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Corporate Video (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) Part I
This blog is for those who have mastered basic video concepts and are looking for a more extensive source of information on corporate video production. More importantly, this blog in no way is supposed to be a jaded perspective on corporate video or a pretentious form of know-it-all-ism. This is my take on a decade of making corporate films. I still have much to learn, but I’m offering you a candid look on my philosophy rather than an SEO-hungry dense article filled with meaningless platitudes.
My corporate video nightmare.
Cue 90s corporate rock with muted guitars being jammed on by the budget conscious version of U2 that assaults my senses (or the Black Keys if you’re super edgy). A contrived male voice-over beckons over the nauseous music track, “We believe, that rules were meant to be broken.” Stock video of differing quality comes to the forefront, being sure to hit every HR checkbox on the way to this corporate train of mediocrity. “We believe in inspiring our synergistic management solutions.” “We believe in saying ‘we believe’ 97 times.” Dozens of employees awkwardly walk toward toward the camera with letters painted on large signs. It spells out, “Think Outside the Box.” Each employee looks like they are dying inside—like they just ate an expired gas station burrito…
…and then drank a lot of milk.
I’m awake. Cold sweat. My wife stirs awake, “What’s wrong?”
“I had the dream again.”
In my career, of all videos that I have worked on—the corporate video is the bread and butter of my portfolio. I’m guessing that corporate video is 90% of what I work on.
And, contrary to my nightmare, I absolutely love it.
The corporate video is the bastion of problem solving in messaging, timing and overcoming obstacles. There are so many nuances to take into account—but when you come up with a eureka concept that breaks barriers and reaches out to consumers, it’s like nothing else. However, it is the most challenging of all categories with the most red tape, the most roadblocks and the most frustrating challenges.
I’ve worked with manufacturers, educational institutions, medical facilities, science laboratories, automobile dealers, aircraft factories, durable goods establishments, recreational brands, food and beverage companies, sports brands, wealth and financiers, nonprofits and lifestyle brands in the corporate space. There are many differences as far as messaging and audience goes—but there are a TON of similarities as far as video production goes.
Here are the tips and tricks I’ve learned over my experiences. Many are heuristic in nature so take it with a grain of salt.
Always try to find an emotional angle. We are creatures of emotion. Even something that can seem monotonous can become extremely interesting if you are passionate about it. I once listened to an electrician talk about his trade for two hours at a party once because he was so enthralled with what he was doing. ACF Interrupter? Relay devices? I was hooked. While on the job I was in doing an interview for some individuals who worked for a popular retailer. One might say it was very accurate. I asked, “How does it feel to pioneer how people feel at [sic] retail?” They humbly laughed and said, “Pioneer? Well, I don’t know about that.” In reality, their work is seen by millions of people and give shoppers a sense of wonderment. I myself remember being a child and feeling fully enamored with a retail display. Don’t discount what you do because you are too comfortable with the subject matter. Bring in other people—they’ll give you an outsider’s perspective.
Try and shoot in rooms with natural light as much as possible. I remember being on a tech scout with the liaison to the organization. He opened a door to a boxy room with no windows and low ceilings. “What about here? This looks good.” I politely declined. Lenses will compress a space. Our eyes can take in much more depth, light and a huge field of view. What may seem like a large conference room will be utterly dwarfed by the amount of space you will need for camera lights and framing. Shooting outdoors is better compared to a claustrophobic nightmare. Also, many light fixtures in your office may be very unfriendly to video. Different lights give off different wavelengths and colors. Fluorescent lights are typically bad because they produce an ugly looking flicker. Factories are especially bad—usually the products that you are manufacturing will alter the color that the lights give off. The rule of thumb is that you want to keep it to just one color. I remember being in one manufacturing facility that had just replaced all of their bulbs. It was beautiful! I had the same unified color temperature to work with. In another facility, it looked like every bulb had its own color temperature because of the chemicals it came in contact with. This may seem like a very snobbish and trivial observation. “Dude, can’t you just make it work with what you have? Are you so above this?” Here’s my honest answer: If a majority of the space is a certain color temperature, I am not picky. But if there are a majority of lights that interfere with the camera’s shutter, making it look dingy, it’s best just to shoot in a different room or even go outdoors. The strobing or color cast will be too distracting. I often observe viewers during a video rollout and some of them will glaze over when it’s set in a room that I deem “contaminated.” However this is contested by how interesting the interviewee is. If your interviewee is the most amazing thing the world you could shoot in a hailstorm and they would still captivate your audience. Use your discretion.
