The video production scene in Manchester is our home. Our passion and our vocation. If you’re fortunate enough to have worked on a video production, whether it’s a huge commercial, a creative corporate or a moving documentary, you’ll know it is an experience that you never forget. It is special. We do it every day here in Manchester and often the far corners of the world and it’s no less exciting to us than it ever was. There is something about the process of video production, documenting moments, lives or stories that feels worthwhile, even enthralling.
Life Before Video Production
On a red shutter over a large window of a small primary school in Northern England there is an inscription. In silver spray paint there is daubed “SW”. My initials. Every single time I went by that school in the approximately 17-year period between when I vandalised it and when my mum moved to a different area, I would check that my initials were still there. And occasionally after that period I would make a special trip to be sure.
I Did That!
As of late 2018 they are still there. The feeling I had each time that I saw my work is echoed now only when I see a film or video production that I’ve worked on. There is a bashful “I did that” pride. You can hear an actor saying lines that you wrote, a camera move that you suggested or a piece of music that you found, and you have something tangible that you can point to and think “that was me”.
There is also a feeling of transportation back to the time at which you completed the work. In the case of the vandalism I instantly feel my face and arms awash in the fiery lavender sky of a summer dusk, lungs buoyed by the scent of a rival school’s greener grass. And presumably paint fumes. I’m able to look at a commercial and remember that my daughter had just been born when I worked on it. She was tucked away in the car with me scouting for that location. Moreover, I often watch a film I worked on and remember that the actor I am looking at was not originally cast and was drafted in at the last minute after the original actor pulled out. I can remember how apoplectic I became at that hiccough and reflect that now I am much more zen in my approach to problem solving.
Record Of Our Lives
In this way our work in video production becomes more than a brilliantly successful commercial or a mesmerising music video. It becomes a record of our lives. That was me. That was my work and that is who I was. For me that is why video production is so special. You give a little part of yourself to each piece of work, a script that came from a new place that you found in your psyche, an angry re-casting or a boyhood mischief. You are giving not only to the work but also giving it to be preserved for your future self. To learn from and to point to. That was me.
The Many Forms Of Video
I love all forms of video production. I love 6 second vines and I love Seven Samurai. Glossy commercials, stylized music videos, animated explainer videos, brand films, promotional video productions, beauty and fashion promos, corporate videos, your out-of-focus, hand-held, portrait video of your dog having a shower, you name it, I love almost all of it. I’ve worked with some of the biggest and best video production companies in Manchester and beyond and time after time I’ve heard that “corporate videos pay the bills”. I’ve never understood this apathy or, worse still, disdain. It’s almost cool to not particularly enjoy doing corporate videos. I unashamedly love corporate video production whether it’s live action or animation.
Wide Variety Of Content
Corporate video is a strange term as it refers to such a wide variety of content. Varied budgets aims and styles. Broadly speaking a corporate video is any video production that isn’t a traditional commercial advertising a product or service. You might want to make a video to welcome new staff to your business and teach them about their role. Or maybe you have a huge event that you’re delivering, and you want a highlight video for your website or social. You may want a hero video masterpiece to sit on your landing page to wow people. Whatever the production may be, corporate video makes up a big portion of the video content produced in Manchester. So, learning to love it should be high on the to do list of any good video production company.
Corporate Video Production
All of our corporate and promotional video productions kick off with a pre-production meeting at our Manchester HQ. In this meeting we get to know a client, their brand and what they want to achieve with the production. This gives us a brilliant opportunity to learn about their business and start to collaborate with the client about the look and feel of their video. There are also generally snacks and hot drinks provided which I find sufficient motivation to get out of bed on even the most frigid of Manchester mornings.
After the pre-production meeting we aim to set a shoot date as soon as possible. (Assuming this is not an animation which is a different process I’ll delve into later). This means we can start to schedule our crew, any cast and any specialist equipment we may need for the shoot. If the corporate video production has a voice over or scripted pieces, then we also work with our client to draft the script after the initial pre-production meeting. If you scroll down a little to see quite how far this page goes down, you’ll see that I like to write. Collaborating with clients on scripts is one of the highlights of my job which I’ll write more about later.
At every step of the production stage we check in with our client and have key decisions such as casting of actors or VO artists signed off so that our client has a great idea of where the production is up to and exactly what they’ll be getting. By the time the shoot day comes both us and our client have a great idea of how the finished video will come together which helps us draw up a shooting schedule for the day to plan how we’ll get the shots that we need. Communication is vital during this stage. Our schedule will be designed for us to shoot exactly what we need as efficiently as possible and have time left over to gather beautiful bonus shots that could be used or saved for future video productions. Drinks and snacks will also feature heavily in the schedule.
Corporate shoot days are brilliant. They are usually a very early start which personally I find invigorating and not at all awful. I like driving to new places and particularly enjoy flashing and waving at crew members’ cars on the motorway only to discover that it was just a similar vehicle with an altogether different driver. We arrive on location, find the place that we’re storing our kit and start setting up. While the crew are setting up, I’ll usually take a little tour with our client and scope out the shooting locations that we’ve scheduled in for the day. The shoot day then consists largely of us consulting the schedule a lot, showing our client how good that last shot was a lot, packing and unpacking lights a lot and laughing a lot. Drinks. Snacks.
In post-production on a corporate video we will cut the first draft, mix the sound, and grade the video. We then ask our client if they have any notes or amends and begin the second cut. We don’t generally limit the amount of amend rounds that our client can request before signing the video off. Which means they can make suggestions and ask for changes confident in the knowledge that the finished film will be exactly what they imagined. I love seeing the film come together in the edit. It’s a highly rewarding part of the video production process. It’s very satisfying to see the planning and scripting and meeting and brainstorming come to a fruitful conclusion. While I do love pre-production meetings in our Manchester HQ, and shoot days and the edit, none of them are my favourite thing about corporate video production.
My favourite thing about corporate video production whether it’s an office tour, meet the team, event video or a massive VFX project to showcase a new brand is that corporate video gives me access that I would never normally have. I get to learn about a whole new business or industry and the people within it. I get to be an intrepid tourist in other people’s lives.
When I started working on video productions, I realised quite quickly that if you have a camera and a few gear bags or cases you can walk into most places. I’ve readied myself to show ID or to be searched at; Anfield, Old Trafford, Wimbledon and Twickenham all unnecessarily as I was given the “you’re alright mate” nod from security staff. I’ve walked on stage and backstage at countless events from rap concerts to barista competitions without anybody seeming to even notice.
Want to crash a wedding? Put a camera around your neck and carry a tripod. I’m reasonably certain I could get into the cockpit of a jet if I had a big enough crew. This is because you become part of the mechanics of the business or event. You’re behind the curtain. You’re invisible. There’s an innate understanding between the person with the camera and the people in front of it. You act like I’m not there and I’ll act like you’re not really excited that I have a camera. It’s a touching union of minds found only on corporate video shoots. Biologists have observed and endeavoured to study the phenomenon on research expeditions to Milton Keynes but alas not all magic can be bottled.
Eye Opening Corporate Shoots
With corporate video you get to see jobs, events and experiences without actually living them. It’s a lot of fun. To become a crane engineer who works on top of the o2 Arena I’d have to put aside quite a lot of time, mental application and skill before achieving that goal. Plus, I’m scared of heights. However, I do know exactly what it’s like to be a crane engineer. A specific crane engineer, named Matyáš. I know how many steps he climbs to his crane; I know he occasionally gets nervous when it’s windy and I know that he can only climb up and down to and from his crane twice a day. So, if there are health and safety meetings or nature calls too many times he gets to go home early. I know all of this because I made a video about it.
I’ve literally been involved in video productions of most topics. I will outshine the lay person in a pub conversation about any of the following subjects; dairy farming, Australian politics, raw denim, molasses, virtual reality, boxer briefs, Matyáš and many more. All because I made videos about them. Learning is exciting.
Know Your Subject
To make a great corporate video you have to learn about your subject in pre-production. You have to know who your client is, what they do and how they do it. Next time you’re in a meeting and somebody is giving you background information about their organisation or their job so that you can have a productive meeting, watch them closely. They gesticulate more. Consider their words with more care. Begin to emphasise and pause and intonate and study your reaction. They glow a little more brightly. Teaching is just as much fun as learning is.
Always An Interesting Angle
One of my favourite things about corporate video production is when a client begins almost apologetically that their job or business “isn’t the most exciting”. Then as they explain it to me realise that what they do is actually very interesting and we’re going to make a great video about it because every business and especially the people behind it have a fascinating story to tell. Each corporate video production sets me off on a cycle of learning and teaching that I merrily carousel. I get to learn about a brand-new subject from a perfectly placed teacher. I then get to create a video that re-invigorates that teacher’s passion for their subject but also helps them communicate and glow brighter still to a much bigger audience. To me that is very cool, and that’s why I love corporate videos. Plus, the drinks and snacks.
