If you've made the decision to read Bravo Zulu’s The Business of Business Video, chances are you've also made the decision to produce a business video or you're considering the possibility for the future. In either case, you probably know that video production is a costly and complicated business — in fact, that may be all you know about the business. If so, this web manual was written for you.
The Business of Business Video is for everyone who needs to know about video production, whether you're in business, government or elsewhere. And we really mean just about everyone. Whether for marketing, training, motivational or promotional purposes, video — through such formats as VHS, DVD, CD and the Web — has become a communications vehicle of choice across all areas of business.
The purpose of this web booklet is to provide readers with answers to some of the questions we are often asked. Questions like, How much does a video cost?" and "What's the difference between a good video and a bad one?" As video producers, our motivation is simple: we believe the more our clients know about video, the better we'll be able to satisfy their needs.
As an introductory guide to video production. The Business of Business Video makes no assumptions about your familiarity with the subject or your past experience with video. At the same time we've included many tips, new wrinkles and some plain old-fashioned horse-sense about video production that should interest even the most experienced video clients.
The only assumption we make about you, our reader, is that you have an interest in knowing more about the business of video production. We hope our booklet satisfies that interest.
The Business of Business Video has undergone numerous content changes since we first wrote it in 1987. But if you have any suggestions on ways we can further improve The Business of Business Video for future editions, we'd love to hear from you.
Similarly, if you have any questions regarding any of the points made or implied in this booklet, please call us at 604.648.2101 or e-mail us at email@example.com.
There will be no charge or obligation.
Purpose Of Your Video
We begin with the end. What you want to accomplish. In this age of television, video, more than any other medium, has the power to influence people; to make them change their minds, their attitudes and their behavior. This makes video the most potent marketing and training tool at your disposal. But the key to harnessing that power depends on your knowing, from the very start, what effect you want your video to have on your audience — the purpose of your video.
Effective communication depends on clarity of purpose. A business video should express its message clearly to elicit a specific and desired response from its audience. A cluttered video, one with a poorly defined purpose and multiple messages, will only confuse an audience and leave viewers unaffected or, worse still, frustrated.
Even a complex message can be successfully communicated through video if it's presented in a clear, concise and well-organized fashion. The key is knowing exactly what you want to say — the end you want to accomplish — right from the start.
A further point: videos serving a single objective tend to have much more impact than those serving several objectives. For example, a video to promote the sale of company stock should not also be the video that trains company employees. In our experience, clients are very often tempted to try to accomplish two such objectives with the same video. Given the cost of producing a video, this is understandable. However, such multi-purpose videos are generally far less effective at achieving their objectives than videos dedicated to a single end.
To deliver your message successfully through video, it helps immensely to know who you're talking to. Defining your target audience, the people you want to reach with your message, is critical to achieving the purpose you have set for your video.
Who will see your video? What common characteristics do they share? What's important to them? What do they know about your subject? The closer you can come to isolating characteristics of your target audience and adapting your message to suit them, the more influence your video will have.
A video made to train production line workers, for example, may carry the same message, (that is, the importance of attention to detail) as a video made for accountants — yet the difference between these two training videos would undoubtedly far outweigh any similarity.
Your target audience should determine many things about how your video is made. It should, for example, dictate the kind of vocabulary and language used in the script, the overall length of the video, its emotional tone, the kind of visuals and music used, the format (DigiBeta, Betacam SP, DV, Interactive DVD, Digital Business Cards, HD, Streaming Video and so forth), and much more. And of course, each of these elements will have an impact on your production budget.
In the business world there is no end to the possible applications for video. Videos are routinely used for public relations, training and marketing. Many companies have orientation videos, designed to introduce new employees into their corporate milieu and to acquaint them with company policies and practices.
For larger organizations, regular video "newsletters" are becoming popular as a way of keeping employees up to date with changes and for fostering staff morale. Videos are also sometimes used in conjunction with annual reports, to present a visual rundown on a company's activities for the year.
If the audience exists for your message, video is generally a cost effective way of delivering it. Even for relatively small numbers of potential viewers. Specialized products or services, for example, appeal to a relatively small (but usually affluent) market niche. For such products, a well-produced video can be a highly effective sales vehicle when used in conjunction with a carefully targeted direct mail or internet campaign.
Of Your Video
Video can be a wonderfully useful tool for business marketing, promotion or training purposes, or as a means for achieving countless other kinds of objectives. But none of these is possible unless the video is shown to the right people at the right time. This is why having a distribution plan for your video is important from the start.
In general, video distribution plans fall into two categories: in-house control of distribution and outside distribution, typically through an independent film/video distributor. Further, there are technical considerations to be aware of when sending your video to particular international destinations.
For a variety of reasons, most business videos fall under an in-house system of distribution. This means that company representatives arrange for screenings of the video for specific audiences. Screenings are made for prospective clients, customers, investors or employees, usually in small group situations. With the wide availability of video playback systems, videos can also be sent through the mail or by courier to virtually anywhere in the world.
Trade shows offer another common screening opportunity for videos. Continuous playing DVD, Video CD and tape formats, are often used as the focal point for a company's trade show display.
It is also possible to include a company video or parts of it in the company web site and Power Point types of presentations. However, given the huge data-transfer rates and memory requirements, video is usually reduced in quality and quantity for these applications.
Depending upon the subject matter, a company can arrange for limited distribution of its video to outside organizations such as scientific and professional associations, school systems and community groups. This requires some promotional effort and cost on the part of the company for advertising the availability of its material. The resulting correspondence and shipping or bookings must also be taken care of and a ready inventory of videos is required.
