One Big Reason Why a Video Strategy Is Crucial

One of the biggest misconceptions I encounter in the video production business is the belief that you can hire a crew to shoot something at the last minute, figure out what to do with it on the back end, and then turn that into an edited video that meets your marketing needs.

Here’s an important point to keep in mind:  Capturing video, for the sake of capturing video, is not a video strategy.

I’ve seen it happen time and time again. It usually goes something like this:

  • An important person in the company, or a key supporter of the organization, is coming to town at the last minute for a brief visit.

  • People in the marketing department think it will be great if a video crew could capture b-roll and a quick interview with this individual (or group).

  • They hastily hire a video crew, and ask them to show up and “spray” the event, getting a few quick sound bites before the VIP is rushed out the door for the next engagement.

  • Days, or weeks later, people in marketing get together (maybe) to discuss how to leverage the video to meet current marketing needs.

Maybe you can already see the problem with this approach. The main issue is that it’s a waste of money. Why hire a video crew to shoot an event when you don’t exactly know how (or if) the footage will be used? 

In an earlier post I wrote about things you and your team should think about before you start the process of producing a video. It’s important to include video as a part of your marketing strategy from the start, rather than waiting until after footage has already been captured.

Here’s one big reason why:

Key messaging and Calls-to-Action

Let’s say you don’t yet know what you want your video to say, or what purpose it will serve. But you forge ahead and hastily schedule an interview with a few key people, thinking that you will just figure it out later. You run down a list of boilerplate interview questions and call it a day. Then, weeks later when you finally come up with a strategy for your video, you find that none of the interview questions actually addressed the key messages you now want to include. You can’t really go back and make someone say what they didn’t say in the initial interview. And so you’re left with a generic piece of video that doesn’t really hit the mark and the window of opportunity has now closed.

Video should always be included on the front end of your marketing strategy, not only for the reason listed above, but for a myriad of other reasons as well, including (but not limited to) distribution platform considerations (Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) and the nuances of each.

Have any other suggestions to improve your video marketing efforts? Leave them in the Comments.

Cinematography With Gabe Mayhan

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I had an opportunity to attend this month’s Shoot & Splice, a monthly filmmaker forum presented by IndieMemphis and Crosstown Arts. The guest speaker was cinematographer Gabe Mayhan, whose reel includes shorts, features, documentaries, and broadcast projects. During a Q&A session, Gabe showed samples of his work while discussing his approach and thought process on each project. Here are some of the takeaways from his presentation that hopefully will help you on your next film project.

  • FILMMAKING IS COLLABORATIVE - There are many people on set who all contribute to the final product. Gabe was quick to point out how he couldn’t have done his job properly without a solid production designer who made sure that each set felt authentic.

  • HAVE CONVERSATIONS WITH THE DIRECTOR EARLY IN THE PROCESS - Go through the script with the director. Get an idea of his/her vision. Gabe pointed out that with the feature Antiquities, the director wanted the entire film to “feel like Grandma’s pillow.” That led to a very warm look overall. It also meant that Gabe couldn’t rely on the existing fluorescent lighting at the antique store location. He needed practicals to motivate his tungsten approach. And so he discussed his needs with the production designer (see #1 above) and they were able to secure low-hanging tungsten fixtures and add them to the set (see image below).

  • DIAGRAM EACH SET UP - Gabe admitted that this technique doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s something he does for each project. He will go through the shot list and plot a diagram for each camera set up, noting the placement of actors, the camera, and all G&E. That way, on the day of the shoot, there will be no questions as to what gear is coming off the truck. Gabe noted that for low-budget indie features, you will be working on a tight schedule (somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 days; sometimes 10-12) and diagramming each shot in pre-production will save the crew a lot of time on set.

  • EYE LINE SAYS A LOT ABOUT CHARACTER AND RELATIONSHIPS - For Antiquities, Gabe kept the main character’s eye line very close to camera, but always kept the eye lines of other characters further away from camera. Although it drove the Script Supervisor crazy, Gabe said this was a conscious choice on his part to subtly bring the viewer more into the main character’s head space. If you want to read more about eye line in the context of documentary filmmaking, read this post.

  • USE MORE WIDE ANGLE LENSES - Gabe said that he rarely shoots on a lens longer than 40mm. He touted the benefits of using wide angle lenses, like how they can help the cinematographer create great reveal shots (For an example, see the shot at 7:23 below). Wide angle lenses are also great for establishing spacial relationships between characters and communicating a sense of place. They put the viewer directly in the world that the characters inhabit.

