Video City Productions recently signed on with a non-profit that wanted to do a branding film, done through testimonial interviews with stakeholders and some of the people that they serve. When were talking through the pre-production process, scripting, story boarding, pre-interviewing, etc., the client asked – “This is all great but is this going to be authentic? Is this still going to feel real and not over-produced?” It was a great question and I literally said on the phone call, “We’re writing a blog about this.”
How do you produce without overproducing? To answer, I’ll go through some of the important steps in pre-production, some of the attributes needed to direct and how you ultimately get to a point where you’re producing something without overproducing along with the costs and benefits with both strategies.
The Problem With ‘Winging It’
A lot of people feel that if you’re doing a documentary then it needs to be in true documentary style. You come in, set the camera up, and get what you get.
If you’re doing a branding piece in documentary style, then the approach, the aesthetic and the field should look like a documentary, but you need to ensure that there will be a return on investment. The return comes from hitting the talking points and getting the message across, which doesn’t always happen by winging it. You don’t want to spend money producing a documentary style video to get baseline content or superficial stories that you have to artificially adjust.
Sometimes winging it can make the piece feel inauthentic, because the content may not be relevant. You might find yourself subbing in sentences and lines because your talent wasn’t clear.
Winging it can also be extremely costly. You might have to spend more time on set, asking questions, massaging the answers and trying to get to someone say to exactly what you’re looking for. Post-production becomes a lot more difficult when you have disjointed comments that need to be stitched together. Sometimes you’ll find that you don’t have the content you need and now have to figure out strategies to implement it. You might find you have to re-shoot or switch to a motion graphic effect. Typically, when you save on the pre-production side, you have to pay for it on the production side, and winging it definitely has its costs.
The First Step To Authenticity
We start the kickoff phase by talking about the business marketing strategy. This includes areas that impact messaging such as business developments, the target audience and the company’s value proposition. Talking through these pieces allows us to figure out what makes a relevant brand story.
Once those pieces are in place, we move onto the next phase of scripting. At this point, we have a general idea of the “what and who” but now we need to predict how it will be said. This is not about finding what to say word-for-word, but scripting the message they’re going to deliver. An outline format works well for this step.
Finding Authenticity With Pre-interviewing
The next step we highly recommend is pre-interviewing. Fun fact: pre-interviewing sometimes happens before the scripting phase. Particularly in testimonial driven videos, we don’t know exactly what the client is going to say. As a result, we go through pre-interviewing with a draft of questions and the responses we’re hoping to elicit. Then we record a conversation with the talent and test run the questions.
The benefit of doing that is vetting the talent. If the talent feels unnatural or sounds uncomfortable, they probably won’t do well with lighting systems, two cameras in their face, a director, and a company representative stakeholder on set. Therefore, its important to vet the talent and avoid bringing someone on who isn’t camera ready. We also get to vet our questions. Some of the questions aren’t going to be relevant and the talent will tell us during the pre-interview, which allows us to adjust direction accordingly.
Oftentimes there are metrics or data points that clients can provide. For example, our client Lasso CRM is a customer relationship management software solution. A common theme in our questions are about the company before implementing Lasso and after. Sometimes these questions aren’t at the top of the mind, so the talent can say “I don’t know that offhand, but I can look it up before the shoot.” The added preparation is a really great benefit.
Pre-interviewing can help define the scripting phase. We can define the message based on what the talent wants to talk about and turn that into our script.
The Value Of Scripting
Why don’t we just send the script to the talent? We’ve found that when the questions are given to the talent, one of three things can happen:
- You have no idea how they’re going to answer. Maybe they prepare and it goes great, but there’s no way to monitor and engage them like you can in a pre-interview.
- Talent splits into two categories. Category A doesn’t look at the questions, doesn’t prepare and wastes time. Category B over-prepares and tries to script what they want to say. We’ve had talent sit down and literally write a script before. Most people aren’t familiar with script writing for video and the commentary can end up too long with inauthentic verbiage.
- The talent’s answer could be long winded and not suitable for video format. People may pre-write their own commentary but usually don’t take the time to properly memorize them. When they come on set, instead of focusing on answering the question organically, they’re trying to remember what they wrote. Being in the moment is where all the authenticity in your video will come from.
Giving talent the script is like entrapping them and I think that more than anything else, that’s what breeds the lack of authenticity and makes the video feel contrived. Authenticity in videos is a matter of finding ways to prepare and knowing what content you can get without putting the talent in a position to fail. I think our team really excels with taking the proper steps to script and pre-interview to produce an authentic film.