On Something of a Hiatus.

Overflowing Cup pool garden

my cup's overflowing.

A confluence of factors is overwhelming me at the moment. Two new, big projects and the completion of a few smaller ones have made it kind of difficult to find time to write about fun stuff for my dear little M Report. That and looking after a rapidly growing baby full-time. Rather than post little diddies for the sake of posting, I’d rather just take a break and only update sporadically here.

I hope summer is treating you well. It has been unseasonably cool and breezy here in Southern California so far. Personally, I’d love for this weather to continue, but the forecast is now warning us that the real summer – with its white hot mercury-busting heat is on its way. That’s life.

cheers, mari

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Happy Friday. And capturing a brand’s excitement.

Assistant Camera person Mimi

Letting a real pro check equipment prior to a shoot.

A few days ago, my husband received a call from a producer asking if he could film Virgin America’s virgin flight (clever, eh?) from Los Angeles to Toronto. In addition to accompanying Sir Richard Branson to Canada, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would be along for the ride and in a rapid layoff in San Francisco, there would be a quick photo opportunity with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Why not? Wolf said. Other than helping the wife change diapers and feed the kid, I’m free. Off he went.  Two days later, my husband returned somewhat disheveled but quite exhilarated. “Branson is all about branding. He’s the ultimate when it comes to branding. Everything he said, whether it was the answer to a question or a joke he was making revolved around Virgin,” Wolf said. “And he’s a lot of fun to be around.”

As a copywriter, it’s my job to find ways for businesses to promote their brand. Whether it’s coming up with a clever tagline, slogan or a few pages explaining what’s so exciting about their products, I have to infuse everything I write with the company’s zest and enthusiasm so that potential customers get excited and whip out their credit cards. It’s not a terribly difficult job, at least not most of the time; small business owners are usually very excited about their products. Most of the ones I know are dreamers. Their passion for what they do is contagious. And when I catch what they have, the writing comes along nicely. I imagine that being around Branson must be like that. I think any time a client is stuck, I’ll advise them to watch Branson. In addition to running an international conglomerate, the guy should bottle his zeal. Now there’s an idea…

Have a good holiday weekend.

The footage Wolf shot has aired on CNBC and on Conde Nast Travel’s website.

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Check it out! Big Belly Solar is in town.

BigBelly Solar Can SideBigBelly Solar Can Front

On our usual Sunday morning walk, we passed this solar-powered compactor can – fancy English for trash can – and initially mistook it for…a vending machine? a newspaper stand? It turns out that the city of Pasadena, as are many cities nationwide, is replacing some of its old trash cans with these solar-powered compactors made by BigBelly Solar.

The compactor is powered by a solar panel on top. The entire container holds up to 32 gallons of compacted trash, and, get this! newer models can send text messages to a central server to reduce the number of trash pickups. The fewer the trash pickups, the lower the long-term costs. Cool. Though I do wonder how much each compactor costs…why does every green solution have to be so expensive?

Hope your week is off to a good start.

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Happy Friday. And gaining some clarity.

Lifeguard Shed Venice California June 2010
Lifeguard Station, Venice Beach, California

A friend recently asked me how I’ve changed most since becoming a parent. Oh boy. That list could go on and on. But if I had to kind of summarize how I feel since Mimi came into our lives, it’s that I feel a lot clearer in my head. The constant struggle to find time to do simple things like read a good novel, complete errands, do some work, and oh, yes, stay awake is one that has forced me to be more efficient. At least, more efficient than I was previously.

When Mimi was about three months old, I had this naive idea that I could pretty much return to the way my life as a freelance writer was prior to becoming a mother. I accepted the fact that I probably wouldn’t attend as many networking events or see clients as frequently for lunches and the like. As a new work-at-home-mother I knew that I’d have to reduce my professional workload, too. That was fine.

What I was unprepared for was the sudden shift in the nature of my work that I would take. Well, not all that sudden; I’ve been writing audio and visual scripts for many years, now, but I started to feel an urge to specialize a lot more than I had previously. As much as I enjoy reporting, it’s kind of hard to seek out and take assignments with a new baby and no regular sitter/nanny. And as much as I enjoy copywriting, I realized that the work I’ve always undertaken with zeal has always been scriptwriting. Just in case you’ve been, you know, wondering why I’m writing all this stuff about writing for video here, well, there ya go.

To my cherished friends and clients for whom I write scintillating copy, don’t worry: I’m sticking with you as long as you’ll have me! But finally, after a few months of fogginess (how a tiny, helpless little thing such as a baby can have that power over you…) I feel clearer about where I’m going. It’s a good feeling.

Have an excellent weekend.

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Straight and Simple Tips for Writing a Video Script.

The truth is, there’s nothing simple about writing a script, whether it’s for a sales marketing video or an educational/informational video. First, like most writing, it takes time and rewriting, and anyone who says it takes them a few minutes to whip out a script is either lying or really IS a f&*king genius.  Second, writing visually is very different from writing prose: you have to write text that accompanies visuals such as photos, video footage or graphics. It doesn’t matter how great your idea is  (please see my previous post) unless you have visuals for it. Without visuals, um, you don’t really have material for a video.

