Impressing Your Clients: the Ten Wow Theory

I thought up the “Ten Wow” strategy in a previous life on a sales trip to Redmond. I was president of a small software company barely clinging to life and sorely needing a big sale with a trophy client. We were the third of three companies presenting, three days each, and I felt like our presentation and product demonstration needed some serious pop.

So I challenged the engineers a couple of weeks before the trip, saying, “Look, forget about winning the deal, that’s assumed. I won’t be satisfied unless the ‘softies say ‘Wow,’ out loud, ten times during our dog-and-pony show.” I have to say, the concept put a different spin on both the preparation and the presentation, very much for the better.

Ever since then, with each presentation I give, class I teach, and even article that I write, I think about the Ten Wow strategy, and try to think of ways to earn that highest of praise. And so it was when the Legacy of Mountain Music Association (LOMMA) asked me to film their first annual Stoneman Awards, with the inaugural award being given to the Stonemans themselves, probably the most famous country music group you’ve never heard of.

In a town of 7,000, it’s not hard to get recognized as a “technology guy,” especially when you chase after your two daughters with a trumpet-sized video camera during all the local rodeos, tractor pulls, and concerts. But with that designation comes some serious responsibility, especially when you’re asked to shoot and deliver concert footage to a music industry association.

Immediately after accepting this free assignment, I started wondering how I could possibly deliver the Ten Wows. I divided the ten evenly; five for shooting and editing, and five for DVD production. I’ll deal with the second five here.

Wow number one was the First Play video, which is what the viewer sees when they first insert the disc into the DVD Player, just before the title menu appears. Usually, this is the FBI warning, but I thought I would try something a bit friendlier, specifically a short highlight film of the two-hour event.

During the awards ceremony, LOMMA gave out four awards, so I cut about 15 seconds from each presentation, when the honoree was named. Then I pieced together two 20-second solos of the two remaining Stonemans for just under two minutes of video.

Finally, I took a screen shot of the DVD menu and put it on the timeline, dissolving into it as the music slowly faded. So when the First Play video ended, the menu seamlessly appeared, which looked just grand.

Second was the menu itself. I had been reviewing Apple’s DVD Studio Pro 3 and the new version of the Adobe Video Collection for another magazine. Since I was most familiar with the Adobe suite of tools, I decided to edit and author in Premiere and Encore, but have to admit that I “borrowed” a menu via screen shot from DVD Studio Pro.

In the past, I viewed menus as a necessary evil–video was steak, menu mere sizzle. But the Ten Wow strategy gave menu appearance heightened importance for this project, so I cribbed one from Apple. If you’re not happy with the menu background your authoring program provides, run a quick Internet search on “DVD menu backgrounds,” and you’ll find several third-party collections you can buy. Believe me, it’s worth it.

The third Wow was the most technical, but also the coolest, so bear with me. The concert itself was about 60 minutes total, consisting of ten songs, each about three minutes long, with the rest of the time taken up by the performers chatting and telling stories.

Now this was the Stoneman family, who had played at the White House, had their own network television show in ’50s and ’60s, and recorded at the historic 1928 Bristol sessions, which arguably launched commercial country music. They were country music before country music was cool, and for many adoring fans of all ages in the Rex Theater that day, it was the stories from the two sisters performing, both in their seventies, that made the concert, not the music. So I wasn’t about to cut the talk.

But I did want to offer DVD viewers the ability to see just the music portion. The answer? Playlists. Briefly, playlists–which are a feature of DVD Workshop, Adobe Encore, and DVD Studio Pro (called stories–you the ability to link together bits and pieces of the content on disc, and combine them together into a single presentation. Press the playlist button, and you can hear only the music, if that’s your pleasure.

Of course, I also provided button links to the start of each song, which was Wow number four, admittedly very simple, but revolutionary to an audience used to receiving copies of their concerts on VHS dubs. The final DVD-specific Wow was delivering the DVDs with labels printed directly on the media, courtesy of my Epson inkjet printer, with matching case covers.

