Posts

Updated February 2021 with my current setup at the bottom.

With each week that passes under COVID-19, more and more groups are looking towards virtual programs as a way to provide content, value, and connection to their employees, members, and users. Last week, I shared tips on transitioning an event into a virtual experience.

This week, I want to talk more about the different levels of virtual programs. As you can probably imagine, not all virtual events are created equal. While most people know and lament about the “standard webinar,” there is so much more that can be done.

Think of it this way: if the only stand-up comedy you ever experienced was people trying stand-up for the first time at an open mic, you would think it was a terrible artform. But you’ve seen the professionally produced Netflix comedy specials and know it could be so much more.

Virtual programs are not webinars only. Webinars are your open mics, so let’s look at some of the more elevated tiers of what can be done:

Levels of Virtual Programs

The primary differentiators for virtual programs are: video, audio, lighting, and delivery. Notice that content is not included in this list. Yes, you do need someone who has great content, but that’s true regardless of level or format.

For each tier, I’ve share some examples of what gear could be used with (some affiliate) links to where you can get them.

NOTE: A lot of these pieces are in high demand and may be sold out or have long delivery times. If you can’t find it on Amazon, consider searching other online retailers such as Best Buy or B&H Photo Video, or a local electronics store. Or, do a search for “alternatives to [sold out equipment name].”

Tier 1 Virtual Program – Standard

The first level of virtual programs is what people think of when it comes to a traditional webinar. The focus is on delivering content as quick, easy, and cheap as possible.

Pros: Takes advantage of what most content creators already have. Can be up and running very quickly. Requires very little rehearsal as content can be read.
Cons: The end product is usually not all that engaging. Experience, interaction, and efficacy is low. Isn’t differentiated from products that have negative connotations.

  • Video: Single camera angle, often at the default height of the desk / chair, with little attention paid to framing.
    • Equipment: built-in camera in laptop or smartphone.
  • Audio: Basic audio setup, often with existing background noise of the environment.
    • Equipment: built-in microphone in laptop or smartphone.
  • Lighting: Basic lighting, often with overhead lighting or bright windows in background.
    • Equipment: whatever standard room-lighting exists.
  • Delivery: One view, audio over slides, possibly with a video of presenter in the corner, with little to no interaction.

Example: Just about any introductory webinar that you’ve experienced.

Tier 2 Virtual Program – Elevated

The second level of virtual programs is an elevated version of what people think of when it comes to a traditional webinar. The focus is on building a more engaging presentation while balancing a need to create content quickly and easily.

Pros: Builds on what most content creators already have. Doesn’t require extensive setup time. Follows a framework that people already expect but in an elevated way.
Cons: Requires more planning and setup than Tier 1, but isn’t dramatically differentiated at first glance. Involves some additional investment and resources. Doesn’t create immediate WOW factor.

Example: Some of the initial virtual workshops offered by Humor That Works. (Coming Soon)

Tier 3 – Professional

The third level of virtual programs moves beyond what people think of when it comes to a traditional webinar and begins to transition into virtual workshops and virtual keynotes. The focus is on creating a compelling learning experience that keeps attendees engaged and entertained without breaking the bank.

Pros: Creates a new delivery that is differentiated from the standard webinar presentation. Doesn’t try to replicate in-person experiences but rather takes advantage of remote attendees. Doesn’t require a dedicated studio space or additional producer.
Cons: Involves higher costs for equipment. Requires more setup and rehearsal time to get tech working smoothly. Can be a lot for one person to manage.

  • Video: Two camera angles, one elevated to eye-level of speaker, framed to show head and shoulders without too much extra space, another for an additional view (such as whiteboard, flipchart, or action shot).
  • Audio: Advanced audio setup with external microphone, unobtrusive headphones, zero background noise, and possible music or sound effects.
  • Lighting: Advanced lighting, with multi-point lighting system in front of the speaker and strategic backlighting.
  • Delivery: Three to four views: 1) “talking head” shot, 2) secondary camera angle, 3) view of just slides, 4) picture-in-picture of talking head and slides. Advanced use of interactive tools such as Q&A, chat, polls, breakout rooms, and whiteboards.

Example: Many of our virtual keynote offerings and the work Brian Fanzo is up to.

Tier 4 – Production

The fourth level of virtual programs blurs the line between virtual program and TV-level production. The focus is on crafting an experience where production and content are closely linked together. Cost is not an obstacle.

Pros: Delivers in a way that wows people not only in content but in production. Leverages decades of techniques and equipment from TV and Film. Creates an experience that would not be possible at an in-person event.
Cons: Involves high costs for equipment and dedicated studio space. Requires advanced expertise in video, audio, and computer technology. Requires extensive rehearsal and possible additional person as producer (in person or virtual).

  • Video: Multiple camera angles, one elevated to eye-level of speaker, framed to show head and shoulders without too much extra space, others for additional views (such as whiteboard, flipchart, close up, green screen, or action shot).
  • Audio: Professional audio setup with external microphone, unobtrusive headphones, zero background noise, and possible music or sound effects.
  • Lighting: Professional lighting, with multi-point lighting system in front of speaker with strategic backlighting.
  • Delivery: Four to six views: 1) “talking head” shot, 2) secondary camera angle, 3) third camera angle, 4) view of just slides, 5) picture-in-picture of talking head and slides, 6) custom pre-recorded video seamlessly integrated into program. Advanced use of interactive tools such as Q&A, chat, polls, breakout rooms, and whiteboards, as well as webpages for custom-made experience.

Example: The incredible programs Vinh Giang and Drew Davis are putting together.

Choosing the Right Virtual Setup + My Current Setup

A higher tier of production doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll create a virtual experience. You’ll note that none of these levels cover the content that is covered. If you combine Tier 4 production with Bill Lumbergh level delivery, it’s still going to be a terrible program.

For context, my virtual keynotes are typically Tier 3 setup with the following equipment (Updated February 2021):

The virtual workshops we offer at Humor That Works are between Tier 2 to Tier 3 using the following (Updated February 2021):

At a minimum, strive Tier 2 as a way to elevate your programs beyond the dreaded webinar.

Questions? Feel free to reach out.

I just got back from the Shoot from the Hip project and had an amazing time.  Not only did I meet some great people and make a pretty solid movie, I learned a ton.

I learned more about filming in 10 days than I could have by reading 100 books.  Here are some of the bits of wisdom I picked up on making a film:

Acting

  • Just like in improv, you have to interact with your fellow actors. Be paying more attention to them than yourself.
  • Once you connect to your characters background, motivation, and objective, it becomes a lot easier to react as they would.
  • Be willing to have fun with your characters and make interesting choices.  Something as simple as having skittles with you can turn into a symbolic moment for the movie.
  • When shooting the film out of order, remind yourself in each scene where you are in the story so you still have the right progression as a character.
  • When improvising scenes, establish the important beats of the scene that need to be hit and then go. On the next takes, keep what worked and refine what didn’t

Editing

  • If you create a consistent hierarchy of folders on all of the computers you are working on, it will make it easier to transfer files and save the Final Cut Pro project files.
  • Watching your edits on a big screen will help you identify small fixes such as needed cuts or audio issues.
  • At the end of the day, continuity is less important than the performance. But it is what will set your movie apart from being amateur.
  • If you “notice” an edit, it’s not good.
  • Multiple camera angles make switching between takes easier. Also having shots of the other person (and not being able to see the speakers mouth) allows you to use the best dialog without worry about syncing.
  • Just like in improv, reactions make the joke. Your edits should include the best reactions.
  • Cut in the middle of dialog when possible to maintain audio continuity for the audience. This also looks more professional and allows you to see reactions.
  • Shots without actors acting or speaking can be used to round out the movie (things like establishing shots)
  • If you sync all of your angles into a sequence you can quickly jump back and forth between the two angles.
  • One way to do editing is in the first pass “edit for radio”–just worry about getting the audio where you want. then you can adjust the video as needed.
  • When possible, the editor should be the one to log and capture video since they will need to be watching all footage anyway to do their editing.
  • When editing as an ensemble, you can create a master editing list that assigns scenes or chunks to each editor.

