Storytelling on a Deadline
Yesterday, reports came out that part of the reason for postponing today’s January 6th Committee hearing may be due to the compilation of the videos being used in the committee’s presentation.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif), a January 6th Committee Member, cited "technical issues" telling MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Tuesday: “...I’ll tell you that putting together the video and exhibits is an exhausting exercise for our very small video staff."
"We were going to have 1-2-3 in one week,” Lofgren continued, “and it’s just it’s too much to put it all together. So we’re trying to give them a little room to do their technical work, is mainly it.”
As a production company that frequently handles a quick turnaround for video projects, we have a few thoughts. Let’s put politics aside and talk about the complexities and intricacies of storytelling.
I started my career in TV news because of 9/11. I saw how the cameras could show me the calm amidst the storm in a chaotic Manhattan on that day, and how people (once they escaped lower Manhattan) were moving in an orderly fashion and helping one another. I learned that by having first-hand knowledge and a 360-view of the situation, a video storyteller could provide perspective to the viewer that no other medium could.
Today, we tell stories of all sorts - for Fortune 500’s, non-profits, individuals, and startups. Some stories are direct, in that we need to just convey a clearly crafted message. Others are more organic, where we need to sort through hours of content, gather new material, and select the most important pieces. From there, we have to put it all together in an order that remains truthful and authentic while keeping the viewer captivated. Think of it as making a mini-documentary, these stories can take years to film and edit. We do this every single day. The trick is to look at the process, break it down into pieces, and create a production method that fits within the timeline.
Anyone can tell a story, but doing so in a manner that is interesting and still gets the message across is incredibly hard. I would venture to say that at least 3 times a week, our team at Sorrentino Media is asked to put together a highly produced video involving multiple interviews at different locations, combined with beautiful footage and music, and weave it all into a narrative - within 3 weeks.
What we almost never do is turn down a project. Instead, we look at the project’s goal, the timeline, and the assets we have to work with. From there, we get creative - how can we simplify production to meet the deadline, yet add some flair to the piece to make an emotional connection with the viewer?
Here are some key ways to work efficiently without sacrificing quality:
Sending a camera crew always gets the best quality video. But if you’re on a really tight deadline, we might have to record guests remotely. There are several methods here (which you can learn about on our remote production page), so we pick the approach that will get the content in-house on time and with the highest quality.
If you’re going to send a crew, try to have fewer moving parts to save from the logistical headache. Plan the shoot, keep the crew small, have a clear creative direction, and don’t travel a producing team when you can have them log in remotely to participate.
SIMPLIFY THE FLAIR
When I say “flair”, I’m talking about the things that add a few layers to a video - graphics, music, “B-roll”.
Pre-build graphics and use templates. When we are on a tight deadline, we’ll use motion graphics that can be built while filming. The downside is that we don’t have much flexibility to make changes, but once the client signs off we can drop them right into the edit. We also have access to thousands of motion graphics templates that we can modify to fit brand guidelines in a pinch.
Music can take forever to nail down. We always like to send a catalog to clients and have them select 3-5 tracks that they like. This saves the guessing game when we’re on the home stretch of an edit and asking the client “do you like track A, B, C, or D?”
Stock footage is your friend. Clients might want original content, but you can supplement fresh interviews with quality stock footage. There are tons of libraries out there that will work within any budget. In fact, there are tons of libraries out there with FREE public domain content like Archive.org.
We did a project for The Muse and Atlassian a while back and they basically handed us a drive and said “can you make something out of this?”. We ended up going with a retro-futuristic vibe and used public domain content to supplement sound bites about the future of work. They loved it.
Stock footage can get tricky, however, because you want to be authentic so you’ll need to spend time looking for the right content that fits. Oh, and I would obviously NOT suggest the January 6th committee use stock footage.
EDIT BEFORE YOU EDIT
A good producer has some idea of what the script is going to look like before they write it. Sure, things change and there will be surprises in the interview or filming b-roll, and that’s what makes a video really stand out. However, the basic framework of a story could (in many cases) be WRITTEN out on paper before you begin filming, even if it’s just a basic outline. In some cases, a pre-interview allows you to chat with the interview subject and get an idea of what they’re going to say, allowing you to sketch a bit of an outline. This also helps you to stay on track when you’re recording.
MEASURE TWICE CUT ONCE
In essence, the more work that is done in pre-production, the more efficient the production and post-production process will be. That’s what we do best and what has helped make us successful.