Archive for the ‘Video Storytelling’ Category

What Makes “Fair Use” Fair?

Monday, April 16th, 2012

The Internet makes borrowing content easier than ever. You can copy and paste just about anything you read or see into your own website. But you need to be careful about how you use someone else’s copyrighted material, or you could end up in court.

The safest route is to ask for written permission from the author or artist. And you should always attribute the work.

The legal concept of “fair use” enables you to repurpose copyrighted material to comment on, criticize or parody the original without permission—but you need to understand the rules. Here’s an overview, which I’ve based on an excellent, detailed explanation from Stanford University Libraries on Copyright & Fair Use:

How and Why Are You Using Someone Else’s Work?
At the heart of any fair use determination is whether you’re lifting someone’s copyrighted work in its entirety (NOT okay) or transforming the material in some way—reinterpreting the work, giving it new meaning or adding value to the original through new insights, information or aesthetic embellishment (MAYBE okay).

Here’s where the subject gets murky. What constitutes a fair use transformation of someone else’s original work is subject to much legal dispute. Using excerpts of copyrighted works for research, scholarship or educational purposes—to explain a point, as part of a critique or a review—is usually considered transformative and within bounds of fair use.

Courts are most lenient regarding parody, because reproducing an original work is essential to its ridicule. Think of all the American Gothic parodies you’ve ever seen—take-offs on that famous Grant Wood painting of the dour-faced farmer holding a pitchfork next to his dour-faced wife.

What Kind of Work Are You Using?
If you’re copying from a non-fiction work, chances are you have more fair-use wiggle room, because you’re spreading facts and information that benefit others. The boundaries are tighter if you copy from works of fiction, derived purely from the creator’s imagination.

Beware of copying from unpublished works; you may be violating the author’s right to determine when the work first appears in public.

See links below for guidelines on fair use for visual images and videos.

How Much and What Part Are You Using?
You might conclude from all this that the less you use, the safer you are. While that may be a good rule of thumb in general, if you copy what’s considered the heart of the work, the most memorable essence, without permission—even one line—you could get sued. In other words, don’t lift the phrase “Go ahead, make my day!” from Dirty Harry for your next ad campaign without permission. Parody is the often the only exception.

Does Your Use Deprive the Creator of Current or Potential Income?
Making money from your transformation of someone else’s copyrighted work, even if it’s something the author would never have thought of doing or didn’t have the ability to do, can also land you in court. Before you proceed with selling your adapted creation, get some good legal advice. Once again, there’s more legal leeway with parodies.

What If You Acknowledge Your Source? Isn’t That Good Enough to Protect Yourself?
Sorry, not so. It may help your case if you end up in a fair use dispute with the work’s creator (assuming you’ve met the above criteria), but it won’t protect you from being sued for copyright infringement.

What About a Disclaimer?
Even if you state in a prominent place that your work is an unauthorized use of copyrighted material—say, the unofficial guide to Beatles trivia—the disclaimer itself is no guarantee that you (a) have met fair use standards and (b) couldn’t be successfully sued for copyright infringement.

What About Fair Use of Visual Images?
This is a hot issue right now, given all the controversy over sharing images on Pinterest. In one case of a search engine that placed and indexed thumbnail images of copyrighted artwork on its website—images that were significantly smaller and of poorer quality than the originals—the court ruled that this practice would not undermine the artists’ ability to sell or license the original, full-size images. So, thumbnails seem to be okay, so far, but stay tuned for future refinements of the law as visual image networking sites come under closer scrutiny by copyright experts.

You can learn more about the specifics and gray areas of fair use and copyright infringement from these online resources:

Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Center Stanford University

Copyright Information Center Cornell University

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video Center for Social Media, American University

Copyright Fair Use and How It Works for Online Images Social Media Examiner

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your good work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.


What Makes Your Marketing Video Worth Watching

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

For any marketing mix, video is now an essential channel for communicating your message. Consider this:

But with all that competition, what makes a video worth watching? Our attention spans are getting shorter, and if the content doesn’t grab us in the first ten seconds, most viewers will click away.

There’s the obvious answer: video content must to speak to the needs of your ideal client.

