Creating effective film content in lockdown
Nick McAlpine, Executive Producer, finds that where there’s a will there’s a way
Turn the clock back a couple of months and we had film crews shooting across Europe, the Gulf and North America, on behalf of our clients. Today, things have turned 180 degrees: we have clients filming across the globe – on behalf of us! That, it seems, is the ‘new normal’ when it comes to creating film content.
Film remains an incredibly powerful and effective medium to support corporate communications and not least in these challenging times. Key audiences – whether employees, customers or investors – are still expecting information from companies, and now perhaps even more so. It’s just that with lockdowns in place, home working the norm and situations unfolding so rapidly, we need to think a little differently. How best to deploy a medium that’s often the first choice when it comes to delivering clear, consistent messages at critical times?
The good news is that much of the usual good practice that goes into creating effective film content still applies. While some of the timescales may be contracted, especially if the messages and content are urgent or time-sensitive, we still work with our clients to establish the fundamentals (audience, purpose, messages/storyline, desired outcome, etc.) and then figure out the production logistics (who is contributing, availability, project schedule, etc.). Really, no different from the usual pre-production for any film project and that discipline remains invaluable.
And then the bit that’s different – how to shoot what we need. Clearly, in the age of the selfie, with many of us carrying phones capable of cinema-quality video, not to mention the hours us home-workers spend staring down the barrel of a webcam, the method and the means is all around us. Our job, as professional filmmakers, then becomes to support – often, skill-up – our client contributors as they self-shoot the footage we will need. Again, prep is the key.
Of course, the message and its effective delivery come first – whether piece-to-camera or down-the-line interview – that doesn’t change. But in addition, we work with contributors (of every conceivable level of technical aptitude) to figure out the best and least intrusive way to shoot the highest quality footage.
Much of it is fairly common sense, yet many people ignore the basics: from thinking about location, background, lighting or positioning the camera. And, whilst seemingly counterintuitive, getting the best quality audio is even more important than perfect pictures. Audiences tend to forgive sub-standard pictures much more than poor sound. While we have a lot of digital firepower that can clean up self-shot footage, there are many simple ways to get above-average audio during the shoot.
For more complex projects, we have deployed simple teleprompting solutions on smart phones and in the case of one our clients, we have even set up a mini studio in the home of the CEO to shoot green screen sequences, as per their brand requirements. But when films get more ambitious, we call on reinforcements. Over the last month, we have got to know many of clients’ partners, offspring, flatmates, and the like, as they have become part of our extended team and deputise as director of photography, script continuity person and motivator-in-chief. And the results have often been great because having another pair of hands and familiar face present during filming sometimes takes the pressure off the person in front of camera.
And just because the way that we have shot contributors’ dialogue has changed, it doesn’t mean films produced under these circumstances are limited to talking heads. Far from it. In fact, we have coached clients to shoot suitable B-roll for projects, we regularly plunder (with permission) their YouTube channels or scour commercial film libraries, sometimes our own, for footage to illustrate. Plus, nothing has changed in terms of our capabilities and desire to use graphics and animation to bring stories to life.
In truth, the editing and post-production of films we are making at the moment has not changed too much at all, apart from our own team working remotely. After all, while the audience is a little more captive than usual, attention can still wander and, frankly, a film without illustrative pictures runs the risk of being second-rate radio – and fulfilling the communication potential of neither medium.
So, while times have changed and who knows for how long, our attitude and our approach to working with our clients to create effective film content remains: ‘What’s the most we can do to make a really stand-out film?’ After all, with all these tactics, techniques and technology at our disposal plus decades of experience to fall back on – where there’s a will, there really is a way. We would love to show you how.