Commercial Shooting Guide for Creatives and Clients
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Whether you are a business owner ready to take the step into online video or a novice filmmaker ready to start making videos for clients, you should be familiar with the three stages of production.
THE THREE STAGES
So you need to make a video for your business. You’ve found the perfect creative to take on the task but you’re not sure what to do next. We’ve got you covered.
Any video that you make yourself or that you hire someone to make for you will go through three stages known in the industry as Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production.
Pre-Production is the first stage. This is where you identify the concept for your video and then create the plan for shooting that video.
It is ill-advised to skip this step but many small business owners do. I know - I used to get hired to shoot Yelp videos. I would arrive at a business and there was little to no plan for how the video was going to be executed. Who was going to be interviewed? Where would the interview take place? What was the b-roll going to look like? Some business owners struggled to identify what they wanted potential customers to know about their business.
I can’t tell you how many times business owners would say to me - “I trust you. You’re a professional. You know what to do.”
They were partly right - I am a professional. I do know how to use all of my equipment. With the right planning I can make a great video. I do know my business.
I don’t, however, know their business. I’ve never run a pizza place, given massages for a living, or operated a cool-sculpting machine - an yes, that’s a thing.
It’s a shock to see how little some owners cared for how their business was going to be portrayed in a video that would live on their Yelp page and be seen by potential customers. They were missing out on new business because they couldn’t be troubled to do some planning.
WHAT IT INVOLVES
The pre-production phase includes writing a treatment and then script for your video, creating a line item budget, creating a scope of work or contract, scouting and securing a location for the shoot, hiring the necessary crew for bigger productions, casting for the appropriate models and/or actors, setting up the schedule, creating a call sheet so everyone involved knows where to go and when to arrive, and hiring a caterer so everyone is fed.
Sounds like a lot to do, right? As the client, you don’t need to do all these steps. This is the responsibility of the production company or producer you hire. You could and should be involved in these steps. You will definitely want to approve the script. You may want top have a say in who is cast for the project. You may want to be on set or the shoot may take place at your business, so you will want to have some control over the shooting date and schedule.
Let’s use some real world examples of pre-production for a shoot I did in 2018.
Here’s the end product:
I was hired by an agency making a video for their client - a sport technology company who were making in-roads in the high school market. The goal of the video was to shoot testimonials with the many of the coaches at the school who used the technology and support that with video footage of the technology in action. It would then be used as a tool to show other high school, boarding schools, and even elementary schools as a way to bring new customers to the platform.
The school in question was a boarding school that happened to be in the same town I live in.
The agency supplied me with a lot of the pre-production information that I needed to know and I also coordinated with a liaison from the school:
I received a list with the names of all the coaches I would be interviewing
I received a two-day schedule for when the interviews and b-roll shooting would take place. A lot of the b-roll was going to be shot during regularly scheduled team practices.
There would be no actors or models for this shoot - all the participants were actual coaches and athletes at the school
The video was not scripted. The plan was to form a narrative out of the interview answers. I was given the questions that would be asked and an order of their importance.
The agency told me they could afford a four person team. I was going to direct and be the 1st unit DP. I was going to have a gaffer who would also help with audio responsibilities. There would be a 2nd Unit Shooter who would also be our Steadicam operator. Our crew was rounded out by a grip/PA.
Meals would be provided for free by the school in their fancy cafeteria which reminded me of the dining hall from Hogwarts.
I was emailed a Scope of Work document that outlined the details of the shoot, the responsibilities of my company, the responsibilities of the agency, and payment terms.
So after I received all that information there was really only two things I needed to take care of. The first was a tech scout of the school where I would meet with the agencies producer, the client, and my school liaison. We discussed how things would run for the two days (it’s important to note that the school was open and in the middle of finals while we were shooting.) On the tech scout I was able to view all of the school’s locations available for us to shoot in. This helped me decide where I wanted to stage the interviews.
My second task was to build a call sheet so my crew knew where they reporting and when to be there.
