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Forms are the DEVIL!!

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Perrone FordForms are the DEVIL!!
by on Dec 25, 2008 at 4:30:43 am

Ok good people, I am at my wits end. I have been tasked with reshooting a "corporate training" video. The audience for the video will be legal professionals, and the group commissioning the video need to explain certain aspects of legal procedures to this audience.

The video was first shot nearly 10 years ago, but some laws have changed, thus a reshoot has become necessary. The idea I pitched was to follow two people (e.g. John and Jane) as they go through each of the steps and procedures shown in the video, thus making it move like a film short. For a variety of reasons that was scrapped.

So now, the video is comprised of some basics:

A. Talking heads in either a 1-shot or a 2-shot
B. Short skits with voice-over
3. On Screen text with voice-over. Motion background or 1-shot with overlay.
4. On screen forms.

It's this last one that has me perplexed. The original video is comprised nearly 80% of scanned forms displayed flat on the screen. It's the ugliest thing you've ever seen. I wanted to completely avoid this if possible, but the law dictates I HAVE to show it. I've been racking my brain trying to come up with filmic ways to do this.

Best I can come up with is some staged shots of the forms on desks, and perhaps some OTS shots of a person either reading the form, or filling them out. I've got to show about 6 of these in a 15-20 minute video, and I have to leave them in place long enough for them to be recognized and understood while a voice-over explains what they are.

I'd be thrilled if any of you that have faced this, or have creative ideas, shared them. I don't have a skater dolly, or I'd certainly be using it.

Help me before I pull out what's left of my hair! :)


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Mark SuszkoRe: Forms are the DEVIL!!
by on Dec 25, 2008 at 5:19:27 am

Every 2 years I have to do a teleconference and DVD explaining a bunch of election forms and schedules to untrained people working in election campaigns, updating the rules. It has to assume you know nothing every time because of high turnover of the user base.

What we settled into, and think works well, is to use chromakey to let the speaker literally "walk you thru" the forms in super-scale. If you remember the opening "flag shot" of of George C. Scott in "Patton", we blow up the form, or parts of it, to look that big at times, then go into details a paragraph or two at a time to fill the screen, so legibility is terrific, with the presenter doing a kind of weatherman thing with them.

Frequent cut-aways go to even tighter detail shots, where we show the writing of names and numbers, one screen-filling line at a time. Animating onto the blanks helps a lot, as does using a highlighter type box overlaid on sections as a voiceover addresses them. I frequently pop back out to a full-screen shot of the form with the relevant section highlighted, as a way to keep viewers oriented.
In our programs, we open up phones adn take Q&A on-air from actual users during the initial presentation, and save that in the DVD and web stream that goes to people that missed the live teleconference.

For things that are functionally like tax forms, I think this is a winner.


These kinds of programs face a grave danger of becoming "radio with pictures". If all you end up doing is reading the material to a camera, give up; give up now and re-write, because this program really could just be an email. People can read for themselves, better and faster than you. Having skits where two people read to each other is no better.

There's a lot of "stuff" you need to go thru when planning one of these out to make it as effective as possible. Copying the old formats that don't leverage the thing video does best may just be copying old mistakes, too.

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Perrone FordRe: Forms are the DEVIL!!
by on Dec 25, 2008 at 5:58:57 am

Oh MAN! If only I could get away with that. Sounds brilliant but runs somewhat counter to my needs. The purpose of the video isn't so much to show people how to fill out the forms, only show them the required form to fill out before moving on.

Basic structure moves something like this:

1. Talking head says to become certified you need to attend class
2. 3-4 shots of classroom training
3. Talking head says "you then need to submit form A"
4. Form on screen while talking head mentions something about the form.
5. Talking head says "you need to observe real world cases"
6. A few shots, reverses, and POVs of real world scenario with talk-over.


So right now, I am trying to come up with some ideas to get these forms on the page. So far I have:

A. Staged shots
B. OTS of person filling out form
C. OTS of person reading form
D. Semi-transparent form laid into "whitespace" on side of talking head. This is 16:9 so I've got some room. Think Evening News story graphic, but larger.
E. Cut away to scanne form on motion background

That's about all I have. I don't have Chromakey otherwise I wouldn't mind playing with your idea.

