The boss wants to rally the troops with a video to send to key supervisory personnel. One of the CEO's aides tells you the time and location to bring your gear and crew. Another staffer tells you that the CEO will sit at his desk and talk to the camera. A large window will be your background, no drapes or blinds. The aide says, "That should be plenty of light, right?" You explain that the crew needs to get into the office at least an hour in advance to set up lights and maybe put gels on the window. The aide looks at the calendar and sees that the boss has a meeting with a board member before the shoot. "He'll be out of his office for 15 minutes, so you can get set up then." Welcome to the world of corporate video.
Even though you have little time to prepare for the shoot, you may have already learned about the company and its presentation style. The corporate website can give you a sense of the public face of the company, but the internal corporate culture may take longer to comprehend. An older CEO may want to portray a casual image so he can attract youthful customers or staff. A younger CEO, or a relative newcomer to the firm, may want to project a more formal image. Well in advance of the shoot, determine which of the CEO's aides is the decision maker; you want to work with a single contact person. This assistant can help you determine if the informal or buttoned-down image is what the exec wants to portray. Enlist the help of the company's public relations department if possible. Regardless of the style, your job as director is to create a relaxed atmosphere for the shoot, while helping the CEO present him or herself in as polished a manner as possible.
Most likely you won't get to see the boss until moments before the shoot, so obtain a photo, or-ideally-a video clip. That will help you determine if you'll need to offer advice regarding makeup and hair. A bald CEO probably will appreciate powder to diminish the shine. One who wears glasses will require lighting that that does not cause reflections. You may wish to ask the female CEO to let you bring in your makeup artist, and you can explain how television could accentuate the look of rouge and lipstick in an unflattering way. Ask that the exec not wear fine patterns or stripes, which could create an unwanted moiré pattern, especially on the web. Ideally, the CEO should bring a change of clothes, just in case something doesn't look right, doesn't work with the background, or in case he accidently spills coffee on his clothes.
Directing the Shoot
Most corporate CEOs operate super-efficiently. They know how to control time, and they're used to calling the shots. You, as the video producer, need to establish your dominion over your crew and the shoot. Plan every detail, and have backup plans and equipment, should anything go wrong. Be prepared to explain succinctly how the shoot will go. Your confidence will help put the exec at ease, and he or she will be more inclined take your direction once you've shown how well you planned the shoot. The CEO expects to walk in, start filming right away, and leave as quickly as possible. You will need to have pre-lit the set, adjusted the exec's chair, determined backgrounds, and even set preliminary audio levels.
When the CEO and team arrive, focus your attention on them. You can ask if they have any questions, but you should have done enough pre-production that you are ready to shoot. Introduce the CEO's assistant to your production assistant, and make sure your PA offers coffee or water. If a dressing room is available, your assistant can point that out. If you happen to have a green room or an area where the CEO's assistants can watch a monitor, you'll get them away from your cameras and help your crew to focus on the filming. That room or area can also serve as a private space for makeup application.
One way to help the exec to relax is to raise the light levels in the area of the room where your camera and crew are. That way he or she is able to see the crew and not feel like a performer on a stage with a dark audience. If he fidgets with hands, go for a tighter shot. If he starts to sweat or makes mistakes, pretend you are having technical difficulties and take a break. If you have the chance, ask the CEO to take a brief walk with you to a private area where you two can practice deep breathing, tell jokes, or whatever you can do to reduce the tension.
The opportunity to develop a rapport with the head of the corporation can be an opportunity for a long-term relationship with the firm. Your confidence with supervising the filming crew will be an asset the CEO notices. Your excellent pre-production planning insures that the process runs smoothly, the exec performs in a relaxed manner, and the video exceeds the company's expectations.
Stu 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.