Corporate Video (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) Part II
This is part two of a two-part series. [Read part one here]
[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.]
Do not use stock footage as a crutch. Use it if only absolutely necessary. Stock footage can be great but most of the time it seems disingenuous when styles, personalities and realism are thrown to the wayside. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to create a meaningful video using all stock—I’m just saying to tread carefully.
Stay calm. Be cool. In many Hollywood films, it’s status quo to view a chaotic movie set with people running around and frantically trying to solve a last minute problem. That’s only because it looks more fascinating on camera. In reality—this couldn’t be farther from the truth. A practically executed set should be boring and slow. A crew member running on set is unsafe and highly unprofessional. If you do your pre-production right, the crew should be slow and steady (of course, they should still be efficient with their lighting setups and think ahead to what’s needed for the next scene). You set the tone of the shoot. If you are nervous, frantic and rushed, the crew will be frantic and prone to making more mistakes (or cause safety hazards). If you are relaxed, focused and assertive, the company will follow suit.
Avoid doing too many interviews. Remember this rule. The more people we see, the less we care about each individual person. This is the second cardinal sin of the corporate film. I’ve seen it too many times to count: a tiny window for b-roll and an overwhelming schedule for interviews…that of which we only use four percent of. Be selective with your interviews and be sure you have ample time to film b-roll.
Have a distribution plan. Too many times I’ve been involved in a project in which I’ve poured out my blood sweat and tears only to see it rack an astounding 53 views on YouTube. A release plan is a whole different blog article entirely but maybe I can ask a few questions to stir some brainstorming. Is there an event in which the release coincides with? Is there a press release or blog we can attach it to? Would the news media be interested in this? Do we have a budget to promote this on YouTube or Facebook? Is there an influencer or business we can partner with to get more eyes on the screen?
Releases vetted by an attorney for EVERYONE. No surprises. It’s no surprise that on-camera subjects will come back after the fact and demand you pull the footage of them. This can prove difficult if they have a key sound bite or even if your project is archived. Make sure an attorney has signed off on your release forms and EVERYONE signs on the line that is dotted.
Some people are great in person but not good on camera. I’ve had people that are amazing conversationalists freeze within the confines of a camera roll and bright lights. If this is the case, make sure you have backups or people that have been vetted by personnel familiar with video production. Maybe you can hold your own mock interview? This may seem excessive, but will save you hours of remorse on the shoot day.
It usually takes about 60-90 minutes to get off the first shot. By the time everyone has gotten the lay of the land, chatted with the right person and ingested their caffeine, this is the optimal timeline in which the camera starts rolling. However, if you are keen on capturing a specific moment in the early morning or want to capture footage from the onset—please communicate this to the video production crew. Usually, we’ll do a build-out before call time so that we can roll-out from the vehicles ready to record.
Try to keep the momentum up as long as possible. Don’t tell people when the camera is rolling. This is essential for non-actors. Between takes is usually the time where they get distracted and start to question their interview appearance or delivery. Usually, I don’t make a big deal about the whole process. Just keep the dialogue moving and keep it seamless.
You must be generous and giving of yourself when working with a non-actor. It’s hard to get people involved in a movie. In Hollywood, it seems so interesting (like a bunch of busy bees in a hive!) but in reality it is very much a “hurry up and wait” scenario. If I’m directing non-actors, I usually do all I can to make them feel comfortable and distracted. Saying “please” and “thank you” can go a long way. Look out for the people who are working on your corporate film. Feed them. Over-communicate with them and thank them. It will reflect in the final product.
With non-actors, prepare to get what you want on the first take. For film set veterans, we are used to the monotony of take-after-take. We are used to the process and the cadence. For non-actors, it’s easy to get bored or exhausted a few takes in. Obviously, this is not their fault.
Interview fatigue is a thing. People will generally last only twenty minutes before their brain is fried and their answers become jumbled and they can’t talk right. This is true of anyone who’s not used to speaking on camera. News anchors however are trained for this and can go on for hours.
Show, don’t tell. The third cardinal sin in corporate video production is voice-over which states how amazing a company or proprietary process is. If I go up to you and tell you that I’m the best basketball player in the world would you believe me? Or would you believe me better if I played one-on-one against Lebron James and dominated him at his own game?Don’t just say ‘the old lady screamed.’ Bring her on and let her scream. –Samuel Clemens, aka, Mark Twain.
Your customer is the focus not you or your spouse. One of my favorite quotes by Walter Payton, “When you’re good at something, you’ll tell everyone. When you’re great at something, they’ll tell you.”
No more whiteboard videos please. I guess this is where I’m supposed to say something about a dead horse?
You don’t have to stay on the bleeding edge of trend, but you do have to have someone on the project that is. Having someone on the team that is culturally aware is critical to not sounding insensitive or creating something that will turn others off.
Avoid snake oil salesman video production companies. Video is a right place right time kind of thing. Avoid companies that constantly spout statistics about video marketing. For example: 80% of people are more apt to purchase a product after viewing a video. All I can think is, “Didn’t we already know that 20 years ago?” To me, companies like this are the door to door salesman of the marketing world.
Always use two cameras for interviews. If someone flubs up or you want a more personal angle, it’s always wise to have two angles to choose from.
Have on-camera people bring options. I literally had a shoot where the onscreen personality wore the same color as the green screen they were supposed to stand in front of. The shoot had to be rescheduled.
Have a budget in mind before you go into meetings. I often hear, “The person who states the budget first, loses.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our job is to make your budget work for you. It’s like going up to a real estate seller and simply saying, “I want a house.” On the flip side we usually come to the table with a wide variety of videos where we break down the budget and the time involved on making a particular style of media. The more we know about the needs of the project, the more we can give you an accurate price and meet expectations.
Spend money in pre-production to save money in production. This adage is older than time itself, “If you fail to plan, plan to fail.” No stone should be left unturned.
We can only fix so many things in post. I’ll leave you with this XKCD comic. Simply ask your producer or vfx artist what it will take to accomplish something. I once had someone ask me to fill in the water of a pool from a moving aerial shot. Sure, give me a 3D artist, compositor, look developer, 3D software and a render engine and I can do that for you for four times the budget of the actual shoot.
You cannot serve too many masters on a video shoot. The more checkboxes you have to hit, the more diluted and poor your video will turn out. Every time. This is the fourth cardinal sin of corporate video production.
It’s okay to say, “I know what I want, here’s the plan, just go shoot it and make it look good.” That is perfectly fine. We just want to make you happy!
Either lean heavily on the side of “I know exactly what I want” or heavily on, “I have no idea what I want. Help me out.”
Storyboard if you can. This is more paramount for narrative driven pieces. If it’s a shoot with 3 interviewees and assorted b-roll this is usually not necessary.
Some nitty gritty shoot day details: Create a call sheet (usually the producer will do this for you). Find parking for the crew and a place to unload gear. Make sure you know where they can access freight elevators if they are available. Make sure you have appropriate clearances to shoot and inform all relevant departments of your plan for the day. Make water available at all times and know where bathrooms are. Put up signs that say “Filming and recording in progress. Microphones are sensitive. Please be quiet. Sorry for the inconvenience.” Make sure all safety needs are met including things like PPE, hardhats, etc. Make sure all interviewees know the plan including where and when to be at a certain place. Make sure you schedule time for hair and makeup. HD cameras are very sharp so it’s important to have someone that can remove sheen or do a quick touch-up.
Ask a video production company if they have a backup plan for your footage. How would you like to lose the footage of a $30,000 shoot day due to a computer error? Not fun.
Schedule enough time for b-roll. Most of the time, b-roll comes as an afterthought. You will pay for it dearly when you are in the editing bay.
Get your soundtrack professionally mixed. Having an audio engineer mix your audio for the right speakers is a drop in the bucket compared to the overall cost of the shoot. Sound is the MOST IMPORTANT part of the production. People can usually forgive a bad looking video with good sound but people will be immediately turned off to a great looking video with poor sound.
Not seeing something important in here? Let us know in the comments!
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