Tips to make a great first video

Online videos have taken the marketing industry by storm – it is no longer possible to scroll through social media sites, such as Facebook, without being bombarded by masses of visual content. Videos are easy to understand, and in an increasingly fast paced world in which people are demanding information at the touch of a button, consumers want online material that’s easy to digest.

According to Cisco, video will account for 69% of all consumer media traffic by 2017. It’s therefore understandable that companies lacking video expertise may fear they do not have the appropriate resources to strive within this competitive climate.

However, production costs have fallen significantly, and it is no longer essential to be to be a technical whizz in order to create basic videos that suit your target audience. We have invited Nic Flatt, Managing Director of Yorkshire-based digital media company Fifth Planet, to give us a brief insight into how to create fantastic and compelling videos from the very first attempt.

How long have you been making videos for?

I was by no means an athletic young man during my early teens, and I distinctly remember thinking I was the smartest kid in my school when I was about 13 or 14, having decided to volunteer to help produce the annual sports day video. Smart because I did not have to participate like my peers in the otherwise compulsory event – ironic because I’m now a pretty keen marathon runner! But nevertheless, I would say this was the first time I ever really got my hands on camera equipment and began making sense of the entire video production process.

Despite using a pretty beaten-up JVC mini-DV camcorder and editing on a 3rd generation iMac, I made it my goal to learn everything there was to know about the ins and outs of the equipment… probably so that I didn’t have to take part in another sports day event! It’s safe to say though, from that point, I was hooked and have been spending all of my spare cash to enable me to continually produce videos in some capacity ever since.

How did you get in to video making professionally? Is it something you always wanted to do?

I continued producing videos throughout my teens and early twenties and always chose subjects that enabled me to be creative in some capacity – whether it was music or art. But it wasn’t until I entered a short film competition during university that I really considered video production as a viable career option. Up until that point, any projects I had worked on were almost completely a blank canvas and not to a specific brief. Here, there were set requirements — the project had to comply with very clear outcomes. I have never been one for taking the easy option so for some crazy reason decided my competition entry would be an animation.

It’s fair to say I’ve come a long way since producing that initial video but, somehow, I ended up winning the competition. This was when I thought that maybe there is something here, and perhaps I might actually be able to make a bit of beer money from this thing that I enjoyed doing so much.

How important is the planning process when making your first video?

It sounds a cliché, but pre-production is EVERYTHING. In all fairness, it has taken me far too long to realise, but the more planning and preparation you can do in the early stages (planning shots, anticipating problems with gear, crew requirements and always giving yourself more time than you actually need), the less likely you will have major headaches when it comes to the production phase. I think just about everything that could have gone wrong on a project went wrong in the early days of Fifth Planet, sometimes leading to unhappy clients and major fall outs. But as anyone will tell you who works in the creative industries, mistakes are fine as long as you learn from them and never make the same one twice.

What equipment would you recommend using if an individual is completely new to video capture?

Another cliché: ‘it’s not about what equipment you use, it’s the results’… This can be very true, to a point! It is now very possible to produce industry standard results using just a smartphone, exactly as Apple so modestly pointed out with their promotional material showing off the camera capabilities of the iPhone 6S Plus in their 2015 keynote — filmed exclusively on the model they were promoting. Many novice filmmakers opt for digital-SLR or mirrorless cameras for video production as they can handle video files just as well as they do photography. They provide a great introduction to working with different lenses, also giving you the option to play with manual aspects of film-making like white balance, depth of field and shooting with different frame rates.

With photographic equipment it seems, the more you’re willing to pay, the more creative control you will have over what you produce. Having creative control during the early stages of video production also enables you to develop your own style, which will dictate the types of videos you produce and what kit you will purchase in the future.

And do you recommend any particular software for the editing stage?