Great Videos Depend on a Strong Storyline, Great Visuals and Surprise
Beyond that, a clearly developed storyline, excellent visuals and production values, the element of surprise—all help break through the cacophony of messages and ill-lit, poorly framed, garbled, rambling video that too often gets slapped up on websites in a vain attempt to keep up with Internet marketing trends.

Great marketing video can take so many forms because the visual medium allows for so much creativity. I recently came across this wonderful, whimsical example of video storytelling created by CognitiveMedia, a British animation studio, to promote author Stephen Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (2010).

CognitiveMedia specializes in a form of visual storytelling that they call “live scribing.” Andrew Park, the artist and illustrator behind the drawing hand in the video, works with large corporations at conferences and events, transforming ideas into pictures in real time. This video, narrated by author Johnson, takes that practice and speeds it up to create the animation.

A Fresh Mix of Compelling Story and Whimsical Visuals
What I love about the result is how you hear Johnson’s enthusiasm as he tells a tight, compelling story about complex, abstract concepts, while you watch the evolving, fun, clever illustrations that make the ideas so easily understood. It’s a fresh approach that feels like an animated graphic short story. And you’ve gotta love those turtles.

The topic, storyline and video drew me in enough to check out the book on Amazon, and I’m now in the midst of enjoying it on my Kindle. So, the video worked, and the book delivers.

Even if you don’t have a corporate budget for a production of this nature (the video was made for Penguin Books), I hope it encourages you to think beyond a dry talking-head discourse, to push the envelope of creativity and artistry in your video productions. Whatever your strategic goals, remember: it’s all about telling a great story—using compelling, clarifying words and engaging visuals—that’s worth your viewer’s time.


Video Case Study: Triboro BNI Chapter Video

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Every Wednesday at noon, I join in some good old-fashioned, face-to-face networking at the Triboro BNI business chapter in Westborough, Mass. For an hour-and-a-half, we meet in the back of Tatnuck Booksellers, sharing information about our businesses, referrals and friendship.

To help promote the chapter, I created this short video:

A lot goes into creating a video story like this one. Here’s how I did it:

Identify Your Goals and Target Audience for Your Video
I had three main goals for our target audience of prospective members:

  • Give the viewer a sense of what it’s like to attend a typical meeting.
  • Explain the advantages of referral networking through BNI.
  • Convey the warm and supportive environment that characterizes our chapter.

These goals guided all of my choices that follow:

Content Development Flows from Strategic Objectives
I prefer a documentary style that uses the voices of my subjects, rather than a narrator, to tell the story, as a warmer, more personal and genuine style of communication. So I needed to plan interviews with several of our members who could speak well and who could explain how referrals have worked for them with specific examples. These also needed to be people with whom a prospective member could easily identify.

Before and after the meeting, I recorded interviews with five members—articulate individuals who represent a wide range of businesses (massage therapy, real estate, tutoring, web development and interior decorating). I was careful to arrange for a mix of men and women.

Be Open to Unplanned, Creative Opportunities
As I set up the interviews, I realized that the bookstore actually made a perfect backdrop—adding not only color and interest, but also information about each person. So for four of the five subjects, I recorded them in front of the book section that related to their specialties. The other source sat in front of a large array of books—in all honesty, she was my first subject, I hadn’t quite worked out the concept for her interview, and we had limited time. So, this was the creative process in action.

The first interview in the video was actually the last one I recorded. I realized, after I had gathered the other four, that I needed someone to say a little about the history of the group. So I purposefully asked my subject to mention the name of the chapter and give some background. More creativity in motion.

I knew I would use parts of these clips mixed with B-roll of the store where we meet, shots of networking before the meeting, and the meeting in progress. Two of my interviewees were also doing a ten-minute presentation that day, a serendipitous fact I discovered after I had invited them to be interviewed, which worked well for cutaways. I captured several moments of joking and playful interactions between our members, as well as some sincere testimonials. These, I knew, would be crucial to the final production.

Putting It All Together to Tell the Story
When it came to editing about  an hour-and-a-half of digital recordings and fitting it all together, I first organized the five interviews in a logical sequence of content, explaining a bit about the chapter and how referrals have benefited members, as well as some of the bonuses of membership—having a group of people that you can rely on for all kinds of help.

