Don't make these mistakes!
As a filmmaker with over two decades of commercial video production experience, it always amazes me to see just how unfamiliar clients are with the video production process. In this article I plan to lay out the broad strokes of the video production process from start to finish. Let’s get into it.
Producing a video is broken down into three phases.
This first step is all about defining the goal of the video and writing the story. Different videos have different goals. The goal of a thirty second TV Commercial may be to have viewers make a phone call or visit a website. The goal of a social media video that runs longer could be to create engagement about a product or service. Whatever the goal is, it is important to know what it is you are trying to accomplish. Of course, the ultimate goal is to increase business, but stating that as the goal can be a bit vague. So, it is important to be specific! You can learn more about creative connecting here.
Writing the story of a video is basically creating a scenario. For example, if we are going to advertise an energy drink, an example of the story may be…
A mediocre male personal trainer slights a frail young woman causing her to trip and fall. The trainer laughs, walks over to the flat bench and loads a bunch of weight on the barbell, as he tries to show off in front of some passing attractive ladies. The frail woman walks to the cooler, grabs the energy drink from the cooler and drinks it. After drinking the energy drink, she gains superhuman strength like Popeye. The woman exacts her revenge on the personal trainer when she saves him from certain death when he is unable to bench press the barbell which has too much weight. In failing to push the weight off his chest, the bar ends up across his neck. He kicks his feet and squirms, panic. The frail woman runs toward the bench, hurdles a couple doing crunches on the floor, grabs the barbell with one hand, and racks the weight with no effort. The girls laugh and the trainer is visibly embarrassed.
Primary Message: Our drink gives you strength
Secondary Message: Our drink empowers women
Goal: To get people to buy the drink
The creative concept also defines the look and feel or the style of the video. In this step, mood boards, potential locations, and any other key defining factors are explored.
The script is one of the most important steps in video production. You can have the best of everything, if your script is weak, your video will be weak. Our motto is…clarity over creativity. Strong script, strong message, strong video!
The script is an expression of the creative concept through dialogue, staging, blocking, camera movement and action sequences. A well written a script will clearly deliver a message, that reflects the intended goals. In the case of the energy drink concept, the script will include the benefits of the product, a snarky remark from the trainer, perfectly timed action, and if it is really well written, the writer will work in the tagline of the product into the woman’s closing line.
These types of scripts are fun to execute, but most importantly, they are memorable. They sometimes even become a defining marker in pop culture. A funny example from the 80’s was when Wendy’s aired a commercial where the tag line was spoken by and old lady…” Where’s the beef.” The concept was to display that Wendy’s has larger portions by having an elderly woman purchase a competitor’s hamburger, and discover how small the patty was. She would then be disappointed. So, in the story when the elderly woman removes the top bun off of what is clearly a McDonald’s hamburger, she squints her eyes through her glasses and says the line. “Where’s the beef?” People repeated this line for almost a decade. It was used in jokes and even showed up in movies. This sent the brand into the stratosphere.
Many businesses have their company videos shot on company property. This often makes perfect sense; however, it is important to analyze what opportunities the company’s property has to offer. In addition to the primary or the A Roll footage, it is important to know where the B Roll footage will be shot. B Roll shots clips or cutaways that are outside of the main shot. Stock videos are often used for B Roll footage, but it’s important to be careful with stock videos. With the need for more and more video production, it is common to see the same stock footage in different companies’ videos. This can really hurt a company’s credibility.
In our energy drink example, the video only requires a single location…the gym floor. As simple as this may seem, it could be very challenging to find a gym willing to open its doors during off hours. This could also prove to be a location that adds a significant amount of money to the budget in rental fees.
Locations can be tricky and are often overlooked by business owners when thinking about a getting into a video production.
Time to host a casting. The right professional actor or spokesperson will breathe life into your video and make it believable. Casting allows you to pick the look, oration style, personality of the actor and it gives the director control over the quality of the delivery. CAUTION! It important not to try to save money by sticking an employee or friend in the video.
We have seen many non-professionals fail and waste days of production and thousands of dollars. One of the biggest mistakes small business owners make in this step is to insist on a friend, family member or employee to be the in the video. Quite often they are cast as the main character, and it almost always leads to disaster. This happens because of an emotional connection to the person they suggest, or they want to save money by not hiring a professional. BAD IDEA.