And believe me when I said that simply re-shooting what they had before would be a huge mistake. But, it was a huge struggle to even get THIS much done. I'd show you what they had before, but you'd think I was lying. Scanned forms (with the staples intact), exterior shots in front of traffic in strong sun and no silks or reflectors, Full frontal indoor lighting with STANDING, and non-moving subject or camera for 30+ seconds, etc. And mastered to VHS for duplicates.

The fact that I am shooting HD, with dolly and stabilizer and mastering at 720p is going to earn me my money. Even if I simply did a re-shoot shot for shot of what they had before. I just want it to look as good as possible given the legal limitations.

So if you've got any other terrific ideas, please share them!

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Mark SuszkoRe: Forms are the DEVIL!!
by on Dec 25, 2008 at 8:36:17 am

Saw your list of horrors, it was only missing the badly-composed and themed powerpoint transfer to be complete. Seen it many times.

You seem to have a grasp of all the varieties of way to show the forms, I can't help but want to concentrate on the thematic structure of what you're doing with them.

Many times a show of this nature uses a metaphorical approach to help tie practical concrete steps to the overall ideas that can't be illustrated directly. An example: building the house, you refer to each step in the sequence you're teaching to a step in construction. Laying a foundation. Raising the walls, adding the roof, etc. Another kind of construct would be to use a chef in a kitchen demonstrating a recipe that is the steps of your client's procedures. Other examples will pop up if you use some imagination. Now it is really easy to go overboard with this kind of stuff, and spend too much energy and attention in setting up the metaphor compared to making your actual content points. be careful suggesting this approach if you have a guy or gal in management who fancies themselves in a re-creating of a big-budget movie as the star, and you just gave them an excuse with this program:-)

We did a show way back in the 80's with some people that were loose and open to ideas... librarians. Crazy folks, they tried all kinds of themes for what would otherwise be dull lectures... I remember a super-hero themed one where i got to do some neat special effects... corny, but they liked it.

One time we made their show a game show, the subject knowledge about a specific new computer cataloging system was what all the categories were about, because with people buzzing in with right and wrong, but common answers, we had a simple structure there for explaining in short, peppy bits what the reasons for the answers were, and reinforcing certain ideas, with light humor to help keep people awake. How this will play with lawyers, well, can't help you there:-P. If you had the chromakey capability, you could for example shoot from overhead looking down and have your presenter(s) "walk" along a game board like a Monopoly or chutes and ladders or "Life" type set of paths, with critical waypoints along the "road". Such a thing can be played for laughs or played very straight: during the first Gulf War over Kuwait, one network did this kind of thing with a huge virtual map the presenters could walk over, to show where cities were and troops in relation to them, and I thought this helped make the region more understandable to people with little background on it. But this is not within your current resources.

I look over your points 1-6 and it seems more like something that can be communicated best in a PDF flowchart or some simple self-directed hypertext than a linear program. Your lawyer audience is too smart to have to be led by the nose in such a pedantic way. And that reminds me of this project...

Late last year I did my first foray into authored DVD's using DVDSP on the mac and it was a baptism by fire, but very satisfying. It was a training tool for ethics officers, presenting gray-area situations and then asking what to do for each and why.

Each play-acted scenario presented offered four choices at various decision points, and each choice branched to either a congratulatory message with reinforcement that you chose correctly, plus a consequences tag video showing the "happy ending" or....

..... a "sorry, wrong" segment that explained why that answer was wrong or incomplete, then the wrong answer automatically sent you back to the decision menu of 4 questions until you got it right and looped out to the next "chapter" or main menu.

You could take the chapters in any order you wanted, or just pick one chapter, whatever you had time for. You could not advance until you mastered a segment. This approach I found to be effective because you as a viewer could blast thru the parts you were already competent in, to get to the scenarios that might trip up the inexperienced. The DVD could be watched alone but also in a group, with a facilitator to pause and poll the group before moving thru the answers. Since lawyers bill for their time, seems like this might have some attraction. It has some of that game show element, but in a less overt way because its an interactive quiz. The DVD's are way cheaper to distribute than VHS too, and easier to update.

