Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What I've Learned from Scripting Corporate Vids

As the script writer for several 11gR2 vignettes, I have been thinking about what we have done right so far and what we can improve. Here are my top five thoughts:

1. Remember that people watch these all the way through because they care about the characters, not the information. Information delivery must be subservient to the story.

2. Don’t work too hard to build gags into the script. Concentrate on the motivations of the characters and let the gags come to us. For example, in the Active Data Guard video I worked to build the snow globe gag into the script, which in the end didn’t add that much to the story. By contrast, in the Advanced Compression video one character’s natural motivation to buy more hardware was shown brilliantly with the Disks-R-Us centerfold; we got humor and never left the main thrust of the story.

3. Don’t let marketing considerations kill the dramatic beats of the story. These beats take the viewer step by step in the direction we need them to go, both to satisfy the needs of the story and the needs of information delivery. In a beat, one character answers the thrust of another characters comment and moves the conversation in the direction he/she wants it to go. As the conversation moves along, the viewer is drawn naturally in the intended direction. But when we get bogged down with marketing requests too late in the scripting process this natural flow gets interrupted and the story suffers.

4. Get scripts to the producer with enough time for him to live with the script for a few days. This gives him time to design shots and suggest lines to fulfill his vision for the characters. If the script is built on solid character motivations and dramatic beats the producer, and later his actors, can let it all hang out and we end up with a better, funnier video.

5. On the day of the shoot have a product expert on hand to help with pronunciation and give the green light to ad libbed lines. If the product expert is laughing with the producer and actors, they know they can go for it.

I look forward to working with everyone on the next round of vids.

Come in, Relax, Enjoy a Little “Implicit Learning”

Pick up Winifred Gallagher’s new book “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life”, and you’ll find arguments to support the “tech vignettes” we’ve been filming for Release 2 of Oracle Database 11g.

She describes “implicit learning” as a process of leaning something without intending to. It is, say researchers, the most natural way of acquiring information and skills. It’s how you learned to speak and perhaps how you learned to cook. Implicit learning is effortless. Think of watching Flags of Our Fathers vs. reading a dry WWII textbook. How does this link to our vignettes?

If you want to learn something, anything, you must pay attention to it. You must be, as the title of Gallagher’s book suggests, rapt by it. Our vignettes attempt to hold our visitors rapt by telling them a story. They provide relief to the overburdened attention spans of our customers by not asking them to read marketing copy, but instead immersing them in the story and allowing them to receive a little implicit learning.

The stories last a little over a minute and are based on funny, sympathetic characters living out struggles Oracle customers will instantly recognize. In the process of watching, they learn something valuable about the technology at the heart of the character’s dilemma.

They will save us all from another video white board session. Look for these vignettes to hit Oracle.com in mid August.

Friday, July 17, 2009

An Interloper at ODTUG

If you see me at a user group conference pondering the conference guide, don’t think I’m looking for my session. What I’m looking for are the people who attend and teach sessions. Watch out, I might be looking for you. I’m at the conference to collect stories and information from experienced technologists and share them around. Here, for example, is what I picked up on two days at the recent ODTUG Kaleidoscope conference

Three professionally produced videos: Two for Oracle Magazine that will be available later according to the magazine’s editorial calendar, and one for the OpenWorld blog. Thanks to Scott Smith for his camera work and editing.

Two magazine columns for my Up Close series (print, video) on user groups. Those, too, will be available in future edition of the mag.

Three flip video interviews for the Oracle Database Insider blog, (and here)which will be featured in the Oracle Database Insider newsletter.

Just as important are the current output of stories, are the people I get to know at meals and periods of goofing off. As an example, my attendance at Kaleidoscope was a result of this earlier interview with ODTUG President, Mike Riley, whom I came to through an encounter at the BIWA Summit.