Every once in a while, I receive a call from someone looking to get started in video production or filmmaking. It’s good to look for assistance and ask questions. None of us can do this without the help of others. Whether you have a close family member or no connections at all in the video production business, the first thing to do is ask.
The terms “video production” or “filmmaking” are broad ones indeed. There are many industries and roles found within these fields. They could mean anything from a high-profile job on a multimillion-dollar feature film or a one man band wedding videographer. Whatever springs you out of bed each morning, I say go for it. Because of Youtube, Netflix, Amazon, and so many other streamers, there are more opportunities in film and video than ever in the history of this craft.
Define your video production career goals; know your role.
Yes, there are many things you can do in the world of film and video. It’s your job to define your goals. Do you want to create documentaries? Shoot training videos? Sit atop a $100 million budget as an executive producer for Hollywood’s next blockbuster feature? Somewhere in-between? Know that you need a vision for where you want to end up. Here’s a great article on visualizing your career: How To Create A Career Vision: 3 Essential Traits
Hopefully you’ve already asked a videographer or filmmaker friend about entering this business. Have you followed up any of these queries with some sort of real action? If you are interested in filmmaking or video production, you most likely have been filming something already. Whether it’s with your dad’s DSLR or a cell phone, something must have motivated you to think about a life of motion picture storytelling. I would say that if you haven’t been experimenting, you’re probably not very interested. Look someplace else. There’ll always be room for you at The Control Data Institute.
Is filmmaking and video production for you?
All kidding aside, filmmaking and video production is not for everyone, whether you plan on starting your own business or going freelance or even working for a production company at any level. Like any other artistic or creative endeavor, your talent and business acumen will drive your career. This is not a 9 to 5 job. Some weeks or months are non-stop with zero breaks. Other days are quiet; too quiet and you are looking for your next gig. If you are looking for banker’s hours, keep looking.
As stated, there are many roles in filmmaking and video production. Find your area of interest and expertise. This site describes some of the roles: Wikipedia: Film crew. Naturally, if you’re just starting out, you may be deciding on which direction to take.
There are three general areas: the creative side, the technical side, and the business side. And the different roles you can play within each category are innumerable, especially in the entertainment industry. Are you focused on entertainment? Commercial marketing? Corporate communications? Training? Documentaries? Advertising? If you don’t know, find out by working for someone in one or two of these industries.
Where to make contacts.
Scour the internet to find your contacts. Ask friends and family. Create a Linkedin page and research film and video producers and production managers in whatever industry that interests you. When you call or email, have a position in mind. Do not ask, “Are you hiring?” Tell them what you are looking for and that you would like to talk about any possible opportunities in that area, whether as a production assistant who gets coffee or a grip that helps load the truck on a small film.
If you are in high school, most likely there is some sort of film program on campus. Get involved. Help any way you can. Some of the students you’ll meet will go on to film school. Most won’t. But you’ll meet more people and learn. If you are out of high school, look at universities and community colleges. You do not have to be enrolled to assist on a student film. (But think about enrolling.) In fact, student film producers need more help than what is available to them on campus. They need you!
Student films are how you get your feet wet. They don’t care if you have zero experience. They only want a halfway intelligent, energetic human being who follows directions. They want you to have a great attitude. Keep your head down, listen, don’t make waves, and do your job. Everyone will notice and you will be called back for more. You are now part of a family of filmmakers.
Now that you have a little experience under your belt, are you still attracted to this business of filmmaking? Are you starting to see which role suits you best? Then go for it! You can start inching your way up to better gigs and eventually get paid once you’ve demonstrated some mastery in your chosen role.
Not everyone needs or should go to film school. Film school can be very expensive and still not prepare you for the real world of making a buck or getting anywhere in film. Heck, there’s even a website called nofilmschool.com! Film schools are popping up everywhere because of the enormous popularity of video. I know a couple of people who grew to be high-powered executives without any film school. They didn’t even go to college! But they had a burning desire to get into TV and film. They climbed the ranks through dogged perseverance, intelligence, connections made along the way, and a general talent for playing their role. Another guy I know has a PhD in philosophy! The point is there is no single route to becoming a filmmaker or video production specialist. Everyone has their own story on how they made it. However, these filmmakers do have some things in common: drive, a willingness to learn, and an ability to make friends in the business. These friends do not have to be high-powered executives. They can be peers as lowly as you. You learn from each other. You inspire each other. You share your connections and stairstep your way to the top.
