Wednesday, November 1, 2017

10 Secrets About Video Production That No Company Will Tell You - Part 1

Many times people ask me what the process for planning out video shoots is. And many times I tell them, "It's a lot of planning..." which is true! The process we have in place is tailored specifically to our usual workflow as a small business but  for the most part it can apply to all video shoots. In this two part blog I will layout the basic steps that are involved in planning and running a successful video shoot. Disclaimer: Most of our experience comes from commercial, corporate and government video production - not all of these tips apply to every kind of video production shoot. 
So here it is...

First Pillar's Ultimate Guide to Video Production: Part 1

"...and they all lived happily ever after." 
It all starts with the pen and paper. Or the keyboard. Whichever you prefer. I'm not going to get into how to write a script. What really matters is that you have one, it's been approved by both you and your client. (maybe even get it double approved) and you are ready to plan your shoot. This is your base layer, your cement block for the giant video production tower we will be building. What's important here is you have to look at the script objectively. Forget about all the fun creative stuff and look at the facts. Is it an action video with an opening chase scene in an abandoned office building? Is it good? Doesn't matter anymore. What you need to figure out is where is the building, who's playing the actors, what equipment will you need and how big is the crew? Oh and you have to do all this within a very specific tight budget. Yikes! Remember what is important here is to get all of the info out of the script. Some larger productions might even have a detailed document that comes with the script outlining a lot of these details already. If not, don't panic. Once you practice doing this it become second nature to scan over a scene and see what the needs and requirements might be. Once you have created your own outline, make sure to run it past everyone involved. Sometimes there may be things that are not present in the script and outside feedback can be invaluable. One last tip - when initially pulling out information, don't worry about the budget yet, try to be very objective and if there needs to be a change later - address it then. 

"Location, location location!" Now that you have your script and you have a general idea of your needed locations it is time to figure out where those locations might exist in the real world! As always some scripts will be easier than others to figure out. There are plenty of office buildings around... but you need a deserted office building. But that office building also has to be safe enough for people to be inside so maybe you need a working office building and then will turn it into a deserted office building. Is that feasable with your budget? Maybe. Maybe not. What I find most important here is to figure out which locations I know will be easy to secure and which ones will be tricky. Some things to think about here are permits and safety. Say you want to film in an old historic downtown neighborhood. Well you would most likely have to get a permit from the state and the city and maybe even special permission from the historical society. Also if an area has traffic, it will have to be rerouted and that requires hiring the police and other city workers. But finding locations isn't all bad. Remember that scouting out locations is also a very important step. This can save you headaches during production and can also be fun to explore different areas. Remember to budget in additional days for scouts. 

"How expensive is that camera?!"
Back in the day when me and my cousins used to make horror movies in our garage our gear consisted of Dad's video camera, a blank tape and a good idea. If only that was all you needed  for a professional shoot. Every shoot is different and requires the right tools for the job. The 3 key things to consider here are lighting, sound and video. If you have a DP for the project it is important to talk to them about what there thoughts are for specific requirements. If your doing the shoot yourself then it is up to you! What do you feel this production needs? Consider the locations and the scenes. Will you need different types of lenses for the camera? How is the lighting at your chosen locations?  What kinds of lights do you need? What about audio? Are there speaking roles? Do you need to record natural sound? There are many things to consider when deciding what to use on your shoot- maybe you don't have all of the equipment you need and therefore would have to rent some of it. Renting gear isn't unusual for larger productions as most video production companies dont have the ability to keep the wide variety of production equipment needed on hand. Another tip... Don't forget about the little things. Duct tape, extra bulbs, extension cords, batteries...having these on hand can make you the superhero of the production. 

"Hello, I am the Director, Writer, Producer, Videographer, VoiceOver Artist, and Editor...nice to meet you."
Sometimes your crew can be one of the most challenging aspects of production. Especially for a small team, adding on additional crew can lead to unwanted outcomes or surprises. Our goal is to see how much of the production we can split between a small crew and then if we have to subcontract for additional crew we always make sure they have been vetted with us before and we can trust them. You never want to be on a shoot with someone you don't know and have never worked with before. Unlike others jobs where subcontractors can fill in, a video shoot is slightly different. Video shoots are tiny bursts of finely tuned explosive action. They are machines that only work if everyone does their part for the whole team. If something goes wrong, not only can you lose time but also money and possibly even a good relationship with a client. Our tip...make a list of the positions that you need to fill. See how many you can fill in with your team, then reach out to trusted subcontractors to fill in the rest. 

"Hello darling..."
The glitz, the glam, the glory...well at least when the cameras are rolling. When we refer to talent we are referring to the people in front of the camera: the actors and actresses, the dancers, the singers, the performers, the artists, the professional, the entertainers, the interviewee. The first order of business is to figure out what kind of talent you will be working with. Are you hiring actors? Are you interviewing real people? Are you filming a documentary where your talent is naturally occurring? Next figure out if you need to be responsible for finding the talent or if it is something that is naturally built into the job. Most commercial productions require the production studio to find talent with the final casting calls made by the client or collectively. Whenever possible we look to our local community for options. You'd be surprised how many locals have acting talent!

Read Part 2 - First Pillar's Ultimate Guide To Video Production: Part 2

Mike Ramsdell is the co-owner of First Pillar Studios and has worked in the creative video production industry since 2008. Contact Mike at or visit 

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