A concise guide to scripting, developing concepts, location shooting and post-production.
Guide to Video Production
by Stuart Sweetow
A little planning can go a long way. Properly planned videos meet their objectives, make efficient use of resources and are fun to produce. A well-planned video is not boring; it stimulates the audience to action. Whether you want your viewers to learn how to follow a procedure or to better understand the subject matter, remember the five “P”s:
“Prior Planning Prevents Poor Productions”
When you keep your objectives in mind, you will be better able to write a script or simply plan the shots for your video. If the objectives are particular actions (behavioral objectives) that you want your viewers to take, that makes your production planning easier. If you simply want your viewers to know and understand particular concepts and ideas, that would be called “cognitive objectives.”
To help plan your video, fill in the sections on the Production Planning Sheet or call us for a copy.
Your viewer’s level of knowledge and attitudes toward your subject will also help you with your video planning. The more specific your audience, the easier this planning process will go. Some video producers will do some market research on their audience. They might gather demographic data or even conduct focus groups.
If you are able to gather a focus group of people with characteristics similar to your target audience, try to also conduct a brainstorming session with them to elicit their ideas. Brainstorming is a fun process where participants are encouraged to come up with wild and crazy ideas. A “scribe” writes all the ideas on the board. Sometimes the discussion takes off in humorous and silly directions. Frequently, one or more of the “silly” ideas will work for your video. It may be just the “hook” to grab the attention of your audience and help them remember what you want to show them.
Not all videos need a complete script, but it is a good idea to have some kind of plan prior to the shooting session. Even if you don’t write a script, you can put together a shot list, simply indicating what you imagine will be in your video.
While dramatic videos require a word-for-word script so that the actors will have lines to say, many informational videos do not need such wordy detail. However, be sure to include the visual elements with as much detail as you can.
A common approach for instructional or informational videos is to use a “voice-over narrator.” The viewer sees action on the screen and hears just the voice of the narrator. You see this frequently in educational films and even on television news.
A treatment is a description of a script that includes all the visual elements. Written in paragraph form or as an outline, it tells the director, camera operator and on-camera people what happens first, what next and so on. It gives a description of the setting for the video and includes images and some key phrases that will be used. This is the time to take ideas from a brainstorming session or those from your own brain.
Unless you have a totally new idea or concept to show, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. You can get relevant data and specific facts for your video by conducting research on the Internet, by speaking with experts on the subject and by gathering brochures and other printed materials. Specific facts and data will add credibility to your video. Look for some out-of-the-ordinary approaches to your subject or some human interest stories to maintain viewer interest. You may also find some usable graphic material such as photographs, charts. Make sure you secure permissions before using any copyrighted material.
Think creatively as you plan your video. Material may be presented using voice-over narration, it might be reality-based documentary style, it could include news-type footage and interviews could be incorporated. Your video could include photos and text graphics, it could incorporate animation, it could involve actors reenacting events or procedures, or it could include any combination of these concepts.
The most common use of video, but unfortunately not always the most effective, is the “talking head.” This is an on-camera presentation where the host looks at the camera and speaks. This format works best if the host is a celebrity or a professional actor. Sometimes a company president who is good at public speaking can play this role well. However, it is best to minimize talking heads. If the boss wants to speak on camera during the video, perhaps you can include shots of what he is talking about in the video and make him the voice-over narrator. There is nothing wrong with including the boss on camera for part of the video; just remember your audience will appreciate your limiting talking heads in your program.
Production planning can make sure you use your resources efficiently. Without good planning, shooting and editing frequently can consume a large portion of your budget. However, a shooting outline can help you to minimize number of hours of the production crew. That shooting outline will also help the editing to go quickly and smoothly.
That shooting outline is what the producer will use to develop a budget. Generally the more detailed the outline or script is, the more accurate will be the budget estimate. The producer estimates the number of hours of shooting by how many different shooting locations and camera “set-ups” there are. Within each location can be several camera set-ups. Each one usually involves setting up lights and planning each of the camera shots. Ask your producer to include his or her fees for production planning, writing, shooting, talent fees, editing, graphics, props, travel and other budget items that may not be readily apparent.
The newer technology enables producers using even consumer camcorders to achieve a professional look. Some consumer-level digital camcorders produce better images than the big broadcast cameras of yesterday. These higher-end consumer camcorders are sometimes called “prosumer” camcorders because they can be used professionally. The term “prosumer” usually refers to camcorders that have three image-processing chips, rather than the majority of consumer camcorders that use only a single chip. However, DSLR cameras with a large single chip can produce stunning images.
However, just having a cool camera does not a video producer make. Professional microphones are needed for good audio. Auxiliary lighting equipment, while not always needed, helps to fill in shadows and give the on-camera participants a more flattered look. Professional, smooth-operating tripods give your video shots a stable look.
Most importantly, an experienced camera operator is essential to getting you the professional look. He or she knows how to set up pleasing camera angles, how to move the camera smoothly and with purpose, how to use lighting equipment to create the soft look that digital camcorders need. A professional knows how to work with backgrounds so that the digital video won’t show artifacts when it is shown. A sound recordist familiar with digital audio will make sure the sound does not distort, and a lighting technician can create a tasteful look to the scenes.
