Building the promo video for Loose Leaf

For any other indie devs out there wondering what its like to hire out a promo video, I wanted to share my experience working with Josh at Bluepic Studios on the Loose Leaf app promo we’ve just finished up. Check out our final video below:

Step 1: Get good references

Honestly, the hardest part of the process came right at the start: finding a video firm. I followed a friend’s recommendation to Josh and Bluepic Studios, and I’m extremely glad I did. I’ll start your search off with a strong recommendation for Bluepic, and you should also ask your friends, ask your colleagues, ask your twitter/fb/ello/linkedin followers as well. Get as many options as you can, this is by far the most important step.

Things I personally wanted:

  • Someone with a strong portfolio
  • Shows range in what they can make
  • Ideally, first-degree reference from someone I trust
  • A smaller firm for a more personal process
  • Someone who can walk a newbie like me through the process

Things I didn’t care about:

  • Location – I’m in Tomball, TX of all places, so I’m not expecting someone close by
  • Timeline – My development schedule drove the video schedule, so I didn’t need anything immediately

Step 2: Finding inspiration

After connecting with Josh, we started working in very broad strokes – what feeling did we want to import, what aspect of the app is most important to communicate. The easiest way for us to get started was sharing links to other interesting product videos, slowly narrowing down our target feel. Some videos we looked at:

  • Apple’s iPad Air commercial:
    • Loved the music, the inspirational feel
  • Here, File File! promo:
    • This was a commercial that featured a previous app I’d built, loved the focus on use case + showing the app in action
  • Saddleback Leather:
    • Too talky for what I wanted, but communicated craftsmanship – something very important to me
  • John Neeman Tools:
    • I loved this video possibly the most. Its focus on the building process, the care and craftsmanship, was extremely important
    • I also loved that there was no narration or talking during the video. It’s “show don’t tell.”

Loose Leaf is a gesture driven app – moving between pages, inserting photos, and cutting and cropping scraps – it’s a tactile app, and I wanted to show that as much as possible in the video.

Step 3: Getting the script together

At this point, I knew I wanted a music driven video that spent most of the screen time showing people using the app. It needed to be short and easily watchable on mobile w/o needing lots of time. Loose Leaf really shines when you can watch the gestures and interactions themselves, so I really wanted to focus on showing real people using the real app for real ideas.

We brainstormed a few options, everything from a potter or sculptor, to fashion or interior designer. We settled on a young couple setting up a room in their new home. I loved this idea because it showed two people working on their ideas together in Loose Leaf. It’s a great scenario to show how strong Loose Leaf can be for brainstorming – it’s for sharing quick ideas back and forth, nothing fancy, nothing permanent.

Step 4: Refining the script, and fitting in budget

At this point, we knew roughly what scenario we wanted to shoot, and started working out specifics of the script. Initially my target was to keep the video to 30 seconds with just 1 actor at 1 location, but to show off the sharing feature of Loose Leaf, I really needed to expand scope to show it used by 2 different people.

It was adding the 2nd actor and location that caused my initial budget to balloon slightly. Going into this, I had no idea how cost might be calculated for videos, and was very worried about keeping in budget. As Josh and I were working through the script, I found out that most of the cost doesn’t come from longer footage – a 30s video could cost roughly the same as a 2m video. The cost came from multiple locations and multiple actors. In retrospect that’s more obvious to me, but at the time it’s all new.

We were able to work out a script that stayed inside my available budget, and but didn’t compromise the message by using only one actor. I’m really glad I chose to focus on the goal of the video and sacrifice slightly on my budget, it turned out far better than the one actor option would have.

Step 5: Get the footage!

Shooting was done in just one afternoon. The hardest part for me was letting Josh do his work on shoot day – due to travel costs, I couldn’t be there for the actual shooting, so I just had to wait and see what came out of it. I’ve been working alone on this project for ~ 2 years, so it’s hard for me to give up that control, but it just goes back to Step 1 about finding a solid reference that you know you can trust. Josh did great work.

As with anything, even with actors and wardrobe all planned out, custom app builds for each scene, a written script, and pre-fab content, Josh still had to call an audible on a few shots, and it turned out great. When certain angles of the room didn’t work out as we’d planned, he was able to adjust to fit in our shared vision and get some great footage.

Josh was able to turn around a draft video with all of the footage by the next morning, and it looked sharp! He even sent a few different options for the backing music for the video.

Step 6: Edit, edit, edit, and ship!

Josh and I continued to send the video back and forth, slowly cutting out extra time from scenes, clarifying certain transitions, until we got the initial draft from 1:25 down to just 1:05. The pacing and music worked out great, and I’m super happy with the result.

What’s the takeaway?

