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Promotional Video Production

Who doesn’t love a good promotional video production? My phone consistently pings into life with links to great promo video content. So often in fact that you’d think the entire workforce of video production crew in Manchester spend more time deep diving the internet for the finest video content than they do creating it. I get sent links to wildly varying styles of promotional videos; from 15 second, zany, viral promos to 10 minute, branded, narrative mini-docs and a plethora of productions in between. They are all pieces of great promotional video production for different reasons. Reasons that may be tricky to readily identify.

What Makes a Great Promotional Video?

We may not know exactly what makes the very best promotional videos so great, but we all know quality when we see it. Here are some of the contributing production elements that I’ve noticed about the best promotional video productions I’ve been sent recently. Spoiler alert! There are great promotional videos included in this post! Huzzah!

Brand Awareness Through Video Production

Promotional video, in its widest definition, is intended to market a product or service or raise awareness of a brand. Within that enticingly loose remit there are endless video production possibilities that allow production companies to create content that does not necessarily conform to the usual constraints of a 30 second Television Commercial (TVC). Runtime itself is huge variable in promotional video production. Generally hosted online with a view to being shared on social media, promotional video can be any length that the filmmaker desires, so long as it does its job. A great example of flagrantly flouting the 30 second rule in promotional video is the branded mini documentary.

A branded mini documentary is a video piece in the documentary form that follows a subject or narrative just as any other documentary would, generally over 2 – 10 minutes. The documentary subject can be loosely or directly linked to the brand that is promoting or not linked at all other than by a catchy tagline. The notion of a branded documentary promotional video production is to create content that the audience genuinely cares about watching and invests in, while the brand piggyback on that positive and genuine connection with the audience.

Credibility Via Creativity

Our Head of Production, Matt often talks about “credibility via creativity”, the idea that a brand or business showing creative flair and insight directly translates into an audience believing they are a credible and desirable brand. This makes a lot of sense.

If a brand creates promotional video content that you love, then you know that the people at that brand have a similar creative taste as you do. They find funny the same things you do; they’ve told a charming story that you would want to tell. They are cool, edgy, hilarious and handsome just like you are! You begin to recognise yourself in the brand. Now you’ve recognised yourself in a brand, that brand now represents you, and so organically their products and services are something you would naturally and instinctively be interested in. Artistic flair, whether or not it is intrinsically linked to the tangible offerings of the creator, is attractive. How many entirely ineligible bachelors, who happen to play guitar, have you seen struggle for romance?

This is not to say that brands who create promotional mini docs are masquerading their failings as brands with artistic prowess, this is just to stress the point of how alluring a display of creativity can be. In fact, the best branded mini docs come from brands that are so strong that they could, and do, wow us with incredible TV commercials but who also choose to create brilliant promotional content. This reaches a new audience who may not typically engage with traditional advertising.

Award Winning Video Campaigns

The below example comes from Stella Artois, a brand with stellar form in the world of TV advertising with a strong history of Cannes Lions Gold Award winning campaigns including 2002’s Reassuringly Expensive campaign. In 2010 Stella Artois commissioned filmmaker Malcolm Murray and creative agency Mother NY to create a piece of promotional video that was a world away from the glossy, chic, stylised TVCs they have become famous for.

Up There is a 12-minute documentary that gets promotional branded content just right. The focus is clearly on the content and not the branding. The documentary showcases the soon-to-be lost art of hand painted advertising, following the last few crews of artists who paint billboard scale advertisements directly onto the side of huge buildings. It’s an endearing story that is as emotionally provocative as it is informative.

Manchester Building Art

It is inspirational to hear of 10-year apprenticeships learning from a master of a dying art and fascinating to learn how the art itself is crafted. Especially for those like me who have seen the huge building paintings around Manchester and wondered quite how they manage them. Unlike the building art around Manchester City centre the crew in the documentary are not painting forlorn figures found in the Northern Quarter or the striking street art near Spinningfields. They are painting vast yet subtly placed advertisements for Stella Artois. Making the brand an ever present but undoubtedly secondary character in a narrative that woos you beyond considering this to be a piece of promotional video production. I don’t care or even notice that it is essentially an advertisement, it’s just a great watch. Thirsty work though.

Content First, Brand Second

At the opposite end of the branded content scale but still a very effective series of promotional video productions is the ludicrously haphazard and hilarious Will It Blend? This series of viral videos takes the same approach as Up There in creating content that they know an audience already desires for their branding to be applied to. However, they choose an entirely different audience in the disposable world of YouTube videos. They also do away with all subtlety. In fact, they openly spoof the pretence of branded promotional content by presenting their content as parody vintage infomercials for their product. Blendtec, the brand behind Will It Blend?, produce these videos and host them on their own YouTube channel. In each video a different object such as a glow stick or a football are placed in a signature Blendtec blender as we find out “Will it blend?”

Viral Sensation

Showing a deep understanding of the content that is consumed online, these promotional videos have become a massive viral sensation. This has opened up cross-promotional advertising opportunities where other brands will collaborate on the videos to have their products blended in a Blendtec blender by the famous host of the videos, Tom Dickson who is also the founder of Blendtec. Apple had an iPhone X blended to promotes the devices release. An Amazon Echo has been blended to promote Amazon Prime Day promotions, which included a sale on Blendtec blenders. The football mentioned above was blended as a promotion with Real Salt Lake soccer club featuring some famous footballers.

In Your Face

These promotional videos, unlike Up There, are not intended to subtly promote a brand. They are intended to be an in your face reminder of Blendtec. These videos are so popular that they will pop up on your feed as suggested viewing. I had never heard of Blendtec before Will it Blend? Now I find myself saying the host’s catchphrase as I finish blending.

I also find myself wishing I had a Blendtec blender every time I’m not satisfied with my food processor’s liquidiser function. “If it can blend an iPhone it wouldn’t have this much trouble with a bit of ginger” I think to myself. That is the triumph of this series as pieces of promotional video content. I have recognised their brand; I have recognised my own self-perceived hilarity in their sense of humour, and I have begun to desire their product as something more suitable for me. And learned who Blendtec people are and decided that I am also a Blendtec person.

Increase Sales with a Video Campaign

These blender videos have been running for around ten years and sit alongside genuine blender recipe and demo videos that Blendtec also produce, have already seen a spike in sales and have driven a huge expansion of Blendtec’s operation. However, one can only presume that the true dividends of this campaign will be reaped when the generation of 16-year olds that will have been watching and sharing these videos for a decade by the time they come to buy their first blender will have only one brand in mind, a name synonymous with high power blenders. Will It Blend? is a series of ironic infomercial promotional videos that could ensure that Blendtec becomes a brand that transcends the product. All vacuum cleaners are called Hoovers. All search engines are used for Googling. And I see a future where all iPhones are Blendtec’ed!

The final promotional video I have chosen is a piece that sits somewhere between the above two. Just over 2 minutes in duration, it is a mockumentary style so carries the wit of Will it Blend? but with the subtlety of delivery of the genuine documentary Up There. It has ever-present branding and parodies a common promotional video form, the client testimonial video.

Client Testimonial Video Spoof

The concept is that a promotional video production company is making a client testimonial video to talk about how someone uses business messaging software, Slack. The client in question however is the video production itself, who have become the reluctant subject of their own production.

The video pastiches the client testimonial style of promotional video and its common tropes. This works brilliantly as the video is able to extol the virtues of Slack without us feeling like they are contriving to do just that. There is only one scene where someone delivers a perfect soundbite about one of the brilliant features of Slack in a cheery upbeat manner. In the very next shot we immediately hear the Director’s voice – “Let’s try one a little less goofy” and the person who delivered the soundbite looks crestfallen. It’s a clever moment as we have learned about the great feature of Slack, we have learned that they are funny just like us and we have learned that all of those other client testimonial videos that we’ve seen from other brands are actually quite goofy, which is something Slack would never be.

Hip Talking Heads

The video features talking heads of actors who play the staff at the production company who are making this promotional video cut to b-roll of them using Slack to produce this exact same video. It’s a meta-joke that allows Slack to make a client testimonial video and deliver all of the messaging of a traditional client testimonial video while positioning themselves as a hip brand that would never actually make a client testimonial video. With all of the features being used with a comedic, ironic twist.

We see messages going back and forth on screen asking “where are we on the Slack script?” the response “coming along nicely” a third person messages “make sure you show me doing my magic trick”. Almost a full minute later in the video we see someone deliver an earnest message about how they love one of Slack’s feature rounded off with them quickly doing a magic trick before the shot cuts away. At every turn a neat soundbite teaches us something impressive about Slack and is then undercut by a joke. It’s a hilariously choreographed on screen battle between the messages that a marketing department wants in a video and the writers and filmmakers who want to make something cool.

As a piece that I’d describe as a maturely crafted medley of all of the takes that would usually end on the cutting room floor, it’s clear that this video came from both a marketing department and production company that know exactly what needs to be said and appreciate the value of finding new ways to say it.

If you want your promotional video production to make the audience recognise themselves in your brand, or if you want to find more videos of things being blended contact me or Groundbreak Manchester HQ today.

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Video Production

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”.

Creative Nostalgia

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.

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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.

Production

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.

Communication

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.

Shoot Days

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.

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Post Production

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.

Endless Access

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.

Easy Access

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.

Wedding Crasher!

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.

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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.

The 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.

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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.

Initial Thoughts

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.

Creative Opportunity

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.

Great Minds

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.

Powerful Collaboration

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.

The 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.

First Draft

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.

Be Bold

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.

Continuous Evolution

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.

Storyboarding

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.

Casting

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.

Dedication

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.

Studio Shoot

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.

Location Scouting

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.

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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.

Hero 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.

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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.

Producing

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.

Animated Videos

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.

Wondrous VFX

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.

Editing Video

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.

Kick-Ass Cutter

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.

Collaborative Notes

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.

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Music

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

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.

Colour Grading

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.

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Final Delivery

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.

Passionate Creatives

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.

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Becoming one of the best animation companies in Manchester

Animation – Limited By Imagination

Animation, as with most things in the video production world, is an incredibly expansive topic. 2D animation, 3D animation, Stop Motion animation and Visual Effects are four of the main categories. However, within each category there are so many different styles of animation achievable that it would be impossible to count.

The simple reason for this is that animation in this day and age is limited only by one thing, imagination. As Pixar mastermind John Lasseter has stated in their philosophy, “Art challenges technology, and technology inspires Art.” What John is referring to here is that in order to create the next level of animation, whatever that may be, there needs to be the tools available to realise whatever vision the animation team have in mind, therefore pushing the technical side of animation forward to enable these visions. In turn, as new animation techniques are made possible by this technology, it opens doors to the previously impossible, inspiring artists to push the boundaries even further, thus creating a looping cycle of progression and ever-increasingly incredible animation.

My First Animated film

The animation techniques and possibilities we have today are simply beyond anything I would have imagined possible as a youngster, as I took frame after frame of plastic toys and figurines in my bedroom with my ~1megapixel webcam, creating what can only be described as some of the worst stop motion animation created by anyone (we all start somewhere). Now, we can create completely photorealistic animation that is near indistinguishable from real life. Literally creating anything our imaginations can concoct. This freedom to explore and create without boundaries is a sense of escapism in a way, even illuminating a footpath into the inconceivable for many a viewer.

Given the right idea, the right footpath, an animator can choose to completely ignore the laws of physics and the natural world, dazzle with interesting sequences of satisfying nonsense, embrace the weird, even draw tears. We’ve all welled up at the latest Disney feature, and self-admittedly, at the innocent eyes of a particular animated excitable dragon.

Animated Explainer Videos

With all that being said, animation isn’t always completely about being as creative as possible, it’s also an excellent functional medium for explainer videos. Providing an ability to break down complex information in an easy-to-understand, visual format that can often trump live action filming.

Quite often, we also combine the two! Compositing animated sequences with live action footage can bring these scenes to life by giving an additional element of style, or enhancing them completely. This spans from the simplest addition of animated motion graphics to a corporate video, through to creating out-of-this-world CG fuelled Hollywood blockbusters.

We created the animated explainer video below for our wonderful client OurPeople. It showcases how creative, informative and engaging this type of explainer video can be. It’s functional, yet absorbing.