After trimming those clips to the core points, I then mixed in scenes from the meeting, in approximate order of a typical agenda, to take the viewer through the experience. I interspersed key sound and visuals from the meeting with the interviews as illustrations of the process my subjects were describing. I also used illustrative cutaways to break up longer interview segments. And I made sure to pick the best clips that showed the warm interactions that are true to the group.

I wrapped the video story with a strong testimonial from one of our newest members, saying how glad she was that she had joined the chapter (can’t ask for anything better than that!), and scenes of the meeting’s close. The final screen includes contact information for anyone who wants to arrange for a visit. I tightened clips and reworked transitions to improve flow and keep the video to three-and-a-half minutes.

I added a short loop of upbeat music that fades in and out of the video’s opening and close—just to give the piece a little boost of energy and extra polish. The video is now embedded in our chapter’s website, and we have plans to distribute it via Facebook and Twitter as we begin our next membership push.

A Professional Production Takes Time, But It’s Worth the Effort
Altogether, including the shoot, production and technical smoothing of color and sound, I spent about 12 hours creating the video. As one of our members said, when I showed the piece to the group and described the whole process, you really don’t know how much work goes into a professional production like this.

Yes, indeed. But well worth the time to present our chapter for who we are—a group of business professionals who are there to help each other grow.


Poetry in Motion: Another Video Story Without Words

Friday, August 5th, 2011

So, I’ll keep this short.

I shot the footage for this video on Chebeague Island, a beautiful, quiet place in Casco Bay, about an hour by ferry from Portland if you take the mail boat run.

I wanted to capture that wonderful, peaceful, meditative mood that I treasure so much on vacation and share it with you . . . a great stress antidote.

The challenge of this video was editing the wave movement so that it flowed naturally from one shot to the next. Waves are like breaths, and I spent a lot of time reviewing each transition so that the momentum felt right. Waves are also wonderfully complex, and as I worked on the video, I found the patterns mesmerizing.

I hope you enjoy this tranquil slice of summer!

Video Case Study: Worcester JCC Early Childhood Program

Monday, July 11th, 2011

If you’re looking for the best preschool for your child, what’s the first thing you do?

Most likely, you survey other likeminded parents of young kids, to find out which programs they use and why.

That was the concept behind this video, Parent to Parent, which I recently completed for the Worcester Jewish Community Center Early Childhood Program (ECP).

My marketing research revealed that parents are the ECP’s key referral sources, and that they are enthusiastic promoters. So the goal was to capture their comments on video, mixed with illustrative shots of the kids and teachers in action on a typical day.

I wanted a prospective parent to be able to watch the video and feel as if he or she were sitting down over coffee with an ECP parent to get an honest appraisal of the program, and to see firsthand the quality of the teacher-student interactions and the JCC’s beautiful facility.

How the Video is Constructed
I decided to use only parent voices to narrate the video, organizing the clips in a logical sequence of answers to questions that most prospective parents ask: what’s the program include, what kind of activities are available, what is the nature of  student-teacher relationships, how well is a child prepared for kindergarden, how is discipline handled and, finally, is the program inclusive for families of all faiths (it is).

I was very fortunate to interview four eloquent parents, from a variety of backgrounds, to tell their stories about the ECP. All of their accounts were remarkably consistent, which both gave me confidence in my source material and made it easy to edit their thoughts together.

I used a montage of children engaged in their morning activities to draw in the viewer as the video opens and illustrated parents’ comments with relevant clips of children playing. Ambient sounds from the classroom, pool, gym and playground convey the playful, child-centered atmosphere of the program, as well as the kind and caring relationships between teachers and children, much better than any formal narration could ever do.

The video was just posted on the JCC website this week and will be used to promote their outstanding Early Childhood Program for the fall and beyond.





No Need for Narration: Telling a Video Story with Ambient Conversation

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

Storytelling can take many forms. I’m most intrigued by unrolling a story with ambient sound, as I did in my video November Light.

In that piece, I experimented with telling a stream-of-consciousness story without words. In this, my latest piece, Sunday, BIRI Sunday, I’ve tried telling a story with an intuitive plot, using visuals that follow a natural chronology, enhanced by both ambient sound and conversation.

The video was shot one Sunday last August, when my husband and I went by ferry to Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island (BIRI).