Production is the phase where your crew gets to work. It’s important that the film crew knows what you need captured so often a SHOT LIST is created. This list has all the individual items/products/locations/actors/models that need to be shot.
Your video team may decide the order of how these shots will be captured and there are a lot of variables that determine the order including time of day (mostly for exteriors), availability of certain people at your business or availability of models/actors, and if your business is open or closed at the time of filming.
Shooting in a business that is open can be tricky. Patrons need to be made aware that a shoot is in progress so it’s generally recommended that signs are posted at all entrances or that an employee greets everyone and let’s them know that a commercial is being filmed.
Anyone whose face is recognizable in the captured footage should sign a waiver that allows you to use their image.
Our shooting schedule was based on a regular school day at the boarding school we were filming at. The coaches also work at the school as either teachers or administrators so our interviews were scheduled during thirty minute intervals that the staff had available.
Our b-roll with the coaches and athletes using the technology was booked around regularly scheduled practices except in the case of the lacrosse and soccer teams. Their seasons were over but the coaches selected some of their best athletes to come for a “staged” practice that would allow us to get the footage we needed.
A staged practice was preferable over a regular practice. Being able to stage scenes with the coaches and athletes gave us a lot more control over what we were seeing. Since both the client was on set and the agency producer we were able to get immediate feedback as to what specific scenarios we should be setting up to see the technology being used.
I can’t stress how important it is to have a client who knows what they want to see in the video. In the case of the sports technology, I had never used to, had no access to it, and wasn’t aware of how it worked. Having the client there to tell us what they wanted to see was crucial.
In the case of the interviews, the tech scout I had the week prior was really helpful in determining where we would film. We were looking for locations that had visual interest, where we could have control of our lighting, and where we wouldn’t be subjected to a lot of outside noise or machine noise (fans, AC’s, lawn mowers, etc.)
We settled on a gymnasium that had nice acoustics, the rafters of a second gymnasium, and a view overlooking the football field.
GETTING OFF SCHEDULE
In almost every shoot I have been a part of - at some point, things get off schedule. No matter how well planned, this is inevitable. Sometimes people are delayed getting to set, a scene takes longer to light than expected, or an interview goes long. What’s most important in these situations is to not panic or try to rush takes to make up time.
The third and final stage is called post-production. All the footage that was captured will now be edited into a final piece.
The process begins with an editor logging all the footage and assembling a rough cut. Depending on the team you’ve chosen to make your video, you may get to view the rough cut and ask for changes before a final version is made.
The details of how many edit revisions you will receive is something you should work out with your team in your scope of work document.
Depending on what type of video you are shooting the video edit could be very straightforward or a complex nightmare.
I had a lot of leeway when working on the edit for the tech company. I was given a short set of instructions from the agency that included:
The opening should be an exciting 10-15 second montage that is a mixture of sports footage we captured and footage captured through the sports technology system.
An order of importance for all the talking points made during the interviews
A list of specific sound bytes recorded during the interviews that should be included
A maximum run time of 2 minutes and 30 seconds
There were two full days of shooting so there was a lot of footage to log and a good editor watches everything. It took roughly a month to put together all the pieces of the edit until both the agency and client were happy.
THE MARKETING STAGE
Once your video is done and delivered the marketing stage begins. This is where a lot of clients fail. They simply upload their video to Youtube or Facebook and hope that the right eyes find it.
Before you make your video you should know what it’s purpose is and where you’ll be placing it. There are a lot of options including social platforms that have excellent targeting capabilities, local cable, and national broadcast.
Not all creatives are knowledgeable in this area so it’s important to speak with your video team to find out if they can help you with marketing or if you need to work with another firm.
You may have an in-house marketing team that will handle these next steps for you.
As I stated earlier in the article, the video I was hired to make was going to be a tool the salespeople used when visiting other schools. The testimonials of the coaches and the footage of the technology in use make a compelling argument for any school that has a serious athletics department.
The video was also published to the client’s Youtube account. As of this writing it has over 322,000 views.
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