  • CONSIDER SCREEN SIZE WHEN USING CLOSE-UPS - With today’s digital distribution models, people are watching more films on their personal devices, meaning that filmmakers can get away with super tight close-ups. However, if your film screens at a theater, bear in mind that a close-up that looked good on a TV or tablet might feel uncomfortable to an audience on a 50 ft. screen. Therefore, consider how your film will primarily be viewed when making your shot list and frame accordingly.

  • USE TECHNOLOGY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE - Apps like Helios are invaluable tools for predicting where the sun will be at any given time of the day. This will help not only your exterior setups, but also interiors where outdoor lighting is an important element in the scene.

Overall, it was an excellent Q&A session with a lot of valuable information for current and aspiring cinematographers.

This Video Isn't Working For Me, And Here's Why

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I was re-watching The Avengers the other night and as the climactic battle sequence raged, I couldn’t help but compare this sequence to a similar scene in another super hero film, Man of Steel.

If you haven’t seen either The Avengers or Man of Steel, warning: minor spoilers ahead.

In The Avengers, an army of alien invaders makes their way through a space/time portal and descends upon New York City. It’s up to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow to team up and thwart the villainous alien plan to take over the Earth and install Loki as ruler. What follows is a spectacular action scene right in the heart of lower Manhattan that causes millions and millions of dollars in property damage.

In Man of Steel, General Zod and his army invade earth, looking to capture Kal-El. They descend upon Metropolis and use a world-building engine to terraform earth into a carbon copy of Krypton. Zod wants to restore Krypton on the Earth. It’s up to Superman to save the day. And, like in The Avengers, what follows is a spectacular fight between two superior alien beings that wreaks havoc throughout the city. And again, there is millions and millions of dollars in property damage.

Now, to my point.

Both films show cities getting demolished in the wake of superhero battles. And yet when Man of Steel was released, some of the criticisms I read about the film centered on the level of destruction in that final battle scene. It seems like an unfair criticism to me. So, I posted my thoughts to Facebook and got the conversation started.

In the discussion that followed, people brought up different issues they had with Man of Steel, like tone, character development, plot devices, and character motivations; all valid points, most of which I can get behind. Here are some of the comments I received:

All that destruction is part of the continued story line. Increased regulations, heroes turn on each other, etc.


Yeah, but that’s actually addressed in civil war. The destruction in that and avengers two kinda sets up that storyline. Plus the tones in both action scenes are vastly different, making the audience have different reactions.


I would go back to tone to explain why people accept avengers a bit easier. The action is very light-hearted and fun. You can’t say the same for man of steel. It wants the audience to take it seriously.


Isn't part of it that audiences believe Superman could have more easily directed the fight (which involved him and a few adversaries of relatively equal strength, mobility, etc) away from people than the Avengers (who were facing a small army of people and monsters vastly more powerful and mobile) could have? It was for me.


At least in Avengers the heroes show concern for civilians and make an effort to save as many as possible. Superman showed none of that.

These responses got me thinking…:

Maybe it wasn’t the destruction per se that some viewers took issue with. Perhaps there were other legitimate criticisms people had with the film and they couldn’t quite adequately express their thoughts and so they fixated on the destruction aspect.

And that led me to these thoughts pertaining to client relations…

  • Sometimes a video you’ve produced for a client doesn’t receive the response you anticipated.

  • There’s something about the video that doesn’t quite work for the client.

  • The client, however, can’t articulately explain what it is about your video that he/she doesn’t like.

  • In his/her attempt to explain what’s wrong, he/she fixates on a particular aspect of the video that, to you, seems a bit unfair or irrational.

If you encounter this with a client at some point in your career, don’t get frustrated. Your job at that point as a video producer is to find out the core issue that bothers your client. Like a medical doctor in an emergency room setting, you need to rule out other possibilities and get to the root of the problem.

For example, I once delivered a human interest short documentary to a client for approval who told me that, tonally, it was one of the darkest stories she had ever seen and that it wouldn’t fit with the other videos she had already released. She was ready to scrap the whole project.

I knew, however, that my story wasn’t nearly as somber as others. So it wasn’t tone that concerned my client.

But what was it?

