One of the biggest pitfalls you can fall into as a film-maker is to rush into a project and begin filming on day one. Planning is everything and what follows is a breakdown of the steps used to plan, shoot and edit an in-depth corporate video. The structure builds upon a previous blog article about single day interviews and is designed to give you the basics needed to take on and plan your own multi-day, long term video project.
This particular client wanted a very short, 2 minute promotional video showcasing the new £5 million Plymouth University Marine Research facility. Despite the 2 minute run time, the project took almost 7 months to complete and required extensive sound editing, complex visual graphics, very careful editing and multiple days shooting in many locations, on land, at sea and in the air to complete.
The Initial Brief
Establishing contact with the client is one of the most crucial parts of the project, and sets the stage for the final film. Try to make this a phone call, or ideally a face to face meeting; avoid convoluted email conversations as these are impersonal and crucial details always get lost in translation.
During the discussion, get the answers to these three vital questions:
- What is the video’s topic? – A person, a subject, a building or location?
- What is its purpose? – To educate, to inform, a call to action, to entertain?
- Who is the audience? – School children, University Students, Corporate Partners? How old are they, what is their previous knowledge of the subject and are they a wide range of people or a very narrow niche of professionals?
You must consider details such as the feel of the film (informal, formal, comedic or commercial?) and its visual look (is a clean professional and carefully shot look needed, or a more raw hand-held documentary style?)
You will also need to pin down more specific details such as:
- Time scales and deadlines
- Budgets and resources available, and the clients level of involvement
- Any insurance or legal copyright issues that need addressing
- Ensuring the client is clear on the number of revisions (generally two is the recommended amount).
The list here can become endless, but common sense and extensive prior planning is key. It can be handy to have a list of questions ready before you meet them, do some research into the clients company/specific area and be enthusiastic, but realistic about what you can achieve for them in terms of kit available, budget and deadline.
We will typically take the initial brief from the client meeting and begin building around it. This of course takes time but is well worth doing. Look at other peoples work for inspiration and get together as many resources as you can to plan out a draft version of the video.
The ball is now in your court and it’s your job to turn the clients ‘call to action’ into an engaging visual tool for them to use. Remember the three vital questions you asked in the initial client meeting? Use those as a skeleton for the entire video. Storyboarding can help solidify a basic script or voice-over and this can be built into an animatic (an animated story board). Animatics also provide you with a form of shot list which can become extremely time saving in the preproduction and principal shooting stages.
Here is a very brief example of what an animatic can looked like, with holding graphics and voice over subtitles.
This forms the main body of most video projects and is arguably harder to do, more time consuming and more critical to get right than the filming itself. It involves everything to do with the video. Daily logistics of shooting in different locations, organising talent, crew and equipment, organising permission to shoot in certain areas or buildings, time-scales for different shoots, keeping on top of daily rushes, having rolling rough edits to check footage, having to do reshoots due to duff shots or bad weather…hopefully you can appreciate that this list will never really end, and that being able to act as a good producer is vital for multi location, multi day productions.
If you are a single shooter this becomes your responsibility along with everything else, but it can be done easily as long as you look as far ahead as you can, build in time into your schedule for things to wrong and keep a cool head when things need to be changed at the last second. Most importantly however, do not forget to keep the clients initial needs at the forefront of everything. Make sure you are still going to deliver their message.
Now the time finally comes to pick up a camera. Preproduction has taken care of timetabling and you’re on location early, ready to go with a well scripted shot list and fully prepared talent. You have prepared your camera settings and decided the look you want to go for with your client. This is why preparation is key; you do not want to be deciding on any of this on the day, you want to be totally, professionally focussed on the picture, without distractions.
During this project, no footage was shot for at least 3 months after the initial client meeting at the Marine Research Facility. Boat schedules, voice-over scripts, safety and insurance papers along with an arsenal of camera kit and settings had to be confirmed and decided upon before anything could be shot. Despite the careful planning bad weather and delayed location availability meant some of the shots we needed would not materialise before the deadline. So our team came up with a solution to animate existing archive still images to use in place of the footage needed. This is the nature of film-making, plans always change. It is vital to keep a cool head and have the ability to adapt and evolve a video or film to suit the changing condition.
This is where all the hard work from the initial client meet, through preproduction and principal shooting will pay off. If you have had the final look of the film, the shots, the audio and the colour grade in mind since day one, editing should become a fairly painless and straightforward experience. Take your time and try to take breaks regularly as you will begin to miss glaring mistakes such as typo’s or bad cuts if you don’t. Keep secure back-ups of everything in at least three separate locations, and keep the client’s needs at the front of your mind. Get feedback from people, ideally fellow film makers. If you can, try to make sure they are in the target audience as this will help tailor the video. Keep the client informed of progress but do not send them small clips of half completed footage as this can be counter productive and can lead to endless requests to change small details before the full length video is even edited.
Here is a very brief montage from storyboard to editing.
Submitting a Final Cut
Once a final cut is completed you can submit this to the client for first review. This may require carefully managing the client’s expectations as no matter how thorough your brief, due to the subjective medium of video, the client has probably already got a version of the video in their mind. Remember that as a commercial film-maker you may be acting as a pseudo marketing rep for them. As a video professional you should know what looks good on camera and on screen; this allows you to grab the attention of the audience better so make sure you help steer the client away from any changes to the video that could detract from this.
Although it may seem like a daunting task, with the correct prior planning, combined with a flexible attitude, video production is extremely manageable. Despite the large range of shooting locations, the small number of people involved, timetabling clashes and bad weather, the Marine Research Station film was delivered a month before the deadline, and was received extremely well by the client; thanks in no small part to the three months of planning before filming even began; quick changes made to initial plans, and a bit of luck.
You can watch the final product below, enjoy!