Far less commonplace, these days, is the practice of hiring the services of a professional independent video distributor to promote and advertise your video. This may be practical especially if the video is educational or in the public interest. These organizations arrange for screenings and shipping, maintain video copies and provide a monthly or quarterly report on the location and number of screenings of your video and the size of audiences that view it.
The cost for this service varies but is related to the number of videos you put into circulation; the area you select, that is, regional or national; the amount of literature desired; and the frequency of promotional mailings. You can usually find a distribution company listed in the yellow paged phone directory under "Motion Picture Film Distributors and Exchanges".
If you've got plans for international distribution of your video program, you should be aware that different television standards are used in different parts of the world. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, you can find both the North American standard (NTSC) and PAL.
What this means is that a VHS video produced in Canada may need to be converted to another standard before it can be viewed in Europe or other parts of the world.
There are, altogether, three main television standards currently in use. In North America, Japan, and some other countries, the standard used is NTSC (National Television Standards Commission). In Great Britain, Germany and most countries of Western Europe the standard is PAL (Phase Alternating Line), while in France and Eastern Europe the standard used is SECAM (Sequential Coloeur Avec Memoire). Converting a Canadian video program to any of the other international standards is a simple process and is possible through some of the larger video post-production houses at a cost of about $50 (Can.) per video — depending upon quantity.
Unlike VHS, Digital Versitile Discs (DVDs) intended for NTSC (i.e: North American) televisions can also play on 95% of the world's DVD players while very few PAL encoded DVDs will play outside a PAL area. In addition, all DVDs can play on all DVD-equipped computers. This last point, of course, has astounding ramifications for interactive promotion and training purposes.
Unless you've made a video before, you will probably have no idea how long your video should be. The answer to this question involves two considerations: First, the amount of content that must be covered by the video; and second, the kind of audience for which it's intended.
Actually these two considerations are fairly closely related. Taking one example, a typical training video will often cover volumes of material. And the audience for training videos tends to be in-house employees or students — a motivated, captive audience. For this reason, training videos can test the normal limits of viewer boredom and run anywhere from ten to thirty, or forty minutes in length.
On the other hand, the typical promotional or marketing video does not enjoy the luxury of a captive audience. It can't afford to be boring (although they all too often are), and should deliver its message as quickly and as painlessly as possible.
This means that unless they contain rare and spectacular footage of pigs flying or some similarly eye-riveting scenes, such videos shouldn't be longer than fifteen minutes in length.
The average corporate video is about ten minutes long. There is, however, no correlation between the length of a video and its effectiveness. A video should only be as long as its message. There is nothing magic about ten minutes as a program length. Indeed, for many video-experienced viewers, the shorter the video the better. But as a general rule, ten minutes seems to correspond to the attention span of the average audience.
Some clients are inclined to put
too much emphasis on the length of their video, as if producing a longer video
means they are getting more value for their money. The truth is that the real
value of a video lies in its ability to achieve its communications objective
— as long as it isn't boring, a video's length is of very little importance
in that respect.
The decision to produce a video is only the first of many decisions you'll have to make before you get the video you're after. Your second decision, following immediately after your first, involves choosing the company to produce your video. The selection of a video production company is usually done in one of four ways:
1. By reputation— Large production companies often advertise in business publications. Most are competent and have probably been in the business for some time. This is, however, all you should assume about them.
2. By recommendation— Business associates in other companies who have had videos made will often recommend the production company which produced their video. If you know someone who's had a video produced recently, ask for their advice.
3. By trial and error— (or, let your fingers do the stumbling). The yellow paged business directory abound with companies under the categories, Video Production Services.
Not exactly the method we would recommend for choosing your production company.
4. Through a call for tenders— Video productions are sometimes awarded through a competitive bid process. The selection of production companies invited to bid on a video project is usually made based on any combination of the above three methods.
The call for tenders procedure generally entails receiving production proposals from a short list of candidate production companies. A short list should be exactly that — no more than three or four companies need be invited to propose. This will keep the invited production companies highly motivated and minimizes wasted time by everyone.
To assist in preparing their proposals, many video production companies will contact you for more information about your program, its intended audience and your budget limitations. This may be a nuisance to you, especially if your short list is on the long side, but it's entirely in your interest to be helpful. Companies with a frequent need for videos often submit a detailed outline of their production requirements with each call for tender. This will take care of most questions a producer needs to ask.
It is important to include an approximate budget or range in your "Request For Proposal." Price competition will not be lessened and it will be easier to compare bids.
And it eliminates a far too common abuse of the process. You see, it is possible for a production company to give extraordinarily great value for your program at both a $10,000 and a $50,000-level video. But if a client can only afford or is interested in a $30,000 video, these bids will be automatically ignored. In an eye-blink, a company’s time-consuming creative efforts have been trashed, and the client has lost additional relevant proposal submissions.
Before you make any decision about the production company that's best for you, it's important that you have a look at their demo tape. Demo tapes offer short segments taken from a company's past productions. They are every production company's strongest asset for selling themselves and are especially designed to impress potential clients. Predictably, a demo tape will contain selections from only the best work a company has produced.
Demo tapes are important to you in two respects. First, they allow you to see the quality of work your prospective producer is capable of producing; and second, they can give you a sense of how your own production might be treated by that company. In judging demo tapes you should look carefully at the overall quality of the work presented. Is it consistent? Are there flaws in the audio? Does the music match the look of the visuals? Is the picture sharp and are colours natural looking? Are the video "effects" used well, or are they gratuitous? Keep in mind that while video effects are flashy, they're also expensive and sometimes add little to the content or impact of a program.
