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Everything you need to know about commissioning video content (but didn’t know who to ask)

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There's no doubt that video is an effective, ever-expanding medium for getting your content out there, and delivering additional value for your company's audience – but how do you go about producing video content with no previous experience? What are the key considerations before commissioning video content to promote your company and your team's expertise?

Today we’ve got some fantastic tips from Ian Sandall of video production company SPL Communications – a man with 25 years’ experience in writing, producing and directing video content – on everything you need to know about commissioning video content for your business:

These days, video is everywhere and is by far and away the most powerful form of content you can put on your website.

Although I train a lot of people to make their own simple videos using smartphones, there may come a time when you need to get someone in.

Because filming and editing more than a simple ‘talking heads’ video on a smartphone can be a complex job. To make something special, specialist skills and specialist kit are often involved.

Of course you could do it all yourself. You could start being your own producer (much as some people service their own cars or do their own conveyancing when they buy a house). You could write a script, hire a crew and look after all the post-production yourself.

You could. But do you have the time … let alone the expertise? How do you set a budget – or more likely, work to a budget someone else has set? Do you have current knowledge of rates and what kit is available? And how can you tell whether the people you hire will be any good?

Make sure your brief leaves lots of room for creative interpretation, after all, that’s a lot of what you’re paying for.

So if you need to commission videos for your company or agency, where do you start? How do you sort out the wheat from the chaff… the charlatans from the actual artisans? How do you brief and how much detail should you include? (Hint: you don’t actually need to have much technical knowledge here.) Then how do you evaluate the quotes, ignore all the flannel and choose the right people to partner with? Finally, how do you run and administer the project and ensure everything is delivered on time and to budget? These are a few of the questions that have taken me half a lifetime to answer, but I’ll try to condense it down to the most important points here!

Over the years I’ve gathered quite a few horror stories and seen quite a few disasters waiting to happen when clients, agencies and video production companies just didn’t see eye to eye. So here’s my 10-point quick guide to get you started making some great videos:

1. Write a brief.

First for yourself, so you actually know what it is you want to produce. (Sometimes people don’t, worryingly.) Then for your potential suppliers. Make it as detailed as you need to, but make sure to leave lots of room for creative interpretation. After all, that’s a lot of what you’re paying for.

2. Know your target audience.

Never just say ‘We need to make a video’. Videos work best when they’re targeted towards a specific audience. Staff? Purchasers? The Great and the Good? Each segment of the audience will have specific needs and aspirations. Unless you address them, the video won’t be as effective. So targeting is important. If you have two or three specific audiences, can you create different cuts of the same video for each of these? Often you can, and a skilled producer will show you how to do this and possibly save money too.

3. Set a realistic budget.

Basically for a video for your site you won’t get much under two or three thousand. For that you should expect a day or two of filming and a few days of editing. Obtain quotes for a lot less and you’ll normally be dealing with 12-year-olds! Add fancy stuff, a lot of lighting or complex animations and watch the costs increase exponentially. Bear in mind TV commercials can often cost six figures – and that’s without the star endorsements!

4. Understand that buying this sort of work is not like buying a commodity.

That means that it could be the kiss of death to get your purchasing department involved, unless they have experience of commissioning and buying creative work. The main issue here is comparing apples with apples. You can film something on an iPhone or an Arri Alexa – the average rental rate of one of these with accessories and lenses is £3K per day – and that’s just for the kit, not the people! Knowing which to use (and a myriad combinations of kit in between) is a skilled producer’s job.

5. Ask around business contacts or LinkedIn, or use the web to find a production company.

Personal recommendation is normally better as you can speak to the producer AND the person who commissioned them. Get both sides of the story, check they’re in the right ballpark budget-wise and there’s often no need to put it out to pitch. Look at lots of work that could be similar to what you need. If you do pitch it, don’t put it out to more than three people. If you’re in London, get quotes from the provinces and see the costs radically decrease. If you’re outside London there are good production companies in all the major cities. Remember when getting quotes for film work, apples can be made to look a lot like oranges in certain lighting conditions! BUT: If you think that because your company makes left-handed widgets you need a production company with experience of producing films all about left-handed widgets you’re dead wrong! Companies who already have that experience are the wrong people to go to – unless you want a film that looks just like your competition’s!

6. Once you’ve chosen your producer, transparency is everything.

If you’ve pressure from the board, share this with them. If the budget changes (I’m assuming here that YOU have not changed it…) be honest and tell them. Normally there will be an equitable solution. It’ll make things easier further down the line. And if you have to move the goalposts, be honest on that point too. But do expect the costs to change. After all, a revised brief could entail extra shooting and editing days, and maybe travel too.

7. Everything takes longer that you expect. Everything.

Watching paint dry is exciting compared to some shoots I’ve been on. For instance, I’ve sat with an art director and home economist while they painstakingly selected the right looking cornflakes for a supermarket shoot. I’ve also spent half the day waiting for the sun to be in the right place when a sudden downpour puts paid to any filming! A good producer will factor in all these issues to the best of his/her ability.

8. Don’t say to your film crew at the end of the day:

‘…And while you’re here, could you just ….?’ as that’s a sure-fire way to annoy them all. Trust me. I’ve been there. Always be upfront with your crew about the scope and amount of work!

9. Expect to be underwhelmed by the first cut of the edit.

It will get a lot better. Again, there are a lot of variables at play here so (unless you LOVE it) don’t be afraid to ask for changes – and as long as the shots exist you can have them in the edit (although I have been asked: ‘I know we didn’t do it on the filming day but could you just go back and shoot it another way?’). Often a ‘director’s cut’ may be completely different to the cut that you like, but who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong? (You might want to do some research…)

10. Everyone else in your company will have an opinion on the finished job.

From the CEO’s spouse to the mailroom trainee. Funnily enough they don’t all have opinions on what the firm’s legal counsel has just advised, or what the structural engineers have said about the state of the HQ building. But accept it, when it comes to video, everyone’s an expert. Until they come to do it themselves, that is…

About me

For the last twenty five years I’ve been producing, directing and writing video. Although based in Cheshire I work all over the UK and have filmed all over the world.

I’ve worked on everything from network TV to music videos, drama to comedy… from multi-camera productions with massive crews to shooting stuff myself in a tropical jungle! I’ve worked with big stars and ordinary members of the public… CEOs of bluechips, to workers on the factory floor – and over the years I’ve gathered a few scary tales and more than a few insights into what makes good video.

As well as consulting to major clients on all matters TV and video, I continue to produce and direct. Recent clients have included big names like PZ Cussons, B&Q, Barclays Bank, Amec Foster Wheeler, Bay TV Liverpool, ACCTV and many others. I also teach video techniques and theory to degree-course students and run workshops on smartphone filming and editing techniques.

Thanks a lot Ian for some top-notch advice! You can connect with Ian on Twitter or LinkedIn, or click here for media production company SPL Communications.


Author Stefan

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