AmyDirectsTalentSo-called “real people” can add power to a video story. For testimonials, someone who actually uses the product can be compelling. If the story focuses on a charity, someone who has lived the day-to-day impact can help raise funds more effectively than an on-camera professional host. A person who works in an organization might be the very best at explaining a new process or tool.

But here’s the catch.

Using real people as opposed to actors affects the bottom line costs of your video, in both production and post. Often executive producers focus on the cost-savings of not having to hire actors–no actor fees, no casting fees, no pension and welfare payments (for union actors). However, pro’s bring their ability to hit their marks every time, to become characters convincingly, and to deliver a particular line the same way in the wide shot, the closeup and the shot that gets done after a lunch break.

So if you are using real people, you need to focus on 3 areas to minimize the budget negatives:

  1. Casting. While you may use an informal process, you’ll still need to “cast” people to be sure they can work with you, they have an interesting story, and to build a relationship prior to the day of taping. While actors can step onto a set filled with strangers and go, most regular folks can’t. Always avoid using someone solely on the recommendation on another person. If you will be the day-of-production interviewer, producer or director, you’ll need to talk to them yourself to be sure you have a good rapport.
  2. Scheduling. Build extra time into your shoot schedule. Not just for each angle or shot, but also breaks for your “talent.” Unlike pro’s, who can muscle through a long day, most regular folks need some time out of the lights. Plus they will likely need to make calls, check on the kids being picked up from soccer, etc. I’m always surprised how often I’ve got someone telling me they’ve “blocked out” the whole day for our shoot, and then when we arrive, they’ve actually got several hours of phone calls, errands or other work scheduled. No one outside of production understands that what we do is a really focused, full day or more type of job.
  3. Post Workflow. Your post-production workflow will also need to be adjusted. If you are conducting interviews, be sure you get transcripts made (from mp3 or wav files of the interviews) so that you can make a preliminary set of selects and then choose from those for your final edits.  This will save massive amounts of time slogging through footage to find soundbites.  If you are creating a re-enactment or a direct-to-camera video, you’ll need excellent field notes via Adobe Live Logger, Google docs, Lumberjack, etc. that allows you to correct for the usual mistakes and changed dialogue or non-matching action that commonly occur when  using non-actors. Again, this will save massive amounts of time and frustration during editing.

I’ve built some handy templates and other prep, shoot and post resources into my new book The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera. Use code FLR40 at checkout for 20% off (not available on Amazon). Let me know any other tools you think I should add here on the website.

ButterflyIt’s been a cold, rainy spring here in DC, the perfect weather for planning and strategy (not so great for outdoor shoots). And post-NAB Show, it’s a great time to re-assess workflows, consider new technologies, and tidy up that digital media library.

So what key steps do you need for great video storytelling? It all comes down to Three Essential Questions you need to ask yourself when planning your edit.

Wait, you say. planning my edit? What about my script? My shoot? But let’s face it, the story all comes together during the edit. And when is the optimal time to start planning your edit? Is it a few days before you step into the edit suite? Is it when you start digitizing your media? Not surprisingly, the answer is well before you even shoot the first frame. Working in the digital media space now often means drinking from the firehose of assets–millions of frames to choose from as we acquire with more and more flexible cameras. So it’s even more vital to be prepared before you start working with all of that content. Ask and answer these questions before you shoot, and you’ll be ahead of the game for your edit:

  1. What tools can I use in the field to help my edit go more smoothly? (Tip: any tool that allows you to identify best takes and best soundbites–use Adobe Live Logger, paper notes, or Google docs with notations on your script. And don’t forget to metatag camera footage with more than just date and time–for example camera operator initials or some code that tells you where this footage fits into the story line)
  2. What workflow can I use to ensure that the media gets transferred accurately? (Tip: use the 3-2-1 backup system–make two additional on-site copies of digital media files so that you have 3 in the field, travelling back from the shoot have 2 identical copies (and the one original stays behind). When you get back, ingest one of your two copies and check for accuracy before blowing away the original field cards. And yes, it costs a few more dollars to have extra cards–which is way less than a re-shoot and lost time will cost you!)
  3. What other assets can I collect before or during my shoot to augment my edit? Think about field sound clips, archival photos and other visuals. (Tip: always collect as much as you can in the field–I’ve even brought a mini-scanner on site and scanned old photos after conducting an interview.)