Commercial Video Production
A love of learning is invaluable in all creative pursuits and this certainly rings true in the world of video production. The ability to immerse oneself in a subject, to be enveloped by it and enriched by it is a huge advantage, particularly when writing and producing TV commercials. At any given time, I can be living 5 or 6 different lives in my mind. No, I am not a serial bigamist anymore, but I do cycle through different relationships in my head. My relationships with a product. The beginning of a commercial video production is like meeting a new friend. You meet a product, or a brand and you spend time getting to know them and learning about them. We first meet the product when Groundbreak receives a brief.
Receiving a new TV commercial brief is genuinely very exciting. Briefs vary wildly in terms of what information is contained in them. Maybe more so than any other genre of video production. Some clients come to us with a brief that is complete with a concept and image references of who they’d like to cast, maybe even a script and a good idea of what the finished video will be already formed in their mind, whether it’s live action, animation, visual effects or a hybrid.
We’ll always give a creative steer where we can see somewhere that the production can be enhanced but sometimes a client needs us to simply make their idea a reality. At the other end of the scale some briefs come to us with very little information. We can be presented with a product and a run time (not always) and nothing more. At both ends of this scale and everywhere in between, the first thing we do when we receive a new brief is share it with our creative and production teams, and an internal clock starts ticking.
We each start to mull the brief over ready for a meeting to discuss concepts and our proposal. This is the point at which the product starts to become a part of your life. In preparation for an idea shaping session I like to think about the story of the product. Not the story of how the product came to be but rather the story of how the product changes the life of the person who buys it. That is always my starting point and often the most absorbing part of the video production process. I want to feel what it is like to be made happier by this product.
Next I start to think about how a video can evoke that exact feeling. It’s like day dreaming about having a relationship with someone then endeavouring to explain how great your imagined relationship is, so convincingly that they want to make it a reality. The product becomes your best friend, your bed fellow, your gym buddy, your everything. There is something meditative about focusing all of your energy on one object and ruminating on all of its valuable attributes, it instils a positivity into your thinking that is refreshing.
Idea Shaping Sessions
When we get together for idea shaping sessions some of this poetry can be lost. Lost in a sea of puns. I am told that it is verifiably proven that the path to the purest creative expression can only be forged through a dense forest of puns. It’s an instinct that must be both exercised and exorcised before any truly great work can be produced. Once we’ve cleansed ourselves of punnery we begin to pick apart the brief.
When I first started putting pitches together for commercials I would lament the restrictions of the brief. My brilliant, expansive and, I’m certain, seminal concepts would be dashed for being; too expensive, requiring too much lead time or not at all what the client actually wanted. What I used to see as petty objections that restrained my genius I now realise are the real opportunity for us to show creative skill and flair.
Anybody can come up with a great idea. It takes very specific and not at all common skill to devise a genuinely great idea that also hits every single specification of the brief. The biggest challenge in video production. That is the game. Winning the game by ignoring the rules is much easier and nowhere near as satisfying as using your creativity to turn the rules to your advantage. The brief is the finite laws within an otherwise malleable universe of imagination.
Often, we have each had an idea or two about a route we could take for the commercial. The great thing about our creative team is that we all think quite differently and have different areas of video production that we particularly love. This means that we are guaranteed to have a variety of different approaches to the brief brought to the table. One thing is for sure – whatever your idea is when you enter that session, it will be better when you leave.
We discuss many concepts, even half-ideas or images and quite quickly we will land on a frontrunner. As with all things, it’s usually a simple idea that gets our attention and gets us excited. We’ll then turn our efforts to that concept and start to shape it. We may take aspects of another idea that work for a particular part of the brief and consider how we can incorporate it into our favourite concept.
With each of our individual personalities and approaches ideas form fully, as in our mind’s eyes, one of us might start to see specific shots, one of us begins to design VFX and one of us hears the beginnings of a script. Chipping away at an idea, refining it, adding to it and simplifying it is incredibly satisfying. Creativity in its many forms and harmonious collaboration. This is why we love video production. Especially when a concept emerges and evolves into something that will be visually stunning and exceeds the specifications of the brief. That’s when we start to get very excited about sharing the concept with our client. That is a whole other skill in itself. Writing a proposal.
