College Admissions Videos
College Student Recruitment via video
Doing college admissions videos has been my fountain of youth. The exercise keeps me in shape, and rubbing shoulders with all those 18-year-olds keeps me playful mentally. Example, I was playing basketball one-on-one with a track star at a school, who had been recruited to play basketball. A couple of his friends came into the gym and he invited them to join us, and they sort of chuckled. He said ... "He's a lot better than he looks".
Anyway, I have the same complaint about most college admissions videos I see that I have about most fundraising videos. The medium gets blamed for being ineffectual, when in reality the problem is that the medium is not at fault. Kids and their parents alike enjoy watching video -- if it has a good story.
What makes a good story? First of all, one which you don't know the end of from the beginning. Good stories are always surprising ... just like life. Secondly good stories must be authentic. They've got to feel true. That's why so many great works of fiction are rooted in reality or "based on a true story". The Pursuit of Happyness, for example, or The Soloist, gain their power from real people dealing with the surprises in their lives. But I digress...
Wha I hope you'll see here are stories that don't feel like they've been laundered through a politically correct committee. Whe I work with a college I work hard to keep quirky, personal details in place, with some self-effacing humor and as many surprises as possible. Rarely do institutional talking points come through in "so many words". But students like to show these to their friends because they feel like authentic documentaries that convey a balanced look of life on campus.
Ohio Wesleyan Admissions - 2010
I've been doing admissions videos for Ohio Wesleyan since 1984, when we did a multi-image slide show/film transfer called "Future Sight" that won CASE gold. Like most schools, Ohio Wesleyan would be better served by changing its videos every two or three years ... but I'm thankful for the 4 opportunities I've had over the years to tell the OWU story.
This latest video was done on a very modest budget. It took advantage of interviews that were originally shot for a fundraising piece, and was compiled from that material with only 3 additional days of shooting (plus a lot of editing!)
As with all college admissions videos, it is very important to focus clearly on the audience -- 16 and 17-year-old Millennials and their parents. A lot of schools are tempted to ply this audience with lazy, silly, stuff, hoping maybe if it's kid-friendly (?) it'll go viral and get some attention. Guess again. Kids know that their choice of college is their most important decision, and they welcome videos that convey a substantive insight into the merits of the schools they are evaluating.
The challenge is authenticity. Do the testimonials seem real, do the claims seem hyped up, do the kids featured in the piece seem accessible and honest? Is there self-effacing humor? Is there authentic diversity (not token diversity), and are there enough surprises, curve balls, and story twists to engage the audience? Is the music contemporary? That's a big one, and I have found that licensing contemporary songs by up-and-coming bands is the key to keeping the music on target for the latest cohort of kids.
We always test our videos with incoming high school seniors, and also freshmen who know the school and yet still remember what it's like to be looking for a college. This vdeo stood up well in that kind of acid testing.
Minnesota Online: "Works 4 Me" campaign
These are two of 5 spots for Minnesota Online, a distance learning service of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Students anywhere in the world can subscribe for college credit through the program. These spots were shown on TV throughout the primary region of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
Owen Kindig served as director and also created the positioning statement, "Works 4 Me" -- an organic idea which emerged while working with the satisfied MN online interviewees on the 2nd of 5 days of shooting. (This is a good way to work... it has consistently been my experience that the positioning message which emerges early in production feels more prescriptive and authentic than the working titles we are often handed when we begin).
These TV spots, 4 radio spots, and a program DVD and web video were all editorial results of the single 5-day shoot -- half a day at each of about 8 locations across Minnesota and North Dakota. The spot series, two each of the radio and TV spots, the web video, and the DVD all won national gold or silver trophies from Admissions Marketing Awards.
Cedarville University Admissions - Main Module 2010
I have been selected to produce and direct Cedarville's admissions video 10 consecutive times in a competitive bidding arrangement since 1984. I think Cedarville understands the power of video better than most schools, and they have used the medium aggressively for 25 years, handing out at least 20,000 DVDs per year as well as showing the video to as many campus visitors as possible.
