This post was created for those who are looking to delve into the world of video production. Understanding this process can help you, as a marketer or business owner, produce professional level video marketing campaigns and leave the amateur work behind.
Once a concept has been decided, the creative team will begin writing the script. The script should outline the characters, their actions, dialogue, and any other non-dialogue aspects of storytelling. For example, any specific camera instructions that contribute to the story, such as a rack focus from foreground to a character in the background, should be noted within the script. It is also important to keep the format for the final spot in mind when scripting.
Often, spots made for online viewing need to be shorter format. Whether a six second bumper or 15-30 second ad, it is wise to consider storytelling through imagery rather than dialogue. This will allow you to get the most impact out of a shorter time span. Additionally, in the case of creating short form ads for youtube, it is wise to build your ad out from its smallest form. Start with the concept in its simplest form, the bumper, then build out to larger 15-30 second ads from there. Once the script is given the green light from the creative team and client, the process of storyboarding can begin.
This article highlights the art of writing for a six second bumper.
Storyboarding / Shot List
Think of the storyboard, and shot list, as the production team’s road map to reach the desired destination; the completed spot. By planning out your shots, you are charting the route for the shoot. The storyboard outlines the desired framing and pertinent information for each individual shot. Here is a great example of the methods of storyboarding.
Unlike the storyboard, the shot list details the order in which shots are to be captured. This method allows the shoot to run as efficiently as possible. For example, if shooting a scene of dialogue between two people, often there are several angles to capture, typically a mixture of tight and wide shots.
In capturing a scene which may take up to an entire day of production, it does not make sense to move the camera, lighting, and so on, after each actor’s line for the duration of the scene.
By utilizing a shot list, shots are captured in the order of each set up, regardless of their order in the script. For example, a shot list might instruct the production team to capture the first and final lines of dialogue in a wide shot to start. Followed by all of Actor A’s lines in a closeup for the 2nd shot. And finally, all of Actor B’s dialogue in the reverse angle for the 3rd shot. Though the lines are not captured in the linear way the script is written, it saves a great deal of time.
In deciding the ideal location, the first question to ask is, is this production best executed on location or in a studio scenario? If the production requires a more stylized, surreal approach, or will rely heavily on special effects tools such as blue screen, the latter is often the desired option. An example of this would be the “Get A Mac” campaign, which aired in the later half of the 2000s.
Rather than shooting on location, the ads place the talent in a white space, alongside various props, placing emphasis on the two characters rather than the location. The white space and set serve these spots well, as the focus is on the difference between the character's personalities as a metaphor for a Mac vs. PC.
If trying to execute a script where the goal is to immerse the audience in an authentic, realistic setting, shooting on location is preferable.
Prior to filming, the production team should make an initial location scout, where test photos and footage are gathered. This allows for planning on how best to set up the desired shots, as well as decisions to be made regarding lighting needs.
Additionally, for exterior locations, scouting allows the production team to determine the best time of day for shooting. It also allows for more effective scheduling decisions based around the variables in a given location; the position of the sun being one example.
Crew / Roles
“A Writer needs a pen, a painter needs a brush, but a filmmaker needs an army.”
- Orson Wells
From the director calling the shots, to the grips tending to the odds and ends, there are many roles in video production. The synergy of these roles combined are what make for a great shoot.
When entering a production, the production crew should have clearly defined roles. Clearly defined roles will allow for the production to run smoothly, with each team member having clear responsibilities. Additionally, this will streamline the decision making process and allow crew members to “stay in their lane” during filming.
Think of your production with a divide and conquer mentality. Many of the roles in production are demanding in and of themselves.
For example, if a camera operator needs to nail a tricky shot that requires motion, they can’t be distracted by adjusting the lighting in between takes. Or, let’s say, there is a scene with 4 different microphones running at once. The crew member monitoring audio levels should only be focused on those microphones. He or she should not need to worry about how the blocking of the last scene looked on camera.
In short, if each member of the crew can focus on their given responsibilities, the team should be able to ensure the product being created is of the highest quality.
Here is an article highlighting the hierarchy of a video production team. https://www.522productions.com/the-roles-and-hierarchy-of-a-video-production-team
“If you cast it properly, everything takes place very easily. If you cast it improperly you’re fighting an uphill battle.”
- Clint Eastwood
Casting has the power to elevate a production to the next level. The right talent can make the difference between connecting with your desired audience, or missing the mark completely.
The countless hours of hard work from the creative team and production team may be overlooked, if the talent on screen does not resonate with the audience. Decisions regarding casting should not be taken lightly, and a great deal of importance should be placed on talent when allocating budget for the production.
Relying on a handful of talent agencies to field the right candidates allows for the production team, as well as clients, to view auditions and ensure that talent possesses the right look, skills, and vibe for a given part.
As with any other trade, it is important to hire professionals with experience in their given field. When trying to trim production budgets, clients may suggest using friends and family in place of agency actors for on screen talent.