Our proposal to a client is sometimes our only opportunity to communicate exactly what we’ve envisioned for the commercial. Oftentimes we will pitch in person or have meetings to discuss our proposal but even in those circumstances a proposal will often be what is sent on to other stakeholders in the commercial video production. Sometimes the key stakeholder who needs to sign off on the project will only see our proposal. As with the production itself our ideas can only ever be as good as our ability to communicate them.
We tailor each proposal to the specific client so every one is different – a marketing director will want to see different information than a sales director will want to see. We’ll write a treatment for our concept, this works like a prose version of a script, it’s like writing your commercial as a mini novella. The more vividly you can place your commercial into the imagination of the client the better.
Style & Mood
We’ll also include some style and mood references; this is some links to work we’ve produced before that might be in a similar production style (maybe an absorbing 3d animation we’ve previously created or live action commercial awash with awe inspiring visual effects) so the client can further visualise how our 30 second story will unfold.
Mood board images help the client to see the design styles and colours that will be in the commercial and why they have been chosen. We also include some information on how this particular commercial video production will impact their business in the short and long term. In essence we write a proposal with the intention of ensuring that the exact commercial that we have in our imagination becomes as close as possible to the exact commercial in the client’s mind. Then we know we have given our concept every chance of being signed off and produced.
The Green Light
When a proposal is green lit each stage of pre-production is essentially another step of ensuring that our creative team, production team and the client are in synchronicity of mind while planning the commercial video production. As we all carve away at one big rock, we do everything we can to ensure that we have each imagined the same end sculpture. This is the same process in all video productions but often stricter to form when creating a TV commercial. The blueprint for that sculpture starts with a script.
Love Of Scripting
Scripting is one of my favourite processes in TV commercial production. It makes no difference if it’s an animation or live action commercial. I simply love scripting. Taking everything from a brief, the concept you’ve devised to meet and exceed that brief and everything from a pitch deck – proposal, mood boards, style references – taking all of that and condensing it to a 30 second script is a beautiful challenge for your skills as a writer. More often than not your script needs to run around 25 seconds to at least accommodate a call to action at the end. Equally, the last thing we want is for an ad to feel rushed. Nobody wants to buy a product that makes you feel rushed. Unless it’s a Peloton.
The first draft of the script is nearly never the version that makes it to the final edit. The first draft script is the earliest opportunity that all parties have to give notes and suggest amends. And they do! It is their job to, after all. The first script should epitomise the essence and feel of the commercial and be very concept focused. This ensures that as we tweak and tinker we always stay strongly based in the original notion and idea that originally got everybody excited. The first draft of the script is the starting point of the video production so if that source material is the concept writ large then we can be assured that we have a strong foothold for the production.
The first draft of the script is a great place to take risks and be bold. The stakes are low. If there’s a risky, mischievous line of dialogue or a tricky overhead shot that we’d need additional resources to achieve then get it in to the first draft. Get it in to the first draft and add a note as to why it would work so well with the product and concept. If you save these suggestions until further down the line, then this specific video production will be too far along and wheels will have already been set irreversibly in motion. The worst that can happen is it gets taken out and nobody has lost anything. Best case scenario is that everybody loves it and you’ve just added a lot of value to a TV commercial production that you’ll be immersed in for months.
Tweaks and changes may be made to the script right up until the shoot day and even during the shoot day but that first draft sets our stall out and is an important opportunity to define the final edit. Commercial TV production is a landscape of hard deadlines, so even while the first draft is being written and reviewed, we will have already started to storyboard.
A storyboard is a shot by shot illustrated version of the final commercial. Storyboards are the perfect way to share with the client a visual version of the commercial while still in the very early stages. You can pour over mood boards, search and search for style references and deliver the best treatment since Jesus’ for Lazarus but only when the storyboard is complete does everybody working on the project have a truly clear vision of the final product. We work with some very impressive storyboard artists and we are always excited to see our concept become a storyboard so that we can share it with our teams and our client. Storyboarding is a fundamental stage of most video productions. Storyboards are made up of illustrated shots complete with action icons showing the movements of the actors and set.
All In The Detail
Each shot also has notes for sound design, camera moves and script. Reading a storyboard is a lot like live editing the commercial in your mind. You have the shot which begins to move in your imagination in accordance with the direction. Your brain then layers in the atmosphere sound and sound effects. Now you’re in the place, you can see it and hear it. Then you read about the music and your brain presses play on your internal jukebox. Then as you read the script your voice morphs into the perfect voice over artist for this text and there you have it. The commercial is playing in your mind as you read it and cut it together internally as you go.
