After Stu Sweetow and I agreed to terms on his new corporate video column, The Company Image, which kicks off this month, we started brainstorming titles. He immediately sent me a list of ideas he’d submitted as potential taglines for his just-published book from Focal Press, Corporate Video Production. The book team ultimately settled on the tagline Beyond the Board Room (and Out of the Bored Room), but the near misses that landed on the cutting-room floor will give you a great sense of what this well-wrought and richly informative book is all about:
• The Image of the Corporation Is in Your Hands
• Shooting the CEO
• Not Your Father’s Corporate Video
• A New Generation of Creativity in Corporate Media
• Corporations on YouTube (or Social Media)
• Corporate Events, Training and Marketing
• The Impact of the Internet on the Enterprise
The official relationship between corporate video and wedding video was traditionally an uneasy one. Wedding videography was creative but semi-pro in gear, budget, and attitude, said the conventional wisdom, and corporate videography was more respectable with its higher-end gear and better-defined pricing structure, but it was stiff, constrained, and programmatic in content.
If these stereotypes made some sense 5–10 years ago, they really don’t hold up well today, and, of course, the wedding videographer/corporate videographer dichotomy tends to obscure the fact that some of the most prominent filmmakers identified with the wedding world—Dave Williams, Ron Dawson, and Patrick Moreau—also ply their trade on the corporate side and do much (or most, in Dawson’s case) of their finest work in that arena.
Stuart Sweetow, a longtime contributor to both EventDV and WEVA’s magazines, has maintained a connection to the wedding and social event world through his writing while working primarily in other types of live event production and, particularly, the corporate world for the last quarter century. And while Corporate Video Production is not about wedding filmmakers succeeding in corporate video per se, it’s a terrific guidebook for filmmakers and videographers who have honed their shooting, editing, and business chops in other areas of professional production and who want to make inroads into the corporate world. And as Sweetow’s suggested taglines suggest, his book is very much about doing corporate work that leverages all the media that convey commercial messages most effectively in today’s business world.
Sweetow’s book begins with the telling line, “Corporate video has come of age.” He proceeds from there to discuss the ways that corporations are adapting to a Web 2.0 world and the way video productions and producers fit into those strategies.
The book kicks off with a series of concise case studies illustrating the breadth and range of projects afoot in the corporate video space. But for EventDV readers, the heart of the book will be found in subsequent chapters on how to establish yourself as an independent video production company in the corporate space; how to address specific areas of corporate video project development, including how to propose and budget corporate projects; how to assemble and manage production teams, develop scripts, and cast and direct actors; and how to handle legal considerations specific to corporate video projects.
Although Sweetow includes quite a bit of information on setting up a business that may be old hat for those who already have successful businesses but are looking to diversify them by adding corporate work, his section on Requests for Proposals and Requests for Qualifications addresses specific issues that probably don’t come up much in the wedding world, even if there are obvious parallels there.
Sweetow offers insight on the nitty-gritty of the proposal process that comes only with extensive experience booking and completing corporate projects: “Plan on including the resumes of the subcontractors you wish to hire, such as camera operator, sound recordist, and editor. … You probably will need to provide a copy of your city and state business licenses and a certificate of insurance. Some may even ask for your last three years’ tax returns! The proposal may require you to include a timeline for completion, and you may have to provide details of each of the processes you plan to undertake.” Sweetow also includes some sample proposals that essentially comprise their own chapter in the book, and they’re well worth it, although for readers who plan to read this book cover to cover, they might have been better located in an appendix.
Still, this is essential stuff, if not the kind of material that is likely to get you excited about the brave new world of corporate video in the online age. But the chapters on developing corporate projects from budgeting to scriptwriting to crewing, casting, directing, and producing ought to light a fire under anyone who takes the “filmmaker” part of “event filmmaker” seriously. Granted, we’re generally referring to vision and artistry when we differentiate documenting an event from creating a film from it, but if wearing all those filmmaking hats (or wearing some and delegating others according to semi-traditional film-crew division of labor) and participating in all the integral processes of producing a scripted, casted, and crewed film are among your filmmaking aspirations, Sweetow attests that opportunities abound in the corporate production world.
My favorite chapter sequence in the book includes the back-to-back “The Role of the Producer in Corporate Video” and “Directing Corporate Videos,” wherein Sweetow does a great job of explaining all the tasks that go with being the producer of a corporate project (planning to scripting to production), whether as an independent studio or part of an in-house team.
