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If you’re like me, you have commercial clients who need video footage of their products: electronics, sporting equipment, shoes, pens and pencils, food, compost buckets… the list is as endless as the shelves at Mega Lo Mart. But how do I make these inanimate objects look interesting? Here are a few simple tips:
Obviously, your techniques will depend on the equipment and space you have access to, but even shooters on a shoestring budget shooting shoestrings can use these principles to get some nice shots. First of all, use soft light. Hard light creates hard shadows, which can be ugly on almost anything you shoot. Second, don’t forget the back light. Just because you’re not shooting a person, doesn’t mean you don’t need a halo of light to separate the object from the background. Third, top light is OK – as long as you don’t have hands coming into the frame. If you do, you’ll need to change the angle of that light to more of a 45-degree angle. And BTW, top light for people is fugly, but if you’ve ever seen a car commercial, that beautiful shot of the gleaming car in the studio is lit mostly from a humongous soft box above the car (along with bounce cards on the deck to “glow up” the fenders and doors).
I’ve got a YouTube video that shows you a simple limbo background set-up for a product shot. Limbo is a black background so the product is not shown in any particular environment. It’s a demo shoot, because there will be a person in the scene operating the product. The key light is a 1K with a soft box, flagged off the background. It’s positioned immediately to the right of the wide shot camera position, at a slight angle to the product (not straight on). The close-up camera is just to the left of that camera position. I recommend you “spike” the floor (marking positions of objects, cameras and lights) in case you need to move around or bring in multiple products. The back light is a 300-watt Fresnel through a silk, flagged off the camera and the ground. If you hang that light from the ceiling, you can put it 180-degrees from the key light. If it’s on the floor, I usually place it on the same side as the key light, but just out of the right edge of the frame.
You can shoot the product or process twice, or use two cameras (one wide, one tight). I like to put one camera on a slider. This makes it easy to make minute adjustments side to side for the close-up camera, and you can shoot the “hero” shot trucking right and left. One item I suggest (but do not have in this example) is a lazy susan. Depending on the size of your product, it’s real nice to be able to spin the product around, especially if it has shiny pieces that can pick up a glint from the lights.
When you’re shooting, keep in mind you will be editing between the wide and tight shots, so you don’t have to nail each take from beginning to end. The process can be broken down into each step and then pieced together. If there’s no “process” to shoot, then play around with different angles, different heights and different lenses. Sometimes a well-composed, 10mm, handheld, “swing around” shot can end up being the image your client loves the most.
I covered the most common question (cost) in my last blog, so let's move on to other issues. One question I often hear is, "How does it work? Who does what?" Certainly all of the technical and aesthetic concerns are handled by the video crew, but what about the script, the location or the "actors?"
I say actors in air quotes because sometimes you need people to simply be in the shot or operate a device; they're not really acting, but they are being directed. The production company can book those people - and the peace of mind is usually worth the cost. If you don't want to pay for "actors," just keep in mind that it's a process to manage them -- and you may want to pay them for their time, even if they work for you. The production company should be able to provide you with a talent release form.
The script is a relatively complicated aspect of video production. Most producers don't want to
move too far until they have a "final" script. There are those air quotes again. I don't think I've ever pressed the red button with a final, final script - but you want to be very, very close before you commit the resources to gathering assets. One of the first things I ask my clients is, "What do you think your video will look like and sound like?" In other words, who is speaking, what are they saying, and what are we seeing? That answer can be the beginning of a script. Often, a script is simply an outline - a rundown of the content to be covered, chapter headings, bullet points... whatever you want to call your clear idea of what the video will contain. I feel the creation of that guideline or road map should be a collaborative effort. The client points the way, the producer turns those ideas into on-screen elements.
The locations for shooting can be vital or not important at all. That's usually something that doesn't take long to figure out, but it can have a grand effect on production management. Obviously, the most convenient locations are the ones you can control, but if the client is providing the location, they need to be educated on the extent to which a crew "invades" and takes over the work space. Sometimes, paying for a studio is well worth the expense.
Whether it's these three aspects of production - or all the other parts for that matter - a key thing to consider when choosing a video production professional is their level of attentiveness. Are they listening to you? Do they have suggestions? Aspects like locations, actors, script development, and even shooting style should be things the client provides input on, and the production company should be able to not only adapt to the client's desires, but communicate the ramifications of those choices.
If you’re considering video to promote your business, one of the first questions you will ask is, "How much does it cost?" And the most common answer will be, "It depends."
Since I’m a teacher at two community colleges, I run into a lot of people looking for very cheap or free video production. For some reason, people are willing to let a trainee shoot their video, but they wouldn’t dream of hiring an apprentice to fix their plumbing. It kind of makes sense, I suppose: low risk. But mostly, people who are not “in the business” don’t understand what goes into producing a video of substance and shelf life. And what I mean by that gets us to the crux of video production cost.
