If you haven’t had the opportunity to be behind the scenes for a video production, it’s pretty awesome…but we may be biased. You get to see the inner workings of how a video production actually comes together. Through this blog post, we wanted to give you a behind the scenes look at how we produced our most recent branding film. Have you ever heard the story about the painter who never painted their house? They couldn’t paint their place because they were too busy painting other people’s houses. Well, that’s the way it was starting to feel over here. We were telling potential clients about the importance of having an up-to-date branding film but the branding film we edited for ourselves several years ago just wasn’t cutting it anymore. So, we sat down as a team about a year ago and started brainstorming ideas on how we could update our “reel”.
Think of a “reel” as a paper resume but in video format. A reel is a video, used to show potential clients what our capabilities are. Typically, a reel may include segments of past work, edited together with a music track. But the problem with that approach is it really doesn’t tell a story. It’s basically a glorified music video with pretty shots that aren’t really tied together in a cohesive storyline. Since story is so important to us, that approach wasn’t going to work. So, we were tasked with the challenge of producing a branding film that told a story, was emotional (to some degree), and connected with our target audience (commercial/corporate clients who are looking to tell a story about their brand in a video format) with a great tagline at the beginning. Sound impossible? We didn’t think so.
While we produce video stories about other companies (brands) every single day, the task of telling our own story became a lot harder than we originally anticipated…like, A LOT harder! We brainstormed ideas that had a great story but they weren’t emotional and they didn’t really connect well with our target audience. We thought of some stories that were emotional but again, didn’t connect with our target audience and didn’t really speak well to what we do. As the months went on (and what seemed like a never ending loop of meetings about the subject), we kind of tabled the idea and again focused on producing other client’s projects.
The Story Begins to Take Shape
Fast forward about 8 more months and the idea of producing a branding film for ourselves resurfaced. It’s one of those passion projects we were all thinking about but never really go to do. One of the early concepts that really seemed to stick around was the idea of an elderly man. There’s something about elderly people and their stories…they love telling stories. We also toyed around with the idea of a boy finding a home video camera in his attic but that storyline didn’t seem to connect well with our target audience again. So, we gravitated towards the elderly man idea and still incorporated the younger grandchild idea.
The concept was that the grandchild wrote a letter to his grandpa about how much the grandpa meant to him. The grandpa would then find the note and the entire video were as if the grandpa was reading the letter to himself. At this stage, it wasn’t completely concrete in our heads but at some point towards the end, there would be a reveal that the grandpa was reading this letter. So, that’s it! That’s what we had. We were starting to get somewhere but the end just wasn’t there. What was the tagline? Where was the emotion? How could we connect this to our audience? It almost felt like we were putting the cart before the horse. We knew the story we wanted to tell but we didn’t really know entirely how we wanted to tell it. Afterall, every good story has a good beginning, middle AND END.
The one word that kept popping out at us was STORY. We tell stories…well, stories in video format. Stories do come in all sorts of formats (written, drawn, told, etc.). Elderly people love to tell stories. So, how can we possibly link this idea of storytelling, the elderly man with his grandchild and the unknown end to the story? Once we had the tagline in place, everything else seemed to pretty much fall in place: Every Brand Has a Story. Let Us Tell Yours. From there, we were able to type up a script and fill in the missing blanks. The script shifted from a story written by the grandchild to a script about stories.
It’s THE Voice!
Now that we had the script done, we had to find someone to do the voiceover. There’s a guy on YouTube who reads poems for a hobby. There’s something about the cadence and the tone at which he reads that’s so deliberate. He speaks in a very labored voice, very slow, low tone…almost at a whisper, lots of spaces between words. It’s amazing. You focus on every single word he says…and that approach goes well with our philosophy of storytelling. Every single word has meaning. Married with the visuals, it all tells a beautiful story.
He doesn’t take any paid work and won’t do any voiceover work by request. He’s apparently had so many people requesting this, he’s specifically put it in his YouTube profile that he’s not taking on any voiceover work. In a last ditch effort to hire the perfect person for this project, we reached out to him with no response. So, we were left to circle back to where we started.
So many voiceovers rush through their reads. Even if you ask them to slow down, it just doesn’t feel right. It feels like they’re slowing down on purpose. So, how do we find the right voiceover for this? We receive calls and emails from voiceovers every single week looking for work. It’s actually quite exhausting keeping up with it all because the chances of the right voiceover cold calling or emailing us and us having the right project for them at that very moment are very slim. There are thousands of voiceover artists out there; each has their own unique voice and style. After many hours of searching online, we were able to find THE PERFECT voiceover for this…even better than the original one we had fallen in love with! His cadence was perfect, tone was spot on and delivery was exactly what we needed.
