The Moving Picture: Ten Wows
Posted Aug 2, 2004

I thought up the "Ten Wow" strategy in a previous life on a sales trip to Redmond. I was president of a small software company barely clinging to life and sorely needing a big sale with a trophy client. We were the third of three companies presenting, three days each, and I felt like our presentation and product demonstration needed some serious pop.

So I challenged the engineers a couple of weeks before the trip, saying, "Look, forget about winning the deal, that's assumed. I won't be satisfied unless the 'softies say ‘Wow,' out loud, ten times during our dog-and-pony show." I have to say, the concept put a different spin on both the preparation and the presentation, very much for the better.

Ever since then, with each presentation I give, class I teach, and even article that I write, I think about the Ten Wow strategy, and try to think of ways to earn that highest of praise. And so it was when the Legacy of Mountain Music Association (LOMMA) asked me to film their first annual Stoneman Awards, with the inaugural award being given to the Stonemans themselves, probably the most famous country music group you've never heard of.

In a town of 7,000, it's not hard to get recognized as a "technology guy," especially when you chase after your two daughters with a trumpet-sized video camera during all the local rodeos, tractor pulls, and concerts. But with that designation comes some serious responsibility, especially when you're asked to shoot and deliver concert footage to a music industry association.

Immediately after accepting this free assignment, I started wondering how I could possibly deliver the Ten Wows. I divided the ten evenly; five for shooting and editing, and five for DVD production. I'll deal with the second five here.

Wow number one was the First Play video, which is what the viewer sees when they first insert the disc into the DVD Player, just before the title menu appears. Usually, this is the FBI warning, but I thought I would try something a bit friendlier, specifically a short highlight film of the two-hour event.

During the awards ceremony, LOMMA gave out four awards, so I cut about 15 seconds from each presentation, when the honoree was named. Then I pieced together two 20-second solos of the two remaining Stonemans for just under two minutes of video.

Finally, I took a screen shot of the DVD menu and put it on the timeline, dissolving into it as the music slowly faded. So when the First Play video ended, the menu seamlessly appeared, which looked just grand.

Second was the menu itself. I had been reviewing Apple's DVD Studio Pro 3 and the new version of the Adobe Video Collection for another magazine. Since I was most familiar with the Adobe suite of tools, I decided to edit and author in Premiere and Encore, but have to admit that I "borrowed" a menu via screen shot from DVD Studio Pro.

In the past, I viewed menus as a necessary evil--video was steak, menu mere sizzle. But the Ten Wow strategy gave menu appearance heightened importance for this project, so I cribbed one from Apple. If you're not happy with the menu background your authoring program provides, run a quick Internet search on "DVD menu backgrounds," and you'll find several third-party collections you can buy. Believe me, it's worth it.

The third Wow was the most technical, but also the coolest, so bear with me. The concert itself was about 60 minutes total, consisting of ten songs, each about three minutes long, with the rest of the time taken up by the performers chatting and telling stories.

Now this was the Stoneman family, who had played at the White House, had their own network television show in '50s and '60s, and recorded at the historic 1928 Bristol sessions, which arguably launched commercial country music. They were country music before country music was cool, and for many adoring fans of all ages in the Rex Theater that day, it was the stories from the two sisters performing, both in their seventies, that made the concert, not the music. So I wasn't about to cut the talk.

But I did want to offer DVD viewers the ability to see just the music portion. The answer? Playlists. Briefly, playlists--which are a feature of DVD Workshop, Adobe Encore, and DVD Studio Pro (called stories--you the ability to link together bits and pieces of the content on disc, and combine them together into a single presentation. Press the playlist button, and you can hear only the music, if that's your pleasure.

Of course, I also provided button links to the start of each song, which was Wow number four, admittedly very simple, but revolutionary to an audience used to receiving copies of their concerts on VHS dubs. The final DVD-specific Wow was delivering the DVDs with labels printed directly on the media, courtesy of my Epson inkjet printer, with matching case covers.

The jury is still out on whether the Ten Wow strategy worked with the LOMMA folks; I hadn't heard back by the time this column was due. But it sure did work with Microsoft back in that former life of mine: we made the sale, which led indirectly to the software company being acquired by AIG, the multibillion dollar insurance company, unfortunately about six months before my options vested. Ten Wows, indeed.