The Importance of Content Briefs

No one ever checks out a book on preproduction. They basically don’t exist unless you're creating a feature film or a documentary.

Most things that we make are less sophisticated. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't have a plan.

Normally, I get an idea and follow through as quickly as I can without ever writing anything down. But if you take the time, you can make your creation process easier.  

A content brief will help you take the time to consider ‘why’ you’re making something.

If you don't already have a template, open this doc up and make a copy of it for yourself:

The Content Brief is just a plan that helps to communicate to yourself and to anyone else that needs to what you’re up to. If it’s something you normally do, that’s great. If not, use this Content Brief Template and adapt it however it makes sense to you. 

The main thing a brief will help you with is clarity. It will force you to say out loud what you’re trying to create. 

Creating simple things is hard. It’s always harder than anything else. Don’t let a client confuse you by saying that what they want to create is simple or easy – they’re trying to undervalue the work that you do and minimize the amount of presumed difficulty that the work entails. When you don’t know how to create something, it can seem easy. 
 

# Makering Things

Friday, I met with That Maker Show hosts, Andrew Chalkley and Craig Dennis, to shoot an episode of That Maker Show in SE Portland. Portland Walking Tours has a recent tour that explores the maker community in Portland with visits to ADX, ADX Pro, Portland Apparel Lab, and a couple of appointment-only shops. 

Dave, owner of Portland Walking Tours, gives us a tour of the ADX Pro space, which opened last Friday

Dave, owner of Portland Walking Tours, gives us a tour of the ADX Pro space, which opened last Friday

This episode is in edit right now. Hopefully we’ll get it out to the world in the next couple of weeks. 

I shot the episode on the FS7 with a mix of Lectrosonics Wireless, Sennheiser Wireless, and a Sennheiser Shotgun mic. In rectrospect, I should have cut the number of audio sources involved. One-manning 4 microphones is mostly a hope and prayer scenario when you’re also shouldering a heavy camera like the FS7. 

The Portland Maker scene is really exciting. There are so many amazing craftsmen working on rad projects in this town.

ADX's awesome woodworking space

ADX's awesome woodworking space

I Had a Transcendent Improv Experience

I’ve had a number of great improv moments, but it usually feels like a lucky dice roll. Not last week. 1 great lesson really hit for me last week during a practice. 

Don’t cut just because you have an idea
Ideas are weird things that boil inside of me and need to get out. I don’t know why I’m built like that. But you don’t need a lot of ideas for great improv scenes to happen. While a scene can appear to drag slightly, let the scene develop before you cut it. Cutting a scene too early risks your chances of ruining the rest of the production. 


For me, this lesson applies to any media. Don’t cut the scene just because you have a new scene in mind. Let the scene go where it needs to go first. 

Working on a Friend's Political Campaign

I worked with Matt A-W on his Scrum Basics course last year. He mentioned recently that he was running for school board in Beaverton, and I offered to make a few promotional videos.  

Hey friends reading this! If you are running for any kind of political office please let me know - I would love to help out!

Like every ‘free’ commitment, there’s a little bit more work involved than anyone imagines (and another project management tool to learn), but I’m really happy to be working on it. Unlike many projects that I’ve worked on in the past, this project has a discrete end – the May 16th School Board vote date. 

For this project I’ve kept things simple. Facebook’s ‘issues’ pages limit your videos to less than 30 seconds, which is perfect. As a result, most videos are less than 30 seconds long and cover a single issue with a call to action.  

I knew that I’d be shooting for a long period of time – so the C100 was the ideal tool. I used my favorite portrait lens,  the F1.2 85mm USM ii.  It also doubled as a great portrait lens to use as a family photo for the flyer.  I also enjoy that Matt is promoting Nintendo and his son, Sam, is wearing his shirt backwards and inside out. :)

Staying Motivated

I didn't think I was going to write a post about motivation, but as I tentatively pursue standup comedy, I realize that it's going to take much more than a 1 night a week commitment to get the stage time I'll need to get good.

I went to an open mic last night and failed to get on stage. I didn't even get on the list. As I was watching people perform I was fading in and out of engagement as I went over the jokes I was going to attempt in my own set, still thinking I would get on.  

Thankfully, I'm not going to let this setback keep me from doing this. My goal was to get on stage to perform, but now my goal is to get on the list of performers. #realisticGoals!