It's also a good idea to ask questions about the demo tape. In particular, ask about budgets for the items presented — remember, the demo tape will contain segments from the slickest and most expensive programs the company has produced. If you know how much you will spend on your video, ask to see programs in the same budget range to get an idea of the quality you can expect. Ask about creative credits too. Were the writer, the director and the editor in-house people, or were they freelancers who may no longer be available to that company?
And finally, in addition to viewing the demo tape you should make a point of seeing an entire program produced by the company. This will allow you to better judge creative concepts and the ability of the company to communicate a message clearly, simply and with impact
1. Creative ability— should be your most important consideration in selecting a production company. Any company can hire the technicians and equipment necessary for producing a video. In fact many companies try to impress prospective clients with the extent of their in-house technical facilities. But the best equipment in the world won't make a great video if the conceptual ideas and creative judgment aren't there from the start.
The truth is, the most valuable asset of any good production company walks out the front door each night. Whether a company has a vast array of in-house equipment or not is no indication of the production quality you can expect. The very latest video equipment and best technicians are available to any producer through specialized video supply and post-production companies that cater to their needs. In fact, the biggest thing missing from production companies that don't own lots of expensive equipment is the high overhead. And that can mean more money is available for the kind of on-screen production values you want for your video.
On the other hand, there are some advantages to dealing with production companies that have extensive in-house production and post-production equipment. One advantage is that for projects with a deadline of yesterday, such companies are able to schedule their technicians and equipment to work round-the-clock to push a production through as quickly as possible.
In any case, evaluating the creative ability of a production company is best done through viewing a sample of its work. Ask the production company to send you a copy of its demo-tape, or to arrange for a screening. The advantage of a screening is that it gives you the chance to "sniff around" the company's offices and to get a feel for the people involved and a sense of how you will be treated before you commit yourself.
2. The strength of the proposal— how well it captures the essence of your message, develops a concept around it, and translates it into meaningful images — offers another basis for judging the abilities of your prospective producer. The proposal should be clearly written, well organized and concise. It should include a statement of the program's objective, a preliminary treatment, and specifics about production techniques and formats. It should also include a price for the video, with some breakdown of production costs.
3. The professional competence of the producer is something that should always be confirmed before you commit yourself to an expensive contractual obligation. Check out things like how long the company has been in business, the stature of its past clients, the range of services it provides and the extent of its office and in-house production facilities. Before you choose a producer, make certain he or she really has experience in video production. Not web site creation, radio shows, photography, student films, audio-visuals, journalism, computer animation or games, acting or communications consulting — Video!
If your budget is not large, you may be tempted to use college students to produce your video. Certainly you will save some money, but don't expect anything more than a student video as a result. Student videos can be brilliantly original or mind-bogglingly bad — but you'll have no way of knowing which until it's too late to do much about it.
4. The budget— In the video production industry there is probably no greater source of mystery for clients (and aggravation for producers) than budgets. Although the budget, or price, should never be the deciding factor in awarding your video to a producer, it is, of course, a fundamental consideration. Keep in mind that, as with everything else in life, you get the quality you pay for as long as you deal with reputable companies.
5. Personal rapport and mutual confidence— are important in choosing your production company because of the working relationship you will develop with your producer. This relationship should be firmly based on a sense of mutual trust. The producer will want to know everything there is to know about the subject for your video and you are the one he or she will turn to for most of that information.
You should also be careful to gauge the sensitivity of a producer to the subject of your program and to its intended audience. If the producer doesn't understand the subject well or isn't attuned to the audience for your program, the video produced will reflect this and will not achieve its objective.
6. Financial Stability— is a consideration in any business relationship but should not necessarily be a deciding factor in selecting a video producer. Your contract should finance the cost of production. Not all video production companies maintain full-time technical staff and cash-flow problems are a common liability of the industry. Technicians are usually hired on a freelance basis for daily or weekly rates.
You might, however, want to make
a visit to your producer's office to assess them as a going concern. If all
they have to show you is a desk and a telephone don't be alarmed, but at the
same time don't be afraid to ask some straightforward questions about their
experience and competence.
Much Will It Cost?
How much should you pay for a video? How much should you pay for a car or a boat? The answer to both questions is the same — it depends. What are your needs? How important is the "look" of your video — its "production value" — for accomplishing your objective? Where will it be seen? By whom? How many minutes will it run? Where will it be shot? Are actors required? Are special effects, art work or video graphics needed?
The answer to all these questions and many, many others will have a direct bearing on the cost of your video. But more than anything else, the amount you pay for your video will be determined by the production quality you require for your needs. And unlike such things as pregnancy and death, production quality is very definitely available by degree.
Within the vast mix of variables that go into producing a video, there is always room for cutting back or adding things that will affect the overall quality (and cost) of a production. Things like the number of shooting days and locations, the shooting format used (e.g. Digital Betacam, Betacam SP, DV, HD, film), the number of actors required, the use of original or stock music, and the amount of time spent on post-production special effects will all affect the budget and quality of your production.
On "How Much?"
One method sometimes used to ballpark the cost of a video is to quote on a cost-per-finished-minute basis. (Which is somewhat akin to pricing cars by their square footage; i.e. the result is fairly meaningless.) The following figures are quoted in Canadian dollars. At the low end, a simple, reasonably professional looking video is possible for $1,000 per minute. A more realistic range for production costs, however, is between $1,500 and $5,000 a finished minute. Thus, for a typical 10 minute video, the budget range can be anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 or more.
