Making video content – approvals.

I often like to compare making a video to baking a cake; they both have a range of ingredients, you can make them in a variety of ways…and when they go wrong, everyone is looking for someone to blame!
But most of all, if you’ve never made a cake and someone showed you some eggs, flour, butter and milk on a bench…you’re unlikely to say ‘I can totally see how this is going to be a delicous cake!’
Similarly with video, if you’ve never made a video, it can be very hard to look at a very rough cut of a video and imagine what the final product is going to be like.
Given that the majority of people who are approving your video have never made one, when is the best time to show them the video to get their approval?

Stage 1 – The ingredients and the assets

Clearly a cake.

Just as there is no use in asking someone to have a spoonful of cocoa and a raw egg and hope they will approve of your culinary skills, asking for approval based on interview footage and a guide music track is a complete waste of everyone’s time.
So I’m going to ignore this as an option.

Stage 2 – The batter and the rough-cut

Batter up!

In cake terms, this where you’ve mixed all of your ingredients together…but it hasn’t gone into the oven.
In video terms, this is where you’ve got your rough narrative (ie you’ve edited the interviews down to what is going to be said in your video), you’ve got some basic cutaway footage (the footage that is going to visually tell the story of the video) and you’ve got a music track as a reference (the music tends to drive the emotion of the video).
Seeking approval here can be a really good option if you’re not sure about the narrative of the video. In non-scripted videos (which is the vast majority of the work that my team does), you’re at the mercy of what your interviewees have said, and so sometimes the narrative of the video can be different to what was initially intended (and more importantly, what those further up the approval chain were expecting). So getting it approved now can save you a world of pain if you keep working on the wrong narrative…only to find you have to go back to the drawing board after the first person who sees is says ‘NO!’
A chocolate cake can take on feedback and become a jaffa-cake really easy at this stage by just adding some organge juice and rind…but it’s a LOT harder to make it a jaffa cake if you’ve already baked it!
The counter-point to this, is that for someone expecting a cake…it looks nothing like a cake! If the person approving this is expecting a video, and instead sees something with minimal cutaway footage, terrible transitions and a music track with a digital watermark*, they will freak-out and start distancing themselves from the video. People who have made it to a point in an organisation where they can approve things before the public see them…haven’t got there by associating themselves with failed products. So if you lose them now, you’re unlikely to get them back on board!
Also, if a video doesn’t look like a finished product, people are a lot more comfortable suggesting wholesale changes (after all, there can’t have been much work gone into this if it looks so average!), so offering it around for approvals at this stage, may lead to more work than is necessary.

* if you’re using music from an online music provider, you normally download a free version of the track to edit to and then purchase the track when the video is approved. To make sure you can’t use the free download version most companies have a recording of their name spoken throughout the track so that it’s unusable.

Stage 3 – Baking and the real edit

Cake…not just a 90’s band.

This is possibly where the cake analogy falls apart. With the cake, you’re basically just throwing it in the oven, waiting, and then taking it out. With a video, you’re adding all of the cutaway footage, adding in the transitions, making sure edit points work to the music track, adding in graphics, and basically doing all of the things that make a video work as piece of communication.
But, whether it’s for the cake or the video…this is going to be the most time consuming part.
For me, this is when you want to present the video for approvals. This is pretty much exactly as you want the video to look, and is also what the untrained eye expects when they look at the video. By showing the video now you’re basically saying ‘This is what is going to be said, and this is the vision that’s going to accompany it. Are you OK with this?’ Not ‘This is kinda how it’s going to look…but it will be better…and this is what we’re probably going to say…what do you reckon?’
Now clearly, you have spent a lot of time getting it from ingredients, to batter to this…and if you’re only now presenting it for approval and someone says ‘This was meant to be a flourless orange cake’…or ‘You know that the audience is allergic to eggs right?’ Then yes, you are going to have to go right back to the drawing board and start from scratch. And yes, you could have saved a decent amount of time by presenting it for approval earlier. But in reality, if you’ve misread the brief this badly, you may need to look at your pre-production process.
In my experience, most of the time when presented with the choice between; a video they can use right now that they’re 90% happy with, or a waiting a week for a new version to approve…they will go with the one that they can use right now.

Stage 4 – The icing on the cake and the final export

The icing on the cake.

Now look, cake by itself is pretty great…but add the right icing and you’ve got a masterpiece! Similarly, with a video, it’s stuff that you do now that will take your video from ‘good’ to ‘great’! Doing a colour grade, animating some graphics, creating captions and making a bespoke thumbnail, are the finishing touches that make you a professional.
I’m yet to achieve the level of chutzpah that would allow me to deliver a video at this stage for approval, as there is just WAY too much work being done before you take on feedback…but if you can…then shine on you crazy diamond!!

