The police officer rolled up in her car beside me on the sidewalk. “What are you doing?” she asked, not unkindly. Someone had complained about the suspicious man loitering on the street with a strange contraption pointed at a hospital. They suspected terrorism. Nervously I explained and handed over my driver’s license for her to run through her computer.
Before dawn, I packed up my gear and headed over to University Avenue in Toronto. I picked a spot in the centre median and setup my suspicious contraption on a tripod. I aimed it at the main Toronto Rehabilitation Institute tower. I hit record and then waited (and waited) as the sun rose and the light danced across the building as I shot a time-lapse video.
The police officer’s scan of my driver’s license came back clean, she accepted my story, and went on her way.
What never occurred to me was that people might be suspicious on that particular date – September 11, 2002 – the one year anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre.
Back in the editing bay, I sped up the footage so that hours would pass in seconds and the building would be dramatically lit up by the sun. My colleague, Shawn, used 3D animation to float in transparent glass blocks representing the anticipated new addition to the building.
That shot, lasting just 13 seconds, took us days to complete but is my favourite in that video. It was part of a campaign that we produced to help the Toronto Rehabilitation Foundation raise $189 million for much needed renovations. We visited the campuses of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, and interviewed doctors and patients. We produced one of my favourite all time videos not only for the production quality but mainly for the value that we provided in helping them to fundraise. You can see the video below. That shot appears at the 3 minute mark.
We had an idea about the message we wanted to communicate but we didn’t go in with a script. We shot open-ended interviews and then crafted the story. We didn’t have a preconceived idea of what our interview subjects would say or what we would discover.
I prefer this documentary approach for several reasons:
- we go in with a sense of wonder and discover while shooting and hopefully we convey that in the final video
- we don’t know the story beforehand so we combine research and videography in one phase
- it lets the speakers be themselves instead of struggling to memorize words that aren’t their own
I’ve used this approach in producing videos for Rogers, Bell, Shoppers Drug Mart, and many others. I enjoy learning along with the risk/challenge of not knowing what we’ll get or where we’re going.
I started my professional career as a video editor at a boutique creative agency called Design Vision. We shared office space with a web development firm (that notably survived the 2000 dot com bust). I made friends with and learned greatly from my colleagues across the hall.
At that time, the web was slow. I still had dial-up at home (remember this sound?) and the only video online was low quality: small size, short, and highly compressed. Now, of course, video lives very comfortably online. YouTube is one of the biggest search engines in its own right. YouTube and Vimeo make it super easy to put your video online, share it, and embed it into your website. Content Management Systems (like WordPress that powers this website and over a quarter of the web) allow you to add video just by pasting the video URL into the page.
Video production has also become much more accessible and the amount of video content out there has exploded. Just as web access and web tools have helped democratize communications, the ease and accessibility of producing and posting video has made it a real option for many more people.
Has this spread and ease of use eliminated the need for professionals making videos and websites? It’s had exactly the opposite effect. It’s now even harder to stand out from the noise of the crowd. The basic principles of communications remain the same regardless of the medium. Understanding those principles along with having the technical expertise to use the medium requires professionals. Just as being able to type doesn’t make someone a writer, nor does having a camera magically transform someone into a videographer. I continue to help my clients with video production, giving them the benefit of my experience to deliver their message in a professional way.