Producers from the digital agency Blueline presented to Duke’s Video Working Group this month about their video production process and experience working with universities. There were a lot of highlights, but I’ve tried to consolidate their comments and takeaways here.
Video is hard, they stated. There’s a lot of moving parts, expectations, and things that can go wrong. “We don’t make perfect videos,” Tucker, a video director at the agency, insisted. However, having good gear, plenty of time, and the right team can make video a little easier to produce. While many producers are familiar with the “one-person-band” production strategy, Blueline relies on the varied skillsets of its team of directors, editors, colorists, and other creators to achieve it’s vision for each project.
All of those creators, and the decisions they make, are in service to that unique vision. Blueline tries to match technical choices to the idea for each story. Gimbals, for instance, can make a shot look smooth and professional. A shaky camera shot can provide an energy of improvisation or excitement. As a video producer, you need to start with your story and then see what creative choices (along with any practical circumstances) best support that story.
Finding the right story to tell is often one of the biggest challenges. When starting a new project, their team does an extensive amount of pre-production work. This usually begins with clarifying expectations with the client and determining what inspirations or references they might have for the final product. Almost always, your client is the expert both on the story but the audience as well. After learning as much as you can from them, it pays to do a lot of independent research. This could be reading articles and books about the subject, or ideally a pre-interview with the subject that allows them to both give you direction but also build a relationship with you as their storyteller.
Through this pre-production process, you should be able to define a clear message that the viewer can take away from the piece. In turn, you’ll want to find great characters, people passionate about that message, who will captivate the camera. If your schedule allows it, starting production with the interviews and A-Roll can allow you to be more proactive when it comes to B-Roll later. This can be integral to building an arc and finding the right pacing for the piece. Once you’ve defined your message and found a character who can convey it, you can then structure the rest of the video to move towards that takeaway.
Hunter, a producer at Blueline, discussed natural sound as a great way of modulating that pace. Natural sound, he pointed out, is almost always tied to an action which helps immerse the viewer in the environment of the video. Rather than just telling the story, you’re inviting your viewers to experience it with your subjects.
Once all the pieces are edited and assembled, the folks at Blueline recommended knowing when to walk away and come back. After immersing yourself in a piece, it’s easy to become to close to the material. Giving yourself some space, as well as asking peers for their feedback, can be essential for finding the right final edit.
Video is hard, Tucker and Hunter reminded us again. But it can be a little easier with friends.