Groundbreak Productions has became one of the top animation companies in Manchester through constantly exercising our imaginations, immersing ourselves in the technologies available, spending hours and hours on a shot or scene only to step back, look at it, and delete everything to start again fresh. Not to mention, perhaps most importantly, collaborating with the best talent available in the country.

Animation in all its forms is a deep, deep passion of ours. We will continue to expand our own limits, push our imaginations, and find clients who share our vision of creating unique and standout video and animation content. This passion and constant immersion is how I believe we have become one of the best video production companies in Manchester. 

You can see some of our animated creations here.

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2019 Groundbreak Round-Up

Our Year of Video Production

It’s certainly been a chaotic, rewarding, funny, crazy, exhilarating, challenging and memorable year in the world of video production at one of Manchester’s best production agencies. There have been ups and downs highs and lows, but above all we’ve had the opportunity to create some outstanding video content for our wonderful clients. The great thing about our clients is they give us creative freedom more often than not. This means we get to express ourselves in our video productions. Whether it’s a TV Commercial production, corporate video content, animation or visual effects. There’s always an engaging way to create content if you have the freedom to come up with an interesting concept. As a video production company that thrives off a challenging brief, we just want to create bigger and bolder content that inspires and pushes boundaries. We’ve certainly done that in 2019 and it will be more of the same in 2020!

Best Video Production Awards and Nominations

2019 has been a real success for awards. A handful of videos we’ve created this year helped large agency campaigns win prestigious awards. We’ve also had a lot of joy with best video awards directly ourselves. This is always our favourite type of recognition because it’s simply about video production which is what we’re all about. We won ‘Best Video’ award at the esteemed European Office Product Awards for this printer commercial earlier this year which was a great kick start to the calendar. We’ve also attended the Prolific North awards and the MPA inspiration awards as finalists for ‘Best Video’ awards for some of the commercials we produced this year. It’s always a good night out at the ceremonies whether we win or not. We always feel privileged to be there amongst the best video production companies in the UK. Hopefully with a bit of luck, a huge amount of hard work and a touch of creativity we’ll find ourselves at more award ceremonies next year!

Clients old and new

It’s been a great year for partnering with new and exciting clients and agencies from many different sectors, which in turn has helped our video portfolio become even more diverse than last year. That’s saying something as we’re most certainly not a one trick pony here at Groundbreak. Client retention’s been as strong as ever with collaborations with all our key clients at some point in 2019. We’ve even had a few of our older clients who we created video content for many years ago contact us again to work together this year. And as ever, expecting excellence in their new productions. Of course, we happily obliged.

Video Production Needs

Some clients need regular content every month, others need a couple of TV commercials a year. And then there are a few who only want corporate videos every few years because they have a new product or service, they want to show the world. I’ve learned to not take it personally if we don’t hear from a client in a while. They have their own journey to travel just like us. One thing though that always reassures me is that all of our clients come back to us for their video production needs at some point. That’s the great thing about repeat business and it works both ways of course. If we consistently raise the bar in both the video content, we create and the way in which we collaborate with our clients. Ensuring it’s an enjoyable and successful partnership for all then I suppose why wouldn’t they come back? One thing is for sure. We understand that we wouldn’t be here without our clients. They’re the oxygen to our flame. We couldn’t be groundbreaking without them. They give us the briefs and the trust to go out and create something special. So, thanks very much to all of you!

Groundbreak Productions Team and Crew

None of the awards or outstanding video productions and animations would be possible without our fantastic in-house team of original thinkers. I’m incredibly proud of everyone in the Groundbreak team. The hard graft they all put in without even considering what day of the week it is or how long they’ve been creating for. The beautiful end products they create which gives us the strong reputation we have built. Not only are they colleagues but also good friends who are all decent human beings that care passionately about video production, but more importantly the truly important things in life. I couldn’t do it without them, so thank you very much.

Last but not least the freelance crew we collaborate with all year round who devote their time, energy and enthusiasm to help us deliver astounding videos. We create content with many specialists from storyboard artists and sound recordists to 3d animators and sound designers. We always work with the best people and I think it shows in our video content.

It’s been a magical year and I’m excited for what’s around the corner in 2020. We already have some phenomenal video productions in the pipeline that I simply can’t wait to get stuck into. Many concepts signed off and shoot dates booked in and numerous Animations in development. It’s going to get hectic all over again before you know it so enjoy your Christmas holiday while you still can…

If you have any video production needs in the New Year and would like to collaborate with a team of creatives who not only love what they do but are also great fun to work alongside then please get in touch.

Happy New Year!

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A Parent’s Guide to Video Production this Christmas

Christmas Videos

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s cold. You’re sick. There is palpable anxiety in the crisp air. Cortisol courses through your veins like the biting wind that knives your cheeks. Weary, worn, weather-beaten you march on. The faceless frenetic crowd, apathetic, brush and bump you. Broken, you look but do not see. Dazzled, dazed, dizzy. Names, numbers, numbness. This is the Boots 3 for 2 Christmas sale. Will my nan actually use a No7 Electric Nights eye palette? Is my niece 4 or 12? Is my brother still with that girl? These are not the only urgent questions that require an answer. Is it possible to shoot a good video of my daughter’s Nativity play without using the best video production company in Manchester?

Capturing a Nativity Video

Social media video has fast become the only widely accepted documentation of verifiably accurate events, so there is growing pressure on parents to capture the hallmark moments of their child’s lives. A school’s annual nativity play, far from being anything that could be misconstrued as enjoyable, is instead a tense test of your video production skills.

Below is a reasonably comprehensive guide to creating the best possible video production to show that you love your child more than other people love theirs.

What Equipment Do I Need For Filming?

Most schools don’t allow cinema grade camera equipment or full-scale video production crews on their premises. I’ve tried but I’ve been turned away and things have gotten physical. Take it from me it’s not going to happen and you’re going to miss two days of your advent calendar locked in a cell. You’re going to have to shoot this thing on your phone.

If you are somebody who shoots video on your phone portrait rather than landscape, then it’s a statistical certainty that you are irreparably mentally ill and you should stop reading this and seek help.

