Video Planning Overview
Understanding the life cycle of a video project has become a critical element of planning your digital video workflow. Part of this understanding includes understanding the relationship between each decision in the workflow process.
If you do not make informed decisions early on, this may result in an enormous amount of time spent “cleaning-up” or “fixing it in post.” This can compromise the quality and vision of the work or require a redo, often at your own expense. With the proper amount of planning and decision-making, many “could be issues” become non-issues. The goal of planning is to determine what questions to ask and how to proceed with the decision-making
Video productions tend to be more expensive than most types of creative project. This is due to the larger crew sizes and more expensive gear, as well as the longer post-production times. You’ve got people in front of the lens, people behind the cameras, and even more behind the scenes. Video projects are complex, with multiple stages of approval along the way. You need to control things and have a plan (and even another plan for when that one fails). Making efforts to minimize risk early in the process can reduce the chances of wasted efforts and money.
Figure 1: A proper plan can ensure an organized production. This can improve the chances of a stress-free production with better outcomes.
Satisfy client scope and schedule
Project management is not unique to video, but it is a critical skill, due to the complex interconnected nature of video projects. It is important to learn how to balance the scope of the project, track your resources, and maintain the schedule you've built in advance. You should also put the scope of the project into writing– this way you can track progress and tie the billing to progress of the job.
Achieve quality goals
Creating high-quality video is becoming the expected standard. Improvements in technology and education as well as camera technology have empowered creative professionals to push beyond former limitations. Through proper planning, you can improve your chances of making the most of the resources of the project.
Video is often referred to as a team sport. This is the hardest message for most photographers to accept. You cannot truly make a professional video in isolation. Video is too complex for one person to be able to simultaneously focus their attention on acquiring proper exposure and focus, along with clear audio and a strong performance by your subject. When it comes time to put all the pieces together in post-production, specialist may also come into play. Whether it’s a graphic artist to add titles or an audio engineer to sweeten the sound, outside help can go a long way.
Figure 2: Video productions often involve a team of professionals to provide proper coverage of image and sound.
Consider the following:
- Video projects often have firm deadlines – Whether it’s an air date, a live event, a corporate meeting, or a project launch. Deadlines are standard in the world of video; having a team means bench strength and safety in numbers.
- You’ll make more money doing what you do best – How many photographers are magazine publishers? Do they sell the advertisements and write all the stories? What about when publishing a book: do they fire up their personal printing press? The point here is that photographers should do what they do best. That tends to be directing the talent, picking the locations for shooting, lensing the project, and carrying their creative vision through the editing and graphics stages. You can always find people who want to do parts of the job you are weakest at… plus they’ll likely be far faster than you.
- The creative mind is like a hive – Adding additional people that you trust can really lead to a better product. Having other professionals around can keep you from slipping into old/bad habits. It also leads to creative discussions that push the envelope and generates a better outcome.
Successful video projects rarely just happen; in fact, they often involve a great deal of planning. Budgets need to be created, contracts drafted, crews booked, and schedules made. A video shoot has many elements: lighting, shot design, locations, audio, directing, and videography, to name a few. All of these require planning and choices to be made before the shoot day.
Many photographers are interested in just shooting and living in the moment, but trust us when we say a little bit of planning goes a long way. Advance preparation prevents potential problems the day of the shoot. Where will you place the camera to get the best angle? What kind of lighting is ideal for each scene? In what order will you shoot the sequence to maximize your time and available light? How will you optimize the use of crew and locations?
It is far better to plan ahead rather than while your expensive crew and gear are waiting for your next move. Proper pre-production saves you time and money — two things we can all use more of. On the first day of a video shoot, you should have executed the entire shoot in your head, on paper, in discussion with team members, and in as many ways as possible in advance.
Figure 3: A detailed schedule is often part of the planning process.
Defining the scope
A well-defined scope for a project provides a reference point for both producer and client. Writing down the scope of all the deliverable items gives you a measuring stick to track progress. This is usually referred to as a scoping document and this one piece of paperwork captures the essential details of a project and lays it out clearly for the project team and the client. It can be as detailed as you need it to be.