This was a monster for me to assemble, two-three days shooting, (big cast) a month of editing and compositing virtual sets for the host, about 14 hours in the authoring, even though we kept it simple. I can do it faster the next time, now I've done one. Since each of the five or so scenarios had between two and four questions or decision points in it, each question had four possible answers, and each answer, an independent custom reaction, that was a lot to keep track of in the scripting, shooting, and editing, never mind the authoring. I used local pro and semi-pro talent from the city theatre community and they really made the thing work, by being able to create realistic characters, reactions and most of all, very consistent performances for the various alternate endings and branches. They didn't cost much but they gave it a million-dollar look, more than any dolly or jib shot.

The graphic flow chart DVDSP generates filled up all of one of my cinedisplays by the end, and looked like the Union Station train switchyard. But you get into a pattern with these things, they recycle certain parts and it becomes like a fractal: the big overall version mirrors the smaller components. If you make a small one first, the big one is much less intimidating, all you are doing is hooking modules together thru common menus, the graphic display makes it easy as pointing arrows to connect... it was very much like plugging patch cords into a router bay.

To the point, I believe in my heart this is better television because the viewer is actively engaged in shaping the presentation, it is not linear, yet the information is kept consistent no matter how it is presented. It is hard to make a better recommendation without seeing all the actual materials you have to work with, but I really like this approach and would recommend some version of it for this kind of work.

If the interactivity scares you, know this: you can do something very similar using plain old powerpoint. Create the slides and then you can drag and drop hot buttons that hyperlink between various slides you designate. Gives you all the same functionality as an interactive DVD, but simple as playing computer solitaire. Better yet, with one click it converts to HTML and can run on any web browser, even if you're not on the net, so you can run it as HTML or as a powerpoint.

Of course, this is more of a graphics-and-sound-oriented approach, (though you can also embed video in powerpoint, I hate that) but you know, it's no sin to tell a client some other media choice serves his needs better than video, if that's the truth and is more effective. Some will even thank you and trust you more for protecting their butts. This is what we do for clients, the added value, not just blindly take orders, but advise and collaborate where we can to make it even better. Even if the final product doesn't turn out to be a video.

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Perrone FordRe: Forms are the DEVIL!!
by on Dec 25, 2008 at 3:51:22 pm

Mark, that was an entertaining read as well as a helpful post. Unfortunately, state law dictates this WILL be a video. I made all the same arguments in pre-production meetings, but I can't change some parameters of this. I wish I could.

For better or worse, it looks as though I am going to be shooting the forms in the ways I've been devising. I'll just have to use a variety of them to try and not make this as stale as it might otherwise seem.

Maybe I'll digitize the original and post it for you to see. I could hardly do worse than what they currently have.

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Perrone FordRe: Forms are the DEVIL!!
by on Dec 25, 2008 at 9:12:48 pm

Mark, I'd like to send you something privately. Can you send me your email address?

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Mark SuszkoRe: Forms are the DEVIL!!
by on Dec 26, 2008 at 6:23:26 am

If you're wanting to send me video files, skip it; I'm still on dial-up and would be an old man by the time the download finished.:-) Anyway, your lawyer stuff may be proprietary, best to keep it that way. But good luck with it, let us know what you wound up doing. Making it a DVD is still making it a video, I don't understand the distinction you made or are being forced into. Whatever, best of luck with it.

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Perrone FordRe: Forms are the DEVIL!!
by on Dec 26, 2008 at 7:08:16 am

I was gonna send you a quick link. But no prob. I appreciate the thoughts and ideas. I wish I was at liberty to try at least some of them out. I especially like that greenscreen one. I'll have to put that in my back pocket for another time.

I guess I need to build a greenscreen wall!

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Mark SuszkoRe: Forms are the DEVIL!!
by on Dec 26, 2008 at 7:18:54 am

No, you don't. Around $50-$60 at a pro photo store will buy you a suitable paper roll that's reusable or disposable, enough for two complete one-man setups at least. Bill it to the project.

