Like all projects worth doing, putting together a documentary or a marketing video also requires a fair bit of planning and ground work. Like a technology project it requires you to use a design process to refine what you really want to say. If you have never done a book or a screen play, you need to think in terms of images, text, copy, voice over and back ground music on a scene by scene basis. Story boarding tools such as Twine or any other mind map tool are actually quite useful in putting together an initial layout that can then be refined and firmed up later. The more effort you put in planning, the more refined the final product.
Build your story board first.
If you are familiar with technology a story board is like a design document, a wiring or architecture blue print, shows you where all the big or small pieces go. It needs to align with your goals and objectives from the video and it requires you to sit down and figure out how you will make it work.
Marketing, branding, fund raising, awareness, traffic, and a call to action each have different lead to different output. For instance an awareness video announcing your product to the world may just stop at establishing your customers’ pain and your plan to address it. But it may not have a direct call to action because you may not have anything to sell at that point. On the flip side a call to action (buy this product, write me a check, click on the thumbs up sign) requires you to get inside your target audience head to the extent that you can make them lift their fingers and click where you want them to.
Like most great artists and thinkers, you need to sketch it out on paper first. It is a surprisingly powerful medium that allows you to express yourself in ways you never thought possible. But it is an iterative medium that begins with a simple outline that you fill in slowly with color and context as the story takes up shape in your mind. You can opt for a simple detailed script or a script with simple stick man pictures to share the interaction and the flow.
The Case Study – Sindh Track & Field Club.
I volunteer at a local track and field club that works with young children. We wanted to do a kick starter campaign for fund raising as well as a documentary showcasing the work the club was doing. Kids worked really hard to get somewhere on the athletic scene at both city as well as national level and we felt a video would be a great platform to spread the word about what we were doing and what the kids had already achieved.
However our biggest question, the one that we wanted to highlight was why had our national medals performance declined in the region dramatically in the late 60s. We originally thought we hadn’t won a medal at an international meet in 50 years but a little bit of research showed that the number was actually 25 years.
We haven’t won a gold medal at the Asian Games track event in 25 years. Let’s change that .
That was version one of our story board. It turned into a great hook as well as a great beginning. It is also the vision that binds all of us together at the club.
It lead us to the fact that our last gold was won at the XI Asian games in Beijing and the first call to action – Bring the medal home.
Once the hook was set the rest of the story followed. We started off with shooting the daily roster of activities athletes followed at the club.
Gather or shoot your footage.
Shoot lots of footage under different light conditions, different actors and different locations. While one hopes that one is operating under a grand plan, in reality, it is random impromptu footage that you just shot for fun, that comes in most handy. It has that natural, unrehearsed feel that reaches out and touches people. While your story board serves as a guide to what you need to shoot, how you shoot it, is up to your creative interpretation.
Sindh Track & Field Club – The case study
Abdul Moheet, one of the track star was putting on his spikes and I was just playing with the camera. The footage that was shot ultimately made it to our final clip. Take a look. Many viewers felt that the care Moheet took on putting on his spikes said volumes about who he was as an athlete as well as an individual.
Then there was the standard ” a group of young men and women” running into the sunset as well as multiple shots of daily workouts that yielded interesting perspective.
We also caught 12 year old Hiba in a light moment, dancing away with the wind with a tune that only she could hear but that still synced nicely with our final sound track.
Late on in the second part of our teaser, we would close the story by show casing how another sprinter took off her shoes at the end of the 200m finals. The final flop of the spikes would serve as a great counter as well as a final frame for the documentary.
It was surprising how well the two pairs of shoes told both stories.
A kick ass beginning (the hook) and a kick ass ending (the takeaway).
Knock them out quickly because the first few frames are your hook and the last frame is the message you want everyone to take away.
This is where the real effort goes. You need to research your target audience and identify a message that resonates with them. You need to document your back story with credibility, with specific instances that lead weight to your story as well as your presentation. Without the research, without the back story, without credibility, you are just noise.
Small bits make a huge difference. For instance identifying who won the last gold medal, where and which event is a little piece of information that done right drove the entire segment. Specific ages of the athletes, their exact personal and season’s best as well as their medals track record were all items that required digging in.
