Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Welcome Storytrack!

Our new company, Storytrack, launched this summer! I wish I could say there was a momentous ribbon cutting, but instead it was steady work over many months.The company's goal is to bring creative vision and technological precision together into a new kind of company.

We'll continue to create the best video productions but we're adding distribution and tracking. It's an exciting time for content creators as we can now provide guaranteed video views--which means our clients are able to demonstrate viewer engagement and ROI. The tracking is real-time with detailed metrics. Go Team.

See our new work here!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dream Big

Peter H. Daimandis’ new book “Abundance,” co-written with Steven Kotler, is reviewed in today’s New York Times Book review. It’s a delight see his optimism has only grown since I worked with him as Director of Communications for the XPRIZE foundation.

The X PRIZE began in St Louis when a group of philanthropic-minded business folks agreed to become part of the “New Spirit of St. Louis”, modeled after the Orteig Prize, which Charles Lindbergh won in 1927. The X PRIZE was founded to incentivize private space travel.

Our offices were in the basement of the St Louis ScienceCenter. One day my young son was exploring the exhibits in the gallery while waiting for me to finish work. A much older boy began to bully him and he came into our offices, nearly in tears. Peter stood right in front of him, held his shoulders, and said, “One day he’ll be working for you. Don’t forget, you start at the top and work your way up.” He’s a visionary with a heart of gold.  His optimism inspired many of us to grab hold of our dreams and make them into realities.

Check out "Abundance". Happy reading.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Steady Work in Haiti

One of the stories we are following in Cap-Haitian is the effect of consistent employment in a country with a reported 80% unemployment rate.  Gregory, an agronomist, was hired 4 years ago by Meds and Food for Kids (MFK) to work with farmers in the North of Haiti.  He helps small farmers develop better growing conditions for their peanuts. As farmers increase yields and lower contamination, they have a ready buyer with MFK.

Here’s Tim Maupin, DP, riding on the back of Gregory’s Motorcycle through Cap-Haitian.

The footage is fabulous thanks to Tim's daring.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

En Route to Haiti

I arrive at Miami International Airport before dawn, accompanied by Tim Maupin, my director of photography. We’re headed to Cap-Haitian Haiti for the week to document an extraordinary group of Haitian and American social entrepreneurs. 

I’ve had the good fortune to document the group since its inception. Dr. Patricia Wolff, a St. Louis-based pediatrician, founded Meds andFood for Kids (MFK) to slow the staggering rate of malnutrition in that country.  Pat–a truly driven woman–brought Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food or RUTF to Haiti in 2003. (RUTF is a sort of super-strength peanut butter; it’s ideal for underdeveloped settings because it can’t spoil, because there’s no water in it.) Since then, the Haitian government has adopted RUTF into its national protocols on treating malnutrition, using MFK’s work as inspiration. This is a tremendous accomplishment.

But what draws me to the story of MFK is its unique business model. The group made the decision early on to buy its peanuts locally. But quality was an issue. They began working with local farmers to increase yields and decrease contamination (by aflatoxin). They set up a small factory for production and packaging, which enabled them to hire local staff. The factory added an economic development dimension to their work. Now they are creating new alliances with Nutriset (a French commercial concern) and others, allowing them to break ground on a new 2000 square foot factory, hire a second shift of employees, and work with more farmers–all to keep up with the demand. 

For those who are interested in the gear: we’re shooting on the Cannon D7, 24p We have an assortment of lenses, tripod, and glidecam. We’ll be recording audio offboard …. Doing a redundant backup onto 2 laCie rugged drives.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Interviewing In Translation

My house was filled with Nicaraguans.  The sounds of Spanglish and laughter rose and fell like waves on a beach. 

A group of five Nicaraguans were visiting St. Louis for a week. They live in a small village in the mountains called Plan Grande Dos. Eight years ago my two adolescent sons and I traveled to Plan Grande Dos with the Nicaragua Community Partnership, a St. Louis based group. We’ve been going ever since. And every other year a group from the village visits St. Louis. 

