Cisco video shoot

October 29th, 2012

Here are a few shots from a recent video shoot I was on for Cisco. This was a pretty simple production with just one guy talking straight to the camera in front of a green screen. For those of you who don’t know, a green screen lets you add pretty much any sort of visuals or graphics you want after filming. In this case, we’re going to put the actor in a simple environment that’s mostly white, with photos and videos floating around him in individual windows. Sometimes he reaches out and “grabs” one of these windows and moves it around. The motion graphics artists time the movement of whatever they add on screen to the movement of his hand. They also resize the windows so sometimes one will get bigger and fill the entire screen when the on-screen host “taps” it. When it all comes together, it looks really good, even though in real life, as you can see here, it’s nothing but video equipment, wires, cables, clunky lights and fluorescent green backdrops that can really feel like an assault on your eyes after eight hours.

We’re producing eight brand training modules for Cisco to use worldwide. I wrote the scripts, chose the cast, and sat in on the shoot as my friend, David Creech, directed the talent. This was one of those rare projects that came out even better than one thinks it will. Our talent was so good at his job that we finished early on the second day of shooting. Now comes the “easy” part of editing and developing the motion graphics. I say easy because all I have to do is provide feedback on the cut and approve it or ask for revisions. Whoo hoo!

The top shot shows Jason, our host, on the monitor. You can see him from the side just to the left of the monitor. He’s facing the camera, which is behind the big black curtain.

The middle shot is even more “behind the scenes,” showing the table where the clients are sitting, watching how things look on the monitor. They’re able to provide feedback for each take as we film.

The bottom photo is Jenny, our producer, who put the entire shoot together. Even though this was a relatively small shoot, it’s a big undertaking to coordinate everything and everyone: director, DP, lighting, grip, PA, craft services, studio, equipment, hair/makeup, wardrobe, teleprompter, talent, client, agency, and more. It’s always a huge relief when it’s over and everyone’s happy!

Blue Shield TV

October 22nd, 2012

You’ve probably seen the Blue Shield spots – they’re hard to miss both for their ubiquity and for their iconic look.

I’m sure it’s hard to come up with an authentic-feeling campaign in this category, but they’ve really done a good job with these.


They’ve just added a few new ones to the rotation, so in addition to the 46-year-old who lost a front tooth and talks like a 7-year-old (hilarious), and the giggly woman with a rash on her face (also very funny), there’s the guy talking to himself, the upside-down woman with a back problem, and more.


I hope they produce lots more of these well-written and well-acted gems. The world needs them!

USF’s Higher Standard campaign definitely sets one

October 14th, 2012

If you live in SF, you’ve noticed a great campaign peppered all over the city (billboards, buses, kiosks, taxis, buildings) for USF, a Jesuit college that happens to be the city’s first university. Despite the school’s history and pedigree, they realized they had a very low awareness around town. This first-ever visibility campaign tries to change that.

What’s great about this headline-driven campaign is how it taps into the uniqueness of USF. According to the school’s press release, the lines marry the university’s commitment to academic excellence, culture of service, and passion for social justice – these concepts come through in nearly every one of the ads. Here are two examples, and there are lots more. On top of this, they also launched a student-targeted website, which explains the objectives behind the campaign, answers questions about it, and lets students download/share the ads themselves. I always like to see this part of a campaign [internal-facing engagement] included in the effort. It’s smart and can’t help but make the external-facing campaign elements more successful. Let’s hope more great lines will be rolling out, and that the campaign actually works. It would be great to see other schools run ads that communicate their uniqueness to prospective students as well as USF’s do.

Knowing your audience

December 3rd, 2011

can you crack it? online recruitment of hacktivsts for cyber-spy careersI just came across a cool site called Can You Crack It? According to this ABC News article, it was set up by a British intelligence agency that’s looking to recruit web-savvy cyber-spies, and this was how they decided to find some. It’s a tough cyber code they’re asking people to crack/solve. Their thinking is that in this digital age, with highly intelligent hackers opting to make it big online instead of enrolling in university, they’re apt to find some young people to join them who would otherwise be wreaking havoc and making the agency’s life miserable. Turn them to the good side of the Force before they get too mired in the dark side. They should recruit Lisbeth Salander, too.

I thought this  strategy was pretty brilliant. It’s a real good example of knowing who you’re trying to talk to, what their demographics and psychographics are, what motivates them, and how to best reach and engage them. It’s the sort of stuff I’m telling my clients all the time. I hope it’s successful for them. I think it’d be great to get a big team of potential hacktivists working for good instead of evil, especially since I’ve been working on promotional materials for the upcoming RSA Conference 2012 in San Francisco.

As for the code itself, it’s a doozy. I love trying to solve puzzles like this but it’s way beyond my ability to crack. After studying it for about five minutes, I declared myself highly unqualified for a career as a cyber-spy. The only inkling of a possible starting point I could come up with is that the code uses the numbers 0 through 9 and the letters a through f. That’s 10 numbers and six letters, totaling 16 characters. And there are 16 columns of coded pairs. So maybe each column represents a letter. Although the “keyword” field only holds 15 characters. I’m thinking the first one is blank, mirroring the site name in the upper left corner of the page. I’m either brilliant, or I’m grasping at straws that aren’t even really there. Where is Tom Hanks when you need him?

