Video Production can be a pretty broad term when considering all of the many ways one can execute the process. Not every filmmaker grows up wanting to be Spielberg and has dreams of being a top director in Hollywood. Some might have dreams of being a Journalist or creating their own Reality TV show. Video Production’s tendrils stretch out much further than Los Angeles and can be found in every corner of the world.
Sure there are hubs like NYC, LA, Atlanta, Albuquerque, and New Orleans — But in today’s climate, video production is literally everywhere with execution on every level.
From Films and Commercials to Sports TV and Live Events, each type of video production process requires a completely different approach, strategy, and performance from talent and crew.
I can remember in Film School there were opportunities to go intern at the local news stations and I remember thinking to myself — Is this the route I want to go? Am I going to lock myself into one type of video production process and just get comfortable with it? Is that going to stifle my growth? I was at a crossroads and I had a decision to make.
Anyone beginning their journey is going to find themselves at a similar crossroads eventually and it helps knowing how to define each method and understand the different types of Video Production.
So let’s take a look!
Ah, the quintessential method of storytelling. Film was spawned by a bet Leland Stanford, a California Governor, had made in 1878. The bet — That all four legs of a horse leave the ground mid gallup. Before then, horses had been depicted to have at least one hoof on the ground at all times and the human eye could not fully break down the trot and gallop action. This led to Stanford commissioning the photographer Edward Muybridge to set up 12 cameras in a row at the Palo Alto Stock Farm where Stanford University now lies. The shutters were automatically triggered when the legs of the horse tripped wires that connected to an electro-magnetic circuit. Since that magical incident, instantaneous photography spread wildly and grew into the visual form we call Film, Cinema, Movies, or Nickelodeons.
We should all be thankful for Leland’s tenacity to affirm his own ideas. We now have an entertainment medium we couldn’t imagine growing up without.
Full Length Features
Film is the amalgamation of all art forms. With that comes many departments that come together to create an opus of stunning visuals that lasts for over an hour. Making a full length feature is a long, dedicated process that takes months and sometimes years to fully complete from pre to post. Not really falling under the title “Video Production” in the eyes of professionals until the emergence of digital HD cameras in the early 2000’s. Even still, you won’t find pro filmmakers calling what they do “Video Production” which just sounds inferior.
Whether it’s independently made or developed by a studio, the technique, approach and philosophy remains the same. Typically executed by large crews and a lot of talent, films are a beast to manage. It doesn’t matter if it’s a garbage movie, it still took that production team a ton of work to accomplish. So if you like signing up for the long haul and dedicating yourself exclusively to projects for months, even years at a time, then you should consider a career in film.
Most people starting out in filmmaking begin by working out the learning curve with a short film production. Whether it’s with classmates from film school or your friends and family, it’s a great way to test and strengthen your film craft. It helps you familiarize yourself with the entire process on a fractal level. You’re going to be working with a small crew, minor amounts of talent, and the entire production should be completed in a much shorter time period. But you go through all of the same motions creatively, logistically and legally. It’s a great starting point if you want to dive headfirst into the film industry.
I know a lot of people that prefer to cozy up and watch a good documentary over a movie any day. These entertaining and somewhat educational presentations have been around a lot longer than you may think. Early documentary films pre-1900 were called “Actuality Films” and consisted of nothing more than a single long shot of factory workers, a train pulling into a station, etc. Most of which were made by Louie Lumiere and were only a minute long due to the limitations of the period. Eventually things like prize-fights and surgical operations pushed the length to an hour around the turn of the century. The term “Actuality Films” was changed to “Scenics” for a number of years until the term “Documentary” was created in 1926.
Since then, documentaries have grown right alongside movies and have a rich history in the world of cinema. Typically made for educational or political purposes, like films, documentaries have evolved overtime and have been segmented into different types or genres much like fictional films.
Thanks to Ken Burns, the documentary template changed in the 80s and became more cinematic and less dull and informational. Though there are different types of documentaries (Participatory, Reflexive and Performative) the approach on a basic level remains identical. You’re typically working with a nimble crew consisting of one or two camera operators, a sound engineer and a few producers for the majority of the production.
Each phase of the production (Pre, Production, Post) takes a longer amount of time when compared to fictional film production. The research and development can take years sometimes and so can the actual production. Gathering all of the content that you need takes a long time to acquire. Documentaries are very interview-heavy. The majority of the content you’ll need in the can is one-on-one interviews between the producer and participants who are connected to the true life story being told. But you’ll need a ton of B roll to make your film interesting and digestible for your audience. B-roll will consist of reenactments, interviewees in their natural element, establishing scenes, and sometimes animation.
The post production phase is where the story really comes together. The producer/director will be over the shoulder of their editor or participating in the editing process themselves. Out of all stages of the production, post will move the quickest and is conducted like any other fictional feature.
Thanks to Netflix and HBO, we now have a hybrid documentary template that turns the documentary film into a series that sometimes spans multiple seasons. In this structure, you can delve deeper into the story and touch on more topics by spreading out the content over a number of hour-long episodes. By leaving cliffhangers at the end of every episode it keeps the audience engaged in binge watching until the end.
Commercials or “Adverts” as they referred to in the UK, are an advertising form in which goods, services, organizations, concepts, or what have you are promoted via television or the internet. Nine times out of ten, the commercial is developed and produced by an outside agency. Airtime is purchased from a network or channel in exchange for sponsorship of it’s programming. Commercials started out as an audio form of advertisement on the radio from the turn of the century up until the advent of broadcast television from the 1940’s on. Lasting anywhere from 10 seconds to 90 seconds on average.
