Anyone who works in the video production industry long enough has had at least one disastrous video production. It is rare for a single cataclysmic event to derail a project. Commonly, these video productions were slowly strangled by poor leadership, unfocused work, over-tasked crew, and/or inability to adapt to changes. I originally was going to title this article “5 Ways to Royally Screw Up Your Video Production,” but I thought better of it and decided to keep my comments positive. This article is intended for clients intending to hire a video production company for corporate video work, but beginning producers and cameramen, as well as laypeople with an interest in video, should find something of interest here as well. Without further ado, I present “Five Ways to Avoid a Disaster on Your Next Video Production.”

  1. Have a Strong Vision for Your Video Production, and Plan for How to Accomplish That Vision.
    It should go without saying that the producer of a video project should have a strong vision of what the project should accomplish. Occasionally, that plan is not adequately conveyed to others working on the production. Sometimes we see things so strongly in our own minds that we think others working on the same project will have the same idea, but of course, this is not always the case. Years ago on a project for a local nonprofit, the client, who also acted as the producer, was involved with many other projects had little time to devote to the project. As a result, she often sent another individual to act as a producer in her stead. During the course of the project, several artistic decisions were made, based on a video that was presented as an example of how the end product should look. In addition, a second videographer was sent out to gather additional footage to add to the project. Finally, the voiceover script was not approved until after all interviews and B-roll had been shot. When the time came to edit the project with the producer, she was disappointed to find that the interviews were shot in a very different style than she expected (but that matched her example video) and there was very little footage that coincided with the recorded voiceover. Her suggested solution was to create an animation to cover the voiceover portion of the program, but by this time the project was over budget, near due, and our animator was knee-deep in other projects and unavailable to perform an emergency animadectomy on the edit. In frustration, the producer pulled the project to be completed elsewhere. I do not know if it ever saw the light of day. In theory, this video should have been a piece of cake to complete. Competent people were hired to perform each of the important aspects of the project. Unfortunately, a cohesive vision of the project was not formed between the producer and the crew, and in her absence, the crew performed their duties based on each person’s individual understanding of the project.
  2. Shoot B-roll That Compliments Your Voiceover and Interviews.
    Again, this should be a no-brainer, but we are often asked to go out and “shoot B-roll” BEFORE any scripting or interviews have been conducted! Sometimes this is due to situations beyond the control of the director or producer – perhaps the subject of the b-roll will only be in town for a short time or a machine will only be operational on a certain date – but often it is simply a case of poor planning. Having at least a basic script in hand, or conducting interviews that are vital to the project before shooting B-roll helps the production crew to target and capture images that support the story being told. Capturing footage before having the basic story in place can lead to a video that seems detached or poorly paced, and often wastes the budget on shooting imagery that will never be used.
  3. Hire Enough Crew to Get the Job Done Right.
    Content producers often believe they can do it all, and many certainly can. Some jobs can be completed with a one or two man crew, especially if the production involves few locations and minimal equipment. However, asking a single camera person to light and shoot ten interviews across six locations in a day while conducting the interviews and monitoring audio is a recipe for disaster. If your production calls for multiple locations and the need for the crew to work quickly and accurately, you must budget for and hire enough crew to get the job done. In addition to a director and cameraman, this may involve hiring a director of photography, who decides on the look and lighting of the production, a gaffer, who sets up those lights and makes sure that there is a sufficient electrical supply to run them, and a grip, who assists the gaffer. If audio is important to the project, it is always a good idea to hire a sound mixer, who will monitor audio levels, listen for distractions, and who usually can provide higher quality audio recording tools than most cameramen supply. Finally, a set designer will make sure that the look or style of your production is consistent throughout, and any production with on-screen talent should strongly consider hiring a make-up artist. Hiring the right crew for the job not only keeps things moving smoothly on production days, they guard against nasty surprises in the edit suite, when it is too late (or expensive) to make changes.
  4. Scout Your Recording Locations Beforehand.
    I cannot stress enough how important it is to scout the location in which you want to record before the day of the shoot. Taking the time to inspect the location beforehand allows the production crew to assess their lighting and audio needs, plan shots, and take into account the architecture and design of the location. As a client, consider attending the location scout along with the crew. You may decide that the paint or carpet color in one location is not desirable, the semi-trucks going back and forth on the nearby road are too noisy, or that the vase tucked away in the corner doesn’t fit in with your idea of how the video production should look. The crew can then be alerted to these concerns, and changes can be made or a new location selected.
  5. With Your Strong Vision in Mind, Be Flexible.
    There are, occasionally, times when even well thought out plans go awry. On one such project, the subject was a heavily modified vehicle. Over the course of several shoots and locations, the vehicle broke down, got stuck in a pond, and caught fire. In addition, several approved portions of the script were scrapped on the day of filming due to restrictions that were not made clear to us as the video production company. Yet as the production continued, we maintained a strong vision for the final product, incorporating changes into the script that would allow what we had already filmed to be strung together seamlessly. The end product was arguably a tighter and better-presented piece than the original script.

Nearly all video productions involve a considerable investment and are time-consuming affairs. Keeping the above suggestions in mind will go a long way toward making sure your project stays on budget, on schedule, and results in a video of which you can be proud.

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