Viva public domain!

Viva public domain!

This lovely image comes from the Farm Security Administration and is of a Polish Farming couple. Photo by Jack Delano and assumed to be in the public domain.

Updated March 6, 2020

“Viva public domain.” The words tantalize us with their promise of free images for our videos, web sites, and publications. Public domain images and audio can come from the government, the public, and commercial works whose copyright has expired.

But there’s a price to pay for all that free public domain candy. You need to know some basic rules, or you could wind up in court or owing someone money.

For instance, public domain does not mean “released.” “Released” indicates that the human subjects in the photo have been properly released, usually by signing a subject release form and being paid a sum of money. (more…)

The secret to getting accurate video production estimates

Apples are an all-American success story-each ...

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The secret to getting accurate video production estimates

If you want to build a house, you don’t ask a builder for the price (right off, anyway).

The smart way to build a house would be to come up with a plan — the number of floors, rooms, bathrooms, and so forth — and then let several builders give you their estimates. You’d probably hire an architect to help you. (more…)

TFTD: Should my CEO narrate or open the video?

Amanda Winn-Lee
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Should my CEO narrate or open the video? No.

Almost definitely, NO.

There are many reasons, and I’ll give you the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

1. Narration and on-camera performance are skills, like acting. Most talent I know specialize in either narration or on-camera work. Those who do on-camera work may narrate, but that’s rarely true the other way around.

Your CEO may be a well-spoken person, and may have a speaking voice that can make you swoon. However, learning to speak for audiences is an art unto itself. And performing on camera is even harder.

It can take a long time for a nonprofessional voice talent to get through even a brief open and close on camera. Even the best of them have trouble being directed — they don’t understand vocal intonation, nuance, and adding emotion such as “smile.”

Let me take that back. They’re smart — they understand these things. They just can’t deliver them. Because they don’t have training. Period.

I’ve spent hours coaching some of the smartest CEOs on the East Coast to deliver dazzling performances, and I don’t want to do it again. Sure, I’m being paid. But it’s a waste of money, and producers inherently dislike wastes of money. Our job is to bring you the best product for the least amount of money.

2. Your story doesn’t need it. Every time you pop a Hollywood movie into your DVD player, do you see the head of Paramount or Universal Studios commenting on what a great movie you’re about to see (or just saw)? Of course not. Because the movie’s greatness should be evident on its own. A good movie should need no explanation of any kind.

Same with your video. Honestly? It’s the exact same thing.

Not only that, but having a CEO appear on screen can actually damage your message. If you’re trying to sell “Widgets with a Heart,” the best way to open a video might be something other than with your CEO. Certainly something other. Very few audiences are captive these days. And the ones that are can still tune out.

If you’re just considering having your CEO narrate the piece, I’d simply ask, “why?” It’s going to take longer to record, be challenging to direct, and perhaps put the audience off. They want to hear from their peers, not their superiors.

At any rate, please concern yourself with the message that your video needs to impart, and let your scriptwriter and producer help you deliver them. They are professionals at crafting corporate messages.

As you’ll hear me say many times, the process is very like taking your car to the mechanic. Do you tell your mechanic HOW to fix your car? No. You describe the problems you’re having. Your mechanic fixes the car.

3. It’s more expensive, not less. Using your CEO or your own homegrown narrator (the financial analyst with a great voice) can add, not save, money. What if your selected speaker doesn’t have chops?

You can add to your producer’s (and recording studio’s) time because your speaker has a problem saying one or more words, or can’t understand (or worse, doesn’t care about) the difference in inflection that your producer is going for. Narrators are a relatively tiny percentage of your budget (I typically pay $350 to $600 per hour, which is plenty of time to lay down an 8- to 10-minute narration). Add to that the hourly cost (around $250) of a producer, videographer, and audio engineer (not to mention a make-up artist and members of your own staff), and your cost has skyrocketed.

While we’re on the topic of cost, many narrators do their own recording from home and small office recording booths these days. And they do a good job. (You and your producer can even be patched in to supervise the recording.) So you can save the cost and time of recording your voice talent in a studio, a cost that often starts at $200 per hour, not including file management and delivery times.


Sure, you can demand that your CEO be part of your video, maybe because it would be flattering for him or her somehow to be in a video, or good for your own career to have championed the idea. 99.999999% of the time, you will be wrong to do so.