DVDs and Internet Video
While most computers have DVD drives, some don’t have the DVD player drivers (software) installed. Ask your producer for a sample DVD-Video to see if it plays on your or your clients’ computers. You can download free DVD player software at http://www.videolan.org/vlc/
Videos can now be placed on your website. As broadband Internet access becomes more popular, organizations are giving their sites the dynamic boost of video clips. Unless you have a sophisticated web server at your disposal, stick to short clips—five minute or less is best. Some websites have two or more very short, 1-2 minute clips. That gives users choices, keeps the site interactive and satisfies the short attention spans that sometimes accompany website visits. Make sure your website host has the capacity to handle “streaming” video. If not, ask your video producer for a recommendation of a company that will host just the video streaming portion of your site. YouTube is a popular streaming video server.
On Camera Tips
See the “Looking Your Best on Television” page or call us for a copy. It includes what clothing patterns and colors work best and what to avoid. Distinct, fine lines, such as pinstripes or herringbones can cause interference with the television scan lines. Highly saturated reds and blues sometimes don’t reproduce well. Since television cameras tend to increase color saturation and contrast, makeup should be flat, and blush should be minimal.
On-camera presenters should be encouraged to look at the camera when they speak. If they need to read from a page, they should try to avoid looking down all the time. Ask your video producer about renting a TelePrompter so the presenter can read while looking directly in the camera. The TelePrompter uses a sheet of glass at an angle over the lens that reflects text from a special computer monitor. For lower-budget videos, cue cards may be used. The best way to handle cue cards is to hold them just above the camera lens. One way to make cue cards is to enlarge small amounts of text from your word processing software in the landscape mode and print on card stock. Your video producer may have additional cue card tips.
Meetings and Events
Videotaping meetings and events is a good way to share information with others in your organization or with customers. While a single speaker can be recorded on video with a single camera, if there are audience questions or a panel discussion, two or three cameras can better cover the action.
If the presenters will show PowerPoint slides or other projected images, try to obtain the graphics files and later edit them into the final video. If that is not possible, a second camera can be used to get those images. For lower-budget meetings, a good camera operator can carefully pan and zoom between the presenter and the projection screen.
In order to record high-quality audio, the camera operator may want to tie into the auditorium PA system. This will be necessary if there is a panel, Q&As or several presenters. Please arrange with the facility for access to the PA amplifier. If there is just a single presenter, that person can wear a wireless, clip-on microphone that will be used for the video camcorder. The camera operator may want to use auxiliary lighting. If the facility has ceiling mounted lights, please arrange for them to be aimed and turned on prior to the meeting.
Make sure the meeting room will be available with enough time prior to the presentation so the camera operator can set up. Take care of such issues as access to the building, parking and exiting the building with equipment. If lunch is served to the participants, please make arrangements to feed the video crew or allow for additional time for them to travel to a different location to eat. If you want the crew to wear particular business attire, please specify, for example, that you want the men to wear jackets and ties and the women to wear skirts or suits.
After the video is recorded, it frequently undergoes some video editing. In the video business, the term “editing” usually refers to adding titles, fades and other elements to give the video a finished look. Digital editing equipment allows for changes, additions, deletions and a host of special effects and graphics that add interest and excitement to a video.
You can choose to sit in on the editing session, or you can make the editing decisions at home. Ask the producer to give you a “window dub” copy of the raw footage. You’ll see the time code numbers in a window on this copy. They are displayed as hours, minutes, seconds an frames. In most cases you need only jot down the minutes and seconds of the start and stop times of the scenes you want included. Preparing an Edit Decision List such as this can save many hours in the edit suite.
After the video is edited you will have a short period of time to evaluate the edited version before the video is erased from the editing computer hard drive. You can choose to rent space on the hard drive, but this could become costly. Video takes up a lot of memory and if your program is long the edit facility may not have enough spare hard drive space to rent.
Before the video data is erased from the hard drive, make sure you get the files copied to your hard drive. That can serve as your master, and it can be copied back to the production company’s hard drive should you want to make editing changes in the future. DVDs are a lower cost way to back up digital video, but they are a little lower in quality since they require compression.
However, DVDs are usually the medium used to make DVD copies for distribution. You may want to examine a sample duplicate DVD to make sure it plays on yours and your client’s DVD players. One important consideration when choosing a DVD duplication facility, is that the is that the duplicator checks the data on the DVD disc to make sure it has been recorded properly.
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Stuart Sweetow, author of this guide, has over 30 years experience as a video producer. He taught video production for seven years at the University of California, Berkeley Extension and has written over 100 articles for professional video magazines. Mr. Sweetow has won several awards for his video productions. In 1983 he founded Audio Visual Consultants, a full-service video production, editing and duplication facility in Oakland. He currently is the owner-manager of the facility and performs video production services for the company.
For additional copies of this guide or to discuss your ideas for a video production, call Audio Visual Consultants at 510-839-2020. You may also visit AVC at its website, www.AVConsultants.com. There you will find articles and guides to help you plan and produce your videos. While at the site, check out the streaming video clips.
Audio Visual Consultants
Video Production, Editing, Internet Video, DVDs
3640 Grand, Suite 105, Oakland, California 94610