You can go even cheaper than that, if you don't mind sewing fabric sheets together from a local sewing supply place. With careful and even lighting, I've made successful Chromakeys with tarps and plastic sheet picnic table runners from a dollar store. Where there is a will, there is a way.

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Bill DavisRe: Forms are the DEVIL!!
by on Dec 28, 2008 at 8:39:33 pm

I may be missing something here, but if it was up to me, I'd take every form and slap it on a cheap flatbed scanner ($100 bucks at any computer store) and digitize it at 300 or 600 dpi. That should allow you to to zoom in by a factor of 4 to 8.

Then I'd build a simple motion path that does the following.

Shows the form full screen for a few seconds. Probably against a pleasing gradient background. If the client would allow it, I'd probably even tilt the form slightly back and apply a drop shadow to give the appearance of the paper floating over the background. That's just for minor aesthetic appeal.

Then I'd set motion vectors to gently tilt and zoom toward any IDENTIFYING numbers or markings that indicate which form it is. The zoom would presumably allow the viewer to actually see the copy clearly and begin to read the content for themselves. If there was an ID number, case number, or other critical "lookup" data, I might then highlight it somehow.

Then I'd do another motion vector to move from that ID into the upper left quadrant of the main document where one would start reading (where you'd expect to see a "drop cap" in typesetters terms) - drop caps tell your eye where to begin to read - and that should further help the viewer get another visual ID clue about how this form is distinguished from others.

Those two zooms function to bring the document close enough to be distinguished by content rather than by the gross appearance shot of full page text that often fails in resolution when you show it full screen.

Then I'd return to the full screen shot and hold that until that form is no longer needed.

Once I'd set up those basic vectors for one page, I'd just copy and past the sequence for every new page shown.

Full shot - zoomed ID number shot - Upper left (drop cap position) shot - back to full.

The audience would come to expect the same orientation sequence for each document and after the first wouldn't worry about trying to strain for content ID on the opening wide shot.

For me it's a matter of trying to understand what the audience needs to see to be successful in understanding the content.

My 2 cents anyway.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Forms are the DEVIL!!
by on Dec 28, 2008 at 11:23:15 pm

Yeah, I think Perrone has enough ways to frame up the forms by now. My bigger worry was about the overall narrative framework around those shots, but it may be one of those times Morley was referring to when "less is more" and you just sit back and let stuff happen in front of the camera, without artifice.

I always get a little opinionated though, when I see clients/customers not making the most of what video offers. I hate it when all they want to do is read their powerpoint slides into a lens. People know how to read. It is pointless to make a video where all you do is read to people. Unless you're Robert Frost reading poetry or something of that nature. But there's always a line of people that are just fulfilling some written requirement to make a video, who don't know better, and just want to read into a lens. It insults the audience. It says "you're too lazy to read this document, so I'll read it to you". That adds nothing to the audience understanding anything about the document. Excuse the ranting, but this is just an area that's near and dear to me.

Back towards contributing something concrete: when I handle the various election forms, the scanner sees thru to the other side of the flimsy paper they are printed on, and you see ghosting that's very distracting to the eye. I take an intermediate step of xeroxing the forms onto heavier single-sided pages before I subsequently scan them, saves a lot of photoshopping otherwise and actually improves clarity for my applications. If I know some sections will need special attention, I may blow up special copies of those parts during the xeroxing, just to save some time in the scanning and editing later, regarding sizes. While you could just arbitrarily scan everything at a huge resolution, that's inefficient use of drive space and RAM, and adds some extra effort to the graphics card that may not be necessary. So I precompose in the pre-scanning step wherever it is logical to do so.

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John MorleyRe: Forms are the DEVIL!!
by on Dec 26, 2008 at 7:01:53 pm

Dear Perrone,

As much as I admire a commitment to innovation and creativity, and am impressed by Mark's suggestions for creative approach, sometimes the client is actually right. One person's "boring form" and "the ugliest thing you've ever seen" is another person's livelihood. The form is inherently interesting to them or they wouldn't be watching the video: Show 'em the form!

