“Between the idea and the reality…falls the shadow.” --T.S. Eliot
In agency life, every video campaign (much like every marketing campaign overall) begins with an idea and a goal. Regardless of where the idea originated, the creative director (who often is indeed the idea man/woman) takes on the role of shepherding the idea through execution. Countless people step in and out of the project to do their part, from writers to account managers to designers and so on, but the ultimate vision resides with the creative director. One of the roles of an outside video producer/director is to understand the creative director’s vision and help bring it to life.
Over the last decade of running a video production company and working with agencies, I’ve learned a lot as a producer/director about what makes scripting, shooting, editing and the whole process of video production a more seamless, enjoyable and successful endeavor. Following are three key observations that I’ve brought on to each set, location and project. They’re good words to live by for any video director/producer and give you some insight into how we work (or at least how I do):
1) Protect the creative director’s vision.
One of the project aspects that a video producer must manage is the balance between an agency account side, the creative department and the client. Everyone wants the same thing – more awareness for the client, sales growth, consumer engagement. But not everyone agrees on the best path to get there – from art direction to casting, script tone, wardrobe, story pacing, motion design, music, you name it. The buck has to stop at someone, though, and from my perspective that someone should be the creative director. Of course, this does not mean to ignore feedback from all parties. It does mean that when there’s a decision that’s up in the air, it’s best to help illuminate how the creative director intended the idea to be carried out (especially if he or she isn’t in a logistics meeting that requires changes). Protecting the creative director’s vision also means creating a steady stream of visual check-ins (from storyboards to a “video village” or bank of monitors on set) to ensure that the translation of idea to video form is going as planned.
2) Understand and communicate project scope.
A project’s scope is like taking a creative brief and tossing in the context of exactly how big and how bold it’s going to be executed. So if you tell me you want to shoot a 1980s satirical web series to be sponsored by a client, I begin asking a set of questions that essentially outline the scope of the project – how many actors, how many scenes, how many episodes, deadline, etc. Scope is a lot about budget, but it’s also about focus. Part of my job is to be able to translate to anyone at any point the true scope of a video’s production, and how every new decision impacts scope. If we need 50 extras instead of 5, what does that mean? Is it necessary, and does it further the vision? If we can only secure your desired actress for half the time we thought we had, how does that impact the coverage we’re getting for the scene, the options in the edit room and ultimately the final video? Scope is also not something that is set once and then followed, this is the production world where everything is always moving and changing. So part of communicating scope is also having the ability to be flexible and dynamic with the project.
3) Don’t be a dick.
Hey, it’s production. And it’s advertising. Lots of egos get involved in creative projects and there’s definitely more than a few directors and producers who get more and more inflexible and demanding as a video production goes on. But this goes back to #1 – remember whose vision this is? And I personally don’t agree with the idea that if you’re talented enough as a director, you should have an ego to match. I’ve worked with plenty of egos. I’ve been screamed at on set by billionaires, I’ve been threatened in face-to-face throw downs, and I’ve experienced plenty of drama both on and off camera. But I feel like I should be the easiest person to work with so that I can balance some of the other people who aren’t. At a certain point, it’s not worth a creative director’s time to dance around what he wants for his project because the video director might throw a fit. And while a director’s attitude may sound really absurd to some of you who may not spend a lot of time in video production, it’s enough of a problem to create horror stories for plenty of creative directors.
I could probably write a book about what I’ve learned as a video director/producer, but these three points are as good as any place to start.
While some ideas simply don’t have the budget to execute at the exacting level that is ultimately desired, they can be modified less than you might expect to accomplish the same objective. And other ideas just need strong visual communications to make them succeed. When you’re deciding how to make your video launch into the spotlight, just make sure you’re thinking about these things in advance so you don’t have to learn them the hard way.
You are reading Atomic80, the nickname for the element Mercury and the blog for Mercury Labs, a company focused on the science of cinema and communications. Contact us to learn more about how Mercury Labs can help transform your raw ideas into compelling video and/or PR programs.