After listening to her concerns, speaking with her, and then rewatching the video a few times myself I realized that the issue was with my main interview subject. This individual told a personal story in a very matter-of-fact way, so any emotional sound bite I used in the piece didn’t feel authentic, because the interview subject never really got emotional. It was the perceived inauthenticity of my main subject that created the issue.

To solve this problem, I went back through the edit and just let the interview subject tell the story. I removed any sound bites that were editorial or emotional in nature. And you know what? These revisions worked for the client.

So the next time you receive feedback from a client that confuses you, or just feels arbitrary and without merit, take the time to have a one-on-one conversation. Talk through the edit. Find out what’s really going on.

The issue may not be the fact that you decided to level Metropolis.

How to Use A-Roll Effectively

The concept of editing, whether it’s a news piece, documentary, or corporate video, is fairly straightforward. First you assemble your A-Roll, which consists of all the sound bites you want to use in your video. Second, you add B-Roll on top of all the interviews, in order to illustrate what the subjects are talking about. Third, you cut between the two.

That’s the concept. The reality is that editing is an art, full of nuance. Each cut has a purpose and the way in which cuts are assembled can have a dramatic impact on viewer emotions.

The question then is, “How does an editor know when to cut?” Or “Why does an editor make a cut at a certain point?” 

Cutting away from a b-roll shot to a talking head shouldn’t be an afterthought. You shouldn’t place your interview subject on the screen just because you ran out of b-roll. Like every other edit in your piece, there should be a reason behind that edit. Why are we looking at your interview subject at this particular moment?

Here are a few of my own guidelines for when you need to show your interview subject: 

Introductions and Re-Introductions 

When introducing an interview subject for the first time, you definitely want to show who’s speaking.

Sometimes an interview subject is heard first, then seen. An editor may choose to insert the subject’s voice underneath a sequence of b-roll shots. Then the editor will cut to the talking head, so viewers can put a face with a voice. If this is the way you choose to introduce your subject to the viewer, be sure not to wait too long before showing the viewer who it is who’s speaking.

In situations where a variety of interview subjects appear throughout the piece (like in the case of a feature-length documentary), you will want to re-introduce your audience to your subject so viewers don’t get confused as to who’s speaking (“Who’s this guy again? I know I saw him earlier.”) This is especially true of you’re editing for television and you know when commercial breaks will occur. It may be necessary to reintroduce viewers to your interview subjects after the commercial breaks.

Emotional Beats 

I usually cut to a talking head when the subject is particularly emotional when discussing a certain topic. Real human emotion resonates with viewers, so if your subject is distraught, upset, teary-eyed, etc. it’s a good idea to show that on screen, but be strategic about it. Show it too often and the weight of that emotion dissipates greatly.

Personal Quirks 

Sometimes you can learn a lot about an individual based on certain facial expressions. A subject may tell you one thing, but his or her face may tell you something completely different. If this inner conflict can be seen on the subject’s face, let’s see it.

You might have an interview subject who smiles after finishing a thought, or scowls, or seems conflicted, or pensive. If so, let’s see it.

It’s great when you can glean information from an interview subject about a certain topic, but it’s better if you can both learn the information and also get a sense of how the person feels about what was just said.

Emphasis

When viewers watch a video, they’re taking in a lot of stimulus at once. They’re listening to an interview. They’re watching b-roll images. They’re reading subtitles, signage, or graphic elements. It could be easy to miss certain details, like an important point your interview subject is trying to make. So, if you really want to make sure your audience doesn’t miss a particular detail, strip everything else away and simply show your subject. Just as a writer will use bold or italic words to focus a reader’s attention, so too can an editor emphasize a point by showing the interview subject on screen.

Bridging Two Story Beats

Editors might choose to show their interview subject as a bridge between two story beats. One chapter is concluding, another one is beginning. So, audiences might see a talking head on screen making one final point before the story moves in a new direction.

Remember, when you’re editing, think strategically about when to show your interview subject. Make sure there’s a good reason for it. In fact, you might not need to show your interview subject at all. In the HBO documentary Come Inside My Mind, which details the life and career of Robin Williams, viewers never seen Robin Williams actually sitting in an interview telling his story, even though it’s his voice narrating the film. I’ve edited short docs before where I never show the interview subject. There just wasn’t a good reason to.

Have any other editing tips? Leave them in the Comments section below.