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How to Get the Most from a Video Shoot

How to Get the Most from a Video Shoot Doug Schumacher

Video killed the radio star, but it has made fast friends with the online community. And with the exploding popularity of online video, interactive agencies will need to demonstrate that they can develop quality, entertaining and strategically relevant video pieces-- be they content or streaming ads. (Note that I'm a big fan of user-generated media, but for this article, I'm focusing on agency-produced video.)

Most people in online marketing have more experience building websites than shooting video. And from a production standpoint, there's a noteworthy difference between the two. Although each can have comparably large budgets, the development of a website takes place over a longer period of time. With a video shoot, the bulk of the project comes down to a single day: the shoot day. So while it's possible to make adjustments late in the site-development process, that's rarely an option with video production.

Thus, when you're shooting video, preparation is imperative. (The old saying, "Don't worry, we'll fix it in the edit" is just a saying. If you're on the set and you don't have the shot in the can, by all means, worry.)

So when you have a video shoot, how can you make sure you bring home the goods? The main thing to remember is, even if you have an experienced production company and director, you still need to do your homework and think through the entire shot list from all the angles. The points below will guide you through some of the more critical messaging issues. (I'm sidestepping other production issues like location scouting, insurance and food services for this article. Those are areas where you'll definitely need to rely on the production company.)

This list applies to online video shoots. There may be times you're involved in pulling online video from a TV commercial shoot as well. I'll provide a guide for that process in my next article.

Keep it simple
Simplicity is one of the most powerful communication tactics ever practiced. It applies to everything from 30-second commercials to political rally speeches. So of course it applies to a 10-second streaming video spot. And it all starts with a smart, clear concept. Online video doesn't have near the production quality of a TV commercial, so the concept is even more important than with offline spots, where you can rely on beautiful footage and character nuances to build emotional impact.

Get ready for your closeup
Shoot almost everything closer than you would a TV spot. Online, your computer screen may have higher definition than your TV, but the playback screen is usually 320x240 and highly compressed. You'll need to compensate by zooming in on product shots and people's faces.

Minimal backgrounds
TV spots often have extensive backdrops or quirky background characters adding to the entertainment value. Keep in mind that a lot of this will be lost in an online spot. Keeping the background simple may help avoid an ambiguous or blurry background, which could distract viewers from what's really important. This gets back to having strong central concepts that can carry the spot.

Think visual
Music and sound effects aren't as impacting on an online spot as they are on TV commercials. This may change as portable devices like video iPods and computer-based home entertainment centers expand in influence. But today, that's not the case. Even dialogue can have challenges with so many viewers at work having their volume down. While a lot of viral videos may feature heavy dialogue, spots running in media slots don't have the pre-sell of a viral spot, and are shown at times when the viewer isn't even expecting a commercial. In that context, a strong visual will be far more likely to capture someone's interest and attention. This primarily applies to online commercials. Content-oriented video is different because the user is expecting to be viewing and listening to the video.

Great commercial-- what was it for?
We've all seen commercials on YouTube where you can't make out the logo, let alone the tag line. This is usually because the spot was uploaded after being recorded off a TV. Similar to product shot and background issues, video online doesn't handle details well, so make sure your logo and tag lines are clearly visible.

Film is cheap. Video is cheaper.
"Film is cheap" is an old TV commercial production proverb. The idea being that you've assembled the cast, crew, agency staff and clients. You've built the set, gotten the permit, and rented the gear. The remaining cost of film is minimal by comparison, so shoot away. Thus, if you're on the set and you see something that doesn't feel right, take the time to get it right.

One way to help ensure you're covered is to bracket shots. Let's say you're not sure how close you need to be on a certain shot. Shoot what you think is right, and then shoot it a little closer and a little farther. You'll often end up going with one of the alternate shots.

Just keep in mind that you only have so many hours to the shoot, so you'll need to stick to a tight schedule or you'll end up not getting all the shots you wanted.

Prioritize your shot list
On the shot list, some shots are more important to the concept than others. Be highly familiar with the shot list and know which ones are most critical, and which could be sacrificed in an emergency. This isn't something you want to be deciding on location.

Storyboard your spot at a frame per second
A creative director once told me to do this for a shoot, and I thought he was nuts. He couldn't have been more right, especially when you're new to shooting video. It's about timing, and even though online isn't as strict in terms of length, you still should have a good idea for how much time each shot should take in the final edit.

Shoot in Hi-Def if you can
The individual frames can then be used as still images for banners and site images. It also makes transfers to TV's format more feasible.

Make the client's product look great
This is pretty obvious, but always worth keeping top of mind. The client will be viewing the product footage more critically than anything else in the spot, as will everyone else back at their office.

That's a wrap for this article. Keep in mind this is merely the tip of the production iceberg, and experience is the best resource you can have. If you aren't sure, ask questions until you're comfortable. Shoots are an exhilarating aspect of this business, and having a spot go viral is icing on the cake. Good luck.


Doug Schumacher is president/creative director for Basement, Inc.  .

Doug Schumacher is the co-founder of social media content strategy tool Zuum. Zuum reveals a number of key insights into what type of social media content will generate maximum impact for a given industry. His interactive career began in 1996...

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