Those of you who are left I recommend setting your camera app to Pro mode so you can familiarise yourself with manually adjusting white balance, ISO and focus. If this sounds dull or alienating fear not. You’ll get good bang for your buck by setting your camera to auto and tapping on the thing you want to be in focus on the screen. Shot composition is more important than your equipment on this production.

Shot List for the Best Christmas Video Production

Framing is key. Instinctively you’re going to crane and contort yourself in an effort to have your child front and centre of your frame while doing as much as you can to not compromise the shots of rest of the crew (other parents). In all likelihood you won’t have arrived early enough to secure spots on the front row. The pushy stage parents camp out the night before, anyway. Your child is already quietly baffled that everyone is now calling the dinner hall Bethlehem and, while children are merrily compliant enough to go along with this conceit so long as they get to put a tea towel on their head, the whole construct may fall down when they see their entire family sat in a row forcibly grinning, menacingly nodding and grotesquely mouthing a song that everyone else is actually singing. So, the front row is not advised. File in somewhere within rows 3-5 and aim for something central. The aisle is good but be mindful that there may be processions down the aisle during the performance. This would leave you with a very sharp pan* to follow the action from behind you, all along the aisle and on to the stage as I found out one disastrous harvest festival.

Being a little set back from the stage and relatively central is going to allow you to concentrate on capturing two key shots. One is the mid-shot. Frame your child up from the waist with a little head room at the top of shot. This squarely places your child as the focus of the shot but leaves plenty of clearance to ensure that you capture any erratic movements or over-zealous gesticulating. If your child is in one of the minor roles which I’ve seen range from the traditional donkey, through to the post-modern badger, you can crop in for a close up. In my experience the children who make up the wider cast of non-human mammals tend to be largely stationary except for the big musical numbers during which they may walk ill-rhythmically in a circle around the presumably terrified baby Jesus.

The second shot for the perfect nativity video production this Christmas is the wide. You should aim to capture the whole stage during the big set pieces that include all of the children. Used sparingly this shot gives a sense of the mise-en-scène as well the scale of the production which when watched back in the following years will be awe-inspiring or humbling for your child depending on the budget of the production.

For the Best Video Only Shoot the Best Bits

With either of the above two key shots there is something, or rather someone, to be aware of. He – it is usually though not always a boy – is pale faced with manic eyes, the teeth of his grin are as spaced out as his demeanour and his hair is brushed forward. You’re going to want to identify this child within the first few seconds of the play. Spot him before you spot your own child. It will pay dividends.

This child is what makes a nativity play. He is a key stage 2 psychopath. He is the wild maverick who, unfettered by the script or innate rationality, will lash out and create the moment that everyone will remember about the production. It is your job to keep him in shot where you can or have one eye on where he is at all times ready to frame him up in a split second. When he becomes restless and irritable is usually a good indicator that he’s about to go nuclear. It’ll start small. He’ll shout to the other children using their real name instead of their character name, he’ll tell the wisemen to “hurry up” when they’re following the star or he’ll loudly repeat that there is “no room at the inn” even though we’re well in to the third act and he’s playing a cow. But it will build.

He’ll start to wander around the stage aimlessly. Seemingly innocently. This is the moment. As he stalks through Bethlehem he will come to a natural pause. His gaze will fix and an eerie calm will swim across his smile. This is the moment. Train your camera on him, check your battery levels and steel yourself because this is it. At a minimum he will bounce a tambourine off a teaching assistant’s head. I’ve seen this shot made at 30 yards. Thrilling.

If you’re lucky he’ll take the baby Jesus and use him as a space hopper, singing his own re-written versions of Christmas songs that tell the story of his stepfather’s infidelity rather than that of the “Virgin” Mary. This is gold you cannot afford to miss. Ideally you will have a second roaming cameraman to focus solely on this boy. If your production crew is skeletal or you don’t have a second camera seriously consider buying the school’s DVD version of the Nativity and using your own resources to exclusively shoot this child. You’ll have the same wide, shakily shot version of the Nativity as all the other parents who didn’t read this, but you’ll have a viral video on your hands. Guaranteed.

Editing a Christmas Nativity

Any video production is made the best it can be in post-production. This is a video for social media. You want the edit to be snappy and eye catching. We may have to consider trimming some of the fat of the narrative.

No room at the inn, gold, frankincense and myrrh and the birth of a deity are the bankers. Those scenes have to be in there. The debt-slavery, the 18-year age gap between the 14-year-old Mary and her betrothed Joseph and the infanticidal scenes can be left out. They’re not Gram-able.

If you’re in town you can head into our Manchester office or contact our team and I’ll personally take a look at your rushes and explain how we can help with your Nativity edit. Unless yours is the pale-faced maniacal child. Then there’s nothing we can do to help.

I’m not actually aloud to share the recent nativity play video I created due to copyright and legal reasons. However, you can check out some of my other creations here.

Merry Christmas.

*A pan is a lateral rotation of the camera from a fixed point but can also be used as a substitute for ANY movement of the camera or re-framing of the shot such as a tilt, roll, zoom, dolly, jib or truck depending on how cool you are.

happy man

How Did I Get Into Video Production?

Do You Want a Career in Video Production?

I most certainly didn’t plan a career in video production. The thought never crossed my mind. The truth is I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. Not a clue. All I was interested in as a teenager was sport and most importantly, creative writing. Whether that was poetry or prose, it didn’t matter. I just enjoyed the process and the escapism. Absolute freedom. Putting a pen to paper and writing whatever the hell I wanted was liberating. My handwriting was and still is the laughing stock it deserves to be. To say it was difficult to read would be an understatement. It needed an interpreter. Who cares though? It was the words that mattered as far as I was concerned. I never professed to be a calligrapher like Maeve, our creative director who annoyingly has incredibly elegant handwriting. Thank goodness for computers and fonts for folk like me. More importantly, thank goodness that bad handwriting didn’t hold me back in my video production quest.

