We had a client review a first draft of a video we were producing for them. “We were all in tears by the end of the video,” she told us. “How do you do that in only four minutes?”
The oldest video production technology continues to be the most important—storytelling. No amount of high-tech camera, lighting, or sound equipment can make up for a poorly told story.
Stories are what grab viewers, keep them engaged, and move them to act, whether that’s contributing to your nonprofit or buying your product or service. When reviewing portfolios of the video production companies you may be considering, are you are pulled into the video by a compelling story? If not, neither will your customer or donor.
We were all in tears by the end of the video. How do you do that in only four minutes?”
We come from documentary film backgrounds, where success and failure rest on the ability to tell a compelling story. Our track record speaks for itself—Emmy Award, film festival awards, audience choice awards, and distribution on Netflix, DirecTV, Amazon, and iTunes. You don’t earn those kinds of honors unless viewers are highly engaged with your stories.
Still, it’s one thing to have 30-90 minutes to tell a story. The typical commercial, corporate, or nonprofit video, however, ranges between 30 seconds and five minutes, which is a short amount of time to work with for moving viewers. But it’s a challenge we embrace and excel at.
“You’re only as good as the tools you use” goes the adage. This couldn’t be more true for video production. Using the right tools for the job is crucial for producing quality imagery. That goes for sound equipment, lights, and, of course, cameras. It’s with the latter where the industry has experienced a seismic change in the last decade.
Today, it’s common among video production companies to rely on a $2000-$4000 still camera (DSLR) built primarily for stills. This is because they are cheap compared to professional video cameras and require less training to be able to operate proficiently. But creating video with DSLRs requires several compromises and risks. Because of their small size, DSLRS rely on heavy compression of the video signal, which leads to a lower quality picture.
DSLRs’ most significant drawback is their lack of sound capability. Unlike stills, video requires sound. To get sound with a DSLR means managing a whole separate set of equipment. I’ve witnessed sound “accidentally” not recorded because of this. And because picture and sound are being recorded on separate devices, additional time must be spent during editing to synch sound up with the picture. And it doesn’t always go smoothly. I’ve had clients call me in for several days of work to clean up someone else’s mess of sound and video files, leading to increased costs for them.
Finally, trying to use DSLRs for a hand-held camera style results in unnatural, jerky movements.
Because of their small size, DSLRS do have a valuable place for certain types of shots and situations. But they are a poor choice for use as a primary, workhorse camera.
For us, we don’t cut corners on tools—we always work with professional equipment, especially video cameras. The primary cameras we use are broadcast quality cinema cameras, which we’ve used for everything from broadcast commercials to documentary feature films to National Geographic programs. This ensures high-quality images with synced sound and the ability to use them for organic and natural looking hand-held style work.
The film industry traditionally has had several challenging barriers to entry for would-be filmmakers, chief among them the complexity and cost of camera equipment. But that all changed in the late ’00s. That’s when manufactures started adding a video feature to the afore-mentioned still camera, or DSLR. Since then, thousands of would-be filmmakers have latched onto these low-cost and easy-to-use cameras as a means to throw out their video production shingle and start looking for clients, often without any formal training.
The film and video industry is an apprentice-based business and those who have spent time learning from masters of the craft most often are the ones who go on to produce some of the highest-quality work in the business.
Knowing I had a lot to learn, this was the path I chose when I started out 20 years ago. My self-designed apprenticeship began while in college with four internships, including one where I produced an episode for a weekly PBS show. I entered grad school and earned a masters of fine art degree in film.
While studying for that degree, I worked at National Geographic Television & Film where I had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the best filmmakers in the world.
I went on to freelance full-time, starting off as an assistant to some of the top commercial and documentary cinematographers in the country.
All of that training is reflected in the work we produce today for our clients and what you can expect to see in any work we would produce for you.
A lot of components go into crafting a high quality video—composition, focal length, color, camera movement, and, most importantly, light.
Video is a two-dimensional medium, specifcally the height and width of whichever screen you are viewing it on. For filmmakers, the challenge is making what’s inside those two dimensions appear three dimensional. That is accomplished primarily with light.
The ability to light well is a skill that doesn’t get the attention it deserves, but it has enormous consequences on the quality of your video.
Take a look at this still image grabbed from a video produced by a Denver-area video production company.
Now take a look at a still image from a video produced by us.
The difference in lighting (as well as composition) between the two speaks volumes about the quality of each video. It doesn’t take any bigger budget to have professional lighting for your video, just a skillset that the filmmakers you have hired may or may not have.
For us, lighting is an art form we have been honing for 20 years. Earlier in my career I lived in Washington, DC where I worked with and learned from lighting professionals whose names are always in the credits roll of any Hollywood movie that includes scenes in Washington, DC. It’s hard to beat that kind of exposure and it shows up in everything that we do today.
PUTTING YOU FIRST
We have several clients who have had bad experiences with other video production companies who disregard their requests during revision rounds and insist on doing things their way. We get it, ours is a creative industry where our clients expect us to have a creative vision. But we think it’s a mistake when our fellow filmmakers lose sight of the most important part of a client-vendor relationship, which is that we are producing a product not for ourselves, but for our clients.
We’re making a video for you, not us.”
We recognize that at the end of the day whatever we produce for you needs to meet your goals. You know your business or organization best. That’s why the first thing we do at the kickoff of any project is ask a lot of questions and then spend time listening.
Only after we have a clear grasp of your goals do we start offering our suggestions on a creative direction. And if you find we are off course during a revision round, we’ll listen to you and find ways to get back on course.
I hope this guide has been helpful to you as you search for a video production company. Remember, this is a business where the proof is in the pudding, so it pays to closely review the portfolios of any video production company you are considering. What you see is likely what you are going to get for your own video.
If our video production company sounds like it might be a fit for you, please check out our portfolio of work specific to your industry below.