When asked about the trips I often hesitate. They’re not about building houses, or wells; they’re about a process of accompaniment. We make tortillas together, we thrill at the progress of their coffee plants, we create a “spa day” with the village women. When the “delegation” recently visited St. Louis we made sandwiches together and walked down to the local funky retail strip. We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together, and had ice cream before bed.

It’s a powerful relationship that has shaped all our lives with understanding and love.

On the last day of the group’s visit to St. Louis, I interviewed each of them on camera about their experiences.

I have been doing on-camera interviews for many years. I have worked hard to become good at it. My projects tend to have warm, lively interview footage as a result. I consider it a specialty.

Interviewing in translation poses special problems.

I always use a translator for interviews with non-English speakers. The rhythm of the interview and the rapport are critical. The translator normally sits just off to one side, preferably at my shoulder. The camera is positioned off my other shoulder. I ask the question in English; the translator repeats the question in the native language. I maintain focus on the interview subject as the question is being asked. The interviewee then responds directly to me. I never break eye contact even though I have no idea what is being said. I smile like there’s no tomorrow, keeping the focus and energy moving between the subject and me. I have the translator repeat the answer in my ear. Even as she is translating, I never break eye contact with the interviewee. When it’s done well, the conversation is seamless, a wonderful triangulation of words and expressions.  

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Web Video

Statistics claim that web video, when executed properly, can triple your opt-in rate at that critical moment when viewers decide to explore or leave your site, and that viewers are far more likely to pass the word to others via viral marketing.

This is essential information for higher education clients.

Recently a prominent University ask us to create a series of web videos—and I was reminded of a recent web video campaign we produced for Washington University School of Law.

The School of Law had a beautifully designed website full of essential information for prospective students. However the University is located in the Midwest, and applicants from the East and West coast believe buffalo still roam the streets. Our charge was not to recreate information on the website, but to showcase St. Louis--the city, parks, and neighborhoods.

We shot the videos on a Vericam with Dave Rutherford as the DP. In the example you’ll see below, we focused on neighborhoods. I love the opening students quote, she's walking by her favorite Chocolate shop--Bissingers.

In the end the client was pleased. Mary Ann Clifford, Assistant Dean of Admissions, said “When I‘ve been traveling around the country visiting with prospective students who have not been to St. Louis, I just tell them to take a look at the videos to get an idea of what it is like here. They really highlight so much of what is wonderful about Washington U, our students, and St. Louis.”

Let’s hope the next series produces the same reaction!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Last Interview

This summer I produced and directed a program for Clayco, a major design-build firm headquartered in St. Louis. Clayco has worked with Washington University in St. Louis for years; the program celebrated several of the outstanding buildings they have created together.

As part of the project, we interviewed Dean James McLeod, a man I’ve known for nearly twenty years.  

Dean McLeod hired me that long ago to direct a video for the John B. Ervin Scholars Program. This nationally eminent program began as an effort to foster a diverse educational environment on the WU campus. Over the years the scholars were consistently challenged to lead and to commit to an ethic of service. I produced many programs for the Ervin Scholars. More than once I heard Jim quote Dr. Ervin to the incoming scholars: “To whom much is given, much is required.”

Like Dr. Ervin, Jim always gave of himself with intelligence and compassion. He touched the lives of thousands of students—including my own two sons.

The university recognized his contributions by creating the McLeod Scholars Program, an undergraduate scholarship endowment. In May of this year three students were named as inaugural McLeod Scholars.

I am so sad to report that Chancellor Wrighton has just informed the Washington University community that James Earl McLeod passed away this afternoon.

The news is devastating.

Yet I know that his legacy will live on.

After our interview in June, Jim laughed and wrapped things up by saying, “It’s time for me to go.” And then this charming, gracious man picked up his black umbrella and headed out into the rain. Off he walked in the direction of Brookings Hall. An essential image of Jim McLeod.