Award-winning producers, directors and creators share decades of combined experience to help you produce better video marketing, from live social streaming du jour to production techniques that have stood the test of time. Plus, get further insights on the writing and wisdom needed behind any good video, whether it’s broadcast live or not.
The concept of “live video marketing” is part of a larger trend in on-the-fly video production, where one- or two-person crews create livestreamed or rough-edited content that engages and sustains audiences. Remote-produced video is a part of this trend as well, and the few companies that specialize in it are ahead of the curve.
But if you’ve turned on your phone or computer in the past 60 days, then you know — everyone is suddenly attempting to create content and connection using the simplest streaming and recording apps like Instagram Live and TikTok. The vast majority of said content never finds an audience, and this is for many reasons.
The foundational skills of storytelling, knowing your audience, and making authentic content will always be the baseline to attract viewers. Here’s sound advice about video content and production from TV show producers, short and feature filmmakers, online series producers, editors and casting managers.
Live video marketing (aka livestreaming)
Expert: Jeff Nappi
Bio: As the former Chief Technology Officer of one of the first fully-remote internet startups, Jeff developed the technology for and participated in one of the first mobile and streamed internet reality shows.
Tips: “Facebook and YouTube have incentivized live video. YouTube and Facebook count the minutes of video watched, which allows them to sell video ad slots. They are tracking how live video keeps people’s attention longer, how creating live video can keep them talking about and participating in livestreams, and this could mean a different kind of exposure for brands.”
The value added in livestreaming is increased engagement and a sense of urgency, if the video is made interactive.
- The best examples of livestreaming still come out of sports, news coverage, and now video games as a form of e-sports online viewing, where there are instant replays; multiple camera angles; and announcers. Livestreamers need to think about how to keep the livestream interesting, and keep engagement up during the broadcast.
- Pre-produced and edited clips, planned (but not overly scripted) packages interspersed throughout the programming will make the livestreaming more interesting.
- Just because it’s live doesn’t mean your spots shouldn’t be super smart, scheduled and scripted well.
- Remember, live video isn’t new. What’s changed is the technology, where enormous amounts of video data travel through broad bandwidths. We could learn a lot from watching live late-night TV shows of the ’50s and ’60s, where everything was live, right down to the commercials.
Don’t ignore how the comments are playing out on livestreaming. Brands have to determine the line when a livestream is working. The internet has a terrible anonymous culture of trolls, so brands have to think: How do we moderate livestream comments and make sure we reduce our exposure to controversy?
Livestreaming and real people characters
Expert: Asif Ahmed
Bio: Asif Ahmed has produced content for major brands, including building AT&T’s $50-million video advertising division by producing more than 30,000 video profiles featuring local businesses in the Los Angeles area.
Tips: “I worked with the Los Angeles County Library to create a video about the diversity of Los Angeles County and the population that uses the libraries. Given the budget, they wanted to shoot mostly in the library, but I wanted to show the diversity and inclusion of LA as a city. So, we opened with someone walking around LA; a guy at the farmer’s market; someone biking on the beach; someone sitting in traffic. This put everything into context.”
We often can technically livestream and post on social within 30 minutes, if edited on location, but companies aren’t always ready because they have to get the video approval. If a company is expecting live video, make sure they also have a person or approval system in place before you go live.
- When working with corporate clients I ask: “What’s the goal? And what’s the call to action?”
- Make sure your links from your video send people to landing pages that are connected to the video or screen capture. People need to see seamless connections to your email address or an action you want them to do.
- The online version of applause is to click the share button. You want people to know you want them to share your videos.
Don’t shoot video of a CEO as a talking head in the corporate headquarters. Make people go out to a location to tell their story rather than shooting in a conference room.
Writing a script
Expert: Caylee So
Bio: Owner of Innovision Pictures, Caylee co-founded the Cambodia Town Film Festival in Long Beach, Calif., and won the Linda Mabelot’s New Directors/New Vision Award in 2016.
Tips: “What makes a story is strong characters that you’ve never seen on screen. Write what you want to watch.”
- Stories have a life of their own; if during shooting, you see what you haven’t written open up, you have to address that and let that portion of the story reveal itself.
- Prepare your shot list as fully as possible ahead of time. If you have to change it, you know what you need to have and what you can cut out.
Don’t work through a very tired state of mind. You won’t make the best decisions when you’re that exhausted. Take a step back to figure out what’s not working.
Being a one-man band
Expert: Cassidy Gard
Bio: Cassidy Gard is an Emmy Award-winning digital media influencer with 3.6+ million views on her YouTube channel. As a producer with ABC News since 2013, she’s produced segments for ‘Good Morning America’, ‘World News Tonight’, and ‘20/20’.
