Sports Illustrated etc. stoking iSlate rumors

You heard it here 697,423rd. Lots of talk about upcoming announcements, domain URLs that have been purchased, mysterious machines appearing, even a case last year of hari kari involving a Chinese person whose copy of a secret iPhone or tablet device was stolen.

I’ve been busy moving and starting up a new business, so I haven’t been either keeping up with the buzz or adding to it myself.

But today a couple of things crossed my desk… not quite fresh, but not stale yet either, which I’ll pass along just to prove that I WANT to be a blogger even if I haven’t been much of one for the last couple of months.

From my friend Todd Alexander comes the link to this from Time Inc… how Sports Illustrated would use such a device to combine print and video into a whole new medium that would effectively replace the magazine for many people:

Certainly this would be relevant to all the discussions last year about an economic model for the News Corps’ and Times’ of the world. The implications for both print and TV are huge.

And then here’s a Christmas weblog from TechnoBuffalo with a few plausible insights into what this device could be named and how it might work.

There are hundreds more where these come from…. including another post on TechnoBuffalo yesterday. It appears the market demand is getting stoked, the pundits are starting to weigh in, and it won’t be long before Kindle and its ilk will have another product to compete with it for market share in the high-tech distribution of print content.

Might be a good time to by Apple stock? Is this the Kindle-killer?

Still loving stills, but appreciating the authenticity of video

Stills remain my first love … I even called my company Still Images Inc. when I founded it. But eventually I changed the name to Kindig Omnimedia and then simply Ztories as I perceived that audiences are increasingly media agnostic. All the arrows in the quiver are just tools that serve the storytelling. Note: As I move to Seattle in November, I’ll create a new LLC called either Ztories¬† or Ztoryteller … which do you like better? Or do you dislike them both? ūüôā

But there has been a major shift in the subliminal impact of each medium upon audiences. I got to thinking about this when I responded to a very thoughtful comment by David Patton of Waggener Edstrom on the value of stills in corporate communication, especially presentations.

It seems to me that the perceptions of what’s real or authentic have shifted.¬† At one time high-resolution stills felt real — photo-journalistic. Then video came to the corporate market, but cameras were clumsy, lots of light was needed, everything was shot with a zoom lens on a contrasty, light-hungry chip… and the end result was that in my view, video had a show-biz air about it, while slide shows felt much more realistic, and therefore much more credible. At least, that’s what I told my clients until they forced me to use video.

Today, with available-light video cameras in most people’s pockets, I would say that video feels as immediate and real as 35mm still pictures ever did. How many people do you know who even shoot with a still camera that big? Only pros and serious amateurs use today’s digital SLRs, and they get higher resolution than large-format (2-1/4 or 4×5) film cameras ever delivered. Most folks shoot with camcorders and tiny duoformat cameras & cell phones. When disgruntled voters rioted in Iran, that’s the kind of imagery that documented it. When we see the world through our friends’ eyes on Facebook, that is the technology formed our perceptions.

In the meantime, the quality of¬† still cameras has evolved from merely real to sublime. Amazing lenses, timelapse options, and image editing software have now electrified high-end photography with the mediated identity that video once claimed. In most cases, a quality still image can still arrest attention, while digital snapshots and endless hours of unedited video fill our hard drives with too many shots to sort, and too much video to watch. Unless what is unfolding in front of the camera is amazing or surprising — or unless there’s a very creative editorial approach — video may enjoy a claim on credibility but it has lost the fascination it once enjoyed simply because the pictures moved.

And then there’s the “Ken Burns effect”, which once breathed new life into high resolution stills by making them move. That, too, seems to now feel a little over-used and “low-budget”, just as the banal world of video has become. The effect is cool for conveying historical weight, elegance, and clarity of focus. But even Ken Burns uses high def video/film whenever he can.

Compare his use of stills at the beginning and end of this clip

[How Yosemite Got its Name – http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/watch-video/#642)%5D

with what he did here:

[The Indian Idea of Sacredness – http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/watch-video/#755%5D

When he has a choice, Ken is going to use the incredible realism of high definition video or film to tell his story.

And these days, with these cameras, I now prefer cinematic media for that kind of storytelling, as well.

It seems to me, on balance, that well-lit, stable high-def video ought to be the medium of choice whenever a company wants to convey gravitas and photo-realistic credibility; small video cameras with edgier movement and simpler storytelling and lower production values are the best way to deliver documentary style or photo-journalistic impressions.