What’s in a name?

November 9th, 2011

Restoration Hardware catalog, slippers















And to think all these years I’ve been calling them “slippers.”

I heart Apple

September 18th, 2011

Apple logo, Macintosh, computerYesterday I added to my Apple family with a gorgeous, 27″ Cinema Display, a new wireless keyboard, wireless Trackpad, and battery charger. So I got to spend the majority of the day reveling in the beautiful packaging as I set up my equipment, and breathing in that awesome, new-computer-accessory smell that we all love so much. I think I got a little dizzy. Or maybe that was the bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc I cracked open in celebration of my purchases.

I’ll be a little sad to see my 7-year-old iMac go to Computer Heaven, it has served me well, but not for long because this Cinema Display is freakin’ huge, freakin’ brilliant, and freakin’ beautiful. And it has more functionality than I thought it would. I especially like the way it automatically integrates with my laptop to function as an extension of its screen. I can put my email window over there, or some notes I need to consult periodically as I write whatever I happen to be working on. I remember when you had to buy a special card to install in the CPU itself for this to work. I remember because I used to write ads, brochures and data sheets for a company that made those special cards.

On top of all that, it took approximately four minutes in the Apple store to get my merchandise, pay, and be on my way. The email receipt was in my inbox before I made it out the door. Talk about a great brand.

Hurricane Yo Mama

September 8th, 2011

branding brand imageMy mom’s name is Maria, and she finally gets a monster storm-slash-potential natural disaster named after her. When my siblings and I were growing up, “Watch out, Maria’s on the rampage” was our fraternal I-got-your-back warning that someone had done something wrong and that someone had lived to regret it, and all the other someones in my mother’s path were going to suffer right along with the offending someone. [Confused? Sorry, there were five of us.]

To be fair, Mom wasn’t really all that bad. Neither were we, actually. She did, however, have a reputation for flaring nostrils that signified profound anger. I suppose Hurricane Maria’s equivalent are the 80 mph winds that, given the opportunity, would blow said nostrils to and fro like nobody’s business. Now that it’s finally happened, this naming thing, and I have so many funny things to say about it – things that only an adult child can get away with saying to a parent – I don’t have to worry about being sent to my room to “Think long and hard about what you just said, young man.” Cool.

I’m truly savoring this. A hurricane named after my mom, just a few weeks after the hurricane named after my cousin [Irene] wreaked havoc in New England, where Renie happens to live. Oh, the Circle of Life. Elton, you are wise.

All of this did get me to thinking about hurricane names, or “brands,” if you will. I seem to recall a few years ago when the authorities were considering the cessation of naming hurricanes after people. The especially devastating ones make a strong case for this. “Hi, this is my friend Katrina.” A perfectly fine name ruined for at least two or three decades. And weren’t some people suggesting that we let corporations sponsor them, like they do stadiums and figure skating competitions? Hurricane Depends, anyone? [It’ll scare you so much, you’ll s*** your pants.] Or maybe Hurricane Pixar? [Tom Hanks could do the VO, making it an approachable hurricane.] I imagine Hurricane Google would be quite easy to find if you searched for it, and easy to spot on the map, especially if you clicked “Street View.” And how about Hurricane FedEx? [“When it’s absolutely, positively going to hit overnight.”]

Oh, I could go on and on. The lines practically write themselves. But a really good one for Hurricane Maria escapes me; maybe I’m too close to it. Wait. One just popped into mind: “You never write. You never call. Tomorrow night, young man…landfall.” Yikes. I’d better go nail plywood over the windows.

Caution: Rant Crossing

September 3rd, 2011

I never hold out much hope that writing jobs on Craig’s List will pan out, or are even worth the time it takes to respond to them. There are exceptions, naturally, but the majority of companies/people searching for writers on CL have a long list of requirements and high expectations, yet they don’t provide the information a writer would need to meet them. Still, every once in a while I go to CL to see what’s there, if for no other reason than to enjoy a good eye-rolling session. The other day I saw a post that was yet another prime example of what I’m talking about.

After first tooting their own horn about how awesome their own company is, how fast it’s growing, what USA Today said about it, how many Fortune 500 clients they have, blah blah blah, the post asks for a “content writer” who MUST: be a creative soul ready for new challenges, believe in changing the rules of the game (whatever that means), write informative, interesting, thoughtful content full of soul, personality and wit that draws the reader in and makes him smile, know WordPress [sic] and Photoshop, hold a college degree, have excellent English spelling/grammar/proofreading skills, and an “incredible amount of passion,” as “passion is the fuel without which you cannot survive at [company].”

