What works, and why.

Thursday
Sep282017

LESTER FINALLY GETS TO COOPERSTOWN

Lester Rodney finally has found his rightful place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown NY.

As part of the 2017 Baseball Film Festival, our doc - "CRIME OF THE BIG LEAGUES" is now part of the permanent collection in the museum. More importantly, Lester Rodney has finally been recognized for his pioneering work smashing the Jim Crow laws in baseball.

Michael Pickman (producer/editor), Jack Epstein (writer) and myself (director) attended the festival. It was my first trip to the Baseball Mecca and it did not disappoint. The film was very well received by a packed audience and was followed by a spirited Q&A.

The town of Cooperstown is like a going back in time 100 years.  Like the asylum patients from the film "King of Hearts" wondering their little French town, only in Cooperstown can grown men wearing full 1946 Cleveland Indians uniforms walk the streets without being stared out!

 

Wednesday
Sep132017

HEADED TO COOPERSTOWN

My good friend, Jack Epstein (editor at the SF Chronicle) told me the amazing story of 92 year old Lester Rodney, who had been instrumental in desegregating baseball in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  Jack had just written about him in the Chronicle. 

Rodney was the sports writer for the Daily Worker (NY City's Communist Party newspaper) fighting for social and racial justice in Depression era America. 

I was amazed.  I thought I knew my baseball (including Negro League) history but had never heard of this guy.  I asked Jack if I could meet Lester, with the hope of interviewing him for a possible feature documentary. 

But at 92, was he up for this?  I got my wish, met and filmed him at AT&T Park (with the help of the SF Giants and volunteer film crew). We taped for over 3 hours! He was energetic, funny and had an incredible story to tell.  

Unfortunately, we never got the funds to produce the feature documentary.  
The fascinating 3 hour interview was sadly put into storage.
That was 12 years ago.

Lester passed away in 2009 at age 98.

Last year, we met with the Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro League Museum.  He was giving a talk to middle schoolers here in the SF Bay Area.  We told him we had a fabulous 3 hour interview with Lester Rodney.  Was he interested in acquiring it for the museum?  His eyes lit up.  “I sure would!” he said.

We then decided to produce a short documentary using the interview and Lester's own writing as the spine.  With amazing volunteer efforts from Michael Pickman, Roger Krakow, the staff at Rough House Editorial, Ray and Amy Rodney, Marty Lurie, Vida Blue, Malcom Payne, Sirius Sound, Bill Zarchy, Jane Hall, the SF Giants, and the SF film community, “CRIME OF THE BIG LEAGUES” was finally produced.

It has since been recognized by ten international film festivals and lives in the Negro League Museum in Kansas City.  

We are beyond thrilled that it has been accepted into the 12th annual NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL of FAME FILM FESTIVAL in Cooperstown NY, Sept. 22-24.

Lester Rodney FINALLY gets the recognition in the National Baseball Hall of Fame he has always deserved.

 

 

Monday
Oct172016

WHY MOST CORPORATE STORYTELLING SUCKS

It’s one of the most clichéd words today – storytelling.  Stories can no longer be about just your product. People need to know your story.

You’ve heard this before. But you probably have also heard:

We need a video that tells the story of our dynamic company, our loyal customer base, our dedicated employees, our disruptive new VR platform, our game changing cloud-based solutions, our intuitive mobile enterprise apps, our flawless wireless network, our powerful diagnostic software, our kick ass micro fitness wearables...

and make it REAL!”

So why do most attempts at storytelling suck?

In many cases, slickness has replaced heart.  You shoot in 6K 360 with 5 drones, lock your After Effects artist in an edit suite for 7 straight days and have a fabulous driving score.  But the end result may still just be cotton candy.

Forget the psychological studies, explanation of the Narrative Paradigm, or snappy quotes from marketing consultants.

I can only share what I’ve learned from designing and directing “stories” for clients like Apple, GM, Philips, GE, Cisco, Intel, Lucasfilm and Disney.

Technique is important, but the key is finding the real humanity within each story. That goes for both dramatic and real case studies.

Here are four questions I ask myself while developing a project.

1.  Does the story reveal something personal (however briefly) from the lives of the characters that I connect with? A little bit can go a long way in humanizing the story. 

2.  Can I visualize myself in that situation?  If not, is there something within the story that feels genuine? Do I care about the people?

3.  Does the story reflect specific core values (one may be enough) of the company, while remaining in the background of the narrative.

4.  Is the script too packed with product info? Unlike what you learned in Journalism 101, its better here to “bury the lead”. The product/service should always be the punctuation to the story.

