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Friday, April 25, 2008

eye candy

I read a Portals column by Lee Gomes in the Wall Street Journal recently that made me think about video effects and graphics and how they so often seem to define the current approach to making programs. These days software programs and video clip art make it easy to add effects. And that certainly seems to define the video look. Jazz it up with lots of eye candy. Below is a link to a video example of what I mean.


Gomes relates a story that puts it very well. Quoting from his column:

"The Daily Show" satirist Samantha Bee once visited the Washington bureau of Al-Jazeera English, the Middle East news channel that U.S. Cable and satellite companies won't provide for their American customers. Ms. Bee set about making the show more palatable to Yanks. She did so not by changing its perspective on events, but by redoing its look. Full-screen shots of solo anchors talking calmly at their desks were tossed out, replaced with computer-rendered crawls, tickers, charts and graphs. None of the fake graphics imparted any useful information. That was part of the joke. The show's writers were making the point that as far as TV news is concerned, nothing says "Made Proudly in the USA" better than video game-style graphics that keep viewers in a perpetually agitated state.

Later he quotes Dean Velez, a veteran of the news-graphics business, "Just because you can use Apple's LiveType to animate text with fire doesn't mean you should use Apple's LiveType to animate text with fire." Amen to that.

The truth is, if your piece is vital and compelling then graphics just get in the way. And if it is boring and full of facts, then graphics will appear to make that bitter pill go down better. But basically, all that eye candy is a poor excuse for not doing a better job at making a compelling program.

In the final analysis, good producing, shooting and editing beats anything else. And around here, our work, sans eye candy, is still winning the awards.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

facts v. ideas

When it comes to writing narration copy for video, why are so many "writers" in love with facts but have such a hard time with ideas? Let's face it, facts are boring. Who cares? Facts sound like they mean something significant, but unless you understand the context and how your fact relates to what came before and what will come later, what's the point? Facts just fill up the spaces. And I like spaces. Spaces give you room to feel, contemplate and understand. Spaces are what it's all about.

Now, I'm not talking about a fact like "this is the tallest building in the world." No, that's a fact that carries it's own context. Namely, that there are scads of other buildings and this one, right here, is the biggest. No, I'm talking about a fact like "this building is 387 feet tall." All I can say to that is, "so what?"

Here's the problem: facts get in the way of understanding. They appear to be important, otherwise why include them? But by themselves they just hang out there, standing in the way of insight and comprehension. They are poor substitutes for concepts and ideas. And, if nothing else, we're in the idea business. That's what we do: create programs that help people understand the issues, what's important and why.

So recently, we took on project for a new client, a trade association, who came to us to do a series of very short pieces honoring their nominees for a prestigious award. Each nominee would get a 25 second video explaining their project. The videos would be shown at the awards ceremony and then they would announce the winners.

I saw the videos that were done in the past and they were fairly typical, with wall to wall narration full of facts and devoid of insight. Not a pretty picture.

We thought, these should really be like memorable campaign spots. You know, "Morning in America" or the famous Daisy Countdown. They should present concepts. Show, not tell.

So we took that approach, writing sparse, open narration filled with ideas. Not a fact to be found. Letting the visuals tell the story. And when it works, you feel like you've taken a little journey, starting one place and ending somewhere else.

You can do a lot in 25 seconds, when you make every word count. And, let's face it, facts are a dime a dozen. Ideas can change the world.