Every dollar matters.
As a video production company looking to scale up or grow, you know even a minor operations improvement can make a huge impact on your revenue.
And given only 40% of all small businesses are profitable, you know what’s on the line.
Before we cover ways you can improve pre-publishing workflow today, let’s talk briefly about revisions and pricing.
Some companies charge at an hourly rate to put the onus on clients and avoid endless revisions. Other producers will cap the number of reviews at each stage with additional changes subject to further payment.
Point being, make sure to spell out your fees and number of revisions in your communication and contracts.
Pro-Tip #1: “Precise time tracking has had the most effect on cash flow. Before there would be multiple revisions that wouldn't be captured. If it's scope creep we go back and now talk to the client,” said Dan Browne of Indelible.
Track whether you are actually hitting the time you are quoting to your clients or to better gauge the average amount of time it takes you to complete projects using Workflow Max.
Now let’s dive in!
“In the initial call, the big thing you should be doing is getting clients excited to work with you. Don't overwhelm them with options. They shouldn’t be thinking about details like music tracks,” said Eric Darnell of LessFilms.
During the kickoff you also want to set expectations on how you communicate with your clients.
Nothing makes a client more nervous than having no clue what the status of a project is. After the call, layout the project phases outlining how long each typically takes.
Here you can also establish who's part of the review process of each phase and the time commitment on your client’s end.
For this, Eric uses saved email templates he can quickly send out during each step of a production educating customers on what each phase is and what the client needs to do on their end. The client has to approve each stage before his team moves forward.
“In the past, we didn't have a 100% approval process. We would have to backtrack a lot, and that just takes time,” said Eric.
As part of the initial kick off many production companies will ask clients in writing specific questions like:
- What’s the elevator pitch for their product or service?
- Who are you hoping to reach with this content? What are the business goals of this project?
- Where are you publishing this video? At what stage in the funnel will prospects or customers see this? How is narrative being formed (on-camera interview, voice-over, narrator)
- What are the deliverables? Who are the key stakeholders within the company that must review and approve all deliverables?
- When are you looking to get this project completed by?
- Where do you see your company in so many years?
Some companies are even using Wipster to get feedback before production.
Pro-Tip #2: Scott Ledbury and his team, Slinky Productions, asks clients to provide previously produced videos of theirs and competitors video they like. The content is then uploaded onto Wipster for video collaboration so clients can comment down to the frame of a clip.
Next, move onto the script. Ask more specific questions to inform the script. Then paste those answers to the top of the script you end up sharing with the client.
For animated videos, Eric creates a two column document showing the script and ideas key visuals around specific scenes just to get clients to start thinking about how it will look.
There may also be script template opportunities to an extent around the narrative arc of the video whether it's a problem/ agitate/solve, the hero’s journey or other common story formats.
Then during the script breakdown, you can create a list of potential voice over artists. Finding the perfect one can be very time-consuming.
Eric typically sends out the following email to clients to get their perspective on artists to shortlist.
Pro-Tip #3: To cut down on time doing individual billing and contractor W9s, consider using voices.com.
Storyboard and Moodboard
Though these two aren’t essential for non animated videos, you can still storyboard them, so everyone has an expectation visually of the shot-by-shot visuals.
Some producers even use storyboards as a shot list during live shoots.
Pro-Tip #4: To cut back on long conference calls, Eric delivers an accompanying audio file with storyboards explaining the actions in each scene and how they are illustrated.
By breaking down scenes in a storyboard, even if the illustrations are very rough, your clients can begin thinking about the visual presentation. Plus there’s potential to rearrange key scenes more efficiently than later in the editing room.
Rough storyboards don’t have to detail every prop or color used. They are more for the shot position, characters, and actions taking place. And as long as you set those expectations prior to delivering a storyboard, it’s all good.
After you solidify the story through storyboarding and script breakdowns, generate a moodboard. This is where your client can get specific about color schemes, lighting, typography, etc. So expectations on visual style and tone are the same with your designers and clients.
In this example, Eric gives his clients a few options on styles.
Yes, many companies don’t have existing branding guidelines. But often the visual style of videos (especially animated) is largely informed by a client’s existing logo and web design.
If you need to hire out an illustrator with a specific style, check out Dribbble.
Does a video you're producing need screenshots such as software product explainer videos? Ask your client to gather screenshots after putting together the script and storyboard.
