I’ve gotten great feedback on the video I shot recently for Charleston Promise Neighborhood – a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the educational performance of students in high-poverty neighborhoods in Charleston, SC. Because CPN – like all well-run non-profits – strives to minimize administrative costs, this project was a great opportunity for me to pull together everything I’ve learned about achieving maximum production quality with minimal equipment and zero crew.
The first step in any marketing/promotional/business/fundraising video is to determine:
Why the client wants a video;
What they’re want to communicate;
To Whom the video is addressed;
How the message will be delivered;
and When they need it.
During my initial meeting with the CPN leadership, I determined the following:
Why: To introduce the organization and encourage donations.
What: Explain the CPN goals and strategy in a compelling and inspirational way.
Whom: Potential donors, and the general public.
How: Through interviews of people involved in various ways with CPN.
When: At an opening reception about a month thence.
In my opinion, a video like this is much more effective when it uses unscripted interviews, rather than a carefully-crafted voiceover. A script works well for times when companies need to be careful that they say exactly the right thing. But for this type of project, I prefer to let people speak from the heart about something they believe in, thereby sacrificing a little precision for a lot of authenticity. This gives the video a much greater potential to connect with the viewer in a meaningful way.
The basic technique is to combine brief segments from different interviews in such a way that they form a sort of conversation: one soundbite leads logically to the next, and the program flows from one topic to the next.
This sequence of soundbites comprises the skeleton of the piece. Sometimes, that’s all you have (and it can be enough). But, whenever it’s possible to include them, it’s nice to include supporting footage (“B-roll”) and/or additional elements (photos, graphics, animation, etc.) to flesh a video out, add visual interest, and reinforce the speakers’ points.
There are different ways to approach this type of project, but this is mine:
- Write a simple outline that lists the key “bullet points” the video needs to cover. I often structure this in a “past, present, future” paradigm, although I don’t know if that’s a widespread practice.
- Ask interview questions designed to elicit the information needed to hit the bullet points.
- Sort the resulting footage by topic, and string together the best of the best.
- Add b-roll, graphics, music, etc.
For the CPN video, this was my outline:
- The Need that exists in this community to increase school/student achievement.
- The Proven Strategies used by the Harlem Children’s Zone and others.
- The Founding Vision of the Charleston Promise Neighborhood
- The Current Activities of the Charleston Promise Neighborhood.
- The Metrics, as they stand now.
- The Unprecedented Collaboration behind the Charleston Promise Neighborhood.
- The Goals and Strategy of the Charleston Promise Neighborhood
- The Vision of the “Ideal School”
- The Need for Investors
I wrote different questions for each interview subject, and I won’t list them all here, but my fundamental approach was to say, “Tell me about [this bullet point].”
“Tell me about” is a great way to start an interview question because people are very likely to respond to it with an answer of a useful length, as opposed to an impossible-to-use, one-word answer like “Yes.”
Armed with my outline and interview questions, I set out to shoot interviews and b-roll. In Part 2 of this post, I will discuss the equipment and techniques I used during the production – or “principal photography” – stage of the project.