Top 5 pre-production tips for better corporate videos
By Chris Zecco
January 29, 2020
You just got off the phone with a client requesting a quote for a corporate video. The budget isn’t determined yet, the runway to the deadline is short, and they need to get buy-in from their boss right away.
How can you make this seemingly daunting task seem more manageable and still provide your client with a high-quality piece that will keep them coming back for more (providing you want them to)?
Here’s a hint: It all starts in pre-production. We’ll cover 5 tips to ensure that you handle the difficult pieces upfront, so the rest of your production runs smoothly.
For the purposes of this blog, we will assume that this is your typical “talking head”-style video production, with B-roll shot around the facility.
Communication is key.
From the initial client call all the way through finished production, communication—with the client, your internal team, and any external resources—is key. Active communication gives you a clear view into the type of story you want to tell, the goals of the project, where it will live, and who will be watching it. You can capture a lot of project-related details in a simple creative brief, which will be your handbook as you work through the remainder of the production.
If you use external resources—such as hair and makeup artists, freelance camera operators, sound mixers, and producers—include them in the planning as early as possible. This ensures that they are available and have what they need to complete their part. Make everyone aware of call times, on-set expectations, and required deliverable specs (for sound and camera departments, at least).
Often on corporate shoots, you deal with the end-user or your client’s client. This can cause the dreaded game of “Telephone,” where communications get lost or misinterpreted, resulting in issues later on in the production. The more face time you can get with the actual talent before production, the better. This helps build rapport and makes the talent more comfortable during production.
IMPORTANT: Make sure you get signed release forms from anyone who appears on camera. Nothing is worse than completing a project and not being able to show it because you failed to get a sign-off from the talent.
Tell a story.
While filling out the creative brief, consider the elements of the story to be told. Ask yourself, “Is this story worth telling?” When putting together the outline and script, ask, “How can I tell this story in the most engaging way?” Corporate videos aren’t the most exciting pieces of visual entertainment, but you can tell compelling stories with them. For example, perhaps you focus on the user and what real-life benefits your service or solution has on them.
We recently completed a project for a large tech company with a hand in some high-performance computing (HPC) resources. We interviewed the end user to discuss how it impacts them. They use this HPC solution to power Diagnomics, which uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to research genetics. This is a compelling story that can be bolstered by referencing the technology behind it.
Location, location, location.
This has less to do with the look and feel of the location and more to do with the logistics of filming in an active corporate environment. In the world of high-tech, this can mean shooting around active data centers, crowded cube farms, and busy meeting rooms. You want to record an interview in as quiet and sound-dampened a room as possible.
The ideal situation allows for a location scout of the area. Try to arrive a day early to check out the space and find the ideal spot, but this isn’t always feasible in terms of budget and time. If at all possible, have your client send photos of the available spaces, and provide them with your requirements in terms of room size, sound quality, lighting, power, etc.
Once you’re sure the space will work logistically, you can concentrate on set decoration and making sure your interviewee is the main focus. Remove anything distracting from the frame, such as busy wall art, lights, projector screens, and computer wires. You can also add elements to enhance interest, such as company logos and accent lighting.
Use the best equipment for the project.
In a world where screens are more compact with higher pixel densities, capturing the best possible image is a must. Most video production packages can be broken down into three main groups: camera, lighting, and sound. Other facets of a production can be important, such as a prompter and camera supports, but the three groups below are the bare minimum, and you can adjust the rest to suit your needs.
The most important part of a kit in regard to capturing the visuals, the camera is useless without proper lighting and sound. Our package usually contains an A cam and a B cam. This allows us to continuously record at two different focal lengths. Having two cameras also allows your editor to cut between the two to cover any awkward lines, flubs, umms, etc.
We find that having cameras with interchangeable lenses (DSLR, mirrorless, or cinema cameras, for example) allows us to use a selection of different lenses with varying apertures and focal lengths that can cover a variety of situations.
Most simple “talking head”-style videos can be achieved with two or three lights, depending on the location. The most basic three-light setup involves a key light, a fill light, and a rim/hair/edge/back light:
- A key light is used as your main light source. It’s generally positioned just to the side of the camera, and equipped with a diffuser or soft box that provides large, soft, and even coverage.
- Fill lights are used to fill in the shadows on the opposite side of the talent. This is usually smaller and less powerful than the key light, to not create a flat-looking subject.
- Rim lights are positioned behind the subject and used to separate them from the background. This creates a contour around the subject and helps them stand out.
Many different lighting styles can be accomplished with more or less lighting, but this is good jumping off point. It works well for corporate shoots because you don’t want to go too dramatic or too flat with your lighting setup.
It has been stated many times that the most beautifully shot film would be nothing without sound of equal or greater quality. What does this mean for your sound package? On our shoots, we always have at least two microphones running, going to a dedicated audio recorder. We use a wireless lavalier mic on the talent, as well as a shotgun/boom mic placed just outside the frame. This setup ensures that if a battery runs out, or a cable goes bad or gets unplugged, you have a quality backup running.
The purpose of recording the audio separate from video is to capture it in a much higher bit rate than is usually available in-camera. This gives us more flexibility in post-production to tweak and make changes to it. We also capture reference sound directly to our two cameras. This is obviously a last resort as on-camera mics are not ideal, but with a bit more tweaking in post-production, it can at least be passable.
Plan to get in early and stay late.
As I referenced earlier, if at all possible, try to get in a half-day to full day early so you can do a proper location scout. While shoot hours for the talent may only be from 5 to 7 hours, I allow 8 to 10 hours for crew setup, prep, and teardown. A mic cable going bad or talent schedule conflicts can draw out the shoot longer than expected, so planning for a longer shoot day allows you to adjust your plans accordingly.
If your shoot involves traveling to multiple locations, make sure you take weather into account. Once, when traveling to record B-roll in an Ottawa data center, I was trapped in a blizzard in Quebec. This took two hours longer than expected. Had I not accounted for that extra time, there may not have been enough time to capture everything that was needed.
Take these five tips into account upfront to help ensure that your production goes off without a hitch. Be on the lookout for forthcoming articles with tips for production and post-production.