Tips: “One of my most memorable interview moments was at Politicon 2016. It was at the height of the campaign, and tensions were very high. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox was making a speech, and one of the trending topics then was about the border wall. I wanted to add his much-needed point of view for the piece I was doing, so I began to make my way through the massive crowds, carrying all my equipment.
“As a former president, he had a large amount of security surrounding him. With most interview subjects, it’s perfectly acceptable to make your way close to the interviewee and just call out questions to them. In this circumstance, I knew that strategy would not be acceptable, and would potentially be dangerous.
I approached every single individual on his security team and warned them that when he steps off the stage, I was going to step up to ask him a couple of questions. I knew that if I included his team and gave them a heads up, that hopefully they wouldn’t pull me back with my camera. None of the other reporters did this. At the security door to the backstage, the security guys held the door open for me and allowed me to walk through to set up my interview. One even said, “She’s with us.”
- Invest in a light kit, a high-quality microphone, and a DSLR. That is really all you need.
- Post new content every single day. It’s imperative to remain consistent, and a huge part of that is to make sustainable content.
- Consistently monitor trade news, casting developments, trending YouTube videos, and anything the internet is paying attention to. It helps to be constantly engaged on trending developments.
- Some of my most successful posts have been ones that have a humorous caption or show a facepalm moment that I’m authentically sharing to show the real side of life.
Don’t…. I would never promote a product that I don’t actually personally use. For me to do a partner product post, I would do a video that actually shows me using the product. I’ve transitioned out of overly edited videos because they feel overly produced and like a commercial.
The importance of pre-production
Expert: Dominic Ow
Bio: Dominic Ow created the popular internet series ‘Every Singaporean Son’ for the Singapore Ministry of Defence in 2010, which crossed over to cable TV. Dom specializes in short-form reality or documentary serials.
Tips: “Most creative teams don’t like pre-production. It’s not because they don’t know what needs to be done. It’s just not sexy and requires a level of meticulousness that most people don’t have the patience for. Give pre-production the time it needs. If you don’t have the eye for detail, you really don’t belong in this industry.”
- The first question you have to ask any client — private or public — is, “What do you want to say?” Many clients can’t articulate a message succinctly, but that’s natural because it’s not something they do in their daily work. This is when the job of a content creator is to be a therapist.
- You have to listen, ask questions, ask again, listen more — much more. It can be exhausting, but this exercise is integral in the creative process.
- Only when the message is clear can you begin to tell a story and push the creative boundaries.
Don’t cast just for ability but for attitude. With casting, you may have to scramble and finally persuade one of those you didn’t cast to come for the shoot if your chosen person can’t make it.
Expert: Mariette Peeters
Bio: Mariette Peeters has had her photos published in the New York Times, created videos for international nonprofit Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation, and produced a YouTube healthy cooking show: ‘To Cook, Or Not to Cook?’
Tips: “Video editing is like music. You have to have an ear for rhythm and a sense of rhythm when jump-cut editing, quick style cutting video content. Above all, editing needs to be lyrical and complement the message you’re trying to convey.”
- If you’re launching your own channel on YouTube, have a specific goal and an aggressive marketing strategy. It’s a long-term project.
- Nowadays most people watch video without sound, because they are lying in bed with a partner and don’t want to disturb them. So, try to add subtitles, large easily readable text that complements the video.
- Stay fresh with styles and experiment with different shots and techniques. Challenge your boundaries. Gain expertise by practicing. Thinking you can succeed on talent is a huge trap. Drive, determination and practice are the key things to your project’s success.
- If you’re trying to capture B-roll footage in a market environment, to get the clothing and mood of the city, or plan to interview in an open space; have respect for the people that might be in your footage and ask people for permission to capture them in your footage.
- In some cases, you’ve been contracted to work with someone with a specific vision, and they may be fixated on something, like a song. If you realize it won’t work, be skillful in how you explain alternatives.
Don’t give up. Keep working at something, keep trying different ways to see the story, and consider how other stories might serve your purpose.
Storytelling for social impact
Expert: Piseth Tha
Bio: Piseth Tha produced and directed three TV docu-dramas series for young Cambodian audiences that combine serial drama with discussions and debates on TV and social media platforms. The goal was building civic engagement, educating youth about sexual and reproductive health, and encouraging youth employment and economic security.
Tips: “Before we start, we have a strategy meeting with the international nonprofits, calling together all the stakeholders to discuss ideas for a spot. The main question I ask is: “What is the message we want to deliver?” When we have too many messages, it makes for a confusing PSA (public service announcement). So I tell people that technically we have only 1 minute or less. We have to focus on one idea, and it has to be a clear idea.”