The most important part of the process was finding someone I knew I could trust, someone who had good judgement for scenes, pacing, and was creative throughout the entire process. I’m proud that we were able to communicate the idea of Loose Leaf – quickly and easily sharing ideas – so effectively. That abstract goal aimed all of our concrete tasks and output.

As with anything creative, it’s a balance between budget, quality, and timeline. I focused on optimizing budget and quality for this video, and our timeline reached from April through to October. Most of that time was Josh waiting on me to finish the Loose Leaf features that we needed to shoot, so the delay was my own fault. If I’d needed it faster, I could’ve written up fake features for the video, but quality would’ve suffered and the final output of the product would have been misrepresented – something I wasn’t willing to compromise.

Bottom line, if you’re going to be working on a video for your app, I strongly recommend starting the process as early as you can to give yourself as much leeway as possible for lining up shooting and development schedules.

To find out more about Loose Leaf, check out the site: https://getlooseleaf.com

To find out more about Josh at Bluepic Studios, visit his site at: http://bluepicstudios.com

You can get Loose Leaf now in the App Store:

app-store-badge

Loose Leaf for iPad is available!

Loose-Leaf-logoI’m exhausted. I’m relieved. I’m excited – Loose Leaf for iPad is finally available in the App Store!

If I had to pick only one of those emotions, it would be relief. After over 2 and a half years of development, I was beginning to doubt it’d ever be ready. Even in the weeks before launch, I fixed more bugs and found more new issues than I’d ever thought possible – the date kept getting pushed back, but here we are! Even the night before launch I still didn’t have a finished layout for the website, and Christi and I stayed up until midnight recording the demo videos for the site.

Over the next few weeks, I may write up some posts about how I built various features – scissors in particular was an interesting challenge, but for now I’m just thrilled it can be seen and used by more people than just me.

A few fun facts: before I started Loose Leaf,

  • iOS6 was the new hotness
  • I had never coded OpenGL
  • I only knew that Bézier‘s were “curvy lines”
  • I had never subclassed a UIGestureRecognizer

And today,

  • I only support iOS7 and 8
  • All of the drawing is rendered in OpenGL
  • A large % of my codebase is optimizations for Bézier paths
  • The vast majority of my UIGestureRecognizers are built from scratch

Clearly I had no idea what I was getting into.

You can get Loose Leaf now in the App Store:

app-store-badge

The rebirth of AskMeEvery

AskMeEveryAskMeEvery is simple tool to help bring you daily accountability for whatever task you need. You simply setup a question, and it emails you that question every day. It’s as simple as replying to an email. All of your replies are stored and graphed to show your progress.

I’ve been using it for nearly a year, and it’s been incredibly helpful for me to stay focused during Loose Leaf development. Every evening I ask myself two questions: “What did you accomplish today?” and “What do you want to accomplish tomorrow?” Two narrow questions focused on getting things done and moving forward. It’s helped me immensely to focus on small completable tasks that move me toward my goal of launching Loose Leaf.

Indie dev can be a lonely road, and it’s encouraging to look back through the month and read my responses for what I was able to accomplish. It’s admittedly not always what I’d planned to accomplish, but I do see how I moved through the surprise obstacles and stayed focused, which is rewarding and encouraging.

The Transition

Quite a few weeks ago, the current owners of AskMeEvery posted that they’d need to shut down the service – it was simply draining more money than it pulled in and couldn’t survive any longer. I immediately started talking to them to try and find a way to keep the service running. In the end, we all decided that I should take over the service and keep moving it forward. I just got all of the server keys and passwords last week, and am starting to move through the code and plan out next steps.

User registration is back open, all of the services are reviewed and up and running, and I’m working out a long term plan to keep AskMeEvery open for the foreseeable future.

Goals

Right now, the service is spending quite a bit more than it’s taking in through the paid SMS upgrade, and priority one will be to find ways to both cut costs and increase revenue. More than anything I want this to be a site that can survive on its own weight.

I also will be talking with other current users to find out how they use AskMeEvery and how its helped them form new habits and break bad ones. One thing that I appreciated immediately about AskMeEvery is broad appeal. The fuzziness affording with simple text replies to questions lets it solve ‘self-tracking’ in an approachable way. I want to double down on making it easy for anyone to track and stay accountable to their own goals, without needing to spreadsheet 4 different trackers’ data.

Thanks

I want to send a huge thanks to Mark and Eugene who have run the site for the past few years, and a thanks to all of the people who’ve helped them as well. It’s a fantastic service that has helped me and I know has helped many others accomplish their goals and stay focused. And a huge thanks to the AskMeEvery community who’s stayed on board with the service through the transition – I’m excited about where Mark and Eugene have brought us, and where we can take AskMeEvery in the coming months and years!

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