. And she wanted it that afternoon.

I said, ‘whoa Nelly–I’m pretty good, but not THAT good”.

And I explained the sorts of things that are necessary to pull off such a thing. Such as “who are we going to get to be the presenter for it THIS AFTERNOON?” and other small details like that.

I only knew of one person–one of her daughters, who sounds as English as they come, but she wasn’t available. And I wasn’t willing to find and hire a presenter. So I thought about it for a couple of hours during which I came up with a rough draft of how I might want it to go.

The more I got into it, the more I thought, “well, hell, I’ll just do it.”

So the next morning I got up early, walked off into the English fog and shot the whole video.

I had the job of explaining who Capability Brown was, why he deserved a statue in this, the 300th year of his birth, why an American was giving the pitch, and why a French sculptor with an American accent was going to create the statue for the people of England. That’s a tall order, isn’t it?

Here’s the crowd funding page with the video.

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/capability-brown-sculpture?tk=6bcf1b28fded861304ae3c52399f092b038cc06c

For £100 your name will be added to the plaque at the base of the statue–which will be the first ever statue of England’s of the man who came to define the natural landscaping that has been one of England’s greatest contributions to world culture. Pledges from £25 upward to £15,000 are available, each with a perk listed on the website.

I hope some of my faithful Video Whisperer Blog subscribers will help us make this possible with a pledge of £25 or more.

Please donate.

Thank you,

The Video Whisperer

Final preview of the book “Run ‘N Gun Videography”

For anyone interested who has been following this, I’ve been writing an ebook entitle “Run ‘N Gun Videography–the Sole Shooter’s Survival Guide”.

I’ve now finished the first draft of the book which sits currently at 40,000 words and 25 chapters. I suspect there may be one or two more chapters added, but besides that I’m in editing mode and starting to think about graphics and layout. Should be finally published some time this summer.

Thought I’d share one more sneak preview, this one of Chapter 10. (most of it anyway. Hey! I can’t give away all the punch lines!)

Any feedback would be appreciated.

P.S. For the moment my Video Whisperer website is down for unknown reasons, so you may get an error message if you click that link. I’ve been wanting to re-do the whole thing and move it over to WordPress. Maybe it’s a sign….

Chapter 10, Corporate Shoot-outs

The Video Whisperer Approach to Corporate Videos

I’m using the term “corporate videos” loosely here. I am referring to the full range of business videos likely to be produced by a lone shooter or small production company. In my case, that ranges from home business owners, shop owners, small business owners and on up to multi-national corporations.

Clearly, when you start getting into the big name global corporations, they’re probably not going to be taking you on as a lone shooter.

So we’re not competing here with video production companies that are essentially small film studios with a full complement of specialized personnel.

“Corporate Shootouts” is probably an apt title. The bigger they are, the more people you have to please, the more meetings you have to have, the more planning you have to do and get approved (and modified ‘till everyone’s happy), the more back and forth on your edit, the more unwanted input from executives that want their stamp on your good ideas…and those larger video production companies have people that deal with all of that.

At any rate, I don’t play that game anymore, and if you’re reading this book, you probably don’t play it either. I like to keep it simple.

I travel light.

I don’t go into a corporate shoot like a swat team.

I walk in alone with a 6 shooter.

But I have a strategy.

And the funny thing is, even in that corporate environment I’ve walked into a conference room full of harried scriptwriters and producers and won with this approach, so don’t get the idea that because it’s simple, it can’t be effective.

Are you ready for this?

1)  I don’t script it.

2)  I don’t storyboard it.

3)  I don’t rehearse it.

So far that sounds pretty lame, doesn’t it?

Let me clarify it starting with a little story.

I used to be sent out to various parts of the globe to do a mini documentary on some interesting character by a corporation who had already fully pre-conceived the story and had it scripted by the “very best scriptwriters” based on glowing PR reports from the “very best research personnel”, right on down to the expected content of the interviews and testimonials.

The only trouble was, the real scene on the ground was never what the script said it was. So I used to get beat up about this pretty regularly by the corporate people for “not following the script” because I found real life far more interesting than their imaginary version of it.

One day it dawned on me why it was that the reports sent in to management from the field always understated the actual scene.

The real heroes on the ground that we were sent in to do stories on were too busy (and too humble) to waste much time on paperwork and bragging themselves up to the higher ups. So in the 25th hour of their day, they probably just didn’t spend much time sending their obligatory reports to management.