- I try to approach each segment with a little comedy and fun, but also make sure the information is clear.
- I question myself constantly: “Are we doing this for our audience?” In creating PSAs, if you don’t understand the audience, it won’t be successful.
- No matter how serious the topic or heavy the social taboo, we tried to contrast ideas so no one in the family felt left out. We created characters to give the urban and rural perspectives; conservative or traditional views too, so that no one felt judged, and we could make it an open discussion.
- When tackling touchy social issues, don’t assume people will pick up all the learning points and lessons in the drama. It helps to emphasize the messages again with additional segments.
Don’t leave out pilot testing, if the budget permits. Pilot testing before the piece’s official release helps you find out what doesn’t work before it goes out to larger audiences.
Expert: Eli Brown
Bio: Eli Brown is an award-winning director and producer whose documentary TV series ‘The Brain Fitness Program’ and ‘Brain Fitness Frontiers’ and other documentary programs raised over $50 million dollars for PBS.
Tips: “All media creation is a collection of choices – what to focus on, what to see, what not to see, what to hear, what not to hear – and all of it conveys meaning.”
- Always give yourself more time to pre-produce something than you think is necessary.
- Scout locations thoroughly,
- Plan through your timelines for each day, including timing for meal breaks and timing for any location changes (which are a huge problem on production).
- When you talk about the budget, it’s not just the gear that you bring to a set and decide to use (or not use); it’s also the time it takes to implement that setup.
- In documentary, sound is more than 50% of the experience, so getting the best audio you can is almost more important than getting the best images.
- Video content creation generates enormous amounts of data, and a lot of that data only exists in a digital format. And a lot of that data is practically priceless, so keeping that data safe, secure, searchable and retrievable is fundamentally one of the most important things you can figure out.
Don’t…Videographers shouldn’t show off. There are several things at play when shooting a scene. You have to be sensitive in service of both the story and the budget.
Expert: Lena Katz [Yes, me. :)]
Bio: Lena Katz’s credits as a development and casting producer include cable TV (WEtv, Revolt, HGTV) and digital-first productions (WhaleRock, mikeroweWORKS, Tastemade). She has worked directly for many major brands, including Suzuki, Hormel and Brown-Forman.
Tips: “Giant brands have to be sensitive. You see how Kendall Jenner’s commercial for Pepsi was, at its core, a misguided direction, and it completely backfired. Celebrity content can often backfire these days, but something attuned to time and place can gain incredible notoriety. Companies are becoming more aware, but even so, consumers are typically ahead of them. Marketers need to be more flexible, agile and responsive to the public.
“These days, consumers often want to see people who are relatable. They don’t want people who look perfect. Instead the public wants better representation across the board: more than one color, lifestyle, and age. Diversity in advertising definitely hasn’t gone far enough yet, but brands are beginning to understand via social media that they can’t ignore the diverse customers in their base. If they do, they will hear about it immediately.”
- If you’re a brand and you cast people that are authentic and engaging, and representative of your customers, you’ll be rewarded for it.
- Celebrity spokesperson deals should not be entered into without some due diligence.
- See which companies the potential person (athlete, actor, celebrity, influencer) has worked with before and try to dig for feedback from people who worked with them. It can provide crucial insight that saves time, money and goodwill.
Don’t brush past the details: A good producer is a micromanager of details. She has a research, rules-oriented mind; because whether she’s creating a shoot schedule or chasing contracts, she knows that meticulous organization is the key to a productive day of filming.
Brands are coming to know they have more power, and that they can always go another route other than going with traditional big ad agencies. Smaller, scrappy and cost-effective production companies are producing campaigns for much lower total costs these days.
Expert: Luke Johnson
Bio: A media professional since 1999, Luke co-founded Fulcrum Media in 2013, a company with extensive experience in livestreaming emerging sports.
Tips: “Once live video opened up to anyone, you saw an immense amount of video, and people ended up looking at less. Now it becomes more important to have a higher level of intentionality of storytelling. Streaming is really easy. Going live is very easy, incredibly easy. But the ability to go live is not the challenge. What’s important is to tell a story that connects us to each other.”
- Know what’s important to record. In any type of livestreaming, you have to emphasize why it’s worth watching, and that means we have to go into the interior, to get to emotions.
- When a call is made that can affect the outcome of a game, I zoom in for a close-up. I emphasize it. We don’t go to commercial or take a pause. We get close to their faces.
- If there’s an injury on the field or a lull in the game, I will cut to a pre-produced clip. I’ll say: “Put up the video with Marcello Sanchez who serves at a low-income school.”
- We highlight players’ stories with featurettes on why what they do matters, and we keep trying to connect people to the athlete.
Don’t forget that tending to sound and audio feeds are very important in livestreaming. Pay attention to the little things: the crack of a bat; the footsteps of a person running; the sound of the crowds.
Preparing to create video marketing
Video campaigns used to be a domain solely occupied by advertising agencies and production companies. With the advent of the internet, then social media, and mobile-first content, the barrier to entry got lower from a technical standpoint. Branded content became the imperative of all marketers. And most recently, the majority of people across the whole world went into safer-at-home mode. Today, here we are with almost every brand nodding, “We need video, we need connection, we need content,” but confused around the proper way to execute from a creative standpoint.
While there is a trend toward pushing out content daily, video is not something that works with no thought behind it. Brands still need to adhere to ideation, development and production guidelines. Creative ideas should be fleshed out with specific documentation. The project manager or marketing exec should be able to review and approve a creative concept in progress.
Here are a few of the universally recognized documents that create a blueprint to follow when you’re filming:
Sometimes called a treatment. It’s the visual and text presentation of a creative concept. It typically includes:
• A one-paragraph pitch of the idea
• Potential on-camera talent
• Sample episode or segment overviews
• A section related to the brand’s marketing objectives and target audience
Another popular element somewhat past its peak is the collage-like “mood board.” This is a visually rich element that’s worth adding because many people’s attention for written word is so limited.
Some development professionals use decks to present ideas they want to sell in, and others only deliver them after initial research is complete on an approved project.
Storyboards are the more detailed, evolved siblings of mood boards. They tend to be used on higher-budget projects. Storyboards provide a visual representation of the story arc, and how it will be executed. Images are accompanied by detailed notes on:
- Key story points
- Potential locations
- Potential action
- Characters that may appear
Character background info
Gleaned from extensive pre-interviews 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 a company
- Talking points to be prompted during filming
- Personal anecdotes of interest
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 accessible for several people including the director, project manager and possibly the publicist to refer to. Creatives often use this to pull ideas from, while account managers and publicists may flag certain things that should not go into the video.
A shot list is a grid/spreadsheet detailing each shot the camera team will need to cover during production. It might just be a simple list, or it might be done in table format to include more details. At minimum it has a description of every shot and suggested angles where relevant.
Typically, the creative director, director or DP (directory of photography) on set comes up with this document, with the producer or production manager as the second set of eyes.
Most non-actors are uncomfortable memorizing lines and delivering them on camera. Even professional on-camera talent (hosts, experts, celebrities) sometimes feel more comfortable rehearsing their points and then coming up with the version that feels comfortable on the spot.
Talking points are the halfway point between total improvisation and memorized lines. They are cues or thought-starters around which a person can frame their lines on-camera. Put them together before a shoot so that the talent can be prepped, the director is aware of the most important ones to catch, executives and legal can review them, and the project manager has a list to check off during the filming.
There is overlap between a shooting script and other materials like the shot list and talking points. However, many executive producers and creative directors like to have all of them onhand. The shooting script is the guideline for the on-camera talent, the producers as well as anyone doing oversight from the brand side.
Many directors like to go off-script as the creative mood takes them, so sometimes a script is easier written for an editor to cut to once the shoot is actually complete.
Note, the project manager (communications manager, brand manager) on the client side is entitled to request copies of these documents and even require final approval. This is usually done to ensure the branding is on point.
And it’s a wrap…
Given the advice highlighted by experts, brands thinking about creating video content should prepare systems that accommodate the production process and also track and monitor the public’s responses once videos are launched or go “live.”
Asif Ahmed makes the point that companies experimenting with live video need to think through their processes of approving content well ahead of events and marketing launches. That way, when content goes live, production professionals have the clearance needed from the company’s leadership and can strike the right balance between their creative license and the company’s message.
The nature of livestreaming, especially these days, is that brands in some respects must relinquish control, allowing what happens live to be its public image during that precious air time. That said, video content creators and companies will have to share responsibility for crafting authentic experiences, while also making sure to hone the message in ways that promote their brand. Considerations for the public and its sensitivities always need to be taken into account when making marketing content. As audiences become more specific, and people continue to divide along various cultural and political lines, keen attention to context goes a long way.
As Dominic Ow says, “Competition for eyeballs has become intense in the last 10 years. Even large budgets do not guarantee audience views. From the creator’s point of view, the imperative to understand audience tastes and trends, and then craft a product that meets audience expectations, has never been greater.”