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Presentation Quality Levels

I had a request to give people some ideas on how to demo to clients video stuff on a shoe string.  Now, that’s kind of been a theme for the last few blogs so I’m guessing that “shoe string” means that a lot of people out there are looking to start small businesses on the side to help pay some bills.  🙂  A wise choice in this economy, and it’s always a good one.

Years ago I had my own business and I’ll never forget how hard it was to get clients to sit down and listen to your pitch.  What I found is that you keep it short and sweet.  Bullet points.  And when it comes to looking like a professional outfit and the use of Bullet Points … PowerPoint is your buddy. 

So first – understand that it doesn’t matter how good your presentation is – if there’s no facts.  The one I’m showing here – has no real facts.  Just flashy looks that I pulled together in about an hour or so, using existing work.  So – first know what makes your product a good buy.  You need to be able to show your customers how it’s going to benefit them. 

imageSince the request was for a video business – let’s look at what you can do for them.  Video isn’t just about making movies – it’s about making a business look good.  Start with their brand – and understand it.  As a video company you have the ability to bring a brand to the next level.  Make a nice quality demo reel – and make sure it includes their logo.  Keep it short – 15 to 60 seconds – no more.  You’re going to give them a taste – not a meal. 

Begin with your presentation slide – which just has their name on it, and the ad campaign or purpose of the presentation.

image

Next – open with that 15 Second clip.  Let them see it – make it big.  Since you can put the Video right into the PowerPoint – yes, it allows you to put the video on a slide.  Do that with whatever logo, text or other info you want.

You’ll probably want to go back to this slide from time to time after the presentation so they can see it for themselves.  And don’t be afraid to say – this is what you came up with on your own,  you’d really want to tailor this to their ideas and expectations.  In fact – ask for those suggestions directly, and make sure you take notes when they speak but keep the conversation going.  You need them to become involved in the production, even though they aren’t yet. 

Initial impressions from a client often give you a lot of valuable information.   Even if they hate it.  In some cases negative feedback is better than positive feedback.  With negative feedback you can put together a list of what they want.  With positive feedback it’s harder to get that list.   This isn’t the time to let them bog you down though – show them how you came to those conclusions that this was a direction.  Show them why they need your product.  If you have numbers showing cost effectiveness, or increased views – or anything like that to support you – now is when you bring them up. 

 imageSo get those numbers or facts – and distill them down to the top 3-5 reasons.  Memorize these.  Include them in your verbal pitch.  Show them you have some idea how their business currently can benefit and that you actually looked into their business?

How?  How do you get this info… Well, by doing a bit of research on the internet.  Almost every business has a web site – and if they don’t their competitors do.  Find out all you can about their business, and find out what it is they make money off of – cars, houses, coffee houses, hotels – know their business enough to list 3-5 ways they can benefit from what you’re offering them.

This also helps by knowing that most small businesses imagedo not have… a brand.  Branding is something big businesses talk about and small to medium businesses have but don’t know they have usually.  So put up a slide that shows that you understand their brand.  But make sure that you do.  Are they a very small homey business?  Well – then probably going with a very big uber clean steel and chrome look won’t work.  But there is always something about a business that makes it that business.  That’s their identity.  Sometimes the problem is – they have no identity.  So you need to provide them with one.  Show them you understand where they’re coming from – and if possible where they want to go. 

image Next… do a little footwork.  Go out and ask people what they think – or get some statistics that prove your point.  Show your customer that what you provide or how you provide what they currently have can work for them. 

By doing that footwork and research – you show that you actually did do the home work of trying to understand their business.  Whatever you can get is helpful – just not too much.  So use statistics, can use man-on-the-street interviews or surveys, you can do this many ways. 

But don’t just say, “Hey I think your business needs…” – back it up.  Show them you’re not alone in your thinking – and that you have a valid reason for it.  Now – some business will tell you straight up that’s not the look, the feel, the way they want to do things. 

If that’s not the direction the business wants – then dig in and find out what direction they DO want to go into.  What do they think the challenges are?  Where are their customers?  Let them know you’d like to put something together to reflect that – that you’re really sincere about making sure you’re giving them the best you can – and making them look the best they can.

 imageWords are great.  But back it up.  A lot of times people have no idea how to use a product.  So show them how.  Give them an idea of how you see this being used.  Web Videos, TV Commercials, Word of mouth – however you see the product being used… put together a game plan because a lot of small businesses don’t have an idea how, who, what or why.  They just know they need something.  You’re the professional – so give them the info they need.  You’re not saying’, “go do this…”, you’re just suggesting these as uses.  The final decision is always up to the customer. 

It’s not a bad idea – to even have a demo set up.  Maybe a web based player like this showing the demo you previewed….

If you have an alternate – or more – include a couple (no more than 3 if possible) to show other ways you can play it out and that you have the flexibility to really shine for them. 