Frame By Frame
Once you have read and interpreted every frame of the storyboard everything about the commercial is more embedded in your psyche. You more readily remember exactly what happens in each shot, what is said, which actors are used and what camera moves are employed, because you’ve seen it. You remember the characters in each scene of a favourite film that you’ve seen, what they say, where they are and what scene comes next.
Storyboarding gives you that same embedded and visualised knowledge of your commercial. It allows you to see it before you’ve made it. It’s a powerful and integral part of any TV commercial production. Like the script it will be tweaked and perfected but will stay with us from the start of production right through to sign off. The storyboard will be at every pre-production meeting. Everybody will have a copy. It will be on set as the key source reference for literally everybody who is working on that shoot, with the exception of the single most important people working on any shoot, the caterers. It will be in the edit suite during post-production as the key reference guide for the post team. It’d be difficult to overstate how important a detailed storyboard is to a good TV commercial.
Creativity & Preparation
Good commercial production is about being creative and being prepared. A storyboard gives you the art of your commercial in the ultimate preview form which allows you to properly plan and prepare. Suffice to say storyboards and video production are a match made in heaven.
Another key area of pre-production where we have an opportunity to preview the final product is casting. Casting is not an easy gig. You have to find the people who perfectly represent the product and the brand. They must look and sound just right. And of course be able to act, which is not always a given. We work with a lot of very talented actors and I can tell you that if an actor has a good look that is versatile, will suit a lot of brands and they are a talented performer then they seldom struggle for work.
I may be underselling quite how much hard work and dedication it takes to have a successful career as an actor in commercial TV production. The key to my point is that an actor who looks great and performs well is gold dust in commercial video production and we count ourselves lucky to work with so many brilliant actors. We find our actors through many sources, agents and casting networks. We write a casting call which can be very detailed. You can narrow your search right down to the eye colour. It is important to be detailed when casting as you are choosing someone to be the embodiment of a brand. A brand that has no doubt seen years, if not decades, of marketing expertise lovingly refining and evolving it. It’s a big responsibility.
The Perfect Talent
We put out a detailed casting call and shortlist the applicants and their self-tape auditions to be forwarded to the client for approval. This is another big leap of progression in video production process. When you see a self-tape audition that gets the delivery right, even if it’s only halfway to the performance you need, but it’s half-way in the right direction, you get rushes of excitement.
The director can push the performance to where it needs to be if the actor’s instincts with no direction already have the right feel. If the actor’s thought process is clearly in the right direction, then you’re on to a winner. And once you have a shortlisted cast that has great options for each role you start to see the commercial very vividly. You can now see and hear the performance exactly how they will be. The little live editor in your mind is whizzing and now you have real life characters to work with. You need somewhere to put them.
Whether you’re shooting in studio or on location, scouting for locations can be an arduous endeavour, but absolutely crucial in every live action video production. In studio you need to find the right technical specifications in terms of size, back drop, equipment available, access etc. You also need to find a studio that is available for your proposed shoot date, a pre-light, set-build and rigging day or days if necessary and enough time to paint the studio. The studio is home to a lot of people for a few long days of hard work during a shoot. Finding a studio that is well equipped and well-appointed for comfort can make a huge difference to morale on a shoot. A studio manager with a cheery disposition and “nothing is impossible” attitude can be a miraculous tonic on set too.
Shooting on location means scouting will take you further afield than the cosy comfort of studios. It also often means visiting breathtakingly beautiful places but only as often as you visit obscure places.
It means approaching people who have no experience and generally no interest in film making or commercial video production and requesting use of their land or facility. Often this request can mean upheaval that that person has no desire to welcome into their life. That’s all part of the fun of location scouting.
Location, Location, Location
The game is to find the perfect location for your shoot. The place that has been drawn in the storyboard, the place that you saw in your imagination when reading the script, the place that your mind placed those actors when they delivered their audition. That perfect place. That is no mean feat but that is, relatively speaking, the easy part.
Then all you have to do is convince the person whose permission we need that it will be the greatest thing that has ever happened to them. That they can simply not live without having 30 people carrying heavy and expensive equipment traipsing through their location, setting up lights, make up areas, generators, catering tables and needing countless things from them but also needing them to be perfectly silent on command when we say. Oh, and there’ll be about 15 cars and 3 vans to accommodate as well. Charm gets you so far in these negotiations, but I find it’s always good to budget for a handsome location fee. Once a location is scouted, negotiated and booked we’re ready to shoot.