5.  Like the warm emotional response when hearing a minor musical chord, do I involuntarily respond positively from watching this story? And more importantly, does that response motivate me to learn more

There is no magic bullet to achieve these results. It’s pre-scripting research. It’s cinematic craft. And although I hate to admit it, it’s always a bit of luck.

Examples:

For Philips, we were tasked with telling the story of an elderly woman using home health monitoring devices that enabled her to remain at home. As it turned out, the story was actually more about the powerful bond between her and her daughter. Their relationship completely reinforced Philips position as a major player in the home healthcare marketplace. View Here: https://vimeo.com/126828468

For Quest Diagnostics, we designed a campaign to encourage boomers to get tested for Hep C. This story turned very personal, as the subject reflected back on her life choices and how/why she was motivated to get tested and “save her own life”. View Here : https://vimeo.com/144384068

Tuesday
Sep062016

THE CRIME OF THE BIG LEAGUES

 

Whether it’s in business, science, politics, education or everyday life, we need people with courage.

This is the story of a little known American hero, who did the right things for the right reasons. 

As virtually everyone knows, Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and broke the color ban in baseball.

But few Americans know Lester Rodney -- the sports editor of the Daily Worker, New York's Communist Party newspaper, who prepared the ground, repeatedly calling the ban "un-American" and "the Crime of the Big Leagues." 

For over ten years, Lester Rodney’s columns put unrelenting pressure on baseball’s establishment.  Who would have thought that a communist writer would become the loudest voice in the fight to desegregate America’s national pastime?  

Eleven years ago, I had the pleasure to interview Lester for 3 hours.  At first he was reticent to go on camera, as he never sought any credit or attention for himself.  But he DID agree, and for 3 hours we taped an interview at AT&T park.  Even at 93 years old, Lester had more energy and clarity than any of us!  An amazing guy…

Although my “day job” is directing videos for tech and healthcare clients, I hoped to develop a feature length documentary about his life. But sadly, all that remained was a trailer for the film that never was, until recently.  

After meeting the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the project finally found a home.

We produced the finished piece with Rough House Editorial.  Sirius Sound, Malcolm Payne Music, the SF Giants and sports legends Vida Blue and Marty Lurie were among those donating their talents. 

With all of the dissention and divide that we all live with, this is a story that needs to be remembered.

 

Thursday
Jun302016

WHAT’S SO DANGEROUS ABOUT COMEDY?

Nothing.  Unless you think differentiating your brand, producing unique messaging and creating an emotional connection with your audience is not what you are going for?  And the best way to get there is to entertain. And there is nothing more effective and memorable than comedy… when you get it right.

To quote Tim Washer, a senior marketer from Cisco - "When a brand shows that it doesn't always take itself too seriously, it's a powerful way to demonstrate authenticity and confidence, as well as connect with your community."

Every communication you put out there (be it external or internal), is an opportunity to educate, entertain and wake people up. So why not do it with a laugh?  The best comedy presents realistic situations taken a step further.  That’s why people connect with it.  That’s comedy. 

Here are some excuses I’ve heard why "corporate" comedy has not worked or even attempted.

Risk - “Let’s not take a chance with something new. Sherry from HR will star in another Star Trek parody.”

Unless Louie C.K. works in your Marketing Dept, you want professionally designed strategic comedy.  Use outside folks who know comedy to work with you.

Budget - “We don’t have a real budget, so we used interns from the local college.” 

You get what you pay for.

Expediency - “My boss just said she wants something for the new homepage that is going live in 2 weeks”.

When deadlines are tight (when aren't they?), think simple.  A singular concept is always the most powerful. 

For example, I directed a piece for Cisco that takes place in one room. A man sits in front of his tv.  His comic frustration in navigating poor voice recognition is amplified by that confining environment. It was shot in a day, finished in a week.  

Hint #1 – Global Audience 

If the video is only going to be used for primarily English speaking audiences, subtle word play is fine. But if it will also be screened for non-English audiences, visual comedy is more effective.  You should be able to turn the sound off and still get it.

Hint #2 - Priorities 

If budget forces your production to choose between that fabulous new 12K camera (the director just must try) or better on-camera talent, ALWAYS go with talent.  Would you rather watch AL Pacino recorded on an iPhone, or Larry from Accounting filmed in Panavision 3D?

So with all this in mind, add COMEDY to your marketing toolbox.  It works! 