This was my first time using my Kodak Zi8 (which will soon be a dinosaur, now that smart phones are so versatile, but it’s still a great little video camera), so the footage is a bit choppy. But I decided to make use of that quality, since it helps to convey the movement of the ferry and our walking to the beach.

Using Natural Conversation to Develop the Storyline
The fun and serendipitous part of editing was discovering all the little comments that people were making in the background—especially children—describing what was happening. At one point, a little girl cries, “The boat just moved!” I couldn’t have scripted it better.

So I took advantage of those natural comments to move the story along. I used my husband as the anchor for the video. He appears throughout most of the piece, and we experience the day on the island largely through his actions, as well as through my own point of view as the silent visual narrator. The passage of time is relayed through changing natural light.

Capturing Mood with Pacing
While I wanted to keep this story to about three minutes to hold viewers’ attention, I thought a lot about pacing, trying to linger a bit on certain shots, such as the passing ferry and scene at the beach, to convey a sense of Sunday relaxation.

Balancing those two competing claims—short attention spans versus the pleasure of slowing down—was a challenge, and I’m still debating whether I made all the right choices, but I was somewhat limited by the quality of the footage.

I also chose not to lay down a music soundtrack, which would sound artificial to my ear, forcing the mood. I’d rather have you, the viewer, supply your own perceptions and feelings, to complete the story for yourself.

Engaging Your Viewer to Solve the Puzzle
The video works because it has a coherent, easily understandable story arc, and it draws in the viewer as a participant, sharing our mini vacation on Block Island. There’s no need for a narrator to tell you what it’s all about. You are pulled in by curiosity, by the natural evolution of the day and your ability to solve the puzzle of what’s happening.

The more you are pulled in to complete the narrative, the greater the chance that you’ll remember the story. Which makes this format a natural for telling compelling stories that stick.


Show, Don’t Tell: Not All Stories Need Words

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

During my years in public radio and now, with video camera in hand, I am fascinated by the power of sound and image to tell a story without words. Though I love crafting with language, I’m also intrigued by the evocative power of nonverbal forms of communication.

This past fall, I experimented with my little Kodak Zi8 to create a wordless video called November Light, which you can view here. Although this is far from a marketing piece, the storytelling techniques can be applied to strategic messaging, as well.

Capturing Mood with a Video Camera
I’ve long been struck by the the starkness and subtle beauty of natural light in late November. It often seems like such a bleak time of year, once the brilliant fall foliage has crumbled and everything appears so gray. But the light, unobstructed by leaves, reveals intricate patterns and contrasts, inspiring a closer look at the beauty in everyday surroundings. So, I set out to capture that imagery and tone with my camera.

Shooting inside my home, in our backyard, down the street, as well as at the Mass Audubon Wachusett Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton, a Revolutionary War era cemetery in the center of nearby Holden, and along the streets of Worcester, I captured sharp shadows and edges, golden leaves and creamy undergrowth, stone walls and wooly sheep, stark trees and cerulean sky.

I also captured ambient sound—wind chimes near our back door, dogs barking, wind rushing in marsh and field, cars swishing down busy streets, a turn signal’s tick.

Nonverbal Storytelling Demands Engagement
All of this became grist for the video, a stream-of-consciousness series of images connected by unspoken associations, mixed with natural sounds to create a contemplative mood. I thought carefully about pacing and what would make intuitive sense to the viewer, while keeping the editing tight to hold interest. I mixed still shots with movement to create momentum and build curiosity about what would come next.

So, how does this apply to strategic messaging?

The power of nonverbal storytelling is that it demands your engagement. Images and sound, carefully intertwined to tap your imagination, also build an emotional connection. In November Light, I have attempted to pull you into my experience of Nature’s beauty at a time of year that often appears drab and dull as days grow short. I want you to take a second look with me, to find inspiration and complexity in the seemingly simple.

Let Your Audience Make the Connections
The same technique could be applied to a host of compelling stories that promote a valued product or service—by bringing the viewer into the emotional experience of its use and benefits. Instead of telling you what to think with words, this approach enables you to make your own connections between thought and feeling at a deeper, more memorable level.

It’s the ultimate interpretation of a basic adage of powerful marketing—and writing, for that matter—show, don’t tell.