If it is important to get your CEO’s face in front of your audience, please do it in another way. In an interview on camera. In a press release with a photograph. A podcast. A live webinar. A poster. A postcard. Something aside from a video.

In closing, please leave storytelling to your scriptwriter and producing to your producer. You’ll have plenty of input. After all, whatever your stated problem or challenge is, you can bet that your scriptwriter and producer will need background and perspective to create your message. And your message will need tweaking. You are the expert on content, probably not on the delivery of a message. (I hear a lot of people balk, “But I watch movies all the time!” My answer: “But when was the last time you wrote one?” There’s a big difference.)

You’ll approve the script versions and each incarnation of the final video. You determine what’s appropriate for your audience. And you’ll approve the choice of narrator, just as you approve the choice of tires when you take your car to a mechanic.

At any rate, don’t start telling the story yourself, just because you know more about the topic than anyone else. You might very well know more about your topic than anyone else on the planet, but that’s not the point.

Your scriptwriter and producer know more about positioning your message than you do. They know how to build a story and make it accessible and engaging to your audience.

Everyone is NOT a director, Everyone is NOT a writer. Sure, many people CAN become a director or writer. But it takes years and years to get there. Do you really want to use your expensive video as a guinea pig?

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Video 101: Review your needs before writing the script

A CD Video Disc (playing side) produced in 1987.

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Always review your needs before writing the script

Planning a video or film for your business is just like planning anything else. The more prepared you are, the better the process will go and the happier you’ll be with the final product.

In video and film, you have an added bonus: the more prepared you and your producer are, the lower you can keep your costs. Follow the steps below and you’ll be well on your way to executive producing your next video or film. (more…)

The wave of the web future

Columbia Journalism School building; photo by ...

Columbia Journalism School

I shared a Facebook link this morning to a PBS story about a new degree program at Columbia University, Medill School of Journalism that will create journalist/programmers. To me it made perfect sense, and I said so. I immediately heard back from an old friend.

“Geeks instead of journalists?” he wrote.

“Not instead,” I said. I told him that in my opinion individuals are demanding more control over content than ever before — no longer (if ever) the realm of a programmer.

I also said that, IMHO, writers and designers have historically been separated at birth as far as the web goes. Not for all companies, of course — there are many fine examples of well-designed web sites. I’d say they’re few and far between.

But for the masses? A company generally calls a web design company, who offers a design but no copy — the web design company considers web copy the responsibility of the company. So, as in so many media tragedies, the company calls up its PR person and asks that she or he produce copy for the web site.

Why is this happening when there’s a long history of tight relationships between writers and designers as far as advertising and print collateral? Hard to say exactly, but I think part of it has to do with money and speed. The web has grown so quickly that an infrastructure to support its proper execution has never solidified. Geeks went out and got the jobs that writers and content people didn’t know how to execute themselves. And content went begging.

Not only that, but web designers aren’t always the best people to judge usability. Every time you go to a web site and can’t find the thing you came to find — someone was asleep (or missing) at the wheel.

This scenario is changing, thank goodness. WYSIWYG design programs are getting easier to use even if their users don’t fully understand HTML. Blogging software, incredibly easy for anyone to set up and use, is now fair game for designing full web sites. There are many, many templates available for non-designers and programmers to use. In other words, it’s possible for a content person to “come over to the other side.” Cost, among other factors, has made it so.

Also, web consumers are becoming savvier about what works and what doesn’t. We don’t have that much patience for web sites that don’t work as we need them to. So it makes sense that those who are better at organization, usability, and writing are taking back their birthright.

And, as time goes by, we’ll see the gap narrow even more, as software and e-learning each accelerate. Certainly there will always be a market for technicians, but there will be a larger market for content people who can create anything from an electronic newsletter to an interactive web site at a much lower cost than is now possible.

My friend wrote back, “I hope you’re right. I’m just an old newspaper guy suspicious of technocrats and J-schools on principle.”

I say he and I will both be satisfied with the outcome. The medium will always be the message, and the message needs to be controlled by the many.

Is corporate video dead?

Italian Cooking by Basecamp Productions

Italian cooking by Basecamp Productions

Is corporate video dead? Gosh, no.

Since the first electrons burbled from a black-and-white studio camera seemingly right into our home television sets, we’ve been fascinated with seeing ourselves on the screen. I don’t mean that literally, of course. (more…)

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