Sometimes you have this idea of the perfect location in your head but it doesn’t always quite pan out. That perfect place might exist but the filming date doesn’t work out, or the place is too far or the owner has no interest in having you film there…the list goes on and on. So, there are a lot of variables involved. We had in our minds an old farmhouse with creeky wooden floors and furniture that complimented the actors and theme.
We searched high and low, contacted many places and finally found THE perfect place. It was a farmhouse that doubled as a B&B for travelers and retreat center for religious groups. It had a barn, acreage, and it was in the country…just beautiful. The thing is…when we scouted the location, we were going to film the next week. We were right on the cusp of that November weather where it felt like it was going to transition from warm to cool. When we looked at the place, those beautiful orange, yellow and red Fall leaves adorned the trees. The colors were magnificent…and the interior was perfect for what we needed. We thought…how amazing is this? We have this perfect place and the color palette here is out of this world. Well, a few days before filming, the weather forecast went from warm to very cold…about a 30 degree change…the difference between a shirt and a coat. Even worse, some predictions were calling for snow or a snow/rain mix! We couldn’t let that stop us so we kept moving on with the plan!
We had in our creative minds this elderly man…someone who was frozen in time. We pictured him on the rocking chair in the farmhouse, looking out the window at his grandchild. Maybe he’d even have a cane. These were all wishes but when you throw the casting net out there, wishes don’t always become reality. We literally contacted more than 20 casting agents in Chicago and the surrounding states. We found the perfect casting agency for this type of thing but they were located in Russia. They only represented elderly people who fit the exact look we were seeking but the distance was a problem for obvious reasons. So, back to the drawing board. We received all sorts of headshots. We received everything from one who looked like Santa to another who looked like Colonel Sanders. Most of the men had very trim beards. We were looking for someone with a long beard that had almost an unkept feel to it. As easy as it sounds, finding this look was nearly impossible. After one final internet search, we found the right man! But the search wasn’t done there. We had to find a grandchild. We were looking for someone with a unique look…almost like someone who you could picture in a Harry Potter movie. After another very extensive search, we found the right grandchild! Both Wilbur and Tyler worked amazingly well together on and off set. It was the perfect match. Wilbur performed on Broadway and in the original Disney Beauty and the Beast. He’s been on the soundtrack of another ten Disney features, including Enchanted, Tangled and the new Beauty and the Beast (2017)! Tyler has been acting professionally since he was 4 years-old. Tyler has appeared in several movies and TV series, including Chicago Fire.
Equipment and Props
We decided early on that we were going to film everything with the RED EPIC Dragon camera. When you hear about High Definition, the resolution of that image is typically 1920×1080 pixels. The RED EPIC Dragon camera films in 6K resolution, which is 5120 × 2700 pixels. So, you’re filming at a higher resolution. Not only that, but the RED cameras have a buttery smooth texture in its imagery that can’t be duplicated by any other cinema camera on the market. The sensor size coupled with the dynamic range and picture quality had us choosing this camera for our project.
In addition to the RED camera, we also wanted to film footage that looked like a home video. There are lots of filters out there for post production, which allow you to apply a filter to video that you shoot and try to make it look like a home video. They keyword here is “try”. What you’re really doing here is “fudging” it. It’s not the real deal. We heard about the digital Harinezumi cameras. They used to be made in Japan by SuperHeadz. They’re no longer made. So, it’s nearly impossible to find a new one…much less the very first version (V1) that was made, which is really the best version that was made. There were other subsequent models made (and those are a lot easier to find) but the V1 is really THE model. It creates the warm, dreamy imagery reminiscent of Super 8mm silent films from the ’60s. After another very extensive search online, we found one brand new V1 Harinezumi camera in the U.K. that was never used. In fact, the box was never opened. These cameras are literally impossible to find for sale. Another score for us!
For lighting, we went with the Aputure Light Storm LS C300d for some of the brighter scenes that needed additional light and the Aputure COB 120D for some of the indoor scenes that needed a little pop of light.
The script originally called for the actors to be holding a butterfly. Awesome, right? But then we started looking around and it’s very hard to find a butterfly in the Midwest in November! …and it was considered off season for most places that normally ship butterflies for things like weddings and events. Plus, we started thinking…what if this butterfly flies away…then what? How many do we need? So, we went to Plan B. A caterpillar seemed way more manageable. We found a place down South that could ship us the caterpillars, which arrived in a few days through the mail. The only problem was…when the caterpillars arrived, they were small…much smaller than they looked on the website and smaller than we had wanted but there was nothing we could do now because our filming was to take place in one day!
