Wednesday, 27 July 2011

How to make a £700 web video

The brief was to make a short, eye catching web video for the Love Football Gambling website. The budget was small so the video had to come in at £700, we decided to go the motion graphics route, using a mix of 2D and 3D graphics, with the emphasis on 2D to keep costs down.

We're finding that more and more, entirely web based businesses prefer promotions such as this, as they're short, snappy and to the point.

Watch the Love Football Gambling video in standard or high definition below.

Double R Productions website

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Emperor's new 3D clothes 'Is 3D worth all the fuss?'

3D mania is upon us, I've heard of some production companies offering corporate videos in 3D and I recently saw a question on a forum asking if anyone knew any hire houses doing 3D pro-sumer cameras. The person in question had a documentary to shoot and wanted to do it in 3D, my immediate question was; why? Even if your viewers on the film festival circuit could view your documentary about lesbian tramps in Poland in 3D, why would they want to?

For the life of me I can't understand why anyone would want to shoot a documentary or short film or anything else for that matter, in 3D. If your documentary makes it on TV, then about 0.001% of your viewing audience will be able to watch it in 3D, that's if of course you sell it to one of the stations with a 3D channel and the program controller is deranged enough to put it on there, which of course he won't be.

If it does make it onto main stream cinema screens, then you can bet every last penny you have that no cinema chain in their right mind would screen a documentary in 3D, when there's an endless stream of crapulent action-packed guff out there to satiate the masses.

So the only way to find out about the plight of homeless, Polish lesbians will be online where nobody will be able to view it in 3D. So again, I ask the question; why? Needless to say the forum poster wasn't too enamoured with me and my trusty old cynicism and promptly stopped talking to me.

It's nothing new for available camera technology to be ahead of available screen tech, HD cameras were around long before HD TV and computer screens became standard. But what chance 3D screens becoming standard?

The way I see it 3D has got a long way to go before it becomes the accepted standard, even if the current wave of 3D TVs hitting the market crest's in a couple of years and a fair percentage of the viewing public have them, by that time the technology would have moved on. You only have to look at the first LCD HD TVs and gas plasmas, to see that the current 3D TVs will most likely be obsolete in less than a few years.

As for 3D capable computer screens, it'll be years, before there are 3D laptop or desktop screens, in fact in its current format, I don't think it'll ever happen; and here's why.

In that oft quoted experiment, if you put glasses on that skew the world and turn everything upside down, after around 10 minutes or so, your brain will flip everything the right way up and adjust so totally, that when you take the glasses off, you'll see everything upside down.

The same can be said for 3D glasses, anyone who has gone to the cinema to see a 3D film, would have noticed that after a while, you stop noticing the 3D. Unless something flies towards the camera, or there is a slow pan on a big group scene, with people standing at different distances from the camera; you simply stop noticing you're watching in 3D.

The reason for this is, you're watching a 3D film on a 2D screen and your brain is used to the image looking a certain way, it's used to filling in the gaps when you watch 2D TV and giving you a feeling of depth even though it's not really there. It is rather like driving very fast on a motorway or race track, you're going too fast to actually see everything flying past in your peripheral vision, but your brain just fills in the gaps. Those people whose brain lack the ability to do this, get tunnel vision, a greying out of the vision at the sides.

Rather like the Emperor's new clothes, nobody actually wants to admit this fact, 3D TVs are no doubt selling just as well as the first HD TVs and 3D films such as the steaming pile of dung that is Transformers 3D are packed to the rafters for every performance.

But like the little boy in the story who shout's 'the Emperor's naked!' I to will shout, 3D's crap! It's not worth it yet! Don't waste your time or money!

Until I can get 3D TV that wraps around my vision, akin to some kind of iMax on steroids, or actual holographic type 3D or at the very least a version where I don't have to suffer those bloody glasses, a real pain in the glasses if you're already part of the spectacle wearing generation; there'll be no point, as my brain will just normalise what I'm viewing and I might as well have saved my money and watched the normal version of Tron.

