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Business Video:
How to Avoid Being a YouTubeTM Amateur



Note: this article was written a few years ago, and of course, technology has changed - we now have 4K video. However - the production issues discussed are still relevant if you are producing video. So just skip the history and go to the production tips. Enjoy.

With the high degree of success of the YouTubeTM video site, new emphasis has been placed on the role of video for messaging (in addition to entertainment), and no doubt many business executives are taking a new look at video as a way to get their sales and marketing messages out to the markets.

But before you rush out to put some "YouTube video" on your web site, it's a good idea to make sure you understand what's involved in producing a business video so you don't wind up looking like a YouTube amateur, unless, of course - that's your market.

First off, for a business video - disabuse yourself of the notion that anyone can pick up a video camera and shoot video. That's OK for home movies - but if your objective is to make a credible, professional impression - then there's lot that goes into producing even a short video clip. The more you know about these factors, then the better the chance that your next business video will wind up being what you expected, and not a point of embarrassment.

That being said, it is however, possible to make high-quality video for a very affordable cost - and video that can be updated and modified at low cost as well. But you need to know how to go about it.

There are two elements to quality business video: technology and skill. Let's take quick look at the technical aspects of how and why video is now so affordable, and then the skill items you need to know about if you're going to get a quality video.

Up until the recent past (1999) video was primarily analog, and required large and expensive equipment to produce. Editing was linear (two video tapes - "A" and "B" - edited into one master tape - which is where the expression "B-roll" comes from), also requiring expensive equipment and a high degree of skill. In 1999 the miniDV format was introduced, along with small camcorders. This was soon followed by 3-chip (one dedicated digital chip for each primary color - red, blue and green) cameras that recorded a much higher quality image - at a cost of $3,000 or less. Within the last few years, low-cost high-definition (HD) camcorders were also introduced. On the editing front, non-linear (e.g. computer-based) editing systems were introduced, and editing systems that had cost $100,000+ were then available for less than $10,000 - now actually less than $5,000.

So in the last few years, the cost of the technology to record and edit video has dropped dramatically - hence, the stage was set for the YouTube phenomena - or everyman video. Now, even Paris Hilton can do a video.

However, the tools are only part of the process. The other part is the skill required to produce video that appears professional (lighting, audio, camera technique) - or, more accurately, pleasing to the eye and ear. For the most part - this really hasn't changed. The more you know about the production of video, the more that you realize there is a tremendous amount of technical production detail that has to be considered in order to get a quality end product. Most video viewers will watch a low-quality production and instinctively know that something is wrong - experienced producers can immediately identify the mistakes and errors that video producer (or more accurately - the camera operator who is acting as producer) made - all usually due to a lack of skill and knowledge of the basics of good video.

An updated anecdote illustrates this point:

A CEO was having his portrait taken by a well-known portrait photographer.
"I see you have a Nikon," commented the CEO. "So do I."
Without missing a beat, the photographer remarked:
"I see your secretary has a word processor - so does Stephen King."

The point being that same tool in the hands of two different operators with vastly different skill levels yields far different results.

Production Tips:

A second point to remember is that the newer technology has also allowed the process of making a video to change as well, but not every producer takes advantage of this. Some simply use the newer technology with the same size production crew as before - and hence the same-sized production costs. The key to getting a reasonable business video shot is to use a producer who leverages the new technology for all it's worth - and does not try to shoot the same way it has always been done. A shoot these days can involve only one or two production people.

Start with the end in mind - most web videos are going to be three minutes or less - but you will probably have a ten-to-one or twenty-to-one shooting ratio - so it will take 30 to 60 minutes of shooting (or more) to get that final three minutes. And you will probably want to do more than just one web video at a time (in other words, more than one message) - since most of the cost and hassle is in the set up for the shoot. That can take from half a day to a full day to get - don't expect to do it in an hour.

Perhaps the most important aspect of production is the pre-planning that takes place. The location, who will be on camera (commonly known as 'talent', regardless of on-camera experience), what they will say and how they will say it, and even the weather, if outdoors (in addition to inclement weather, both a very sunny day and a cloudy day create lighting problems). A lot these factors have to be evaluated and planned for in advance (including contingency plans) so that the amount of 'winging it' is at a minimum. This is the difference between a skilled video producer and an amateur - the amateur doesn't plan, shoots anyway, and isn't concerned about the final product.

Another aspect is who will be on camera. If you want the CEO - well, that's obvious. Usually, using staff is the least expensive and most credible option. However, not everyone is good on camera - and appearing good on camera is not as easy as it looks without either some pre-shoot coaching or off-camera coaching during the shoot. So do some 'screen tests' in advance if you have the least bit of doubt. As far as scripts go - forget it. Unless you are dealing with trained actors - most people can't deal with scripts, or scripted language. What you need to do is to get them to say what you want in a conversational manner - forgetting the camera. This is why your producer (or director) has to be able to engage them in a conversation on the subject at hand, or you have to use the interview format, in such a way that they forget they are being taped. With some practice, it's not quite as hard as it sounds.

Once the setup is finalized, do a lot of shooting - meaning multiple takes of the same shot or dialogue, and multiple takes with something changed. These can come in very useful once the footage is reviewed - and all the little things are noticed, like the CEO blinking his eyes. Always check the lighting and audio levels while on-site. Mistakes there are difficult to correct later.

Experienced videographers also shoot a bunch of "B-roll" - which is local background or scenery, plant floor activities, etc. Again, this can come in handy in the final edit.

The editing of the video is where all the pieces are put together - if it was shot according to plan and the editor was involved from the beginning (perhaps the same person who was the camera operator) - the editing process is pretty quick. If the editor is not up to speed on the project - then you can get some interesting results. Like the video looking good, but the messaging is out of context.

Something to remember is that video that is intended for the web needs to be encoded for web downloading. It's too technical to describe here, but you should make sure your editor knows web encoding codecs (specific video coding and decoding algorithms) for how you plan to use the video.

This has been a once-over for how to develop business video for the web. As you may have gathered by now, it is a lot more involved than just picking up a camera. But then again - the results will show it.



2007,2010, 2015 Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved
The author has been a producer-director since 2002, and has either directed, crewed or personally produced well over 100 productions, including 60-second PSAs, sports events, multi-camera theatrical productions and election coverage. He was the director for a first-place, award-winning video series in 2014 (16th Annual Northeast Video Festival), and previously named Producer of the Year.


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