Social Media and Video: an Interview with Visual Country

The social media app Vine enabled users to create looping six-second videos, a.k.a. Vines, that were entertaining and captivating. Meagan Cignoli was part of that Vine Revolution, and rose to prominence during the app’s heyday. When Vine closed down Cignoli pressed on, partnering with Amber Lee to create Visual Country, a NYC-based stop-motion company. Given Vine’s past—and next iteration as Byte, a.k.a. Vine 2.0—Visual Country is poised to be a player in the short-form video landscape. But they’re not taking a vacation because between now and Byte’s launch, Visual Country has plenty to keep them busy, as they explained in this interview.

Visual Country from left, Amber Lee & Meagan Cignoli, photograph by Alec Kugler

Q. Amber, when did you begin working with Meagan and why have you gotten along so well together?

Amber Lee: Meagan and I met in 2009, and in one way or another have been working together ever since. I think we have been successful partners because we complement each other well—she manages creative and I head the business and operations end. We trust one another to lead our side of things and look to each other as consultants along the way. It is a nice harmony of art and commerce.

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Q. Meagan, what’s the best part of working with Amber, and why?

Meagan Cignoli: Amber and I have been working together for so long that we are generally on the same page with things. We worked through a lot of trial and error together over the years that it has really aligned our thought process and style. We communicate a lot, keeping each other in the loop, so there are less surprises. Amber is like a hawk—she doesn’t miss much.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Q. What do you bring to Visual Country, Amber, especially when it comes to your experiences with startups and your experience as a manager, and why do you believe in the work you’re all doing together?

Amber: I’ve always enjoyed building things. Whether it’s building a business and all that comes with that—from designing operations to managing people and teams. Or, building something with my hands. I love investing in and experimenting with new equipment for the studio. I poke my head into all areas of the business. I enjoy the work we do, because I get to do all the things I love with a great group of people. We get to create art for some of the largest brands in the world every day and that is a pretty cool thing.

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Q. Meagan, looking back, I feel like people began noticing your work during the glory days of Vine, when six-second (or less) videos captured our imaginations. What did you learn about creating “the big idea” with those short videos, and how did that inform your work today?

Meagan: Vine was great at forcing users into a box creatively and pushing them to create interesting work within the six second limit. During those early days, and even still in our work today, I first think of an image and scene that I think would look great and be interesting, and then I think of the movement and story second. We pack in a lot of punch and information into a short amount of time, and even in our longest form work we apply the same methods and style. I think it creates longer content that feels high energy and that you can also chop up into many smaller bite sized pieces of content.

Delvaux / Image courtesy Visual Country

Delvaux / Image courtesy Visual Country

Q. When Vine began to look like it was coming to an end, how did you prepare yourself and your business for the next level, and who were the people closest to you who assisted with that transition?

Meagan: There wasn’t really much of a transition to be honest. By the time Vine closed, our audience was still growing on the app, but our work had expanded far beyond the Vine app starting years before. We were preparing ourselves for the next stages of our business and video production right out of the gate—creating large scale productions for TV, Out of Home, Instagram, and Facebook. We are always looking for ways to expand our services and work, as you never know what is going to stick around and what will fade away.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Dramatic lighting and set design set the mood, and tell the story.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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An example of Visual Country’s sound design.

Q. How do you gauge what videos will “stick” with viewers, especially during a day and age when a six-second attention span across so many platforms (YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Vimeo, Snapchat) can prove difficult?

Amber: We are always looking at our work from the writing stages to final post production and asking ourselves, is this interesting? Will this stop you in your feed? Can we get rid of actions that don’t move the story along or don’t excite users? I think you have to be highly self-critical of your own work, and not only embrace new trends, but also experiment to create new trends. We use our creative work often as a platform to try new things. First, moving from phones to studio equipment in our very early days, to moving into live action and into 2D illustration, playing with green screens and laser cutters. It’s lighting, set design, lens, cameras—changing and experimenting with all aspects of the creative process.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Sometimes, you can tell a story with great paper craft and camera movement.

Q. Your blog is an interesting mix of case studies, advice, and technical tips, as well as business lessons. Do you have an editorial calendar you adhere to, so you know what gets published and when, or do you just kind of wing it with the blog and publish based on whatever video, production, or illustration work you have in the pipeline at that moment?

Meagan: We have an editorial calendar for all our social channels, including our blog (though we focus on this channel less than others). There is a lot of planning and work that goes into each piece of content we publish across our various channels. On the blog, we like to teach people about our process, and go behind-the-scenes, how we create, telling a longer story through visuals and writing.

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Visual Country Whispering Angel

Whispering Angel / Image courtesy Visual Country

Q. You’ve won a lot of awards, “23 major advertising awards” in all. Some people are driven by awards, and that gives them a big sense of accomplishment. Other people could care less. What role do awards play (or not play) at Visual Country?

Amber: Awards are great, and I know our team loves receiving them—it’s validating for sure and always nice to be recognized by your peers for a job well done. But, at the end of the day we don’t focus too much on them. We are more driven by creating great work that excites us to come to the studio every day, while having a nice work-life balance. For us, that is the sweet spot.

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Q. You have over 250 clients worldwide—a massive client pool—having done work for fashion giants such as Fendi and entertainment titans such as Netflix. But is there anybody you have not worked with yet that you really, really want to work with, and why?

Meagan: We have had the pleasure of working with such a large and diverse pool of clients, sometimes it feels like we have worked with everyone. That being said, there are still lots of clients on our bucket list. We have a Slack channel for our team to post their Client Wish List and weigh in on clients they would love to create work for. Some on that list include Gucci, Rolex, Jet Blue, Tumi, Mast Brothers Chocolate, and Kiehl’s.

Fendi / Image courtesy Visual Country

Fendi / Image courtesy Visual Country

Q. On another note, is there anybody you would not work with, and why?

Amber: We have turned down work in the past that didn’t feel like a fit for us because of the product— it’s never an easy decision or one that we take lightly. Tobacco is one of those products.

Q. What’s your take on the notion of Vine being reborn, as Byte which will launch in 2019?

Meagan: We are excited to see what Dom and his team come up with and wish them success with the launch! We will surely check it out. Recreating the magic of Vine, is no easy feat. At the end of the day, it’s hard to say what will rise in popularity and then also stay there. But, if you can get users interested and signing in everyday, the brands will follow.

Edited from a series of electronic interviews.

The post Social Media and Video: an Interview with Visual Country appeared first on HOW Design.

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