The same held true for the take away. We build up Moheet’s achievements. Then hit the audience with the fact that this was just based on a few weeks of training. Rather than going out right and saying that Moheet will have a shot at winning at the Asian games, we let the audience decide how far they felt Moheet could go? Leave it up to their imagination to draw the conclusions they want to draw.
Test and dry run your flow.
Show the first few frames and your overall flow to colleagues and loved one. Listen to their feedback. Incorporate it. First viewers like first readers are great at identifying dead footage and annoying little details that you may have missed because you have so focused on editing the clip.
At midnight when I finished with the first pass, I showed my better half the raw clip. She immediately identified the dead zones. Stuff that I thought provided contrast but she felt killed the momentum built in the first few frames.
On the flow front, just before the final cut, when we ran the clip it ended very abruptly. The embossed bronzed effect served as a great final frame.
The score and background music.
Other that your footage, your real connection, the bit that sets the mood for your viewers is your background score. Pick the right one that ties in well with the theme and your set. Look for sales and marketing clip collections. They would send you back a few hundred dollars but they are well worth their weight in gold because you don’t have to worry about the score. Try as many themes and track – lively, neutral, mixed and then pick the one that works best with your first cut.
Text versus dialogue.
There are instances where a simple line of text can create enormous impact. The question is would it be better to just put it out there or have one of your characters or role players say it. Audiences generally respond better to voice and a face rather than scrolling of disappearing text. So even if you have text in the first few cuts, get one of of your characters to say it out loud before you do the final release.
The day we decided that we were going to do a documentary we started shooting. Our initial clips were just of our kids competing at local events. Then the story boarding started and took much longer than expected mainly because creative work requires the right mindset and it took a while for us to make all the right connections. It was just as bad as writing code or running a large technology project. It takes forever to get started and then you can’t stop.
Story boarding identified a number of gaps in shot footage that we had to fill in and that took another month.
When we were finally ready and the shoots stopped, it took a week to collect all the collateral. Then another four days of effort to tighten the story board and get the first pass done. Then a final day of editing before we were happy with the teaser and the teaser was released first on Facebook and then later on other social media properties.
The end product
Here is what the final clip looked like. For something that was a work in progress teaser, within the first 12 hours of being uploaded on a sleepy Friday morning, it touched 800 views, 30 likes and 18 shares. Previous club video posts averaged between 10 – 20 likes, 3 – 7 shares and between 200 – 350 lifetime views. While its too early to say that it was a hit, the teaser certainly passed its goal for day one. By the end of the weekend it had flat lined at 1150 views in total.
The second part of the teaser was uploaded early Monday morning. This one has had a similar trajectory. Views within the first 18 hours stood at just over 600 by leveled out at 700 at the end of the first 24 hours. My expectation is that this too will cross 1,000 views within the first 3-4 days.
Viral videos – lessons learnt.
Neither of the videos have the potential to go truly viral because they tell a story which is of interest but is too focused on a specific geography. It’s not that they tell an interesting story that their target audience can or cannot relate to. The bigger question is one of reach. A political message, blog post or meme, released to a community of followers can easily score upwards of a few thousand views in a few hours, if done right. A niche focused videos released by an individual requires a lot more effort. Release planning also played a major role. Both teaser videos were released early morning hours to a limited audience on Facebook by a sleep deprived editor who just wanted to finish the upload and finally go back to sleep. No additional or serious follow up was done on any other media property to drive exposure or traffic. The objective was to just get initial feedback from a core group of friends and family and get some sense of viewer interest and traction.
A typical individual network based post will yield 26 – 50 shares, 100 plus likes and anywhere between 20 – 50 comments. That is good for 1,000 – 3,000 life time views. A truly viral video can easily cross 10,000 shares and over 15-30K likes. If your content stands out, that may happen on its own. But you still need to have a plan for delivering 10,000 shares. Without the 10K magic numbers, you won’t crack the viral code.
With what we have learnt from the two teasers, both in terms of viewership as well as commentary, the next big milestone is to cross 100,000 views for the documentary within the first two weeks of launch. Still nothing to write home about, but a credible goal to aim at. That would require a combination of re-editing the two segments, adding more relevant and engaging content, fixing some of the flaws that have already been pointed out but much more importantly focusing on release timing, distribution, coverage and audience exposure. You can’t hide the fact that this was a hand held amateur production. But great marketing and editing can turn that same weakness into great strength.