It was only when I tossed the interview questions and started really chatting these people up that I began to realize that they were too humble to know how extraordinary they really were. They had far more interesting stories to tell than anyone who sent us there knew about.

How ironic. Those “higher ups” were so damned concerned with their own PR that they chose the certainty of false reports based on faulty research over the actual truth which was far more interesting and better PR than they ever dreamed of.

Ok, this is a personal story and won’t have much to do with what most people will run into, but it did teach me a very important lesson that later formed the simplistic approach I started taking toward corporate videos summarized in #1-3 above.

And that lesson was: Real people are far more interesting, sincere and believable than imaginary ones.

I learned this by watching one director interviewing someone in quite a different and remarkable way…

The Secret of Interviews

Let’s face it. We’ve all seen standard, run-of-the-mill TV news interviews.

And we’ve all seen those high-end journalists who make the big bucks because of the compelling stories they supposedly draw out of people.

I’ve seen these things from the back end too. I’ve seen Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame (one of those supposed high end investigative journalists) doing a story. He arrived in a limo with a full entourage and large crew. “Intimidating” comes to mind. But this time he left in a big huff with his tail between his legs because the people he was doing a story on decided to run their own 5 cameras on the 60 Minutes interview so that 60 Minutes wouldn’t have the freedom pull off their usual skewed agenda-driven story through the magic of editing. That’s right. You can make people look like fools or criminals or worse just by the way you edit the footage—and I’m afraid that’s probably done more often than not depending on who is financing the story.

Anyway, that’s one extreme. But generally speaking, reporters are after controversy because that’s what sells. They’re after tears on camera and true confessions. They’re after salacious material and confrontations. They either have an agenda or their editors or producers do. That’s the world of journalism for the most part.

Documentaries can also be agenda driven with a similar approach to conducting interviews.

Tell me if I’ve gotten this right:

An interview consists of someone asking a list of prepared questions and getting responses to those questions.

Seems to be a reasonable definition, but it’s about as idiotic as it gets. I wouldn’t even call it simplistic. Not only that, it gets worse.

Typically the interviewer almost never acknowledges the answer before asking the next question. (wouldn’t that make you feel uncomfortable? You’d be wondering, “Did he hear what I just said?”) Worse still: (and I’ve seen this countless times) “that’s great, but could you give that to me again with a smile?” or “great!, but I need you to mention (_________)”, or “don’t bring up (__________)”, or any of an infinite number of other ways to introvert the interviewee because of some stupid pre-conceived idea that the interviewer has in regards to what he thinks the interviewee should say. After a short while the interviewee, convinced that you’re not interested in what they might want to say, spends the rest of the time trying to figure out what you want to hear, and the more he or she apparently “gets it wrong”, the more introverted he or she gets.

If anyone ever asked you a bunch of questions and never once acknowledged anything you’d said, you’d get the idea he wasn’t really very interested in what you had to say and you’d be right. If you had any integrity at all, you’d end the interview and tell the guy to buzz off. But too many people forge on and try to please the interviewer. They cease communicating about their own interests and passions and try to second guess what it is they’re supposed to say to make the interviewer happy.

I don’t care if it’s a news interview or a corporate interview. You get the same results; a dull, lifeless, stilted interview that forwards a supposed news agenda or marketing agenda.

It is so prevalent as a style that too many novice directors fall into the same “reporter mode” because they think that’s the way it’s supposed to be done.

I know I’m generalizing and I know there are exceptions to the rule. There have been truly great and memorable interviews and biographies, but I’m making a point that it is a pretty common approach to corporate videos by small productions companies and lone shooters who “learned it” by watching some of the “big guys”. It probably came about simply because some of these journalists who were on a deadline just didn’t have time to actually talk to someone, or (more likely) had orders from producers to obtain specific content.

A good interviewer puts his or her interviewee at ease and then engages in friendly conversation that makes the person happy and willing to talk. That should be the easy part—like riding a bicycle. The hard part is at the same time steering the interview to the end of obtaining quality, usable material for the purpose intended—like fixing a flat tire. Not very hard really.

The secret to interviews is getting people to talk about what they want to talk about, not what you think they should talk about.

But how to do know what they want to talk about?

You don’t.  You just don’t.

It’s no different than meeting someone for the first time.

So you start off with the minimum of what you have in common, even if very little. Well, you’re at their company, right. That’s a start. You’re both aware of the company and what it does. (It goes without saying that you will have done your homework and have some idea of the content or marketing message you are after). Nothing wrong with starting off with “So how long have you been working here?” Easy enough to answer and gets things off on an informal foot. The guy relaxes. He thought you were going to ask a tough question.

And you go on from there finding out about his specialty, his knowledge, his contribution to the company.

Just don’t make the mistake of getting caught up in the brilliance of your own questions. And don’t assume that you know what the ideal response should be, regardless of what the marketing people think.

Your questions are meant to be a good guess at what might get them going and what they want to talk about. And presumably you’re talking to them because they have some intimate knowledge of the subject at hand.

So start chatting. Keep it real. Keep it light and conversational.

And watch their eyes.

When those eyes light up, you’ve just found the entrance to the subject of what they like to talk about, what their passion is, etc. I don’t mean start talking about fishing or motorcycle racing. Obviously he knows what you’re there to talk about that’s relevant. What I’m saying is that when you’re in that area you’re probably going to find a hot spot that lights up his eyes. That’s the subject that’s going to get you some good material. Chat it up from all directions. He may start brief, but due to your interest, he may open up and dump a whole load of great stuff on your lap. It’s your sincere interest that will get him talking.

Listen to what they say. Really listen. Really be interested. Acknowledge what they’re saying by smiling or nodding or whatever is appropriate. Don’t cut them off.

When they seem to be finished, ask them more about what they just said. Better still, ask them something specific about something that they seem particularly interested in or emotive about. You don’t even have to ask a new question. Simply commenting on, agreeing with or otherwise acknowledging some aspect just mentioned will be enough to get them to continue talking about it.

And let them talk.

Of course you also ask all the perfunctory questions. But ideally you first establish a great rapport by talking about their interests. Then all the rest of the stuff will come off great too.

You can talk to anyone about anything that THEY are interested in.

When you find those topics, all their inhibitions disappear–so long as you do your part by listening, acknowledging and not cutting them off.

If it all goes wrong and you can’t seem to get off on the right foot, be humble enough to realize that you’re the one that introverted them and got them to stop talking. There is still an out.  I’ve done it many times to miraculous results.  It goes something like this:

“Forget about everything I just said or asked. Forget about what you think you should say or what the company thinks you should say or what you think I want to hear.  What is it about this subject that interests YOU the most? What about it are you most passionate about? Go ahead, let your hair down.”

Sometimes after 30 minutes of interview, I’ve gotten the greatest percentage of my editable narrative after making that statement alone.

Look at it this way. It’s really simple.

An interview is simply a directed conversation.

But it’s still a conversation.

It’s not formal. It’s relaxed. It’s fun. It’s interesting. It’s something you’ve done naturally all your life.

If you’re shooting a corporate interview or a testimonial, the only difference is that you are a director and you know the sort of content that is required to fulfill the marketing angle (or instructional angle—or whatever kind of video you’re doing). It doesn’t matter how long it takes to accumulate that information. It doesn’t matter a hoot what you say or how much you banter with the interviewee. All that gets cut out. But as you go along you will be making mental notes, “that was a good bit”, or “that’s a great opener”, or “that will work great in the wrap up”, etc.

With experience you’ll know when you have enough material to be able to edit the interview and achieve your objective.

The main point is, that the best of your material in that interview will be honest, sincere, passionate, and believable. But better still, you might well turn up with some great material that no scriptwriter or marketing person could ever have dreamed up for the very best actor or presenter to deliver with all the right hand gestures.

The intended audience for your video can see marketing hype a mile away.

But the real guy, warts and all, speaking from the heart is also something they can see from a mile away. And that’s they guy they’ll listen to.

Ok, that’s a basic overview. I’ll cover some more on this subject later, but for now, let’s get back to what this has to do with shooting corporate videos, or more specifically, how I do it in terms of “the Video Whisperer approach”….

 

Run ’N Gun Videography

The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide

I’ve decided to write an ebook expanding a lot on the sorts of things I post on this blog periodically.

Incidentally, the Video Whisperer blog was originally borne out of a desire to help new-comers to video production to understand some of the fundamental basics of the subject they might otherwise never have learned in film school or otherwise. Apparently quite a few folks out there have found the information useful and some have urged me to write a book.

Since I like to write, that invitation was all I needed (in addition to a little extra time to do it).

I wrote the first 5 thousand words at Heathrow a couple weeks ago, and a few thousand more in the odd late hour since then.

I thought I’d share the introduction to the book to test the waters.

If you’ve ever wondered where the name “Video Whisperer” came from, here is that story.

DSC_0057

 

Run ’N Gun Videography

The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide

Introduction

After spending most of my life working as a cameraman and director (both film and video) for a studio within a team setting, I decided to go solo as a video producer in 2008.

My wife Laury and I were living in Montana and my talented step-daughter Chloe was visiting us from England over the Christmas holiday. As Chloe was an aspiring singer/songwriter, we decided to check the local classifieds for a free piano that we could lug home before Chloe arrived. We found one in nearby Idaho, and set off across the mountains and fetched it home (a little Montana lingo there).

Within a few days of her arrival, Chloe had already written a new song…and I had an idea.

We dragged the old upright piano back out of the house, onto the trailer bed and parked the whole thing in the front yard (in the middle of ten acres of wilderness). We were due for a big snow storm that night so I instructed everyone to gather up some pine boughs from the surrounding forest of trees and place them around the wheel wells and hitch of the trailer.  Then we draped some heavy-duty plastic over the trailer bed and anchored the ends in the existing snow to create a sloped surface from the edge of the flat trailer bed. Finally, we tarped the piano and called it a night.

The next day we awoke to 8 inches of fallen snow. The trailer was completely hidden under a thick blanket of snow. The piano appeared to be sitting on a small treed mound outside in the Montana wilderness.

That day Chloe bundled up and rehearsed the song at the piano under sunny blue skies in the crisp, dry sub-zero temperatures of our Montana Winter wonderland.

As usual and expected, some of the local deer came around during the day, this time to find a strange contraption in the front yard and a strange blonde girl making noises with it. They were intrigued and proceeded to nonchalantly forage for greenery in close proximity to the rehearsal, occasionally stopping to look and listen to the music—or to stare at Chloe, who knows?

And, of course, from a discreet distance (but closer than you might think) I quietly shot footage of the deer with Chloe in the background who was sometimes playing and sometimes turned on her bench trying to commune with her unusual audience.

That night another snow storm was due and we set my plan into play.

I set up a couple of discreet spotlights so that once night fell, the surrounding forest would be slightly discernible in what would otherwise have been a pitch black background. We covered the piano with candles which were to be the primary source of light at the piano. Then we ran an electrical cord out to the piano and plugged in a small electric heater under the bench.

Later that night as it started to snow, Chloe bundled up again and with one camera on a tripod operated by our neighbor and another handheld by myself, I shot Chloe’s first  “public performance” of “Close to You” in the middle of a snowstorm.

The next day I edited it intercutting some of the day rehearsal shots of the deer “audience” and wound up with a very unique and magical music video indeed.

A few weeks later we had some guests over to dinner. Naturally Laury had me show them the video, so I started it for them and left the room. I came back toward the end of the song just in time to overhear one of them say “…Video Whisperer” I have no idea what the rest of the context was. That’s all I heard. And I thought to myself, “That’s it! Perfect!”.  I immediately logged onto my computer to see if anyone had that domain name. No one did. So I bought it and everything related.

And that’s where the name “Video Whisperer” comes from.

Now, why tell this story here?

I came from the school of thought that camerawork should be “invisible”. In other words, the camera has a job do to and that job, that purpose, that mission, that contract, is to direct people’s attention into the story being told; to engage the audience’s attention and emotions with the greatest possible impact or clarity.  You can get away with “fancy camerawork” (cranes, dollies, hand-held, etc.), but the moment you do it to call attention to your own camera skills, the moment you’ve distracted the audience into the technique that’s being employed in the story-telling, is the moment you’ve violated that contract.

There is a reason for any type of camera composition, still or moving, and indeed there is a purpose to composition—still or moving—in the first place; it all has to do with forwarding a message and directing the audience’s attention to that message with emotional impact. Veteran professional cameramen do this intuitively. To the film making professionals, the camera (or lighting, sound, sets, props, actors, costumes, makeup, directing, editing, script writing, special effects, sound recording and music) are all tools that are used together for that purpose alone. And to the degree that all these departments align to that purpose, there is a potential for a great film.

On the other hand you have those who do “fancy” camerawork for the sake of fancy camerawork. They shout “look at me!”. And when someone does that at a party, if you’re a charitable person you satisfy their narcissistic vanity out of politeness, or you quietly leave the room.

In my humble opinion, you’ll find that a whisper can be far more powerful than a shout.

IMG_6383

Priceless

Brainstorm: one split second

Write script: 15 minutes

Shoot video: 30 minutes of ghastliness, 20 minutes of hiccups, 15 minutes of giggles, 15 minutes of magic and two stars are born

Edit video: 4 hours

Result: Priceless

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