Leave a comment

Video Pre-Production Planning Check-list – 11 Steps to a Successful Project

Always happy to re-post an article discovered by one of my RTV students.


“Let’s really think this through before we start” is likely the best business advice you will ever receive. Too many video production projects start part way through the process – with a ‘cool idea’, a bad idea, a misguided idea or worst of all, no idea at all. If you haven’t taken the time to properly plan out your production, it will likely fail. By ‘fail’ I mean fail to achieve any measurable business objective. (Being ‘up on your website’ isn’t a meaningful business objective.)

There are many different types of videos that you can create to promote your product or business and there are many factors and costs that go into the production of a video. This post was created to provide the reader with a tool for planning a video production as well as to give the reader an appreciation for the many elements and tasks associated with the creation of a corporate video. Your video project won’t necessarily require each of the steps described below. In fact, some projects (i.e. recording an expert talking-head for training purposes) can be quite straightforward and only require a few of these steps. That said, the success of your video project will largely be determined by the time and effort you put into properly planning your project. If you don’t have a great idea and a solid shooting plan in place no amount of production or post-production expertise and experience can save your project. Consider the following before you start your next video project:


Pre-Production Planning Check-list

The challenge with this phase of video production is that while it’s the most important phase of video production it’s also the hardest to cost-justify. It’s relatively easy to cost-out crew, equipment and editing time, but how much is an idea worth? (A lot, as it turns out) … and who wants to pay for ‘planning?’ If you want your video project to succeed consider the following critical tasks that go into the pre-production phase:

 1. Define your business objective. What do you want your video to do? To raise awareness? To drive traffic to a landing page? To motivate your customers to buy your product? To influence key decision-makers in your industry? To showcase your company as being environmentally conscious ? To clearly differentiate you from your competitors? To save money on travel costs for training or sales? To educate a new target audience on important issues affecting your industry? To drive prospects to the booth at the next trade show you will be attending? The list is infinite but each business objective should have a matching outcome that you can measure. If you can’t clearly articulate your business objective you are wasting your time and money. ‘Having a video up on your website’ or ‘keeping up with your competitors’ are not business objectives. Determining a business objective allows you to focus on outcomes.  Lack of clear focus is the principle reason why business videos fail.
    Answer this question: What do you want to happen when people finish watching your video?

2. Define your audience. Marketing is the process of communicating the value of your product or service to a specific audience.  Unless you are Google or the Catholic Church {merger rumors are unfounded…} you probably have a very narrowly defined audience who can benefit from your product or service. You have to know who your customers and prospects are and you have to differentiate your message for that specific audience. This step typically requires some degree of research. The more narrow the focus the greater chance of success because you can deliver a message that you know your audience cares about. What is the demographic and psycho-graphic make-up of your target audience? What are the needs, preferences and biases of this audience?
  Answer this question: What does this audience care about and how does your product or service relate to those concerns?

3. Develop your message. {We’re still not getting ‘creative’ yet…}  By message I mean what are the ideas, themes or topics that you need to communicate. Ideally there is only one principle message but if you have a broader purpose in mind for your video then you may want to include two or three key messages. What are the things that you need to tell your audience that will resonate with them and what do you expect them to understand AND remember after they have watched your video. Obviously, the more messages you include the less likely your audience is to understand and remember any of them.
    Answer this question: What specific problem am I trying to solve and how do I communicate the solution to that problem?

4. What’s your budget. This topic, more than any other, illicit’s the greatest ‘chicken and egg’ discussions. How can you determine a budget before you come up with the idea?” Or conversely, why would you even bother considering ideas outside of the context of a budget? (“OK!, imagine this… a thousand multicolored toy Poodles all chasing J-Lo, against traffic, through Time Square at rush-hour…”) You might have to do some research if you have no prior experience with video production but at the end of the day you, or someone you report to definitely has a budget for your video project. There is little point in discussing video with anyone if you can’t communicate a budget. If you are unfamiliar with video production costs you can start here as a reference point.
   Answer this question: Find a video similar to what you are thinking about and ask potential video production companies ‘what would a video like this cost to make?’

5. Planned Distribution. While promotion and distribution are outside the scope of this post it’s important to understand how you plan on distributing your video before you create it. Where, how and why will people watch your video. Knowing the answer to those questions will help you determine answers to the next steps in production. A broadcast audience is very different from an audience on a professional business portal and different again from someone viewing your video on a mobile device. There is not a lot of value in creating a video if you don’t have a plan for getting people to view it. Putting it ‘up on your website’ may or may not move the dial. If the video production company you are talking to doesn’t ask this question then I’d suggest getting a second opinion.
Answer this question: How are you going to get people to watch your video?’

6. Concept – What’s the big idea. Often (especially for broadcast commercials) video projects start off as concepts in search of a purpose. (“Imagine a video with these amazing roller-blading babies in diapers, someone’s gonna want it!!!) I suppose that if your concept is epic enough then you can tag a logo on just about any idea and realize some benefit but the execution of most clever ideas never reaches the giddy expectations imagined at conception.  So… back to earth, the vast majority of video production concepts are driven by both practical and creative imperatives. The ‘concept’ or ‘idea’ can be as simple as ‘let’s move the CEO out from behind his big desk and show him actually talking to customers’ or it can be as complex or grand as your imagination and budget allow. Either way, this is where the value is really created. No one might remember who’s idea it was to invite all your brand enthusiasts to a one day event and film them talking about your product but that may be the’ big idea’ responsible for tripling subscription rates on your website.  Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to charge for ideas so they typically get wrapped up in execution costs.
   Answer this question:  What is the idea for this video?’