Why do you think 3D didn't stick the first time around? For all the same reasons it won't stick this time around, until I can get R2D2 quality and I can walk around the picture, then the Real 3D plastic specs are going the same way as the red and blue paper ones of old.

Whilst 3D TV might help gain a little more perspective for certain scenes or certain scenarios (I've heard golf looks pretty good in 3D) for the most part it doesn't enhance viewing enough to warrant the extra expense, especially when it comes to buying camera equipment. In other words it makes about as much sense as Mel Gibson would after a stag weekend in Ibiza organised by Charlie Sheen, personally I'm waiting till the Emperor gets dressed in some clothes I can actually see.

Double R Productions

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Getting started as a video producer

For some time now I've found myself answering more and more forum questions on how to get started as a video producer. Whether it be as a web video producer or a wedding videographer the entry level purchasing decisions are a cause for concern for many people wanting to enter into this market.

OK, so the question usually goes something like; 'I've done a bit in the past with video and now I want to become more serious and maybe start a video production business, shooting weddings and maybe corporate videos what equipment should I be looking at and how much should I charge?"

Well the answer to the first part of the question depends on budget obviously, but this question is usually asked at between the £5-10k ranges, so I'm going to answer it from that point of view.

Firstly I'd advise that weddings and corporate videos require different skills that will cross over, but nonetheless are distinct from each other, so firstly the advice would be to choose one or the other and then decide from there on equipment and or training.

We'll deal with corporate videos in a moment, but first let's take a quick look at wedding videography. I'm not saying that there aren't video production companies out there that don't do both weddings and corporate videos and do them well. But if you're just starting out then your needs as a wedding videographer will be different to that of a corporate video producer.

For a start you'll need two cameras if you're serious about being a good wedding videographer, you'll also need two tripods, a wide angle lens or adapter, depending on your choice of cameras, wireless mics, at least one computer (you may opt for a desktop and laptop) and some good editing software.

Why two cameras? There are a plethora of wedding videographers out there shooting on just one camera and doing just fine, but if you want to set yourself apart and make wedding videos that have that extra something, then it becomes a must.

One of your cameras remains on a tripod, to get your locked shots, pans and close ups, the other is hand-held getting the beauty and different angles of the big moments. This could be done by one person, but I wouldn't recommend it, if you're starting out, try and find another camera operator who you trust to get a good shot and can be factored into your fee.

The most important benefit of a 2 camera wedding shoot, is that you'll always have a back-up for the big moments if one fails for any reason, so as far as I'm concerned the case for two camera wedding shoots is proven and closed.

Just a little note about weddings, I don't do them, I think they're too much hard work for the money, it's an extremely competitive market and it is mainly the medium to large wedding video companies that really make money. I admire the people that do do them as I think you need the determination of the Terminator 2 and the patience of a saint.

I mean, don't get me wrong, it's tough being a video producer full stop. There's a pressure I put on myself not to mess up and I use that pressure to make sure I do a good job. But mess up someone's corporate video (which I never have) and probably the worst that happens is along with the damage to your reputation you end up out of pocket. Mess up someone's wedding and not only aren't you getting paid, but they want to sue your arse for ruining their big day; now that's pressure; and there's not a judge in the land who isn't going to side with them if you did mess up.

So, anyway, you've considered all of this and you still want to chance your arm as a wedding videographer, fair enough, first things first, what camera?

I'm actually going to recommend a camera that I'm not too fond of, but if I did weddings, I'd probably get a Sony Z7, the first reason is the weight, you're going to be doing a lot of running and gunning (hand-held videography) and you want a nice light camera. The second reason is the good battery life in the Z7, the less you have to change battery, the less chance you have of missing the happy couple's moment.

Add to that interchangeable lenses, long shooting times and good low light control it starts to make real sense. The only question is whether to make the 2nd camera a Z7 as well and that depends very much on the individual.