The scope of work is going to drive both the budget and the schedule. Scoping a project generally takes two to 16 hours to complete (depending on its complexity). When you’re finished, you’ll end up with a document that’s typically two to 10 pages in length. This brief document is essential because it captures all the nuances of the project and becomes a charter for all involved. Additionally, you can get client sign-off to ensure that everyone is literally on the same page
Figure 4: A scoping document is an essential piece of the project management plan.
Project scoping document outline
Here is an outline of what should be covered.
Project scope (high level)
- Project objectives
- Interfaces required
- Evaluation criteria
- Schedules (due dates)
- Project team readiness
- Executive sponsor
- Project manager
- Business experts
- Technical experts
Signature lines – Sign off "charter"
Determining equipment needs
Early on in the project you’ll need to determine what equipment is needed. The camera is at the center of the action. All that meticulous planning and staging exists to be recorded. You’ll need to choose from a pile of gear to enable the camera to capture what you want. You’ll need to consider which lenses are needed to achieve the vision of the director. You’ll want to plan for lighting and support equipment to achieve the desired shots. The purpose of camera bodies, lenses, and accessories is not only to execute the shots you desire, but also to play a creative role in the look of what you record.
But don’t just stop at the production stage. Thinking through a project’s post-production is also important. You may need extra help on set to log details about the project (such as continuity or script supervision). Are there special effects that need to be planned for? What’s the end deliverable format needed? Can your camera meet the technical requirements of the client?
Figure 5: A successful production typically takes much more equipment than just a single camera.
During the course of planning a project, you will produce several items. The following pieces of paperwork are considered standard in the video industry. While it’s possible that not every project will have a script, the other three items are essential.
- Script – A professionally formatted script can help present your good ideas in the best light. There are dedicated scriptwriting software tools on the market (such as the robust Final Draft and Final Draft AV). You can also format a Microsoft Word or Apple Pages document to use the traditional video two-column approach.
- Budget – Never discuss an approach without having an idea of your financial constraints. Creative types often get swept up into big ideas without knowing what the project can support. It is important that you create a detailed, line-item budget so you have a clear idea of the work involved and the costs associated with the project. Many clients will expect this level of detail in your pricing. You may also find it helpful to share a line item budget with your production team members so they know how much time is budgeted for each task. If needed, you can remove line item pricing from budgets that you share with others.
Figure 6: An excerpt from a detailed line-item budget
- Schedule – Equally as important as budget is schedule. You need to understand any major milestones so you can schedule work and adjust your approach to match the available time. Placing major milestones on a calendar and tracking your progress can also improve the chances of successfully delivering the project on-time.
- Treatment – The treatment is a narrative description of the project. Some call it an elevator speech or a pitch. The goal is the creation of a one-page document that accurately describes the tone and structure of the project. This helps communicate the artistic vision to all parties and can greatly influence the shooting and editing approaches taken.
The production stage is where all your hard work comes together. Every project will have a unique configuration of gear – perhaps special lenses to get the desired shots as well as lighting to create the right look. Multiple cameras may be needed to get proper coverage of an event and to make the editing process run more smoothly. In a large production, the roles listed below will be performed by different people. In a small production, a few people may each take several roles.
Figure 7: A healthy balance of teamwork and camaraderie must be maintained on set.
The role of the Producer
The producer is in charge of two major aspects of the project: the budget and the details. The producer should focus on making sure that details like scope, schedule, and budget are being adhered to. Ideally, the producer should not be focussed on the artistic aspects of the project. By removing the distraction of getting the shot or directing a performance, the producer can pay better attention to the mundane details that can jeopardize a project’s success.
The role of the Director
The crew needs a leader to provide the artistic vision. The leader needs to engage all parties on set and ensure that the creative vision is being executed. The director does not need to execute all tasks on set. Rather the director should serve as the captain of the team.
The Director of Photography (DP)
The Director of Photography works closely with the Director to bring his vision to life. In some cases, the DP may oversee camera placement and lens selection, and in other cases may simply execute the technical aspects of shooting as prescribed by the Director. On large productions, a DP will generally work with a camera operator. On small productions, the Director, DP and Camera Operator may be the same person.
