I am a big believer in thorough preproduction. Even a down-and-dirty, microbudget, crew-of-one video project needs to have some basic questions answered before the first frame is shot.
Here’s how I break it down.
Overall Style: Energetic or Elegant
What’s the general feel of your piece going tobe? Fast paced and energetic, or leisurely and elegant? For a fast-paced video, you’ll need a lot of different, quick shots. For a leisurely video, you’ll need fewer, more carefully thought-out shots, maybe with a moving camera.
Method of Communication: Narrative, Voiceover or Interview
Whether you’re telling a fictional story, or promoting a company, there are only three basic ways to speak to your audience. In a narrative presentation, on-screen people talk to each other. In a voiceover presentation or music video, an off-screen person talks (or sings) to the viewer. In an interview presentation, on-screen people talk to an off-screen person (or, sometimes, directly to the viewer).
Narrative videos are the most entertaining, and they require very few supporting visuals (“B-roll”), because you’ll probably just be showing the actors. On the downside, you need actors, a pre-written script, and good location sound.
Voiceover videos are somewhat easier to shoot, because once you’ve written a script, you don’t have to worry about audio (much), and can just focus on capturing visuals. But, they’re less personal, and can be a bit boring.
Interview-driven videos are much more complex to shoot and edit, because you have to shoot both the interviews and supporting visuals, but they carry a lot more weight with viewers, and don’t require actors.
All three methods of communication have strengths and weaknesses, and all require work to be done.
Storytelling Approach: Day-In-The-Life or Case Study
This applies primarily to non-fiction projects, such as corporate promos or documentaries. How are you going to structure your story? In a day-in-the-life presentation, you grab shots and/or soundbites from as many people as you can, over the course of one or two shoot days. With a case-study video, you follow a smaller number of subjects over the course of an experience. This is the formula that most reality shows follow. If your budget and time are limited, you’re more likely to need a snapshot, day-in-the-life approach.
There’s no right or wrong way to structure a project. The important thing is to be consistent.
If you know that you’re going to be making an energetic, fast-paced video, don’t spend half the day working on a single, slow-motion steadicam shot. If your subject matter calls for a more leisurely presentation, don’t run around grabbing three-second-long, handheld shots.
If you know that you’re going to be shooting a number of interviews, don’t wait until the last minute to write your questions, and schedule yourself so that you have time to set up audio and lighting equipment before your interview subject shows up. If you’ll be using a voiceover, write the script for it before you start shooting; otherwise, you might wind up with a bunch of footage that doesn’t fit your voiceover.
A few minutes spent thinking about your project, before you start shooting, is time well spent. You’ll save hours in postproduction, and you’ll have a better final product.