Stories that matter take thought. When you hire a person to do a video for you, you’re not just paying for the shooting and editing time. You’re paying for expertise, equipment and the production management it takes to plan and execute to the message. AND you’re paying to have a director help you formulate your ideas, your delivery strategy, and how it all ties together. It’s designing creative content for your custom narrative.
In general, videographers, editors and other video production professionals (e.g. sound and lighting) make about $30-$60 per hour. Higher level directors, etc. will make $100 or $200 per hour. It’s common to charge an upfront producer fee, writing fee, creative fee, or other general pre-production charges. Production days are normally based on ten-hours, so the hourly rate you pay for a person, piece of equipment or location (like a studio) can be easily calculated. Half-day rates (much hated in the production community) are usually based on 4.5 hours or less, and cost about 60% of the full-day rate.
The fees may go up based on a person’s experience or a project’s complexity, and they may come down to some extent based on your budget. There are often two- or four-hour minimums for a video shoot. A typical video shoot takes about 30 to 60 minutes to set up and another 30-60 to break down – and that time is included in the day rate. So obviously, the more setups you have, the less you can get done in ten hours.
Editing is another creature altogether. Some editors are very fast, so they will naturally make more per hour – and will most likely charge a flat fee. Editors who aren’t as sure about how much time it will take to edit a piece, may want to charge by the hour. I recommend you ask for a flat editing fee with clear parameters on program length, client changes, and contingency if the scope of the project is altered. The level of graphic design or special effects that people want will greatly affect the editing price.
The volume of footage and the length of the video will obviously influence the cost across the board, so try to ascertain what level of complexity you’re going for before you approach a production company. If it's basically a straightforward edit, where you’re cutting down some dialogue and adding supportive footage (aka “B-roll”) that’s relatively simple. But if you have numerous locations, spread out over lots of days, and there are many critical moments to capture for your high-energy, grandiose production that looks like a Lady Gaga music video, expect to pay more – unless, of course, you can get a student to do it…
I did a Google search for "corporate video San Diego," and I got 2,110,000 hits. So which production company should I hire to do video for my business?
You can believe the Google analytics and take the companies that are listed first, which means they paid for that right or they're good with metadata and keywords. You can trust Yelp, which will list the companies that have a lot of people writing Yelp reviews for them. Or you can browse websites, read descriptions, watch sample reels, and see if someone fits what you're looking for – if you happen to know that. Understanding what your budget is and why you want to do video production is a really good place to start. Since I certainly don’t know the former, let’s talk about the latter.
So why do I want to do video production for my business? And why can’t I just do it with my cell phone?
Let’s answer the second question simply and easily: The same reason you don’t do your own plumbing, legal representation or cabinetry. If that’s not what you do, you shouldn’t trust your future self to do it right. Sure, fix a leaky faucet, fight a traffic ticket, or build a simple shelf in a backroom closet – you’re up for that. Low risk if you get it wrong. So if you’re going to squeeze off a quick video with your phone to post on social media – an "in-the-moment" post to keep your FaceLinkInstaTwitChat live and relevant – go for it! No editing, no audio concerns, lighting and camera movement are not an issue. It’s just fun and "now." But if you’re motive for creating a video has a bigger picture – like the pipe under your house, you’re facing jail time, or you need a centerpiece for your living room – don’t hesitate; hire a professional.
Any business messaging that needs to be useful for a long time is an investment, and you should treat it as the important asset it will be. A quality sound track is one of the first differentiators between amateur and professional video storytelling. An editing flow that does not detract from the message… appropriate lighting that flatters people and places, and creates a three-dimensional feel… mature, elegant composition and camera movement… these are all elements of professional video production that any reputable company can articulate and present.
The production company will most certainly ask you what you want. You may or may not really know. You may say, “Straightforward… just show what we do.” You may say, “Branding is huge, so a 3D animation of our logo is critical.” You may want “edgy, cinematic storytelling with deep subplots.” Funny, Hard-hitting, Dramatic, Impactful, Ironic, Meaningful, Shocking… I’ve heard clients ask for all these things, some of which I do well, some of which I send them elsewhere for.
When you’re looking for a video production company, watch several of their samples – they may do everything the same (or close to it). If they have a variety of approaches and content, they may be better to work with. Their demo reel can be a good indication of the scope of their styles and genres. But regardless of which production company you consider, remember two things: They will all need to work from a script – which will most likely need to be (at least initially) written by you – and they will all be hesitant to give you a price. And that’s the topic for my next blog. Stay tuned.