For this month’s In Focus interview, we’re excited to feature Telly Award Winner Microsoft! Microsoft’s DevRel Studios seek to engage, educate, and entertain technical communities with engaging tutorials, shows, events, and stories for developers. We spoke with Aurea Astro, Video Program Manager at Microsoft DevRel Studios, about the company’s creative mission regarding video production and their work on an in-house promo for Microsoft Reactor spaces.
The Microsoft team works on an impressively diverse range of work. What is the overall creative mission of Microsoft when it comes to video production, and how do you define creative success?
Our mission at DevRel Studios is to engage, educate, and entertain our technical communities with visual media. We aim to deliver the best-in-class tutorials, shows, events, and stories for developers. Creatively this means pushing the boundaries in ways that aren’t always considered “creative” but are still integral to the quality of work and morale of the team. For example, by looking for ways to improve the pre- and post-production process. Or by experimenting with new talent on air, like software engineers themselves, who generally shy away from media.
I would say we define creative success as the intentional optimization of all the possibilities coming together to produce videos that resonate with our audience.
What is one of the biggest creative risks you took recently? What was the outcome?
Welcome to Microsoft Reactor. We brought this idea in-house to make a little promotional video for Microsoft Reactor, both a physical place and program to bring developers together. Rather than go with our traditional method of using an agency to design an animated marketing video based on stock assets and corporate lingo, we wanted to physically bring people together to make something we could all feel part of at the Reactor, and in turn also generate something different, authentic, and personable. With an intentionally campy script, 25 extras (hard to find in this post-pandemic world on a Friday), and plenty of laughs and pizza and beach balls, I think the creative risk helped bring coworkers together into a communal project, and also resulted in a piece of work multiple teams took joy in filming and sharing. We were able to satisfy our upstream marketing partners as well by incorporating a segment of the traditional marketing video into this larger personality video as well.
What is your favorite piece of work you created in the past year? Tell us the story behind it.
Let’s Get Personal Computing, a 6-episode series in 2022 and another coming in March, 2023 (https://f.io/t45dCjTS). The proposal was what was referred to as “another talking head interview” that no one wanted to film, because they’re generally quite boring to the production team. One camera, chop-and-pop edit, publish.
I met up with Jim Bennette, the host, and he was so charismatic and his list of guest technologists so interesting and well-curated in my opinion that I felt it deserved more than the traditional “talking head” style. It seemed like a ripe opportunity to add some dimension to a traditionally square interview. I wasn’t sure what that looked like, or what being creative meant, but I knew that the people and devices deserved a little more production power to match their charisma and dimension.
I was able to rally the team behind a much more dynamic setup, to capture the expressions and hopefully story behind the people with a 3-camera setup, and leverage some studio equipment we hadn’t used before; neon light tubes to create a Blade Runner effect (or so was the aim), and a macro lens and turntable to create device shots that did justice to the power of the technology. We also set up a portrait station with each guest, and designed the script of the opening bumper to tie the technology and technologist together.
While the space we had to shoot the interview in wasn’t perfect, I was really excited by how it turned out. Much more dynamic than the typical talking head interview, and it pushed the boundaries of how we thought about these kind of generic shoots; they can be creative, too! The introduction and bumper were especially fun to make, and the macro shots of the devices really did the trick.
What does winning a Telly Award mean to you?
Personally, it means achieving success in bringing the best and brightest minds together around a unified vision. It takes the collective power of a team to make something truly special, and that’s what I love most about video.