 

Fireball Island is Dumb and Amazing!

I’ve played some board games for more than a year before I got the rules right. I’m thinking of somewhat complex Euro games, like Archipelago and Castles of Burgundy. 

But some games are just simple and brutal, like Fireball Island. 

With awesome pulpy art that evokes Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone, and Joe vs. the Volcano – the theme is nostalgically rooted in 80s adventure films. 

Fireball Island isn’t a complex game. It’s Mousetrap-ish. 

You’re trying to grab a jewel and get to the end of the board. But every time you roll a 1, you push a fireball down a chute at someone, which pushes them back and knocks their character down in a satisfying way, that gives everyone a quick taste of blood, well before it’s necessary. 

With a 1/6 chance of getting a 1 AND cards that do the same thing, Fireball Island is a ‘fuck you’ kids game that makes everyone angry. 

Ashley (who ended up winning the game), had her character pushed off the board and back to the beginning of the game. Did that mean that her character went back to the 1st crater – yes. Was that unusually cruel – yes.  

Soon we discovered that if the fireballs didn’t knock you over then you were still in the game. This felt like an evocation of ‘kids’ rules. It’s not exactly in the rule book, but it ‘feels’ right. 

That didn’t change the fact that we were constantly getting run over by fireballs. And yelling. And feeling like we were all the backstabbing lowlife character that would have been best played by  Danny Devito. 

Normally, you try to play games that are so complex that you’re made to feel intellectually rewarded for outsmarting our friends, but sometimes you’re on Fireball Island. 

It's $200+ on eBay, I'll never buy it. But if you were born in the 80s, you should enjoy it when you come across it. 

I Forget that I'm Surrounded by Geniuses, Poets and Artists

In an Improv class this week, a teacher quoted this line from DC:

If we treat each other as if we are geniuses, poets and artists, we have a better chance of becoming that on stage.
— Del Close

it really resonated with me.

And then I had a kick-ass improv class. 

Improv is a pretty amazing way to view the world. You inhabit a character and see how the world responds to it and as you do it –  you sometimes get to see the character that you put out there when you aren’t on stage.

It’s easy to forget that everyone is capable of amazing things. Sometimes a quote from a poet is a good reminder. 
 

That One Thing I Love/Hate about 4K Right Now

If you work on the web, you deliver video in 1080p. 4K is 4x the size of 1080p so you can get away with the 'cut-in'

Here's an example of a 'Cut-In', a completely seamless cut from a wide to a close, done with the same original footage. 

Here's an example of a 'Cut-In', a completely seamless cut from a wide to a close, done with the same original footage. 

I don't mean this as a knock against Lynda (from whom I created the gif). They make great videos and their presenters are awesome. 4K is just a wonderful newish format that allows you to cut within the same clip without an apparent 'jump cut' if you deliver for 720p/1080p.

I love it because it solves an editing problem. I hate it because it's a high tech solution to a lo-fi issue.

Did your talent mess up on camera? Don't roll another take, we'll use a 'cut-in'. 

4 Thing I've Learned Writing Standup Comedy

I love standup comedy. It’s an incredible art form. Standup Comedians who can tell stories and be funny are the people that I admire the most. 

I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the world of comedy. Mostly, I’ve done sketch and improv. But for the past 6 weeks, I’ve been taking standup seriously, trying to figure out if it’s something I can do. 

Here’s a clip of a recent attempt:

If you watched the clip, thanks for your time. It definitely an adventurous spirit to click to play an 'amateur comedy' video. 

Whether you believe it or not, it was tough to write that material. I know that I still have a lot of work to do to get even decent at standup. But I'm definitely learning.  

Here's what I threatened to talk about in the post title – the 4 Things I’ve Learned So Far:

1. Find Your Point of View
Your POV is the most important part of the performance, because you need to be yourself on stage. If you don’t believe the joke that you’re presenting on stage, the audience won’t laugh. Finding the Poley POV has been a fun challenge. 

2. Telling the Same Joke Twice is Hard
It’s fun to present a joke for the first time and get a reaction. It’s much harder to present it a second time – because you aren’t present in the moment in the same way – you have to remember what’s funny about the joke.

In the clip above, I totally stumble through the second joke segment because I've done the joke before. I know what I think is funny, but I'm missing the original energy because I've told the joke before. 

