surprise.mov
January 20, 2016 8:54 PM   Subscribe

An amazing human being I've known since high school has a milestone birthday in a month. I'm considering secretly asking a bunch of her friends to record super-short videos, and then compiling those into a birthday greeting. Seems pretty straightforward. So what's the huge looming problem that I'm not considering?

Most of our mutual friends are from high school, and I can reach them via Facebook. She's got some very close grad school friends whom I don't know, but I do have a point person I can get email addresses from. The messages will be super short — maybe I'll even just ask everyone to say one word that they'd use to describe the birthday person. I think there will be like 50 people in all I'll reach out to. And like I said above, I've got a month to get it done.

I have video editing experience and a good Mac, so I'm not worried about the tech side of things. My one big fear is that this turns into a clusterfuck and I don't get enough response to warrant putting together the video.

If you've ever produced a video like this, what was your experience like? Any lessons/warnings for me?

And if you've been the recipient of a video like this, how was it for you? Was there anything that could have been handled better?
posted by roger ackroyd to Human Relations (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
OH AND. If you know of any examples of similar videos that were well done, I'd love links. I'm googling them but I could use more inspiration.
posted by roger ackroyd at 8:56 PM on January 20, 2016


I've done similar projects but in a different context (for work).

My one big fear is that this turns into a clusterfuck and I don't get enough response to warrant putting together the video.

Decide how many you need to make the video and be upfront about it. "I have this idea [details] If I get at least 10 clips, I'll make a video." This way, if 3 people do it but that's not enough, you don't have to feel like you let them down. This also encourages other people to feel ownership - it's not something that will happen either way - they have to participate to make it happen.

The other thing is to give people specific but easy-to-follow instructions. i.e. "Take a video with your phone saying the word you associate with Jane, and email it to me by Sunday."
posted by lunasol at 9:08 PM on January 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


I've done this! It was honestly a wonderful experience and I highly encourage you to give it a shot if you've got the means to do it. When my boyfriend in college went away for study abroad I spent a few weeks asking all of his friends and fraternity brothers to record a short message telling him how much they missed him. I think I emailed everyone -- or it was done word of mouth over FB. (I did most of the recording, too, IIRC).

I ended up getting 25 short (30 second to 2 minute) videos to share, including one where his entire frat did some ridiculous stuff for the camera and it was absolutely delightful. I used DVD Studio Pro to burn them all to a DVD, and then I sent that sucker by airmail (twice, just in case) off to my boy while he was in port for a bit. This was 8 years ago, though, so lots has evolved tech-wise and if you can even get 5 people to do a cute "love you" sort of thing it'd be worth it IMO. Hell, you could turn it into a Vine if you were so inclined!

After receiving the DVD my boyfriend actually ended up confessing to me that he'd cheated on me multiple times while away and that the video messages made him feel so guilty that he had to tell me immediately so he could get it off his chest! I was gobsmacked but I then had 25 people with whom to share the news and everyone was furious. Hilarious in retrospect, horrible in the moment, 100% still proud of having made the effort because now the DVD is a wonderful time capsule for so many people and an excellent reminder to myself to a) keep my eyebrows more in check, and b) not date loser college boys. YMMV, birthday messages are very different than love letters, etc, etc.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:29 PM on January 20, 2016 [20 favorites]


Check your memail!
posted by adiabat at 10:03 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I did something like this for a friend in college, but in that situation I could just walk around with a camera and ask people to speak. Getting responses is always the challenge when you're not there with folks in person, but I agree that anything you can do to lower the barrier of entry (which smartphones and email has done for you) and setting a deadline/minimum number is a good idea. The editing etc. was similar to this, and I remember it being super easy even back then.

I also added some filler material: I made a short stop-motion animation on a whiteboard, added a couple of super-short video clips that were inside jokes, and even had a campus improv troupe tell a story about my friend (who they'd never met). It worked even better than I expected.
posted by you're a kitty! at 11:13 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'd guess your biggest problems will be two-fold:
1) achieving the desired number of responses, and
2) the diversity of video formats, quality, lighting, etc., that you'll receive.