Adding crew members often means that exponentially more footage can be captured during your shoot. Even a two-person crew can generally shoot far more than twice as much professional footage as a single shooter. This is because of the complexity of video, which requires those behind the camera to focus on composition, lighting, audio, and continuity.
Figure 8: Multiple crew members are often needed to cover an event properly.
The following crew positions should be strongly considered for each shoot, as budget and logistics allow:
- Audio Engineer: The audio engineer focuses solely on capturing clear audio with proper volumes. This is a very difficult position and is one of the best hires you can make for a project.
- Gaffer: The gaffer is in charge of lighting on the set. A gaffer often designs the lighting approach and then executes it. On some shoots, the photographer can fill this role.
- Grip: A grip is a technician who helps implement lighting on set. The grip also works with the photographer to help create and manage camera support systems like tripods and dollies for smooth camera movement.
- Camera Operator: On larger budget productions, it is common to have a Camera Operator working under the direction of the DP. In a multi-camera shoot, there will typically be a Camera Operator for each camera.
- Camera Assistant: A camera assistant is responsible for setting up cameras and lenses. If you are using multiple cameras on a project, it is best to hire a skilled person to fill this role. The camera assistant can also help with complex camera movements and manual focusing during a shoot.
- Data Technician: Video files are big, so you’ll quickly fill up your memory cards. The data technician is responsible for archiving memory cards to multiple drives and returning cards to the photographer for reformatting and reuse. If you don’t have a data tech, plan on having lots of memory cards and staying up late to clear them all off.
The stage where all of the video elements are connected is referred to as post-production. Here you will ingest the material into a computer environment so the files can enter the working stage. This is where the video footage and audio are combined, and the story is refined so only the best footage remains. When finished, you’ll be able to view the completed project that you’ve imagined in your head. Post-production can seem intimidating but, if approached in a methodical way, it can be straightforward.
Goals of post-production
Like photography, the process begins with media management. There is a lot of data that needs to be backed up and organized. You’ll want to employ a formal process of transferring your data to editing drives as well as create long-term backups or disk images of your footage for your archives. You’ll also want to get the footage organized and tagged, deciding which shots you like or which ones are rejected. In the video world, this is known as making selects, and it can happen at a few different stages in post (on ingest, when building a project folder structure, or even in the editing timeline). The goal is to get media organized for editing, allowing you to be more efficient when it comes time to start editing.
The heart of pos-production is, of course, editing. Editing is where a project comes together: where seemingly disparate items converge to create a cohesive story. In any given project you’ll probably have shot a lot more footage than you will end up using. During editing you will choose the best parts and start to arrange those files sequentially.
Figure 9: The editing stage is often collaborative, just like production.
As the story builds, other post-production tasks will be undertaken. These include color correction and grading to enhance the visual appearance. Audio sweetening and mixing improves the quality of individual sounds and creates a balanced and compelling mix of all the elements. You may also have elements that enhance the project, like title graphics, special effects, and transitions.
Deciding which software tools to use can be a very complex decision. The decision is usually a combination of factors that often includes technical needs, business requirements, and personal preference. It is impossible to tell you which software is right for you. Remember that there is no one-size-fits-all answer here. You’ll need to balance out your needs and budget to choose the right tool. There are criteria worth considering as you make your decision.
- Cost: Nonlinear editing tools (NLE) run the gamut in cost. For example, both iMovie and Windows Movie Maker are included with Apple and Microsoft’s operating systems. At the next level, you’ll find tools like Apple Final Cut Pro X for Mac and Adobe Premiere Elements or Sony Vegas Movie Studio. These tools start to increase the feature set for the editor and run between $79 and $299. They offer significantly more control over editing your video and fixing problems, but do have a steeper learning curve. But even the pro-level tools can be within reach of many video producers. Many choose to invest in options like Avid Media Composer or Adobe Creative Suite Production Premium.
- Ease of use: Ease of use is very subjective, and will depend upon the individual user. It is important to realize though that video editing is a complex task. Be prepared to pick up books, training DVDs, and even enroll in a class to learn video editing skills. If you are going to invest in expensive equipment, invest time and money in learning to get the most out of that gear.