The Night Before
Shoot days are incredible. I get a mini Christmas Eve excitement the night before a shoot day. Even after so long and so many it still has me exhilarated in anticipation. Part of the enduring thrill of video production. The start of a shoot is the culmination of a lot of hard work and collaboration manifesting itself ready to bear fruit. It’s harvest day. Weeks or months of writing and planning lead to a shoot. The opening of the studio doors or the arrival of crew on location marks the transition from pre-production to production. Those aren’t just arbitrary terms. That is a real and palpable shift of gears for our creative and production teams. We go from being writers and planners to being doers. We get to be hands on. This is where the creating starts in earnest. We get to perform.
The Big Video Shoot
Arriving on set and seeing the gear vans and set vans backed up to the studio or location with their doors open and crew members unloading with a calm, warm and focused air is something to behold. On a shoot day there is a sense that once the studio doors open or the second we gain access to the location an industrious machine that has lay coiled has been sprung and things start to happen. They start to happen quickly, deftly, cheerily and they don’t stop.
Film Crew Family
Working as part of a film crew has long been a great joy of my life. Film crew people always seem to be my favourite type of people. They are always confident but approachable, diligent but relaxed, focused but calm, fast but paced, talented but humble. I could wax lyrical for many more words about film crew people and how much I love being a part of that community in Manchester.
If you have collaborated with us on any video production whatsoever you will know that at Groundbreak we take great pride in putting together very talented, very impressive and very lovable crew. It’s remarkable to see how efficient and productive a team can be on a film set while having such a good time. I defy anyone to visit a set on one of our productions and not leave wishing that they did that every day for a living.
Appreciation Of One Another
The camaraderie on set is something that I have only seen rivalled as part of a theatre production or a Sunday league football team. The culture and repartee on set lies in the sweet spot firmly equidistant between the two.
The camaraderie on set, I believe, is born from each person or small team having a specialised job. Each person is focused on a specific task. Those roles are defined and, loosely, universal. This brings an appreciation of each other’s work that can be quite unique in a workplace. We each know what each other person’s role and specialism is and we each defer to that person in their area. Having clearly delineated roles and specialisms means that we all appreciate that without one of the people here we would not be able to perform as a team. This garners a culture of respect, acknowledgment and team spirit that, despite there being a clear hierarchy when it comes to decision making, does create the feeling of a communal effort which requires every one person as much as the next.
Greater Good Of The Product
I may go as far as to say shoot days are a communist utopia. I also may not. If I were to use that analogy I would caveat it by saying that the communal labour of the workforce on set is for a greater good, but not the greater good of despot dictator but rather the greater good of the product.
It is quite sensational seeing a product, generally an object, becoming such a centre of attention on shoot days. There are tens of people contorting themselves to move lights, position flags and bounce boards, set up backdrops, build sets, operate jibs and countless other equally difficult tasks. All so that the product looks the best it can possibly look. It is someone’s job to watch a monitor for the whole day and make sure that not for one second does the product ever become slightly out of focus. That is an important TV commercial production job.
At The Ready
Somebody will be stood just out of shot ready to come on set at the drop of a hat or rather the drop of a speck of dust on the product. They must quickly clean it off and make sure the product is pristine before the next take. That is an important role in the world of high-end commercial video production.
Aiming For Perfection
It is a whole team of people’s job to make sure that the many lights trained on the product or pointed away from the product so as to bounce off it in the right way, look absolutely perfect at every second. That is an important commercial production job. Everybody’s job in one way or another on a commercial production is to make the product look perfect. The whole concept and exercise is to make the product look, feel and exude perfection. We are here to sell the product. Shoot days on a commercial are like the celebration of the product. No matter how big or small the cast is, the product is the star. It’s mesmerising to be a part of. We’re all partying but it’s the product’s prom.
