I can seldom walk through Manchester without being physically accosted and asked, “What is the world of commercial video production really like?” If I step on the Metrolink at rush hour, within one minute I have been mobbed – “Sean! Over here, tell us about commercial video production! The late nights, the green tea, the beta-blockers we want to hear it all!” Strolling late nights through Manchester is out of the question for me ever since I was approached by a hooded figure with a vacant stare. He fixed my gaze as he shuffled intimately close to me, zombified. I steeled myself and adopted a Capoeira stance. Perched on his slow and pained exhalation I thought I heard my name. He feebly lifted an arm and slid up a sleeve. I glanced at his arm in the last second before I’d prepared to deliver a confounding open palmed strike. I was taken aback. There on his forearm, in blue ink, his tattoo – “why do you love commercial video production in Manchester?”
This has to stop. So once and for all here it is.
Idea Shaping Sessions
A great commercial video production starts with a brilliant brief. There’s nothing better than when we receive a brief that gives us all of the facts but with a big scope for our own creativity. The stipulations of the brief become the rules we must follow while we play a game of imagination in our idea shaping sessions. The brief is like the card you pick up in Pictionary and we must devise the perfect way to draw our picture to convey the message on the card. In commercial video production you only have 30 seconds to convey that message and you have to convey it to a much wider audience than your Pictionary partner who you’ve known since uni. It’s not a perfect analogy but you get the idea. I wouldn’t want to shrug off the hordes of Manchester people who claw at me for an answer as to what commercial video production is like with “like Pictionary”. That would be inaccurate.
Turning a Video Brief into a Concept
Nevertheless, a good brief gives us the facts that only the client can give. Target market, budget and deadline are decisions we’d love to make but in reality, a good brief includes these facts and leaves us room to deliver upon these stipulations in the most effective and impressive way conceivable. Commercial video production is an art form with a world of possibilities but the end goal basically always remains the same. A great brief gives us the parameters that we must work around to ensure that the film does its job, but a brilliant brief also gives us room to flex our creative muscles in devising exactly how we achieve that end.
Storm in a Teacup?
Brainstorming is a word that I find troublesome. It’s a word that is pretty synonymous with advertising, marketing and communications so it’s tricky to avoid when working in commercial video production. I think bad experiences in the past have meant that in my mind the word has evolved to mean “let’s see who can talk the loudest when we’re all getting a little tired and bored and we’ll just go with that.” One of my favourite writers Jon Ronson produced an episode of his Radio 4 documentary series on Brainstorming and its pitfalls which is definitely worth a listen if devising new ideas with a team is part of your life. Luckily at Groundbreak things work a little differently.
Evolution of Ideas
Whoever is working on the brief will have time individually to digest it and come up with some ideas before we discuss it as a group. We will also often go away again after hearing each other’s ideas to hone our own or take someone else’s forward. A commercial video production is like a baby, you just want the best for it and for it to reach its ultimate potential. You probably wouldn’t make the best parental decisions on the spot while trying to find a long enough break in the crossfire conversation of your colleagues. So, having a little creative incubation time individually before finding a clear consensus on an idea is a precious luxury in commercial video production but in my opinion, it should be a necessity. It helps us each take the brief in potentially different directions which opens up our individual perceptions of what is possible rather than us creating one idea between us in what can easily become a microcosmic echo chamber.
The Groundbreak Way
Our way of working ensures that we take in a good range of creative directions on a brief. We organically find the route that we’re most excited about, we get to a conclusion quicker and we often have a few concepts to pitch to our client so they are sure to be as excited about the production as we are.
Once we’ve shaped our idea, pitched it to the client who have heralded us as geniuses and whipped out their chequebook quick snap, we then get into the production. Excellent commercial video production is as much about communication and preparation as it is about creativity and the art of storytelling. Pre-production is all about ensuring that we are completely prepared to execute our concept to the highest possible standard, including factoring in contingencies. It is also about giving us and our client the clearest and most detailed possible preview of exactly what the finished film will be. Commercial video production is often a sizeable investment from a client’s marketing budget so we like to do everything we can in pre-production; storyboarding, scouting, scripting to guarantee that the client knows exactly what we’re working towards and has any stress taken away from them allowing them to focus on enjoying the process.