Assuming the competence of your producer, the main difference can be accounted for in one word: quality. Some other expense-laden variables include travel distance, talent, animations and special effects. To put these figures into perspective, consider that the cost of an average 30 second national Canadian television commercial is about $100,000.
The point here is that quality costs. While it is possible to physically make some kind of video for any small amount of money, depending on the "look" you're after, the sky's the limit.
About the budget itself, you may sometimes see costs broken down into three general areas: Pre-production, Production and Post-production. Pre-production costs apply to everything that must be done before the camera starts to roll. This includes scripting, location scouting, casting, scheduling and all other work in preparation for shooting.
Production costs cover everything that's paid out during the shooting of a video, including wages for the crew and cast, equipment rentals, transportation costs, location costs, and tape costs.
Post-production costs cover everything that must be done to shape a finished program from the miles of tape that have been shot. This includes all video and audio editing, music fees, narration, audio and video effects, titles, and post-production tape costs.
Budgets may take many forms, but in any form they add up to what you will pay for your video. Almost all of your money is spent for services. The only tangible product you are buying is one finished video master program and the right to buy or make as many copies of that program as you want.
There is no longer a general industry practice regarding "out-takes" — the unused camera footage that did not make it into the final program. Some producers give these to their clients while others hold them for future use. The unused footage is logged and filed as part of the producer's library of stock footage. This arrangement has obvious benefits for the producer, but can also benefit clients.
For example, a client may want an aerial shot of Vancouver for his video but might not have the budget to pay for helicopter time. In such cases, many producers can supply what's needed, generically speaking, from aerial footage in their stock libraries.
If you are worried about the possibility of sensitive out-takes from your video appearing in someone else's future production, you should register your concern with your producer.
There are many different terms of payment acceptable to video producers. The payment schedule used by Bravo Zulu Productions is typical. Our production contract specifies payment for services in three steps: the first payment upon initiating the contract; the second payment upon completion of principal photography; and the third payment upon delivery of one approved release copy of the video.
The scripting process is where the real work on your video begins. This is also the point where you can make your largest contribution to the program. It all starts with research. The writer will want to have all the material he can get on the subject of your production. He or she may want to tour your facilities if they will be shown in the video. And he will ask questions. It's all part of research, and it's all necessary because the writer probably knows nothing about your company. Only from research can the writer prepare an outline and an initial script that will carry your message and express your point of view.
In some cases you may want to receive a written "concept" or treatment of your program before the work begins on the script itself. Such treatments are usually just a page or two in length and briefly describe what will happen in the video from beginning to end.
The research and writing period for a typical video requires from one to three weeks, depending on the video's length and the complexity of its subject. At the end of this time you will receive a fully developed outline and/or first draft script. This outline or script deserves — and needs — your concentrated attention. This is the time to offer suggestions and make revisions, while changes can still be made easily, with a few strokes of a pencil.
A warning: try to avoid the "approval by committee process" if at all possible. Writing (or video production) by committee tends to belabour the process and often results in mediocrity. If, however, script approval must come from a group of people or a committee, it's best to appoint one person as a representative. Thus, when the first draft script is submitted to the committee for input and suggestions, these can be communicated back to the writer through a single voice.
It's also very helpful, after the first draft stage, if the committee representative can take decisions on behalf of the committee. This helps greatly to expedite the scripting process and to limit the niggling and unnecessary watering down that will occur if everybody has their say.
About the script itself, keep in mind that it should have some flexibility, to allow the creative input of the director during production. A video script is not a blueprint to be slavishly followed but is rather a formal outline of a video's content.
Video is a visual medium. Its primary advantage over other media is that pictures convey most of the message. Words are necessary only to help reinforce the rational and emotional impact of the visuals. For this reason the director — an expert in creating visual images — should have some leeway during production to interpret the script and add his embellishments to the video.
A common error for people more used to print than video material is to place more emphasis on narration — the words to be spoken — than it deserves. In video, the written narration is usually of secondary importance to the visuals. This claim is backed up by extensive research in the field of communications which shows that audiences tend to remember and are affected by the visual content of programs to a much greater extent than by the spoken words. Consequently, narration in video should be minimal and should be used to support the visual content of the program, rather than the other way around.
Too often, inexperienced producers and unknowing clients will produce videos with end-to-end narration, for which the visuals provide little more than wallpaper. This approach (disparagingly called "Radio with Pictures" by some producers) is definitely not an effective approach to video, where the old adage about a picture being worth a thousand words is most true. Concerning the script, your approval of a final (or at least an acceptable) draft script for your video triggers the next step in the process — the start of production. Beware of producers who propose a start to production before an acceptable draft of the script is ready. This is the route to disaster, yet some producers still work this way. Having your producer work from an approved script is the best way you have of ensuring you'll get what you paid for.
A finished video script should include visual descriptions for every scene and there should be a connection between the visuals and narrative throughout the script. For producing a video, this scene-by-scene description of visuals is essential if the director is to figure out what the writer has in mind.
Although production will usually start after a "final" draft of the script has been prepared, script changes affecting narration are still possible after production has begun, right up to the time of recording. Narration is usually recorded well after shooting is finished.
A completion date for your video is always specified in the contract. The period of time from initiation to delivery, however, is negotiable. It is generally to the producer's advantage to deliver the finished video as soon as possible, yet there are no shortcuts without compromising quality or adding expense.