Poetry and Mental Health

Some of my poems, especially when I was younger had a dark and abstract theme. Maybe a little too dark at times. I had quite the fight with mental health when I was a teenager and didn’t understand what was going on in my own head. I now look at it as a beautiful, melancholic moment in life that I overcame. In fact, I’m certain it made me a stronger person. Throughout the tough times my pen and paper were always in my pocket and they rescued me from myself. I’m sure many teenagers have issues as they progress through those heady and often cruel years and I was no different, although at the time I was convinced it was only me. I felt alienated and didn’t realise it was all part of the journey of growing up that would eventually lead to happiness. At that point of my life I certainly didn’t entertain the thought I would spend a sizeable chunk of my working life at a fun loving, award winning video production company here in Manchester. Not in my wildest dreams. Poor mental health has a cruel way of sucking all of the ambition and excitement out of you. It stops you dreaming big. It lowers your expectations. It dampens your soul. You can overcome it though!

Why We’re Passionate About Quality Video Production

By my late teens I had done every type of low paid, run-of-the-mill job imaginable. You name it (within reason, of course) and I’d done it. Some were better than others, but when I look back none of them rewarding or particularly enjoyable. They just put a bit of change in my back pocket and paid the rent. I do remember great anxiety in my teens regarding the age-old question of what am I going to do with my life? What is my ambition, my plan? I always responded in the same way. ‘I want to be happy’ and I meant it. That always raised a slightly irritating eyebrow. As if I was supposed to want more. Teachers often asked this question, never my parents. They let me be, and were calm about the big picture. Or at least that was the persona they exuded, but I don’t remember feeling any kind of pressure from them. I think the true relentless pressure always came from myself. I wasn’t particularly bothered about my teachers. I’m incredibly good at giving myself a hard time and expecting the world. I’ve always strived for perfection in whatever I do. Whatever the job, I’m the kind of person that thinks if you’re going to do something then you might as well do it properly and be proud of it. I think that’s why I’m part of one of the best video production companies in Manchester. Our drive at Groundbreak for quality video production stems from my own passion for excellence. Things just mean a lot to me. If I’m involved in something, then it just needs to be great otherwise I’m not interested. Here’s one of our award-winning TV commercial productions ‘crystals’ commercial. I hope you can see the love and passion we put into this for our client. This is what the Groundbreak team are all about. Putting our heart and soul into our productions.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the long term career sense, so I decided the most sensible course of action would be to study English and Creative writing in university. This was a bit of a cop out because I didn’t think it would lead to much, but at least it would give me some direction. I didn’t even know what type of writing I would like to specialise in. When I was forced to choose, poetry was the front runner. Once I’d declared this, I was warned that I’d likely have to move to the Russian federation if I wanted to make a proper career in poetry. Apparently, they take it much more seriously out there. I still don’t have a clue to this day if that is true or not. Maybe they wanted to get rid of me…

Scriptwriting at University

At Uni I was introduced to film and theatre script writing which changed everything. I found to my surprise that I loved them equally as much as poetry. I decided at that moment I’d be a feature film screen writer or staff writer on an awesome prime time TV production as soon as I left uni. I was wrong of course. I did however manage to get my foot in the door of a major broadcaster soon after I graduated. For the first few months I was a glorified brew maker, which wasn’t ideal for a future Hollywood screen writer. I was super enthusiastic though and just got stuck in and because of this my tea making skills were noticed and I started making my way up the ladder. Along with mastering the art of the perfect brew I learned every aspect of video production and television programming during my time as a runner. Finally, I felt like I had a purpose. I was certain this was the industry for me. I flittered around for many years between different broadcasters and video production companies writing, producing and directing. Most importantly, I was learning off some incredibly talented people along the way, many of whom remain great friends to this day. Around this time I had a lot of success with my first indie documentary and that gave me the confidence to take the plunge and form my own Manchester based video production agency. And as they say, the rest is history.

Why We Love Video Production

Everyone has their own path. We all find our own route one way or another. Fortunately, I stumbled across the world of video production and it gave me the opportunity to express myself. I wake up every morning knowing that creativity is going to be an overriding theme of the day. It means everything to me that I’m plying my trade in a creative industry. Having that freedom to think and create on a daily basis. Surrounded by other creatives who all have their own aspirations and personalities but ultimately love creating video content in a fun environment. There can of course be restrictions on the videos we’re creating. But in order to be the best video production company it’s important to find creative ways of getting around the restrictions and challenges. At Groundbreak we all love what we do and treat our work as a vocation. If you can find that vocational mindset then I think it can help you on your way to finding what it is you’re supposed to do. We love all aspects of the production process. From idea shaping an incredibly exciting concept, scripting our latest corporate video production, storyboarding an immersive 3d animation that we have the pleasure of bringing to life, or online grading using the world renowned ‘Da Vinci Resolve’

We will do everything to get the perfect TV commercial look or simply editing a brand film or social video after a long but rewarding shoot. There are certainly more serious and important jobs out there, that’s for sure. However, as a creative, finding something that you enjoy and has endless opportunities in originality and imagination is utopia as far as I’m concerned.

In a way, video production kind of saved me in my adult life just like script writing saved me in my teens. Fate has a funny way of opening doors at just the right time. That’s why I love video production. If you’d like a creative team of decent human beings to work on your next video content project, please bear us in mind or give us a call.

pop art film camera

Video For Social Media

Social Media – Content Is King

What can social media video do for you? As of this year, the average person spends more time browsing social media than catching up on TV and honestly, I was surprised to find that statistic wasn’t true years ago. It’s now more important than ever to be advertising your brand on social media and here at Groundbreak we’re experts at producing social video content that’s optimised for just that!

What Makes Great Social Media Content?

That’s too much of a broad question to answer easily but there are some basics that all film makers will follow to create the best social media videos.

Social media is a fast moving and exciting place, which means the video content we put out has to reflect that. Shorter, visually stunning video content grabs people’s attention. Nowhere is it more important to keep viewers engaged with interesting and exciting videos than on the many social media platforms. By showcasing your brand or product with the best social videos, you create a credible and trustworthy presence in your market.

A Social Media Video Campaign

We recently teamed up with Colab to create a product video for their social media campaign #MoreThanJustPretty. They came to us looking for a fun advert that would not only reflect the attitudes and values of the brand, but also grab the attention of their followers on social media. Take a look at the commercial below. We received amazing feedback from a very happy client and it was a great project to be part of.