Nobody wants to watch a ten or fifteen minute video (I’m not pointing fingers Larry from accounting). Keep it simple. I completely understand if it’s a training video with a series of important steps. There’s often a stigma that us creatives are just trying to pad our reels—for a majority of us at studios, that is just the opposite. Our goal is to be chameleons—we want to be unseen and cater to your audience.
Avoid “We believe,” like the plague. There’s a bunch of copywriting no-nos that make their way into the marketing lexicon. One is “We believe.” The reason why this is a no-no because they are made of copy that consists of vague emptiness that may seem impactful without specific goals or visual examples. EXAMPLE: If someone says, “I care about people,” would you rather see them saying it in front of an interview backdrop or would you rather see them carrying out the action without the dialogue at all? The other plague is a vague poem that talks about “rising above” and other slam poetry copy cats that say a lot of emotional words without making a specific human connection or personal story. EXAMPLE: The night is darkest before the dawn. We rise again—with our family, our might and our believers.” While this may seem like a speech of Braveheart caliber, they are words without substance or context. You might as well write, “Live, laugh, love,” on a whiteboard in front of your employees.
The script is not supposed to look like you are writing your master’s thesis. Scripts are very different from five paragraph essays. I often find that I have the most difficulty with academic clients because scripts that are written for video are riddled with run-ons and punctuation error. However, if you were to write down how you speak out loud, it would be difficult to conform it to an academic format. For video scripts, write how would talk to someone.
Don’t try and jam in as much content as you can. This one is among the top cardinal video production sins. Many videos get muddied with an overreach of corporate agenda or check-boxes to mark. Video is its own vessel of communication. If you are disseminating information, a document might be of better use. Video should be used to communicate one core emotion or feeling. It normally is not effective is you are using it as a brain dump. Like I said before, if it is a step-by-step video process, this is different. If you are creating a corporate messaging video it is not essential to have 19 interviews. That sounds like a joke but that has definitely happened before. Lo and behold, “Do we have more b-roll to cover this? It’s kind of boring.”
Be VERY careful about comedy. Everyone thinks they can be the next dollar shave club. Are you the type of person who creates a Harlem Shake video five months after it was deemed over by a majority of the internet? Or are you someone who releases an Ice Bucket challenge years after the fact? Don’t hop onto fads unless you are a trend vampire listening to the internet like Lucious Fox listened to Gotham in the Dark Knight.
Be careful of sound. If a crew cannot be there for a scout, note things like airplanes, HVAC, refrigeration units or anything else that is easy to pick up on a sensitive mic. If it is a constant hum, there are things to be done to remove the wavelength from the audio. If it is inconsistent, that’s where you have problems.
You are the master coordinator. Keep people informed. Place signs. Do everything you can to prepare and plan. EXAMPLE: Emily, you will need to be in the conference room for the video—here is a list for acceptable attire for being on camera. Lucas and Ashley, this is the list of products you will need to swap out at the tabletop session at 4PM.
Videos are successes or failures before the first shot even rolls. Do not jump through the pre-visualization stages too fast. The more you can whittle down the script and tighten it like a well-oiled machine, the smoother your shoot day will go. If you were unprepared for the shoot day and are running around like a chicken with your head cut off, it’s like throwing piles of cash into a barrel and lighting it on fire.