Before work begins on your video you should expect to receive a projected production schedule outlining the completion dates for scripting, shooting, editing, first cut approval and final delivery. This is sometimes a tentative schedule as unanticipated delays will often occur along the way.
If you have a target date for the screening of your video (e.g. a trade show or overseas marketing trip) you should allow a minimum of one month for the production and delivery of your video. This is a minimum. In most cases, a more realistic time frame is six to eight weeks.
This may seem like a long time but remember, there are many stages to producing a video and each has its attendant and time consuming difficulties. To help overcome these difficulties and expedite the production of your video there are some things that you, as the client, can do. The first is to ensure that all approvals needed by your producer are delivered as speedily as possible. This includes all feedback required for script revisions and approval for the final draft as well as feedback and approval for the rough cuts of your video. Unfortunately, much of the time-frame allotted to production can be waiting for clients to assemble viewing committees and issuing milestone approvals.
Another way you can help your producer
is to appoint someone from your organization to take ultimate responsibility
for the video. If this isn't done there are bound to be problems, including
the problem of not finishing the video on time.
A basic video shoot will often include, but is not limited to the director, cameraperson, camera assistant, soundperson, boomperson, lighting personnel, production assistants and sometimes grips (they move things), teleprompter operators, etc. The size of the crew can change depending upon the complexity of the shoot. Some shoots may only require a director and cameraperson. Usually the producer is seen at the shoot ensuring things are moving smoothly and listening or explaining the operation with the client.
We always insist that a decision-maker or your Subject Matter Expert is on the set and paying strict attention to the proceedings. We fully recognize that no one knows the business better than the client themselves. And while we make every effort to become "SMEs" ourselves, it is easy for details such as correct uniforms or operating procedures to be missed without their keen observance. Someone very familiar with your company and its policies can avert the possibility of something inappropriate, incorrect or embarrassing finding its way into your video.
(By way of illustration, we once produced a video for a company that processes new automobiles. One scene in the program showed mechanics at work in the company garage. As this scene appeared, during a first-cut screening of the program, one of the middle managers in the audience became positively ashen-faced as he recognized his own recreational vehicle being serviced on company time. Choked out one of his colleagues, "If the boss sees this he'll go through the roof!" Needless to say, the offending shot was removed.)
A company representative can also save valuable production time on location by securing the cooperation of employees who might assist in the production. For example, for sensitive audio recording an air conditioning unit or some piece of noisy machinery may need to be temporarily shut down. Similarly, for reasons of lighting, windows may require screening or overhead lighting may need to be turned off. All of these things are more easily done if somebody from the company is there at the time.
The question of which video formats should be used in producing your video program is not one that you, as a client, should have to answer. At least not specifically. Your producer will determine the production approach to your video based on the budget, the production quality required, and sometimes even the kind of equipment they own.
Every approach to production has its particular merits with respect to cost and quality, and knowing how to get the most "look" for the least cost is the forte of the best producers. From the myriad of production options a producer will make choices and you, as a client, can only trust their judgment. Unless, of course, you have some understanding about those production options. In this case your informed questions alone may help prevent some unnecessary compromises or shortcuts being taken in the making of your video.
One way to find out what level of quality you can expect from the production approach proposed by your producer is to ask to see other programs he has produced using the same approach or which otherwise have similar picture quality. This way you can decide whether you're getting the quality you want, before it's too late to change.
We'll now briefly explain some of the more common technical approaches to video production. If you’re not the least bit interested in the numerous evolving video technologies, just move onto the chapter on Post Production.
Two decades ago, all corporate productions were released as either a 16mm film or a film cassette. Today, videotape and Digital Video Disc (DVD) is the format used for most corporate productions.
This section of The Business of Business Video used to have an in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of film versus video for company programs. Projected film for corporate use is now pretty much a footnote of history not withstanding the fact that the odd 16mm projector is still cranked up for a showing. Film’s large wall-sized, rich and beautifully coloured high definition image has been exchanged for, in the worst case, a jerky, low resolution, Post-it sized image on a computer screen. But there is no denying video’s cost-effectiveness and easy accessibility whether seen via VHS, DVDs, Video CDs, or the internet. And there is no denying that the video image itself continues to evolve and improve into a multitude of bigger and more beautiful formats with each passing year. Hollywood movies can now be shot and projected in film-quality video.
Video technology continues to change and develop at a staggering pace. Video production systems and techniques are in such continual flux that it's difficult for us to keep up with them, let alone to keep you informed. Starting from the early 70's we've seen Sony Porta-packs, 2" and 1" tape systems, 3/4 Inch U-Matic, Betacam, tube, S-VHS, ľ" SP, M1, M2, Betacam SP, CCD Betacam SP, Betacam SX, Digital Betacam , IMX, Digital S, D9, 8mm DVC Pro 25, DVC Pro 50, DV Cam, Mini DV, D-5HD and HD Cam and other camera (and their editing) systems.
Cameras that record directly to internal hard discs and even directly to computer memory (both tape-less systems) are just now appearing on the market.
Contrast that with the Hollywood film industry that has maintained its 35 mm film format for almost a hundred years.
At present there are two camera tape formats most commonly used for corporate production: Sony Betacam SP, and more recently, Digital Video (DV). For more than fifteen years, the Betacam video format has enjoyed a near monopoly in the world of television and corporate production. This will change over the next five to ten years as producers begin favouring strictly digital formats and Sony phases BetaSP out. But image quality, pervasiveness and the fact that the world’s video archives are mostly Betacam will ensure its use for years to come. For example, the Canadian government refuses to accept production in any format other than Betacam SP. And most experts agree that the SP format handles colour detail, fast and complex motion, titles and chroma keys noticeably better than DV.
