Guide To Video Production

ClapperboardIntroduction

With good planning and careful management video can be a very effective way of sharing your ideas with others.

Whether it is recording best practice, documenting case studies, collecting interviews or ‘vox pops’ from professionals or customers, or video diaries, video production is an engaging and powerful way to deliver your key messages onscreen or online.
But how do you go about organising and delivering a project using video?
This brief guide outlines some of the key steps you need to consider before, during and after filming. It is not intended to be a definitive list of everything you need to know nor does it go into boring technical detail. Rather, it has been written to provide you with a broad background to some of the processes involved; allowing you to make more informed decisions about how best to plan your video project, what timescales you may need to allow and how to allocate a production budget.

Three Steps to Success

Every successful video production is nearly always broken down into three distinct steps: planning, filming and editing. The video production industry refers to these stages as pre-production, production and post-production.

1. Pre-production: this simply refers to all of the planning that is necessary before any filming takes place. Research, scripting, location reconnoiters (recces), budgeting, briefing meetings and ‘casting’ are all examples of pre- production. Of course, many productions do not require any of the above, however, every production will take care to consider the following key questions:
i. Why are you making this video resource?
ii. Who is it aimed at and what do you want them to learn?
iii. How do you want to deliver your video resource?
iv. What is the deadline?
v. What is the production budget?

2. Production: this is the stage when your director and camera crew carries out all of the filming. It is also the time when any other materials you need for your video resource, such as photos, library footage, graphics, logos and animations are sourced or commissioned.

3. Post-production: this is the stage when all the materials you have gathered are compiled or edited. Editing also involves the use or generation of materials other than those collected by your film crew on location: computer graphics, music, voice over’s and sound effects are all likely to contribute to the success of your final video resource.

First Steps

Before you can get started it is vital you clarify your ideas and objectives for your proposed video project.

You will certainly want to discuss these ideas thoroughly with your team, and you may want to share your thoughts with a company that can produce video resources. They are likely to introduce you to a video producer and he or she will want to discuss your project and listen to your ideas. To help with these early discussions it is always helpful to prepare a video briefing document.

A video briefing document is a short written statement that outlines the aims and objectives of your video project. It will highlight the key messages and content, how the video resource will be seen and used, who the audience is and should give an indication of timescales and budget.

You may be able to make all the decisions about the video brief yourself; however, it is likely you will want to discuss your ideas with your colleagues first before you speak with a production company or a producer. You might even spend some time talking to the people at whom the video resource is aimed. All of their ideas (and/or objections) will be useful in helping you to define your objectives.

Remember, this is your project so take time and care to be clear about the aims and messages for your project.

Top tip! Video is not particularly good at delivering large amounts of information, so it is always advisable to prioritise the key points that you want your video project to cover. We advise that you can expect your audience to remember 4-6 key messages during a typical 10-minute video sequence. So don’t be tempted to overload your video with too many messages – less is always more!

Brodie A.M.S has created a guide to preparing a video brief, “Beginning Your Project” which is available on our web site.

Ideas, Key Messages and Content

After you have prepared and agreed your video brief and discussed thoroughly your ideas with your producer, then a video proposal document is produced.

A video proposal is written for you by the producer to demonstrate that he or she has understood your ideas and requirements. It will usually outline the ideas and background to your proposed project, the key messages and content. It will also outline possible visual approaches (or treatments), production costs and schedules.
The proposal is not a blueprint but simply a broad statement of intent, a discussion document that helps you and your producer work effectively together. At this stage it is not too late to rethink your ideas, reconsider the content and key messages, even postpone or cancel the production!

Your proposal document will also help you to consider some key questions, such as how your project’s key messages might be supported visually:

What practices do you want to demonstrate or show and where is this practice to be seen?
Who is able and happy to demonstrate them for you on camera?
Who can you ask to help you to provide testimonial support?
What locations will you need to film in and do you need permissions to film there?
What other materials might you need, or would like to include?

Now is the time to consider what other existing materials (hard copy or digital) that you might like to include, and allow time to source and collect them.

Treatments and Scripts

Depending on your video project it can be necessary to write a treatment or script. But which one will you need and why?

Treatment: a treatment is a short document, no more than a single page of A4, usually prepared for you by your producer or director, that provides a broad plan of the video’s visual structure and content. It will suggest how the final video sequence will look and outline its visual ‘style’; for example, documentary-style video or interview-based structure with case studies might be all is required to clarify what is expected.