Creating a commercial however can take longer than you’d think. To accomplish a professionally made commercial, you need to assemble a crew that’s closer to a feature film as opposed to a documentary or something of the like. A commercial production can span days even weeks at a time with budgets well over a $100k.
Lifestyle Narrative or “Brand film”
Smashing an advertisement in an audience’s face and pressuring them to buy a product or service doesn’t work like it used to in the past. In today’s world, you need a more strategic approach and you need to relate to your audience emotionally. This has led advertisers to tap into a consumer's lifestyle to create a type of commercial that has been coined as “Brand Films”. The style and tone is more cinematic and the narrative is built with a quick 3 act structure that is free of any aggressive sales tactics and embodies a feeling of realism.
This is a more traditional form of advertising where there isn’t necessarily a story being told, but rather a product or service that is being highlighted by a celebrity, actor, or a representative from the brand itself. Sales tactics are implemented in a fun or informational manner and the concepts are usually a bit more simplified and sometimes abstract.
Nothing resembles a feature film structure and technical approach more than a television show. Released in episodes that follow a narrative, a TV show is broadcast in real time or can be found streaming on internet platforms. The 1947 World Series convinced many Americans to buy their first television set and in 1948 a radio show called the Texaco Star Theater became the first weekly televised variety show that proved TV shows were a stable, modern form of entertainment that was here to stay. Fast forward decades into the future and now we have a plethora of genres and different types of TV shows that we can feast our eyes on.
TV shows require a longer commitment from crew and talent when compared to a feature length film. In fact, if it’s picked up for multiple seasons it can be the longest haul you could sign up for. But the good news is, you’re guaranteed a job and income for many years at a time. With films, the director is running the ship and pushing the progress along. On TV productions, the Producers and the DP are the ones guiding and moving the needle along. Usually a director jumps on for an episode or two a season and there's a constant revolving door of directors whose responsibilities are solely with the actors.
From afternoon specials to prime time comedy sitcoms, the 30 minute TV show template is more likely to shoot in a studio setting that you’ll see in every episode. Typically dealing with simplistic plots and the same cast of characters. Think Seinfeld or The Goldbergs for example.
With a 60 minute TV show, you have way more time to explore complex storytelling. Basically making somewhat of a mini-movie or one really long movie depending on how you look at it, the formula lends itself to more unexpected plot twists and elaborate settings sometimes on location in various cities or countries. Think the X-Files or Better Call Saul to give you a good idea.
These gems have been around since the fifties and have never stopped bringing in great TV ratings. From Wheel of Fortune to Family Feud, families love to gather around the tube and have fun playing along with the contestants. Game Shows all differ, but they all follow the same basic structure and are recognized by their unique stage designs that rarely change over the course of decades. -- With that, the crew rarely changes as well.
From late night to daytime, Talk Shows breed loyal audiences that are looking for a good laugh and some mind-numbing entertainment to pass the time. Typically relying on the host’s personality and a variety of celebrities to keep the interest alive, talk shows feed off of gossip and rarely veer away from their formula. If you join a team that shoots the same thing for years, day in, day out — Eventually, you’ll be able to do it with your eyes closed.
Though it can be argued that documentary specials aired on TV were the first form of reality TV, the modern definition of reality TV is something that started with “The Real World” in the early 90s. Since then shows like Survivor and Deadliest Catch have evolved the platform and now we have so many reality TV shows across all networks — it’s insane! But if you don’t enjoy being run ragged, don’t sign up to work on a reality TV production. They can be a nightmare!
From sports and concerts to award shows and special engagements, live events can be a massive undertaking and coordinating a video production team to capture the live event and broadcast it to the world can be just as difficult. With live events, you have a team sometimes exceeding 100 people with dozens of camera operators, lighting technicians, grips, producers, stage hands, set decorators, etc. — It’s a zoo! A production manager’s job is really put to the test with all of the spinning wheels that need to be maintained. All departments need to be in perfect alignment with zero capacity for error.
Unless it’s a sports team, most live events are either a one-time gig or an annual event. The upside is you’re not locked into a yearly position on a production crew that doesn’t change, you get new scenery and a change of pace. The downside is, you’re going to chase freelance jobs for the rest of the year.
Electronic News Gathering is defined as reporters/editors making use of electronic video and audio technologies to gather and present news. During the 70s and the rise of the videotape technology we saw the emergence of videotape cameras that the news industry ate up, essentially leading to the term ENG. By the 80s, very few news outlets were shooting on film and by the 90s, no one was.
The shortcomings of film no longer plagued the news industry and now outlets were free to broadcast live and edit content quicker. At the end of the day, electronic cameras are just way more practical to use in the run-n-gun world of ENG. If you’re signing up for that career, you’re going to be working some early mornings and some late nights. You’ll have a change of scenery if you’re reporting on the ground in various locations everyday, but if you’re working in the studio, the scenery will always be the same. You make good money and you don’t have to chase jobs on a freelancer level. The only downside is, most don’t typically have the time to pursue a career in filmmaking while performing the duties of their job and you’re not likely to run into the right connections if that is your aim. You’ll be somewhat locked into the ENG world.
We all know what this looks like — From testimonials and interviews to conferences and internal training videos. Corporate video production is almost a necessity with certain industries and serves many useful purposes outside of external product/brand advertisement.
Every filmmaker needs a place to start and for some, corporate video production is a safe place to get your bearings and provide clients with great content all while strengthening your skills. You can typically shoot this kind of material with a nimble crew of 3 or 4 and in some cases, a one-man-band will work just fine. In today’s climate, there’s a plethora of affordable technology for this tier of video production that can get you started on your journey for under 10K.
VIDEO PRODUCTION GEAR
To find great deals on video production gear on every tier, check out these sites: