GVI Logo
About Us Portfolio Services Contact header
About Us

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"I have seen the future, and it is called Shuffle"

Bob Burnett: "I have seen the future, and it is called Shuffle—the setting on the iPod that skips randomly from one track to another." --Alex Roth

This quote is from New Yorker writer Alex Roth's essay "Listen To This" which is his take on classical music and the "modern world". I think the same thing can be said for visual/video work too. It seems people don't just shuffle music; video gets shuffled too---be it streaming media, Netflix, TiVo, meetings with visually-embedded power points, hand out DVDs or weblinks to other motion video. The beauty of digital capability for me isn't that our work is easily sent around the globe but that it can be delivered in small parcels of specific information.

Videos don't have to be "about everything" as it was once assumed.

Today's digital thinking frees up possibility for communicating in specifically effective ways---you can link embedded streaming video with additional written information on a web page, you can use more of the content from a shoot as supplemental information (outside of a three minute meeting opener). We frequently will produce a polished piece and will do a series of interview "string outs" of additional material for use in break-out sessions or on a DVD as added content. You can even "break the ice" with someone by sending them something on youtube. None of these ideas are considered out of the ordinary because ordinary doesn't exist anymore. We go into client meetings now and discuss ancillary distribution as a major part of the production planning process.

So shuffle away and enjoy the options.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Don't Need a "Whether" Man

Dan Bailes: I've always believed in the power of creative thinking. Which often bubbles up from quiet contemplation, an inspired leap or simply the power of well-chosen words, visuals and music to present a complex issue. But often times we're confronted with a "focus group" mentality of Dilbert-like reasoning -- that clouds up creativity with "whether" men. Whether it should be this way or that or perhaps something else entirely. "Whether men" need to make sure we don't say or do anything that might displease someone. Or they wonder whether it should be, perhaps, something else entirely.

The problem is: going for the least common denominator automatically weeds out creativity. And qualifying and justifying and second-guessing the work turns the emphatic into the innocuous. When you take the easy, safe route you rarely arrive at a worthwhile destination.

Maybe this will inspire you. I recently read an article in the WSJ that talked about how one individual was moved to "do something" and the result was life-changing. And not only his life, but his family's and his community's and possibly his nation's. One person, who was determined to go forward with an idea that made sense. And he didn't let circumstance, or a lack of resources or the naysayers turn him from his path.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Web is a Window

A recent report from the Association of National Advertisers notes that 80% of Americans are now online and spend as much time on the Web as on TV. Pretty amazing, that. But most marketers allocate only 5 - 10% of their budgets to digital media. And many organizations we work with, who are in the business of information and advocacy, likely do less than that.

Which makes this a good time to talk about ways to use the Web to get your message out there.

The Web is more about experiencing than reading. The path to the brain is through the eye and ear. The written word is so last century. (True confessions: I see myself as a writer, so I'm exaggerating to make a point. But Web writing should be sparse -- more about headlines and concepts -- not turgid bureaucratic prose that so many organizations use to conceal rather than enlighten).

I recently had reason to visit the site of a large NGO organization which manages projects around the world. Their annual budget is quite substantial. Yet their Web presence consisted primarily of page upon page filled with long written passages describing their activities and programs. There were almost no visuals whatsoever. No video, no flash. Filled with jargon and memo style language.

How would I describe the Web experience for this particular site? Not so hot.
What could they do to make it work better for them?

Throw out most of the verbiage. Use video to make it all real. Video can show what it's really like when words fall short. Video can make the difference between knowing and understanding. Video can make people laugh, cry or get angry. And those feelings can move people to act. And all of it can be right there on the Web site amplifying the text and serving the mission. Some quick examples of how they could use video include:

** Short video stories about the people they are serving.
** Video profiles of people out in the field doing the work.
** Video reports on how they are making a difference.
** Short video packages describing
the challenges they face
the needs they are meeting
their goals and vision for the organization.
** A short recruiting video to bring in new people
** A fund-raising video
** A history of the organization and its evolving mission
** A short documentary on an issue important to the organization

Of course, some of these can also be placed on other sites like YouTube with links back to their site.

We recently finished two advocacy videos for Defenders of Wildlife. Within just a few short weeks almost 100,000 people have viewed the pieces and heard their message, all because of the Web. Does that mean well-planned and placed video can make an impact? You bet.

The Web is your window. Open it up.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Why use a big camera?

Now that you can buy a camera that can fit in your pocket, e.g. The Flip (www.theflip.com), you might ask “Why would you want to carry around anything bigger?”

There are a ton of technical features that enhance the picture and sound on a broadcast camera, but the biggest difference is the lens.

Consumer cameras are designed for ease of use with auto-focus, auto-exposure and slow zooms (the Flip is just an extreme example). While this prevents you from ruining a shot, it gets in the way of getting a great shot.

The large professional lenses on broadcast cameras let you set the shot quickly and the focus is much sharper. You can zoom in closer and zoom out wider. These features aren’t as important when capturing medium shots of your family and friends. But if you’re looking to creatively tell a story – and capture images that really stick in your mind – you need a professional lens. The pictures really do look better.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Music online for productions and that little issue of rights

Bob Burnett: I remember a time when music and sound effects for productions meant cueing up vinyl LPs and transferring selections to audio cart or reel to reel. Don't believe me, huh? I have photographic proof of yours truly circa 1980 wearing Buggles-like glasses doing just that exercise.Later on with the advent of Avid digital editing technology we were able to (in real time) transfer CDs to videotape and digitize them into the system. It took time, but it was a nice step.
Now, everything transfers directly into the edits and into sound design as a digital file.

In addition to maintaining a rather huge library in-house of CD's, we're also able to audition and download music for productions online from many different libraries. It's also possible to get alternate versions of selections from an online source beyond the CD we keep in house.

The big factor now isn't availability and ease--it's licensing music use. Many of the productions we work on end up online--and as is the case with actors and narrators, there are additional fees for internet usage. That includes youtube. Just because its a no-rules free for all doesn't mean you are legally allowed to "call" youtube uploads don't count as part of your production licensing. It does seem the marketplace is getting more savvy to the needs of their clientele. Many music companies now feature blanket agreements for usage as not-for-sale DVDS or for internet use. The only word of caution is that it's very easy to "get what you pay for" with blanket-style libraries.

That's where we come in---we're happy to work with you when music is something that's desired for a production but in the past had seemed unreachable due to budgets. If you are perplexed by the whole process just give me a quick shout out and I'll help make something happen for you.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Dan Bailes: We're an impatient people. Time is money. So when we have something to say, we want to get it out there and out of the way. Jargon is quick. Jargon is in the know. Jargon is inside the box. Jargon is also stultifying.

When you throw it into the mix, it is a total idea stopper. When I hear jargon I'm suddenly more aware of the speaker than the words -- the flow of ideas smashes into a wall of questions. They keep on going but I'm asking myself, do I understand what that bit of jargon means? Jargon does not invite you in, it keeps you out.

When WSJ Business Tech blog writer Ben Worthen wrote about "Tech Terms We Hate" he used the example of the IT word "user." He was quite eloquent on the subject, so I'd like to quote him here:

Today, all the term does is emphasize technology at the expense of the task someone is trying to perform. To an IT person, you aren't writing a message, you're using email. To see how ridiculous this is, try applying 'user' to some routine activities. Someone who is grocery shopping becomes a supermarket user; a driver becomes a vehicle user.

See what I mean. It takes the person out of the experience. And Washington seems to be a city overflowing with jargon, government acronyms and pundit double speak. Whoops, I guess that's a bit of jargon, isn't it? Lifted that expression from Mr. Orwell's 1984.

Anyway, when I interview people for a video I'm always aware of how they answer. When I hear jargon, I'll ask the question again, usually acting like I didn't understand what they were telling me. That often makes them want to rephrase the answer, looking for words to help me understand what they are saying. And when I edit a person's interview for a video, I always try to edit out jargon from their comments. That way, the flow of ideas moving right along.

And after all, no one ever complained that someone's words were too easy to understand.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Whip It Into Shape

Dan Bailes: Horray for Blendtec blenders. Who knew product demo videos could be so much fun? In case you don't know Blendtec, they're the ones who created the wacky "Will It Blend?" series of videos now playing on their website, Youtube and elsewhere.
So what's the deal here? Well, what can be more mundane than a blender, right? We're talking whipped potatoes, purees, smoothies, maybe even carrot or spinach juice. Ah, then again, maybe not. But blenders: they chop stuff up. End of story. So if you were head of marketing for Blendtec, what would you do to whip up some enthusiasm for your product?

Here's their cool solution: instead of breathlessly showing us how to concoct the latest pineapple, pear and passion fruit frappe, they whipped up something weirdly goofy but effective. Their recipe? Take one boring product, mix in some mundane objects and blend it all together with a dash of some Dave Letterman style humor. And voila, a stroke-of-genius web video series is born, branded
with one silly but wonderful question, "Will it blend?"

