01_16Advertising halls of residence to prospective students is a big part of a university’s marketing process. Students want to see where they will be living for their first year, so obviously the halls need to presented in their best light. Almost every university has video tours available online, and therein lies the problem, with so many videos covering the same subject, making yours stand out becomes extremely difficult. For anyone watching, too many similar videos become confusing and tedious to watch. With this in mind we decided to tackle the production of a student accommodation film in a different way.

01_14A key part of pre-production is research, so we watched a lot of university accommodation videos. From watching other videos  we noticed a lot of them shared the same issues.

1 – Visually they were very flat; the camera would simply follow a tour guide around campus which becomes monotonous.

2 – The video was usually shot outside of term time, so the rooms were completely empty and bare or even worse, in term time dingy and messy.

3 – Facts presented in the video were simply stats/prices that could always be found further on the same webpage the video was on.

We decided that these  factors did not produce cues for interesting or attention grabbing visuals. Whilst they do inform a potential student/parent about things like the facilities and the cost they do not give a real sense of what actually living in halls can be like. We wanted to use video for more than to just inform, rather to create a feeling and an emotional connection with what living in halls might be like for a prospective student.  Promo videos are nearly almost always better at setting a stage and inviting a viewer to explore further into a subject rather than bombarding them with all the details in the first instance. Remember, less is more.

From this we made a conscious decision early in pre-production to not include any of the prices, facilities, stats and figures of the room in the actual video. We might suggest them with visuals, but would not address them directly. This was to keep the viewer focussed on telling  the students’ personal story in a visual and audible way, which is something text web pages would not be able to do.

We came up with a loose story arc for the film that focussed on a particular student’s experience in the halls. We wanted to share this story with the viewer so prospective students would get an idea of what they could expect on a personal level once they moved in. We felt this important to get across in the video as it is a big part of the decision making process when selecting halls. Overall we were aiming for a more personal portrayal of life in halls, as opposed to just the plain facts about each room.

Planning the Video

To achieve the look we wanted we used multiple techniques aiming for a more cinematic but at the same time a natural look. Firstly, as usual with projects like this, plenty of reference material was used to construct a ‘look book’ or ‘mood board’ that showed examples of potential looks and types of shots we could employ in the film. This is a very important part of the creative process and it is important to try out lots of different things. Most were discarded by the time of the final video but this trial and error stage allows you to bounce ideas around. We also watched a number of videos and found ones we liked. Most of these were not necessarily linked to our subject matter but watching other well shot videos is a great source of inspiration and something we do a lot of.

Storyboard cutaways 2
The top two images were potential looks we liked, the bottom 2 were the type of looks we wanted to avoid
Mood boards
Potential looks for the students room

We finally decided on a fairly neutral type setting based on a light blue colour scheme. As the location we would be shooting in was empty we then formed a prop list of the items we would need to purchase to dress the room.

final room look
The final room look that we decided on
What our room looked like once dressed

We then drew storyboards to map out the story we wanted to tell. As there was no direct dialogue in the film (this would be added in as a voice over) we didn’t need a script and were able to use the boards as our shot list on the day. Using the storyboards and reference materials we also selected our lenses and lighting set ups.

Storyboard Frames-13 Storyboard Frames-14 Storyboard Frames-18 Storyboard Frames-19 Storyboard Frames-20

Shooting the video

We wanted  the room to look bright and airy along with a generally warm feel. We wanted it to feel like a really nice place to  live, and not just a hotel room, however, we didn’t want to get caught up on too many details of the actual room and wanted to concentrate more on the students experience of living in university accommodation. To get the the look we  were after we used a range of Samyang Cinema prime lenses, these are great lens for the money and have full manual iris control on the lens, they open up to T1.5 which is great for getting a shallow depth of field. We also used a Tokina 11-16 F2.8 for the shots of the whole room. This lens doesn’t quite match the look of the Samyangs (especially when they are wide open) as it tends to be a bit sharper and contrasty, however, with a bit of work in post it is quite easy to match shots.

Lighting was achieved using two daylight balanced Red Heads, one bounced off the ceiling to simulate sunlight filling the room and one as a fill. We wanted to lighting to look as natural as possible and because we had a large sized window in the room, with careful placement of our lights it was easy enough to simulate natural light filling the room making it feel airy, warm and spacious.

Bouncing a 800W day light balanced light of the ceiling to create a soft diffused light source
800W daylight balanced light bounced off ceiling and one 500W used as a fill on subject

We added in some artificial but organic (i.e captured in camera rather than added in post) lens flares by using smaller Dedo lights to help add to this warm sunlit feel. You can see how this is done in this tutorial.

Moving the camera through a 150W tungsten Dedo to create artificial sun flares

Another technique we used to make the video stand out was a slider shot that shows items building up in the room in sequence to suggest the student moving in over time. This was our establishing shot that showed the environment in its entity at the beginning of the video.  This technique is slightly complicated but with proper planning it is reasonably easy to achieve, a separate blog article goes through both processes in more detail and explains how to achieve the look yourself.

The final element to the video was to get a voice over of the student talking about her experience of living in halls. We would use this as a narration over the visuals. This would help tie the visuals together and get across the personal story and help the audience connect with the subject. It was key to select the right person for this role; we wanted an easy going but confident individual who had lived in halls, that would also come across well on screen. Jordyn had previously done camera work so we knew she was confident on screen and would be able to deliver the sort of natural performance we were after. It’s always worth doing some test interviews or shots with a person even if they have been filmed before. This can help you establish a rapport  and make it more comfortable on the day of the shoot.

We shot the storyboarded video first
then did the voice-over interview

The shoot went almost exactly as planned and we were very pleased with the result. The film shows the more personal side of living in halls, which is often not explained fully to prospective students, and should also make perspective students and parents want to read more into what’s on offer.

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