The Video Production Process

Video always starts with an idea.

A need to showcase abilities, to tell a story, to inspire action.
A desire to sell more product, profile a service, or demonstrate proper technique.
A way to give a meeting more impact or make an appeal to help a cause.

Video does all of these and more very well.

But like anything done well, there is a process to it all. Followed effectively, the Video Production Process can yield great results and efficient use of time and money. Implement it poorly and budgets can soar out of control while results fall short of expectations.

For Vision Star Media, the Video Production Process provides a roadmap for us to work with our clients to develop their projects from concept to completion. And within its structure can be found many techniques we deploy to bring costs down while generating the highest quality in production values.

There are four “P’s” of the Video Production Process. They are:

Let’s take a look at each of these in detail. We’ll start at the end of the process to illustrate how it impacts everything else.

Place

Place refers to how the final video production will be disseminated to its audience. Will it be on disc – either DVD or Blu-ray®? Will it be broadcast through traditional media or streamed online? Will it be archived – either posted to a video-sharing website like YouTube or Vimeo, or embedded into a specific website?

Perhaps the video will be used in a presentation. Will it be projected to a large audience or viewed individually on a personal device? Will it need to start automatically or require menu navigation and user interaction to view? Will it require accessibility text such as closed captioning? Will it need multiple language versions – either spoken or subtitled? Is packaging an issue? Will there be printed materials that accompany the presentation?

These are just a handful of the primary issues associated with the Place phase. But by exploring and articulating these early in the Video Production Process, they can determine the overall requirements of your video presentation, provide a clue to budgeting needs, and drive much of the activity of the Pre-Production phase.

Pre-Production

Pre-Production is probably the most important component of the Video Production Process as it is here that the greatest cost savings can be attained through careful planning. Pre-Production can be divided into two categories – Concept Development, where the goals and objectives of the project are established; and Production Preparation, where the script is developed, a production schedule is created, and all other elements that will comprise the production are made ready.

Concept Development

Concept Development explores what you hope to accomplish with the video project. The answers to the questions raised during this stage will directly impact everything else that is part of the Video Production Process. Some of these questions include:

Concept Development further explores the many ways these identified goals and objectives can be accomplished using video. What stylistic approach will best fit (i.e. documentary, interview, narrative, drama, humor, live action, animation, etc.)? How will this best be executed (i.e. on location or in studio or both)? Will professional talent be required? How long should the video run? What are the budgetary boundaries of the client?

These decisions in turn yield strategic directions and underlying themes that are to be expressed in the finished video production. They provide the litmus test for decisions made throughout the Video Production Process – are we effectively addressing the strategies and objectives of the client?

Production Preparation

Production Preparation begins with the development of a script. This document outlines the action, presented in sequence, which tells a story to realize the client’s strategies and goals. It provides the foundation upon which the video will be built.

The scriptwriting process involves interviews, discussions, research, brainstorming and ultimately, writing. The script may take several iterations, beginning with an outline or short treatment through several versions until an approved script gets the “green light.” The script will identify the words and sounds that are heard, the action seen, and other elements such as titles, captions, diagrams and other visual effects. For certain productions, a visual storyboard may be developed to assist the client in “seeing” the video before it is shot. For most productions, a simple shot breakdown list will serve this purpose.

The Production Preparation stage continues with the development of a production budget and schedule. The budget will allocate funds to the appropriate areas as determined by the script and shot breakdown list. The schedule is also created from the script and the shot breakdown list and develops the timeline for the Production and Post-Production phases. Like the script, the schedule will also be a guiding document used during the rest of the Video Production Process. It identifies the casting requirements for the video. It lists necessary locations, props, costumes and sets. It determines crew requirements. And it ensures that appropriate safety policies, permits, and insurance coverage are in place.

By the time the Pre-Production phase is complete, the video and all its related planning documents exists in written form. Now it is time to turn these writings into video. For that, we turn to the Production phase.

Production

When most people think of creating a video, it is the Production phase that comes first to mind. Lights, cameras, and action all comprise this element of the Video Production Process. For it is here that most of the images and sounds that will be used in the video are captured. Production is all about tradecraft – the right equipment used by talented artisans in the right way. But each video is unique and as such, this phase of the Process will vary from project to project.