I have worked with just about every video editing package there is and can hand-on-heart say I am Adobe through and through. I’m fully aware it’s a very personal thing and at the end of the day, the editing software is just a skin; but once again it’s how you use the resource that really makes it worth the money. One of the main benefits for using Adobe Premiere Pro for me is the Creative Cloud. Many users switched off from Adobe when they brought in their subscription service, but I have to say I’m a big fan.

The support and regular updates, quickly responding to software bugs without having to re-purchase or learn a whole new software package on every release is a big plus in my books. Another great thing about Adobe for me is the compatibility with other Adobe software. Illustration and animation also play a big part in my role at Fifth Planet, and while I’m not as hands-on as I once had to be since shifting to a more project management / creative direction role, the ability to quickly switch between Premiere, After Effects, Illustrator, Photoshop and Audition without having to completely rethink the user interface entirely does greatly speed up workflow. So, for me, Adobe is ideal, but I would recommend downloading a free trial copy of any video editing package to see what works best for you. At the end of the day though, as with anything, it is more about what we do with the tools available to us!

What is the best way of getting your video seen by its intended target audience?

There are so many theories and ideas about how to get your video ‘noticed’. If I had a pound for every time I heard a client say, ‘we want a viral video’, I’d probably be opening up my second LA office! The truth is, there are no definitive rules for getting your video seen. Some of best work we’ve ever produced – projects that have had hundreds of hours spent on them – are the ones with the least views. While this can be disheartening at the time since any artist seeks recognition for their work (even if they don’t admit it), it’s important to remember that not every online video should necessarily be the next ‘Charlie bit my finger’ or ‘Gangnam Style’.

We’ve worked on several projects, which at a first glance – taking into account metrics like YouTube views – could be interpreted as being poorly received, but have been informed later down the line how significant our work was to a particular individual. When you’re working on social causes, like we so often do, this changes everything since social impact is often very difficult to quantify. So, while there is not one hard and fast rule for getting more online views, there are many effective ways of making sure your video is seen by the people that count. Facebook’s targeted campaigns, for instance, are a great way of selecting specific audiences and, carefully selecting demographics you would like to view your content.

What would you say are the three most important things to remember when shooting a video?

Most professional filmmakers or photographers will likely tell you the three most important aspects about shooting video would be something along the lines of ‘lighting, composition and subject’. But for me, while these aspects are integral to producing something visually appealing, when working to a live brief, the three most important aspects are ‘research, research, research’. You can make the most beautiful film in the world, but it could all be for nothing if you’re not creating with your audience in mind.

It is always important to remember that beauty is subjective and fundamentally the person paying the bills is the one who has the final say about what is acceptable — whether that is the immediate client or the consumer of the product or service being promoted in the video. On any project, it’s important to establish who will be responsible, who will be accountable, who should be consulted and who needs to be informed. I cannot stress how important this aspect is in any creative project, also to ensure you’re on the right lines throughout production — avoiding big surprise amendments at the end of the process.

Is there anything you would tell your previous self when you first started out?

In the early days, I spent far too long worrying about whether or not the client was on my side and trying to please everybody. It took a long time to discover that it is impossible to keep everyone happy and, actually, people respected us more when we were honest and admitted when we were not qualified or able to fulfil a certain task. Over-promising had some seriously negative consequences on our work. If I could go back, I would tell myself to always be honest about my abilities, and rather than worrying too much about making friends, focus on producing work I can be proud of.

Any last seeds of wisdom you wish to give any novice videographers?

My final bit of advice would be not to spend loads of money on gear in the initial stages. It’s more important to get out with whatever you can your hands on, learn every feature, and make the equipment work for you. Try everything! Only then will you work out where your strengths lie, and you will know when to hold your hands up and ask for help. There is such a community out there just waiting to collaborate, no-one is expecting you to be able to do everything. Go out and have fun!

Fifth Planet is a digital media company based in Yorkshire specialising in video production, animation and photography. For more information visit their website.

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Written by Ruth Harrison-Davies

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