Insider's Secrets to Planning Video Production
Everyone who plans a video production has something to sell, information to deliver or a story to tell. All good video productions hold the viewer’s attention until its conclusion.
Selling can be as overt as a commercial or as covert as product placement. One of the first, if not the first, examples of product placement was the Empire State Building in the 1933 movie, King Kong. It was the building that the giant ape climbed. Though there was no money exchanged for the use of the building in the movie, it did benefit the owners of the building by drawing attention to it in a time when they were having trouble renting space. Information delivery can be simple and straight forward such as in a news story, or more cloaked as in a training video where humorous vignettes are used that make us laugh at examples of mistakes to avoid. Story telling runs the gamut from comedy to tragedy with infinite variations for you to imagine.
The key to a successful production, regardless of its purpose, has several components including: Script, Production Planning, Production, Post Production and, in the case of some productions, Distribution. I am a video producer, who typically produces videos for others. I have never personally gotten involved with distribution, so I’ll address the first four topics and wish you luck finding someone knowledgeable and honest to help you with distribution… you’ll need that luck.
A script is valuable for all productions. Some may say that they are planning a reality show or nature documentary and don’t know what video they will get, so how can they write a script? This is only a partial problem, with an easy solution. A script outline with undefined parts for the unknowns should be written. As video is shot the undefined spots should be filled in and other spots modified as needed to accommodate the new video. The script, even in an un-finalized form, is important to communicate your plan to others on the production team. For most productions the message or story to be told should be clearly known and, therefore, a complete script should be written and approved by those in control (paying the bills) before even scheduling any production.
There are two commonly used script formats. One is a screen play format, which is written as a narration of scene and character description followed by the characters’ lines. This format works well for entertainment productions, where much of the details of implementing the scene’s production is under the control of the director. For these types of productions some choose to produce storyboards, drawings or photos that define camera angles and blocking for every significant shot in a production. Whether in storyboard or expanded scene description, doing this goes a long way to bring the story alive. It forces the director to think about and plan how to visually convey the story’s message.
The second script method is one we commonly use for commercials and non-entertainment productions. It is a three column script, typically with scene number on the left, video description in the middle and audio defined on the right. For timing critical scripts, such as TV or movie theatre commercials, I often add two additional columns after the scene number; one is for scene time and other for cumulative time. This multi-column system is very useful in helping the writer organize audio and video in a way to ensure there is enough or not too much of each for every scene. It is also a very clear way to communicate to a client the precise timing, making it easier to explain why you can’t say the store’s address, what it’s near, phone number, web site, and sell his product in 30 seconds.
The script is the ‘road map’ that the key creative personnel will follow to deliver the message of the production.
Video Production Planning
OK. I understand production planning is not glamorous or particularly creative, but it is an essential component to success.
Some planning elements are obvious, such as scheduling crew, actors and location. Others you may have to think about such as permits, insurance and security.
In the end production planning should detail who should be where when, what needs to be accomplished and coordinate what ancillary support is needed (permits, insurance, licenses, security, releases, accounting, attorney, union contracts, catering, travel, shipping, transportation…). Think about what will happen if your production is stopped indefinitely by a permit or union problem, or worse: no lunch. You need to plan ahead.
Many folks think production, actually shooting some video, is the most enjoyable part of an overall video effort. Production is where money can get spent very quickly. The crew can be large and poor planning can result in a high priced crew sitting around doing nothing.
Production is where the writer’s vision begins to materialize. Through the actors, the director guides the production. Other key creative personnel are critical to the look and emotion in each moving picture captured. Understanding the message defined in the script and effectively getting that material recorded is the director’s purpose. Acting, camera positions angles and moves, lighting, audio, scenery, costumes, and on and on are all elements that bring a production to life.
Video Post Production
Now it’s time to bring it all together. If you’re not the type to watch pain dry or grass grow, stay out of the edit suite. This is a job for detail oriented, meticulous and creative people. An editor (video and audio) is another interpreter of the script, often under the supervision of the director. Here is where the vision of the scriptwriter finally comes together. Editing is much more than creating a flow of coordinated video and audio; it enhances and reinforces the emotion and message of a production. It integrates audio and video in a way designed to add to and not distract from the purpose of the production. An editor must have an exceptional sense of timing and the ability to integrate all the elements of a production to enhance the script’s message.
Some say there are three stories that come out a production: The one that’s written, the one that’s shot and the one that is edited. I would add a fourth: The one that the viewer, who is not involved with the production, sees. A well planned production will have four related stories, hopefully each one successively better. Beware of laughter at the inappropriately crafted drama. I’ve seen that happen more than once. It’s not a pretty sight.
Warning: This is where you can lose your shirt. Make sure you have an extra one before attempting to work with a distributor, and if you expect to get any money out of the deal – don’t hold your breath.
If you’ve read this far you’re probably serious about producing a video. The best general advice I can give you is to seek the advice of those, who are successful at producing videos similar to what you want to do.
If you are thinking about starting a video business, don’t neglect the word business. I strongly urge you to be sure you want to run a business and thoroughly understand what that effort entails before starting.
Never forget video production motivates, informs and/or entertains. It is a medium of sight and sound. All elements of a production should combine to enhance the production’s purpose. One weak element can distract the viewer from that purpose. It’s a business. If you can’t afford to do it right, you’re wasting your time and money.
Producer and owner of A Cut Above Video Productions, Inc. since 1988