The Production phase could be as simple as a single camera with built-in microphone, camera operator, and natural lighting capturing footage in thirty minutes or less or it could be as complex as multiple cameras, an assortment of cast and crew, extensive sound and lighting equipment capturing the footage on a larger scale over several days. It all comes down to the needs of the client as expressed in the script.

Cameras are the primary tools to capture video footage. They can range from small, lipstick sized devices to sophisticated ultra-high resolution gear. They can be operated manually or remotely. They can be stationary or move about on a variety of devices. Some require an extensive amount of external light while others can perform in near darkness. Today, most cameras capture footage digitally in high resolutions onto solid state, non-volatile, or magnetic media which has helped to accelerate the Post-Production phase.

A skilled operator will use the camera as a tool to frame a scene, follow the action, and capture the necessary images. The skills of this individual cannot be understated as many times, particularly when covering live events, there are no second chances to capture the necessary footage.

Lighting plays a critical role in the acquisition of video footage. Lighting is both a science and an art. A poorly lit scene can ruin footage, whereas a well lit scene can provide greater levels of audience understanding of the action while evoking powerful emotions.

Video has always been considered a visual medium. But much of the information we acquire from watching a video is also obtained from our ears. Sound capture is an important component of the Production phase. Like lighting, bad audio can ruin a scene, whereas good audio can add depth and dimension. Microphones are used to capture sound and may be placed on the camera, directly on the cast members, or in other strategic locations as needed.

Leading the Production phase is the director. With the script as the primary tool, the director will ensure that the client’s vision is being captured. It may only require a single shot or it may require multiple angles or multiple takes to get the right footage. The director must see the finished video in their mind’s eye and lead the production team to ensure that there is necessary and appropriate coverage for each scene.

Larger shoots may also have larger crews. These may include grips to move equipment and set pieces about, make-up artists, a script supervisor to log footage and ensure continuity from shot to shot, electricians, lighting techs, audio engineers, camera assistants, and others. Again, the complexity of the shoot is determined by the script and the production budget. On smaller shoots with smaller crews, multiple roles will be assumed by the team.

If the Pre-Production phase was all about planning and preparation, and the Production phase was all about capturing footage, the Post-Production phase is where it all comes together.

Post-Production

Post-Production combines the work done in Pre-Production with that done during the Production phase to create the finished video.

During Production, many times the footage is shot out of the sequence outlined in the script. This is done to facilitate cost savings due to cast and location availability. It is the role of the editor to take this footage and assemble it to tell the client’s story.

Editors use digital editing software to build sequences, add transitions between shots, insert titles, etc. They’ll review all of the footage and pick the shots that best serve the story’s needs. They may incorporate additional footage, still photos, simple graphics, and stock footage into the project as appropriate. They’ll put together the audio soundtrack. Several iterations of the video project will be created in the edit bay, from a rough cut which is used for review purposes, to the final, finished cut which is processed for distribution.

Visual effects can also be added to enhance a shot or add increased drama to a scene. Motion graphics and special 2D or 3D animations can be used to create special effects or sophisticated graphics. These visual effects include the use of Chroma-key or “green screen” effects. With green screen shots, footage of talent may be shot in a studio environment against a special background, usually a bright vibrant “green screen.” The editor then uses software to “key” or cut out the green background and digitally replace it with other footage sometimes from another location. Thus the talent can appear to have been shot at this remote location. This approach can add increased impact while saving substantial production costs.

The editor can also use software to improve the overall look of the picture in the video, including balancing the color temperature to set a tone or make footage shot at different times, under different lighting conditions, look similar.

Voice talent known as VO artists may be brought in to record narration that will be added to the soundtrack. This narration serves as a dramatic guide to the action and helps to make complex subjects easier to comprehend.

Many times music is added to the soundtrack of the video. Music can set and sustain a mood and enhance the action in a sequence. When budgets permit, this music may be composed specifically for the video. Other times, prerecorded music tracks are seamlessly added to the project. The editor can also incorporate special sound effects or filters to add more impact to a scene.

The end result is a video production ready for dissemination to the target audiences. And that brings us back full circle to the objectives set down during the Place phase.