Why Planning your Video Project Matters
When I first started Infinite Focus one of the first principles I adopted was to always plan a project. This may seem basic, but I’ve encountered so many people, even bigger companies, that skimp on the planning and have a “shotgun” approach where they shoot a bunch of footage and hope to find a story in the editing process. Everyone is familiar with the concept of storyboarding a film or fictional commercial, but as a company whose bread and butter is corporate documentaries (for now) we’ve made it a point to plan as much as we can how we will tell our clients’ stories. Our clients want to tell people, in short order, who they are and why they matter. We’ve been privileged to work with clients that genuinely do amazing things, and our job is to tell that story in a compelling way! To do this well it takes a great deal of effort and planning.
I recently reached out to Philip Bloom, an insanely talented and prolific documentarian (among other things), on Twitter to see if he had any thoughts on pre-producing documentary work. Turns out he wrote a blog post about his corporate documentary for Facebook. (It’s important to note that similarities to that blog are genuine, and I am not presenting Bloom’s process as our own, my utmost respect for him makes any similarity all the more flattering.) Upon reading the blog I was so impressed how closely our philosophy and process in producing corporate documentaries lined up. It reinforced for me that we need to not only continue pre-producing our corporate documentary work, but to always achieve a higher level of professionalism in our process. We’ve been keeping our shoulder to the plow for almost two years trying to produce higher quality media all the time, always pushing ourselves, and it’s become more important than ever to spend the time planning the project before we ever take the camera out of the case. We know that to achieve the quality that we want to a well thought out and executed pre-production process is going to be crucial.
So how do we pre-produce a Corporate Documentary?
1. Do your homework.
When I first hear a client may be interested in working with us my very first step is to visit their website. Who do they say they are, how are they telling their story? Graphics are really important to us, so what is their logo, where are they located, what kind of visuals does their brand evoke? Most people put a lot of thought into how they present themselves on their website; and looking at that gives me a great starting place to understand their mission and their brand. I usually then jump to their Facebook page, twitter, or anywhere else that they may be having public conversations. This gives me a preview of their personality as a company.
2. Ask them their story.
This may seem obvious, but it really is so important. Once I’ve familiarized myself with them publicly I will present a series of questions in an email, usually to dig a little deeper into the history, or to try to connect dots I’ve found while researching. I assure them that our main goal is to tell their story, and they’re usually very eager to answer questions and tell me the whole story. There is nothing that can replace a 15 minute phone call with a CEO who is passionate about their business. This is the person who has the big picture, and is the most personally invested.
3. Develop a basic structure.
Once we’ve completed steps 1 & 2 we put together what we KNOW the story will be. We know who we will interview, how to set the scene, where the story starts, and what the video will promise to the viewer. This usually consists of 3-5 parts. An example would be:
1. Company history and Family tradition
2. Focused on quality
3. We knew we needed to do something amazing to bring our product to the world
4. Something everyone can enjoy, we’re inviting the world to share in our tradition
These are the bones to the story. The client now has a clear picture of how we’re telling their story.
4. Write our questions
This is a documentary, I am a big believer in letting people tell their story in a genuine way, its their story. For this kind of video I want to avoid a teleprompter at all costs. We know what the story is going to be, so we have to craft the questions to get the answers we want, these are things we already know the client believes, we know what they’re going to say, we’ve done our research, we just have to get them to say it in a genuine way. Some people can get nervous in front of a camera, but its my job to make them comfortable, and in no time at all they’re telling their story with the flare in their eye that got them into business in the first place. If someone is particularly nervous, or I’m interviewing a lot of different people (for the Wyoming Catholic College project we interviewed 34 people in 2 days, each in a different setup) I’ll send out a couple of the easier questions so they have confidence knowing what their answer will be for those couple of questions.
5. Shotlist & Graphics Style Frames
It’s important to know that you’re going to get the right shots, and we’ve never had a corporate documentary where we had too much time on our hands, you almost always have a limited budget and timeline, so planning your shots is of utmost importance. We have to anticipate what our interviews will talk about and be able to support that visually. When we’re shooting if we see something amazing that we didn’t plan we’ll get that too, but we know that we’re coming home from the shoot with everything that we need. We also want to generate a few frames of the beginning and end of the animations that we’re planning, this gives us a starting point, we can show our client the direction we’re going and get approval before we find ourself 2 days before delivery and the client doesn’t really like the graphics. This is incredibly important, the client has to be happy with the graphics, style frames can save you from late nights re-doing graphics in a time crunch the few days before delivering a final.
Planning Matters, the ultimate success of a project is insured in the planning process. We can make do with not having the worlds best equipment, the most important thing is telling the story properly, and that’s how we’ve made our clients happy and produced quality work.