- Editing formats: Different camera manufacturers have closer ties to certain NLEs, so be sure to investigate if your type of camera will work with a particular NLE. It’s important that you fully explore this important connection before investing money in technology. A good place to start is to look at the manufacturers’ web pages and see which equipment and video formats they list as supported.
- Multi-camera editing abilities: The ability to synchronize and edit multi-camera video angles of coverage is becoming increasingly popular. When executed properly, a multi-camera shoot saves an enormous time in the post-production process. Once the angles are synchronized, it is easy to maintain continuity. Multi-camera options are available for most pro level tools.
- Customer support: Be sure to examine how much support is available for a product. Look at the company’s website for an active user forum and tutorials. Does the company offer certified training classes? How many books or DVDs are published on the tool?
In a photography workflow, you may be used to selecting shots, then color correcting and post-processing before layout occurs. With video editing, color correction and grading generally come after assembly. It is standard to quickly assemble an initial edit, then get feedback from the team and client. Along the way, improvements are made as the video moves closer and close to a finished state.
The following stages are common for most video editing projects. Depending on budget, some projects may have additional stages added or deleted. For example a feature film goes through many more rounds of editing than a broadcast news story.
- Assembly Edit: The goal of the Assembly Edit is simply to string the right clips in the right order. Initial selections are made and the goal is to quickly create an edit that can be watched. This may be called a “radio edit”, reflecting the emphasis on the audio storytelling narrative. The objective is to get an idea of how long the video is running and get quick reactions from the stakeholders on how to approach the project.
- Rough Cut: The Rough Cut is a stage at which many elements begin to get added. It is likely for example that music may be placed (even if it is a temporary track for reference) and supporting footage (called b-roll) is added. Many other pieces, such as graphics and sound effects, may be missing. The project also lacks refinements like color correction and audio mixing. The truth is that there are likely several rough cuts, and as the producer, director, and editor interact with the video, they will reach a point of confidence in which the project is shared with the client or stakeholders for feedback. When showing a rough cut, it is essential that you identify what is still missing from the piece.
- Fine Cut: A Fine Cut is a video that is essentially complete. It is an attempt to achieve “picture lock” – meaning that no more changes to the shot selection or the duration of the shots will be made. This version is done, but may lack some polish. The goal is to get the client to make any final requests while the editorial team begins final audio mixing and any tweaks to color correction and grading. Final graphics and other elements are generally placed. This is the cut that needs final change requests made and the client’s last chance for budgeted change orders.
- Final Cut: The Final Cut is also called the Approval Copy. The goal here is that all changes and minor improvements to picture and sound have been made. It is the belief of the editorial team that this video is done. The client is merely asked to review that all changes that were requested have been made. This is not a chance to make new requests, and most professionals communicate in their contracts that changes made to the Final Cut are considered out of scope if they were not raised during the Fine Cut stage.
The delivery stage is essential to the successful completion of the project lifecycle. If you have completed a project, it is time to both publish and archive the project. Both are typically part of the delivery process.
Many photographers feel that showing their work is an important part of the creative process. Whether it’s publishing to the web, updating a portfolio, or setting up a gallery show, the feedback loop is critical to personal (and professional) growth.
Today we live in an interconnected media world. What’s on TV in the morning will be on the web and social networking sites by lunch and on a portable media player by the afternoon. So, it’s likely you’ll publish your projects to multiple media and devices to cover all your distribution needs. Your clients will also expect files that are ready for them to share. You will be called upon to create a variety of digital files for clients.
Figure 10: Final Cut Pro X offers the ability to publish direct to video sharing sites like Vimeo and YouTube.
For more on delivery see File Delivery
You’ll need to make a digital master of your project. A master file is one movie (a self-contained file) of your entire project. The basic idea is that a master file is generally the best quality it can be, which allows you to make many different conversions and outputs from a single file. Also, having a single master file allows you to archive a project easily so you can make additional outputs in the future without having to reload the whole project.
Figure 11: Creating a self-contained master file using the Apple ProRes codec from Final Cut Pro X.
It is also considered a good idea to invoke the media manager in your editing tool to gather all of the assets used in a project. This collection should then be archived to long-life media (such as LTO tape or Blu-ray disc) to allow for proper backup.
For more on delivery see Backup and Data Storage Hardware