Then, in the directing chapter, he tells readers what they need to know and what they need to watch out for whether the on-screen “talent” they’re directing includes professional actors or employees of the corporation they’re serving. I was fascinated by Sweetow’s delineation of two different directorial styles, “creative” and “selective,” as they apply to corporate video. “The director who employs a ‘selective’ style lets the talent select their own interpretations of the script and create their own movements and other staging. Working together with the talent as a team, they review the program objectives as well as the demographics of the target audience. … The ‘creative’ director develops his own visualization of the script and directs talent to fulfill the director’s interpretation of how scenes should be performed. … A good creative director knows what concepts will work for the particular audience and can mold the video into an engaging and effective presentation.”
Especially informative is the section of the directing chapter called Shooting the CEO, in which he acknowledges that when working with top-level executives at a corporation, even directors who generally locate themselves in the “creative” camp will likely need to relinquish some control and play the “selective” role. “The director can be creative in producing a roll-in to the CEO’s section, determining B-roll shots to illustrate the CEO’s talk, and creating the set, backgrounds, and staging. In some cases the CEO may let the director make all the decisions, but in most cases the CEO and one of his or her assistants will want to call the shots.”
Sweetow goes on to note how different corporate cultures will often determine the vibe of a CEO interview—formal or casual—while in other cases, simply the age of the CEO will dictate the style. “One problem,” he notes, “could be the older CEO who wants to change his image and be ‘one of the guys’ or the young newcomer who wants a formal image despite his discomfort with that demeanor. Preproduction meetings with the executive’s assistant or the company’s public relations department can help you determine the best approach.”
This section also includes great material on setup and lighting, the likelihood of such interviews occurring on location rather than in the producer’s studio, framing issues and shot variation, wardrobe and makeup, and all manner of other details that should prepare any reader thoroughly for this phase of a corporate project. This is the kind of thing Sweetow does a terrific job on throughout the book.
Other highlights include a chapter on “Aesthetic Considerations” such as shooting and adorning your film in a way that reflects and complements a company’s branding, creative camerawork and motion, continuity, composition issues such as rule of thirds, greenscreen, as well as lighting and art direction and set design. Sweetow also includes a fine chapter on “Shooting and Editing for the Enterprise” that focuses primarily on cameras, camera support, and other production gear (touching on removable lenses, always a popular topic in these parts), audio (including issues with that pesky 700 MHz wireless spectrum), and working with light meters, monitors, and scopes, which are among the perks of working outside the run-and-gun event world. Sweetow also gets into postproduction processes and equipment in this chapter, sharing insight on video codecs and compression, hardware acceleration and its impact on editing, storage options, keying/compositing, filters and effects, multicam editing, and more.
Sweetow also includes sections on different types of applications for corporate video, such as training, conferences, and corporate meetings, and working with nonprofits (that is, doing for-profit work for nonprofits). But where Sweetow really delivers on his promise to discuss corporate video in the context of contemporary web-driven communications and marketing is in chapters on “Marketing and Social Media” and “Video Distribution.” As he points out at the outset of his YouTube for the Enterprise section, “Have you visited YouTube lately? It’s more than just human skateboards and iPhones in blenders. Corporations have embraced the home-brewed social network and are gaining customers without paying for airtime.”
So where do you, as an independent video producer marketing your services in the corporate world, fit into a marketing strategy centered around a site built on user-generated (i.e., amateur) video? Sweetow describes a range of applications corporations have developed for YouTube video, ranging from posting TV commercials from highly visible corporations such as Ford, Walmart, and AT&T to “narrow-casting” operations targeting specific markets, designed for the sort of community building you can do on YouTube via commenting and channel subscriptions but not on TV. Examples he cites include instructional videos from HP and REI, and a “Responsible Sports” series from Liberty Mutual. Sweetow also discusses the use of “Engagement Objects” (featuring interactivity) on corporate sites and video sharing possibilities via Facebook and Twitter. Event videographers and filmmakers who have found ways to leverage social network media in their own businesses could be great assets for businesses contracting them for video projects that are designed to do likewise.
Sweetow concludes the main content in the book with a comprehensive chapter on distribution that discusses numerous key technical aspects of streaming and on-demand video delivery, as well as videoconferencing and ways that these delivery methods are increasingly used in corporate video and video-driven internal communications. Sweetow highlights popular streaming codecs, affordable streaming appliances such as Digital Rapids’ TouchStream, and the intricacies of working with content delivery networks and virtual private network-enabled satellite distribution.
While this material may seem to pertain more to in-house production staff members than independent studios contracted for specific productions, it could prove to be vital information for any producer who develops relationships with corporations that are just beginning their forays into video-based communications and online delivery. What could be better in the corporate world than “getting in on the ground floor,” however virtual that floor may be?
Stephen Nathans-Kelly (stephen.nathans at infotoday.com) is editor-in-chief of EventDV and EventDVLive and programming director of EventDV.tv.