What documents should every producer complete before taking their first shot? If you’re a fledgling videographer doing branded content, set yourself up for success with a treatment, storyboard, character background research, shot list, talking points and shooting script.
“We need to be doing video,” says the CMO. [Six months and $50,000 later, having commissioned two new videos that garnered a grand total of 400 combined views.] “THAT was not the video we should have done.”
It’s an easy mistake, a common mistake, and a mistake that honestly doesn’t need to happen. Any agency would agree.
Video campaigns used to be a domain solely occupied by advertising agencies. Video was produced in just a few formats: the big, expensive broadcast commercial spot; or the dry, information-packed industrial/corporate video; or of course the classically cheesy infomercial.
Then came the Web, then digital video platforms, then social media, and mobile-first… and then branded content became the imperative of all marketers. And now here we are with almost every brand nodding, “Yes, we need video,” but perhaps without much of a plan to execute.
Long gone are the days when brands would be bound to a big, pricey ad agency.
The content marketing landscape is changing so quickly that legacy agencies themselves can’t keep up without specialized vendors and subcontractors. Knowing this, brands turn to social agencies, or production companies, or influencer content creators. Many brands have even allocated some of their budget to internally produced branded content. And kudos to them for taking back some of the control over voice and brand identity.
However, when it comes to fulfilling the vague yet pressing need to “create our own video,” brands cannot allow any producer — whether it’s the internal videographer or an influencer or an agency partner — to develop a video without multiple review benchmarks. Before a single frame is shot, the entire project should be mapped out with specific documentation. The project manager or marketing exec needs to be able to request, review and approve each document.
Every production team has their own set of essential documents, but following are a few of the universally recognized docs that create a blueprint followed on set.
Written documents any producer should have before shooting video
A treatment is an in-depth creative pitch, most often used for unscripted videos, but sometimes for scripted TV pitches as well. A treatment usually will include:
- A synopsis
- Potential on-camera personalities
- Sample episode overviews
- A section related to the brand’s marketing objectives and target audience
- Mood board (optional)
Treatments in the old days were either inspired by or accompanied by collage-like “mood boards.” Treatments are still very visually rich, and oftentimes contain mood boards if only for effect.
Treatments are a curious document, in that some development producers use them to suggest brand-new projects, and others only deliver them after initial research and production outlines are complete on an approved project. As long as you get the treatment before the script, either way is fine.
Storyboards are the cool, comic book-looking, more evolved siblings of mood boards. Or rather, these used to always look like graphic novels, and employ highly skilled visual artists to design them. Now, they often just use found images to anchor the text.
Storyboards provide a visual representation of the broad episode or video outline, and how it will be executed. Images are accompanied by detailed notes on:
- Key story points
- Potential locations
- Potential action
- Characters that may appear in scenes
Character background research
Gleaned from extensive conversations with whomever may appear on camera, this is important source material for creating scripts and ancillary content. It may include:
- Biographical details
- Role and responsibilities in the company
- Personal anecdotes relevant to the campaign
- Information about the product or brand the person works on
This documentation will be used to create scenes, interview questions and talking points. A lot of it won’t go into the script, but will still be kept as important backup documentation that everyone from the director to the project manager to the publicist is able to review, and pull ideas from, or flag certain things that should not go into the video.
Corporate production professionals often do background research on people in the company who who will not necessarily appear on camera. The general thought is, when creating the story of a brand, the people with firsthand knowledge and experience are the most important sources.
A shot list is a grid/spreadsheet detailing each shot the camera team will need to cover during production. For each shot, the spreadsheet has columns for:
- Shot type (framing)
- Shot description
- Characters in shot
- Associated dialogue
Generally, the creative director or the director who will be DP (directory of photography) on set comes up with this document, with the assistance/oversight of the producer or production manager.
Many non-actors are uncomfortable memorizing lines and delivering them on camera. Even professional on-camera talent (hosts, experts, celebrities) sometimes feel more comfortable semi-improvizing their lines, provided they’ve been coached well on the material first.
Talking points provide a mid-point solution between total improvisation and memorized lines. They are cues or thought-starters around which a person can frame their lines on-camera. Talking points are essential to have documented before a shoot so that the talent can feel prepared, the director can be aware of crucial soundbites, and the project manager can make sure all essential story points are articulated during the shoot.
Talking points can be included in a script, but they often are created as individual documents so that specific characters can study them ahead of time, or so that executives/legal can review and make sure messaging is on brand.
The multi-column script is what the director/DP and line producer will follow on set. It breaks down each scene. Columns will detail:
- Shots – specific action
- Characters in each shot
- Dialogue or text
- Other audio
There is crossover between this document and a shot list. However, many executive producers and creative directors like to have both, because the shot list only is a guideline for the camera team, while the shooting script is the guideline for the on-camera talent, the sound person, and the line producer as well as anyone in charge of props.
While many directors like to go off-script as the creative mood takes over, the general motto among production veterans is that shooting scripts keep the production on the rails. Therefore, a project manager is within their rights to request a copy of the document after final approval – and if you see during the shoot that the director is going off the approved script and the line producer looks nervous, don’t be shy about asking what’s happening.
Document planning keeps your project on track
Overall, don’t be shy. As a project manager, brand manager, marketing exec or general client, you’re ultimately responsible for the budget, output and ROI of the video project. Don’t set yourself up for surprise and blame-trading when the first edit is unveiled. Instead, find out which of these documents, or similar documents, will be created during development and pre-production, and make sure you get them to review and approve before moving forward toward production.