So let me pitch you this concept.  A normal teleconference scene but instead of…….(fade out)


Friday
Jun172016

HELPFUL HINTS…or how I did not read this and continued to blame others in an arbitrary and unfair manner for yet another bland video


“Helpful Hints” about anything sounds misguided and condescending. Times that by 2 when it comes to launching a video for your company. Remember the guiding rule “Always certain, rarely correct.

But here goes…

Before you commit to a video campaign, decide what the five most important things you want to communicate are, then throw out four of them. Simple is always best.

Never trust a creative pitch that leads with “intense CGI and a driving soundtrack sets up the story…”  Wrong.  The story sets up the story. 

Your drinking water must be safe.  Your child’s car seat must be safe.  But safe content is a waste of your budget.  Safe is the dessert that comes with the dinner. It’s tapioca pudding.  Nobody wants tapioca pudding.

A great idea must be explained in three sentences or less.

The person you assign to supervise the production group, must have the confidence to make decisions.  Sounds obvious, but it ain’t.

Video is not expanded Powerpoint.  Video is emotion.

Hire creative people smarter than you.  The end result will be better.  You will end up taking credit for their success anyway.

Spend the creative energy and time (if not budget) to produce quality content for your own people, not just your clients.  Your employees make the company work. They deserve and appreciate it.

Everybody wants to do viral.  Everybody wants to win the lottery.  It’s about the same odds.  Don’t worry about viral.  Good, well-crafted creative tends to find its way to the light.

Hire production groups you enjoy spending time with, whether it’s email, a weekly Skype call or 3 days on location.  You may think your job is on the line, but this should still be fun.  Laugh and make sure the people you hire make you laugh. Life is too short. 

 

Monday
Apr182016

Don’t fear the Case Study…or how I learned to stop worrying and produce fabulous stories.

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make but the stories you tell” - Seth Godin,.

And there is nothing more powerful or more moving than a REAL story told well.
Easier said than done.  What most  companies and their agency vendors usually miss is how to find the right person, prep WITH them and then produce that powerful story.

Just like casting a dramatic piece, find the very best person or people for your case study video . Sounds obvious, but usually it ain't.  Remember.  A story is only as good as its actors.

Research more than one possible story with different people who have lived it.

Prior to filming, interview the finalist on the phone.

If they are already uncomfortable on the phone, there is little chance of success on the shoot.

Transcribe the phone interviews and use them to prepare both the questions for filming.  It also helps your or your director’s familiarity with the subject.

Here is the hardest part and its more magic than mechanical.

The person on camera has to be presented as human in front of the camera, not just a vessel for features and benefits.. Who IS this person?  Why do we CARE about them?

Here is one of my favorite techniques. Use an Eye Direct or something similar so the person looks directly into the camera.  Essentially, it’s a box with two mirrors positioned in front of the camera.  It allows the interviewee to look directly into the lens and see the interviewer. That 20 degree difference in eye line makes the viewer go from observer to participant.  Major point!

Don’t have the director and the person in front of the camera just stick to the scripted questions.  Go off topic.  Talk about personal stuff.  Once your interviewee being filmed is more relaxed, you can ask needed questions or ask the same questions again.   It makes them more comfortable..translation…more believable = more REAL.

There is obviously a lot more involved.  A story worth telling needs to be from the heart, not the hardware…..

Here is a short case study that exemplifies "personalizing" the message.

For Quest Diagnostics, we produced a series of videos to promote boomers getting tested for Hep C.

 

Wednesday
Mar092016

"Everything old is new again".

Apple Computer, The Knowledge Navigator 1987

The film was produced for John Sculley, who initially screened it at Educom, an educational event.  It immediately become an international sensation, spawning numerous clones from HP and Microsoft, among others.  Sculley spent the next two years always carrying a VHS copy in his briefcase. 

Shot in 1 long day on location in San Francisco

Filmed in 35mm and utilized the first generation of the Quantel Paintbox for the screens.

Unlike the simplicity of compositing video today, each screen took HOURS to composite into the model.

Video was completed in 3 weeks.

Inspired by the work of the Xerox Park team in the 1970’s, who envisioned the first graphic user interface for the personal computer.

For years, rumours persisted it was produced by George Lucas.  Not so.  Although, I was a commercial director for Lucasfilm in 1988 (a coincidence), the project was produced by the Kenwood Group, a division of One Pass Film and Video.  I was the principal creative there at the time, and directed the film.

The mother's phone message at the end was based on real life events, magnified by the director’s jewish guilt.
 

The Knowledge Navigator

“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” - Ursula K. LeGuin
“Stories are the secret reservoir of values.” - Ben Okri
“Those in leadership positions who fail to grasp or use the power of stories risk failure for their companies and for themselves.” - John Kotter