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25 PRE PRODUCTION TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE VIDEO PRODUCTION
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Hours of programming produced
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WHAT IS PRE PRODUCTION?
Over the last few years we’ve seen a lot of nonsense on the web about what you need to do and go through to prepare and plan filming. Trust us, a lot of that info out there is just plain wrong.
So whether you’re reasonably new to film and video production or just need a refresher, take a quick spin through our definitive guide to commissioning video (and end up being a great client too!)
Why is pre production important? Well, this stage is where you would make all the important decisions about how to make a video – so they’d better be right! It’s true to say that pre production can make or break a film. The amount of planning and thought you put into this stage pays back many times over.
So what is included in pre production? Well, everything from your initial thoughts about the film to the moment the director says ‘action’ on the first filming day! We’re also often asked how long does pre production take? The answer is of course as long as a piece of string – but plan on it being weeks, if not months! Your pre production checklist will be massive – we promise you.
So read on and go with us through the steps of pre production in the production process.
DO YOU REALLY NEED A VIDEO?
Are you really sure the communication job you have in mind warrants a film? What about a brochure? Or a poster? Or an email campaign?
Sometimes clients come to us and say ‘we want a video about our product’ without giving any thought to actually what it is they want to communicate – or to whom. That’s a recipe for disaster normally. And in some cases a film is NOT what was required. Okay we could sell you one – but it wouldn’t do you much good!
A film without a specific purpose or that’s not aimed at a specific market is essentially like peeing in your bath. It’ll make you feel warm for a minute but after that it’ll do you no good whatsoever!
So … if you’re sure that a video is what you need, let’s look at some of the things that you as a client need to consider, before and during the production process.
JUST ONE FILM ISN’T ALWAYS COST-EFFECTIVE
So you’ve definitely decided to make a marketing video. Great. But just one? Consider:
- Shooting films takes time, even a simple interview. Far longer than most people expect. So for instance, what else can you get out of that one interview?
- Video Lighting is the one job that shouldn’t be rushed. Without artistic film lighting, your video could look terrible. And those appearing in it won’t thank you for that!
- People in the film business don’t charge by the hour. Normally it’s by the day.
- So accepting that everything takes a while, what else can you shoot in that day?
- If all the films are going to be quite short, plan to make several. The advantage of having more than one will far outweigh the cost of extra time spent in post production, and will bring your ‘unit cost’ right down!
- Why would you need several films? Stick with us …
KNOW WHO YOU’RE TALKING TO
You know your consumers. The people who buy your product or service. And a film works best when accurately aimed at a fairly target narrow audience.
But say you have a product or service that has quite a broad appeal and you have identified several different target audiences you need to talk to? In film, one size doesn’t have to fit all.
It’s easy to make two or more films aiming them at specific sections of your audience. A lot of scenes would be common but certain shots or perhaps lines of voiceover would differ, specifically to resonate with the particular target group you were aiming for.
With efficient pre production planning, all this can be organised well in advance of the shooting.
RESEARCH IS A MUST
Definitely you need to be on top of what your competition is doing. You may THINK you know who your competition is, but also check what Google thinks; effectively-applied SEO can change a lot of perceptions!
Have a look at what the competition’s films do and see what works (from your point of view) and what doesn’t. It’s something to keep at the back of your mind. Not to just rip off, please!
Looking at some of these films you should start to get a feel of what you might want in yours. Now see if you can find other films like them – but for products or services completely different to yours. Eventually if you do this long enough (or like us, work in the business) you’ll see that there are a lot of commonalities between them all. That’s because those commonalities are the things that work; certain things that people understand and certain things that actually sell rather well.
STOCK FOOTAGE AND POST PRODUCTION TRICKS
Don’t reinvent the wheel!
This is true for more than just making films, but what makes it relevant here is that reinventing the wheel takes time and money. And those are things you never have enough of when you make films.
For instance, although it would be nice to go to Aspen and film those skiers, is it really necessary when we can buy video stock footage that’s almost as good? Or do we really need a cloudless blue sky when what you can do in post production is make things look sunnier? (yes – it is possible!)
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO PRODUCE A VIDEO?
Not everything can happen today or tomorrow. If you’re one of those people who leaves everything to the last minute, you could well run into issues when dealing with a film schedule.
We’ve been doing this a long time. And we know that the more you plan in advance, the easier the shooting will be and less likelihood of anything being missed out or rushed as everyone’s running out of time.
Time spent planning with be repaid tenfold on the shoot and in the edit. So for instance the time to discuss what to ask the expert you flew in for half a day is not on the morning of the shoot with all the crew standing around – but some days or weeks before!
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO MAKE A VIDEO IN THE UK?
If you don’t work with film budgets regularly, you may not be aware of what a realistic budget IS. And because what WE would consider is a realistic budget can vary widely according to the requirements like location, crew size, kit required and so on, there’s really no way to give you a price list.
