The video production process has many components. Depending on the scale of the production, each phase could be quite involved or relatively minimal. You need only read the list of names at the end of a blockbuster movie to see how many people can work behind the scenes to make a big movie happen. Smaller projects, however, may require far fewer roles but should still follow certain video production process steps.
Regardless of the type of video you are trying to produce and its scale, the stages of video production remain the same: pre-production, production, and post-production. Each of these stages serve a different purpose for elevating your project to the highest quality possible.
The Importance of Pre-Production
The importance of pre-production cannot be overstated. This first stage of the video production process serves as the blueprint for the next two phases. Without engaging in proper pre-production work, you will need to “wing it” which simply doesn’t fly; this usually means more work on the backend and having to shoehorn material together in a way that feels forced to an audience. In other words, having a plan beats not having a plan. Pre-production can save you time, money, and stress.
In a previous blog, I outlined why having a pre-production checklist is an important tool for a video production. Let’s review some of the typical items on a pre-production checklist and why they are important:
Without a strong idea and a clear vision, a project is essentially doomed. As the creator of a video production, you must know exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. This means having a clear objective in mind. Of course, you may not be able to envision every single detail, but the more the better. A clear vision is the glue that holds all of the other production elements together. The more deliberate creative decisions you can make, the more control you have. Some questions to ask yourself could be, “What sets this project apart?” or “What do I want the audience to take away from this?” or “What is the most engaging way to get my message across?” Answering these questions can force you to hone in on your idea and establish a clear vision for your video production.
It is important to understand who your target audience is in order to tailor the video production to their sensibilities. If you don’t have a target audience in mind, this may hinder certain creative decisions and muddy the production waters. It can also lead to an amorphous final product that feels like it doesn’t really know what it is or who it’s for. Understanding your target audience means considering things like length of the video production, tone, type of music, demographics of actors/talent, etc. If Sesame Street didn’t understand that their target audience was young children, we can imagine how problematic that would have been when it first aired.
A professional video production requires knowing your budget, which can be determined a couple different ways. You may have a set amount of money that you’re able to spend. This would mean working backward from your budget and determining which steps of the video production process are absolutely necessary. If you have a higher budget, it makes sense to start with the project itself. Once you determine the ideal components for the perfect production, you can determine the budget. If it’s too high, you may find ways to trim items down to save cost. You’ll need to consider elements like size of the crew, time, locations, editing, and other services related to the production.
A script is a written document that will guide your video production. It includes scene descriptions, dialogue or voiceover, action lines, props, and perhaps other elements like music. A good script contains all of the key elements of the production and will serve as a guide for the director, crew, and talent on the day of shooting. Without the script, key elements may be overlooked or forgotten and story continuity can be severely compromised.
Storyboards can supplement a script as they tell the visual story with actual sketches of each scene. They are beneficial during the pre-production process because they can help determine whether the story is working or not. Better to find out a scene isn’t working on paper than on the day of production or, even worse, in the editing room. Storyboards aren’t necessary for every type of video production, but can be useful for more complex action scenes that require a specific breakdown of character movement, camera angles, and overall vibe. Storyboards can also be useful in developing a shot-list, which the director and cinematographer reference during production. There are a lot of storyboard designs to choose from, here’s a free download for templates we use the most.
In a previous blog on video shoot locations, I explained the two types of locations for a video production shoot: on-location and in-studio. Each of these options provide different pros and cons. Depending on what type of video you’re shooting, either or both locations might make more sense. Shooting on-location provides an opportunity to show your subject in their natural setting. It can also provide some visual variety for the viewer and the ability to capture b-roll footage. Shooting in a studio is much more controlled. It usually allows access to more equipment and the ability to use different lighting techniques and effects like a greenscreen. Perhaps the biggest benefit of shooting in a studio is that it is dead-silent, so clear audio can be captured without having to compete with ambient noise in a natural setting.
Next, you’ll need to determine who will be in your production. Are you hiring actors or interviewing real subjects? Hiring talent is a budgetary consideration as well as a role for the producer. Selecting talent should be done with your vision and audience in mind as well. You will also want to consider talent-related elements like wardrobe and on-set accommodations.
Once you determine the scale of your video production and all of its elements, you will need to select an appropriate crew. Again, depending on the scale of the project, you could potentially have hundreds of roles. This is not common, however, as most corporate videos and smaller-scale productions require only several key professionals: producer, writer, director, camera operator, assistant camera, director of photography, audio recordist, and gaffer (lighting). The number of crew being utilized impacts the overall quality of the project as well as the budget. You will also have to consider specialists for post-production like editors, colorists, or special effects professionals.
Once you’ve completed your pre-production checklist, you will move on to the next phase of production. If you have prepared properly, you will have a clear shooting schedule that outlines the locations you’re shooting at, talent you will need, crew, equipment, and other elements. The shooting schedule is important to stick to because it allows you to achieve your production goals one step at a time in an orderly fashion. It also helps keep you on budget. The following are several other items to keep in mind during the production process:
Prior to a production day, you should already know what equipment you will need. This includes cameras, tripods, lights, batteries, extension cords, and other accessories. Keep equipment labeled, organized, and tidy. Use appropriate cases for equipment, especially while transporting or trekking through the elements.
Safety should be a top priority on set. Some sets are going to be safer than others, but all sets should minimize any safety risk for crew or talent. Cords and other equipment can be tripping hazards, so be mindful. Tape cords to the floor and allow enough room for people to walk and maneuver around equipment. Another safety concern is the use of props, particularly any weapons like firearms, knives, etc. Have a safety plan for these items and hire a professional to handle them responsibly.
There is a certain amount of downtime on-set, so making sure talent is comfortable is a key consideration. As the crew is setting up for the next shot, make sure there’s a comfortable space for the talent: comfy chairs, shade, water, snacks, etc. Plan ahead for this. If you have actors performing a scene where they are wearing an itchy costume or covered in mud, have someone at the ready to wipe their face or assist them during the scene.
Stick to Roles
Everyone on the crew should stick to their role. This limits any confusion and allows the shoot to run more smoothly. An experienced video production team that has worked together for awhile will likely have strong cohesion and steady workflow. If the talent is getting direction from multiple people, especially if it’s conflicting, they will be confused and possibly distressed. Do what you do best and let others do their job.
Even though you have a plan, you still need to be flexible. If you’re shooting on-location, there can be environmental changes like weather that throw you a curveball. Sometimes, these variations can throw off a shoot entirely, but on other days they can be advantageous for the shoot. While shooting Jurassic Park in Hawaii, a hurricane hit. This delayed the production, but it also provided an opportunity. Steven Spielberg went to the beach with his camera operator and got footage of the storm. Some of this footage was actually used in the movie. Flexibility can allow for new ideas that enhance the production.
What to Expect
The crew should arrive on-time with a plan for that day. They will stick to the schedule to the best of their ability. The crew will also need some breaks from their intensive work, especially when some shoots can be upwards of 12 hours or more. The producer and director should keep the day running smoothly and hopefully the goals of the day will be met.
Once you’ve shot all your footage, you will move on to the post-production phase. Post-production workflow usually includes the following:
Editing is the process of trimming and organizing your footage into an appropriate sequence. It also involves layering other elements with the image, including sound, music, or voiceover.
The more footage you’ve shot and the longer the video production, the more time the editing process will take. Below are a few types of edits:
Rough Cut: The editor will get an edit together based on the storyboard. This edit will be rough around the edges with no color adjustments, no sound mixing, maybe a few holes in the b-roll footage, no special effects and limited graphics. There may also be place-holder images to fill any footage gaps.
Fine Cut: When the client comes back with their notes after watching the rough cut, this edit will be a little more fine-tuned and include graphics. There will still be no color or sound mixing.
Picture-Lock: This edit will be completed after final approval from the client. After the video is picture-locked, it goes to the colorist and audio mixer to put their finishing touches on before delivery.
Coloring your footage consists of two main processes: correcting and grading. Color correction can be achieved with special software that allows the user to adjust color, contrast, exposure, and other elements that affect the overall look of the footage. The colorist will work with the director and producer to achieve the proper image. Color grading is a more specific process that intends to fine-tune certain aspects of the image. This may include enhancing certain colors. Color grading is useful for bolstering the tone of the film and overall atmosphere.
The post-production process also includes any other special effects that may be added to the footage. This could include inserting images onto greenscreen shots, adding an explosion, or removing unnecessary or distracting elements from the footage.
Transcription is an excellent tool to make the workflow of the interviews more manageable. It’s faster to skim through a word document to find great moments in an interview, especially if your video is documentary style. Long-winded interview subjects can take up a lot of time when searching for gold.
The editing process will also include adding titles. This includes any opening or ending credits of everyone involved in the production. It may also involve adding subtitles if interview subjects are speaking a different language than your target audience. We needed to add subtitles to our documentary, Refugee: The Eritrean Exodus. It was painstaking, but absolutely necessary.
Music is another key element that can be added in post-production. You should try to settle on music during the pre-production phase, but you won’t really know if it’s working until you edit the footage together. Music helps set the mood of the film and can enhance the audience experience.
Back-Up Your Data
While you’re editing hours of footage and importing files, be sure to backup your data. We often use triple backups as a precaution. You do not want to spend hours upon hours editing your footage, then lose what you’ve done and have to start over. Trust us.
As you can see, there are many considerations to take into account throughout the video production process. From pre-production to production and finishing with post-production, there is a lot of work to do. Planning ahead with a pre-production checklist is vital to creating a clear vision and outlining the specifics of what you’ll need with regard to talent, crew, equipment, budget, and more. On production day, follow a schedule, allow each person to do their job, prioritize safety, and be flexible. Once you have your footage, the real fun begins in the post-production phase. Use a colorist to enhance the image. Add any effects, titles, and music. And don’t forget to back-up your files. This all might feel a bit overwhelming, but just remember to take one step at a time.