For this production I was given a list of over 50 students who were recommended by faculty, staff, and administration. I conducted in person or telephone interviews of all of them, and selected about 12 that I felt had the most interesting stories and touched the broadest possible range of academic and co-curricular activities, including the sciences, arts, athletics, ministry, leadership, etc. These 12 students were then interviewed on camera to get their "story", and I began to follow them throughout the school year. I kept bugging them to tell me what they were up to... everything from late night study to ministry trips to dinner with friends to major presentations in class. As you can imagine, a lot of things were shot that didn't make it into this module... but the same faces keep showing up in different contexts, so that viewers begin to get a sense that they "know" these people, and when they graduate there is a stronger emotional connection than if it was merely a stranger they had never seen before.
Most interview footage and many shots around campus were shot with a JVC HD-100U camera. A large percentage of the candid shots were gathered with an amazing little camcorder, the Sony HR-SR12 HD. Springtime campus beauty was shot with a Panasonic HPX500 camera from Scott Handel, Ohio HD Video and his gorgeous wide-angle lens. And a Nikon D300 was used to capture the many timelapse sequences used throughout the production. Often I would be using three cameras at once... a timelapse would be running on a tripod outside or inside; a locked down shot might be capturing a speaker or teacher or concert scene; and I would be roaming to get low-light closeups and reaction shots of the audience, closeups of band members or orchestra performers, etc.
Roscoe Smith, VP Enrollment Management, served as executive director for the production; Braden Jobson, a student in the broadcast department who appears in a few shots, was hired to provide some videography for special events, and worked as a story editor for two of the modules (Athletics and Student Life). Colby Taylor wrote the opening and closing songs used in this sound track, and I am sure has a bright future in the music business now that he has graduated. The location audio technicians for commencement and most interviews was provided by Lesley Fogle and Timothy Dutton. John Fippin of Magnetic Studios, as usual, served as my audio technician, taking a very complex set of audio tracks and mixed it, cleaned it up, and sweetened it to perfection.
I am grateful for the additional production help of Lou Gibbs, director of Career Services, for arranging for the two alumni interview trips that we took, to Houston and to Nashville/Memphis. This added great perspective by allowing some of the many successful Cedarville alumni pinpoint what about the university is so very effective at preparing students for later life. And special thanks to the alumni interviewees, who interrupted their work day or opened their home to welcome us. These were: Donna VanLiere, best-selling author; Jim Houser, Stephen Curtis Chapman's manager; Kailin Acheson, iron man competitor, and Stacie Cox, NASA engineer.
This is the Athletics module for this year's Cedarville Admissions DVD. The goal was to feature 3 key aspects of Cedarville's athletics program: that it's co-ed and competitive; that it's an important part of student social life; and that it's an important part of the spiritual values education for students.
Basketball and soccer are the big sports at Cedarville; the whole campus is involved, and there's an expectation of excellence -- especially in the women's teams. All the sports provide a place for fun, bonding activities; and a laboratory for the character-building activities of coaches, cheerleaders, athletic trainers, and the band. It's even a lab for video production students to learn job skills.
Most of this footage was shot by me in person. And I'm proud of some of the shots. For example, there are two long soccer combos which follow a single string of action from player to player ... the second shot all the way to a goal. Anyone who has tried to shoot soccer knows how difficult that is to capture. Often, I would use two cameras at once ... a locked down wide shot to capture soccer goals or basketball or volleyball court action and a tight telephoto following the ball or individual coaches or players.
Additional footage was shot by broadcast major Braden Jobson, who also helped with the story editing during the initial cut of the module. Many of the closeups in this module showcase the amazing hand-held features of the Sony SR12 HD camcorder -- its smooth tele lens, 1080x1920 resolution, and excellent surround sound audio recording capability ... excellent for capturing the audio of the crowd, game, and band. Another great feature of the Sony SR12 on display in this module is a unique slomo capability. It captures 4 seconds of video at 120 frames per second, and then slows it down to 12 seconds... creating a silky smooth slomo. The polevaulter, triple jump, and hug shots, among others, were captured with this technique - truly cinematic slow motion without interpolation.