Script: a shooting script is a longer, detailed document, usually prepared by a director or scriptwriter, in which all visual and audio content is worked out and tightly structured – shot by shot, sequence by sequence. This is not as common as a treatment but plays an important role in structured pieces such as drama and presenter-led/ commentary-based programmes.

Which approach should your project have?
There are no hard and fast rules here. Indeed, in many cases a detailed treatment is all your video production will require. Certainly, if you are planning a documentary style video or hoping to record classroom practice where the filming cannot (and must not) be ‘staged’ then a treatment is perfect.
It is quite common for your script or treatment to pass through a few versions as it is discussed and amended. You must never hesitate to query any aspect of your script or treatment if you are unhappy or unsure. It is always easier and less expensive to get everything right on paper first!

The Purse Strings

“How much have you got to spend?”

This is a question that some production companies may not always ask you but it is one which requires an answer. And the answer is not always easy to work out.
Video production can be an expensive business but it can also afford flexible and cost-efficient ways of working. The trick is to be clear about what you are trying to achieve and be thorough with your planning before you allow your production company to get any cameras out of boxes!
Whether you have £500 or £50,000 available it is the responsibility of your production company to provide you with a proposal and production budget that is based on your needs and not what they think your available funds are.
All production companies will provide differing levels of detail in their budgets, however you should expect to see costs included for the some or all of the following elements.

Pre-production – all research, planning, scripting and recces
Production – number of filming days, director, equipment and crew, travel expenses, accommodation, subsistence
Post-production – all editing, audio mixes, encoding and DVD programming, music, music licensing and graphics
Duplication and Delivery – copies, packaging design and delivery
Production Fee – this is a term used by production companies to cover any overheads and to allocate a reasonable profit figure on the project. This figure could be anything between 10% and 50% of the total production budget.
Your production budget is pivotal so take commensurate time and care to make sure you are happy with the costs proposed and ask your production company to be transparent!

The Production Team

So you’ve discussed and agreed your project’s brief, you’ve worked with your producer to come up with a watertight treatment and you’re happy with the production budget. So far so good!

But before we can get started we thought it sensible if we made a few introductions:
Access to all of the people and equipment required for your video project
Organisation of these within your timescale and budget
Full support and assistance throughout the project
You will have met your producer early on in the process. Your video producer will work closely with you and your team to manage your project. The producer will work out all the costs and agree them with you, plan filming and post-production schedules and generally keep you and your project on course! In essence, we believe a good producer should provide:
Your Video Director
The video director may also be your producer and is generally responsible for creating the visual sequences for your video. He or she will work closely with you and the film crew on location to collect the most appropriate materials to help tell your story. It is usual for your director to write treatments or scripts and help to edit the video sequence/s.

Camera Operator
The Camera Operator

The camera operator is, arguably, the most important person in your team during the filming. It is his or her responsibility to interpret the director’s visual ideas and collect the images that will be seen in your video project. Occasionally, there will be a camera assistant on location to help out.

Location Sound RecordistThe Sound Recordist
Of course, videotape consists of both vision and sound, and each is critical to the success of a video. A sound recordist collects all of the audio content on location and records it onto the videotape in the camera often using a range of different microphone types (radio, directional or omnidirectional) and a portable sound-mixing desk. This arrangement often means that the sound recordist is connected via cabling to the camera during filming, although wireless recording means this can be avoided if necessary.

Video Editor
The Video Editor

Once all the sound and pictures are collected they will need to be edited into sequences. This is the job of the video editor, who working closely with your director will build your video project on computer editing software. The most common editing software used presently is Avid, Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro. In some cases your editor and director are the same person.

Preparing to Film…

The planning is finally over and now the production process can finally begin.

Or can it?
Before your producer can organise all of the personnel and equipment that will be required on location for your video project there are a number of important factors that are worthy of your attention.
It is important that you, your producer and director are completely happy and confident that all the locations, interviewees, equipment and personnel have been properly organised. Everything from power supplies to sandwiches will need to have been discussed, checked and re-checked and scheduled. It is better and less expensive to double check things now.

Do you have permissions to film at your chosen locations?
Can you get access to all rooms and equipment when you will need to?
Have you and the director spoken with and briefed your participants?
Have you prepared the questions you would like to ask interviewees?
Have you a filming schedule and told everyone involved what it is?
If filming children, have you spoken with teachers, parents and guardians to get the necessary permission?

Your production team should leave nothing to chance – and neither should you.

Scheduling and Filming

There is no absolute time that something takes to film, and every video project is different.

That said, it is quite common for a video project to require 2 or more days filming, and, typically, for each day’s filming your crew will work for 10 hours (including travel). After 10 hours most production companies will apply an overtime rate for the crew’s time, usually at time-and-a-half. It becomes important, therefore, that you and your production team work closely to plan the most efficient way of organising all of the required filming.

Locations: wherever possible try and film all of the sequences you need in a location in one visit. It can be costly – both in money and time – to have to revisit locations and re-rig equipment and get interviewees and other participants to return.

Schedules: filming can often take longer than expected, so it is always important to build in some contingency time into your schedules; this is particularly important if you are planning to travel to several locations in a single day. Also, allow time to rest and eat!

Interviews: try and consider how long you might need with each interviewee. Being interviewed, especially for the first time, can be both daunting and nerve-racking, so allow time for your interviews to settle and feel comfortable in front of the camera and under the lights. Also, to save time, is it possible to invite all your interviews to a one location?

Filming: When filming documentaries or professional practice, it is preferable to let things unfold ‘onscreen’ naturally, with as little interference from you or the production team as possible. Action can look incredibly staged and stilted if participants are asked to redo activities over and over. The more natural the pictures are that are recorded the more credible the sequences in your final project.
With thorough planning your location filming can be great fun and very rewarding, and your director will always ensure that you are involved and consulted.

Editing Pictures

All of your sequences have been filmed. All of your interviews have been recorded. All of the photos, logos and animations you have sourced or commissioned have been designed and approved.

It is now time to assemble everything. It is time to begin editing. And editing is a definitely a team process.
We urge you to be as involved in this process as possible. This is a vital part of your video project’s life and it is important that you are consulted and encouraged to play your part. Editing is important and it is technical, but it is not a magic art form! You know your project best and you have a strong vision for its use and content so your production company should welcome your input.

Sometimes, before editing can take place all of the pictures collected on location (the ‘rushes’) are copied and returned to you on disk so that you can begin to work out which pictures and/or interviews you might want to use. You may be asked to produce a detailed shot log so that your director and editor can concentrate on the material you want to feature. This all helps manage the process and ensure that your project remains on track.

There will almost certainly be several early versions of your video sequence as you and your editor and director work out the most effective presentation of the material. Editing is certainly an organic process and modern non-linear, digital editing software makes it much easier to edit and amend your video.
Remember though, editing cannot magically add sequences that have not been recorded. Get your planning right, film what you plan to film and there won’t be any surprises or disappointments during your edit.

Editing Sound

Audio editing or ‘mixing’ is the organisation of all of the audio tracks generated within your video sequence; interviewee’s answers, wild track or ‘atmos’, music, sound effects and commentary are all crucial element and play a vital part in your video project.

Just because it is often the last thing we do in a production, audio’s importance is often overlooked. Yet, it will be a combination of your interviewee’s answers, footage from classrooms and possibly a voice-over commentary that will be used to convey your key messages, so it is important to get it right.
Often the work of audio mixing happens within the same studio (and software) used for the editing. However, some video projects use a written commentary or script to help tell the story or to link different sections of a video. This commentary will be recorded in a professional voice studio and often a professional voice over artist will be used. They will read your script whilst watching the video so that the words and the video sequences can be matched accurately.

Music is nearly always used on video projects. This can be selected from licensed CDs or online or can be especially composed. Music libraries have extensive collections of all types of music, composed and published for use in video projects. You will need to apply for a license to use this music. These fees are pre-set and relate directly to the scale of your video project; i.e. how many copies you will be making and where it will be seen? Obtaining clearance to use a piece of library music is quite straightforward and relatively inexpensive. However, don’t expect to use popular music in your production, as it will be hugely expensive.

Delivering Your Project

You will have decided how you are going to deliver your project during the planning stages. Now that we have competed the picture and sound editing, it is now possible to put these decisions into action.

As standard practice, all production companies will produce and retain a master tape of your video project. The master tape is the final version of your video sequence recorded onto professional, digital videotape. The production company should also keep copies of all the relevant project files and media.
Long gone are the days when videotapes were duplicated and distributed. The possibilities today for delivering and distributing your project are as vast as they are exciting. However, it is very important to select a method that best suits the needs and requirement of your audience. There is little point in delivering your project on a format that your audience cannot access!

Whether online, offline, CDROM or DVD, podcast or download, you will need to consider your options carefully, and be sure to build into your planning enough time and costs to make sure you can deliver your project meaningfully.
You will also need to consider what other materials might be appropriate or necessary to properly support the launch and implementation of your video resource. Posters, user guides, information packs, web pages, blogs could all play a role in the success of your video project – make sure your video project makes an impact!

Good luck with your project and have fun!

© John Mitchell & Stephen Brodie