Some of the highest budgets in our business are for commercials. Making a 30 second video (the normal length of a commercial) can cost several hundred thousand – or just a couple of thousand. It all depends on the concept!
Ask us how much does it cost to make a two minute video and the our answer is you’re not going to get much change out of £4-5K for a simpler properly-crewed and resourced corporate production. That’ll give you a day’s worth of shooting with a highly experienced crew with all the video kit, lights and sound gear you’ll need. Move closer to £10K and you’re starting to see higher production values on screen for a couple of day’s shooting and some serious post production. And after that it’s wide open.
If you have a fixed budget, it’s wise to be open about it with your supplier, so that expectations are managed by everyone involved.
DO I NEED A SCRIPT FOR VIDEO?
There’s no need for a script unless you’re making a TV ad or something that will require a lot of people to have oversight over every word, like a highly technical training film. Don’t bother with the complexities of how to write a script at this stage. Detailed script writing (if it’s needed) can come later once you start working with your production team. If you need to know more about scripts and need a script layout check our resources section.
In the past we’ve flown half-way around the world to make films that didn’t have an actual script – and the voiceover was written afterwards! But what we did have was a treatment – a clear one-pager that stated exactly what the film would do, who it was aimed at, what messages needed to be communicated and where we were going.
In these cases we were not sure how the story would develop and what we would be able to film, so a script would have been superfluous. Don’t be fooled by self-styled internet experts who tell you otherwise!
WHY DO YOU NEED A STORYBOARD?
There’s no need for storyboarding in many cases. Storyboards are all well and good when you’re making (say) a TV or web ad when everything needs to be approved and planned beforehand – and in those cases we’ll suggest one, and can show you ones we’ve prepared for previous productions.
They’re also useful when agencies and production companies work together on a commercial and a storyboard (or an animatic of it – which is basically a storyboard put down on video with a soundtrack) is also used to pitch the idea to the client.
But for many productions, the expense of preparing a board – when all you need is actually a mood board or style sheet – outweighs its usefulness.
So what is a mood board? It’s a bit like the Pinterest page for your film (in fact our clients often use Pinterest) where you add all sorts of shots and snippets that get over the look and feel of the film.
But if you’d like to prepare your own storyboard – go ahead. Check our Storyboard section where you’ll also find a storyboard template that could be handy!
WATCH A SHOWREEL OR TWO
Before discussing a project with any video companies, do your research into the sorts of producers you want to deal with and look at their sites; there should be at least one showreel on it. But what is a showreel? Simply it’s the producer’s mash-up of all the best bits from their recent productions, normally put together against a great music track. But don’t be put off if you don’t see a video that looks like the one you want to make. If you’re tasked with making a film about widgets and only want to see films about widgets from producers, then your film will end up looking like the competition’s – guaranteed!
What you’re looking for is a style, tone of voice, a visual fluency and a competence above all. You should know it when you see it!
Once you’ve seen showreels you’re ready to meet a few producers. But before that you should know …
HOW TO WRITE A VIDEO BRIEF
Let’s assume that you know exactly what you want to do, and you’re starting to talk to three or four producers. (not more please!) You’ll need a video brief. So what is a video brief? What will the producers you see want to know? Really it boils down to only a few things:
- What your product or service is and why you want to make a film about it (or what facets of it do you want to talk about?) Remember the USPs.
- Who you want to talk to (if you have research, share it.)
- What you want to say (here’s where your treatment comes in)
- What you want it to be like/look like (here’s where a mood board would come in handy)
- What your timescale is (be reasonable here)
- What your budget is (Wise to leave yourself a little contingency!)
- Whether there are any other specifics or ‘must haves’, like ‘we must feature the boss’s daughter/wife/girlfriend.’ (yes – had all of these before …)
- Any other info that makes your product or service stand out from the competition.
That’s it! Any producer worth her or his salt should be able to take that conversation and your brief away and come back to you with a detailed quote that makes sense – and then be willing to work with you right the way through the project, from initial script to finished film.
HOW DO I CHOOSE A VIDEO PRODUCTION COMPANY?
If you’re spending a good few thousand … or tens of thousands, be it your own money or your company’s, our advice is to meet the people in person.
Meeting people in person allows you to quiz them on their showreels. Hopefully they have shot everything that they say they have, but it’s wise to check.
Go through your brief verbally in as much detail as you think the meeting needs. Then see what they come up with in terms of creative ideas and thoughts, there and then. There will be a good few ideas that you hadn’t thought of, guaranteed!
Then give them a week to get back to you with a full written proposal.
ARE ALL VIDEO PRODUCTION COMPANIES THE SAME?
