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Kirk Loftin

From Pre to Post: Producing Live-Action Video

Although similar to the process for creating animated videos, creating live-action videos have their own unique process. The basic skeleton of pre-production, production, and post-production is still there, but the inner pieces may be different. Even among live-action video, there is a difference between narrative and interview style (especially in the pre-production stages).


Pre-Production

Pre-production (or the “creative” phase) means planning. This includes initial brainstorming, outlines, research, scripting, boards, gathering materials needed (props, wardrobe), equipment, crew, casting, even rehearsals (if it’s a narrative film). Pre-production is the blueprint/gathering materials section of the process. 


Once the studio and client have agreed that a live-action video is right for a project, then there is an official proposal made. Since the studio usually needs to learn about a client, meetings are held to hear the client’s goals, vision, brand, etc. This is the “kick-off,” where a studio meets the client in-person to learn as much as possible about the brand and project. After that, the studio conducts thorough research into the industry, competitors, and similar products of the client. A summary is made and given to the client for verification to ensure the studio understands the client’s vision before production starts. 


The next step is making a script. If the project is interview-style, an outline or list of questions (or  both) are made instead of a strict script. Depending on the time and budget allotted for the project, usually multiple rounds of script are done, with drafts being sent to the client to verify facts are correct, the tone/voice is what they’re looking for, and nothing is missing.After the script is approved, boards are sent over to give examples of the visuals, colors, style, and feel of the planned video. It may not be exactly like the final product, but it should accurately portray what the plan is. The rest of pre-production is mostly getting ready to shoot. Gathering necessary equipment, props, people, locations, permits, and scheduling everything.



Something to keep in mind for this stage of the process: the earlier the client institutes changes to the project, the cheaper projects remain. If 90% of the way through production there’s a scene change, everything goes back to the beginning, and lots of time, effort, and budget are wasted. Changes can greatly increase the price of a project, so if something seems off in the script or any of the boards, let the studio know! It saves you (the client) and us (the studio) a lot of grief (and budget) later.


Production

Production starts with shooting. When shooting, it’s important to have adequate people and equipment, and to have already make a schedule (and then stick to it). Without the structure of a schedule, it’s easy for things to fall apart quickly on set. 


The most important part of this section of the process is to just get the footage necessary for the video. Get all the usable footage needed so that post-production will go smoothly (and avoid at all costs having to re-shoot). If pre-production was done properly, it should go fairly smoothly. However, be aware that something tends to go wrong at almost every video shoot. One of the camera batteries that sat on the charger overnight somehow doesn’t have a charge. Or the boom operator gets food poisoning from breakfast and has to leave after an hour. Or the person you’re shooting doesn’t remember their lines. Sometimes, it’s a problem to learn from and have solutions ready in the future (like back-up batteries). Sometimes, it’s someone’s fault (“Why didn’t you learn your lines, Karen?”). Sometimes, it’s just a freak thing that happens (a train that’s 4 miles long comes to a screeching halt in the background of your shot and stays there for twelve hours). You can’t possibly plan for every possibility, but being as prepared as humanly possible can hopefully take away the worst of these production disasters.


Post-Production

Post-production usually includes the editing process, color correcting, audio syncing, marketing, release, etc. These important steps tie everything about the video together into one cohesive vision. There are usually multiple cuts made, starting with an assembly cut. An assembly cut is basically the raw footage roughly cut to eliminate any obviously unusable footage (such as false starts, bad takes, dead air, etc.) Followed by that is a rough cut, in which the video is cut in a way to show what it should look like in the end, but with less finesse. It may not include things like graphics, sound effects, music, etc. But, if any changes need to be made, they can be made before the final cut. The final cut has everything edited down, corrected, the music and graphics have been added in, etc. The final cut should be the final video product ready for review before release. This last review is mainly for checking for misspelled words in copy (this is the most expensive time to want to make big changes). 


Finally, when the video is 100% completed, the files are released to the client, and may be posted online too (depending on the contract). At this point, the video is complete and ready to be revealed to the world. A little while after the release, the studio checks in with the client to see the video’s level of success, and try to see if there’s anything we can learn from the project. We call this the “success matrix,” and it’s a crucial step to ensure that we’re always doing our best and learning from any missteps, so we keep producing the best possible videos for our clients. 



Understanding the video production process can help both the studio and client work together in the most efficient way possible to give us the easiest path to success. It can seem daunting at first, but don’t worry! As a studio, we’ve done it countless times, and are here to help you through each step of the process and make it as painless as possible. In the end, it’s worth all the hard work to know you have an awesome video made just for you!

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