For dramatic and persuasive storytelling, cinema is still the king of content, and gaining ground. It’s now the only thing (except their Facebook page) that most young people are willing to give their undivided attention to for hours at a time.

But for sheer artistic impact and the crystallization of imagination or reality, still images have regained a lofty place near the center of the visual pantheon.

When you want to tell an audio-visual story about historic events that involves more than dialog and action; when you want to capture the essence of an idea or person, or disturb viewers through visual storytelling, then still images are “still” a great way to go.

Refreshing talent, refreshing subject

Today I discovered the work of Paul Pryor of Austin, who did this outstanding motivational video for Charitywater. It’s worth watching for both content and execution. I especially like the shallow depth of field. My next camera, I’m headed in that direction.

In terms of fundraising ideas, in my opinion this is one of the better fundraising videos I have seen, and asking people to have birthday parties at which their friends give as many dollars as their birthday year is one of the best fundraising ideas I’ve heard in a long time.

Apparently Paul is also involved in Upstream Visual. Strong work, and I like the simplicity of their site, too.

How to motivate with video 2: Six ways to inform the mind

Here are 6 tips on keeping our content informative … without preaching:

  1. Talk like you’ve been listening. Today we need the audience’s permission to present our movie. ¬†So approach them with a listening attitude — a perceptible sensitivity to why they may be troubled, baffled, or bored.
  2. Acknowledge the barriers, their questions. This is really the first M of  motivation. All the arguments must solve their mysteries, uncover their secret treasures.
  3. Blow up your “talking points”. A boxer doesn’t go into the ring with a rehearsed choreography. The match evolves one punch at a time. ¬†Let the argument incorporate their best defense of our best argument — not straw men. The most disappointing project I’ve ever been associated with involved a client who had a major PR problem, but chose to leave out the real nitty gritty issues for fear of upsetting the audience. Assess what your audience cares about, and talk frankly about “the elephant in the living room.”
  4. Enthusiasm, yes. Ridicule, no. Why do people like talk radio? I think it’s because they’re passionate about their message. Education tends to make people broad-minded … and less passionate. But appropriate emotion feels right. Use it, clearly and fairly. If you’re self-aware, you can avoid manipulating the audience.
  5. Understatement is more powerful than “power”. Use kind, understated approaches. And when it must deal a blow to their opinions, pull the punch if possible. Because in reality it’s not like boxing at all… it’s more like a first date or a 10th anniversary dinner with a spouse who has “issues”. We need to address the issues and yet we need to avoid offense: not PC, but not cocky either. The audience really is in the driver’s seat, and if we want to get to first base, demonstrate that we care, understand, and honor them.
  6. Gather strength from your opponents. Like I said, it’s really not a boxing match. It might, however, involve Tai Chi. In this gentler form of combat, you use the leverage created by your opponents moves, to bend his energy away from your hurt.

Contrary to popular opinion, the most important part of presenting is the intellectual.

Mad Man

Mad Man

There’s a myth that people don’t care about ideas. Yep, the Dullsville slums are huge and scary, but thankfully there’s a lot of enlightened folks around, too. While I hate the tactics of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk, ¬†one thing that guys like Rush and Glenn Beck have proven is that there’s an enormous appetite for emotional talk about issues. Ideas can be entertaining.

So instead of cueing the violins and trying to schmooze our way toward persuasion, I have found that it’s really important to address the emotions behind the facts … and lay ideational groundwork in a systematic, transparent way.

Here are two examples of the intellectual part of a motivational presentation. The first excerpt is from a video shown to Ohio Wesleyan alumni. This section deals passionately with the challenges all colleges are facing. The premise comes straight from H.G. Wells:

The case we are making here is that alumni can be proud because of OWU’s commitment to serving a very needy world. While the claim is presented with emotion, I think it displays an attitude that the idea is more important than the institution. We’re not whipping up tribal loyalty, but issuing a call to arms for a moral principle.

The second excerpt is a simple sales video aimed at accounting teachers. Here, we use humor and surprise. But the fabric of the piece is a careful set of arguments based on the hot buttons that the audience told us they cared about. For example, they were unhappy with the old Glencoe software. In the first minute, the nerdy alter-ego jumps in with “Much Better Software”. It’s an informative presentation wrapped in an entertaining bundle. The substance of the product was authentically built in response to their requests.

In the next week I’ll write about the third M, Melding with the Heart… the emotional part of motivation.