Directing

  • When shooting two camera, if the OTS or CU shots are shot at the same time, then its easier for the editor to do back and forth edits (as opposed to shooting one cu and one wide and switching back and forth btwn takes).
  • You can use lighting, sound, and camera placement to help tell your story.
  • Allow for time to improvise in scenes. The best moments of the film can come from completely improvised bits in the moment.
  • Having multiple cameras is easier on the actors, helps with continuity and shortens the shoot time, but is more footage for the editor, requires more people and potentially restricts the types of shots you can do.

Production

  • Being able to do every role helps you appreciate them more and realize what you can do to make their jobs easier.
  • The more filled out a continuity sheet, the more helpful it is to the editor.
  • To help the editor, create a document that lists which tape and scene numbers were used for a particular scene.
  • The setup is usually what takes the longest, not the takes. If the director can pre-plan as much as possible the crew can get there and set up. The talent can then come in once its setup (assuming they are rehearsed and have also already talked with the director).
  • It can be tough to balance wanting to be efficient and stay on schedule and also taking the time to have fun and play with different decisions and options
  • For scheduling, print each scene on a single strip. Highlight the different combinations of INT/EXT and DAY/NIGHT.
  • Group each location time together and piece together the scenes that can be shot together.
  • Organize all of the scenes into respective days taking into account location, time, characters, and costumes.
  • With an ordered scene list, list the needed crew people for each one (and call time if different).
  • The assistant director is there to make the directors job easier. They’re the ones that keep things moving, on schedule. They have to be more in command even if to the point of sounding like a jerk.
  • The AD yells quiet on set and then roll cameras. When the cameras are rolling and focused on slate, they each say speeding. The slate person then reads the slate information and drops the clapper. The camera people then get to their frame and say frame when they are there. The director then says action when ready and cut when done.
  • The clapper is incredibly important when using more than 1 camera. The visual helps with the editing process for logging and the clapper hitting is the first nonblurry frame and is what allows you to sync audio at the sound of the clap.
  • When slating, its better to actually clap the sticks instead of letting them fall. This will help in editing because the clap will be more succinct and the top won’t bounce.
  • Having a list of all of the beats of the movie is important. Then ultimately having a list of every scene plus a couple of sentences about the crux of the scene, major character changes or information, and any key lines
  • Masking tape on floor can help you set your marks (even for things like tripods).
  • Script supervisors are responsible for continuity of things like costume, actor movements, props, etc.
  • You can take digital pictures to track prop locations and wardrobe.
  • Slating at the beginning will help editing (both on camera recording and on the log).
  • Script supervisor can also track how each scene went (good takes, mistakes).

Lighting/Sound

  • When first setting up a scene, first try to control the environment (sound and lighting).
  • Light is like water–you can have direct hard light or when you bounce it off something, it will spread and also become softer.  Gels can change the ambience of the light.
  • Work to make your lighting and sound seem realistic (you almost don’t notice it).
  • Top and back light can make someone pop out more.
  • Use a blanket on the wall or floor to try to muffle any echo in a room.

Writing

  • To determine the plot, think of each storyline separately and decide on each of their resolutions. Then list all scenes and beats for each one and match up where they overlap.
  • For the story, write down all of the scenes on small cards and then rearrange them into the flow of the movie.

Camera

  • For each location (and really any new shots) the camera settings for light and sound should be checked.
  • To get focus, zoom in on your main focus point, get focus and then zoom to frame.
  • Main types of shots include wide/master, establishing, closeup, ecu, two shots, over the shoulder.
  • Remember the rule of two thirds when framing.

After working on a short-film with a friend, I decided I wanted to learn more about the filmmaking process. A number of people associated with The Magnet Theater decided to do a filmmaking intensive in the Catskills that brought improvisers and filmmakers together to shoot a feature-length film in 10 days.

I learned a ton through the experience—I learned more about filming in 10 days than I could have by reading 100 books.

Here are the notes I took away from the experience. You can learn more about Shoot from the Hip here.

Acting

  • Just like in improv, you have to interact with your fellow actors. Be paying more attention to them than yourself.
  • Once you connect to your characters background, motivation, and objective, it becomes a lot easier to react as they would.
  • Be willing to have fun with your characters and make interesting choices.
  • When shooting the film out of order, remind yourself in each scene where you are in the story so you still have the right progression as a character.
  • When improvising scenes, establish the important beats of the scene that need to be hit and then go. On the next takes, keep what worked and refine what didn’t.