Expect a variety of quotes back from the producers you speak to. Depending on the brief and budget, some may be fancy presentations or business-like detailed quotes and some just short emails. Try to work out who would work best with you and your colleagues. Because at the end of the day you’ll be working together on and off for some time. Every producer is different and so their quotes will be too.
But it’s essential to give them all the same brief to start off with so that you can compare apples with apples when you’re looking at quotes. For more about that see our Blog.
You might be thinking why is video production so expensive If all the prices are considerably more than your budget can stand. In that case, did you actually discuss your budget with producers when you met them?
If you like the look of one producer’s work but the figure is a little high compared with some others, a little gentle negotiation may pay dividends.
But most producers (apart from one or two we know) don’t bung on 20% to knock it off, so try to compromise with them. How they negotiate (or horse-trade!) will be a good indicator of how your business relationship will develop going forward.
ENGAGE YOUR VIDEO PRODUCTION COMPANY
Working with the video producer should be easy. If it isn’t, are you sure you’ve chosen the right one?
Once you have your producer in place work can progress and you can move forward to professional video production. Your producer will expect you to be open with them. So if plans change from your side (it’s not unknown for strategies to be changed due to a myriad factors, or agencies to change creative tack) let your producer know.
Likewise, your producer must be transparent with you and your organisation. Everything has the capacity to go wrong, let’s face it, but they should be the sort of people to manage that on your behalf, so don’t put up with ‘the dog ate my homework’ – you’re paying them good money!
DIRECTOR’S TREATMENT – WHY YOU NEED ONE
With a production of any reasonable size, the video director will write a film treatment – his or her vision of what the piece will be like, how it will staged and the ‘tone of voice’ it’ll have. This is often presented to the client shortly before the shoot, but in some cases may be used as part of a pitch process.
You may well ask what is a treatment, and in truth, the explanation varies. But from our point of view it is the ‘style guide’ for the piece and will have a bearing on many factors – the type and style of lighting, the camera moves and framing, the art direction, the type of actors and their costume, even the locations used … and so much more.
Essentially the treatment is a style and content guide for the piece as well as the director’s vision for it. If your budget allows for a separate director (rather than a cameraperson who also directs) it’s worth asking for one to ensure there are no surprises on the shoot and the director is in tune with your vision of the film.
CASTING ACTORS, EXTRAS AND EVEN VOICEOVERS
One of the most visible parts of the pre production process is the casting of presenters, actors and extras – basically everyone who makes the ‘look’ of the film what it is. Sometimes in the past we’ve been asked to work with non-professional actors or even voiceovers. Sometimes they’ve been friends or relatives of the client. This is normally a recipe for disaster! Non-professionals lack the stamina, the discipline and the thick skins of seasoned actors. Upsetting for them and frustrating for a pro crew! Fortunately good actors can be found and we’d normally either suggest someone or arrange a casting locally. In the case of a lot of people to cast, we’d suggest using a casting director, whose experience and contacts can greatly ease this part of the production process.
Finally, voiceovers no longer need to come to the studio. Technology means that we can (and often do) record voice talent from all over the world, most of them recording in their home set-ups. Again, the right voiceover can make a great deal of difference to your production, so it’s worth auditioning several to get the right one.
DECIDE ON A LOCATION OR BOOK A STUDIO
TV and film production has traditionally been carried out in studios. And these days they’re coming back with many remote studios being equipped to allow the very minimum of crew to be there. These offer virtually real-time video-links so client, director, producer and most crew can view and interact remotely. In addition, studio hire using green-screen techniques mean that some locations are not as important as they used to be – most simple set-ups can be done from a video studio.
But let’s assume that you need a specific location sourcing. How do you go about it? Well there are some great film location agencies around – and also some major cities and areas of the country have their own dedicated film offices. Surprisingly often when location finding, some locations you expect to be available aren’t and some you didn’t even know about (but are a lot better) suddenly pop up!
But if you need a specific set building or need to do a lot of special effects, you’ll need to rent a video studio. As part of our production quote (if required) we’ll build in the cost of video studio rental into your quote.
ARRANGE PERMITS AND INSURANCE
We often get asked do you need a permit to film? And the answer is – It depends! In some places in the UK, it’s necessary to get a permit to film on the street. However we have found that it’s not always necessary – especially if you’re not a massive crew and don’t cause an obstruction. What you do need to bear in mind however is that other places you might think are public, are actually not. This includes, stations, airport, shopping centres and the like. If we need to shoot in any of these areas for you, we’ll arrange and cost for permits within our production price.
Insurance is something that smaller film production companies tend to skimp on. We don’t. As well as Public and Employer’s Liability, we also carry a £100K producer’s indemnity. But what is covered? How does production insurance work? Well that’s a longer conversation really but put it this way: In the UK it normally doesn’t cover weather!
Some of the many pre production documents we’ll need to generate will be a comprehensive Risk Assessment to ensure we are covered by our insurance. You can find our insurance documents on the About page.