If for instance you're coming from a photography background then you might want your 2nd camera to be a DSLR, that way you have a low entry cost on the body and can either spend the extra money on the lenses or simply hire the lenses you think you'll need on a job by job basis.

Going the DSLR route should be considered carefully; because of the restrictions with sound you couldn't shoot an entire wedding with a DSLR, unless you captured the sound separately. And you wouldn't do that for each job unless you felt you were in particular need of going mad and slipping off to an early grave.

So your DSLR will always be shooting the soundless B roll, you'll get some great beauty shots, while the Z7 is getting the main action, but you wont have the back up if the Z7 fails, or runs out of battery or tape at a crucial moment. I won't profess to know much about the DSLR choices out there at the moment, but from the tests and films and other various productions I've watched shot on the Cannon, I've really been impressed with the results.

As far as wireless lav mics are concerned I would consider whether as a solo start-up wedding videographer, you need to purchase your mics outright, right at the beginning. I wouldn't pay any less than £800 for a half way decent pair of UHF wireless microphones.

You can buy much cheaper mics, but if I can quote the maxim, 'buy cheap, buy twice.' At some point, probably quite early on in your ownership of those cheap radio mics you bought from Maplins; you'll regret buying them and from then on you'll hire, till you can afford some good ones.

If you feel like you just want your own kit and can afford it, then the Senheiser G2 is a solid entry level UHF wireless kit.

My sound guy tells me that all the frequencies are changing in the UK soon or have just changed; it isn't my field so I wasn't paying that close attention! Anyway it means that you have to be careful when buying a mic that it is up to the new standard, especially if you're buying 2nd hand.

Now comes the editing software and the machine or machines to drive it on, I say machines because some wedding videographer and photographers alike, will use dead time throughout the day to ingest footage into their external drives via laptop, then getting home and working on the more powerful desktop, thus saving one of the most valuable commodities of the video producer; time.

This if you go the Mac way will cause you to remortgage your house and sell your newly acquired camera equipment to pay for it. There's nothing to stop you getting just a laptop and doing all your work on that, but I'm from the school that believes it's better to do your work on a desktop, simply because it's faster and more comfortable.

In the not too distant past, I would have recommended getting a Mac (or two) and getting a copy of Final Cut Pro, however Apple in their infinite wisdom, have decided to ditch Final Cut 7 and in its place put Final Cut X, which for reasons too numerous to go into here and now, just isn't a pro tool, it's a beefed up imovie pro at best.

I would now tentatively recommend Premiere Pro, their Creative Suite version 5, comes with Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere Pro, which from all the blogs I've read of final cutters migrating to Premiere, and it seems to be the one to go for. Avid is needlessly complex for your needs and Sony Vegas isn't quite pro enough yet.

When it comes to corporate video production my advice differs and that's because the two disciplines require different skills and throw up different situations. With wedding videography you have very little control over events that are taking place surrounding the actual wedding ceremony itself. 

Apart from people being late or simmering family feuds coming to bare, there is the low level church lighting, the sun going in and out behind clouds, people getting in your way or worse tripping over your gear.

With corporate videos you're in control, you have a set brief to follow and you have a set way in order to fulfill that brief, that's not to say things can't go wrong, but you're not thinking about the same problems. Therefore my camera choice is different, for the type of video you'll be shooting then for me the Panasonic P2 cameras, the Panasonic HVX  201 and also the HPX series just can't be beaten.

I prefer the sensor on the HVX and HPX over the Z7 and features such as the light scope on the HPX 170 are an absolute dream, no need for two cameras as with a controlled shoot there are no big moments you've only got one chance to get.

The ease of workflow from camera to computer is a dream with Panasonic, whereas I've never used a Sony that hasn't given me hassle at some point of trying to offload the footage.

As far as lighting's concerned, I would have a small portable lighting kit, similar to what you're going to use with weddings, Rotolight do a nice interview lighting kit. Any other kit you need, extra lighting, sound etc. can be hired on an ad-hoc basis.

When it comes to setting your rates, you need to charge what it'll take to make you successful and I'm not talking about objective success, but rather subjective success and there is a difference.

