This was the first time I did a "full stack" commercial video production, so I thought it might be interesting to take you through the process.
Of course I had been making videos for many years. But usually I was only in charge of a limited set of deliverables. In most cases I would only do shooting and editing, with someone else taking care of the presenting and editorial stuff. Also, for journalistic videos there’s not much back office work anyway, as you just turn up on a location with some idea of what to expect, and then come away I’d hopefully be able to stitch together. Someone would make a voice over, done. However this was the first time I also had to take care of the intake, research, script, figuring out who to interview, coach the speakers to say the right things. Besides my regular responsibilities of shooting, audio and editing.
The project briefing was fairly straightforward. A company that manages large scale solar panel installations wanted to show off it’s largest project to date. This is the moment I started my research. I needed to know about solar panels, why they manage these projects, why that’s special, what it entails, and so on. The background knowledge helped me drill down to find the right narrative.
Working with professional spokespersons or actors is fantastic, but these options are rarely available for these kinds of production. So you have to work with what you have, and hope the people who can talk on camera are passionate enough to spin a good yarn. This is usually not the case, so you end up having to ask a lot of open questions, hoping to clean it up in post processing. And some people’s segments couldn’t be used at all.
An additional element to the videos was the availability of drone footage. Unfortunately, I wasn’t present when it was shot, and only got my hands on the footage when it was too late to reshoot. As I feared, the footage was not made by an experienced shooter or pilot, and the drone’s camera was fairly cheap. Most of the footage was grainy, and shot into the sun. A lot of footage was available though, so I spent some hours sifting through, and cleaning up the few available shots. Still, you can clearly see the quality difference. Not my preference, but the client loved it.
A final challenge was that this was actually the first time I used my new Sony NX100 camera. This turned out to be less of an issue as I’m apparently excellent with cameras, but still it was a point to consider and to be extra aware of during shooting. You don’t want to be fumbling with settings while you are missing a perfect shot.
I created a safe interview space between the crates, so the subject couldn’t move too much, and there was not much extra wind noise.
Is this an effective way of making a video? On the one hand yes, as all creative decisions are made by one person. There’s no communication issues as generally you yourself know what you want, so you’re clearly in charge of the entire process. But there’s a darker side. With so many responsibilities across the board it’s hard keep the quality high. When you have to watch your shot, listen to audio levels, and coach the speaker in what to say, it’s easy to be less focused on one of those. In my case that meant the audio with one of the speakers was blown out, which is very hard to correct. If I’d have more time to focus, this wouldn’t have happened. So my advice would be to always involve multiple people in a shoot. At the very least one should focus on the technicalities, whilst the other focuses on the story. This is the way it used to be done, but everybody loves budget cuts.
Was it something I enjoyed doing? Absolutely. It was great fun to be in control of all aspects of the movie. It felt a bit strange to tell people exactly what they needed to say, which used to be a total no-go in journalistic productions. But after flipping the switch in my brain it became much easier.