3. Collaboration is Inevitable
Whether you’re collaborating with the audience or other writers – the responses you get to your jokes tell you what is funny. At some point you have to humbly accept that you might not know what is funny about an idea and that the audience knows more than you do. It’s also been incredibly helpful to perform in front of other comedians who can give you their .02 about what worked and didn’t work 

4. Being Vulnerable is Freeing
Being onstage and being yourself is an incredible, therapeutic experience. I’ve performed improv and sketch on-stage and felt good about my performance, but I was never making myself vulnerable in the same way that I have performing standup. 
 

Your First 30 Seconds in VR

Your first 30 seconds of VR is holy. It's a Synaptically Trailblazing Experience.

We don't get enough of these.

Showing off TiltBrush to a friend's daughter

Showing off TiltBrush to a friend's daughter

Since May 2016, I've demoed to tech nerds, old friends, doctors, drunk people, strangers, and children. 

It's a wonderful thing to do. 

I was never the kid that had the Super Nintendo before everyone else, so I can remember what it was like to go to a friend's house and be amazed by the next step in entertainment technology.

VR is like that. 

And the first 30 seconds are dangerous.

Video clips from 3 Vive VR Demos 

Video clips from 3 Vive VR Demos 

I've seen people walk into the television, hit their head, and fall on the ground. 

It sounds like I'm a bad VR guru. 

But when you put on the headset and you're surrounded by infinite virtual space your brain accepts it. 

You accept that there is a technology greater than you and you walk towards it. All before anyone is told you where the boundary lines are.

And so you find them. 

After 30 seconds you get past that first early point, and you get to experience something like pure joy.

It fades fast, and you pass the device to someone else. 

I've tried as many VR Games and Experiences as I can find, but the best VR Game is watching someone put on a Vive headset for the first time and almost walk into a wall.

It's a few surreal seconds where your whole body learns a new medium. It's lovely. 

9 Random Set Design Tips 

I always prefer working with physical sets than a greenscreen. But building sets is hard. You’re an interior designer and a filmmaker. What do you do? 

I’ve gotten to be involved in the creative process for a number of sets. Here are a few tips from my experience with sets and set design: 

1. Carve out space for the actor in every shot

Too often I’ve setup shots that worked well in a wide shot but didn’t work well in a medium close shot. Especially if you’re putting together a hosted show or a talk show, you need to leave space for the actor(s) without props or objects intersecting with the actor’s body.

This is easy when you have the initial concept for a set, but as you source props to decorate your scene, more and more objects start creeping in. Clearly, you don't need so many props. But you'll want some of them. Be judicious. Less is more. 

2. You should be able to tell what the show is about without anyone in the shot

If a set is a location you control, you should spend some time controlling it. If you’re shooting an interview with someone that worships water – you’ll want to find a way to get water in every shot. 

3. Minimize the Number of Heavy set pieces
Every prop in a physical set will need to be moved at some point. If you’re working with a physical set, you want to avoid heavy set pieces. 

4. No logos on set
A lot of people think they need logos in the shot, but you don’t. It’s tacky. 

5. No moving clocks
People think clocks look cool and want to put them on sets sometimes. Clocks do look cool, but they create continuity problems.

6. Finding a ‘set designer’ outside of LA is hard
If you’re working with contractors, you aren’t going to find someone who designs sets for shows. I’ve worked with great people to figure out sets, some people who worked on classic Nickelodeon shows, Theme Parks, and other teams who were professional interior designers. None of them identified as a set designer.

7. Don't use reflective surfaces
This is probably the 'realest' set design tip. Use as little glass as possible in your set. Glass reflects light. You will need to light your set. If you have pictures on your set walls, remove the glass. 

8. Cover up the logos of any TVs
Consider building a case/housing for any TV in your shot OR finding another clever way to remove the logo. There's no reason to advertise for Vizio or Samsung on your show if you're not being paid. 

9. Less is More
A physical set that looks like an interior room of a house is a hard thing to create. You will be building 1 room in a house. Whatever you're doing might have been easier with a white paper background or a greenscreen.

If you don't have the space, don't try to fake it. We all want to host the late show, but maybe there's a room in your house that already looks enough like the show you want. 

 

3 Images with my Favorite Interview Lens

With $2000 to spend on lenses, I would buy one lens: the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM, which rents for ~$30/day with insurance. 

I get that telling you that there's a great lens that costs $2000 is obvious.

We expect the best gear to be expensive.

But when you have the cash, what do you use it on? 

Here's a photo of me that became a stupid #PoleyThinks meme. The photo was taken on a Canon 7D. 

Here's a photo of me that became a stupid #PoleyThinks meme. The photo was taken on a Canon 7D. 

Here's a video still of an interview with Carson Ellis from the Illimat Kickstarter. Camera was a Canon C100. 

Here's a video still of an interview with Carson Ellis from the Illimat Kickstarter. Camera was a Canon C100. 

And one more video still from an unused interview with Colin Meloy from the Illimat Kickstarter. Camera was a Canon 7D.

And one more video still from an unused interview with Colin Meloy from the Illimat Kickstarter. Camera was a Canon 7D.

Great tools make your job easy. 

Stop Making Media Spontaneously

This is a practical tip that I’m writing down because I forget it all the time. 

Everyone needs to take the time to rehearse. 

Working through a live setup at home

Working through a live setup at home

Great media happens because you took the time to figure something out.

If you are ever doing anything new or even if it has been a long time since you’ve done something, you need to rehearse. 

Stop putting pressure on yourself to figure something out on the day of. You should never be capturing something important on the first attempt anyway.  

Take the day, go through the motions, find out what’s broken. Fix it. 

Setup to capture live 

Setup to capture live 

Cameras are Tools

I’m going to tell you something that you already know: 

Cameras are tools. 

When you talk about TV Shows with your friends, you might talk about what cameras or gear was used to produce it, but you know that they aren’t that important. 

The camera is a tool. Humans use tools to express ideas. 

If a show is poorly written or conceived, it doesn’t matter how it was produced. 

This seems so obvious that it should be a rule. 

But it isn’t a rule except in books about filmmaking.  

There isn’t a lot of great writing in the world. 

It’s more likely that you’ll get involved with a project that was sloppily written and ill conceived. And when that happens, the camera and the gear does matter. The crew matters. Because their hard work is going to make the project good. Not great. Good. They’ll add a cut and a fade to save a performance. They’ll re-record a line that didn’t make sense. If it's a film, they'll be thoughtful where the writing isn't. If it's a documentary, they'll cut around the interview that was too long. They'll fix it. 

Asking what camera someone used is like asking what kind of hammer made a bench. The object that was created is what's important. 

It isn’t about the camera. The camera is a tool. Tools are for expressing ideas.

Unless the writing sucks. 

You Should Have a Podcast with Your Friends

I’ve started a lot of podcasts. I have an idea that is funny or weird to me, and then I try to convince someone to appear on a podcast. Usually it never works past the 2nd episode (which is why you're supposed to start with 10 episodes).

But now I know what I did wrong.

You need to have a weekly podcast with your friends.

Podcasts are lightweight and easy to produce. You can make it hard on yourself if you’re competing with This American Life, but you don’t have to. There are plenty of wonderful amateur podcasts with ‘good enough’ audio that plenty of people listen to. 

But it isn’t about having listeners. It’s about hanging out with your friends. 

Let me rewind and talk about it. 

6 Months ago I started a podcast with my best friends from high school. I didn’t go to the same college as any of them, and I’ve moved across the country two times since then. I basically haven’t talked to them on a regular cadence for almost 20 years. 

 

Our podcast is nostalgic and simple. Every week we watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then we talk about it. It’s called ‘Buffy Virgin’ because I didn’t watch the show when it first came out in ’97 and all of them did.

It works because it’s nostalgic and because it’s also not my idea. 

No one wants to sustain an idea that they weren’t involved in producing. Whatever idea you come up with has to be collaborative. It can’t be you + a guest. To sustain itself without capital, an idea has to be shared.

And then there's some other special math I like about creativity – 4. it it has to be 4 people. 2 people make other plans. 3 people can partially commit. 4 creates expectations. It's a Poley Law of Creativity. 

Since starting the podcast, I’ve met up in person with a high school friend that I hadn’t met up with in years. I’ve had opportunities to have conversations with all of them on the phone that, while somewhat random, were not awkward. And we’ve been able to talk about the things that kept us together on a spiritual level, if not a physical level, all these years. 

I don’t think you should listen to Buffy Virgin. It’s probably not for you. I actually don’t want to be on it for the first couple episodes. But now, one season of Buffy in, I’m enjoying it. 

And that’s ok.

You should have a podcast with your friends.