Though this does trim costs on the surface level, it is important to consider how these kinds of decisions affect the quality of the product. If non-professional talent requires more takes, and more coaching, to gather their needed shots, the result is more time needed from the full production staff. Ultimately these kinds of decisions can end up being more costly than cost efficient.
Here is an article highlighting the different types of casting: https://yamdu.com/en/blog/a-guide-to-successful-casting/
Another important consideration prior to production, is wardrobe. At risk of stating the obvious, wardrobe should always serve the character of the actor on screen. Authenticity in wardrobe choices have a big impact on the believability of the video, and how it may be received by the desired audience.
Costumes are readily available online from websites such as Amazon, however, it is important to consider how a costume will translate on screen. High level production value will not make up for costume choices that look cheap and inauthentic. For that reason it is a wise decision to employ the services of a wardrobe professional or costume shop.
Other considerations for wardrobe include making sure the wardrobe fits within the color palette of the spot, as well as making sure the wardrobe choices will not be distracting on screen. From a technical standpoint, avoid clothing with tight patterns as it can result in a moiré effect. This effect is a phenomena where lines and patterns appear to move on camera. These lines and patterns can prove very distracting as well as difficult, if not impossible, to remove in post production.
Blocking a scene is simply working out the details of an actor's moves in relation to the camera.
“You can also think of blocking as the choreography of a dance or a ballet: all the elements on the set (actors, extras, vehicles, crew, equipment) should move in perfect harmony with each other."
- New York Film Academy
For efficiency of the production, blocking should be rehearsed before cameras start rolling. By utilizing a “dry run” the production team can ensure any movement within the scene occurs at the right moment. This could be as simple as an extra crossing in the background, or as complex as a Michael Bay-esque fight sequence.
Additionally, blocking does not only apply to talent and camera movements. It could for example, be shifts in lighting, or physical movement of lights as well. Blowing the perfect take because of a production misstep can be quite disheartening. Not to mention costly depending on the scale of the production. Blocking can be streamlined by using physical markers on set to indicate starting and stopping points for talent and crew members.
Lighting will vary a great deal depending on what kind of shoot you are on. Lighting for a sit down television style interview is completely different than the lighting you would try to achieve for a cinematic project. Ultimately, lighting should give the subject and scene depth. Without the utilization of lighting, often a scene may look flat. This means that there is no lighting to give separation between the subject and background, often leaving the subject lacking shape in their face.
A camera translates light differently than the human eye and having a lighting professional on a production team who understands those differences, and how best to manipulate them, is invaluable. A lighting professional has the knowledge of how adjustments to lighting will be interpreted by the camera, as well as how to plan around variables in a given location. Lighting for video is far more complicated than setting lights and turning them on. Lights may need to be diffused to soften shadows, existing light or sunlight in an exterior scene may need to be blocked by utilizing flags, and creative rigging solutions may need to be employed to hide and place lights within the scenario.
Lighting has the ability to not only make the scene more aesthetically pleasing, but also to add emotion and drama to a scene, altering how an image is perceived, and adding subtext to what is written in the script. Lighting a subject from below, for example, casts shadows on the talent’s face, creating a suspenseful tone for the scene, whereas soft, balanced lighting can give a subject a comforting on screen tone.
Here is a great summary of some cinematic lighting techniques:
“The secret to good video is good audio.”
If the ear is struggling to hear muffled audio, distracted by the hum of an undesirable frequency captured during production, or being assaulted by the crackle of wireless interference, one thing is for certain; The audience can not be immersed in the experience created by your video. Audio should serve as another level of depth to your production. Another means to transport your audience into the space you have created. Anything that falls short of that standard will only serve as a distraction to the final product.
As the mediums through which people consume media shift, more and more people are viewing content through streaming services on their home televisions as well as cellphones. Oftentimes, these programs may be on as “background noise” in the household. For example, someone may play an interview on youtube while they are cooking. Though they are not paying attention to the video they are still listening to the programming.
Another example would be people who play music from youtube while working out at the gym. The point being, even when video is not present, you should make an effort to ensure your audio makes an impact on the audience, as your ad could be played at a time when the viewer is not actively watching, but only listening.
How can you ensure good audio is captured during production? As with any other aspect of production it is important to employ a professional, with expertise in capturing audio in the field. A skilled audio professional will be able to make decisions in regards to what microphone(s) to use for given scenarios.
From directional microphones such as shotgun mics and boom mics, to wireless lavaliers and beyond, there are many options to choose from. An audio professional will also ensure that all the assets needed for the post-production team, such as room tone, are captured on set.
In addition to selecting the proper microphones, typically audio personnel operate an external audio recorder with a mixing interface to control channel volume. This allows for the audio gain to be set at the proper level as not to distort or over modulate the audio, and conversely, not have the signal be too quiet.
Typically audio is recorded on an external device from the camera, for this reason, it is important to utilize a slate during production. If a slate is not available, even a simple handclap recorded on camera at the beginning of each take is sufficient.
Where video and audio will be synchronized in post production, this visual and audio queue will allow editors to precisely align the clips. There are multiple programs that automate the syncing process, however, a slate or clap are still helpful in case an issue occurs while syncing in post production software.
