As a corporate producer, you probably have more control of the filming. Unlike weddings, each company's video will be vastly different from others you shoot. Some will involve actors, either pros or employees; some will be talking-head shoots where you simply aim your camera at a lecturer and insert his or her slides during editing. Unlike weddings, expect your client to join you in the edit suite and plan on plenty of graphics and plenty of changes.
Creating the Treatment
As a video producer, you'll be responsible for developing a script, or at least helping the client write a script. Prior to writing the script, it's a good idea to get your proposal or outline approved by the client. The industry calls that document a "treatment."
In most cases, a treatment is written in paragraph form. It spells out your ideas (or your client's ideas) in written format in the sequence that the script will follow. The treatment describes all the visual elements and will help get you and your client on the same page (literally) before shooting begins, which most likely will result in fewer changes later on. It's much easier to write subsequent drafts of a treatment than a script.
Developing the Script
When the treatment is approved and it comes time to develop the script, consider hiring a professional scriptwriter, if you have a large enough budget. Unlike actors or production coordinators, your scriptwriters need not live in your city; they can send you script drafts via email, and you can provide them with all the support materials that way too. Choose a scriptwriter who has corporate video experience, rather than a technical writer or a fiction writer. While you may be tempted to hire a feature film writer, you may be disappointed with the process unless that person has experience with documentary or educational film scriptwriting.
Your scriptwriter, or you, will develop the concepts and script ideas with someone in the communication, marketing, or public relations department of your corporate client. This person may be the one to actually write the script, but make sure the two of you work together on this stage in the process.
Your video skills can add the creative touch that can move a corporate production from boring to breathtaking. In some cases, in-house writers will give you a document they call a "script" that is simply the audio portion of a script without the visuals. That's where your visualizing skills come in handy. Your challenge will be to find scenes at the client's office or plant that you can film to illustrate what the text of the script says.
Don't hesitate to offer suggestions on entirely different concepts to communicate the scriptwriter's ideas. For example, a brief dramatization with actors
or a news-style approach could add life to an otherwise dull script.
Choosing the Talent
Unlike a wedding, corporate videos frequently involve actors, or at least employees appearing on camera. You may need to hire professional talent; if that
is the case, find out if the company for which you are producing the video is a union shop. If so, go to SAG or AFTRA, the two national talent unions, to find your actors. Check with the local stagehands union (sometimes IATSE) to fill crew positions.
If the company is not unionized, you can probably find talent by placing an ad or through a local theater group. Be sure to get video clips of the proposed actors and send them to your client so they can select the look they want to represent their company.
You may find yourself taking on the task of directing nonprofessional talent in the form of employees at the company for which you are producing the video. Hopefully, they will need only to perform their own job roles on camera, rather than act out a dramatic scene.
When my company produced a call center training video for Clorox Co. several years ago, employees took on the roles of the customer service representative and of the customer calling in. The simulated phone conversations were brief and simple, which made the production go much more smoothly than it might have otherwise. On the other hand, my first freelance gig was a video for a hospital (my former employer). When the doctor, who was my client, wanted to be the on-camera spokesperson, I should have said no. I wrote the script, he memorized it, and he came off stiff and unrealistic.
If your budget allows, you may be able to hire an assistant for yourself in the form of a production coordinator. The production coordinator can schedule filming dates, arrange location logistics, take care of union issues, and perform myriad other tasks so you can focus on being creative. While professional production coordinators, who work in television and feature films, may not wish to work with your minimal budget, others will welcome the work. A good project manager or office organizer may be able to take on this role too.
A well-organized person can handle such tasks as ordering meals, arranging for releases to be signed, finding locations for vehicle loading and parking, and making arrangements with security. A good coordinator is nimble enough to handle any contingencies that may come up during the shooting days. Depending on the budget, you may have to take that role on yourself.
The corporate video producer may need to cozy up to the IT staff in order to obtain adequate bandwidth for streaming video over the company's network. With so many other departments competing for the limited network resource, IT may require you to compress your final video down to a level you may not like.
Ironically, video quality over corporate networks can be lower than video distributed via your own website or over YouTube.
It's best if you can hire an editor to cut the video, and you can supervise postproduction yourself. Unfortunately, some of your client's staff members may want to sit in the edit suite or even bring a colleague or two. That's where they think "the magic happens," and they may want the thrill of being present during this process. If possible, early on, explain that you will be sending proofs as you proceed with the edit, and they will be able to view them from the comfort of their own offices where they can provide you with direction for changes.
Another consideration during postproduction is that you may be using a workstation networked to a server. Your video files could be linked to other departments' assets such as text files, PowerPoint slides, and databases. It's important to create a system for naming and organizing your files so you can access them quickly.
The Corporate Video Producer's Checklist
Here is a checklist that can help you cover all your bases when you take on the challenging role of corporate video producer:
1. Locate the corporate decision maker.
2. Identify the need or problem to be solved.
3. Write a proposal, including budget.
4. Secure finances.
5. Set up planning meetings, a focus group, or a brainstorming session.
6. Develop and obtain approvals for the concept, treatment, and script.
7. Hire your cast and crew.
8. Arrange the shooting location and secure use
9. Obtain permits and permissions.
10. Schedule and perform the shoot.
11. Log your footage and create an edit decision list (EDL).
12. Supervise postproduction.
13. Obtain management's approval of video.
14. Finalize the video, encode it, and distribute it.
15. Evaluate the video.
As the video producer, it's your responsibility to manage the video production from script development through postproduction and distribution. Be prepared
to meet with the communication staff members of the company and maybe even the CEO. You'll supervise the camera crew and talent, and you'll be responsible for the logistics of location filming. Your creative eye, your encouraging coaching abilities, and your strong organizing skills can help your team craft a video that will help the company realize its goals, whether it is selling more widgets or preventing employee accidents. Your video productions may outlive you, and they can be your contribution to the continued success of the organization.
Stuart Sweetow (sweetow at avconsultants.com) is the author of the recently published book Corporate Video Production. He runs Oakland, Calif.-based video production company Audio Visual Consultants. He taught video production at UC Berkeley Extension, was associate editor of Wedding and Event Videography, and was a contributing editor to Camcorder & Computer Video magazine.