March 19, 2019
Well, largely because client-side staff haven’t worked on film shoots. Typically, you’ve not benefited from seeing how video production should be scoped, planned, resourced, executed, and edited. It’s not your fault. You don’t necessarily know the right questions to ask. Yet.
You entrust in video producers to take you on the journey. You entrust in their knowledge and experience. You entrust in that glamourous showreel you’ve viewed. You entrust in the role of honour of experience associated with DoPs – Director of Photography. You entrust that your shoot will be professionally executed yielding the desired content. You entrust that you’re going to be shown ‘how it’s done’ – after all, video is critical content these days, isn’t it! You entrust.
Frustratingly, there are too many charlatan Directors out there; people who have been duping clients for many years. They’ve gotten away with it because no one possessing relevant experience has called them out or held them to account. They continue to get away with abusing client’s trust. Client’s receive a video they’re happy with, but truthfully, all too often it’s mediocre content.
These wannabe Directors claim to be experts of video production. They blag their way to income by relying on an able camera operator’s ability to grab some relevant frames. In post-production, they hope a skilled editor can shuffle the frames and audio into some sort of order. Their videos get produced, but it is by luck, rather than judgement, craft or ability. And I hate seeing it.
18-months ago, whilst working within an all-agency environment, I had my creative direction stolen on a major shoot. A wannabe freelance Film Director attempted to claim my vision as his. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for him, I was able to evidence the source of the creative inspiration, and the subsequent storyboarding within a detailed pre-production deck produced some four months earlier. He wasn’t able to share anything. Too many self-titled Directors aren’t able to plan or effectively manage the crucially important pre-production period.
Sadly, this isn’t an isolated story. This conduct is prevalent throughout the industry. Too many unskilled Directors are able to secure work on film shoots as they’re not being challenged correctly during the scoping and planning stage.
In a few days’ time, we depart on our latest film shoot. We’re shooting a video series in three different locations. The production spans two weeks and culminates with spectacular week-long filming on a boat using seven cameras.
In a few paragraphs, I’m going to take you on my planning journey. The journey from receiving a competitive brief, through winning a client’s trust and work, and onto the necessary and expected hand-holding we do during the pre-production phase. Experienced Film Directors know the critical importance of doing this. If you’re currently using a Film Director and they can’t competently and quickly answer why we do this, well, sadly, you’ve probably hired the wrong resource.
- The brief: all clients produce these. They contain the content goal and the location content will be used. You may receive background information; you may also receive part of the story ‘why’. This detail can be a few lines, it could be paragraphs. Critically, it will not be anywhere near the required information needed to grasp the films message, syntax, or sequences required to make the story pop.
- Questioning the brief: why, why, why, and why again. As a parent of young children, it’s easy for me to delve into the why mode. Why do you want this? Why do you need this? Why do you think video is the content vehicle? Why are you producing this? Why have you chosen those locations? Why are those stories or messages important? Why have you chosen those channels? Why have you selected this resource? Etcetera, etcetera. Why. Why. Why. Clearly, for IP reasons, I’m not going to gift competition with my full list of ‘whys’ but suffice to say it’s a rather long list. Anyone who has worked with us will attest to this.
- Pitch storyboards: seems obvious, doesn’t it? You’ll be staggered by the number of clients who do not get to see scamped storyboard, content direction, potential sequences, and shot lists within the pitch stage. Why do we use Wide Shots, when do we use Mid Shots, and when do we use Close-Ups? What are the proposed General Views or Cutaways? What are the cameras and the lenses proposed – and why? These are the basics. You should hear this information. If you’re not having this imparted to you, I’d question if the director even knows the difference between a Mid Shot and a Wide Shot, or when we use Pull Focus.
- Appointment: an obvious one that probably doesn’t require explanation, but if you’re not receiving a clear and detailed Statement of Work (accompanying your Contract) then you’re not off to the right start. You should have a SoW that details the content volume, outputs by type, run times, detail of editing for specific channels, audio licencing specifics, subtitling specifics, details of how your 4K, 1080p or 720p content is being shared with you, and when (have you ever tried emailing a 4K RAW file?)
- Planning and pre-production: this is where the work really starts. The content vision I’ve pitched you on will now evolve. The finer detail around the schedule, location, technical, and resource requirements starts to take shape. The abundance of logistical challenges facing any shoot is now answered. If you were working with us, you can expect a chunky PowerPoint deck that details:
- Deliverables (with clear dates)
- Equipment being used:
- Metering: too many Directors don’t understand the importance of metering. We provide clear evidence of why we’ve chosen the above equipment for your shoot. Metering changes a shot. This example from Blackmagic shows the same shot three ways. Metering is very important.
- Logistics: taking 8 Peli Cases is not always possible, but if it is, this amount of luggage presents an issue. That’s just once logistical hurdle. They should all be detailed to you.
- Challenges: every film shoot offers up challenges. Being able to improvise is essential, but, 90% of challenges can be resolved during the planning stage. Don’t waste critical shoot time figuring out an obvious (and expected) challenge.
- Storyboards: evolved and worked up. Details of the story and its evolved messages would be pulled out and shared.
- Shot lists: examples should be detailed and shared. You should know the sequences and audio requirements now. Indicative imagery, showcasing my creative view is critically important – how else will you see what in my mind’s eye?
- Risk Assessments, permissions, and other Health and Safety implications: it astounds me how many film crews don’t know you have to wear Hi-Vis jackets when filming in a public space and ‘locking off’ of the public is required. For our latest film shoot, we’ve had four pages of A4 mapping Risk Assessments. In today’s day and age, nothing can be left to chance.
The PowerPoint deck we create mapping the above is always in the region of 40-50 slides. People say creatives and planning are not good bedfellows. Perhaps not. However, and in my experience, the very best filmmakers are able to harness their creative vision and force themselves to create the detailed planning documents. They do this as they know detailed planning and preparation will enable their creative vision to pop and excel. It allows us to align the client with our vision. It allows us to ensure the very best resource and technology requirements are in play securing an abundance of relevant frames – in the context of the storyboards. It gives us the best content to filter in the editing stage, ensuring the very best and most relevant frames make our final cut. If your editing process is not challenging, if you’re not making tough decisions as to what you’re cutting, then you’ve not created the right volume or quality of content, and it’s probably the fault of the planning stage!!
Do be a client who entrusts in talent. Also, be the client who demands detailed planning. An experienced filmmaker will only thank you for doing so! #SayNoToCharlatans