The Sometimes Confusing World of Video Production

In business and non profit settings, more people called upon to commission video production than ever before. For the uninitiated, the process can be confusing and intimidating. Below is information about the video production process that may help you think through your project.

Film, video, program, or motion picture? With the advance of digital cinema technologies all three terms are used to refer to videos.

There are many different kinds of video production companies. Those new to commissioning video production are sometimes overwhelmed by the large number and variety of production companies.

Some production companies are large, others small. Some small companies consist of a camera owner-operator who fills all production roles. Other companies consist of a producer or group of producers who function as general contractor and assemble production teams to suit the requirements of specific projects (for this reason, size not the best indicator of a companies capacity). Some companies only do work for hire on behalf of clients, others are focused on developing and distributing original programming. Some specialize in one kind or genre of program. Some specialize in work for particular kinds of clients. Some specialize in just one or a couple of the steps in the production process. Some provide related strategic marketing advice.

The best way to find a company suited to your project is to contact companies that have produced projects like you are planning. If you are working with a marketing form or advertising agency, their staff may have suggestions. Most production companies find their work by referral.

Good work takes time. High-quality video production is both and art and a complex technical craft that requires the collaborative work of many people and, often, a number of project iterations. Getting the results you want requires allowing appropriate time for a project to be developed. Production companies that recognize this reality will quote a project-based fee.

When to produce a video. Videos are most effective when you have a story to tell, when you want to establish a relationship, when you want to convey a feeling, when you want to demonstrate or show something, when you have a well-defined message to convey. Videos are less well suited to delivering complex technical information or cover topics in precise detail. Writing is still the best form for some communications.

A script is essential. Just as one would not think of building a house without a plan, it's unwise to think of attempting a video production project without a script. A script sets the scope of a production project, and project specifications are derived from it.

It’s important to understand that a project budget is largely derived from the project’s script. Just as choices about materials and construction methods determine the cost of building a house, so do the creative choices made in a script drive production budgets.

If you are developing a script in-house, it’s a good idea to consult with a producer early-on. He or she can advise you about what is practical and possible within your budget, and their advice can help you decide what firm is best for your project. If you don’t have a script, many production companies help develop a creative concept and scripts from a client need or idea.

In general, time spent refining a script is far, far less expensive than time in production. Allowing sufficient time to write and refine a script lays a foundation for an efficient production process and can save thousands in the long run.

Quality is measured and cost is determined by production value. There is a broad spectrum of video program quality. At high end are shows like ITV’s Downton Abby (produced by Carnival Films) or the BBC’s Planet Earth. At the low end home-spun marketing efforts found on YouTube, like Wes Haven’s Wine Blog.

Low-end production is defined by footage shot on consumer or so-called “prosumer” cameras with small sensor sizes. The camera is often hand held and records video via a built-in zoom lens and audio via an in-camera microphone. Camera movement is not scripted and often simply static. The video is shot under whatever light is available. There is minimal editing and sparing use of motion graphics, if any. The talent appearing in the film is inexperienced and often ad-libbing their remarks. Music, if used, is stock music.

High-end production is defined by footage shot on professional cameras in high-definition digital formats (2K or 4K) with 16mm or 35mm sensors. High-quality interchangeable prime lenses are used. There may be multiple camera angles. B-roll and cut-in footage is often used. Camera are mounted on high-quality supports and camera movement is scripted and follows the action appropriately in aid of storytelling. Video is shot under specialized lighting instruments and lighting is designed invoke a mood or feeling. Audio is recorded separately on high quality external recorders. Talent is experienced and performing on the basis of a well-crafted script. Footage is edited, in accord with film conventions, to conform with the script. Music may be commissioned to accompany the final edit.

Between the low-end and the high-end are many intermediate combinations of techniques and resources. Recent advances in digital technology have made getting high-end production results less expensively than ever before. However, due to the greater complexity of the high-end approach, it remains more expensive than the low-end.

How production values should be chosen. The best guide to choosing production values are the expectations of the audience your project will be directed at.

If your marketplace is one where perceptions of quality matter, then it’s likely important to aim at the highest-quality your budget will allow. Your audience’s expectations are often shaped by films that compete or will compete directly with yours. It may be important to match or exceed the efforts of competitors.

There is ongoing debate about how much production quality matters on platforms YouTube and Facebook. The growing consensus is that with 500 hours of video being uploaded to YouTube every minute quality of video production is an important way to stand out.

Most of today’s leading YouTube stars – those getting millions of views -- pay careful attention production quality. Recent surveys of YouTube’s youth audience, suggest that quality is important to them which deciding what content to pay attention to.

Remember your audience. When planning a video production project for branding, sales, or advocacy, the core question you should ask is: “what do I want the people who see the film to do or think after they have seen it.” In our experience, clients are sometimes not as focused on answering this basic question as they should be. Too often a project gets made for the client’s internal rather than external audience and so is not as effective at might be and its ROI lower than expected.

There are many potential legal issues. Producing a video can raise issues about copyright, trademarks, licensing, right of publicity, work for hire, and insurances, to mention a few. It’s wise to consider such issues as a project is being developed and script written. While he or she can’t function as an attorney, an experienced producer should be able to help you identify and consider the legal issues your project might involve and suggest which might require attention from legal counsel.

A video production contract is important. Owing to provisions of the federal law governing the copyright of motion pictures and audiovisual works, it is important that you have a contract specifying who will own the rights to any production you commission.

Video production is a five-step process. While noting that every project is its own journey, here's a brief overview of what each step generally entails:

Development. An idea for a video is considered, pondered, strategized, agonized over. Style, look, feel, goals, technical requirements, and audience are determined and legal ramifications evaluated. The tortured is idea translated into the first draft of a script. The script may redrafted as creative deliberations continue. Speculation about who might be involved in, or "attached to" the project may shape the process. A ballpark budget estimate may be developed. Ideas about how to promote the final work are considered.

Pre-Production. The final draft script is used to create a working plan for production of the project. Sometimes a storyboard is created to establish a plan for camera movements and to pre-visualize the film in detail. A production schedule is created and finalized. Equipment rental, if required, is planned and scheduled. Talent and crew for key production roles are hired, if and as required. Production locations are scouted and confirmed. A firmer budget is determined.

Production. Footage is shot in studio and/or on location. Motion graphics and special effects footage may also be created and studio and location production proceed. Shot footage may be evaluated to determine the need for re-shooting, or adjustments to the schedule or the script.

Post-Production. Footage created in the production phase is edited and assembled into the program envisioned by the final script. Different edits of the program may be created and considered before a final version is chosen.

Distribution. The final edit is delivered to a broadcaster or exhibitor, or uploaded to a server. Distribution includes promotion of the work so that an audience can find it as planned.

Questions about video production? Drop us a line and we'll do our best to answer them.