Forget that greeting card. Send a video message instead!
Have you stopped writing letters since you started making video? Have you lost touch with your friends and relatives because you are bored with communicating on paper or over the phone? Why not communicate in a language you understand? Make a video postcard. A video postcard is a short, two-to-three-minute video that you can send to friends and family. There's nothing quite as personal as a video postcard.
This Party Needs an Occasion
You can send video postcards to relatives or friends for just about any occasion: announce an engagement, promotion or new baby, send a holiday or birthday greeting or just say hello.
Maybe your in-laws helped finance that new car or backed you for home loan. Instead of a typical thank you note, send a video thank you. Show them how much you like the car and let them see how good you look behind the wheel. Get a few shots of you and your spouse polishing the chrome or driving around town. Take them for a room-by-room tour of your new home to show them how you have decorated, or get a few shots of yourself mowing the grass and trimming the hedges.
Then there's the Aunt you haven't seen for a few years. Why not take this opportunity to share the changes in your life with her by sending a video update? Just make sure to wear that sweater she sent you last Christmas!
Less is More
Before you shoot every last detail of your life and drop it in the mail remind yourself of the differences between a postcard and a letter. Postcards are short and sweet. The picture on a postcard tells most of the story, and there is typically not much room for a written message. The recipient looks at the picture of the beautiful Hawaiian sunset and reads the words, "Wish you were here." That's it. Letters, on the other hand, are longer, more detailed and open ended; you can write as long as you've got a pen and paper. They rarely include pictures. The message in a letter is contained in the words.
A video postcard should be everything its title implies. Don't overwhelm your recipients with information. We recommend limiting your video postcard to three minutes or less. Give them a short, snappy peek into your life. Keep it short so that by the end they're wanting more. Make your message too long and no one will want to watch it. If you keep it short and sweet, they'll watch it again and again.
You can accomplish this by limiting your subject matter. It's been a couple years since you last talked with your Aunt. Don't try tell her everything you've done since then and give her a tour of your home, town and office. Limit the scope of what you want to tell her. Stick with the highlights. Try to pick one or two important events that you want to feature. Once you have those, you've got something manageable to work with.
With well-chosen shots and a carefully scripted narration you can accomplish a lot in three minutes. But if tackling two topics in that amount of time is overwhelming, then just tackle one. Remember you can always send more than one video postcard. A short, well-produced postcard about your new home is better than a long, poorly executed postcard about everything else.
Once you've identified your topic, decide what you'd like to say about it. It will be helpful to plan what you're going to do and say ahead of time. This will force you to consider what aunt Velma really needs to see, what's too much and what's too little. True, you may like that clever little compartment on the dashboard of your new car, but does your aunt really need to see you open and close it repeatedly?
Most importantly, tell your story with pictures more than words. Video is about motion. While you could shoot three minutes of yourself sitting in a chair talking to the camera about how your dog plays Frisbee, it would be much more interesting to let your recipients actually see the dog play.
Plan for Success
All you really need to produce a video postcard are a camcorder and a blank tape. Its short length makes editing in camera easy. Of course, to make it go smoothly, you need to plan ahead.
A storyboard is a great tool to help you organize your video. If you don't want to storyboard your shots, then at least make an outline of what you plan to do. If you wing it, you're more likely to go off on a tangent or run way too long. Suddenly you'll have used up your three minutes and you'll realize you haven't shown what you wanted to show.
VHS tape is still the most effective and universal way to distribute your video postcard since most homes have a VHS VCR. The US Post Office has special boxes designed for mailing VHS tapes Priority Mail. Postage will cost you about $3.00. If you package the tape yourself, First Class postage will run around $2.00. If you shoot on Hi8, 8mm or Mini DV, you'll need to copy your postcard to VHS for mailing. VHS-C tapes are smaller and cheaper to mail, but keep in mind that whoever is on the receiving end will need an adapter for playback.
Though VHS is undoubtedly the most common means of distribution, don't discount the growing use of video over the Internet. You can make use of any of the growing number of free Web hosts like earthnoise.com or popcast.com to stream your postcards. Some sites including earthnoise.com and videofarm.com will let you edit your videos online. These services make posting Web video as easy as pie. See Internet Video, in the April 2000 issue of Videomaker to find out exactly how it's done.
Another way you can send your video postcard is as video e-mail. In addition to your camcorder, you'll need a PC with a capture device, Internet access and the easy to follow tips from Video E-mail: Not Just for Geeks Anymore, in the November 1999 issue of Videomaker.
Don't just sit there, dig out that camcorder and send a greeting to a friend or relative. Video postcards are so much fun you might make them a family tradition.
Remember, keep it short, limit your subject matter and the scope of the information you provide and use pictures to tell your story. If your camcorder or editor allows you to perform a key effect, you can use the keyable title matte that we have included on page 144. Simply shoot the matte and use it as an overlay for your postcard.
If you don't have any friends or relatives, then we invite you to send a video postcard to the editor. Make a comment on an article you've read in Videomaker, ask a technical question we can use in Tech Talk or share a tip for our Your Tips column. Videomaker can take all the video postcards you send.