Like I say, keep it short – 15-60 second blips and only a few of them.  I can almost 100% guarantee they will assume that your showing them the final product.  Make sure they understand you’ve gone in a direction – and you want them to really help and direct you to the right direction for their business. 

Sometimes they’ll suggest stuff that just… isn’t good. Find out out strongly they feel about this –  see if you can compromise, but as a rule even if it’s not good… do it.

Because – and this is very hard for creative type people to understand sometimes… the customer is always right. Even when they’re wrong – the customer is always right. 

 image

Last but not least… always close with a way for them to ask for more information and give them a copy of the presentation. 

I like to put all of this on a CD or a USB stick – with an Autorun file so it runs whenever it’s plugged in.  To do this copy your completed PowerPoint  and compile it using the PowerPoint viewer so in case they don’t have a copy of PowerPoint it will work.  (Make sure you include all the videos you need on the USB.)  Test it a few times on different machines to make sure it works… and you’re ready. 

 

Now… one final point.  If you’re like my friend Shelly (who asked for this) you may not have a big portfolio yet – and that is hard to over come.  A good way I learned in my business when I was starting out, to get business was to offer to do it for free.  Explain to them you’re starting out – you need a portfolio built, and you’re willing to do the job for free (or cost) so that you can include it in your portfolio of professional work.

Almost no business ever turns down free.  So use them to build up your profile.  You’d be surprised how many times I’d done work pro-bono that later they came back and asked for updates – or completely new work.   Often they would show it off to other businesses – and generate work for you.

Hey … it’s worth a shot, and for a business like Shelly’s, her own effort is the biggest cost.  Once you have done a “pro-bono” – a freebie.  Never do them again unless it’s a charity.  Remember, regardless of how it may seem somedays – you are a business.


You can download the PowerPoint Presentation above (although I’m not sure why you’d want to…) at:
PowerPoint Presentation for CoffeeCup


 
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Posted by on October 20, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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Does Silverlight make a difference?

 
A lot is being said about Silverlight.  Is it as good as Adobe Flash, is it all hype, what’s the difference, and all those great questions.  Now one of the things that’s been hyped (a lot) is that Silverlight really allows sites like NBC or CBS to stream very high levels of quality.  It’s generally assumed by many critics that the standard user can’t make use of this level of quality. 
 
This side project is actually to put that theory to the test.  Below is a demo reel I created in Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, and Particle Illusion.  I used a photo of a street Occidental Park, Seattle – a crater from, and did a small explosion type blast.  Okay – it’s just below the quality of an episode of Dr. Who and I’m not going to win an Academy award – but the point is – it was also done, cradle to grave, one man, two hours effort.
 
The reason I went with particle generators – which btw – in I intentionally made overly large, so you can see the polygons of the particles.  Under high definition conditions they’ll be visible clearly.  (In real footage – you’d want to tweak that down so it looks more realistic and do a better job on the blending with the actual footage.)  The idea here is to compare how well it plays, and if the quality levels are noticeable.
You’ll see right away – they are. Partially because of these massive particles actually having a nice polygon shape in the SIlverlight – and just being annoying blurs in the Flash Player.  
 
The footage was then compressed using Expression Encoder 2 – which generated a nice HD wmv file of the clip you see below.  I located a very off the side “free webhosting” company and set up an account there.  I didn’t go with a GoDaddy or a iPowerweb (which is my preference) because I wanted to see what you get… for free.
 
Here’s a demo reel of a HD 720p video in Sliverlight – run from HTML off a free web hosting site:
If you can see this, your browser doesn’t understand IFRAME. However, we’ll still link you to the file.
 
 
Now if you’re playing this the first time you’ll see the percentages of footage downloaded running it.  This allows slow connections – and btw, this is actually hosted on a standard HTML free website I’ve set up.  There’s no media server involved – it’s just a plain 15 mb wmv file downloaded through the web, and as you can see the quality doesn’t suffer.  Click on the full screen link – and compare this with the same clip that’s running through a flash based player below.  It becomes pretty obvious which offers the better quality.
 
Now there are those that are saying, “Yeah but the flash player re-encodes…” – which is precisely a big part of the problem.  When it’s re-encoded it loses a lot of the quality.  Now, mind you – I don’t have to use a HD 720 file – I could just as easily have settled for the same screen size in a high quality format that would have generated a file 1/2 or even 1/4 of the size for the Silverlight.  Even when I did this – it wasn’t a competition on visual quality.
 
 
If you’re a geek – you will also note that I’ve intentionally put together a video clip that’s got massive particle animations in it.  Something that ordinarilly would cause a lot of artifacting and you’d lose the clarity of the flames and smoke.  We could add in debris and camera shake and all the usual goodies.  To really see the quality level – scroll over the image and switch to full screen mode.  This is why you’re hearing the hype over Silverlight. 
 