With that said, I do recommend going to college, not necessarily film school. But if you are confident that you want to become a filmmaker, then go to film school. Great connections are made there too. If you are focused, passionate and have a little talent, you can go pretty far after graduating film school. It’s up to you (not your professors or anyone else). You can also get a degree in… let’s say English and work on other students’ films on campus. The film industry needs writers, so English makes sense! You can go to engineering school and still get experience in film. Most Hollywood successes never went to film school! Take TV’s Mythbusters‘ co-host Jamie Hyneman: he graduated with a degree in Russian linguistics from Indiana University of all things! It’s good to be educated. In fact, those very successful college dropouts I mentioned actually envy those who graduated, especially when they find themselves in a room full of degreed professionals.
Get out there!
The most important thing you can do is get out there and meet people. And check out this site! It’s full of great ideas that will move you forward: Amy Clarke Films. Make friends who are also starting out. This is key. Find a student short film and get ready for some 16-hour days, 12 days straight. Get your feet wet. You’ll be exhausted but gratified after meeting some of the best people ever.
Chase Roberts is the owner and director of VISIONSOUND FILMS, a Los Angeles video production company specializing in documentaries, marketing films, and corporate films: www.visionsoundfilms.com
Chase also provides complete corporate instructional design services: www.chaseroberts.net
Documentaries come in all shapes and sizes: Some long, some short, some lighthearted, some not so lighthearted. One thing they do have in common is a need to uncover the truth in an untold story. That untold story could be a memory of working with Richard Harris on Harry Potter, or how a CEO came up with an idea to reinvigorate a company. Regardless of the subject, the point is to make your interviewee feel free to share their story.
I’ve interviewed hundreds of people over the years: from Ringo Starr and Helen Mirren to CEOs and anyone with a great story. And I’ve done enough to know that there is always room for improvement. The following are helpful reminders of what an interviewer may consider when sitting down for an interview.
Prepare your questions in advance.
You already have an idea of what you would like to hear; that’s why you chose this person to interview. But we need to hear it in their own words. Normally you will have a script or outline on hand to keep you on track. What do you want to hear? Your research and preparation for the story and interview will be your guide. But be prepared with some questions. The average is five to ten.
There are plenty of creative ways to film an interview. Most of the time there is one person on camera. The typical style is to have them looking “off camera” at the interviewee (not the camera). If you prefer he looks off camera, you may need to remind him, especially if he is inexperienced. There are a number of ways to frame your shot. Check out this website on creative camera framing techniques: www.studiobinder.com/blog/types-of-camera-shot-frames-in-film Whichever your creative preference, let your DP/camera operator know or have her show you some ideas. Regardless, rehearse this creative before your interviewee walks into the room. Have your audio person sit or stand in position to audition your framing ideas. It’s best to work this out before your shoot date. If you add a second camera, work out that placement in advance, too. When I interview, I like to sit right next to the camera with my shoulder almost touching the tripod. But camera placement is a completely different subject. Just know that you need a plan.
Make the interviewee comfortable.
Making the interviewee comfortable begins the moment you call their agent or make the first contact to discuss an interview date. Be considerate of her time. Avoid last-minute changes to the schedule or location. Make sure the chair and room is comfortable. Have at least a sealed bottle of water available. Your lights, sound and camera must be set before she walks into the room. Put your interview at ease with light conversation after a greeting. Talk about “the weather”, or some quick anecdote that may be fun to talk about. Read them: they may not want any small talk at all! Remember: You set the tone.
Have a conversation.
Naturally, a regular conversation with family and friends needs no preparation. But making a film is business. Be prepared with questions but do not stick to a rigid laundry list. Have a conversation. Enjoy a back and forth exchange but let them talk. This is not about you. Let your interviewee shine and show her personality. Listen for new information and get them to expand. Remember that you are discovering interesting information for your audience. Listen closely: you may come up with new questions during the conversation!