Finally, something fresh

Oh, boy, finally I’ve got something brand new to share. These admissions projects, in which every nuance must be weighed and balanced and reviewed by a committee, seem to take forever. It’ll probably get tweaked one more time, but here’s a pretty darn finished version of a contemporary college admissions piece done on a very modest budget.

I welcome your feedback. Do the interview comments and visuals feel authentic? Do the pacing, music, and editorial decisions work for Millennial audiences? And if you’re at all familiar with OWU, does it feel like an accurate reflection of the institutional culture? I’m not aiming for art (my personal vision of a college campus) but for artistically rendered reality… using story and the tools of media to create in a small amount of time an engaging, rich, nuanced, correct impression of an extremely complex institutional fingerprint. How did I do?

Appreciating the Audience

The most important part of successful communication is to appreciate the audience. Hillman Curtis styles it, “Eat the Audience”. It means to know, to have empathy for. It also means to honor, or value their perspective, their biases, and their preferences. And it means to understand and have emotional intelligence regarding how our own perspectives as storytellers and filmmakers on behalf of a business or institution contrast with that of their audience. Perhaps it’s merely a gap in awareness or knowledge. The institution or company knows something the audience doesn’t know.

But more likely, there are subtle differences of viewpoint or experience. Or significant differences of values and beliefs, or the entire cultural point of reference. Whatever the source of the difference, it is the communicator’s task to do the bridge-building, and that means starting where the audience is, honoring their current place and viewpoint, and then providing a framework for movement that is acceptable and relevant to them. If they like the framework we have provided, they will choose to take a step toward us… we cannot and should not try to manipulate their response, either in terms of feelings or conclusions.

In this real-life example, I was tasked first with helping build a bridge to Ohio Wesleyan alumni. It is a given that the alumni love their school, and are interested in meeting its new President and expressing their views on how to best preserve the institution. The client had three communication objectives: reassure the audience that the school is effective in changing the lives of contemporary students; set out a vision of three aspirational objectives for the school; and build a shared emotional touchpoint for future fundraising conversations. It was not a fundraising video, per se; and it was used as part of a conversation, not a presentation in the more traditional sense.

This clip is the first minute of a 10-minute alumni video. I chose to begin with an iconic timelapse of the Ohio Wesleyan campus, accompanied by a student a capella version of a classic Madonna song, “Like a Prayer”. Since most of the alumni in the audience are Boomers, this song delivers a familiar and emotional memory touchpoint with their youth. The next images are static institutional affirmations by famous OWU alumni — Norman Vincent Peale, Branch Rickey — and a cornerstone quote from the Gospels. These paving stones, cornerstones and pillars become the visual framework for contemporary student expressions of what they appreciate about Ohio Wesleyan. These student expressions (rather than alumni testimonials) are vitally important, because unless the institution is effective in changing the lives of contemporary students, it will not be seen as a good investment by even the most loyal of alumni. Notice the third interviewee, Jesika Keener. She says that Ohio Wesleyan has become her home: a statement that surely resonates with the alumni audience. A slight editorial change to that comment makes a big difference as we repurpose the same creative elements for an entirely different audience — prospective students:

Though sharing the same basic interview and shooting budget, there are a number of important editorial differences between the two approaches … and these flow from an appreciation of each audience. Jesika now leads the interviews, but we leave out the home reference, because incoming freshmen are more interested in getting away from home than finding one. It’ll take them a couple of years before the college they pick, whatever it is, feels like home to them.

Then, the music: instead of a familiar piece performed by OWU students, I chose a very fresh song by up-and-coming artist Jamie K: Dare to Dream. Instead of making the institution the frame of reference, which is an emotional connection with alumni, I changed the editorial emphasis to “what I was looking for” … small school, diversity, specific subject areas, etc. Instead of quoting profs on what they like about the school, I let students share what they like about professors — especially the personal relationships with profs. No emotional connection with the school is assumed. All we wish to do here is to establish a credible testimony by students who may or may not resonate with the viewers. It’s up to each audience member to decide if they “fit” that authentic brand.

Finally, there’s a big difference in pacing. The Boomer piece has 21 cuts and 4 interview clips in the first minute, while the Millennial piece has 34 cuts and 10 interview bytes by 7 interviewees in about the same period of time.

It is an appreciation and honoring of the audience that leads to approaches that are authentic in both cases, but decidedly different because the audiences are different.

Papaw rocks with Fox in Socks

Today I uploaded a video of me reading my favorite children’s book to my grandsons or anyone who likes Dr. Seuss.