Editing

  • Watching your edits on a big screen will help you identify small fixes such as needed cuts or audio issues.
  • At the end of the day, continuity is less important than the performance. But it is what will set your movie apart from being amateur.
  • If you “notice” an edit, it’s not good.
  • Multiple camera angles make switching between takes easier. Also having shots of the other person (and not being able to see the speakers mouth) allows you to use the best dialog without worry about syncing.
  • Just like in improv, reactions make the joke. Your edits should include the best reactions.
  • Cut in the middle of dialog when possible to maintain audio continuity for the audience. This also looks more professional and allows you to see reactions.
  • Shots without actors acting or speaking can be used to round out the movie (things like establishing shots)
  • If you sync all of your angles into a sequence you can quickly jump back and forth between the two angles.
  • One way to do editing is in the first pass “edit for radio”–just worry about getting the audio where you want. then you can adjust the video as needed.
  • When possible, the editor should be the one to log and capture video since they will need to be watching all footage anyway to do their editing.

Directing

  • You can use lighting, sound, and camera placement to help tell your story.
  • Allow for time to improvise in scenes. The best moments of the film can come from completely improvised bits in the moment.
  • Having multiple cameras is easier on the actors, helps with continuity and shortens the shoot time, but is more footage for the editor, requires more people and potentially restricts the types of shots you can do.

Production

  • Being able to do every role helps you appreciate them more and realize what you can do to make their jobs easier.
  • The more filled out a continuity sheet, the more helpful it is to the editor.
  • To help the editor, create a document that lists which tape and scene numbers were used for a particular scene.
  • The setup is usually what takes the longest, not the takes. If the director can pre-plan as much as possible, the crew can get there and set up. The talent can then come in once it’s setup.
  • It can be tough to balance wanting to be efficient and stay on schedule and also taking the time to have fun and play with different decisions and options
  • Organize all of the scenes into respective days taking into account location, time, characters, and costumes.
  • With an ordered scene list, list the needed crew people for each one (and call time if different).
  • The assistant director is there to make the directors job easier. They’re the ones that keep things moving, on schedule. They have to be in command even if to the point of sounding like a jerk.
  • Who says what: the AD yells quiet on set and then roll cameras. When the cameras are rolling and focused on slate, they each say speeding. The slate person then reads the slate information and drops the clapper. The camera people then get to their frame and say frame when they are there. The director then says action when ready and cut when done.
  • The clapper is incredibly important when using more than 1 camera. The visual helps with the editing process for logging and the clapper hitting is the first nonblurry frame and is what allows you to sync audio at the sound of the clap.
  • When slating, it’s better to actually clap the sticks instead of letting them fall. This will help in editing because the clap will be more succinct and the top won’t bounce.
  • Having a list of all of the beats of the movie is important. Then ultimately having a list of every scene plus a couple of sentences about the crux of the scene, major character changes or information, and any key lines
  • Masking tape on floor can help you set your marks (even for things like tripods).
  • You can take digital pictures to track prop locations and wardrobe.
  • Slating at the beginning will help editing (both on camera recording and on the log).

Lighting/Sound

  • When first setting up a scene, first try to control the environment (sound and lighting).
  • Light is like water–you can have direct hard light or when you bounce it off something, it will spread and also become softer.  Gels can change the ambience of the light.
  • Work to make your lighting and sound seem realistic (you almost don’t notice it).
  • Top and back light can make someone pop out more.
  • Use a blanket on the wall or floor to try to muffle any echo in a room.

Writing

  • To determine the plot, think of each storyline separately and decide on each of their resolutions. Then list all scenes and beats for each one and match up where they overlap.
  • For the story, write down all of the scenes on small cards and then rearrange them into the flow of the movie.

Camera

  • For each location (and really any new shots) the camera settings for light and sound should be checked.
  • To get focus, zoom in on your main focus point, get focus and then zoom to frame.
  • Main types of shots include wide/master, establishing, closeup, ecu, two shots, over the shoulder.
  • Remember the rule of two thirds when framing.