View from the crew. Bird & Bird
Bird & Bird is an international law firm with 29 offices across Europe, the Middle East, Asia-Pacific and North America, with a focus on helping organisations being changed by technology and the digital world. NextShoot Director Mike MacNamara, looks back on the process of creating an About Us video for the firm.
We’ve worked with Bird & Bird since 2012, helping them create a wide range of corporate video content, from thought leadership pieces, webinars, event videos and promotional videos. It’s a relationship we’re proud to have maintained and we’ve helped their video offering evolve over the years to meet rising expectations in terms of both content and production values. We’ve filmed numerous partners from all over the world on topics as varied as employee activism, the gig economy, the digital transformation of the energy market and changes in international trade and the challenges it presents.
I’ve always felt we’ve had a really good understanding of the firm’s culture and positioning, and we’ve really enjoyed working with the marketing team and senior management to develop their video strategy. Helping our clients devise new ways of messaging and getting their visual communication out there in a way that meets client expectations is one of the really rewarding things about my job. There’s always some new and complicated subject matter to get your head around, and it’s enormously satisfying and humbling in equal measure to work with renowned experts and leaders in their field to help them communicate difficult concepts in a meaningful, intelligent and succinct manner.
So we were delighted when Bird & Bird approached us to help them devise, produce and film an ‘About Us’ video, which would introduce potential clients and employees to the firm, its diversity, culture and expertise.
Dominic and myself and the rest of the team love a new project, particularly when we’re invited to develop a creative for a client who we know we can rely on to engage fully in the process, who are open to new ideas and who are determined to deliver a video we know we will be proud of. We were given carte blanche to brainstorm and develop the script.
We started with what we considered to be the key pillars of the Bird & Bird brand. The firm has always been deeply involved in technology, they’re a multicultural and diverse workforce at the forefront of workplace equality. They’re truly global and collaborate across regions and sectors to deliver their expertise.
After a lot of tea, head scratching and scribbling, we developed an initial concept that centred on one conceit - the script of the video would pass from one partner to another in different locations around the world. This international sense would come from the location itself, language and accent. This would underpin the seamless integration that is such an important part of the firm’s offering. The film would move through the key sectors they serve, from Transport, to Retail, Energy, Life Sciences and more, and along the way focus on the technological revolutions shaping the business world. Each sequence would kill two birds, so to speak, with one stone, promoting the sector and the technological expertise.
Having worked with Bird & Bird over the course of six years we had a good understanding of their work and were confident in hitting the right notes. As it transpires, we had a great deal more work to do to meet the brief, but we were confident we’d created a structure that could communicate the firm’s outward looking approach, their unique way of collaborating across international offices, and one that could be further nuanced to meet specific requirements, not only of the messaging, but of the inevitable restrictions of availability, budget and filming logistics like flights, travel, excess baggage, hotels, transfers and all the other minutiae that are the sole expertise of a producer on a video project like this.
The initial response to the treatment was very positive. It was then a case of developing the messaging. We scaled back on one of the initial concepts of producing the film in multiple languages, and instead limited ourselves to an initial ‘welcome’ message in various languages, avoiding the need for captioning on the main version of the video while still reinforcing the central concept of an international firm.
Once the initial script had broad approval, we worked with the marketing team at Bird & Bird to identify partners who were confident in their delivery and happy to be filmed. We were then able to identify the locations in which we would film and could begin to develop a budget and schedule. We chose to film in London, Frankfurt, Helsinki and Hong Kong. In each country we developed a sequence that would give us interesting, visually rich material and fit in with the script.
Having agreed on the approach, we were then able to work on the storyboarding of each sequence. To give the film a sense of energy and dynamism, we devised each shot around the simple notion of movement. The camera would never stop, so whether it was steadicam following people or tracking dolly moves, the central messaging of the script would be reflected in the filming. In the edit, this would be emphasised by cutting between shots so that the contributors would complete one and other’s sentences. This sort of thing doesn’t happen by accident, it’s a collaborative creative process between Producer, Director, DoP and Editor before the camera has even rolled. It’s how we create really brilliant corporate videos on schedule and on budget.
