How I made a CEO stop breathing

I recently stopped the CEO of a well-known international company from breathing. Literally. He didn’t take another breath. It was my job.

I recently stopped the CEO of a well-known international company from breathing. Literally. He didn’t take another breath. It was my job.

No, I’m not a hitman. I’m a film and video producer.

I was editing the dialogue in an internal video featuring the company’s annual plan, presented by the CEO. Dialogue editing helps smooth out all the stutters, umms and haws and abrupt edits. The idea is to clean up their diction and delivery.

Sometimes you can go over a sentence or phrase dozens of times, working different tweaks and edits and audio fixes. You hear it so many times in such microscopic detail that you begin to lose perspective.

I was hearing each word, each syllable, each vowel, each lip smack and eventually each inhale and exhale. Each breath, isolated, amplified and scrutinized, sounded grotesque. Huge. Like a hippo snoring.

They had to go.

The resulting sentence felt robotic. Un-human. It sounded like a text-to-speech generator, mimicking human speech. Close, but not human enough. It sounded antiseptic, sterile.

The human way of speaking is complex and nuanced – words aren’t simply strung together in a logical order. Inflections, emphasis, and emotion infuse our speech; they help to make it more pleasing to the human ear, and easier to understand.

Recent developments in computer generated speech technology have acknowledged this human presence. Deep Mind’s Wavenet technology aims to generate not just breaths, but also “mouth movement sounds.”

It’s these imperfections that make us human.

Technology may be perfect; we aren’t

For nearly 100 years, most movies and TV were filmed, using actual film in a camera. A decade ago, the shift to an entirely digital cinema began.

Digital offered many production benefits, but to the audience these early digital films looked a bit sterile. Viewers felt these images lacked warmth and emotion.

Very quickly an entire industry began to try and mimic the look of ‘true’ film. Essentially, they were attempting to add back in the imperfections.

If audiences can’t identify with technological pefection, why should we assume storytelling would be any different?

We more closely identify with a character who has flaws and tries to be better. Without something going wrong in a plot or scene, we’d have no drama or humor in our stories.

We like our stories to feel complete, but cringe at the thought of a perfect “Hollywood ending.”

So why should your brand, or the representatives of it, be perfect?

When it comes to connecting with audiences via video, brands must present stories and people in ways that feel human.

We don’t scrub and polish a film to the point where we’ve removed everything that makes us relateable.

Much like us, brands need to be imperfect. They need to breathe.

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