“I need my questions in advance.”
Oftentimes the interviewee will ask to see the questions in advance. My concern is that the interviewee will try to memorize their responses and give stilted, rehearsed and bland responses that do not come off naturally. But you cannot say “no” and deny them something in advance. Really, they do need to have an idea of what you’re going to talk about. So provide a short paragraph on the nature of the conversation. Keep it in general terms.
Frame questions to avoid “yes” and “no” responses.
Avoid this dialogue: Question: “Is the sky blue?” Answer: “Yes.” This is basic stuff, but sometimes you may need to prompt your interviewee by asking “why?” in order to get them to elaborate. Don’t ask, “Did you like working with Richard Harris?” Instead, ask, “What kind of relationship did you have with Richard Harris on set?” (More on this below!)
“Please remember to repeat the question in your answer.”
We are telling a story; we need the big picture for context. Sometimes it can be tough to edit a film if the interview does not provide context in an response. Then again, the information could be given context when supported by other content in the film. With enough content and sound bites to carry the story, this works beautifully. It comes down to the art of editing. This becomes more complicated when your film does not have scripted narration to fill in the gaps. Oftentimes we’ll hear a director/interviewer off camera asking a follow-up question or filling in some nuance. This is because the editor determined the information needed support and used interviewer audio from the camera mic. And that’s okay if it happens once or twice. It could add texture to your film. But instead of asking, “Was the sky blue?”, ask “What did you see when you got outside?”
Don’t step on your interview.
Avoid interrupting the dialogue with unnecessary remarks or reactions. You’ll ruin a sound bite.
“Is there anything you would like to add?”
When the interviewee believes your chat is coming to a close, they tend to relax and become chatty. Keep the camera rolling. Sometimes a DP will cut the camera on their own when they sense things are wrapped. Don’t let this happen! (“Please wait for me to say cut!”) Don’t ruin it by cutting or taking off their mic so quickly. Slow down and keep things rolling if it’s convenient. Exploit this opportunity to get a little more. Sometimes the best stuff is saved for last. Have you ever noticed in television crime shows where a detective will act like an interrogation is over and begins to leave but stops to ask one seemingly harmless question? Usually the interviewee will slip up and say something very enlightening. Watch an old Peter Falk Columbo and you will know exactly what I’m talking about. It works!
Chase Roberts is the owner and director of VISIONSOUND FILMS, a Los Angeles video production company specializing in video production for documentaries, marketing films, and corporate films. Our reel: https://vimeo.com/365180572
Telephone 714 280-8201 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. VISIONSOUND FILMS is a Los Angeles-based video production company.
Our brand video campaign with CyberStep for the launch of their KDJ-ONE portable audio workstation generated more than one-million views on YouTube. VISIONSOUND FILMS produced, directed, filmed and edited this series of social media marketing videos with Sid Wilson, alternatively known as DJ Starscream of Slipknot, an American heavy metal rock band. Sid Wilson as the in ad presenter was an obvious choice for this music device that “… allows someone like me or someone who’s just starting out to stay ahead”, according to Wilson.
Multiple branded videos were created for a variety of lengths to meet the demands of successful completion rates for Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok.
This branded video campaign was filmed over a single day at Wilson’s home in Venice, CA. VISIONSOUND FILMS took advantage of this colorful location with a built in creative vibe that both inspires musicians and generates viewer interest.
See out longer YouTube version here: https://visionsoundfilms.com/project/crowdfunding-kdj-one/
Throughout my years of producing marketing videos for large businesses, I’ve noticed a tendency among clients to request a single video that answers all possible questions and covers every single product and service the company delivers. I call this the “kitchen sink video.” Oftentimes, this occurs over a democratic effort to please everyone.
These used to be called “corporate overviews.” But that never made sense to me. Do you ever see “overview” style commercials for Coca Cola or Nike? How about an overview style infomercial, Netflix show or anything? Perhaps “overview” is a loose term leftover from the old days of corporate films.
Corporate films are alive and well. A quick search on vimeo.com reveals many powerful and incredibly beautiful and effective films being made today. They harness the powers of what makes a great film: powerful imagery set to an inspiring story that evokes emotion.
Yet, there’s still a tendency to make the be-all and end-all corporate film that encapsulates everything about the company. Everything means all products, services and departments, history, vision statement, interviews, and the list goes on. All of this information amounts to a very long video. It has become a laundry list of information that appears to be taken from a brochure: A blunt instrument; a sleeping pill. Yes, a lost opportunity to tell the world what the company is really about.
In simple terms, you can take a high road or a low road. The low road is choosing the easy, more expository route that lists all of the obvious things a certain company has, like an attentive customer service department or award-winning software (zzzz). Then there’s the high road, a place where fewer go: the righteous path that brought the company to where it is today. Here the company confidently and proudly displays pride in their story of success. Stuff like how it took a lot of hard work, character, ingenuity, and bright minds to solve problems and become an industry leader. We want to hear this story.
Avoid wall to wall narration that leaves no room to inspire the viewer with human stories. Let the visuals and music inspire faith in your company. Of course, that product does look beautiful in a carefully lit scene. But it looks even better when we know the story behind it. Give us the blood, sweat and tears – the pride that goes behind the invention and how it has affected our lives. Save the technical bulletins, white papers and case studies for the brochures and web pages. Of course, not all subjects lend themselves to an emotional story. The point is that we should never inundate the viewer with minutiae: sell the sizzle.
Finally, a company needs multiple short films. One film cannot do it all. Find stories within your company and bring them to life with all the great video technology we have at our disposal. Social media is always looking for a good story to share and go viral. Shine the light on what we really want to know: your story.
Chase Roberts is the director of video production company VISIONSOUND FILMS, located in Southern California: https://visionsoundfilms.com
He also operates https://videocrew.com a Los Angeles camera crew video crew service provider for producers and directors of documentaries, commercials and corporate video.
How to manage the scriptwriting process
The script is more than likely to be the toughest part of the entire production process. After all, the script is really an invention. It’s a solution to a problem, whether sharing a technical insight, conveying a solution that only a particular product can provide, or putting a brand head and shoulders above the rest.
“We need a script. So, who writes it?” Hopefully an experienced video production company or producer will take the reins before a client has a chance to ask this question. But this is not always the case. Long before consulting with a producer the client may move forward with the scriptwriting process internally: “Isn’t this something that we can do in-house? Who knows the subject-matter better than us?”
Thus begins the process of handing off the job to an internal product expert with an already busy schedule. And the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months. Then we come to find out that the job was handed off again to a newly hired admin who’s even more overwhelmed by this request. Most people have never written a script. But how hard is it?
In most cases, everyone will know the importance of a well drafted script. However, despite the best intentions, the client or inexperienced producer may prolong the writing process for a number of reasons. These include a failure to collaborate or share in the writing process. On the other hand, sometimes the client or producer will seek the approval of dozens in an effort to share responsibility. In the right hands this could be a good thing. In the wrong hands this could lead to more delay and a loss of quality control.
Consulting numerous opinions on the script does not have to be a sign of weakness or indecision. Multiple stakeholders and subject matter experts (SMEs) should be consulted for their valuable opinions. However, rarely does everybody agree on every word in the script. A responsible project manager will consider conflicting opinions and also avoid the “kitchen sink” approach. This is where everything but the kitchen sink is thrown into the script in a democratic effort to please everyone. The result is usually a watered down, lengthy and monotonous video that fails to focus on the real story.
The job of the video production company is to guide the client – to help them define their objectives and write the script. This begins by finding their comfort level. Suggest ideas that perhaps may seem crazy at first but may be an actual solution to their message. Once the objective of the film is well understood, it is time to gather the information to write the script. Take ownership. Be of service by coordinating with the company’s SMEs. This can begin with a request for existing marketing and technical information, including white papers, technical bulletins and marketing resources. It all depends on how much information the company has on hand. Schedule a meeting with the SMEs. Interview them. With enough time set aside, take this opportunity to ask a lot of questions and work through obtaining good answers to begin writing the script.
The video production company must manage the scriptwriting process and help educate the client throughout all phases of production.