The answer is a video series that's flamboyant, foolish and lots of fun. And what a great product demo! It shows so simply and elegantly what they're all about: chopping stuff up.

I've just skimmed the surface looking at some of their videos. But one favorite is their latest video feature on the iphone. There is something positively delicious watching what happens when the much-touted technological marvel, the iphone, meets another great piece of technology, the Blendtec Total Blender. A total mashup. You can check it out their site and the iphone video at http://www.willitblend.com/

Another favorite is their recipe for creating a debt-free lifestyle, which you can find at http://willitblend.com/videos.aspx?type=safe&video=creditcards

What makes a great communications idea "great" is not just what you have to say but also how you go about saying it. And what makes Blendtec's approach so appealing and memorable is that instead of taking themselves and their product so seriously (hey, it's a blender) they're willing to let everyone in on the joke. The corny music and semi-serious presentation make it even funnier. And they open the door for viewers too, by inviting them to suggest other things to blend. So viewers become part of the process--which makes them more willing to buy into the message. A truly inspired campaign: it's clear, direct and elegantly simple.

Oh yeah, and according to their marketing director, they've had record sales for every month since the launch of their Will It Blend? video campaign.

Which should tell you there's a lot of sense in all this silliness.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sometimes, the Best Things In Life Are Free

Dan Bailes: Technology can be a great tool or your worse nightmare. And unless you’re a techie, when you’re ready to buy a new piece of personal tech gear you’ve got to wade through the river of hype and hope that’s out there to find something that works for you. Or you can do what I and lots of other Wall Street Journal readers do, which is turn to Walter Mossberg and see what he has to say about it.

I’ve been reading and enjoying his columns for years. He writes clearly and effectively as he tackles complex tech and tech gear in language that anyone can understand. He also tells it like it is, unlike a lot of the blue sky type reviews that seem to populate so many trade magazines. He’s a strong consumer advocate and cares as much about ease of use as he does about what the gear actually does.

The only downside is that up until now, you pretty much had to subscribe to the WSJ or it’s website to have access to his wit and wisdom. But now you can just go to a new free website and not just read him, but some of his WSJ colleagues as well. The website’s called All Things Digital and there you’ll find “news, analysis and opinion about the digital revolution”.

It’s fun, informative and just the thing to check out before you plunk down your hard earned cash on the latest greatest tech wonder. Or you can just go to the site to get a heads up on what’s coming down the pike.

What You See Isn't Always What You Get

Dan Bailes: Someone once said “your view of the world is shaped by what you see when you wake up in the morning.”

Those words came back to me after yesterday’s screening of a rough edit with a client. This was one of those situations where we were working on a video project that had two mandates—1) introduce people to the organization’s programs and services 2) use the video as a fund raiser.

The client wanted both mandates to focus on the value the organization brings to patients and their families.

So… here’s the topic I’m really getting at: how do you go about making a video that has two different goals? What do you show and what do you see? In preliminary discussions with the client we decided to focus more on the first goal –introduction of services– with the assumption that if you do something that works well for patients and their families it will also work for fundraising. So I began creating a warm and welcoming piece for patients and their families about how to use the organization’s services for the first time. Our hope was the video would put people at ease and assist them to learn about how the organization had helped other patients (like themselves) in need.

As I worked with the editing, I tried to put myself in the place of someone in the audience. One thing I’ve learned from working on hundreds of political campaign and issue ads is to first understand the mindset of your audience and then hone your message to fall within that point of view.

I found we had a host of comments from people who had been helped by the organization—so there were a lot of moments to choose from. There was so much worthy material our first edit draft was way too long – given the large amount of quality comments it felt like the perfect moment to ask our client to help us decide what should stay and what should go. After watching the edit draft they made a decision. We should change direction and orient the program more to potential funders—if it worked well for them, it will also work well for the patient/family members. With that simple change in perspective, we now saw everything in a new light—our lengthy first edit became much easier to tackle; the new direction in thinking made it obvious what should stay and what should go.

Of course we would need to re-edit the piece—but that’s okay—because we knew where we were going; the content now had clarity. Knowing where a piece is “going” brings new energy into the edit room.

And once you clearly understand who your target audience is and what you want to tell them, everything else falls into place.

Dancing About Architecture

Bob Burnett: I was once kiddingly called an “Urban Planning Geek” while serving as a Planning Commissioner in my community. And I proudly admit to being one. I take great interest in observing traffic patterns and parking. I also like to chat about “floor area ratio” and “building fenestration”.

Excellent building fenestration!

