How to Use Pre-Production to Make Killer Videos for Half the Price
How to Use Pre-Production to Make Killer Videos for Half the Price
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Video content has become a must-have for any good marketing departments. Over 80% of all consumer internet traffic is online video. Youtube is one of the most visited websites on the internet, second only to Google. Why? Because video is the most dynamic way to convey information and tell a story. Light, sound and timing all work together to engage the viewer. When produced at the highest level of execution, video can even be an art form. 

And like any other art form, the creation process varies from project to project. But there are still best practices and general rules of thumb that one should follow when producing a video. They will save you time while ensuring that you get the most out of your project.

Among these steps, pre-production is the most important one in the workflow. Novice video producers will try to skip it to save time and money. But in reality, that’s how they will likely make the project more expensive and longer to finish. So our biggest advice from a video production standpoint is this: don’t skip pre-production. Follow these guidelines instead.

Write Down Your Video Strategy

Start by taking a piece of paper or Google Doc and write down the framework of your video. You’ll need to share this document with everyone on your crew, from the scriptwriter to the editor. This document should include the following:

Goal

The goal of your video is different from the story it tells. At this stage, you’re not yet explaining what the video is about. Instead you want to determine what the video is for. What action do you want a viewer to take after watching your video? If they should click on a button to buy a product, then you’ll want your story to focus on the product features. If instead your priority is to have them share the video with friends, the video should focus on values and be inspiring or funny.

This section should also include the distribution strategy of your video. Where do you plan to upload your video? Viewer behavior will vary depending on where they are watching the video, which will impact structure and runtime. For instance, viewers are more likely to stay and watch longer videos if they are on your website or YouTube. But if it’s a social ad that’s interrupting something else they’re doing, you’ll want to keep it short and provide value within 10 seconds.

Budget

Some argue you should not think about money before writing your story because it can limit the creative process. That can be true. But the reality is that we all have a limited budget, so let’s not spend any time on creative ideas you wouldn’t be able to afford. This is especially true for marketing videos which are meant to create revenue for your business. How the budget correlates to the desired outcome is important. Besides, sometimes the best ideas come from limitations. 

A budget under $1k makes it close to impossible to hire professional filmmakers. That is not to say it’s impossible to make a viral sensation, episodic vlog, or podcast with this budget. Sometimes a cheap video can end up being viral on the internet because of how authentic it feels. But it is usually all it is – a one time hit. If you want to keep your audience engaged and coming back for more, you’ll need a higher production level.

The great thing about video production is that there are lots of moving parts. You can hire actors or not, pay for a studio location or not, hire sound engineers, lighting technicians, make-up artists, add motion graphics, color grading, and so much more. That means you can really finetune your production so it still gets you the best result despite your budget limitations. Maybe skip the makeup artist and have the actors do their own makeup. Or choose your office as your shooting location to avoid studio fees.

That being said, you won’t get to visibly higher production value until you get closer to a $5k budget. At $5k you can hire experts who will know how to make your video look professional. But don’t expect to get results on par with Nike and Chanel videos. For that, you’re going to need a budget of at least $100k. On Gravitr, all our pricing is upfront and transparent. If you want to get an idea of the cost for your video shoot, check out our video pricing page.

Project Timeline

Outlining your project is paramount to keep things organized and your crew on track. You want to determine a realistic timeline to get your project done. The average 1-2 minute product explainer video will take about 1 month to complete. You’ll need 2 weeks to prepare the shoot, one day of shooting, and 2 weeks of editing after that. For anything more production or post-production heavy, you’ll have to extend this timeline. For instance, you’ll need several days of shooting if you have more than 2-3 shooting locations. Or if your story requires heavy special effects, you’ll need to add 2 weeks to the post production phase.

Sure, you can produce a video in a week, but don’t expect to get high quality content within that time frame. You won’t have time to write a good story, and you WILL forget something the day of the shoot. It’s not even a question of if, we can guarantee it. If you rush, you’ll forget something that you needed on shoot day, and will have to compromise. The editor will need to rush the editing process and will skip steps to deliver on time. In the end, you’ll get an amateur-looking video, even if you hired experts to help.

To determine a realistic timeline, work with an experienced marketer. They’ll have produced marketing videos before and will be able to give you realistic estimates to get the best results.

Create Your Script & Storyboard

Now that you’ve determined a specific scope for your video, it’s time to write what it is about. We shared an article about how to write a good story, and another one about what makes a good script, so we won’t spend too much time on it here.

The biggest takeaway from a production standpoint is that your script should follow conventions. That will save you a lot of time and money by making sure your crew has the information they need. Each of them will break down the script to highlight the details that are important to their job. And if you’ve written the script in a way they are used to, they’ll know where to look. If you stray from the norm, you may confuse your team and a mistake becomes possible. And mistakes mean time and money wasted.

Once you’ve locked your script, it’s usually time to go to the storyboards phase. Not all videos need storyboards to be good, but storyboards will always make a video better and more in line with your vision. For example, you may not need storyboards if your video is a simple interview with b-roll footage. But if you have specific ideas on how you want the interview shot, don’t expect your vision to be met without storyboards. Nobody is in your brain to see the shots you have in mind. So draw them or hire a professional storyboard artist to do it for you. We’ve released an article about how to create good storyboards here.

Cast Your Characters

DON’T SCROLL. We see you, trying to skip this part thinking that casting is only for big productions. Well, think again.

Casting doesn’t always mean big auditions with dozens of actors and long processes. It can be as simple as having a meeting with your team to determine who’s the best person to represent your company on screen.

By the time you’ve written your script, you know if you need professional actors or not. For documentary-style videos where someone is being interviewed, you’ll likely want to cast your team. They know your company best and will have a natural understanding of what the video should look like. But not everybody is good on screen. People who seem outgoing can sometimes freeze when a camera is pointed at them. Others may not have a good voice, or their accent is too thick to understand. If you decide to cast your own team, you’ll need to be able to face those realities head-on, even if it means cutting someone out. Organize a meeting to go over the script and determine how many people you need on camera and to do what. For background actors such as shots of people using your product without speaking, ask for volunteers. For the interview, choose someone who has both a key position in the company and is good on screen. Don’t forget to officialize everyone’s role in a spreadsheet. Include each participating member’s name and which character they play in the video.

There are other types of videos that will require professional actors. Lifestyle videos and fiction are among the most common. Lifestyle videos follow a loose storyline where a character is going about their life while using your service or product. They often have little to no dialog. Fictions are more intricate stories where characters have more complex relationships and interactions. They usually have a more pronounced story arch including context, conflict and resolution. For these two types of video, where the actor needs to adopt a character different from who they are, you’ll need professionals. This is especially true if your video includes comedy. It is REALLY hard to make a non-comedian funny. Chances are if you choose a non-comedian to play a comedic scene, you’ll end up with a cheesy video at best.

To cast professional actors, you can either hire a casting agency or use a website like backstage.com. For fashion products, you can also work with models platforms like LÜK.

The point is, there are several online platforms out there that make it much simpler to find talent for your video. But you’ll still need time and expertise to know how to recruit the best ones. That’s even true if you’re recruiting people on your team. A professional producer will be able to tell you who could be good on screen or not. So again, don’t hesitate to work with a pro.

Find the Right Location(s)

Location is going to have a significant impact on your script. It provides the limits and framework of your story. If you’re not able to secure a spaceship for your shoot, it would be hard to tell a story that happens in a spaceship, right?

Budget, goals and general story ideas are everything you need to choose a good location. Locations for documentary-style videos are the easiest to find because they don’t need to be staged. An interview of the founder can happen in the office, for instance. But for fiction and lifestyle videos, you’ll likely need to stage a fake environment for your characters to evolve into. Oftentimes, it will be an AirBnB or other types of short rentals. Occasionally, it can be a sound stage or even a full movie set. Budget is what will determine the limit here.

Whatever location you choose, it’s important for you to visit it before the shoot if you can. Time is always against you on any production, so you want to ensure there won’t be any bad surprises you’ll have to deal with on production day. If your director or DP can’t come with you, take a lot of pictures and videos to share with them. That will help them pick lenses and find ideas for cool camera movements and shot framing. A location scout is also important to know what lighting equipment to bring on shoot day.

An important note about locations: some will require filming permits. Most states will have a filming commission that makes it easy to determine if you need a permit. If you’re on private property and have permission to be there, you likely don’t need one. But you often need a permit when shooting with large crews in public places. In these cases, you also often need to post “notice of filming” signs around your shoot location. You’ll be able to identify these needs during your location scout.

Hire Your Crew

Once you have your script, shoot dates and locations, it’s time to build your film crew. This is the hardest part of the pre-production process for non-professional filmmakers. Do you need a sound mixer? An assistant director? Can you get away with not hiring a director of photography? What about an art director?

A professional video producer can answer these questions by taking a quick look at your script. For example, if your video has moving actors with dialogs, you absolutely need a sound mixer. But what if it’s a still camera shot? It depends on the context. That’s why it’s important to work with a professional who’s produced videos before. They’ll let you know who you should hire to keep the quality of your video high while staying on budget.

And remember, sometimes skipping crew members may end up costing you more money. For example, let’s say you decide to just hire a swiss-army knife videographer who manages the entire shoot on their own. If the shoot includes sound, lighting, props on top of filming, they will likely forget something, and it will be much harder to fix it in post production. Remember the coffee cups in some of the Games of Thrones shots? And they had a crew of hundreds of people!

The entire pre-production process can take a long time if you’re not prepared for it. And not doing it can mean your video takes even longer to produce. Fortunately, on Gravitr you can hire pros who can build that process for you within days to ensure you make the most of every production dollar. Check out our video page for pricing, and sign up on Gravitr once you’re ready to get your video project on the road. We’ll be here.

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