If you're tech-savvy enough to handle #2, and willing to beg, plead, and or pester, if necessary, to ensure #1, then all should be well, right? Have fun!
posted by stormyteal at 11:49 PM on January 20, 2016


Double (or maybe triple?) the time allotted for editing.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:28 AM on January 21, 2016


We did that for one of our sport team leaders. There were a LOT of inside jokes. It also had captions giving the names or nicknames for posterity and a running commentary.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 5:28 AM on January 21, 2016


Make sure they all know to record their clip in the same orientation, i.e. landscape or portrait.
posted by Beverley Westwood at 7:10 AM on January 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


I haven't done this myself, but have been a participant a couple of times. My suggestions would be:

1. Be clear to the folks participating that you're only going to edit everything together if you get enough responses. I like the idea of "I'll go forward with this if I get 10 responses by a certain date".
2. Be upfront that you will share the video with everyone who participated, and then follow through! It is annoying to take the time to send in your clip but then never hear anything back or see how things turned out.
3. Put "SECRET" everywhere you can around messages about this to maximize the chances of no one spilling the beans.
4. If you can, include really clear, step-by-step instructions about how to make the videos on an iPhone and Android phone. The less people go to a place of "sounds nice, but where the heck is the video app on my phone???", I think the more responses you will get. (Yes, I realize that making a video on your phone is not that hard, but I still think this is useful.)
5. If anyone who would be involved in the project is local, you can get some of the video footage yourself. This is especially true if there's someone it would be cool to involve but who isn't going to be able to do the video themselves (thinking of teachers, mentors, parents/grandparents, etc.). For one b-day video I was in, the video compiler also asked a few of the b-day person's professors to do a super short clip, and got those by going in person and asking...probably they would not have had time to go through making a video themselves, but were happy to take 15 seconds to do it in person.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:02 AM on January 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


One thing I don't see listed in this thread is this: What is the best way for all those people to get the video to you? Maybe short videos are really small so they can be emailed? Or shared via facebood? I never could get longer ones to fit in email and I had to work out some method of Dropbox or GoogleDrive or something, and share folders or tell my password or .... I don't even know how we did it. YouTube?

But for me it was just one clip, it was longer, and it was my own family member sharing my folders so I was ok sharing passwords. If I were doing your project, I would have to figure this out. I'll let others in the thread chime in with answers - I just wanted to raise the question for you.
posted by CathyG at 10:30 AM on January 21, 2016


I think the people part will be harder than the editing part.

I've been asked to do this once. It was for a 40th. I don't know how old you & your friend are but I think the older people are, the less likely you are to get silly fun stuff like Hermione Grainger's experience with her dirty no good ex boyfriend's frat brothers.

Birthday guy and family are living abroad. Birthday guy's wife emailed everyone, including old high school friends that he hadn't seen since, asking us to re enact and sing along to birthday guy's favourite hip hop song from the 90s and she was going to splice it up and make it into a video clip for him. Many of us were/are so old and fat and generally not interested in doing no bootilicious dancing etc that hardly anyone did it. Deadline passed and without enough people, wife asked friends to just send a video message. Got a much bigger response.

My point is to make it something people will feel comfortable doing. Give specific, simple instructions. Don't ask them to do much. The closer the friends, the more they will do.

A similar project for another friend involved only a handful of friends in making the video. It was fantastic and everyone loved it. They basically did "A day in the life of Birthday Girl" with one friend wearing a silly printed out mask of birthday girl's face and dressed in her clothes. Part of what made it great was that most of it was filmed in her house, like her getting out of bed and making coffee in the morning, all done on the sly while she was out. Her boyfriend was in on it and let us in to film. To involve more people, there was a slide show at the end of photos people had submitted of them with birthday girl over the years.

Have fun!
posted by stellathon at 4:45 PM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Thanks to all who answered. I took your advice to heart. The past six weeks have been a lot of work but I think the final product was worth it. (If you're interested in seeing our video, MeMail me.)

Important lessons for anyone who might try this in the future:

1) enlist a few bonkers extroverts, they really help jazz up the production
2) no matter how many times you tell people to shoot in landscape, you will get videos shot in portrait mode
3) if people are lip-syncing to a song, make sure everyone's using the same version
4) Final Cut Pro > iMovie
5) adiabat = magic
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:58 PM on March 1, 2016


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