Producers of the world. Let’s not mince the words. We all want to produce the sticky online content. The stuff that makes those eyeballs water, watch, share repeat. We’re talking exciting, buzz-worthy content not based on a cat licking its balls or a baby smearing poo on her brother’s face. Delightful stuff, sure. But if that’s your game, please stop reading. I got nothing for you here.
My passion is people with stories and stories with purpose; the quirkier, the deeper the better. And if you’re a producer with a story hunger matched only by your desire to see your content shared ad infinitum, you wanna know the ‘how-to’ from the ‘experts’. But you know the deal. Talk is cheap and advice even cheaper, ‘cause nothing, nothing will whip your producer’s butt into gear faster than if you’re flying off the seat of it.
In April this year, I landed in Minneapolis for Celebration 2017 – an event traditionally held by the late, great Prince Rogers Nelson when he wanted to open his Paisley Park home and studio facility to fans from all over the globe. This year would obviously be different. But the fans still came – in their thousands. And I was one of them. Armed with an iPhone and big purple passion to simply collect stories, I was about to enjoy four of the most exhilarating days of my producing career to date. Pre-production was based on a great deal of ‘fuck it, let’s just do it’. Interviews happened on the fly, with little time for light or sound set up – I know, shocking. Talent was given little time to prepare for their interviews with me – I know, irresponsible.
But, all of this ‘fly off the seat of your pants’ kinda M.O seemed to do one glorious thing… free us up for the (purple) miracles that unfolded and the phenomenal talent and rich stories we were able to capture – from intimate chats with Prince’s valet, Robbie Paster, to a live Facebook interview with Kim Berry, Mr Nelson’s hairdresser for the last 30 years (which clocked up 15.5K views in a week).
Landing smack bang in the middle of a big event bursting with a spectacular cast of characters was a producer’s utopia, sure, but the flip side to this perfection is that it forces you to be fast and prepared for anything, anytime.
Ready to interview funk supergroup Parliamanent Funkadelic at 11pm in a hollow-sounding boardroom with unflattering downlights? Tick. Free to talk for an hour on Prince with a purple-savvy journalist in a hotel lobby with a huge bank of yellow-tinged monitors as your backdrop and an iPhone for sound only? Tick. Ready to dress the set (aka your hotel room) for a FB live interview with Prince’s hairdresser? Great, you’ve got 10 minutes. Go!
As of May 15, 2017 – our little FB series – Dig If U will The Picture – had clocked up a total of 20,255 views spread out among seven videos of varying lengths. I loved producing every chaotic, rich and fruitful minute of this content. And I guess I just want to share my idionsychratic ‘how-to’ with you… So here’s my take, my flirty, dirty guide to guerilla producing online content that hits the heart of your audiences – provided it hits yours first.
In our beautiful Lucky Country, we apologise for ‘big’. For the most part, we prefer to shrink back and let those brash, tacky Americans do their thang. No thanks mate, we’re too laid back for that crap. No tickets on us. We’re a nation of bloody good sports and little Aussie battlers. I despair at this attitude. I’ve been in meetings where creatives have shown up looking as deshevelled as their pitching approach. Can’t be too loud. Or shiny. Or bubbly. It’s simply not the languid, Aussie way. Well. Going ‘guerilla’ is all about the hustle and you gotta do it hard, loud and without apology. Got 150% belief in your content? Great. Now pitch with a big, fat smile on your face. And for the love of global online views, please, please bury that stupid tall poppy bullshit and shine.
When you do the guerilla, story ideas have to come thick and fast. I gave a TED talk on how I generate my lightbulb moments quickly. My best ideas regularly come to me when I, come. Yes, orgasm is my muse. However, sharing a Minneapolis hotel room with my co-producer put paid to any noisy, wild abandon conceptualising while in Prince country. So I did the next best thing… The night before my interview with Kim Berry, I ran a bubble bath. And I stayed there for about an hour as Prince’s breathy, erotic vocals bounced off the tiles. I could’ve panicked, should’ve done the big fret. Instead I nestled deeper into the bubbles and eventually came up with an unique way to interview my special guest; Ms Berry could do my hair while we talked Prince. Perfect. Bubbles popped. Prince sang the final chorus. And I went to bed.
Perfection is the enemy of done. If I wanted the location, the sound, the light, the technical minutae to be perfect for every single run and gun interview we did, I’d still be in Minneapolis wondering where all the talent had run to. While we all want the perfect sound and vision for our content, in a guerilla, situation, there is quite literally no time. I had to learn very quickly that in spite of my editor husband’s best intentions (he’d regularly email / call with sound, lighting and location advice) sometimes, you just have to shoot first and ask questions later – or during the interview preferably (!).
No matter how great the talent, none of our content would’ve rung true without research. A year before the trip and days after Prince passed, I caught the purple fever in a way that surpassed ‘normal’ grieving for a megastar you don’t know. I devoured and I mean completely binged on every book, article, video and song I could find involving Mr Nelson. Yes, it helped that I’m a fan – but I never described myself as a super fan. But by the time I got on that Minneapolis-bound flight, I could recite obscure lyrics from Prince’s ouevre that didn’t involve ubiquitous corvettes or rain. I knew his album chronology, anecdotes behind the production of said albums, I was even up with the practical jokes he played on talk show hosts.
At the time, I had no idea why I was turning into a walking Princepedia of sorts. But on the ground, faced with Prince employees and super fans, knowing my purple stuff strengthened our content and audience connection.
If there’s anything that four days flying off the seat of my purple-veloured butt taught me is that online audiences are tired of slick. They’re bored with scripted. Disillusioned by reality that really ain’t. For your content to connect with audiences, it needs to have heart and for it have heart, you need to put yours in it. Simple.
Now back in Terra Australis, I’ve re-launched my FB series of Dig If U Will on YouTube. The views – or minutes – are on a steady climb. No, I’m not setting the world on fire, but the audience is engaged and connected – and that’s all I ever wanted. Connection with likeminded (purple) people (!).
Will I go guerilla again? Not sure. Point is, this style of producing isn’t a one size fits all. I just believe that sometimes, just sometimes, when the stars align, it can produce amazing results simply because you’re not hung up on ‘the perfect’. The perfection should come in your purpose.
For me, it was all about getting high on the purple and connecting with incredible people both online and off as we shone a light on the men and women who lived, loved and worked with arguably one of the greatest musicians and entertainers on the planet.
On June 4, I launched a YouTube channel that showcases our Dig If U Will The Picture video diaries shot during Celebration 2017. Feel free to go here for your shot of purple.