Social Video Production Values

Nowadays it’s not unusual for our clients to want us to create a social media video with the same production values as a prime time TV commercial or high-end corporate video content. Just because the output is on social media rather than television it doesn’t mean the end user doesn’t expect quality. A well crafted, slick social video gives off the feeling that the business in question is taking their content seriously. Highlighting that they care. Of course there can be certain occasions were production values don’t matter for social content. Although this is more for friends sharing funny videos of cats and dogs wearing sun glasses or juggling. Rather than businesses sharing their product videos. I’m certain the level of quality video created for brands on social is increasing all the time. It certainly is in my experience anyway. In the future, end users will likely be put off by social videos shared by businesses if they don’t look the part and have a bit of wow factor. The reason for this is that viewers are already inundated with video content and if it doesn’t float their boat immediately then it’s swiped away. In addition, if we’re already overrun with video content then I can only imagine it’s going to increase. This is why so much thought goes into the first 5 seconds of a social video in order to grab the attention of the viewer and hold it. It’s stiff competition.

How Does Engagement Work on Social Media?

Regardless of how many followers you have, quality content can reach thousands, even millions of potential customers if it gets good enagement. How? Well every like, comment, share, Retweet etc. allows your video content to be seen by not just your usual network, but the extended network of the person who has engaged with your content. Each click is opening the door for a whole new audience. So never underestimate the power of social media. We’ve all heard that at least once before, right? Whether we’re talking about someone being reunited with a long lost relative, or a rescue dog finding his forever home, we’ve all seen examples of how these platforms allow us to reach a much greater audience and social video content for your business is no different! You’re only a like away from your next sale!

If you want social media video content for your brand, contact our team today!

Video Production Manchester 0161 962 5455

2d animation production for television

The Groundbreak Autumn Round-up

Celebrating Manchester’s Best Video Production Companies

Here at Groundbreak we can’t believe we’re edging closer to the end of November. What an autumn it’s been already here at Groundbreak HQ. We spent an evening at the MPA inspiration awards last month as one of the best video production companies Manchester has to offer, nominated for best video. We were pipped to the top spot by a BBC collaboration in the end, but still very proud to have one of our commercials up against the biggest players in the industry. It’s two consecutive years now we have been an award nominated finalist at the MPAs for television adverts we’ve produced from concept to final delivery. Video production in Manchester is thriving and here at Groundbreak Productions we are in the thick of it and loving every minute of producing outstanding corporate and commercial videos.

Video Production For Global Brands

Another great achievement this autumn for Groundbreak has been working with a multi-billion-dollar client from over the pond for the first time. Our new client has impeccable standards and expect quality video and perfection with all of their commercials. It involved a large green screen shoot directed by our in-house Director Geoff and produced by our very own Creative Producer Sean along with the rest of the Groundbreak team. We needed a 35-person crew, a RED Helium 8k and two Arri Amira cameras all shooting in synchronicity. Fortunately, the team at Groundbreak like pressure and thrive under that kind of environment. It’s all top secret at the moment but watch this space for the commercial’s release in the new year.

Animated Videos

It’s been a hectic autumn for our post-production team too. We’ve been creating numerous animations both 2d and 3d. We’re putting the finishing touches to a magical 3d animation imagined and realised by our talented Head of Production Matt  for another wonderful client which will be polished and mastered just before winter arrives. Animating this piece was great fun with it being a highly satisfying and captivating style. However, the most fun part was the sound design. We locked ourselves away for a good few days in our post-production studio and created hypnotic sounds that we’re certain will blow the audience away.

One of the many other animations we have recently created is a fun 2d TVC we produced for another client which has just been broadcast. This is a product animation highlighting an exciting range of security products in a fun style that even briefly includes a fire breathing dragon (no, not the John Lewis Advert!). Due to our client’s positivity towards the final video animation we’ve no doubt it will deliver excellent results for them and we look forward to creating the next one.

Winter – A Busy Time For Corporate Videos

We’re always crazy busy at this time of year because many of our clients want to shoot their commercial, corporate or social videos just before their Christmas parties as part of their marketing strategy for the new year.

See you soon and here’s to a fun and productive winter season that’s just around the corner.

Enjoyed this round up? Have a look at our other video production blogs, including behind the scenes stories, equipment reviews and general video production hints and tips !


head shot used for video blog

Memorable TV Commercials

Last week it was my birthday. I won’t specify the exact date as the team at Groundbreak HQ often become quietly frustrated when I am inundated with flowers, chocolates and negligee from well-wishers and fanatics.

Nor will I explicitly state the year that I was born. When I am occasionally pushed for an answer to this question I daintily wither like a debutante southern belle, offer only “the year of the Dragon”, and nod to indicate that that should suffice. 

A further clue would be that I share a birth year with the most consistently ubiquitous voice of Pop since my early teens and po-faced Bajan – Rihanna. Another still is that I am the same age, height and weight as MMA and Dublin’s Conor McGregor, he has ever so slightly better posture than I do which creates the optical illusion that he is in marginally better shape than I am fitness wise. A third clue, a certain giveaway, is that I have the same year of birth as the unrivalled, unparalleled, the absolute definitive ginger wizard of his generation Sir Rupert Grint. 

As true for myself as it is for BadGalRiRi, The Notorious and GinWizWeasley – since we were born, things have changed. When we four were born television advertising in the UK was only 33 years old (I’m quite old, the Berlin wall was still up) and between then and now TV commercials and marketing have changed significantly.

Old TV Advertisements

One thing I remember being confused by as a child were the advertisements that were seemingly for a generic product that was unbranded. Usually for foodstuffs like the famous “go to work on an Egg” ad campaign of the 50s and 60s (long before I was born). Who pays for those ads? Hens? Were they governmental schemes to push egg sales and if so why? Is that what communism is? Where were the adverts for shoes?

“Remember to buy shoes!”

“Shoes! For your feet”

“Slip in to something lacy”

Remember when the League Cup was sponsored by Milk? MILK! Not Alpro, or Dairy Crest or any other brand. Lactose or otherwise this was a huge national football competition that was sponsored Milk. Good old-fashioned Milk direct to you from the Mad Cows of yesteryear. Bizarre.