The relatively inexpensive and compact DV format can be further divided into a few competing and often not completely compatible sub-formats. And there are producers who swear by a number of less-common, higher-quality, higher-expense options in the forms of Sony Digital Betacam, DV 50 and MPEG 50 type formats. The "50" stands for 50 megabits per second of image information. Compare that to DV’s highly compressed 25 mb/s rate.
It remains to be seen whether the world will embrace Sony’s newest digital format, IMX (an MPEG2-based technology) as it did SP. This time, competitors such as Panasonic, JVC and a few others plan to market their own high-end digital formats very aggressively. The race is on to develop "the next Betacam SP" and as we all have seen with the VHS – Betamax war, the best technical format may not always win.
And then there are numerous expensive High Definition (HD) and pseudo-HD formats requiring special digital HD televisions and playback systems. HD playback is finding in-roads in satellite "broadcast" systems and a few impressive theatre-type venues. HD as a camera format is just now hitting its stride as a recording medium of choice for feature motion pictures, high-end TV commercials and broadcast television where TV producers are attempting to future-proof their work. The trouble for corporate production is that there is still no convenient and inexpensive delivery system (yet) like a DVD.
One final high-end (more costly) corporate production approach — not to be discounted — is filming on 35mm or 16mm film and then transferring and editing these images as digital video. This is still the approach most TV commercials employ. The film image has that certain quality, purists say, video just can’t match. If this is true, it won’t be for long.
All the formats mentioned above are capable in one way or another of being converted into another — usually with a small hit in image quality. As a general rule, it’s better to avoid format conversions if possible and best to edit "natively" in the same format as shot.
A client should — at least — understand from their producer the formats in which they are shooting, editing, archiving, mastering and releasing. Have the producer explain to you how common the use of these formats are in the world of corporate production. And if you wish to do more research on the matter, study a producer’s final release video that used the same production technology. Pay particular attention to the quality of colour titles over video, the edges of multi-layered images, and scenes with a lot of motion and detail. We all have watched enough TV in our times to know whether the images we are watching meet an accustomed standard.
The days of editing with the actual camera video tape are almost over. These recorded images are now transferred through various digital methods to hard drives and edited in a "non-linear" fashion much like one edits on a word processor. But instead of "dragging and dropping" words around a page, we drag and drop video shots around a "timeline."
It has taken the last decade or so to develop the hardware, the operating systems, the editing software, the storage systems and the back-up systems so that only recently has it been possible to economically edit free of technical problems and annoying system limitations. In fact, so many systems are becoming so advanced and complete (enough), it is simply personal preference as to which software interface is chosen by a producer.
These editing systems are most often integrated into special PCs and Macs and sport brand names such as Avid, Discreet, Pinnacle, DPS… and many others. Software-only editing systems designed for computers-of-choice include Speed Razor, Premiere, Final Cut Pro (Macs), Incite, Fast and Vegas. It’s now even possible to edit video on a laptop.
The biggest internal difference is the types and number of native video and audio "codecs" or formats that the systems can handle. These can be uncompressed YUV (ie: Betacam), motion JPEG, RGB, various levels of compressed motion JPEG, MPEG2, as well as DV50, DV and a few others. Other issues concerning editing systems include its capability for processing numerous layers of video or special effects before it must stop to "render" or process. This can be particularly irritating for the editor and nearby client alike.
For example, our editing hardware at Bravo Zulu Productions allows us to simultaneously real-time edit up to four layers of true uncompressed "D1" quality video and 6+ graphics tracks. (Editing systems usually permit only two video layers, after which edit-stopping renderings are required.)
Along with this Targa 3000 hardware, our Speed Razor editing software edits natively and concurrently on the timeline the most popular forms of video: Betacam SP(YUV), DV, MPEG2 @ 10-50 mb compressions, RGBA 4:4:4:4– with SDI, component, Firewire, SVHS and composite inputs. This same system will real-time MPEG2 encode your video programs for DVD authoring. Speed Razor, our editing software of choice, is High Definition ready.
Very high-end editing systems have versatile special effect capabilities built right in. Otherwise producers are likely to employ any of the scores of stand-alone special-effect packages available including Commotion, After Effects, … and many others.
Most of all these technical aspects
are inconsequential to the end-viewer but it is worth it for the wary client
to inquire of the producer as to the types and amount of compression that
will be applied to their video images. And it’s worth repeating that the question
of which video formats and processes a producer uses should not be something
that a client should have to directly concern themselves. More on this point
The process of post production is, to some extent, similar to the writing process. Much like first and subsequent drafts of a script, we create first and subsequent video edit "drafts" for approval and modification.
Our rough cuts will often consist of lower resolution images generally assembled into picture-sequences following the script outline. There is no music, sound effects or professional narration at this point — only a scratch narration track recorded by a non-professional. The point of all this is to create a program that you will use to spot information errors. Content errors are most easily and economically fixed in the scripting stage and, failing that, at this rough cut stage.
The camera footage is now digitized onto computer hard drives. (Someday it will be routinely recorded and edited in memory chips.) In the uncompressed digital form, layer-upon-layer of multi-generational video can be edited with zero loss of image quality. We employ an "offline" process to initially allow more footage onto the hard drives through signal compression. The final selected program shots are later replaced with original camera-quality uncompressed images during the "online" stage. All subsequent effects and motion graphics are edited in the uncompressed realm. At our option, we may choose to edit the program fully uncompressed from the start if drive space and workload allow.