DESIGNING AND BUILDING SETS
Next on our pre production checklist is set or scenery building. This is a skilled job and if required, the production designer or art director will work closely with the director and construction crew to ensure it works ‘on camera’ and looks good. Often sets are built with removable walls, to allow different camera angles to be shot.
The process starts with a design and once approved by the client and the director then proceeds into construction of the ‘flats’ (sections of wall) normally in a workshop, then building them all up in the studio. Your video producer will want to keep time in the film studio down to the minimum (for obvious reasons) so the ideal time for set building is one day!
Once the set is built, art directors and dressers can ‘prop’ the set with drapes, furnishings and accessories before shooting can commence.
SOURCING PROPS AND COSTUMES
It’s said that some film props hire companies have everything … including quite a few kitchen sinks – and that’s generally true. In the past however we have found that buying specific items can be comparable to renting – with the added bonus of being able to donate them afterwards.
On a big production, one or more people will just deal with props. On smaller-scale jobs, one of the art director’s crew (or even a PA) will cover this.
For very specific video props, we often have to use specialist prop-making companies. These people make everything from exploding door-knobs to dead bodies, and have many years of film experience.
DO YOU NEED A SHOT LIST?
To answer that, let’s start with what should be included in a shot list?
Simply, a shot list is the director’s list of shots and camera angles they’ll shoot in the order that they will be shot. And that last bit is the most important. Because moving the camera on-set and re-lighting takes time so you want to do this the minimum amount of times in the day. This, you’ll plan to do all the shots from one camera position and then move on – even if these shots come from all different parts of the script. Of course working like this means there’s a risk of shots being left out. So it’s crucial to make sure every shot is listed and then they’re crossed off the list as you complete them. Shooting without a shot list and just following a script is a very time-intensive way of working. (And you are still liable to miss out shots!)
So the answer is normally YES – you do need a shot list!
CREATE A VIDEO PRODUCTION SCHEDULE
People often ask us how do I plan a video production? Hand in hand with the shot list is the film production schedule – the best estimation of when in the day each shot will be taken – and a lot more besides. It’s important to know this (or at least have a stab at guessing it) to ensure you’re not trying to push too many shots into one day and also to know if you are running behind or just about on schedule. (It’s unlikely that anyone has ever run ahead of schedule – trust us!)
Working with the production people, the director will put this together after creating the shot list to ensure the workload for the crew is evened out over the shoot and the video plan allows enough time for rehearsing or alternative takes or camera angles.
The video production schedule may also cover post-production.
You might also like our downloadable production schedule template.
DO YOU NEED A CALL SHEET?
Again you may ask what is the purpose of a call sheet? And the answer is it is the most useful and comprehensive document produced for the production.
Want to know what time we start on Wednesday? See the call sheet. The mobile number of the make-up person as they’ll need to come in early tomorrow? See the call sheet? The nearest hospital with an A&E department? The hotel where the crew are staying? Yup, you guessed!
In a nutshell, the call sheet has every bit of information on it that anyone – the crew, the actors, the clients, the agency – might want to know. It’s a must for any sort of shoot more than one person and a camera. And if your production company isn’t supplying and using one, you should ask yourself a few questions …
INVITE INTERVIEWEES AND BOOK ROOMS AND …
… er, what else have we forgotten? We’ll admit it. We HAVE forgotten to do a few things when in pre production for some shoots. Mercifully not forgetting to invite interviewees (although we do know stories of a producer who has done that and lived to tell the tale!) but we have forgotten some rather more minor things in our pre production planning that didn’t really have a great impact … in the grand scheme of things.
The point is, there are a lot of ‘moving parts’ in the production process and planning in advance is crucial. Even the smallest script change can impact the shoot (and the budget) quite a lot, so a good producer will attempt to plan for every eventuality. We always try to!
You need to look for producers, directors and technicians with a track record of high-end video marketing and corporate projects. People with extensive broadcast and blue-chip backgrounds who can deal with clients at all levels – from shop floor to boardroom. People that have lots of life experience, and a good understanding of business. Plus you’ll want to know that those people have more than just a dash of creativity. That’s us. In a nutshell.
Can the film production company you work with handle every aspect of the production – even when the goalposts are moved on (say) a Sunday afternoon for a Monday morning shoot? Do they have the wherewithal, the contacts and the lateral thinking to dig in and work all day to make it happen? That’s us too! Let's be brutally honest here. We were making films when they were actually shot on film, so we have masses of experience!
Film production is an industry driven by passion. And the people you choose need to be passionate about it. We love video production. Quite often to the detriment of doing other stuff, we’re told. At SPL Communications, we’re one of the North’s longest established film production companies and we have the experience, the knowledge and the enthusiasm to take on your next video project. Why not put us to the test?