Intro to Video Production
Video production is a broad term, but in essence it means the end-to-end process of creating video content. It’s the planning, creation, and assembling of video across a number of different genres, from feature films to influencer videos. The name derives from video tape, which for some time was the ubiquitous format that replaced film for many productions.
The term ‘video production’ has undergone significant changes in recent years. In fact, feature films weren’t always included in the video production bracket, as they were shot on 16mm or 35mm film stock, and film was also used for a great deal of TV broadcast material for many years.
But these days virtually everything is captured on video, with highly sophisticated digital movie cameras at one end of the market and relatively inexpensive digital cameras capable of shooting in broadcast resolution at the other. Even the cameras in our smartphones actually meet the quality needs of broadcasters.
In short, everything that appears on your screen today is the result of video production, apart from user-generated content (UGC), or what used to be called “home video.”
Before we dive in, keep in mind that the medium in which a piece of video is distributed no longer defines what it is. Feature films that might once have been destined for long runs in the cinema, and TV drama series, are now easily available online. Recent films such as The Irishman or Dolemite is My Name received limited theatrical releases—just enough to count as films in awards categories—before jumping straight to video-on-demand (VOD) services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, which has released such notable drama boxsets as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which have never aired on cable, satellite or terrestrial television.
For the purpose of this article, we’ve broken video production down into four broad categories: feature films, television, advertising, and corporate video. Each has its own particularities, requirements, and opportunities. Read on to learn more.
Let’s start at the top of the food chain, with feature films in the premium spot. Loosely speaking, a feature film is defined by its length. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the British and American Film Institutes, consider anything over 40 minutes to be a feature, whereas the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) requires a 60 minute runtime.
More than 83% of feature films, and consequently a large share of the global market, are produced by the “Big Six” studios: 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures, and Walt Disney Studios, along with their subsidiary companies. These are typically the features that get multi-million pound budgets and wide distribution.
Studios like Warner Bros. are the descendants of the original Hollywood studio system, controlling a significant share of big-budget film production.
But there have always been alternatives to the big blockbuster-producing studios, and with the rise of affordable digital cameras and editing software, smaller films have increased in number and improved the quality of their output.
- Independent features: Independent features have traditionally been distinguished by receiving funding from production companies independent of the larger studios as well as a generally more experimental nature, but in recent years the line has blurred with larger companies establishing independent subsidiaries, offering an average budget of some £600,000.
- Low-budget: The definition of “low budget” is somewhat elastic, but a rough number lies somewhere between £134,000-£622,000. The main difference between a low-budget film and an independent one is that, at least traditionally, independent features are independent of the studio system, whereas a studio could easily provide a few hundred thousand for a low budget movie.
- Micro-budget: Possibly the most confusing subcategory, a micro-budget could consist of anything from a ceiling of £133,000 to almost nothing (a so-called “no-budget”). These are a common form of feature for aspiring filmmakers to cut their teeth on, and there are some very successful examples out there including Jonathan Cauoette’s Tarnation or Shane Carruth’s Primer, made for $218.32 and $7,000 respectively.
With each level of the approach to feature film production, there are a variety of jobs directly involved in the creation of a film, from directors and line managers to stunt coordinators and greensmen. There are also people working behind the scenes—those involved in the commissioning at a studio or in the daily running of an independent video agency, for example—who play an equally important role in the video production process.
If defining a feature film is tricky today, then defining TV may be more complex still. It used to be a simple matter to define television: it was any content which was produced by a television studio for the purpose of broadcasting through a limited number of channels over airwaves, or via satellite or cable distribution.
In the century since John Logie Baird invented the first television, a cabinet-like appliance which remained recognisable for years, a lot has changed in the way television is made and consumed. As recently as a decade ago, this was the simplest way to define TV: it was made by TV studios and watched on a TV set.
One of Baird’s early television sets, demonstrating the characteristic box shape which would make it distinctive for generations.
The internet has changed all that. Today, viewers can watch drama, sport, news and the latest cat video at will on a flatscreen television connected to their home WiFi network. But complicating matters is the fact that TV can also be watched on laptops, mobile phones, and tablets inside and outside the home.
So how do we define television?
What defines television is not the TV set—it’s about the content.
If you’re watching Love Island on your tablet, you’re watching TV. Subscription VOD, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu: that is TV.
Of course, it’s possible to watch all sorts of video content on a mobile device, but that doesn’t necessarily make it TV. In truth it’s no longer easy to find a definition of what content does count as television. A presenter broadcasting on YouTube isn’t necessarily on TV, and this might be framed in terms of the quality of their product. Traditionally much television has relied on advertising revenue and so one rule of thumb is that if the quality of the broadcast is not stable enough to support advertising by household brands, then it’s not television.
The crafted, reputable content which we might call television, from Game of Thrones to live magazine-style programmes like The One Show, is produced in a number of ways.
In the UK, broadcasters like the BBC, ITV and Sky produce some of their own content including documentaries, drama, children’s programming, or sport, while also filling their schedules with content bought in from independent production companies.
The independent video production companies providing this content tend to specialise in key sectors like factual, drama, or children’s TV, and vary in size from a one-person outfit to enormous indies like the Endemol Shine Group, which owns global superbrand products such as MasterChef and Big Brother.
VOD platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video typically started out by buying in all of their content from major or independent producers, offering themselves as a supplementary distribution network in addition to television and cinemas. In 2013, they broke new ground with shows like Netflix’ House of Cards and Prime’s The Man in the High Castle, ushering in a new era of direct-to-VOD original content independent of the traditional television producers.
Given the range of content on TV, it’s no surprise that the jobs involved in planning, making and shaping the content are equally varied—from writing, accountancy, set construction, continuity and props, to floor managing, studio directing, researching and grading.
If we’re thinking about types of video content production then inevitably adverts will be on the menu.
Here it helps to understand the traditional structures for making a video advert. An advertising company or creative agency will work with a brand to devise a brief, structure, and approach for an advert. To execute this, however, they will go out to a video agency, because maintaining the broad range of skills required to make ads in-house—which can be anything from an animation to a celebrity-endorsed 30-second spot with high production values—would be cost-prohibitive and inefficient. That production company may itself consist of little more than a few key production staff representing a number of directors and cinematographers, but with the know-how to organise locations, set-builds, music composition, and more. Traditionally, the advertising agency would then manage the media-buying and distribution of the ads using their own in-house team or a specialist media-buyer.
So if you think you’d like to be involved in the actual production of ads rather than shaping the concepts behind them, then it’s not the advertising company you should be writing to, but the production houses that service their needs.
So what is an advert these days? Is it a massive multi-million pound endeavour with a top-name director and recognisable on-screen talent? It can be, but given the fragmentation of the way we consume information, it should come as no surprise that set-piece ads for the cinema and TV have been supplemented by pre-roll, in-stream, and bumper ads on platforms like YouTube and Facebook. Meanwhile, a general malaise with traditional advertising methods and the sophistication of ad blockers has forced brands to seek new ways to connect with audiences in more creative ways, such as branded content, a soft-sell form of advertising.
Consider this example from camera manufacturer GoPro from way back in 2013, which is real footage and cost nothing to produce.
The combo of firemen and kittens is obviously a winner, topped off with a great tagline in ‘Be a Hero.’ The relatable video was made without any ad agency or for that matter any planning or filming, and yet this instantly shareable video product turned into a significant boon for the company, netting almost 44 million views on YouTube alone and playing some part in a value increase by over 40% in just a year.
Another marked shift is that advertising companies are being disintermediated. Brands have more in-house creatives able to give shape to their own campaigns. They also manage the delivery of these campaigns, as the channels are often their own, such as their website and social media platforms. Meanwhile, greater accessibility to, and emphasis on, digital technology and the expansion of online advertising means they can manage a campaign themselves on platforms such as Facebook or Youtube.
The other key factor is that there are now a plethora of corporate video production companies available to create the video content for them directly, following their brief and introducing their own expertise to best create and deliver one off-ads or whole campaigns.
Corporate Video Production
When we say video production, more often than not we mean corporate video production. Other video production professionals will say they work in films or in documentaries, for example, for the sake of clarity.
There has been an explosion of corporate video production companies in London and around the UK as a result of a few factors:
- Lower barrier to entry with the significant reduction in costs of quality filming equipment and editing software.
- Simplification of distribution with platforms like Vimeo and YouTube, coupled with an exponential increase in internet speeds allowing for video content to play quickly.
- Greater consumer appetite for video of every kind, with over half of consumers stating a desire for more video content in general.
- Marketeers’ appetite to give their potential customers and clients and possible employees the videos they want, with 87% of online marketers offering video content.
As a corporate video production company in London (full disclosure!), we’ve seen a lot of changes in our field over the past decade, but we’ve also paid careful attention to the sort of video production that remains constant for internal and external communications.
With external communications, key video formats include:
About Us Videos
An ‘about us’ video is all about identity. It’s used to give viewers insight into what a business does, who’s behind it and what the company stands for.
Events & Conferences Videos
There are different sorts of video products for events and conferences, including:
- Kick-off videos to get a meeting started right, to set the agenda, and, most importantly, the tone.
- Video that captures the key-note or panel speakers at an event, which is either live-streamed or recorded to be edited and distributed later.
- Video that captures the essence of an event: a sense of the place, the people who’ve attended, the purpose, snippets of key speakers on the stage, and interviews with them and the event organisers to set the context of the event. These can often be used as marketing collateral for the next year’s event or as promotional material.
Case Study Videos
In a case study video, the product or service in question is being talked about by someone whose shoes the reader can place themselves in. It’s a demonstration of success, innovation, and effectiveness as seen through the eyes of a satisfied client. With the product actually having been used, it proves its value through trial.
Case studies typically follow a narrative structure outlining a problem faced by the hero, presented with a solution (i.e., the brand), and describing the successful outcome. At the end of this we find a ‘Call To Action’ (CTA) to provoke an immediate response in the viewer.
On the more technical side of corporate video production is the explainer video. These are meant to help explain—in the most user-friendly terms possible—how your product or service works, in particular a tech product.
Explainer videos might feature a presenter in order to translate the concepts in question for the average viewer, and animation is often used as a further means of illustrating otherwise complicated technical ideas.
Happily, we rarely get clients asking for a viral video. While we can certainly understand the appeal, the truth is that nobody understands why videos go viral. Ultimately, virality is an organic quality which is decided by audiences, not commissioners or producers.
With internal communications, video formats often include:
Education & Training
Videos produced to help teach a specific skill or topic or to deliver educational lessons to students or workers, including updates to procedures such as Health & Safety protocols.
These tend to be shorter videos used to engage with a company’s employees more warmly and directly than a memo, often focusing on corporate culture, goals and results.
Corporate Video Production Techniques
We’ve touched on some of the key formats for the use of video in corporate comms, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the formats can include a wide array of techniques.
Animation in Video Production
Whether it’s 2D, 3D or stop-motion, animation is a popular way to convey information.
Even if the chosen format centres on interview content and b-roll (as in a case study), there are opportunities to incorporate infographics like graphs, maps, and pie charts, or motion graphics such as kinetic typography which underlines points made in the interview content.
By combining traditional video with interactive technology, viewers can interact with additional content through hotspots overlaid on the video. This takes the viewer to extra information. This type of video, it’s claimed, has an engagement rate of nearly twice that for linear (normal) video. It can work well in conjunction with retail videos— that sell clothes for example—giving the viewer extra information on the range and prices and the ability to add items directly to a shopping basket.
Whether it’s shot from a helicopter or a drone, aerial footage offers exciting and dynamic views of subjects whose scale or importance may not be conveyed as effectively through footage shot at ground level.
Video Production Goals
One other way to define video production, apart from describing the processes and types of content produced, is to think about it in terms of its intentions.
In marketing terms a video’s goals will probably depend on where it will intersect with the consumer in their buying journey. Not every video has to have a sale as the goal, and many are intended to popularise ideas or grow awareness of a brand or campaign.
Video can be used at the top of the sales funnel to bring awareness to a product or service, for example an About Us or Case Study video. This spreads awareness of a brand or product, increases visibility, and lays the foundation for a relationship between a company and the public.
With some products an accompanying video that shows its functions and unique features at the point of sale can be the difference in completing a purchase or not. After a sale, video can be the medium to explain how to use it, maintain it or fix it, or to encourage the exploration of other products or services.
The Three Phases of Video Production
We’ve explored the different branches of video production:
- Feature films
- Advertising & commercials
- Corporate video production
What these have in common is a similar workflow which can be broken into three key phases:
1. Pre-production: In this planning stage team members—including writers, producers, directors, casting directors, and line-producers—work together to shape a story, a budget, and a shooting plan.
2. Production: This is the creation stage of the project. Key production staff—including Directors, Directors of Photography, lighting technicians, sound recordists, grips, riggers, gaffers and sparks—are responsible for capturing the footage and audio that make up the building blocks of the final product.
3. Post-production: This is the final stage in the project workflow, during which the materials are assembled and crafted into a finished product by staff including editors, colourists, compositors, and sound-mixers.
The current trend common to all types of video production is that the world is becoming increasingly connected to the internet, and this connection is speeding up every day. Whether you’re a feature film producer or making your own make-up tutorials, your audience is going to get bigger.
Whatever the type of video production, wherever it may be shown and whether it’s in pre-production, production or post-production, there is a hugely rich variety of output and job roles, making video production an incredibly creative vocation with ever-expanding opportunities.
What Does the Future Hold for Video Production?
A significant shift is that we will be sharing more content across language barriers. The success of feature films like 2019’s Parasite suggest that the English-speaking world is warming up to the idea of foreign language video. Perhaps it’s because reading subtitles is now an everyday experience. 80% of videos on LinkedIn are watched without sound, and 85% on Facebook, reflecting a growing comfort with subtitled footage in our daily lives.
There is also an ongoing appetite for short-content. On sites like Instagram and TikTok, 15-second videos of wildly varying genres have taken viewers of all demographics by storm. There’s no turning back. Less is more.
Live streaming, particularly on social media sites, is already one of the most popular forms of video consumption around, and it shows no sign of letting up, with 63% of viewers in the 18-34 demographic watching live streams regularly.
Tutorials and educational videos have also seen a notable uptick as audiences grow increasingly interested in gaining new skills and new insights. YouTube tutorials, for example, can show everything from the practical, like folding a fitted sheet, to the fantastic, such as how to escape quicksand.
Lastly, a key driver for video production is going to continue to be mobility.
75% of all videos viewed are on mobile devices, and that number is expected to rise by 100% annually. With that in mind, we will see content and formats optimised for mobile viewing including adding subtitles. 83% of all videos are watched without sound by viewers who still want to know what’s being said, and the option to translate dialogue will open up new markets like Latin America, currently home to the highest level of demand for video content in the world.