So you’ve set aside a budget to shoot content for your brand. There are just a few (or a hundred) things to think about now! Within each main priority you’ve got to plan, there are a dozen other questions to check off before you’re truly prepared.
That’s why commercial agencies and production companies have a staff of production folks working on prep weeks before a shoot. But don’t worry if it’s just the communications team/just the social media person/just you and yourself. You can nail planning a content shoot yourself!
Only… don’t try to wing it because one little unexpected thing (e.g., lack of parking, bad weather) can ruin the shoot.
Follow this checklist for planning a smooth and super-productive content shoot:
Whether you’re filming in a studio space, finding a private space to use for free, or going really ambitious and shooting outside, you need to figure out more than just the address in advance.
Location will affect a lot of things later on, including how people arrive at the content shoot, and how late into the day (evening) you can continue.
Is there a location budget?
Usually the answer is “no,” but if you do, you should be able to get more leeway with access.
If this video will be airing even on YouTube, companies that like to play it safe will get a basic location release signed just for the records.
How long will you have the location?
Typically if you’re borrowing a space, people will have a time limit that they’re comfortable with you being there. Outside of that time, you are probably inconveniencing them, and business venues will not always accommodate your need for early load-in or a shoot that runs long.
What spaces within the location are you allowed to use? Be super clear on what space you’ll be able to access
Just because you’ve confirmed a building does not mean that you’ll be allowed access to every room in it. A restaurant may want you just in one room. A private home might allow access to one floor. And an office building may stipulate that you not disturb other tenants.
There may also be limitations on what access points you can use (e.g., “only the side door” or “the crew can only store gear in the office”). Relay this info to the camera crew, director and to your team, so they don’t accidentally overstep. And if you plan to shoot outside, create a backup plan to move them inside in case of bad weather.
Who is your contact at the location?
- Introduce yourself in advance and find out whether they have any special instructions for you. (These are typically related to crowd control and audio-visual logistics.)
- Get their mobile number for the day of the shoot.
What’s the parking situation?
This is the factor that can add the most delay to a schedule, believe it or not. The ideal scenario is that there’s a private parking lot with plenty of spaces for everyone to park (six, eight, 10 cars) plus a van space for the camera. The reality is often that there’s no nearby parking lot, or you only get a couple of spaces allotted.
- If there are very limited spaces, they go to the crew.
- If there is limited parking nearby, encourage some people to rideshare or carpool.
Be aware in a residential neighborhood that other residents may frown on the sight of eight cars backed all the way down a driveway and at every curb parking place available. Be sensitive and proactive so that you don’t get interrupted mid-shoot and asked to move.
Do one of these a few days before the shoot if you can. Check things like where the natural light hits, good and bad angles to potentially film; confirm what spaces you can access, and scout the parking situation.
Get the best videographer you can afford; not an intern who vlogs on the weekend. The entire project rides on it.
Will you need sound in addition to video?
This depends on how much ambient noise leaks into your space, and whether your videographer is confident in capturing the sound.
- Check the former in the walk-through.
- Ask the videographer the latter.
Will you need a separate photographer? If you plan on capturing a lot of footage and you also need photos for digital use, you may.
In a pinch, a videographer can do screengrabs at points in the video to use as still images, but they will look like behind-the-scenes shots, not professionally staged ones.
Who is designated to get photos just for social usage?
You can save money and get a non-professional from your company to do it. Social photos and videos are often supposed to look DIY. If your company is the slick big-budget exception, then you already know that and probably have a social media team ready to attend this shoot.
What is your budget?
Once you’ve figured out how many people you want in the crew, crunch the numbers and see if you can afford them all. Then try and find a crew that fits into that range. Or, go to your boss and ask for more money based on the breakdown.
If you can’t, it’s time to start cutting crew numbers; maybe you can make do without a separate photographer after all. Better to have a smaller team with more experience than vice-versa.
Be aware: A lot of video and sound professionals charge for the gear they bring in addition to their own day rate.
How many hours will you need?
This is an important question because even hungry junior people expect to work a normal day — say, 9-10 hours — on a brand project. If it runs over, there will come a moment — quickly — when they’ll ask for overtime.
Don’t keep the crew waiting around before or during the shoot. Make smart use of the time you have with them.
Who’s on camera?
This list can and often does expand at the shoot. You might be shooting a chef as your primary on-camera subject but realize his influencer guests and their friends have plenty to say as well. And the GM of the restaurant is there, so why not him as well? And the bartender — her drink mixing deserves its own spot.
