Hollywood eLearning

What can Hollywood teach you about making your eLearning AWESOME? Part 1 of 3.

Ever wondered why movies are so expensive? Ever sit through the credits at the end of a movie? We probably all have, now that every superhero movie puts a teaser at the end. Gaffer, Best Boy, Key Grip: these are real jobs listed in the credits, not heavy metal song titles.

Why do they need so many people doing so many “strange” jobs to make a movie?  All you need is a camera, script, actors, and some lights if you feel like really going all out.  Piece of cake, anybody can do it, right?  If you’ve never seen a “really bad” movie then you know that making a good movie is easier said than done. If you don’t want to take my word for it, just head to your nearest Redbox and take your pick. 70% of your options will result in the loss of 90 mind-melting minutes that you will never get back.

Save some brain cells and skip to the closing credits andVoilà! There’s the old ragtag crew of misfits again! How in the world does someone let this happen? Who’s giving these people all this money for this recycle-bin fodder? We all think we can do better. But try as you might, if a studio gave you $5.1 Million dollars to make a better movie than one of these straight to DVD titles, it simply wouldn’t happen. Here’s why.

Perfecting the Craft


I’ve been working in movies and television for two decades. I’ve seen so many film crews ingeniously create solutions to what appeared to be impossible problems that I’ve grown to accept workplace miracles as commonplace activities on movie sets. I’ve seen a film crew turn a warehouse into a dragon’s lair, a family kitchen into a hospital room, and a dining room table into a time machine. Yes, an actual believable time machine, not a cardboard box for a kid’s imaginary plaything. Real.

Bonus Tip: Get some friends who work in the movies because a film crew can tell you the best place to get the best solution and price on a product for anything you can possibly imagine.  My wife has benefited from this most as I consult the Hair/Makeup & Wardrobe departments for gift ideas. There is simply no more creative or resourceful organization on earth than an experienced and focused film crew.

Catering to a Spoiled Audience


But times have changed in the world of media. Just a few decades ago you had to fabricate everything you wanted someone to see on screen in a movie.  Think of the original Star Wars films. Miniature “Death Star” anyone?  Now with the proliferation of digital cinema and insanely capable special effects and CGI tools, filmmakers can create anything on screen with a robust computer and plenty of time and tech skills.  No need to make a miniature version of Jabba the Hutt’s desert hovercraft anymore.

By now you may be asking yourself, “What does any of this have to do with eLearning?” Simply put, “EVERYTHING!” When you engage in publishing eLearning on any level, you are engaging in the audio visual experience (AVE). And the bar has been set higher than ever for an AVE. Everyone watches movies and TV. We watch what we want, when we want, on whatever size screen we want, with the highest quality of sound we want. $500 Beats headphones, anyone?

Production Value


That is an awful lot of entertainment and satisfying AVE right at our fingertips. A good home theater that rivals the AVE you get at the movies is affordable, accessible, and worth it. We’ve learned to expect a satisfactory AVE from every screen around us. So like it or not, your e-learning course is competing against Hollywood for your learner’s attention and satisfaction.

This puts us in a major dilemma and what seems like a disadvantage. Dan Frazee, Development Lead here at eLearning Brothers, put it this way: “We are working with training dollars not marketing dollars.”  An eLearning course doesn’t get a multi-million dollar budget… YET!  As consumer savvy continues to change, corporate culture becomes the major source of brand equity.  Clearly things are swinging the other way, and smart companies will catch the vision and realize spending more money on their eLearning will still save them money over traditional ILT while proliferating a greater public image and net ROI than traditional marketing in the long run. Customer experiences that create tidal waves in social media generate more marketing value than generic advertising campaigns ever do.  What’s more important: a consumer who knows your brand or one who trusts your brand? That trust starts with consistent, engaging and effective training.

As this trend toward corporate culture, as the business catalyst gains traction, we should take as many cues from Hollywood as possible to make our eLearning as engaging and immersive as the AVE of a tent-pole summer movie.  Disclaimer: I don’t bow at the altar of Hollywood. When people call me “Hollywood” at work, I can’t help but think of the character of the same name from that 80’s movie “Mannequin”. Not exactly a flattering self-image. One day I may just show up with one of his zany outfits and some Twinkies, but that won’t help my unfortunate predicament. Hollywood isn’t perfect but they consistently give the best AVE available. So I’ll let you in on the secrets of how they do it.

Sound Quality


The first trick to raising production values won’t cost you much at all. Hollywood Rule: Sound is more important than visuals. With all the amazing visual effects (VFX) going into the summer movies, this seems counter-intuitive. It sounds strange coming from eLB, a company known for “visually explosive eLearning”. Sure, taking the traditionally mundane styles of interactive training and adding an emphasis on visual quality and modern design differentiates us from the pack. But one thing we know from the movie business is that audio is more important than video.  Beginning filmmakers learn quickly that if your sound sucks, no one will watch your movie no matter how great your visuals may be. Have you ever watched a movie that was mixed poorly, making it difficult to hear the dialogue? It’s annoying and if it continues for very long you lose interest and eventually stop watching all together.

Make sure your Voice Overs are mixed properly. Enhance your animations and slides with music that supports the content. Don’t settle for bad music. There are plenty of quality tracks in the eLB stock asset library, which is a great place to start.  Most people think mixing audio is as simple as turning the volume up and down on your audio tracks. There’s much more to a good mix than just adjusting amplitude on the various channels. Try “notch” filtering.  This is a trick that can allow you to separate your narration from your music beyond just using volume control.

To achieve the effect you need to adjust the frequencies in all the audio tracks that are within the range of the human voice.  Use your audio software and increase the frequency. For a typical adult male, this is from 85 to 180 Hz. And for a typical adult female from 165 to 255 Hz.

On your music track you want to lower the volume in that range. Much like you would with an old school equalizer on your stereo. You should do the same thing with the Parametric equalizer on other audio tracks that are playing while your narrator or characters are speaking. This spectral separation will make the narrator’s voice stand out while keeping the other frequencies in your music at a suitable volume to create a fuller aural experience.

Another trick with audio that is handy is to use a compression effect on your narrator’s voice.  The dynamic range is large in a normal speaking situation. If you have a poor narrator, it will not be as noticeable but that’s another blog post. When you use compression you want to minimize how much the volume meter goes up and down between the lowest and highest volume of syllables. As you do this you will need to add some gain to make up the difference. You want the meter to be approximately oscillating between -3db and -6dB for your narrator’s speech. This will give it a presence that is more lively and clear, making your audience more attentive and retentive to your content.

There are plenty of other tricks of the trade, but these will get you a long way. Using music, sound effects, and a good master mix will give your eLearning an immediate boost in production value with minimal cost to you in time and resources. If you don’t know enough about audio then find a local audio studio and ask for some names. There are always engineers willing to do a mix for a good price as long as you are willing to keep building a relationship with them.

That’s it for now. We’ll continue the discussion soon and share more more production tricks from the movies to help you make your eLearning AWESOME!

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