No one in their right mind would argue that Bill Gates or Warren Buffett aren't successful, that is a clear objective truth, but what might count as success to one person, may not to another.

For instance, if you're about to set up your business and your 21, with no family or mortgage, then clearing a couple of grand a month could well be enough for you, however if you do have a child or two and a mortgage and various other outgoings, then you'll need to clear considerably more than that before you can count yourself successful.

So work out what you're offering as a service and then work out how much you need to live on each month for a start. Then, and this will probably only be fine tuned once you've done a few jobs, work out how much you want to charge for a web video, wedding, corporate video or whatever it may be. Work out how long the job is going to take, then divide the figure by the number of days or hours it's going to take and you'll come up with a per hour or per day figure, which only you will know if that's acceptable.

So, just like with everything, a bit of planning and forethought will help you immensely when it comes to setting yourself up as a video producer, good luck and happy producing!

Double R Productions website

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

How much should my web video production cost?

The question; how much should my web video production cost? Has been asked by countless businesspeople in companies ranging from, small start-ups to large multi-national blue chips. Although of course, a blue chip making a mistake in this area is a lot better placed to rectify, than a start-up.

Ultimately the first question will lead to another; which corporate video company should I use for my production?

The problem that I think a lot of smaller to medium sized businesses have, is that when they want to produce a web video, either for promotional purposes or instructional they haven't got a clear idea of how expectations can effect costs.

For example, I, on countless occassions (and I'm sure I'm not the only corporate video company out there who has experienced this) have had a potential client show me an example of the video that they've seen, liked and want to emulate, only to be told that the budget is £X.

Guaranteed £X is usually in the region of 7 to 10 times smaller than the budget of the video they are looking at.

This phenomena is not just restricted to the business world, I've had dozens of music artists over the years send me links to Jay-Z videos and other high production value, high cost productions and then tell me they want the same done for £700. When the videos they're looking at have cost sometimes in the tens of thousands of pounds.

This is probably in part, because a well made, slick music or corporate video will have all the elements blended together in harmony, from the dialogue, to the music, to the shots on screen, the edit, everything will be made to look as if there has been hardly any effort at all put into the production.

Mostly however, the lack of knowledge when it comes to a video production budget, is down to the fact that most of us have never been involved in a video production, so have no idea as to what it should cost.

So, how best to budget for your video? Well the only way to do that is to have some understanding of what it takes to get your 3 minute web video onto your site and also understanding what sort of quality you can expect for a particular cost.

Let's imagine that I have a business which sells an online financial service and I've decided to make a web video showing how the site works and the benefits of my services over my competitors, I have about a £1500 budget, but no idea as to what this can get me.

I have a strong sales pitch and want to use that in my script, OK great, now I watch a video on youtube and see a company similar to mine with a great promotional web video, it has site demos with snazzy motion graphics, and live action mixed in, I decide that I want something like that.

The first thing I need to think about is, how many different elements went into making this video? Well the video is 3 minutes long and it shows their website on screen and the site is being navigated while there's a voiceover. However the website isn't just static, when it gets smaller and moves to the left of the screen, there's another screen next to it with 2 actors.

Behind the two screens there are more graphics, relating to the product, the actors can be seen acting out the script in 5 different locations and in one of the locations another actor pops up. The video ends with a stream of graphics flying back into a web page, showing my competitor's website.

Right so how much should I have to pay to re-create something like that?

Let's break it down:

  • The screen capture and motion graphics to show the website in action
  • The motion graphics for the website and live video
  • A cameraman/director to film the actors
  • An assistant
  • A camera
  • 3 wireless mics
  • Lights at least 3 medium sized heads
  • A production vehicle
  • Food for crew and actors if shoot takes more than a few hours
  • 3 actors
  • A voiceover artist
  • 5 different locations
  • Branding logos and motion graphics for the end
  • An editor to put all this together
  • Time - It's going to take time to shoot in all those different locations, possibly days, depending on how far apart they are, how complex the script is and how good the actors are.
So suddenly the video doesn't look that simple or that cheap anymore, so I have a few choices, I can change my expectations and whilst keeping the essence of the video, I'll take out some of the costlier elements. Because after all my budget was £1500 and I can see that I'm not going to cover all of that and get a decent outcome, or I can look to do something else entirely, or I can increase my budget.

