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Behind the scenes at ‘OUP Studios’

The New York office’s 13th floor conference room — a quiet, large space with no outside light — functions surprisingly well as a miniature studio. Within a few hours of the film crew arriving, the office chairs and table have been removed, a green screen unfurled, camera, lights, and mic all assembled, and the Publisher of Scholarly and Online Reference is sitting in the spotlight, prepped for his interview. Things are running pretty smoothly. There’s been a small glitch with the equipment, but a new lighting piece has been ordered and is on its way. At least no one is wearing white (“it’s harsh on the face,” says the producer) or something stripy (“harsh on the camera”).

Damon Zucca, Publisher of Scholarly and Online Reference at Oxford University Press. Photo by Georgia Mierswa.

When I started as a Marketing Assistant for Online Products, my first assignment was to coordinate with a film company to develop four-five minute videos about each of our top online scholarly resources. The UK-based HobsonCurtis production team fit the bill exactly. They had already worked with Oxford to create a company video, and their work was high quality, creative, and accessible. Since our initial meeting, the online marketing team has commissioned nearly a dozen projects and completed two full-length videos, the most recent of which features Oxford’s new discovery service the Oxford Index.

Before the shooting even begins for a video like the Oxford Index promo, our to-do list looks something like this:

  • Brainstorm with the team to decide which voices and perspectives are most important in shaping the film. What story do we want to tell? Who are the key players?
  • Communicate this story in a meeting with Florence Curtis (Producer) and James Hobson (Editor) to get them on board with our vision. Set up a schedule with appropriate deadlines.
  • Send them the web address, key facts, and any other materials to familiarize them with the online product, so they feel as comfortable talking about it as we do.
  • Seek out Oxford staffers involved with the product, international scholars, and librarians with a passion for digital publishing and invite them to participate. Stress to the participants outside Oxford that they have no obligation to promote Oxford’s products — we just want them to talk about what they know!
  • Schedule the participants who accept (by far the most time-consuming step, but nit-picky organization now is better than a chaotic, stressed-out crew on the day of filming. I’m just guessing…).
  • Block off a location in the New York offices for a week of filming. Notify all key staff that they may see a cameraman walking around and not to worry. This is not for a reality TV show.
  • Plan out the filler shots (i.e. students working at computers in the library, staffers in discussion at an editorial meeting) to intersperse between interviews. Book those locations.
  • When the week of the shoot rolls around, take a deep breath, keep an eye on your Blackberry for last minute changes, and make sure everyone is comfortable and relaxed. A happy interviewee is a good interviewee. The best, according to Florence, are not only experts in their field, they’re also openly passionate and enthusiastic about sharing their “world” with an audience.

This whole process takes one to two months and is really only the groundwork for the creative stages of the project. Once the interviews have been completed, Florence and James put all the various sound bites together and come up with a ‘rough cut’ of the video. “Soundbites are weaved into a full script to complement key messages,” explained Florence. “We normally opt for opinions rather than facts and stats, but we also look for sections that are delivered well, with energy.”

Once the narrative is clearly outlined, that’s when the really polished pieces are added in, including screenshots of the web pages, a professional voiceover, and graphical representations of site features, like this:

A screengrab from the Oxford Index teaser.
A screengrab from the University Press Scholarship Online video.

Our team can feel free to give feedback, alter the order of shots (as long as it doesn’t compromise the story structure), or make edits to the voiceover script. Typically these changes are minimal. After months of prep work, the crew and our staff are almost always on the same page. If the video is clear and conveys the key messages about the product and its purpose, we consider it successful.

After the final sign off from our team’s director, we’re good to go! The video’s off to YouTube, OUP.com, our Twitter feed, and more. The sky’s the limit.

Full length videos:

University Press Scholarship Online

Oxford Index

Mini video projects:

University Press Scholarship Online for Librarians

University Press Scholarship Online for Partners

Oxford Index Teaser

Oxford Scholarly Editions Online

Damon Zucca, Publisher of Scholarly and Online Reference, reviews his notes before the interview: “We always prefer natural conversation,” said Florence (right) “and no scripting, as this can be a little contrived.”

Damon Zucca, Publisher of Scholarly and Online Reference, with Florence Curtis, Producer at Hobson Curtis. Photo by Georgia Mierswa.

Image credit: Close-up shot of a lens from high-end DV camcorder. Photo by TommL, iStockphoto.

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