Guest Post by Seth Kenvin, Market7
Working with video as a medium is cool. Professionals take pride in mastering crafts of shooting, editing, imparting effects. People from outside the field who occasionally participate by commissioning production, appearing on-screen or weighing in on direction of projects also get gratified as rich content comes together. This blog is full of enticing advice about picking cameras, achieving right light and sound levels, and transcoding. But some of the most important work for making great video can happen before any of those considerations. Like stretching before sports, like taking vitamins before breakfast: aspects of careful pre-production may be dull but are often essential for great video results.
In fact, without the right sort of pre-production in advance, a fun project with cool content seeming to be heading towards a hit deliverable can become suddenly derailed with realization of some oversight: the most important decision maker was never consulted about what to emphasize, getting verbose content to fit within allotted running time necessitates an editing hack job, the featured product does not appear because nobody had responsibility to bring it to the set.
Some aspects of pre-production can be as fun as working with video gear and video content, some can be drudgery, but all can be essential for a production’s success, so consider the following list (appropriate as lists are constants during pre-production) and which exercises are vital for your project.
1) Review, discuss, revise, approve: Not a singular step, these are constants throughout pre-production, and post-production too for that matter. Video projects are multi-handed, multi-staged, and multimedia and it’s rare that some single perspective on how to do something can’t benefit from someone else’s viewpoint. So, for each of the nine following steps, remember to circulate to stakeholders, consider their inputs, resolve differences, and continuously improve for best outcome.
2) Treatments: Video production is ultimately a creative process, even though aspects of pre-production are much more logistical, but a creative step up front provides great foundation. Treatments are brainstorming exercises: come up with a handful of ideas, expressed very briefly (a couple sentences &/or a quick sketch) for what’s to be produced and have a team conversation building off of those to get project oriented.
3) Brief: As the high-level concept gels, it’s time to start breaking down details to assure nothing essential is overlooked. What is the key message? When is this due? Who will be in the audience? A creative brief is a question & answer exercise for consensus on these considerations as guidelines to abide throughout production.
4) Schedule, Budget: Knowing constraints up front helps make best decisions and helps stay grounded within realm of possible. The most fundamental constraints are time and money. A good brief may establish when delivery of video is due and how much overall funding is available, then diligent scheduling and budgeting seeks to best pursue priorities while allocating within those factors. How many iterations of script writing can be accomplished before a shoot has to happen? What sort of set can be afforded?
5) Script: On top of the math in scheduling and budgeting, if the production is scripted, writing is required too. Those who like the sizzle of capturing and seeing video may find this part of the process the most dreary. It can be important to have someone involved who thrives on writing. This is another activity to abide by constraints that may be established in the brief: write a script that fits within planned running time (but perhaps long enough to allow for some optimizing edits later). Also, scripts are for video – in addition to dialog, they can describe visuals such as appearances of people, props and sets and the on-camera movements and changes of those.
6) Storyboard: This can be where the process starts to get fun again for those stimulated by visual artistry. Storyboards don’t have to be fancy or time consuming to create. They’re basic depictions of the anticipated look of the video vital for a couple reasons: to assure consistency with the appearance that’s sought, and to guide selection of what to use and how it all should be situated.
7) Cast, crew, location scouting, equipping: Well developed notions of themes, constraints and what a viewer will see and hear, all of which can be established in the steps described above, provides great guidance for final selection of who, what and where are involved in the project. As concepts mature clarity is gained on questions such as what particular specialized skills may be required, whether to source talent through an agency, and if shooting is best in-studio or on-location. Making these decisions at the right time, neither too early nor late, best assures the right people and things to be both in front of and behind camera (including what camera to use) to meet project’s objectives and abide by its constraints.
8) Assign tasks: As the team comes together and the shoot approaches, the volume of details to be addressed can skyrocket and assuring coverage of them can be vital. Video productions are distinctive versus other kinds of creative projects by the shoot representing something of a deadline in the middle of the project – it’s when costs are highest and timing is tightest. If some important preparatory step is overlooked the whole project can be substantially compromised like wrong content being captured or another shooting day having to be scheduled. It isvital to assure, and often to double-check, that all of myriad requirements are being addressed by capable people.
9) Rehearse: This is another case of deference to the time and cost sensitivity during the actual shoot. Too frequently, rent and wages are paid for idle locations, equipment and crew people while the on-screen talent becomes familiar with the lines on the set. Professional actors tend to prepare, although it may be important to establish timing and chemistry if there are several of them. Non-actors appearing on-screen, like a company’s executive spokespeople, are frequently the real problems and in addition to knowing what they’re going to say, they need preparation to speak at compelling pace, volume, pronunciation and inflection, and to appear with good posture and looking in right direction, and to be relaxed. Time coaching and practicing with them in advance can reduce one of the biggest variability factors of the shoot.
10) Call sheet: The highly logistical processes of pre-production can kick off with the stylistic exercise of treatments, and likewise the highly stylistic processes of capturing and editing content can be best prepared for with the highly logistical step of circulating a call sheet as culmination of pre-production. Call sheets are in a time-tested (as in decades, probably close to a century) format that condenses the final assurance that people know where to show up, when, how, with what, and answers all the other key question words. For those who haven’t been having fun yet (and I hope this list indicates at least a few cool opportunities along the way of pre-production even to such people), circulation of the call sheet should signal that the really cool stuff’s about to start.
Images courtesy of Videomaker.com
About the Author – Seth Kenvin
Seth Kenvin is CEO and founder of Market7, a provider of web-based software for collaboration in the development and management of creative content. He was previously was VP strategic marketing and corporate development for BigBand Networks from founding through profitability and more than $200 million of revenues. While there, he managed financial transactions, customer and partner relationships, and marketing of the company’s network infrastructure platforms for rising quality, variety and volume of video services. Earlier, Seth was a principal for the VC firm Cedar Funds since its founding as well. Prior experience includes being an associate for the VC firm Venrock Associates, consultant to the software company Check Point Technologies, senior editor for The Red Herring magazine and corporate finance analyst for the high tech group of Bear Stearns. Seth is a dedicated writer who has been a monthly columnist, blogger, by-line contributor to multiple magazines, and author of more than a dozen white papers published and presented at conferences. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering from Cornell and an MBA from Stanford. Seth occasionally quotes Elvis Costello lyrics and scribbles notes about what’s going on in his life at http://twitter.com/sethkenvin.