Because with a bit of effort the average person can with very minimal resources and not even a streaming media server, bring a high quality (network tv level) experience to their web site, and do it very quickly.  Start to finish – this project took about two hours of my time, and most of it was on getting the flames and smoke right. 
 
Now the question is – “Do you really need that kind of quality?”.  Thats up to you.  I suspect that those businesses that want the professional look and feel are going to ask for it.  I also suspect that Flash is going to have to up it’s quality levels to match – and they should be able to do so. 
 
Personal videos, corporate films and the like – have a whole new level of play than they have had to date.  You’ll see amazing things over the next year or two coming, and I will openly predict that we’ll be seeing more and more original Web TV shows coming our way.  (Shameless plug here for Gemini Division, Dr. Horrible, and others I’ve written about recently.)
 
I’m guessing I’ll probably have to put up a nice video entry here soon to really show off what I’m talkign about by “personal” video moving up to this level of play – but that’s another project.  Yes there will probably be a “Silverlight vs. Flash” argument on the web for sometime and we, as developers and designers we will need to deal with the issue. 
 
For me – the choice is going to be clear.  I’ll provide the user the option to do both.  I’ll set up my web pages to detect if they have the plug-in installed and offer the option to the user to download the plugin if they want – or use flash if they don’t. 
 

You can view the full clip in it’s original size at:
http://jakobson.site90.net/silverlight/downtown.html 

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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Silverlight, Advertainment, What am I talking about?

 

Was talking to my daughter today who mentioned she knew several people that didn’t have TVs and watched most of their video entertainment on the computer.  I actually know two people I work with who similarly have replaced their TV with the Internet.   Where I don’t see this being the trend right away, over the next few years I have no doubt more and more we’ll see this. 

Which ties in with some comments I’ve gotten from people and feedback asking what the heck I’m talking about with Silverlight and Advertainment and new media and Web 3.0.

How does it tie in?  Well – let’s for arguments sake remove the concept that Web 3.0 is some tetonic change in how we use the web.  Let’s instead go with the idea that Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 are not dramatic shifts as we’ve seen in the media but actually a series of steps taken over a long period that culminated in something the news organizations could hang their hat on and say, “We dub thee 2.0” or whatever.

If that’s the case then 2.0 was old news when Facebook and MySpace and blogging were “born” in the eyes of the masses — and in fact – they were.  Just as Google had been around for years before it was a phenomenon. 

That being the case I decided to look at what people are doing and what people have been doing – and where it’s all heading in my view.  Here’s what we’re seeing…

People are using YouTube and MySpace and FaceBook and online gaming so much – that yes, TV that bastion of brain sucking numbness now has to move on to the Web to compete. 

How many people are devoting their time to the internet’s new media?  The YouTubes and on line video content?  Here’s something that will make you chuckle – recent studies show there is a drop in on line pornography because users want to watch Youtube.

For the first time ever – Pornography’s numbers are dropping – why? Well we’re not entirely sure but it does look for all the world that the culprit is simply – we’re giving people something more to do that surf the web and locate porn.  In a word – content. 

The higher the quality of the content – the more people are drawn away from TVs, the more are drawn away from Porn sites and the more advertisers are looking at new ways to make this all work before they lose those billions they’re spending ineffectively.

Advertainment – is something we’ve actually seen for decades.  You’d think the video game industry came up with the idea from hearing them tell the story but there’s virtually no product you see in a TV or Movie that wasn’t placed there. 

Advertainment is just a refined version of the same concept – you place products into things without people knowing so they become a culturally significant icon and you buy them without thinking. 

When we combine the Internet – and Advertainment we get completely new and very interesting ways of merging the two.

I mentioned in my last post that with the right masking – you can put anything you want on a background or a billboard or even a tv set on a live action video. 

Now – here’s where you bring in Silverlight – and I probably should issue a patent on this process but probably someone else already has.  (If not – it’s MINE!  MINE I SAY!! <laughs in best Gollum voice … then chokes>).

For a popular video distributed on line free for fans to watch the process is actually pretty simple if you have silverlight (yes – it can be done with Flash but Flash is not as good with swapping out timelines and video – IMHO).  Silverlight – for me, makes it easier so it makes more sense to do it with Silverlight.

You’d first begin by designing your advertainment process.  Here’s how I’d do mine – I’d set it up so first and foremost we have a good video script.

If the content itself is no good – then people won’t come.  If they don’t come – you can’t get the ad dollars.  So first thing is to have good content that stands on it’s own.  So let’s assume that you have good content and people will enjoy it on it’s own merit. 

This is actually the mistake of Gemini Division IHMO – it’s really cool, it’s technically well done but the plot makes no sense and there’s all the depth of a mud puddle in this show.  Okay – that’s not fair at all.

