A Guide to Video Production in 12 Steps - Part 1

A Video Series for the Pingry School

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Eight months. That's how long we worked on this 5-part video series. Actually, from the time I put together a proposal it was just under 11 months. In October of 2016 I was approached by the communications department at the Pingry School about putting together a proposal for this project. I had worked with Pingry before on a 3-part video series as well as providing them with still photography so we already had a good working relationship.  

Pingry is a private K-12-day school just outside of Newark, New Jersey with two campuses and over 1,000 engaged and energetic students. I love this school. I really do. I work with a lot of different education clients and each is unique in its own way, but Pingry is the kind of school that I would have attended if the opportunity presented itself all those years ago when I was in high school.

This is the First Look video and I'll explain how we got here.

Step 1: Set Goals

The goal of this project was to create 5 videos that could work independently from one another or together as a series. The topics were to include arts, athletics, honor and character, diversity and inclusion, as well as a general overview video. My first step was to develop an approach and vision for the best way to tell these stories and then to determine how much it would cost. The original proposal included an approach that would rely heavily on on-camera interviews with students, faculty and administration.

After some careful consideration, we decided that this might not be the best approach for these videos. Instead of showing on camera interviews, we decided to perform Skype and phone interviews with students, parents, faculty and administration and then to write scripts based off of these conversations. I did more than 30 hours of interviews over the course of about 6 weeks. From this, I was able to build the basic components of a script for each video.

Step 2: Create Scripts

I used the information I received through my interviews along with direct quotes to build each script. Once I had the foundation for each script, I began to fill in the gaps to make each script flow nicely and to fit within a 1 - 2-minute video. After revisions from the Pingry team, we settled on our final scripts and began looking for our voice over narrators.

 
Notes from one of my student interviews that helped inform the script

Notes from one of my student interviews that helped inform the script

 

Step 3: Find Voice Over Talent

I knew that I wanted each video to be about the visual experience of Pingry School, but the voice over had to communicate the right message. In reality, the voice overs were going to be the lynchpin through which each story could be told. Without a solid voice over, the videos would fall flat, no matter how beautiful the visuals were.

We wanted to use actual voices from Pingry and not hired voice over talent. It was important to us that these stories be in the words of the people of Pingry. During my weeks of interviews I made notes on potential readers. I was looking for two things; quality of voice and ability to take direction. We identified a few people to be our readers based off of my initial interviews and found the rest based on recommendations from the Pingry drama department. Once we had identified our potential readers, I did additional phone interviews and asked them to read the scripts I had written for each video. With each reader, I had a script in mind for them, but occasionally asked them to read additional scripts as well.

After I had all the initial tests recorded I spent quite a few hours listening to them and making my decision on who I thought we should record on the first day of production. Even though we only needed five voice overs, we ended up recording script readings from 8 different people on our first production day. I wanted to have backups in case someone couldn't make it or a performance just didn't work as well as I anticipated.

Step 4: Engage Crew

I worked with a 3-person crew. My audio tech was only on site for the first day to record our voice over narrators. This helped minimize our crew budget and travel expenses. I'm always looking for ways to streamline my productions and save my clients money. My second camera operator would be shooting along side of me as well as filming separate events when we had to be in two places at once. Lastly, I hired a producer to manage the logistics of this shoot. Each crew member is invaluable and well worth the money it takes to bring them along. Each brings with him/her a unique set of skills that can add value to the end product.

Step 5: Plan Schedule

Detailed schedule for the 1st day of production

Detailed schedule for the 1st day of production

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One of the biggest challenges of this project was scheduling. My producer worked closely with the communications department to craft a schedule based off of their wish list. She gave direction to a shoot that would require a massive amount of subject coverage across two separate campuses. Without the hours of pre-production work she did with the communications department, there is no way we would have been able to walk away with all the footage we needed in 4 days of production. I'm a detail oriented person and used to wearing many hats, but I knew there was no way I would be able handle all the technical and creative aspects of this shoot as well as managing the schedule on my own.

My producer took this monumental task and made it seem easy. She had to marry the expectations set forth by Pingry with the reality of shooting videos such as these. Video production is not easy. An incredible amount of planning and resources go into making a 2-minute video. Sometimes it can be difficult for a client to understand why we can't shoot everything on their list. In most cases it's a matter of time combined with budget. We can't do everything and that is why it was important for me to have a producer who could manage this aspect of the project.

Step 6: Shoot

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We planned to shoot everything over the course of 4 days with a 5th day as a backup to pick up any additional shots we thought were missing. While I was confident that we could record all the voice overs and film everything we needed in 4 days, we wanted to have the 5th day available as a backup in case of bad weather or some other element that was out of our control. It turned out that we needed that backup day.

From Monday through Thursday the sun refused to show its bright face. I knew that we needed some establishing aerial shots and the truth is that aerial shots just don't look that good on cloudy days. Really, all I needed were two shots on a sunny day. The forecast for Friday looked good so I sent the rest of the crew home and stayed one more night with my fingers crossed that Friday morning would bring good light.

After a dense, foggy morning the clouds finally parted and I was able to get the shots I needed before hitting the road. I was able to pick up a few extra shots that I hadn't planned for as well so the extra morning was well worth it.

Learn how we managed the post production in Part 2 of this series.


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