Not all commercial productions have a shoot. Some are created entirely in a post-production studio in the form of 2d, 3d or stop motion animations. It may seem dense to state this, but our Manchester based team of producers’ job is to produce. Produce whatever is needed for a project. If we need a rain machine, they will produce one. If we need an airplane hangar, they will produce one. If we need a helicopter, a re-write, 12 vegan meals, $100 million of insurance, a pelican, they will produce them. Like a band of magicians but with better people skills, producers conjure up anything that is needed to bring a video production into reality. I think a good producer’s mentality can be neatly summed up in a quote from the inimitable Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter when he paraphrased a popular saying – “difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week.” However not all things are possible, even for a good producer. For a world of truly boundless possibilities we don’t need a shoot, we need the magic of animation and VFX.
Animation opens up a world of opportunity for video creation that is limited only by the limit of one’s own imagination.
Think of something that does not, nor ever has, existed. Now think of another thing that doesn’t. Put those two things somewhere that can’t exist. Now have the two undisputedly impossible things whizz away from each other at inconceivable and entirely unfeasible speeds. While they whiz apart, expand your frame of view to keep these ferociously fast fictional things in your field of vision. Zoom and fly towards one of the objects. Catch up with it and circle around it as it flies. Orbit it once more then see the other object now flying directly towards you. Rise away from the objects and shoot up and away as they crash into each other and explode into a million pieces. Or 4 pieces, or no pieces. It’s completely up to you.
Anything Is Possible
Literally anything is possible in our Manchester animation studio. This may seem whimsical. Futilely fanciful. I’d never apologise for whimsy, but there are direct and incredibly impactful applications for being able to create absolutely anything in a TV commercial.
Service, Product Or App?
What if you’re selling a service rather than a product? Or you’re promoting an app? You could shoot people using your app or service but that isn’t really showing the audience the true value of what you’re selling. The true value is conceptual. A service or a software is likely to have a unique selling point that is not physically tangible or aesthetically brilliant to represent with live action footage. It’s promoting saved time or a feeling or an interconnectivity. Using animation allows us to tell these stories and evoke these feelings in a very clear and very impressive way. From basic shapes simply and cleanly representing a process to vast intricate universes embodying a feeling. With a strong script and a great animation team, anything can be represented by anything. Animation is certainly the limitless creative hub of video production.
It’s a captivating enhancement of any video production to be able to use animation and VFX (visual effects) in commercials that are promoting physical products. We’re always selling a feeling or a concept.
All cars could be said to undertake largely the exact same function. They are carriages for transport. Practically speaking some have larger storage and seating capacities than others. Some have more advanced safety features than others. Some have more efficient methods for converting fuel into propulsion than others. But who cares? What we all really want to know is how does it make you feel? Does driving it make you feel like a cheetah? It does? Brilliant, so ideally, we’d like to see the car briefly then turn into a cheetah. Look at that cheetah so majestic and ferocious. I’d like the cheetah automobile please!
With animation and VFX we can sell a physical product or a service while showcasing and evoking the true, resonant selling point. Which is the feeling and experience of the customer in a remarkably visceral, clear and transfixing way.
Art Meets Science
Video production has always fascinated me as the ultimate meeting of art and science. Artistic skill in video is entirely useless without technological skill to express it. Equally technological skill within video is an entirely apathetic and benign tool without artistic skill to utilise it as a craft. The art pushes the technology to evolve by demanding new ways to express itself and the technology pushes the art to evolve by opening up new frontiers to be explored. For me the ultimate meeting of art and science in any video production is in VFX and animation. The skill of creating a world entirely from one’s mind using illustration and digital design is a thrashing, harmonious dance between art and technology.
The Long Game
Watching the progress of an animation production requires more patience than watching a shoot day progressing. Days can be spent perfecting a few frames. It’s magnificent to look at a storyboard and chart the progression from there to a completed animation or VFX sequence. In fact whether a video production is an animation or live action, the most satisfying thing about a shoot day or seeing a VFX project progress is seeing shot after shot go into the can. Knowing that the little editor in your head that has been building this commercial ever since the first idea-shaping session now has some real toys to play with in the edit.
All of the writing, preparation and planning in pre-production and all of the focus and hard work of the shoot would all mean nothing without the edit. This is where the story truly takes shape. I love working on a TV commercial edit. It can be a mammoth task, sometimes completed by a junior or assistant editor, to collate and organise all of the rushes before even starting the edit. If we’ve shot for a few 10 hour days there is a lot of footage to compile and cut together. Here again a good storyboard is a massive help.
