Storytelling is a key component of most marketing and advertising campaigns these days. It’s no longer enough to just show what the company behind a brand does, you need to tell the whole story of who it is, and how its products or services fit into a purchaser’s life. Once the exclusive domain of those big brands that could afford to book broadcast TV and cinema spots, the use of narrative-led videos on websites and social media has steadily permeated out to the point where they are found even in small, local campaigns.
Traditionally, a creative studio would hire a video production company or freelancer to create these assets, but having access to an in-house resource for this opens up new opportunities. It allows, for example, a studio to take on a full service campaign for a client and provide print, web and brand materials, as well as video for websites, interactive advertising, video billboards, iPad content and branded video content.
This might seem a curious mix, but skills convergence has always been the lifeblood of smaller agencies and a sure way to keep the work coming in. Video production is just one of the latest additions every agency needs to look into (alongside experiential and app design, see our April and May 2012 issues for more on these).
“When I’m not sat behind a computer coding, I’m working on film productions,” explains Joanna Eyre, Creative director at Starboard Media UK, whose work ranges from websites about Channel 4’s effect on British Film Culture to short films including Arundel Bath tub race.
But if you don’t already work with video, how can you take advantage of this to add more strings to your creative bow, and offer more services to your clients?
Whatever creative discipline you work within, you’ll already be familiar with what it takes to guide readers through a print layout or website, or tell a story through illustration. The trick is to hone those skills for video and learn how to use the kit required to produce and edit it.
“You can’t just turn up and point the camera at something,” argues Matt Holding, assistant producer at 3 Men & A Camera. The production collective has produced websites, online advertising and interactive video and promos for clients including The Royal Society of Arts and Adobe.
“There’s lots of [things] you have to be mindful of,” he explains. “Not just with kit, but also in the way you cover a shoot and make it easy on yourself to edit. This is the difference between doing something that’s okay and doing something that’s great and brings in repeat client business.”
Matt cites planning and research as the number one factor for success in any filming endeavour. “If you’re going to film someone and tell their story, or even promote a product, you have to do your research,” he urges.
“Go and visit the people you’re filming and combine this with a production and sound recce, so there are no unexpected problems on the day of the shoot. You’ll get more from your subjects if you know more about them. They’ll also feel more comfortable on camera. You can’t tell their story until you know it.”
Immersing yourself into a client’s story, background and most importantly their aim for the film is essential if your narrative is going to make any sense. A traditional approach is to first establish your film’s subject with some background context. If, for example, you are interviewing someone, it’s a good idea to shoot some cutaway footage of them at work or chatting to colleagues. You should also consider including ambient footage of their surroundings – anything that helps to establish what they do.
Launching directly into an interview is off-putting to the viewer; you have to give your subject a backstory. Your narrative needs to set up the issue the video deals with – perhaps it’s for a company that wants to rebrand. Starting out with an issue or problem that’s resolved at the end is a good rule of storytelling.
The middle section of the video should be a discussion of the processes used, and feature some of the other people involved. Different faces, voices and set-ups liven up a video and give it pace, as do cutaway shots, and keep your audience’s interest.
When carrying out an interview, you should always ensure that the subject’s eyeline is slightly off camera, as many people find addressing the audience directly intimidating. It will also help them to appear more natural and relaxed. Most people are nervous when put in front of a camera, so plan enough time to run through things with them first. Some clients may want to script responses for questions, but this can seem staged and a little insincere. Give yourself enough time to gain natural responses from those your interviewing.
“Create a call sheet and share this with your client,” says Matt. “This is your timetable for the day and should allow enough time for you to set up and interview the subject, as well as giving you a time slot for recording ambient or cutaway footage. Don’t just show up without a plan, [since this] will seem unprofessional and you may not cover the shoot with all the footage you need to make the edit work.”
Ambient footage can be shots of a person’s working environment or a wide-angle shot of them from another camera. This is safety material to help you with the edit. Nine times out of 10 a subject will repeat a word or hesitate. Cutting to ambient footage lets you remove these blips without your video appearing to jump.
You don’t need to spend tens of thousands of pounds on kit, but you can’t you get away with a cheap video camera either. Often the best way to get into video production is to use a digital SLR, as most modern SLRs can record professional-quality HD video footage.