In our energy drink example, there are two main characters, three supporting, and a half dozen extras. When casting, some of the things to think about, are
Gender • Ethnicity • Age • Height
Weight • Build Talent Level • Tone of their voices
These illustrations map out the sequence, helping the client understand what the final cut will look like. Storyboards show camera angles, camera movement, staging, facial expressions and more. The crew uses the storyboards to develop shot sheets and shooting schedules. This tool keeps everyone on the same page during shoot days and prevents the director from missing any shots. Unfortunately, many production companies skip this step. This can leave the production vulnerable to hidden issues or problems with the script.
Storyboarding is an important step in the preproduction process. Storyboards are a set of illustrations that visually describe the script. It is very much like looking at a comic book. Each major shot of the script is illustrated, and the amount of detail varies from quick sketches to complete drawings with facial expressions and specific set elements.
Selecting the perfect wardrobe for each person in the video will enhance the viewer’s experience. The wardrobe should complement the story, and not take away from it. The last thing you want is a viewer to be distracted by inappropriate attire that pulls the viewers’ attention away from the message. Costume designers and wardrobe supervisors are essential in matching the wardrobe to the message.
It is production day! Customarily the crew will arrive sixty to ninety minutes before the talent. The crew will set up for the first shot as the hair and makeup team prepares the actors. The director will spend some time with the actors ensuring that they will deliver the desired performance. Once everything is set up, cameras roll, and the action begins. Most shoot days last between eight to ten hours. So, it is important that the entire team is efficient and on their A game. The client is usually parked in front of a monitor where the client can watch what is being shot in real time.
If there is more than one shoot day. The footage is ingested at the end of the day for the client and the director to view. This is known as watching the dailies.
CAUTION: Production days are not the time to make changes or offer up new ideas that deviate from the storyboards. Production can be so inspiring. When the lighting, the set, the actors, and everything comes together, it’s magical. A great director keeps everyone disciplined, and on script, including the client. Changing the script or injecting ideas on shoot day, although inspiring, usually leads to major delays and causes the production to go over budget.
Now it is time edit the video. First the editor will watch all the footage at least twice. This can take one to several days. This depends on how much footage was captured. After the editor watches the footage, he chooses the best takes and creates what is called an assembly cut. This sequence is used as tool to make the final selections of the best takes. Once the takes have been selected, a rough cut is made. At this point the editor will have made clip decisions, applied transitions, set markers for sound, and usually he will add a color profile.
Now the client will get to see the how the edit is shaping up. This is done in the studio, side by side with the editor and the director. During this phase, the client can offer some notes, concerns and even request to see alternate takes. It is very common for adjustments to be made to the rough cut. Once the rough cut is approved, the fine cut is made. The fine cut is the last cut before the audio and color is added.
Now it is time for audio. In this segment of post-production music is added, sound effects, all the dialogue gets treated the elements are mixed to broadcast standards. Music has a dramatic impact on what emotions the viewers will feel. Today, many small businesses opt for stock music. Stock music is royalty free and can be licensed for a small amount of money. The downside is stock music can be used by anyone.
The other option is to have original music composed for the production. To have a song custom made just for the video can be invaluable. The disadvantage to going this route is, it costs thousands of dollars to have an original composition written and recorded.
NOTE: Some directors have the music finalized before they start the editing process. This technique is used to set the visual pace of the video to the beat of the music. This is a very effective technique.
After the music is laid into the track, the sound effects are added, the dialogue is graded, and the audio is mixed and mastered.
The last step in the postproduction process is color grading the footage. We have the edit, the sound, now we just need to add the color. You may be thinking…doesn’t the camera shoot in color? Of course it does. However, when you are shooting with cinema-grade cameras the footage requires a colorization process known as color grading.
The footage in its raw format has a great deal of flexibility when it comes to how it can be colorized. The footage can be made to match or reflect the colors of the brand. It can be executed in a way to make the footage look cold, warm, fun, or even cryptic. The possibilities are endless, and a great colorist will add the final polish to the final cut.
I hope this article about the video production process has helped. Whether you are creating your own video or hiring a production company, we wish you the best of luck in creating the best possible video!
Creative and Film Director
SM Media Group