Moving onto shooting and editing related wows,far and away, my biggest gambit was to shoot the event with two camcorders. Running two camcorders in two different locations with one cameraman (in this case, me) is somewhat risky, since one accidental blow can knock either camcorder out of position. But if you pull it off, the quality of video rises exponentially.

Here’s how I set the cameras up. In the back was my trusty Sony DCR-VX2000, the primary camcorder that framed the entire stage and provided the main footage I would use in the production. I stationed this camera next to the soundboard, and asked the sound technician to make sure no one touched it during the show.

Camera B was a loaner Sony HC40 that I positioned just below the stage, moving from the left edge to the right edge depending upon who was playing lead on the current song. I spent most of the time driving this camera, taking two basic shots: medium shots of the performer from waist to head, and close-ups of the instrument itself.

Note that this two-camera strategy works just as well for a conference, speech, or a wedding. One largely unattended camera captures the entire event, while the second provides the visual garnish. Just be sure you use a fluid head tripod with Camera B; otherwise, you’ll waste valuable time positioning your pans and tilts, and you’ll miss critical footage.

Wow number two was capturing audio from the house sound system to the VX2000, providing a much higher-quality audio feed than any microphone could. Output from the sound system was a single XLR connector, which I fed into a BeachTek DXA-8 Adapter sitting beneath the VX2000. For backup, I attached a shotgun microphone to the HC40 and recorded audio there as well.

Back in the lab, I captured the video from both cameras and inserted the output of Camera A—the VX2000 with the wide angle view of the entire stage—on the bottom video track. Above that was Camera B, the stage camera with close-ups of the performers. Since the event lasted slightly longer than two hours, I switched tapes in both cameras three times. Though I would use only the audio from Camera A, I still had to synchronize the video footage from the two cameras so I could switch back and forth without losing sound synchronization.

I knew this was coming, so I brought a cheap disposable camera with a flash to the concert. When I changed the tape in either camera, I quickly walked to the front and took a picture (off-camera, of course). Both video cameras captured the flash, which vastly simplified synchronizing the two streams. With this accomplished, I deleted the audio feed from Camera B and started editing.

All multitrack timelines work the same way. The top track gets precedence, and in the absence of some kind of overlay effect, obscures all tracks below. With the feed from Camera B atop Camera A on the timeline, I had three options. I could leave the video from Camera B on top, and show Camera B in the final video. I could split and delete portions of the Camera B video and show Camera A in the final video. Or, I could convert Camera B into a picture in picture (PIP) effect which displayed as a window within the full-screen video from Camera A.

I quickly settled into the following routine: Show Camera A, the entire stage, at the start and end of every song. Intersperse clips from Camera B in full screen when it showed a medium shot of the performer for Wow number three. Show Camera B footage as a PIP within Camera A when I zoomed into the instrument, positioning the window in the bottom left hand corner of the Camera A video where it did not obscure any performers. PIP was Wow number four.

I did not use transitions when I switched from track A to track B, but I did use a half-second dissolve when displaying or removing the PIP effect. I also slightly feathered the edge of the PIP effect to soften the hard edge of the frame. Overall, the video from the second camera—and the way it was integrated into the production—elicited far more Wows than I needed to complete my five shooting and editing Wows.

Note that these efforts required lots of advanced planning. Days before the event, I tested the connection to the sound system, assessed the various camera setup positions, and checked white balance and exposure settings under the planned concert lights. I also checked when breaks were planned, so I could change tapes strategically and preserve the primary audio track in the VX2000.

In addition, note that working with two cameras increased editing time significantly, not only because capture time doubled, but because my editing options doubled as well. Though this was volunteer work, all I can say is that the Wows definitely justified the means, and the effort and time involved. They always do.

About Jan Ozer

I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

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