Part of the reason I’ve become so planningcentric is because GVI has created video projects about planning, architecture, affordable housing, school design, green buildings, new urbanism, etc. for the American Architectural Foundation, The US Conference of Mayors and the National Association of REALTORS among others. I’ve been able to talk to incredible people and see fascinating places. Imagine my surprise when on a recent visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City I came across a video monitor that was playing a multimedia presentation called “Picture a City”.

It was amazing. Here among some of my favorite artwork in the world I found myself smitten by a planning video.

To make “Picture a City”, Squint/Opera, a group of urban design savvy filmmakers/animators out of London, merged together urban planning ideas with graphic design, music, video and still photography to make a short video-styled communication tool that advocates a new approach to thinking how the city of Bradford, England should redevelop in the future. That’s right—a less than 5 minute music-driven presentation without a narration track that made perfect sense and inspired action. And in addition to being used as an effective communication tool for Bradford I had to pinch myself because I was watching it in the Museum of Modern Art! I know the late Frank Zappa once snidely said, ”talking about music is like dancing about architecture” but he never saw visual dancing about architecture that is possible the way it is now. In a production idea dancing happens when you allow the visual elements to lead the way. Your viewer is able to absorb and interpret the content – and come to their own understanding of the information in new and interesting ways they may never have considered. No white paper, cluttered 25 bullet-item powerpoint or panel discussion video will ever capture that sort of fresh thinking.

We recently produced a video called “Schools Designed for Learning: The Denver School of Science and Technology”. Like the
Bradford approach taken by Squint/Opera, the video lets the information unravel—driven by images of the school, music and the thoughts of the teachers, students and administrators of the school. I can proudly say the universal reaction has been “I wish I went to a school like that!” which is music to my architecturally dancing ears.

And best of all the video has been available not just as a DVD but as a streaming video on the American Architectural Foundation’s webpage and is on youtube where organizations and people around the world are linking their blogs and webpages to the video as an example of positive school design.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Okay, so they were big and lumbering, mean and nasty and almost nobody likes them after the age of 12. What does it mean to be a dinosaur? Stuck in the old ways, irrelevant and, oh yeah, bound for the bone yard.

So when Rich Silverstein, adman and image wizard (his agency did the “Got Milk?” campaign) says “no client wants an agency that’s a dinosaur” who could argue? Here’s what he said in last week’s WSJ, “No client wants an agency that’s a dinosaur, and you have to be relevant. To stay relevant, you have to do new work for different types of clients.”

Part of what Rich was talking about was the importance of working on different kinds of projects for different kinds of clients. I totally agree with that. One thing that makes working at GVI fun is the variety of clients and projects we deal with over the course of a year. A quick glance at the Portfolio page of our website will show you what I mean: http://www.g-v-i.com/pages/portfolio.asp

Practically speaking the videos you’ll see there come from working in many different styles. Some projects are fast-paced, zippy and fun. Others are more serene, with a touch of elegance. One is somber and perhaps a little surreal, another takes us back in time to the Gilded Age. There are educational pieces, profiles, explorations of art and the artist and people-centered documentaries. What you won’t see there is a typical “GVI style.”
The issues we confront may be similar, but the solutions are quite varied. So maybe we’re more like chameleons than dinosaurs.

Because how we approach each project is based on the audience and what we need to accomplish. That’s really the key. And then we work on shaping a program and message to meet those goals.

And that’s my second take on all this. Because I think many of the old dinosaur values still apply. People still respond to work that looks good and addresses their needs and interests. And I still begin each project the same old way: I listen, reflect and then offer my best judgment on the way forward. But when I do the work, I like coming up with a different approach or trying something I haven’t done before. And I look for ways to keep the piece fresh and vital.
So maybe being a dinosaur isn’t all bad — as long as you stay light on your toes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Moment

Short videos for the internet, ipods and cell phones are pretty popular at the moment. Their small image and file sizes suit the technology and their length matches our short attention spans. I think the reason we watch them is that they attempt to capture a “moment” and if they succeed, we’re drawn in and amused, intrigued or outraged. And, of course, we send them on to our friends, relatives and co-workers.

Capturing a moment – or a series of moments – is the key to creating any video. It’s how we engage the audience so they’ll be receptive to the larger messages we’re looking to get across. It’s something we spend a lot of time on when we produce our programs.

We also spend a lot of time sifting through the latest news, trends, techniques and possibilities for using, creating and distributing video. We’ve started this blog to share our ideas on these subjects and hope that the moments you spend with us are helpful to you.