The last two posts have offered examples of how short films can bring a brand or an issue to life in a powerful way. Hopefully, we’ve inspired you to consider doing more than just a ‘commercial’ for the right project. To that end, here are some questions you may want to ask when considering this kind of documentary film approach:
- Is the subject matter one that requires some depth of understanding? If so, this kind of video treatment can be incredibly beneficial. Motion picture can help communicate complex stories succinctly and convey huge amounts of information in a short time frame and in an engrossing way.
- Do you have the right subjects (people and stories) to film? Do your research ahead of time to make sure there’s going to be enough raw material to put into a highly watchable film or film series.
- Do you have the right human subjects for the film based on the script? Even in a documentary-style video, “auditioning” and selecting the right candidates is very important, as it’s based on the subject’s comfort in front of the camera, aesthetic look, fit to the script, and overall potential.
- What is the mission (purpose) and positioning of the brand (or cause or issue) and how can one best convey that, implicitly or explicitly, through the film? Be sure to connect the creative back to the strategy – and in fact, if you have a strategist or planner on the project, make sure they are included in the process to ensure strategic continuity.
- What are the budget parameters for the project and, therefore, what kind of style and crew are warranted? There are many styles and approaches out there, so sitting down with your creative team and producer, once you have a brief and a budget, is a must. Today, innovative production companies are developing brilliant and cheaper new ways to film and to animate.
And finally, a few tips to remember (i.e., things we learned the hard way, so you don’t have to):
Choose your crew carefully
If you’re going to try a documentary approach, choose a crew that has the deft, empathetic touch needed to film real people with no training in front of a camera. A team that can not only create the right atmosphere for a documentary style approach, but also one that is so agile that it can capture the many unplanned moments that are likely to happen.
Have a backup plan for your backup plan
Planning is de rigueur for any shoot, but with a documentary, multiple contingency plans are necessary. You are working with real people and real situations/contexts, vs. the more controlled environment of a traditional shoot.
Prep rigorously with the client
Nothing’s worse than showing up on set and realizing that the client has different expectations and is confused, or even conflicted, about what you’re doing. Prep carefully and collaboratively with the client so that they know what’s coming. Manage expectation consciously.
Allow room to improvise
Once you have prepared as much as possible, it is important to let go and go with the flow of your cast and environment. Especially in documentary-style films, there are moments of magic that can be captured to stunning effect if we are just open to them.
Rent a really good camera
Clients and even account directors can sometimes balk at the cost of a high-end camera. If you have a talented director who has the best interests of the project at heart, listen to their recommendation on the camera and lighting package. It can make a huge difference and is a worthy investment. You’ll thank yourself once you see the finished product.
Love and appreciate your editor
A film comes together during post-production, and that process needs to be planned and managed at least as intelligently as production. Make sure your editor has the time, support, feedback, and the breathing room to apply that feedback to the best of their abilities.
Pay attention to sound
Nothing is more effective at creating emotion and mood than sound (sound design, sound editing, and music). Just cover your ears next time you’re watching a horror movie and you’ll know what I mean. Directors and editors with good ears are worth their weight in gold.
To leave you on an inspiring note, here’s a gorgeous film that moved us to think and feel differently about something as seemingly mundane as making your own website. Enjoy!
By Wahn Yoon and Jacob Kessler