As already mentioned, it is worth it to ask your producer about the amount of video compression that will be applied in the editing process and final program master. While compression allows a producer to load more video and more projects onto fewer hard drives, the more compression that is involved in the final program, the more it will exhibit slight digital video artifacts such as fuzziness, blockiness and problems with fine details or fast action. (And that goes for compression in the camera as well.) Discovery Channel in the USA, for example, insists upon uncompressed video editing.
If concerns persist, ask to see examples of a final program master and viewing copy that employed the same editing and compression methods. At the end of the day, it is your satisfaction with the quality of these video images presented that are most important. And this is why most clients need not feel obligated to understand all the intricacies of the technologies involved.
The early rough cut is often a most difficult stage for the client as it is usually not easy for a non-production person to envision the final high-quality product and it requires reassurance and explanation on our part.
The first program edit will be sent to you for inspection and change. After a few subsequent program cuts (usually about three), all content errors and client input is realized and we "online" the project into its final high-quality broadcast resolution by replacing every low-rez shot with its original uncompressed camera shot. And now, finally, comes the "production chili:" special effects, motion graphics, shot transitions, on-screen text, computer animations, professional narration, sound effects and music.
Thoughts On Audio
Depending on budget there are two sources of music for any video program: previously recorded stock music and original music. If the budget will allow it, original music — especially composed for your program — is the preferred option. It is more expensive than stock (or library) music but has the real advantage of being unique and custom-created for your video. In contrast, any stock music chosen for your program is always available to other users. For that reason, be prepared for the possibility that the music used on your video could also be used on radio or television commercials or even (it's true!) on a competitor's video.
If updating is part of the future plan for either the visual or audio content of a video, the producer should be told. To accommodate such updating, a multi-track audio mix is required. Similarly, the producer should be told before production if language versioning of the program will be required.
Concerning narration, some producers will offer clients a choice of suitable narrators for their program while others will choose a narrator without first consulting the client. If you wish to have input on the kind of voice attached to your program be sure to let your producer know. He should then supply you with a selection of voices on audio cassette tapes from which you can choose the voice that's right for you. It's still a good idea, however, to listen to any suggestions your producer might have about the kind of voice your program requires.
Before the narration for your video is recorded it's also a good idea to alert your producer (if he hasn't asked) about any unusual or preferred pronunciations for words in the script. (For example, is it eee- lectronic or el-lectronic?, ske-dule or shed-ule?) The country or region where the video will be viewed may also determine the pronunciation of certain words.
You have built-in approvals for your video at various stages of its development. At Bravo Zulu, generally speaking, we do not go forward to the next production step until you are completely satisfied with work to date and indicate such with your signed endorsement.
The approval stages can be complex or simple depending upon the production. For example, programs with French (or other language) versioning would include additional approval stages.
These approval stages are to ensure you get the video you want, even if that means substantial changes must be made along the way.
And don't be afraid to offer your input. If there is a problem with a particular shot or even an entire sequence, say something. Changing a shot is almost never a problem in the early editing stages. In any case, it's you that must be satisfied — not the editor.
Be aware, however, that revisions made too late can be costly. While in written form a script is easily changed. Once recorded it becomes another matter. At the rough cut stage of your video revisions can be easily made and your suggestions will be welcomed. After this point (after the fine-cut edit) they will be positively discouraged unless you're prepared to pay for the extra costs involved.The best way to avoid costly revisions is by working closely with your producer during scripting and rough cut editing.
At the end of the production process, the producer will deliver to the client a program "master" for duplication along with a number of viewing copies — or dubs as they are also known. The quantities will vary depending upon the intent of the original contract. But it’s not unusual for a client to receive one master and only one or two copies. Additional copies would then be price quoted based on the quantities requested. For example, a single additional copy of a 10 minute VHS program could be C$20 but only C$5 each if thirty copies were delivered as one order. Ask for your producer’s duplication rate sheet. And be sure to specify the country in which the VHS tape will be viewed.
Ordinarily, you will have the right to take your master tape and make dubs anywhere you feel gives a better price and service. You’ll find such businesses listed under Video Tape Duplication and Transfer in the yellow paged phone book.
It’s probably a good idea to contract for two master programs. They should be stored in different buildings in case of disaster. One master should be used only to make dubs, the other only to make these dubbing masters as required. The producer usually keeps a program master copy as well but this should not be relied upon in times of need.
As the video landscape changes, the technology options used for masters and dubs have increased. The most popular format is still to master to a Betacam SP tape and produce VHS copies. But mastering could also be on digital 1" and any of the shooting formats including Digital Betacam, Betacam SX, Digital S, DVCPro 25/50, DV Cam, Mini DV and even a DVD.
Mastering on a "high bit-rate" or regular DVD is an intriguing, though uncommon, choice if for no other reason than DVD's inherent physical stability. It’s not generally appreciated that video tape slowly degrades over time. Tape expands and contracts and is influenced by outside magnetism. Eventually, the small magetized metal particles that are the basis for the video image begin to fall off producing spot drop-outs and other problems. This situation can show up in less than ten years. Probably long enough considering the shelf life of the video’s content. But the digital information on a DVD is physically "carved" or molded into a surface. Some DVD’s are designed to last fifty years or more. All at far less a cost than a tape master.