Whew! Well, okay. I’m not going to argue that a good writer shouldn’t have all of those qualities. But instead of asking for portfolios where all of those qualities would conceivably be reflected in the body of work, the post gives candidates a test. They send hopefuls to a url and require them to write a one-paragraph review of it. Then, in two sentences, summarize why a business owner should try the online tool they’re selling there.

But here’s the thing: You can’t ask a writer to come up with a complete appraisal of a website in one paragraph and expect to get anything of value. Especially without sharing the brand position, brand promise, target audience profile, and other key information any good writer would need to do the job. Otherwise, what are the evaluation criteria? And, as good as I like to consider myself at what I do, I would be hard-pressed to show wit, personality, soul, knowledge, thoughtfulness, charm and passion – all while making a business case to entrepreneurs – in two sentences.

Why is it that writers (and designers ) so often are expected to bend over backwards, take impossible tests, and prove themselves to people who don’t even understand what we do or how we do it? Why are our portfolios of produced work not enough for some? You never see an ad for an accountant that requires candidates to “Review the attached Excel spreadsheet and find the 3 errors hidden within it.”  Where’s the post that requires a plumber to “Come to my house and change out the leaking garbage disposal” as a test before he can be considered for a job?

I feel sorry for the company that posted this ad because they will never find what they’re looking for. And if they do luck out and get a response they like, I pity the poor writer who has to deal with these people. Because he or she will be doing a lot more than writing. They’ll be doing a lot of teaching, too. And we all know how vastly underpaid teachers are.

Logo Hide ‘n Seek

August 28th, 2011

Yahoo News had an interesting article recently about hidden symbols within corporate logos. The FedEx one is probably the most famous, with the reversed-out arrow between the “e” and the “x.” And here are a few more that I found interesting.


I have to admit I never saw the bicyclist in this one, but now that I know the yellow sun is the front wheel and the “r” in “Tour” is the body, with the “o” being the back wheel, I wonder how I ever missed it.




Here’s another one I never saw until it was pointed out to me. Do you see the sideways Kiss? Look between the “k” and the “i.”




Finally, one of my favorite websites to peruse is Amazon. But I never understood the yellow half-circle under the logo, which I thought was a cheesy smile. Turns out it isn’t. It’s an arrow that goes, if you notice, from the “A” to the “z,” a subtle message that you can find just about anything at Which is actually true. Still looks a little cheesy, though. But they get a pass because both A Tale of Two Cities and World War Z were great books.

Mother, May I?

August 22nd, 2011

permission to write or to be a writerRecently a colleague asked me to speak with a friend of hers who is just starting out in his first writing job and needed some advice. But when her friend called me, I discovered he didn’t need advice on pronoun-antecedent agreement or parallel construction, or even the creative process. What he was really looking for was permission to be The Writer in the room.

My instructors used to call this the Imposter Syndrome, and it afflicts people starting out in just about any industry. You feel unready, unproven, and unworthy to be doing the job you’ve been trained to do. When my older sister started closing deals around the country in her medical sales job, she said she felt like the briefcase she carried should say “Big Fake” in big, bold, white letters on the side. Despite her success, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she didn’t deserve it.

Compounding this new writer’s anxiety was the fact that he had been charged with overseeing the company’s blog, not only by writing his own entries but also by editing the mediocre ones submitted by his colleagues. This included the company’s leadership, whose second-rate prose he was charged with spinning into gold. No pressure, right?

“How do I tell them their writing isn’t very good?”

“What do I say if they complain that I changed too much?”

“What if I make them all hate me?”

We’ve all been there, thrust into a situation that makes us uncomfortable because we’re unsure of ourselves. But sometimes you just have to swallow the fear and remind yourself what’s what. Here’s what I told him:

Just worry about doing the job you were hired to do. You have the training. You have the expertise. You have the title. So own them. And stop worrying about people who might try to snatch them away from you. Besides, they won’t. They don’t have the time, or most likely the desire. And if anyone does tell you that you changed too many words on their brilliant entry, diplomatically tell them that it didn’t seem all that brilliant to you. If they persist in giving you grief, pull out your business card and point to where it says “copywriter.”

Above all, remember that your supervisor is going to judge you on the quality of the blog, and capitulating to the grumblings of bent-out-of-shape co-workers will get you a bad review. The blog is the boss here, so serve it well. I’m not saying to be a belligerent, unbending bastard whose mantra is My way or the highway. But don’t sacrifice your own standards because you don’t think you’re capable or worthy of enforcing them. Especially when it comes to something like writing, because everyone thinks they can write. Unfortunately, it’s just not true. A quick visit to any website with comments enabled will tell you that.

It’s a lot for a new writer (or a new salesperson, or a new IT manager, or a new cobbler) to take in and integrate into his professional life. It requires a maturity that not every 22-year-old has. I know I didn’t. But experience definitely helps, and it strikes me that no matter what job we’re in, or at what stage of our career, we should all own our titles. And, more important, let others own theirs.

Said ownership isn’t always easy. Sometimes it requires us to respectfully, diplomatically, gently – even lovingly – tell those who insist on cooking in our kitchen that while we appreciate the offer, there’s only one apron.