Let’s say you own and operate a ballet school. Do you really want people to watch a video of you,  talking about your school and ballet? I think not. You’ll want to show classes, maybe even short interviews with kids and parents, members of your teaching staff and maybe even a few graphics with information such as fees for classes. With the exception of interviews, each of these visuals requires text that you will narrate. Just talking about your school is not enough. And frankly, not very interesting, either. If people arrive at your site and see one person talking about ballet, believe me, unless you’re Peter Martins, they will click away in less than a minute. Cruel, you think. Not really. If you don’t give people a reason to watch your video, they have every right to click away.

So how do you stop that from happening? Write a good script. Here are some simple tips:

  1. Write an outline of what you want to put into a 2 to 3-minute video. Information like the name of your business, its location, when it started and what you offer should appear early on. What do you offer that’s different from others in your business? Who are your customers? All this juicy information as well as a nice little call to action near the end of your script is vital. Finish your script with a sincere and polite sign-off thanking viewers for their time. Give them your site’s URL and other contact information, too.
  2. Write in a conversational manner to your target market. Using the ballet school example, imagine you’re talking to parents looking into your school for their child. What would you say? Here are a few brilliant ideas: You’ve been in business for 20 years, you teach several styles of dance, your class sizes are small, occasionally famous dancers teach special sessions, you have two annual showcases of student talent. And oh yes, your fees are very affordable.
  3. Include a photo or video of each point you mention. “Our classes are limited to ten students per class so that every dancer gets plenty of attention and personalized instruction.” Show shots of the small classes and teachers helping students one-on-one. Same goes for your other points such as your annual talent show, famous guest teachers, and so on.
  4. Include graphics with your fees. You can easily create one with Photoshop or MS Word. Leave it on screen long enough for people to be able to read it.
  5. Finish off with a short bit of narration such as “Thanks for visiting mischief mari ballet. We hope to see you here, on your toes, soon!” Okay, corny, but you get the drift. Here’s a good place to put your business name, URL and contact information, too.

Other points to keep in mind:

  • Keep your sentences short and simple. Or you’ll run out of breath when reading narration.
  • Don’t talk much about yourself. Always think of what your viewer wants.
  • Keep it conversational, light. Don’t oversell. Don’t be too aggressive.
  • Show as much as you can. Remember, this is a video, not a brochure.
  • Keep it short. Especially for sales/marketing videos, you want to get to the point quickly, tell as much as you can as quickly as you can, and get out.
  • Read your script out loud before recording. Read it several times. Read it to your colleagues, to your friends, neighbors, spouse. Then rewrite it.
  • Once you’ve completed your script, you’re ready to shoot it.
  • Once you’ve finished filming, put it into a program like iMovie or Windows Moviemaker.
  • Record your script.
  • Edit your video.
  • Upload it to a hosting site like YouTube, Vimeo, BlipTV, etc.
  • Tell everyone and their mother about it.
  • Have fun! omg, this is too important.

Writing a script can be a lot of fun. Whenever I’m around small business owners or artists, I ask them to recall what excites them most about what they do. Then to hold onto that feeling because it’s that passion that is needed in a script. When that comes across in a video, it’s infectious, and I believe that’s what captivates people more than anything else. So have fun, take your time writing (or if you’re working with a writer, have fun with your writer and be nice to them!) and make sure that you’re conveying your love for what you do from beginning to start.

cheers, mari

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Having Trouble with Updating to WordPress 3.0?

Someone just alerted me to a set of duplicate posts here…it looks like there are two of everything I’ve posted up to April or May. This must have happened after I tried updating to the latest version of WordPress, version 3.0. Things got messy around here and I ended up going back to the previous version. It turns out that a lot of people are having problems with WordPress 3.0. After reading the forums at Thesis, I discovered some other bloggers who had disastrous experiences with this new upgrade. I feel for them, I really do!

Listen, if you’re like me and you like to manage your blog and website, always, ALWAYS do a few things first.

  1. Upgrade all of your plugins. You’ll know if they need upgrading if a little colored number shows up on the side of the Plugins category on your Dashboard page.
  2. Back up your blog. In WordPress you go to Tools>Export and then save the whole thing into an XML file. You’ll be happy you have this if you have to restore your old settings.
  3. Back up your contents on your server. This means going through your FTP server or your CPanel on your webhost and making a copy of everything to a safe place on your computer.
  4. Back up your database. This can be a bit of a pain, but do it. There are tutorials at WordPress.org that tell you how to do this step-by-step. Use search terms like “backup database.”
  5. Once you’ve backed everything up, then do a search for updating to the latest version of WordPress. I found out AFTER things got messy around here that other people were having problems with this version. Gee thanks WordPress. Thanks for alerting me to this. Thanks for letting me find out about this after the fact – oh, never mind. WordPress, sometimes I ‘m hatin’.
  6. Make sure you know how to restore your settings. I use the Thesis theme here, and the forums are uber awesome, which is why I paid for this theme. If you use something other theme or a free theme, go to WordPress.org and search for information on restoring your blog settings after an upgrade. There’s a chance you won’t need to, but check anyway.
  7. If everything’s updated, you know how to restore everything, people are raving about the update, then, and only then, go for it.
  8. Once you’ve completed the upgrade, reactivate your plugins, save your settings and check to see how your blog is not only looking but functioning.