Given its continuing universal availability , VHS tape is still the preferred release format by far. Someday DVD players will be even more ubiquitous. For that matter, someday high definition (HD) programs will be played from a DVD-like player.) There are now enough DVD players, home computers and laptops that play DVDs to warrant releasing your video program in the DVD format.
A business video producer’s contract is fulfilled with the delivery and acceptance of the video master tapes and release copies. If this is the extent of your concern you may want to skip to the end of this section. Many clients, however, are interested in seeing their video or portions of it distributed via "the new media." Many video production companies — but not all — provide such services. Some producers will have alliances with web site creators.
There are other ways beyond the "vanilla-flavoured" VHS format in which your viewers can experience your video program. This includes DVD playback, DVD interactive, Video CD, digital business cards, internet streaming video, internet download and Power Point presentations to list a few of the more common methods.
It is possible for you or your salespeople to make a full-screen video presentation from an ultra-thin laptop computer sporting a 15 inch screen and a DVD player. This beats lugging around a VHS player and monitor. For large audiences, your computer can be connected to a (not-so-cheap) video projector the size of a thick book. Or many laptops can be connected directly into an existing AV system. Our laptop even outputs AC-3 5.1 theatre surround audio.
As DVD players become more commonplace, popping a disc into the mail becomes both practical and inexpensive. Further, a DVD video can be programmed to run interactively complete with menus and chapters. Perfect for a sales presentation that must address a viewer’s immediate questions. Or an at-home training session.
Understand, however, that the programming (or "authoring" as it is known) required along with any additional video shooting and editing made necessary by the choices and branching of a complex interactive DVD program could easily double the cost of your video.
A Video CD is almost identical in operation and physical dimensions to a DVD. And they both look and operate like the familiar music Compact Disc (CD). In fact, a Video CD is a Compact Disc with a digital video file on it instead of audio. And whereas a DVD can hold more than two hours of video, a Video CD is capable of only five or six minutes of high quality video — and much more if highly compressed and the image reduced in size. Most laptops can run these compressed/reduced Video CD’s but the results are usually less than pleasing. Full-frame, "minimally" compressed video is only possible with the very best and fastest of computers.
A "digital business card" is truly a beautiful thing to behold. Not much larger than a credit card, it can actually be cut into a number of shapes for marketing purposes. Imagine being able to flip one of these babies to a client and say, "here, next time you’re at the computer, have a look at what our widget can do." The only problem is that they don’t quite look as good on the screen as they do in your hand. A digital business card is actually just a Video CD that has been physically cut way down in size. They are often duplicated by the thousands resulting in a per unit cost of less than a Canadian dollar (which is not much these days). Such large numbers mean they are designed to run on as many computers as possible — even the very slow ones out there. And this usually means the video image must be made very small and highly compressed to accommodate. Under these circumstances, the image is often of very low resolution and "blocky" looking. Newer and better compression techniques ("codecs") such as MPEG4 will improve the situation. But one thing to remember is, whatever codec is used to compress the video in the first place, it must also reside on the computer or be given to the viewer so they can play it back.
Business presentation software such as Microsoft’s Power Point is capable of easily incorporating graphics and video into its "slide" presentations. These video files would be accessed from your computer’s hard drive, a Video CD or from a DVD.
Internet surfers have an opportunity to see video generally two ways, by downloading a compressed video file and then viewing it or through a technology called "streaming video." Downloading requires one to wait for the file to be entirely received in the computer before it will play. This method offers the potential to view high-quality video images through various MPEG and other compression techniques. Streaming video files begin playing almost immediately in your computer and they continue to download in "packets" of digital video information even as you are watching. But whether a streaming or download approach is used, understand that the files involved are potentially huge and could impact web site traffic volume fees.
There are many players and file formats battling for supremacy in the internet video arena. This includes Windows Media, Real Player, Quicktime, MPEG4 and DivX to name but a few.
To get your video or scenes from your video onto the internet, the video must be first encoded and compressed into a file by one of the above technologies and then placed on your web site. A viewer must then have, or have access to, the same compression technology to see the video in their browser. Given that the world is far from universally high-band connected to the internet, most internet video experiences leave much to be desired, rivaling the digital business card experience. And criticism continues to exist regarding the dubious quality of internet streaming video. One such critique is to be found on the Bravo Zulu Web Links Page. Programs or shots destined for the internet need to be shot quite differently from programs seen on televisions. Internet video has problems with both detailed images and fast motion. Productions specifically shot for a web site will take this into account.
All this will change in as little
as three years from now when VHS-quality images — using superior compression
techniques and far better band-width delivery systems — are routinely seen
on the internet. In fact, it will be nothing short of a revolution as everyone
will be able to have their own personal television broadcast station.
We live in the age of one hundred channels of television. It shapes the way we think, the things we do and the way we are, more powerfully than any other medium of communication. It has emotional impact.
In the world of business, video offers the potential for the same degree of impact, and every year millions of dollars are spent on the production of marketing, information and training videos.
The Business of Business Video was prepared with three things in mind:
1. To raise the level of your awareness about video production
2. To solicit your business
3. To make your business worth getting
We want you to know more about what it costs to make a business video and what you get for your investment.
We believe that the more you know about video and the video business, the more you'll appreciate Bravo Zulu Productions.
If you have any suggestions on ways we can improve The Business of Business Video for future editions, we'd like to hear from you.
Similarly, if you have any questions regarding any of the points made or implied above, please call us at 604.648.2101 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There will be no charge or obligation.
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