For more on the basics of capturing audio for video:
Once production has concluded, it is best practice to double check the shot list, and reference the recorded shots to be certain all needed footage and dialogue have been captured. Once completed, and the team is absolutely certain there are no additional shots or pickups required, production is wrapped, talent are relieved of their duties and the team will begin to tear down equipment for the day.
Capture and Sync
The first step in editing is to capture all footage, photos and audio recorded during production. Some production teams will keep a log while shooting to indicate which takes were good or bad and any other relevant notes. This practice will save time in the editing room as the editor can work with the designated shots, rather than reviewing every clip captured for the good takes.
It is also a way for the director to communicate what they feel are the best takes to the editor without the need to be present, and breathing down the editors neck (reference back to the “crew roles” section). This can also aid in saving hard drive space, so that bad takes are not captured and stored. That said, some editors prefer to have all takes, regardless of if they were good or bad, just in case some “magic within the take” was overlooked by the production team.
As most productions will capture audio and video on separate devices, once captured, the next step is to synchronize them together. This can be done manually within editing software such as Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Pro, or by utilizing software that automates this process; These kinds of programs are particularly helpful for scenarios where there are multiple microphones capturing audio. Once the audio and video are synchronized within a sequence the editor can begin cutting the sequence together.
“For a writer, it's a word. For a composer or a musician, it's a note. For an editor and a filmmaker, it's the frames.
- Quentin Tarantino
There are many different aspects to video editing. From selecting the audio track(s) for a given edit, to determining the pace and stylistic choices such as color grading, editing has the power to completely transform what was captured in production. An editor must always ask themselves, what story is the piece trying to tell?
Cuts and pacing should work to serve that story. For this reason, it is often suggested that editors be allowed to complete their draft without the influence of the production team. The reason being that other production team members may be biased in their decisions for what clips to keep within an edit. A DP may be partial to a shot for its beauty and cinematic qualities, however, this clip might not align with the editors vision or the needed timing of the edit.
The Director and Editor should collaborate to ensure the project is aligning with the director’s vision, but as mentioned before, the skills and expertise of the editor should be trusted in creating the initial draft. A good example of the director / editor relationship would be long time collaborators, Quentin Tarantino and Sally Menke.
Whether utilizing a professional colorist, or relying on the editor, color correction and grading have a major impact on how an audience is able to immerse themselves within a video. Though every attempt should be made to match colors on the camera during production, inevitably, there may be slight differences in color between the cameras, or shot to shot once the footage is brought into the editing room. Color correction will ensure there are no dramatic shifts in color from one shot to the next, unless there is a stylistic choice intentionally making this happen.
While color correction provides continuity for the edit, color grading can give the edit a more stylized look. A horror film bathed in dark shadows, high contrast and a greenish hue gets a lot of its edgy look from decisions made by the colorist. A commercial for a summer beverage shot on the beach would have a completely different look, likely using bright saturated colors, and a summer palette. Color grading is an extension of a filmmakers storytelling toolbox, and another way to impact how the audience is moved by a video.
Here is a short example highlighting the impact of color grading:
Similar to color grading, audio is a key way to allow viewers to ‘experience’ a video rather than simply watching it. Audio editing goes much deeper than simply making sure you can hear who is speaking on screen, and that the audio is crisp and clean.
Professional audio editing requires layering audio to add depth to a scene, with background or natural sound, sound effects, music and dialogue. The audio must create a physical space for the audience, where they can feel the dynamics between the dialogue of talent and their environment. The audio editing process may also require foley work; recording sound effects in post production to enhance the edit.
Frequently editors are tasked with mixing audio for shorter form, internet videos. With advances in editing software, most of the tools needed to create a pleasant audio mix are a part of most major editing programs.
The format of the video and the medium through which it will be released are also important to keep in mind when creating the mix, as it will determine the appropriate approach for the final product. For example, a Youtube bumper ad might have booming top 40 music, with very compressed and processed voice over to grab the attention of a viewer. That level of processing would be inappropriate for a scene of dialogue that should have a more natural feel.
Once a draft of a mix is complete, a good practice is for the editor to review the mix without watching video to focus exclusively on the audio, and make decisions for how best to improve the mix. Though not always obvious, the visual often has an impact on how sound is perceived. By focussing only on the audio mix the editor can let their ears do the work.
Once the mix is complete, it is recommended to review the edit on multiple formats, through headphones, computer speakers, as well as television speakers. This will allow the editor to hear how the audience will experience the video in their chosen format, as well as make decisions on what the best “happy medium” is to allow the edit to sound as good as possible on all formats.
Finishing The Product
Once a draft is complete, the editor should export the video and take time to review all technical aspects of the project. This may require reviewing the video multiple times and focussing on specific aspects of the video with each pass. For example, the editor may focus exclusively on graphics for one viewing, then color, then audio and so on. Once the draft is complete, it can then be reviewed internally by those involved with the project, revised based on feedback and ultimately shared with the client for additional feedback and revisions.