Commissioning a video
If you are thinking about having a professional video made to publicise your organisation, or for training or sales purposes, there are a number of questions you need to ask yourself before you start to look for a production company.
Who is my audience?
If you have a very clear idea of the types of people you are trying to reach it will make it much easier to make decisions later about content and style. What are the age, sex, social group and intellectual level of the audience? How well do they understand English (if that is the language you intend to use)? How committed are they to the subject matter – do they need the information you are providing or will you have to get their interest first?
Where and how will the audience view the video?
There are many different ways to view video material today. Will it be viewed by a group, with a live introduction and the opportunity for discussion afterwards? Or will it be viewed in isolation over the Internet or company network? How captive is the audience? There is a big difference between a seminar, where only the mind can wander and an exhibition stand, where the viewer can physically move away. How important is the audio? In some sales kiosk situations sound may not be played at all, or those working nearby may turn it right down. Repeated video is no problem but repeated audio can be gentle torture after a while!
What is my aim? What do I want the viewer to do having watched the video?
You can, of course, have more than one objective but the more you have the more compromises you will have to make. When deciding your main objectives remember that video is good at painting a broad picture and showing how things look. It is not good at lots of detail (unless the viewer can easily stop and rewind). It is good at conveying emotions - and equally quick to reveal the phoney and wooden.
What format will I use to distribute the programme?
You need to think about this early on. Different criteria apply to producing a film for distribution on dvd and providing for a website. If there is a possibility that the film might be of interest to a television company, this should be known at the start. What aspect ratio should be used, widescreen (now the standard for TVs) or 4:3? It may not matter much but if you are using the video in a PowerPoint presentation do you want it to match the rest of the material, which will probably be 4:3. Is the video mainly for Europe, where PAL is the system in use or in North America, where NTSC is universal? All these variables can be incorporated from the outset but leaving it to the last minute could be expensive.
How much will the video cost and why can't we make it ourselves?
Cost will depend on what you are buying. A Mini is cheaper than a Rolls-Royce. Do it yourself? Maybe you can - particularly if you have the help of someone with basic training in video production. Certainly, adequate equipment is affordable now. It really depends on what standard you need to achieve. You may be able to greatly reduce costs by using some of your own resources and people. A good Production Company will work with you to maximise value for money.
How do I choose a Production Company?
Commissioning a Production Company is a serious act of faith. You will be parting with a large sum of money without any guarantee of how it will end. That's why most companies rely on recommendations and repeat work for the bulk of their business. Websites are the obvious place to start; search engines and directories will provide a good list of suitable companies in your area. Who are their existing clients? What kind of work do they do? How experienced are they? In the end you will pick the company that you feel comfortable with but here are a few suggestions of what to look for:
Track record. What have they produced for other people? Seetheir work and, if possible talk to, their clients in person. But don't worry if they can't show you an example of your particular subject matter. Every commission is different and requires a fresh approach. Off the peg solutions rarely work well.
Producer or salesman? Who will be the day-to-day contact? Is the person selling the company going to do the work? You need to establish a good working relationship with whoever is going to produce the video? Will this person be on the "shoot" and at the "edit" or will they produce from behind a desk.
Big or small? Many Production Companies are sole traders working with a network of freelance technicians. This can work in your favour because you won't get passed around the company. On the other hand what happens if he/she is struck down? Is there someone who can step in to carry on your production? A large Production Company will have the resources to ensure continuity, but at a price - higher overheads will probably mean less of your budget appears on the screen.
Choose the best company or the best treatment? One common method of choosing a Production Company is to ask several companies to provide a treatment (a document, sometimes with a storyboard, showing how a particular creative idea might work). You then decide which treatment you like best and that company gets the job. The trouble is you are not really choosing the company. What you are choosing is an idea, often written by a freelance writer with only minimal knowledge of your organisation. As all the competing companies are paying for the treatments out of their marketing budgets, their objective will be to win the commission with the least effort. Only larger companies can afford to play this game so you become locked into the high profit/high overhead world of the bigger companies. True, if you have a large budget this may not be of concern.
An alternative method is to choose a company first and then work with that company to produce a well-researched creative treatment. If you wish, you can just pay for the treatment initially and only commit to the full production when you are happy with it. There is one crucial advantage in working this way - both you and the producer have the same goal in mind, to arrive at a treatment that meets all your aims and objectives within the given budget.
We hope the above will help you think through some of the key issues. It may be that video is not for you - in which case you'll know when you've found a good production company, because they'll be the first to tell you so! Pity you won't need them now. Maybe next time!
© Chris Pettit, Just Film 2008