With all of the other details we had for production, we arrived to filming and realized we completely forgot one detail of bringing a ball and bat as props. We always wanted to do this sequence where the grandpa was tossing a football to his grandson to hit with a baseball bat. Normally, those two wouldn’t go together. But there’s a spontaneity we were trying to communicate with the scene. Something so pure and spur of the moment…grandpa grabbed a football and grandson grabbed a baseball bat and decided to do a quick game of ball in the backyard. Luckily, the homeowner (where we were filming) had these props readily available!
There was one scene that ended up not making the cut. We had sparklers shipped in for the shoot. The light outside wasn’t quite right and the sparklers didn’t cast enough light. In the end, other scenes were more promising so this one ended up on the cutting room floor, which was okay with us because we had filmed several extra scenes that we knew may not make the final edit.
Productions like this might typically have about 20 or more crew members. As you can probably tell, there’s not only a lot of pre-production work that goes into filming but also a lot of work on the day of production. On set, we had three crew members, which may not sound like a lot but if you knew our team, they’re amazing. If you’ve ever been to a sandwich shop, there probably wasn’t just one person. There was a team. Each person had their own job and when all worked together, out came a beautiful looking sandwich in seconds! The same is kind of true for video production. Each crew member has their own role. When everyone works together on the same team, the results are amazing. Our team is amazing. We have a really talented team of professionals who love doing what they do. We get up early and we stay late. We want nothing but the best for every single production we produce and the one we were producing for ourselves was no exception! We filmed everything in eight hours and also managed to feed everyone Lunch, which was an added bonus! The innkeeper at the B&B where we were filming created a delicious home cooked meal for our crew. Simply amazing home cooked farm food!
The Story: Edited
With the videos we produce, by the time you actually get to filming it, we have lived and breathed this script for what seems like an eternity. So, when we sit down with all of the footage, we really can’t wait to put everything together. It’s like a kid with his lego set on Christmas morning. I see what the picture on the box is and I want to put it all together! We had a very solid edit put together within 24 hours. It’s what we’d call a “rough cut”. The duration of shots needed to be timed out better, color and lighting was a little off, and audio needed to be tweaked but it was a pretty solid start.
One thing that became apparent during the filming process but started to become way more apparent in the editing process was an issue with final scene. For the last scene, that was going to be the magical reveal where the viewer sees the grandpa flipping over the picture he picked up and realize he’s been reading a letter written from his grandson the whole time. The instant printer we had on set only printed smaller prints. We knew this going into production and thought about having larger prints made or even just a letter written out by the grandson. However, we took more of a wait and see approach to see how the actor’s handwriting would come out on the back of the photo. The photo was small and writing on the back of it, well, there just really wasn’t much real estate. After writing on the back of it, we quickly realized that writing out the whole letter (which was really the voiceover part) wouldn’t fit on the back of the photo, which we pretty much knew going into production but it was definitely confirmed at the filming. SO, we scrapped that idea and had just a few words written on the back of the photo, which we still think worked.
Working with 6K resolution video files is nuts. Most people are used to throwing up pictures on their computer and quickly editing them but 6K resolution with moving video and audio attached to the file…those are large files! Luckily, with a little technical wizardry, our computer hardware handles everything nicely.
We spent many hours trying to find the right song. We even toyed with the idea of hiring a composer to create a custom score for the video. After a failed attempt at that, we were able to find the perfect song that went well with the overall feeling and mood we were trying to portray. It also had gaps where we needed them for the voiceover parts and swells to accentuate different parts of the story. The audio was mixed by a professional sound engineer who also blended in some sound effects for a special finishing touch. For us, the visuals are not only important. It’s also the audio. If you close your eyes, the audio needs to take you there. You also need to feel like you’re watching the same thing.
It’s All in the Delivery
The video was then colored and edited into a 2.39:1 anamorphic frame for a more cinematic feel. You would think that every social media platform has the same video specs but they don’t! For example, Instagram is more of a 4×3 aspect ratio versus a 16×9 format. You can upload 16×9 video footage to Instagram but the real estate you get on the screen is less. In the end, we opted to keep the native anamorphic frame to preserve the cinematic look we originally intended when filming in the field. The video was distributed on all of our social media channels: Facebook (news feed and top banner cover video), Instagram, and LinkedIn.