How To Make A Fully Distributed Company’s Holiday Video

I’ve loved working at Automattic and living in its unique all-remote working environment. It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced before. To design from anywhere is definitely the future!

Automattic is 500+ people working across 50+ countries without any headquarters, and with the aspiration to make the Web a better place.

Having been a longtime fan of the over-the-top First Round Capital holiday videos, I took it upon myself to imagine what a fully remote company could make. So I set off with Automattic’s Chief Semicolon Advocate Michelle Weber on a journey fueled by her reshaping of the lyrics of Jingle Bells to more accurately describe what it’s like in a remote company like Automattic. What’s it like? It’s a lot of joyous “pings and bells”(referring to the WordPress and Slack notifications that come in throughout the day). Without further ado, here it is:

As to how I made this video, I gave an open call to Automattic folks on our internal WordPress blog asking for folks to lend me some time to do three things:

  1. Sing the main verse of Jingle Bells via this CC BY 3.0 musical number.
  2. Call out a colleague somewhere in the world.
  3. Include some form of waving to the camera for 3 seconds.

And to be inclusive, I didn’t require that folks included their voice or video feed — artwork would do in the form of any expression.

You can imagine that there weren’t a lot of responses to my request — mainly because we’re super busy at the end of the year, of course. And this is something I ended up spending my nights and weekends doing because I’ve got stuff to do too (smile). But a few video entries started to trickle in that included some fantastic energy on video, clever stop-motion animation dropped in as well, and I started to feel there was a “there” to this idea.

But a holiday video has one fundamental challenge: it’s got to be musical.

I know. It has to sound like music. So I needed a few ringers who could be main voices and soloists. I was lucky to have colleagues like Bob, Marina, Dan, Caroline, and Kevin step forward to go “portrait” mode like the Snapchatters and provide their singing capabilities that gave this video greater coherence. Kevin was instrumental in pointing out how there needed to be a running harmony, which he graciously provided throughout.

Then there was this problem called timing. Many folks submitted videos where the timing was slightly off. So I had to hand-tune a few of the entries to fit the time constraints. Note to self for the future: Don’t give an instrumental track as the sample, and instead include a voice singing over the track so everyone knows where to place their syllables best. I also wish I gave lighting instructions, but that would have reduced the participation rate I believe.

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 7.45.30 PM

Lastly, my favorite new editing software ScreenFlow was being pushed to the max. It kept crashing because it clearly wasn’t designed to handle as many assets as I was juggling. Video snippets kept disappearing … so I wasn’t sure if I could finish this. But it’s all done now. Phew. And it was fun to figure out how to make.

You can make one too now — so go forth and build! And happy holidays! —JM

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