Here is an ad that was being broadcast during the year that myself, The Fenty founder, The 170 lbs Irish gorilla, and The Venerable Saint Rupert Grint were born. This ad is a TV commercial promoting that most prestigious of products – Pork. The ad encourages families to “lean on Pork”. This pun seems to hint at pork being less fatty than other meats as well as being comparatively economically priced so when the pantry looks bare you can always lean on pork to get you through the week.

Staying with the food theme, although this time overtly branded, this next and equally odd video features current spouse of the fabulously tyrannical Rupert Murdoch and mother to four of Mick Jagger’s children Jerry Hall. She turns to camera as the narrator whose voice sounds like he is newly recovered from inhaling some water asks us “Are you a Bovril Body?”

Jerry with the sensual air of someone who has never been asked a more reasonable and enticing question answers “With 20 calories a cup, naturally”. She then takes a sip from a double handled, fine china and (one would guess) antique, Bovril cup.

There and then as a babe in my mother arms I unlatched from her breast. Screaming, I declared that milk was for sponsoring football tournaments and overweight people – I was to have a Bovril Body! In the (few) decades since, I have drank Bovril and Bovril only. Another striking similarity between myself and the two-weight world champion Conor McGregor as I’m told he does the same when cutting weight before fights. A marketing triumph.

The above ads are examples of commercial productions that were still in their broadcast cycle when I was born. However, the following and final ad actually debuted in the very same Tibetan year of the Female Fire Rabbit as I did. In a harrowing prophecy of my retirement this commercial features an 80-year-old jogger Walt Stack. He is running over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge topless. As he runs he tells us that he runs 17 miles every morning. He then tells us that people ask him how he keeps his teeth from chattering in the winter time. “I leave ‘em in my locker” Walt quips and runs on by, the guy is a maverick. Walt, as astounding and virile an octogenarian as I’m sure he was, is not the star of this ad. The true star is what follows next. A logo and a super.

“Just do it. NIKE”

This was the very first* usage by Nike of “Just do it.” It was pitched to Nike by a marketing executive who reportedly came up with it by repurposing the last words of a murderer who uttered “Just do it” to the firing squad that were braced in anticipation ahead of him in his last moments.

The flippancy, the attitude, the simplicity, the singularity of focus and determination, the inspiration, the hope, the unsympathetic self-belief of the phrase has entranced and resonated with us ever since. From that day to this, from an 80-year-old jogger running 17 miles because he can to NFL and Nike athlete Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for his national anthem to this day in protest of the treatment of minorities in the US, Nike have found moving stories and branded them. How does an 80-year-old man run 17 miles a day? How can an athlete have the courage to lose his job and millions of dollars to stand up for what he believes in? In the first case and the second, which was heavily marketed by Nike to mark the anniversary of the phrase in 2018, the answer is the same – Just do it.

The birth of a truly iconic and globally successful symbol within the world of advertising… as well the birth of Nike’s Just do it. A fine year of the dragon indeed.

*Not the first use of “Just do it” by any brand. Two years before Nike’s campaign Britain’s very own Weetabix had an ad that could not have been more of its time. Featuring animated characters that made up the Weetagang dancing through dark city streets, a bespoke rock ballad extolls the virtues of a filling breakfast and even squeezes in a brief sax solo, the pavement flags light up as the characters step on them, the song and the ad end when the characters jump in to a billboard Weetabix ad and the singer shout-sings “Wake up with Weetabix… and just do it.” We now know what really kept Walt Stack running 17 miles every morning.

chair featuring in video blog

The Story About The Chair

Seamless Video Production

We take some things for granted. We’re supposed to. When things are well-designed they are supposed to appear entirely innocuous, borne of nature, as though they have lain there for time immemorial and we have appeared among them rather than them among us. This is not only true of physical designs. In video production good sound design can, and is often intended to go unnoticed. A well-crafted visual transition can be so seamless that the viewer stays immersed in the film and unaware of a cut and similarly, production design can often be taken for granted. Even when not subtle or naturalistic, set design and props can be easily overlooked if they are executed well in a video. Whether a set is intended to meticulously represent an actual place and time, or to create an entirely ethereal and symbolic space, if it is well designed we readily accept the world that we are presented with and all things within it. We go to that world without much thought for the strenuous labour of the set builders, prop buyers or production designers. Sourcing props is definitely not work that deserves to go unnoticed, even if it is intended to, as I can personally attest.

Sourcing Props

My friends and family have grown used to seeing me become increasingly incensed at inanimate objects. Worse still, inanimate objects that are not present. In fact, them not being present is exactly what enflames me. I can be heard listing things I need to do, locate or acquire for a project and inevitably the list dips in to the ludicrous at the end with a flourish. The list starts quite normally. “I need to book a soundie, arrange catering, talk to the wardrobe supervisor and find-” now this is where the list becomes vaguely bizarre in perfect synchronicity with my cadence becoming distinctly manic. The point at which I say “find” is usually a good indicator that my to do list is about to go awry and I’m going to sound a little panicky. Below are some examples taken from my real life. Verbatim.

“I need to book a soundie, arrange catering, talk to the wardrobe supervisor and find-

  • A dozen gymnasts
  • A Mother of Pearl dressing table
  • A church that will let us shoot a blasphemous music video for an Australian political party
  • A Dalmatian
  • An ice truck
  • 12 pews [I found the church but it didn’t have pews. The Director wanted pews]
  • Two snakes
  • A chair

A chair. Or ‘The Chair’ as my friends would call it when enquiring “how’s work? How’s it going with The Chair?” “Have you sorted The Chair?” or “I heard shouting. Is it The Chair?” It’s the most benign sounding item on the list but as with all things on the list the challenge is twofold, first in finding a very specific chair/Dalmatian/dressing table and secondly in finding it yesterday. So having it delivered today! This chair was very specific and very time sensitive. We needed a black leather armchair with a brass frame and we needed it by Sunday. Today was Friday. Both myself and a Production Assistant called furniture shops, prop hire companies and set designers all to no avail. We turned to a little known, secret industry resource called Google. We found chairs that were 2 out of 3 combinations of black leather, brass frame and available to be delivered on Sunday but none that were all 3. The Chair Triumvirate alluded us for hours. We persevered but started to consider alternative options as the possibility of us finding THE chair dwindled. It was suggested to me that we could use one of the chairs that was available to collect and of a similar design and paint the frame and leather to make it the right colours. I applauded the ingenuity and dynamic approach to solving the problem (it was less patronising and The Apprentice-y than it sounds) but said I it could never work. I know Directors and clients are very prescriptive with set design briefs. They want what they want, and we MUST find it.

I had an idea. It was not fool-proof but we were nearing the deadline and, as my tattoo reads, momma ain’t raise no fool. We would purchase the exact chair that we wanted but had thought impossible to have on set on time. I would then arrange a same day courier to collect the chair directly from the distribution depot, in Kent, and bring it directly to set, in Manchester, the client would love it and I would relax somewhere near the snack table and enjoy the shoot. It wasn’t an ideal plan but it was by no means a hare-brained scheme. It was certainly more straightforward than the plan to acquire the Mother of Pearl dressing table which involved me personally collecting it directly from the manufacturer… in Karachi. The Chair was approved by the client and Director and purchased. I arranged a courier to collect The Chair on Saturday morning and deliver it directly to set that same day, a whole day before we needed it. There was some back and forth arranging security access for the courier to be able to get the chair from the collection point but it was all arranged and I slept well on Friday night.

The chair was to be delivered to the shoot location before 6pm on the Saturday. I’d sent an email double checking the booking and that all was well at 8am. I’d received an email confirming that I should relax and enjoy a Saturday morning just as I would any other – being beaten up and mocked by my daughter. At 5:50pm I called the courier to confirm that the chair had been delivered. The lady on the phone sounded trepidatious. She said she would give me the driver’s phone number. This never happens. You can beg and plead for the driver’s number. You never get the driver’s number. I became stricken with panic. “Is there a problem with the delivery?” I asked in an unexpectedly high-pitched voice. My daughter mocked me. “You can talk to the driver” the lady said. In hindsight, I only wish the courier company could have passed The Chair to me as quickly as she passed the buck to the driver. I called the driver and asked him if he had delivered the chair. He told me “they were closed” I asked him that if the shoot location was closed would he to deliver it directly to my house and asked if he was still in the area. He said, “no the distribution centre was closed.” He hadn’t collected The Chair. The driver had arrived to collect the chair at 4:30pm. Thirty minutes after the distribution centre had closed. He had planned, in a daring feat, to collect the chair at 4:30pm in Kent and deliver it before 6:00pm in Manchester, a bold bordering on moronic attempt at bending space and time that if achieved would have been a remarkable leap in travel technology and human evolution but was in actuality a monumentally cretinous catastrophe that I seldom needed.

I calmly walked out into the garden to take stock/bare knuckle attack my punch bag. I called the distribution centre. An automated message told me they were closed until Monday morning at 8am. I gently sobbed. My daughter mocked me. I called the Director and explained. There was a potential solution. While the shoot started on Sunday the scene that we needed The Chair for wasn’t scheduled until Monday at around lunch time. I spoke to another courier and asked if they could be at the door of the distribution centre coiled and ready to spring in to action the second it opened. They assured me that they could have the chair loaded on a van and hurtling towards me by no later than 08:05am on Monday, that depending on traffic they could have it with me by around 1pm and that their driver had no ambitions as a scholar of paradoxical time/space continuum equations. I spent the rest of the day preparing the final things for the shoot. I just needed to book a soundie, arrange catering, talk to the wardrobe supervisor and find a 4ft x 4ft mirror, a white coffee table that could double as a bench and a 20ft x 20ft roll of flooring and The Chair. I slept less well on Saturday night.

The first day of the shoot, Sunday, came and went and while it went very well it still didn’t have The Chair. Sunday night I dreamt of arriving home to find that I was too late and my house was closed so I had to live outside with nothing but a chair. Vans circled me. I cowered. My daughter mocked me. I woke on Monday and called the courier immediately and asked for the driver’s number so I could harangue him and ensure that he collected the chair on time. They wouldn’t give me his number. I felt confident in this company. I drove to the shoot stopping only to change a tyre because the gods felt that my morning was evidently not stressful enough. The talent on this shoot were only available to be on set for one hour. In one hour we had to shoot numerous ads as well as stills photography and social media spots. We also had no idea when they would arrive and when the hour would start. We knew only that it would be after lunch. If the chair arrived before then I could proudly take my place near the snack table, if not then there would be no opportunity for waiting around, the hour countdown would start whether The Chair was there or not and we would not be able to shoot that ad. These immovable facts whirred in my mind as I changed my tyre with my phone perched on my shoulder calling the courier. The Chair had been collected. Depending on traffic I was going to sleep very well that night.

Lunch time approached. The mirrors arrived, the bench arrived, the flooring arrived. The talent arrived. The 60-minute countdown began. I frantically called the courier. They would absolutely not give me the driver’s number. I was impressed. They called me back. The driver had arrived! He had handed the chair over to someone at reception! I asked someone to run and collect it quickly while the talent were in make-up. Minutes before the talent arrived on set the chair was rushed in and put in place. The talent, a 6ft 3 inch footballer, walked on set and immediately dwarfed The Chair. It looked like a toy. The Director and Client had a quiet chat. I gently sobbed. My daughter was at nursery. It was decided that The Chair was too small.

Despite my stress and anguish and logistical prowess being utterly worthless I would sleep well that night. For while I was attacking a punch bag or changing a tyre or being mocked, the Production Assistant had arranged for the purchase and collection (from Wigan, very close to Manchester) of a chair that was of a similar design to the chair in the brief and had the Set Builder paint the frame and leather to make it the right colours. The Director and Client loved it.

Of course, I had known of this contingency plan and I had known that regardless of what happened we would solve the problem (The Chair WAS delivered on time.) I knew that we’d give the client the shoot they’d imagined in their brief. That never stopped me endeavouring to achieve plan A while working equally hard on plan B but the real moral of the story is that the work of a good Set Builder should NEVER go unnoticed!