Finding more things to film on the fly is great, as long as you’ve figured out early on who your main subject will be, and provide them with the following info:
The time they need to arrive
- It should be slightly later than the crew.
- The location information, including parking details
Even if they’re just doing their job, make sure you scope out what that will be. Think about activities they could do that are interesting and engaging. You want to avoid shooting a person sitting at a desk doing desk work.
Very few people shine in a situation where a camera is turned on them and they’re expected to just riff. Prepare people as much as possible. If there will be specific talking points in the script, share them. If the person will be interviewed, try to write out the questions in advance and share those.
Do you want your company’s logo visible? Other logos? Should talent that is in a role (e.g., chef, athlete, fireman) be in their professional uniform?
Think about apparel that may be awkward or unflattering, like a short skirt if you’re doing panel-style seating; or an untailored loose shirt that billows. Even if it is the talent’s decision ultimately, at least prep them in advance what your director/DP thinks will look most flattering.
Once you know who your characters are, plan the initial content around them.
- Interviews should be separate from action.
- If there’s two+ main talent, think about different combinations to film them. Will anyone be solo? Do you want them to be talking/interacting with each other or taking turns answering questions?
- Tailor the beats/discussion points to the people and dynamic of each scene. Don’t attempt to write in advance and then assign things to people. That method tends to cause confusion, since they won’t memorize it.
Potential bonus on-camera talent.
- As mentioned above, nearly anyone who walks into a set can potentially be conscripted to go in front of the camera. Think about who will be there that you might like to throw into the mix. Then, see whether they’re up for it.
If you have specific products this shoot is intended to highlight, think how much you want to focus on the product(s).
For some styles of shoot, it may be front and center. Other brand marketers want only subtle placement.
Are you shooting footage of the location as well?
If so, block out some time for your crew to take of that footage. Otherwise, their instinct will be to stick with the talent.
Social media content capture should be a slightly different agenda.
Social media doesn’t need the same amount of footage, so the person capturing it can spend less time on certain things and more time doing behind-the-scenes captures, experimental shots, doing Stories, etc.
Shot lists always help!
In photography and video, a shot list details what objects and angles you want to make sure and capture. This is very important if you want to get certain shots of product, but overall it’s helpful. Old-timer videographers might push back that they know all the shots you need, and can do it without your guidance.
That’s generally not true. While creating this list doesn’t guarantee you’ll get everything, it definitely increases the odds.
- Create a schedule with call times and distribute it to everyone.
- Starting earlier than you think you need to is always preferable because things almost always run long.
- Crew and designated producer should arrive before everyone else for setup.
- Stagger talent arrival times if you are shooting them separately — that way they don’t have to wait around too long.
- If you’re shooting in natural light, plan those shots around when the light will be ideal (i.e., when it’s not too bright/hot and when the light is best).
Food and drinks
Some say this is the most important factor in a successful shoot. Make sure you have plenty.
- Grab-and-go snacks and bottled water are very important, especially for the crew. (Get a good mix of healthy and junk snacks.)
- If you don’t have access to a refrigerator, bring a cooler with ice so the water can be kept cool.
- Provide plenty of caffeinated drinks in the morning.
- Don’t forget paper towels and trash bags.
- If this is a full shoot day, the crew should have lunch provided. (Always check on special dietary requirements.)
- Someone always thinks it’s a good idea to bring booze. Don’t let them crack it open till you wrap.
Who’s invited to set
The more the merrier?! Heck no! More people equals more noise, more uncontrolled activity, more people for the crew to navigate around and more distractions for the talent.
Keep the number of people on set to a minimum.
Will persons not involved in the shoot, but who own the location, be there?
If so, then make double sure that everything is buttoned up by the shoot date, because owners don’t like to see a sloppy set.
- If possible, have non-working guests not arrive till late in the day.
- Designate a special area where guests will hang out, and try to make sure it’s soundproofed and well stocked with goodies.
- The exception to the ‘non-working guests in the hangout space’ rule is always the executives at the brand. They may want to be at the camera operator’s shoulder. They may want to ask interview questions. All of this is standard.
- Build in time to do more takes when the executives are going to be actively participating in the shoot.
- If you’ve got executives coming that love to be part of the process, consider putting them on camera. This works out well quite often — every company eventually needs video of its execs, and making them part of a special shoot is more entertaining than filming in their office.
Always have one junior person designated as runner/production assistant.
They are responsible for:
- Picking up snacks
- Making sure the crew has water when they need it
- Directing traffic
- Getting coffee for the execs
- Cleaning up trash
- Assorted other tasks that no one wants to do (If you don’t designate that person, it’s gonna be you!)
Have a great shoot!