The best commercial video productions centre around a strong script. Captivating composition and sumptuous sounds are incredible to experience but when a magnificent script ties up the commercial message neatly and provokes an emotional reaction then the whole package becomes something special to be proud of. Scripting a first draft for a commercial video production is one of my favourite ways to spend a workday. I’ll take the tram into the Manchester office and, after fighting past the baying mob of teenagers greedily enquiring how Coronavirus has affected my life in commercial video production. Then I’ll start to think of opening lines for the script. Usually I’ll have the voice of the actor or narrator in mind before anything else. Then I’ll psychotically sound all of my thoughts in their voice and with the emotional tone of the commercial for a while to get a feel for what sounds good.
Being “In” The Script
Once you get the flow of the delivery and one or two lines you’re flying. I am very easily distracted so white noise in noise cancelling earphones is a godsend for me when writing a script. Being “in” the script in this way is something that not only sounds fabulously pretentious but is also a very fragile state of mind. Writing a first draft of a commercial video script is like sketching out drawing lines which you know will be painted over. The eventual script will in all likelihood be quite different to what was originally written but the form, message and structure will remain based in that first draft. Once a solid draft of the script and a storyboard have been signed off, we then have an excellent idea of exactly what is needed for the shoot.
Shooting Commercial Video
I adore commercial video production shoots. Working as part of a commercial film crew is a thrill and joy to behold. Watching all of the pieces and people come together on set is incredibly satisfying as you see the culmination of weeks or months of work come to fruition. Being on set is a heady juxtaposition of moods. There is a palpable sense of fun and electricity that runs tangentially to a sense of focus and heightened awareness.
There may be some slight apprehension from the cast which is perfectly contrasted and allayed by the Director’s calm and contentment. There is a sense of great importance attached to every task but also an assurance that everything is happening exactly as it should. There is a speedy pace combined with hushed and tranquil voices. Commercial video production shoots have an atmosphere that suggests everything absolutely must go perfectly but that nobody will panic too much if it doesn’t. A collection and collaboration of some of the most creative and resourceful people you will ever meet means that everything will go according to plan, even if it doesn’t.
After the wonder of the shoot day we enter post-production. Commercial video production is a process where every phase of the production has to be thought of as where the magic happens. A great concept goes nowhere without a script that does it justice. The script is nothing but ink on paper without a storyboard to visualise it and a shoot to capture it. I don’t know if you have ever seen raw rushes from a commercial video shoot but if you have then you know just how important post-production is. A clip may be 40 seconds long but just one second of that clip is trimmed, colour-graded and made into 3 seconds of the final 30 second commercial.
The skill of a great editor is invaluable as they take the vast amount of footage that can be gathered on a commercial shoot and, using the storyboard and script, see the story among the rushes, shiny gems of takes glistening against the gaze waiting to be mined. I would say a commercial video production reaches peak excitement when you are sent the first cut. You know it’s a first cut, you know the client may have amends, you know that you may have notes to give but more than anything else you know that you got it. You know that the commercial you all willed into existence has come to be. It’s a few tweaks and weeks away from being the shiny new toy on your showreel.
The excitement of a first cut could only possibly be bested by seeing your commercial on air when you’re not expecting it. Then it is truly a complete work. By the time that happens we’ll be deep into other productions, equally excited by them and it’s a heartening reminder of the calibre and purpose of working in commercial video production as you see your work doing its job and making your clients product look and feel incredible.
If, like the masses of Manchester who are banging on our office window cutting through my white noise as I type this, your appetite for what the world of commercial video production is like is still not satiated then you should contact me or Groundbreak HQ directly or visit my more in-depth delve into what we do here.