Working with a great editor can leave you in awe. Some of the best editors I’ve worked with don’t ever touch the mouse of their computer in the edit suite. They have custom keyboard shortcuts for everything. I’ve seen an editor’s keyboard, it was a split keyboard, with keys missing where they’d prised away keys that they didn’t use. Working with a great editor makes putting a first cut together a lot of fun. Seeing the different options for each shot and how they will cut together in montage gives you a spike of joy and motivation. You can see exactly how great the ad is going to be and you can see the final stretch of the race to the final video on the horizon.
Usually on TV commercial shoots you may have a person on set whose job it is to make notes for the editor. To keep track of which takes were good and which take of each shot the Director particularly loved. This set of notes, the storyboard and an editor’s brief become the post-production bible. This wealth of information plus the Director and creative team sitting in on an edit ensure that the cut is a well-executed real life version of the commercial that has been bouncing around your collective heads since the brief first arrived on your desk.
A huge part of an edit being perfect is the music and sound design. I first started working in video production making music videos. And i’ve never stopped being moved by an edit that’s cut in complete harmony with a perfect piece of music. It feels like a dance between the shots and the sounds. When they perfectly synchronise it is very special. When one drives the other in pace and tone and the other pushes back and they ebb and flow and intertwine to a resounding crescendo there are few things in the world more captivating.
Sound design is the designing and mixing of all of the sounds in the commercial with the music and the edit to make a complete orchestral chorus of music, sound effects and cuts. Incredible sound design can be profound. You probably won’t even notice it. The next time a commercial or a film trailer gives you goosebumps go back and watch again focusing solely on the sounds. Now imagine the same video with just the dialogue, or just the dialogue and the music. It’s nowhere near as powerful.
It Sounds Great
Very few sounds that aren’t dialogue or atmosphere are captured on the shoot. They are designed, created wholesale, and mixed into the audio of the video along with the music. A truly great commercial can never be something that just looks great. It has to feel great. For that to happen it must sound as wonderful as it looks. As well as a lot of the sound not being captured on the shoot day, the full and vibrant colours you see in the final ad are not created on the shoot day either. They are created in the grade, which is the finishing touches of the video production process.
One of the final stages of post-production is colour correction and grading. Colour correction is fixing and balancing all of the colours so that they are all in harmony with the intended look of the video and look true to life with no strange colours on the timeline. Colour grading is the skill of enhancing each shot by adjusting an almost innumerable number of different parameters to change the colours within the shot. It is quite wondrous how powerful a good grade is. There is a real science involved at this stage of video production. Footage does not come fresh out the camera looking like a Wes Anderson movie. Footage comes out of the camera flat. The camera captures an abundance of information in each shot that can then be drawn upon and explored in the grade.
Mood & Feel
Colour grading is not just to enhance the look of each shot, after all what looks “good” can be very subjective, it is another design tool to create a mood and feeling in the commercial. In pre-production we decide on a colour palette for the commercial. This can be a colour palette that compliments and embeds the brand palette of the product or a palette that evokes the emotion and sensation that we want the audience to associate with the product. Happily, it is sometimes both. The colour grade is where we can make this colour palette live and breathe. It is one of the final and most integral parts of the TV commercial production process. We have painted our picture, and this is the final shading.
And just like that, with the punnery and focus of the idea shaping session, the tailoring and storytelling of the proposal, the feeling and finding of the script, the visualisation of the storyboard, the hunt of the casting, the endeavour and persuasion of the location scouting, the electric, frenetic, granular focus and community of the shoot, the playing and searching of the edit, the dance and magic of the sound design and the breath of life of the colour grade, there you have it. A masterpiece. A 30 second TV commercial. All that’s left to do now is getting it cleared for broadcast, delivered to the media agency and one final thing once it is all entirely signed off. Drinks and snacks.
I Played My Part
All of that hard work is worth it. For the drinks. And the snacks. And the knowledge that one day I will be able to watch the commercial and know that that was me. We made that and that’s who we were at that time. This blog is who we are right now. We are the joy of learning and the enticement and challenge of a new brief. We are the commitment to finding the perfect story to tell. The writers who take the perfect story and tell it to the perfect audience in the perfect way. We are the thrill of a storyboard jumping into life. We are the dedication to finding the exact people to be the heroes of your story. The skilled and driven family on set. The pride of the final cut. We are video production personified.
We are a team of passionate creatives and producers from different professional and personal backgrounds with different areas of video production that we each adore. A team of individuals whose unique strengths we appreciate, respect and embolden. Who come together every day to share and work with each other’s talents and passions. All for the singular shared goal of telling your story, selling your product and making your video masterpiece.