Every ounce of planning will deliver impact on screen. Go for it!

Amy DeLouise is a producer-director, speaker and author. Her new book The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera (Focal Press) is available here at a 20% discount for blog readers! Use Code FLR40 at checkout!

As frBlue Glass c B. DeLouiseeelancers in the creative disciplines—graphic design, video, set design, etc.—we’ve got a lot on our plates. Every day we’ve got to be, well, creative out-of-the-box thinkers, able to leap small budgets in a single bound, staying on the bleeding edge of trends, and up on the latest hardware, software and teams that make it all possible. Plus we’ve got to run our businesses, paying our bills, invoicing our clients, and thinking strategically about our careers and where we want to go next. It’s a tall order.  Here are some ways we can break it down and get it done.

  1. Energize Your Creative Self. Take on a project outside your usual comfort zone. This might be a pro bono passion project (see #7 below). Or it could be a totally new approach to work with a regular client. Push your limits and create something you wouldn’t typically do.  Or check out work by others to inspire you. For example, this week I’m in New York City where it’s Design Week http://nycxdesign.com/ with all kinds of wonderful gallery and design-focused events.
  2. Connect to Creative Communities. Lots of independents get so busy with projects and life that we fail to make time for human connections. It’s too late to attend a networking event when you need the work. So get out and go to conferences, coffees and meet-ups. Get to know people in real life, not just in online communities. Real relationships are important, not just for business, but for our mental health as solo practitioners. Join a group like the aiga.org or www.wifv.org, www.aicp.com or www.asmp.org . If you are just getting started in your industry, many groups have a “junior” category with lower dues.
  3. Keep Learning. Take an online class. Attend a workshop. Read books and articles. Learn not just about the tools of your particular trade, but the fields that connect to your work. As a filmmaker, when I learn more about audio mixing, I’m going to do a better job directing field audio on my next shoot. As a filmmaker who’s been in the business for…ahem…awhile, I especially need to keep pushing myself to expand my horizons. It’s one reason I teach classes on lynda.com –to teach something you have to be sure you are up on the latest and greatest.
  4. Share. The corollary to learning is sharing. Share with your online communities. Share with your professional association. Share with a mentee. One of my favorite creative directors always has something interesting to share through his twitter stream. I’m much more likely to want to work with someone I can learn from.
  5. Give Back. Volunteer for the organization you join related to item #2. Or volunteer to speak on Career Day at your local school. Or mentor someone coming along in your business. Whatever you give, you will get back a thousand fold. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true!
  6. Get Tools. I see so many creative stuck in workflow of tools past. Don’t. So you used to edit on AVID but now you need to learn Adobe. I’m super-comfortable designing content to shoot with a C-series camera or FS-7, but now I’m pushing myself to develop storytelling that can leverage the power of 360 VR like this.
  7. Charge Appropriate Rates. I have left this one for last. Let’s face it, we creatives hate dealing with money. It’s not why we got into this work. Despite flat wages and the constant dilution of our various industries, we need to support one another by charging a living wage. When I see someone posting on a professional list-serve that they are looking to hire (fill in the blank creative position) at (half the standard industry day rate), I want to shout “doooon’t do it!” to all respondees. Sure, if you’re new to the biz and building your portfolio, you can discount your rate. But don’t go too far. For one thing, people tend to value your work by the value you assign to it yourself. For another, we’re all in this together.

 

Amy DeLouise is a video director-producer and author, and occasionally an industry speaker.