Let's explore the first option, doing a less costly version, so; what should I cut out and how much will that save me?

I can only know that, if I have at least a rough idea of how much the video cost, and my guess is my competitor won't  be so forthcoming with that information.

OK here's a rough guidline to how much these things cost, obviously different web video companies will value their work at different rates, but I'll try and give you ballparks.

We can view the motion graphics as one element, the more snazzy and eye catching the motion graphics and animation, the more likely that someone other than the editor will be tasked to do the job. Anyway I know that whoever does it, it will probably take at least two, possibly three days to create. Also, if I go to a big web video company with lots of producers and editors and such, their rates are likely to be higher as the company will take a cut out of their freelance sub-contractors' fees.

So 3 days of motion graphics will cost between £750 and £1800 at the rates of £250-600 p/d, depending on who I go to.

Then there's the cameraman and or director and assistant, my fictional video looked very pretty photographically so I'm going to say there was one of each, there were 5 locations though 2 of them looked like they could have been in the same place.

So four locations, I'm assuming they're close to each other, but that's still a day £500 for the director £350 for the cameraman £200 for the assistant, brings it to £1050.

The camera and sound equipment will cost another £300 and the lights another £500

The script was well delivered so I'm going to assume my 2 principal actors where on at least £400 each for the day and my bit part guy was on £200, that's £1000.

Not forgetting the voiceover artist at £150 per finished minute of voice. 

Then the editor is going to have to log all the footage and edit it, there's going to be about an hour of footage per location, so even a quick editor, who is going to have to do at least some of the motion graphics is going to take at least a day, that's between £250 and £400.

OK I haven't even got to sundries yet but I know that the main elements in this web video are going to have to cost at the very least £4300. So now I can see what the most costly elements are, I can now look to get rid of them or modify them to make my own video within my budget.

The first big expense I can really cut into is the voice over, I can do this myself, I know the script so it can be done quickly, that's just saved me £4300 - £450 = £3850.

Right; what's next? Actors do I need them? Well I can write a good sales pitch playing one part myself, then I'll pay an actress to be the customer. So that's just saved me £3850 - £600 = £3250.

OK now we're getting somewhere, the next big expense is motion graphics, I can still take elements I like from my test video, but I need to talk with the production company show them the graphics and tell them that my budget is limited and that I can afford no more than a day's wortth of motion graphics.

This should get their creative juices flowing knowing they've got to find a clever way to simulate what I like about the video whilst keeping costs down and it'll also give me an idea of how close I can get to the feel of the video with my budget. That's saved me a potential minimum of £3250 - £500 = £2750.

My next big expense is the lighting, the director and the assistant, if it's shot in my nice bright office or one that I can borrow or rent cheaply for a few hours, then minimum extra lighting can be used, like portable interview lights. So that's saved me £2750 - £500 (director) - £200 (assistant) and - £250 (lights, I'd expect to pay a bit for interview lights) = £1850. If I cut the actress I can get down to £1450, so now I'm totally on budget.

Now because I've only taken a few hours to film and my motion graphics are simpler, then I might even be able to save a bit on the editing, however now I'm at a budget that is affordable and I've got realistic expectations on the content of the video, I still expect it to be excellent quality and I'll still expect to use it for some time to come, but now I'll know I'll have excellent value for money and I'll be able to make my choice of video production company based on realistic expectations and budget.

Obviously the scenario above is completely fictional, but hopefully that's given some insight into what goes into making a web video and how much it should cost and that in turn will go some way in helping you choose the right corporate video company.

Double R Productions website

Monday, 4 July 2011

Stage direction tips for a corporate style live event video production

I recently worked on a 3 camera live event shoot and throughout the shoot we kept coming up against a couple of problems that Id imagine are all too common when doing live corporate style events and dealing with speakers who aren't necessarily used to being on camera.

The event itself was a three day self help/how to chat up women seminar and was a very interesting event with some very charismatic speakers, so in that respect, was easier to film than other events I've done in the past, mainly because I didn't feel like I was fighting to stay awake throughout the event.

The first problem, was fairly minor and easy to fix, but it was difficult to spot in camera. The problem was that the backdrops used on the 2 sides of the stage were done in a blueprint style, so had a lot of white vertical lines against a dark blue background.

Vertical lines of contrast are exactly what are needed to help the cameras - in this case 2 Panasonic HVX 201s and an HPX - autofocus. So as the speakers walked to and fro on the stage, the camera would occasionally grab focus from the backdrop instead of the speaker.

Luckily we were dumping and reviewing the footage at the end of each session so this was noticed early on. A simple fix for this was to turn on the focus display (I like the display to be in the Panasonic numbers, the other 2 cameramen preferred the distance numbers) and note what the focus should be for when a speaker was sitting, standing or passing by the backdrops.

Then when a speaker was in a problem position, it was simply a case of keeping an eye on the focus figures and then dialling it back if the autofocus decided to grab the backdrop. Note; manual focus was not an option because of the high energy, high movement of most of the speakers.

The second problem was a little trickier to deal with and I imagine is a problem that a lot of live event videographers come up against in their productions; energetic speakers who move around way too much!

This was a problem not because of tracking the speakers, although it did rule out certain shots with certain speakers, but more the problem was that when a speaker moved to far to the left or right of the stage, the 2 side cameras were getting all the messy stuff behind the stage, fire exits, light fittings and so on.

The speakers were all briefed about where they could and couldn't walk or stand on stage, but of course, once they were in full flow, they'd forget their stage direction and wander into the forbidden areas, the upshot of this was that the 2 side cameras would have to go to unacceptably tight angles.

Day 2 of the 3 day event saw us putting a diagonal strip of black tape on the most problematic side of the stage, the left, with strict instructions not to breach that line. This worked for the main speaker and organiser of the event, but not so well for the guest speakers.

The final day saw us combining talking to the speakers beforehand, using the tape and most effectively the director, who was also the main camera operator to either signal to the speaker to move back into the shooting zone of the stage, or simply to interrupt the speaker and get them to move away from the forbidden zones.

The last of these methods wasn't ideal, but it was definitely the most effective, stopping someone when they are in full flow can be disruptive and upset the flow of the whole event, but as long as it's not too often and the speaker is good at picking straight back up, then it's not too bad and it's a better option than upsetting your editor.

So in summary the key stage direction tips for a corporate style live event video production are:

  • Be aware of any graphics or backdrops used on stage, which might grab focus away from your subject.
  • Make sure that the speakers are aware of the limitations of the stage, where possible show them what the stage looks like on camera with someone moving about. Then during a break in filming or at the end of the day show them footage of themselves on stage as it'll help them understand how their movement can effect the shot.
  • Use tape to mark the areas of the stage, but be aware that a speaker at a seminar might be speaking on camera for the first time ever, so patience is required as they will probably overstep their marks quite a lot, to minimise this use red tape as it'll be easier to spot.
  • If their movement is getting to a point whereby you know, that you or your editor are going to have serious problems in the edit, then stop them, make them aware and continue from there, it's much, much easier to edit out a pause than to cover a fire exit sign at the side of the stage.
  • The chances are that the speaker or speakers are used to speaking on stage to lots of people, but aren't used to speaking on camera, so all your above direction may be ignored. In this case, make sure you have a wide enough shot on your main camera that you can cut back to.
I'm sure there are (in fact I know there are) many more types of problems one could have in this type of scenario, but hopefully this gives food for thought for when you as a director or an organiser are planning a corporate style live event.