That’s my take on updating, upgrading and upstuffing.

cheers, mari

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Happy Friday.

Nunuk Malamute Dog

Nunuk the Great

We have this joke that our precious Nunuk, who is almost ten years old, loves people so much that if a thief broke into the house, he’d play with the robber. Big and ferocious as he can be – he’s never been properly socialized with other dogs, so he’s an aggressive one – he’s a total softie when it comes to humans, especially kids, UPS delivery ladies with treats and tall men.

Last night, however, someone came rapping on the door around 3 a.m., and Nunuk woke us up with some serious snarling that I hadn’t heard from him before. Though the “visitor” was a drunk who probably overdid it after the Lakers won the NBA Championship, Nunuk was not about to let this wingnut anywhere near us. After telling this drunkard to take a hike (he really had no clue where he was), it took a little extra time to calm the dog down. Good doggie.

So guess who’s getting extra treats today?

Have a safe weekend. This Sunday is Father’s Day. Are you doing anything for the occasion?

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Hiroshige's Woodblock Prints. Wow!

Carp woodblock print by ando hiroshigeI confess I still like to pick up a Sunday paper every now and then, get my fingers covered in newsprint ink and clip coupons. Recently, I came across a nice little article in the Sunday edition of the L.A. Times about a new exhibit at the Norton Simon Museum featuring 175 of Utagawa Hiroshige’s woodblock prints. I tore the page out, left it on the dining table to remind myself of it, and the instant I had some time, dragged the husband and baby with me to see it.

So. Worth. It.

This photo is one of many that I took, but since tripods and flashes are banned inside the museum, a lot of my shots didn’t turn out too well. But lucky me, and lucky you, some of them did. I’m learning new tricks in iMovie so I’m going to pull them in there, tool around with everything and then bring you a sweet little audio slideshow very soon.

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Making Web Video: Before you hit Record, Have a Great Idea

Personally, I think the possibilities are endless when it comes to making a great video for your website, which is probably why I find the topic so interesting. To me, it’s another form of storytelling that done well, is an effective means of conveying your message. It can also be a highly entertaining and memorable one, too. But only if it’s well-produced! It’s my opinion, but a bad video can make your entire site look bad.

What goes into the making of a video

Generally speaking, there are several items you need to make a good video. They are:

  1. A great visual idea
  2. A great script
  3. A shot list
  4. A good camera package (i.e. camera, sound, lights and props)
  5. Good editing software
  6. A place to host your video like YouTube, Vimeo, your own website, etc.

Of course, I’m over-simplifying things here, but that’s the basic list, and I will get into more of the nitty-gritty of each item on the list in upcoming posts.

Most important: Have a GREAT visual idea

Before you even push RECORD on your camera, the most important thing you need is: a great idea. And in this case, a great visual idea. It may sound like I’m stating the obvious, but this is a point that so many people miss. You need to have a compelling reason for making this video, and that reason has to be evident throughout.

A really good starting point is to revisit your website and remember why you started your business, how it has grown, what inspires you, and what you do that no one else does. When you’re excited about what you do, it’s infectious. Other people will want to know more. Then, as you turn more toward the making of your video, ask yourself a few more questions:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. What does your audience need to know?
  3. What does your audience want to see?
  4. What will you show?
  5. What will you say?
  6. What will your audience gain from seeing this video? Is it possible that they can get the same or better information from the text on your site?

Once you’ve answered these questions, every other step in the production process is easier because you’ll have a clear reason for making your video. OMG, you’ll get so excited about filming that you won’t be able to sleep at night! Visions of all the great things you’ll show and say will rush at you like a tsunami! I’m not kidding! This is the excitement you’ll feel and that you’ll need to sustain during the entire process!

Hopefully I’ve got you thinking about how to get started on your new project. So now I’m going to leave you with the following video, one of many on Etsy’s YouTube Channel. In a matter of seconds, Lacey Smith shows how she makes beautiful hand-crafted footwear for babies (can you believe the human hand moves that fast?) how she got started and what she loves about her work. Effective? Visit her page on Etsy and look at her feedback and sales.

Next: Writing A Script. Or not writing one. That’s a question.

cheers, mari

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Happy Friday.

Mannequin from SF Museum of Modern Art

From the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Another week is coming to a close. Husband and baby – now 7 1/2 months old! – are both sick with colds, so I’m Florence Nightingale for the moment.

What are you up to?

Have a good one.

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