So there you go. Getting approvals for a creative project (especially within Government) can be a real balancing act. Getting approvals too early can see people distancing themselves from the project, or requesting unnecessary changes. Getting approvals too late, can mean that all of your work has been for nothing as you’ve headed down the wrong path and now have to re-trace your steps.
But in my experience, erring on the side of doing more work and being able to present a video that is as close as possible to a finished product, is often what gets it across the line.
Am I suggesting that this will work every time? No.
Could there be factors in your work environment that make this approach unfeasible? Yes.
Do I have a therapists worth of projects that have had to be re-done or scrapped altogether? Yes.
But most importantly, do I now have a delicious cake to eat as a result of my wife making one for the photos in this blog? Yes…so I will see you next week, when I talk about being a creative person in a bureaucracy.

Eyes only for the cake.
Hoping this product placement will earn me a lucrative Tupperware deal.

Making video content – the 3 essentials

15 years ago I joined the public service.
I know this, because my eldest child is now 15 and I joined the public service when he was born, because I was sick of being made redundant in the video production world.
In 2009 I was lucky enough to start the video team at DHS…and by ‘team’ I mean ‘me trying to teach myself how to shoot and edit videos, while desperately pretending that I knew what I was doing’ (full disclosure, my time in video production had been as a Producer…so I was really good at organising things, but not so good at the actual making of things).
11 years and one department change later, I’m now the manager of a creative team with three visual designers and two videographers.
A LOT has changed in this time for video. In 2009 only a few government departments had internal video people…now pretty much every deparment has a video team. Video used to be the high-end tool that was wheeled out to launch only the biggest and most prestigous projects…now videos are part of a daily social media content plan.
But some things have stayed the same, and so I thought I’d share the three essential ingredients I believe every video should have…so essential, that my team won’t work on projects that don’t contain all three!

Essential 1 – A Story

The days of people watching a video simply because it’s there, are gone…nowadays your videos need to engage and retain your audience. The best way to do this is with a story.
You can list the benefits of your new project or initiative as much as you like, but people don’t connect with projects and initiatives…they connect with people. So if you want to connect with your audience, you need to tell a story about how your project or initiative has benefited a person, or a family or a community.
So for example, training and apprenticeships are a great idea and you can talk a lot about the levels of funding and courses available…but that’s not going to make for an interesting video.
Or you can show the story of someone who grew up watching motorsport with her Dad and asking what things were and how they worked…and who has now done training in motorsport and has her Dad asking her what things are and how they work

Or someone who was originally a florist, and is now driving heavy machinery on major projects:

Never underestimate the power of a story!

Essential 2 – A Storyteller

Once you have your story, you also need someone who can tell the story in a way that will engage with your audience.
Now I know that the first option most people think of is to get the head of the organisation, or the CEO, or anyone in a senior role to do the talking on camera. After all, these people can say ‘This agile project will deliver key outcomes to our stakeholders and offer synergies with the sector’ without even flinching!
Plus, nothing helps get a video approved quickly, quite like having the person approving it, also being the star.
But I can promise you that it will not resonate with an audience, as it just won’t feel authentic. What you need is someone with an actual experience of what your video is focussing on…and if they’re too nervous or shy to talk on camera, then you need one of their peers, or a frontline worker who has seen how they’ve changed. In short, you need someone who your audience is going to like and want to listen to.
If you go with the boss, you will get all the right words in the right order…but if you go with someone who is actually telling their story, you’ll get a little piece of unscripted magic that people will genuinely engage with.

Let your story teller tell their story in their own language

Essential 3 – A Visual Element

Video is a visual medium. So you need to tell your story visually, and you need to engage people visually. If you look at any of the videos above you will see that only about 10-15% of the footage is the person talking to camera, that vast majority is footage that tells the story and engages the viewer.
So before you commit to a project, ask what is the visual element of this video. If the project is a consultation, or a roundtable or a mentorship…just be aware that the footage of people talking to each other will be engaging for about 6 seconds…after that, you’re going to be in struggle town. If you absolutely have to make a video about something that is ostensibly about peope talking to each other, then it may be better to keep your powder dry and make a video about what the consultation/roundtable/mentorship actually resulted in (as that’s much more likely to feature people actually doing something…rather than discussing the many somethings they may or may not do!)
Also, the reality is that if you’re posting your content on social media, there is a VERY strong chance that the video will start playing without any audio, so you will need some REALLY engaging visuals if you want to convince people to unmute the audio and keep watching.

Even if your footage is just people talking…you can still make it visually engaging.
Dance = easy to show visually,
Farming = easy to show visually
Psychology = not so easy to show visually

So there you go, the three things we demand are part of any video project we commit to creating.
Next week I’m going to talk about the challenges of getting a video approved…especially in a Government context.