In London this involved filming at Bird & Bird’s new headquarters in the boardroom, reception and outside the building. In Helsinki we were able to film outdoors, in Frankfurt, we filmed at their offices and in the financial district, and in Hong Kong we identified a traditional restaurant and a shopping mall where we were able to obtain permissions to film.
We had hoped to optimise the number of filming and travel days between shoots by getting the schedule running back to back, but in the end we had to make certain compromises. Fortunately, we own all the equipment we need for a project like this, from cameras and lighting to dollies and grip. We were able to pass on significant savings and avoid the need for local equipment and crew hire. It was only in Hong Kong where we had to use local crew and gear, when our intrepid DoP Fabio embarked on a whistlestop tour of the Canton, coming back with food poisoning, jetlag and some rather beautiful footage. With that sole exception, the entire video was filmed and directed by NextShoot staff who had been involved in the full spectrum of the creative process, and understood what we, and the client, wanted to achieve.
Filming in multiple locations, and in locations you may not be familiar with, presents a multitude of challenges and so it’s important to allow enough time for each setup - you never know whether it’s going to be light, noise or curious locals who ruin the shot - and it’s important to have a division of labour in the crew. In my experience of these things, the key role of the director is to help the contributor get their delivery right. This is about coaching and reassurance in equal measure. Also, never be too worried about changing the script. Some phrases sound fine when you write them down and then adapt them to meet the corporate messaging, but they might not work with someone’s delivery. It’s important to keep it natural, and if someone isn’t confident then you need to let them say what they want to. On this project both the CEO and the Head of Country for Germany changed their pieces on the fly. That’s okay and don’t be alarmed! Sometimes you have to roll with the punches and do what’s best to keep things positive and keep the shoot moving forward. It’ll be a lot more convincing and engaging in the end, and you can double the awkward factor when English isn’t someone’s first language. Quite often on a shoot like this, you’re relying on a contributor’s acquiescence, buy-in and confidence in you to get it done quickly and well. It’s sometimes difficult to maintain that balance when you’re standing backwards on a U-Bahn escalator with a boom mic wobbling into shot, trying to time the shout of ‘Action!’ with trains coming in. You can occasionally look like an idiot, but that’s just part of the job.
Ultimately, videos like this live and die by the contributors, and whether by accident or design, we were incredibly fortunate to get an amazing and convincing performance from each of them. It might be that we’re brilliant at directing, but it’s more likely that they were all willing participants who had been given a script they believed in. I believe there’s a powerful and important lesson in that. We’ve filmed thousands of interviews and there’s no point in trying to get someone to say something they don’t want to say, it won’t be convincing and, if they have sign-off, they’ll probably insist on having it cut from the edit.
It’s hugely rewarding to see your vision come to life, especially when there are so many moving parts and a myriad of things that could potentially go wrong. When filming, you really need to believe in yourself, the expertise of the people around you and your track record. There’s always going to be unknowns and vagaries that will throw a spanner in the works, but you need to persevere and stick to the vision. That’s the advantage of a rigorous approach to pre-production. I’m also a great believer in communication. If something goes wrong then you need to adapt, but you also need to be honest in telling the client what went wrong and why it went wrong. Honesty is the best policy, and while we legislate as far as we can for the inevitable slings and arrows, you’ll find it’s much easier to deal with disaster if everybody is kept in the loop. We’re always seeking perfection, but sometimes life just doesn’t work out like that.
About three months after filming the video, we were doing another job for Bird & Bird in Munich. I was on my way down to reception in our hotel when the lift doors opened and one of the partners who we’d filmed with in Germany walked in. He looked at me, a vague sense of recognition crossed his face and then he delivered his line perfectly. ‘We’re driving the future of mobility!’ he announced. We both dissolved in laughter. I suppose his sense of trepidation, my fear of making a complete mess of it, and the recollection of all of that coaching and drilling had dissipated to be replaced with a broad sense of satisfaction and relief at a job well done.
I think it’s one of the best videos we’ve produced. The vision from script through to storyboarding, pre-production, the logistics, filming and editing was utterly seamless and the finished product was exactly what we’d intended. More important than all of that, the client was delighted. A truly innovative piece of visual communication, brought in on budget and on schedule. Some days I really love my job.