With all that in mind, with an approved storyboard, you can start thinking about hiring actors and choosing locations.
Finding actors is often a time suck between finding someone who looks the part of a role and can actually act. Bookmark city-specific groups on Facebook such as New York Actors and Sydney Actor. Or place a casting call on StarNow.
Budgeting and Production Scheduling
Once you've hired any necessary talent, produce the call sheets/production schedule for crew and actors. Many docs include:
- Address for the shoot with parking details
- Time crew and actors need to be there
- Scene descriptions
- Set requirements (props, makeup, wardrobe, vehicles, etc.)
Prior to shooting, an assistant director or producer usually groups shoots by interior and exterior to shorten the filming schedule.
But you can optimize your time by also including:
- Camera movement
- Camera angle and shot size. There are no rules to how many close up and wide shots you should get but have as many logical later editing choices as possible.
- Description, noting the action or dialogue of a shot.
Pro-Tip #5: “Once we have the shot list we can go into scheduling to say, ‘OK we want to do the jib arm here.’ so we have a grip setting up the dolly, so we are not holding up talent once we're ready for the location,“ said Dan.
Larger productions may have more elaborate shot lists covering:
- Setup number, grouping each unique camera and lighting setup by placements including lens setups, mics, and supporting equipment (dolly, tripod, etc.).
- Subject: the focus of a specific spot whether it’s actors, a prop, establishing the scene, etc. This section can help with planning when actors need to be ready and whether a prop requires extra prep such as cooking food.
- Camera being used for multi-cam shoots.
- Approximate shoot time after reading each part of a script out loud.
- Potential number of takes and approximate time it takes to shoot those.
Optimizing Shoot Days
For budgeting and scheduling also factor in transportation, whether you are using your own equipment, staff costs, cost for music used, insurance, wardrobe, makeup, food breaks, etc.
The important thing here again after producing a budget and schedule: someone confirms all staff and talent can meet the proposed schedule.
To save talent costs you can also choose to schedule scenes based on the actors with the goal of them needing to be on set as little as possible.
See our Ultimate Guide to Budgeting Video Production Projects for more info including a video budget starter template.
Some producers show up a day before shooting as a test run. That way they can scope the location further, check lighting and make sure they have all the equipment they need.
Day of shooting someone like the AD or a PA ideally can create notes around each shot including:
- Shot number
- Take number (noting the best for editors, whether specific takes had different tones from actors)
- Camera used
- Shot size (extreme to extreme long)
“When you get a live shot you have many variables like a faster reaction between takes from the actor or one particular shot had a nice lens flare. There are lots of happy accidents,” said Eric.
Pro-Tip #6: Many video producers build an extra hour per filming day within their shooting schedules in case of emergencies. Unplanned things happen: clients show up late, actor's car breaks down, etc.
Between setting up new cameras and lighting, many producers sprinkle in recording insert shots as they need the least amount of crew and gear.
During first assembly for larger productions the edit points between scenes are fairly obvious so a team can go back and internally review before a proper first cut. Here most folks are initially checking the story is properly assembled before worrying about b-roll.
Pro-Tip 7: If any client’s names or job titles are being displayed on the video, confirm spelling with a 3rd-party check of both during editing before sending to a client.
For color correction, many teams share their videos through Wipster to check for color consistency throughout a piece.
In gathering the initial client feedback, many producers send different versions of rough cuts with subtle differences. One version may spend a few extra seconds on a shot to draw attention to an actor's face to see what a client prefers.
You can easily share the different video versions through Wipster to get documented feedback. Then organize the multiple versions in folders.
If everyone agrees on the story, you can review comments of specific details on the current cuts and do a fine cut of the video.
When everyone agrees on the fine cut, add in the music, sound effects, and adjust audio levels.
A huge investment in backing music isn’t always possible with projects. For royalty-free music at flat rates less than $20, check out Envato Market. Or if you shoot a ton, Epidemic Sound offers annual subscription services.
After watching a bunch of times, you probably know the actors every line. So get an outside perspective on the audio levels of music and dialogue. Run it by someone who hasn't seen it at all before sending to your client.
Mapping Out Your Workflow
When you’re ready to map out projects or adjust your workflows, there are a few ways to visualize them.
Or just test one change to your workflow on your next project and see if it’s something you’d like to stick with.
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