7. Treatment and Storyboard. Your concept or idea is the big picture idea. A ’treatment’ is a summary of how you realize that idea. On larger projects the treatment is usually a one page summary of your idea which will outlines the style of the video and the devices used to communicate your key messages.  From there you need to flush out the video in detail (typically by scene).  For this a ’storyboard’ is created to outline the various sections of your video. The storyboard takes your concept or idea and considers things like: do you use voice-over to support what is being shown; do you use animation anywhere; do you employ actors, if so which ones and how; do you use music to set a tone or maintain a pace; what locations do you shoot at; etc. This is the step where you determine the style, the flow, the length (more on this step below) and the structure of your video. The storyboard is the physical manifestation of the treatment. It breaks down the video into three key components: 1. Script / Narration – what is being said by whom on-screen or as voice-over. 2. What is being shown on screen – where is the action taking place and who or what is in each scene. 3. What other elements (logos, text, animations, cgi, etc. music track, sound effects etc. are needed to support what is being said and shown. Even if you don’t plan on developing a detailed storyboard (as a rule you should…) it’s still a very valuable exercise to write down the structure of your video. It allows you to think through the video in a logical fashion and share this vision with others. It’s also a tremendously valuable tool for accountability. You can’t ask your production company when the video is finished why something wasn’t included during shooting if it wasn’t included in the storyboard. A well written storyboard holds everyone involved accountable.
Answer this question: What are the list of details that need to be included in the video?

8. Length of Video. Shorter is better, but shorter is also harder. Shorter seems riskier because you necessarily have to leave things out and narrow down your message to a very few key ideas. That’s tough to do. But as online attention spans continue to shrink, ‘shorter’ should definitely be the target. ‘Shorter’ is a guideline not a rule, however. If you are creating a product demo, a training video or something else for someone much further along the sales cycle – then these audiences may want more information, they may want more detail. The length of your video then really depends on the motivation of your viewer. A good rule of thumb for promotional videos (targeting the ‘awareness’ or’ interest’ phases of the sales cycle) is between one an two minutes in length. Your video needs to be succinct, it needs to include targeted, relevant information and it better be interesting.
Answer this question:  How long do you need to get to the point of your video?

9. Approvals. Who has to be involved in the approval process. What is their involvement and do they have any input or biases that should be communicated upfront? This becomes much more important in large organizations. If you don’t circulate the storyboard and schedule to the folks involved in approving/blessing the video you may be in for a shock when they tell you that you’ve left something out or you have not represented the material the way they would have liked. Every business video ever made has, prior to release, first been sent to at least one colleague accompanied by the question ‘what do you think of this?’ Why wouldn’t you give the storyboard the same due diligence?
  Answer this question:   Who needs to approve the video and where do they get inserted into the process?

10. Pre-production meetings. The size and scope of the job will determine how many meetings and how many people are involved in the video production process. On large conceptual projects we sometimes hold facilitated story planning meetings with a range of people associated with the project to ensure that we are getting all relevant perspectives on the project. This process has proved invaluable in uncovering stories and reference that no one else would have known about or would have considered. On smaller projects a simple video production brief may be enough to estimate and start the planning process – especially where a good client/supplier relationship already exists. The better the collaboration, the better the outcome.
Answer this question:   Who’s input/perspective would really be of value in the planning process?

11. Scheduling and production planning. Video shoots, even small ones, are logistically challenging. There are a tremendous number of moving parts in video production and as a result there are a tremendous number of things that can go wrong (something always does…) Pre-production planning will minimize the risks associated with your project. Some things to consider before the folks with cameras arrive:

Location Scouting – Where are you going to shoot and what challenges do you have there? Are there lighting, audio or other logistical problems that you will have to solve. A pre-production location visit and discussion with on-site maintenance or security is often necessary.
Permits – Do you require permits for shooting, sign-off /waivers for people in the video, special insurance, parking access for the crew and equipment, etc.
Crew – Who is on your production crew? Camera, Audio, Lights, Director, Production Assistants, Grip for special equipment, Teleprompter operator? When is shooting scheduled to start and how much time is required for everyone to set-up?
Equipment – What type and how many cameras do you need. What do you have as back-up if something goes wrong? Do you have all of the right lights, lenses, audio equipment, jibs, sliders, reflectors, tools, power, etc. necessary? Do you need special equipment or props or products for the shoot.
Talent or Presenters – Who is on-camera? Are they prepared to be on-camera? Have they rehearsed their lines or will they be using a Teleprompter. When should they arrive? What should they be wearing? Do they want / require hair and makeup? Are they on a tight schedule? (The answer here is almost always ‘yes’….)
Weather – Are you shooting outdoors. What happens if it rains/snows/hurricanes? Do you have an alternate shoot date?
Schedule– – Does your storyboard include a shotlist and schedule that let’s everyone know when to arrive and how long each scene or shot is going to take?

If you consider all of the above steps and take the time to properly plan you will have a much higher likelihood of success on your next video production.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: