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The ubiquitous presence of intelligent video

I attended an IVCA Freelancer event last night at DRP in Covent Garden.

I was spotted by someone I last worked with in 1994. I first joined what was then the ITVA in 1982 as a teenage undergraduate. I attended meetings when the organisation become the IVCA a few years later.

It is shocking how quickly these three decades have sped past; though no surprise that I don’t have a BAFTA or OSCAR. I have at least filled them with 165+ video productions as producer and/or director and/or writer. I have moved in and out of London, married, two children, the dog and guinea-pigs (yawn, yawn).

My first corporate video was shot on a Sony Reel in black and white on kit by the training department of a PLC … where we lived.

(Don’t ask, it was Westmoreland and a very long time ago, not even the county exists).

An early client was Abbey National when Imagicians took on the internal video contract. Working with the former Money Programme producer we were replacing a slide carousel that until 1985 (or 1986) was the way Abbey National staff received their internal communications. This is not meant to be a memoir so let’s skip to the present day.

An insightful year as ‘the client’ at the Open University Business School (I am also a postgraduate student of both the OU’s Institute of Education and the OU’s MBA programme at the Business School) and I conclude that we are and will replace 500 years of print,  a few decades of wordpressed words and a decade of online text with video.

YouTube says so. Webinars and webcasting says so.

The guy at Microsoft who has a video camera around his neck and records EVERYTHING he does, says so. Along with cameras on cyclists’ helmets to capture idiot drivers and their moment of injury or death.

To capture impromptu interviews with visiting fellows and sometimes the equally rare presence of an academic I kept a Sony Flip and Roland Endirol digital sound recorder in my desk.

All my production training and experience and I am ‘reduced’ to finding a quiet office with some sunlight, propping up the Sony Flip, clipping on a tie-mike and using a stapler as a kind of clapper-board. I load and send the results to someone with as much experience as me (and a postgraduate degree in film) to edit in FinalCut on her MacPro laptop.

This and other interviews festoon the OUBS Testimonials webpage and via YouTube are embedded elsewhere on the OU and beyond.

Not all productions are like this. We had two cameras to cover the inaugural lecture of Cherie Booth, though there were only two of us and I was both client producer and camera operator (I had other plans for the several thousand pounds saved), not least attending an MBA Residential School where I interviewed half of the students attending (Russian,  Japanese, Italian, German, French, American, several East European countries, someone from South Africa via Austria and several from the Indian subcontinent via Scotland, Belgium and Switzerland … and Englishman living in the US).

I have have discussions with colleagues about turning Wikipedia into WikiTVia.

Look at how the FT becomes more like the BBC everyday. We want wall to wall video. It’s not that we can’t read, but we don’t always want to. The answer is video and text. Indeed, many educational and webcasting platforms do this and your eye happily flits between the spoken word in vision and the text from a transcript. It makes sharing into blogs easier. It makes sharing and commenting in other social networks a doddle too. Does this make the consumption of ‘stuff’ too easy? Or are we recreating the hub of the market place, the discourse of the Greek Forum, the Socratic conversation shared for all to listen in, share and comment on?

Where does this leave the ‘Corporate Video producer’?

The same question can be asked of the publisher and music companies. We have entered the world of D.I.A.Y ‘Do it all yourself’.

I didn’t chirp up because I needed a flip chart. I would have drawn a grid with an X & Y axis. I would have expressed everything from low budget, low production values to the big crew, big cost drama-reconstruction in 3D with steadicam shot from a helicopter at locations all over the globe. I would have also put a tick in all boxes.

Everything goes and everything is wanted.

How it is then shared, how distributed, how brought to the attention of an audience is another matter. The best place to lose content is to put it online, like adding another needle to a stack of needles content, like dripping digital ink into a digital ocean is made obscure by YouTube. Content needs a preamble and a long tail: it needs to be promoted, tagged, optimised and analysed. Video needs to be intelligent.

Understandably, amongst freelancers and producers the ‘One Man Band’ is to be feared and dreaded.

For a period in my career I would produce, but not write or direct. Sometimes I only wrote, sometimes I wrote and directed. I might sit in on an edit, or do the ‘offline’ but I didn’t take the edit to a broadcast conclusion as is now expected. I can do sound, and have been a broadcast sound engineer for a period and stepped in to operate a broadcast camera for mainstream output too. Where though the benefit of a collaborative effort? There are a variety of skills needed ‘on set’, not least an extra pairs of hands. A freelancer baulked at the idea of getting stills when out on a shoot for a corporate client, as if it were a request too far despite their having in their hands a camera no doubt initially designed for stills photography that now has a video card in it. These images, better taken separately, with skill, than from freezes of the video content, serve a vital purpose in various online outlets and to ‘mash-up’ content that may be used in a multitude of forms.

I can shoot and edit video on an iPad.

I’d hate to try on an iPhone but dare so I could.

I was in the Tate Gallery yesterday morning when the fire alarms went off. I left the building with the Picaso Audio Guide around my neck. I took a photograph or two. It could have been video. Had the gallery gone up in flames and the Picaso’s with it the video content, though less valuable than the Picaso’s in the building, might be worth a fortune.

Some months ago a student of the School of Communication Arts recorded an informal meeting that included Sir John Hegarty talking about ‘The Future of Advertising’.

The production values are minimal, but the participants can be seen and heard. I appreciate this is anathema to all TV production standards, but no one gives a monkey as what is said is far more important than how it is said, better to have the recording to share than nothing at all. And had I been there with two cameras (or more) and a crew would it have been less authentic?

This is what can be lost with the pelaver of video production, the authenticity of the moment.

‘More extraordinary, authentic stories easily shared’

This might be my legacy at the OU; it is the idea I developed and began to share. Such authenticity may be shot with a crew, broadcast journalist on steadicam … or it might be someone with a Smartphone.

The analytics don’t favour high production values over low. What matters is what is said, not how it is said. 

On YouTube go and find the OU Graduates who take themselves to a video booth to record their impromptu reflections on finally gaining their degree. Some of them are magic moments all the more genuine because they are people in a box talking to a mirror, self-conscious often in a British way and unaware even if they sign a release form that they had an audience of tens of thousands hanging on their every word.

My ideal crew? A minimum of three, possibly a fourth as a trainee. We’d take between us the roles of camera, sound, producer, director, reporter/interviewer. We might ALL ‘operate’ a camera in order to capture variety, view points and angles. Someone would write a script, another look after the interviewee and client. It would be lit, as likely by the sun as a set of lights. We’d gather clean sound, the mike and stand, even a radio and tie-mikes now a similar size to the cameras.  We’d be experienced, open, curious, familiar with some of the platforms where the content will be shown and understand how it might be used ‘mashed-up’ into elearning or a blog, grabbed as a still image and printed out, transcribed and edited as a podcast. And we may even stream the interview live as it is gathered, putting into onto a dashboard or platform where messaging or a Twitter feed offers comment, even questions we can put to our interviewee.

Is video coming to life as it becomes part of life?

What gives the content ‘intelligence’?

All of us. The audience have become part of the production team.

Why isn’t this video?

I write as much by talking into an iPad; I had might as well record myself in vision. (Or not. It is very early in the morning. My mind might feel like surfing, but my body is still under a duvet and my face buried in a pillow)

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