This is a breakdown of the making of a short (less than 2-minute) promotional corporate film. It covers all stages of the production process from the initial idea, brief, pre-production, production, post and final delivery. It is very much aimed at highlighting the extensive amount of work that goes into producing what may be assumed is a short and simple video.
Forming a Brief
Before we agree to any job, we need to fully understand the requirement and need to know what the client has in mind. This is probably the most crucial part of the whole process and actually requires a lot more time and effort than people think. Get it wrong here and at best you will end up with something that the client didn’t originally want and at worst, and actually much more likely, the whole production will fall apart. Video production is one of the most subjective mediums to work with, everybody has different ideas in their head of what they want (or think they want) and as a professional content creator it is our job to drive and guide this process and make it as clear as possible what can or can’t be delivered.
This means spending a lot of time talking with a client to figure out what will be required to make it work, what can be done in the given time-line, what style and look is wanted, how much graphics work is needed (e.g. do we need to bring in extra resources?), and much much more.
For this particular project we were approached by the Marine Learning Alliance (www.mla-uk.org) who is a partner of the University to create a short promotional film explaining who they are and what they do.
The information gathering stage
This began with an initial phone call to discuss the idea. A phone call rather than email exchange helps us to do some of the crucial information gathering needed to create a proposal. Following on from this phone conversation a face-to-face meeting was organised.
When approaching our proposals, we aim to paint a clear picture of what we want to produce. In this case we broke down everything from our story to the look and feel of the video. Our strategy with all proposals is to include as much information as possible to help when approaching production. This gives both the client and us the best idea of what the final product will be like.
During the face-to-face meting we were able to discuss a number of different ways to approach the film and gain enough information to create a proposal. We came to the agreement that the best way to approach this project was a film that would show what the MLA does, what it offers potential students and why people should use the MLA’s service (three simple points). This sounds relatively straightforward but there are literally an infinite number of ways of doing this. Through discussion with the client and drawing on our expertise an experience within video production a short film of 2:30 was proposed. It is often assumed that a short video takes a short amount of time to produce but it is actually the exact opposite. With a short piece it needs to be perfectly constructed and edited so that every second counts. This requires a lot of work to make sure every shot is included for the right reasons.
Once we had come to an agreement on the key messages for the video it was up to us as video professionals to propose suitable ways this could be achieved. We decided that an introduction and voice-over with the Chief Executive of the company along with lots of suitable and exciting visuals would really help reinforce their key messages as well as keeping viewers interested, entertained and most importantly wanting to find out more. Another misconception and pitfall that clients can often run into is trying to make a promo film that has too much information in, this overloads and can confuse the viewer. Much better to have one or two strong key messages than four of five diluted ones. Fortunately the team at the MLA were extremely easy to work with and saw the merit in keeping it short, simple and to the point. Promo videos are very much a call to action or a teaser. They are designed to give viewers only a brief insight and motivate them to find out more (i.e. visit a website, sign up, pay a visit etc.)
Once we had a good idea of the basic premise of the video along with what was required in terms of pieces to camera and supplementary footage we were able to go away and produce a storyboard that we could then use to guide the next phase of the production. Storyboards are a really useful way of pre-visualising how a video might look and feel before we go and shoot anything. Due to the subjective nature of video production, being able to show the client a good representation of what the final product is going to look like is extremely helpful for both parties.
Bringing The Proposal To Life
Our goal with this production was to try bringing it to life as close to our proposal as possible. We felt the best way to do this was to create an animated storyboard with a combination of actual footage and holding images for where the pieces to camera would fit in. As we had a lot of marine footage from past shoots we were able to use this for the cutaways. We drafted a potential script for the CEO and used subtitles over the video to illustrate what he would be saying throughout the video.
This took considerable time and went through a number of revisions before we were happy. At this point we arranged another meeting with the client to present the storyboards and talk through our approach and why we had made certain decisions.
You can see at this point how much work has gone into the planning stage without even touching a camera or any filming gear. This stage is invisible to most people outside of video production but hopefully this gives you an appreciation of how much work goes into the preproduction phase.
In this particular case the client was very happy with the storyboards and so the next step was to arrange filming of the CEO.
Shooting the film (when the cameras actually come out)
We had two people available for this shoot, it would have nice to have more but we are a small team and due to the high level of demand from other projects we could only have two people on this particular shoot. In terms of kit that was required for the piece to camera, we took the following with us
Wireless mic packs
3 point lighting setup
2 Extra LED panels for supplementary lighting
Lots of cables!
Spare Batteries, memory cards, tools etc.
This is a lot of kit for two people and requires us to be organised and efficient with what we take on productions. Things like logistics of where to park, where to setup and store kit all come in to this. Managing time on locations shoots is absolutely essential, a single person interview in an indoor location is about as simple as it gets but even this requires around 30-45 minutes of setup time, making sure everything is in the right place, lighting is setup and the image you are about to record is as best as it can be. As a viewer you will never be aware of what is going on outside of the frame, but you can see from the behind scenes shots the amount of kit that is required to film a simple interview and make it look good.
Not only is a lot of kit for two people to carry but it also requires you to be extremely proficient with it all. Time on set or location is always limited so knowing exactly how to use the camera, lights, microphones, etc. is absolutely paramount. Kit can often be technical and complex and knowing every setting inside out is crucial. All of these elements have to come together to give you a chance of capturing professional looking and sounding video, get anything wrong at this stage and at best you will have a headache in post production trying to fix and at worst you’ll have to reshoot everything.
The importance of lighting
Along with good quality audio, decent lighting is what sets amateur and professional video productions apart. Without lighting specifically for camera, subjects can merge into the background and images look dull, unappealing and off-putting. The trick with lighting is to light the subject in a way that looks natural and has the appearance that they are being light by natural sources (i.e. the natural daylight in the room). This is actually achieved by clever lighting techniques, which take time to setup and adjust.
No dedicated light on your subject means a poor looking shot. It takes time to light your subject correctly
What it looks like “behind the scenes”
You need to make proper time allowances for the actual shoot, people may be busy and have little time but if they are to deliver a good performance it is likely this will require a few takes. Trying to rush it or having something else you need to get to usually leads to a poor performance. In this case we had the luxury of the whole morning. After a complete run through we were able to sit down with the CEO and watch through the footage. On reviewing what we shot we both felt that his performance was slightly too formal this was due to just a few small nuances which are highlighted on video as it is literally like being under a microscope. We felt that a more informal approach would come across better on camera. Therefore, we changed a number of small things, all which gave the video a much more welcoming and open feel to it. This included shooting hand-held, as a small amount of movement in the camera can give a certain energy, and as long as it is not distracting can help with the less formal feel that a locked down shot has. We also changed the background from the formal office to a simpler one and the CEO changed his posture and removed his tie. This different approach drew a much better performance from the CEO and on watching through the footage he was happy he was able to portray himself and the company the way he wanted.
The post production phase for this video took around a week. The interview firstly had to be cut extracting the best takes and then this was carefully interweaved with the supporting marine related shots. Titles had to be created and music chosen. The dialogue then had to be mastered with the audio track and synced. There was a fairly tight deadline for this project so we had to work efficiently and quickly. Once the edit was done, several exports at different bitrates were produced and shared with the client. We received extremely positive feedback from the team at the MLA and they were excited to start using the promo. The promo was to be used on their website as well as distributed on over 10,000 ships and oil platforms on their closed circuit TV services.
Hopefully if you have made it this far you can see how much preparation and planning go into making a “successful” shoot. It can’t be stressed enough how this is and absolutely vital part of quality video production and should not be skimped on. You can see the final video below.
Thanks for reading!