The fact that our audiences compare anything on a screen with primetime TV and feature films is too often misinterpreted to mean informational video needs to throw in the same "creative" tricks. The real lesson to take home is that our work needs to involve the audience. If your audience works with these forms, they're involved already. Well-intended effort to make the show more "entertaining" may leave them wondering "what was that all about," and complaining, "why can't they just tell us what we need to know...plain and simple."

Fresh from school, with the "rule" that you tell a story with close-ups fresh in my head, I was running a video studio at a community college. When a dance class came in for a taping, we opened with an establishing shot then went to a visually poetic series of faces, feet, arms, legs, all flowing gracefully. They hated it. "I want to see them dance," the teacher said. So we basically locked down the camera on a wide short, then followed an individual dancer in a full shot now and then. We were bored, they were delighted.

What we and our video buddies think is award winning, may not serve our audience. That means we aren't doing our job. And that means our clients won't be coming back.

If your client--and more importantly the audience--wants to take a good long look to imprint the form in their memory, while a voiceover explains what this is and why they should care, deliver on their expectations. Make it clean. Make it professional. Make it easy for them to do their job.

You may consider showing each form in three steps: Establish it full frame. Highlight the form title. While holding the form full frame, create a corner insert showing a zoom-in to a close-up of the previously highlighted title. It's not flashy but may be exactly what they want.

I don't know enough about your specific situation to make specific suggestions. And my little rant may be off the mark on this one. But any time I see a focus on creative approach without a thorough review of goals and training objectives, I sense another production that the creators are eager to enter into contests and the indented audience refuses to watch.

John Morley

Author of Scriptwriting for High-Impact Videos

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Perrone FordRe: Forms are the DEVIL!!
by on Dec 29, 2008 at 6:44:45 pm

Lots of good ideas here. And I think you guys hit the nail on the head. Sometimes we do have to put our creative juices aside, and just give the customer what they need/want. In this case, not only does the customer want certain forms on-screen, but there is a requirement to do so, even if it is boring!

I was just trying to find a way to do so that was a bit better than what I'd seen in the past. Given the responses here, and what I was already playing with in my head, I think I have what I need, and I thank you all for your thoughts.

This is a terrific site. Now on to more pressing matters, like how to convert my library of video from the past year over to DNxHD!

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Michael HancockRe: Forms are the DEVIL!!
by on Jan 2, 2009 at 7:43:12 pm

[Perrone Ford] "Now on to more pressing matters, like how to convert my library of video from the past year over to DNxHD! "

What's the source material's frame rate and resolution? Since it's more of an Avid question, post over on the Avid forum and we'll see if there's an easy way to set this up.


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Dan BrockettRe: Forms are the DEVIL!!
by on Jan 3, 2009 at 1:08:12 am

Not sure if many of you saw this but here is the most classy and artistic way to handle forms but you had better be a good artist and good in AE. What an engaging way to look at a document.


Providing value added material to all of your favorite DVDs

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John MorleyRe: Forms are the DEVIL!!
by on Jan 3, 2009 at 3:23:57 pm

Thanks Dan,
These are inspiring, both in message and level of creativity. And are a refreshing contribution to a discussion of making written documents visual. I only wish this was the type of work I did for a living.

At the risk of being the curmudgeon on this post, I also feel compelled to point out that the purpose of these two pieces is different from the challenge that Perrone is facing, and is being discussed here.

These two pieces are to inspire; to convey a philosophy of life and social contract. The challenge addressed by this post--at least as I understand it--is to introduce and provide context for the tools of a trade, which happen to be forms. This is arguably the essence of the difference between training and educating: teaching specific cognitive skills as opposed to teaching general understanding.

Using this approach when your audience wants training would be a disconnect on several levels. It could be effective in presenting the organization's mission statement, or an introduction to the training that stresses professionalism and commitment to serving your client, your community and the wider world. But not the best choice for pointing out what form to use for which purpose.

No creative approach is always the best choice. And I feel thankful that the approach demonstrated by these pieces on human rights is a good choice at least some of the time.

Happy New Year.

John Morley

Author of Scriptwriting for High-Impact Videos

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