The mistake with Gemini is not that the content isn’t good.  The content is great, Rosario Dawson’s always a joy and she’s joined by a solid supporting cast. 

The lack of support here isn’t coming from the show. I went back and watched it from start to finish this evening to locate how I got the feeling that it lacked depth. 

It’s the abbreviated format that seems to be necessitated by the Internet.  Each episodes around 5-10 minutes which is very little time for even the best writers and actors to develop a good empathy each episode. 

Since we’re looking at taking it all in short bursts of 5 minutes or so – there’s a lot of plot that you can miss out on if you view them out of order or worse skip an episode or two.  To  really enjoy it you need to watch them in bursts chained, which is how they’re doing the show on the www.geminidivision.com website.  Go check it out and you can see how this all comes together nicely. 

Fans of SciFi will go there – some will become addicted.  (I just received an email while editing this from someone pointing me to a fan forum that’s already speculating spoilers for the show.  I love it!  You know you’ve arrived as a TV series if you have a spoiler site with fan fiction.)   The addiction, the fun of the show, will cause it to become the phenomenon they’re looking for.  This in turn will give the advertisers the guts to push the limits of entertainment on line I’m hoping that we’ll see episodes that allow them to be longer – let the characters have more room to work per episode – that sort of thing.

Anyway – as the advertisers and the “network” get more faith in the media – we’ll probably see longer episodes and the “depth” won’t be a problem.  In fact – the more they support the show the better the content will be, and the more people they’ll grab.  So this will become a self-fulfilling (and self profiting) series. 

So as I said the core of any success with advertainment will be that the shows have to be GOOD. 

And my snyde and childish remarks aside – Gemini Division – is  very good. Definitely as good as many of the Sci-Fi offerings on network TV this season.

So you have a good show – but the way you shoot it will of course be how some of our magic – the magic I’m talking about anyway – how it happens. 

You want to go through your shooting script and define your advertising areas in advance.  These are the “ad-elements” – and whenever we’re shooting a scene with these we want to shoot it 3 or more times over and above the usual shooting retakes. 

Why?  Because we’ll need to shoot it once with our live action going on… probably putting a traveling green screen behind the actors (not expensive to buy – and even less expensive to make).   And we want to of course shoot the “master shot”. Then finally – our “ad-element”  background shooting – which will allow us to matte in whatever advertising magic we need in post production.  

You would then make several “ad element” shots for – well, every advertiser that you have.  These shots would then be placed into a “queue” of video elements. 

In a showing – it would look at the users cookie or some other preference gathering mechanism, and it would then play which ever background ad-element fits that preference mechanism while it runs the movie.

To the user – all they would see is a normal video.  But to us – we’re actually sandwiching video footage together and playing it in real time. 

And that’s really what I’m talking about doing – and what I think others will soon be trying to do.  (If you should happen to make money off this process please send checks to … :-))

Anyway… that’s what I’ve been going on about.  I think you can see the benefit of this – and how you could effectively have 1 video episode and use multiple advertisers for the same ad space.  It’s a highly effective cost model so thats really why I see it happening sooner than later.

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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When people fly… and the world doesn’t look the same anymore.

 

Got 3 video clips below…

The first – is a video set extension.  Now – this was a very quickie done with a camera set on a fence post and the matte was done in about 15 minutes. 

Here’s a quick before and after.

image image

Now on the left – you got the original.  On the right – we have new trees, mountains and so on.  Now – cool as this may be why on earth would you take the time to do this?  Because with a little smarts you might do your work once and have the ability to based on a users imageimagepreferences be able to change advertisements on the fly in video content for users on the web.  So that instead of me just walking – it might instead be me walking past a billboard. 

Or even walking someplace that you want to have the user go someday.  Now the technology to do this is already here.  As I pointed out this took me – what 10 minutes to do a simple matte painting.  A bit more work and the content that you can create can be very clean and crisp.  It’s a question of putting in the amount of effort you want to put into this.  Content will become more and more important as more and more people turn to the Internet for free entertainment.  The better we make the content, the more people will be flocking to us.

Here’s the video from that goes along with the clips above.

 

Now – what all can we do with content?  Well just for fun … my son asked if I could show him how to do the “Superman runs and flies off” thing from Smallville.  Which is, surprisingly pretty simple to pull off.  First you’ll need some simple footage of someone running… then have them jump as high as they can.  Once you have that, go to the frame with the highest portion of the jump.  You ‘ll need to take that frame and copy it to a editor.  You’ll need to clip out just the person in mid jump and leave the background transparent.

Once you have that copy it back into your composition software.  Place it on the image, at a spot after the person running is now completely out of the shot.  Begin from the highest jump frame – stretch the image and begin to adjust it over the five or six frames that take the image out of the shot.  Add some motion blur – and if you want to be fancy add some particle effects and a sound effect.  (See video clip #2). 

 

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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