Production Values Matter!

As I discussed in the last post, each video you produce should present a story. There’s no better way to hold someone’s attention than to wrap them up in a good tale. When I produce and direct projects, I always pay close attention to the story-line. Whether, it’s a live-action scripted video meant for broadcast, a high-end marketing piece, a documentary, an industrial or training video, I’m always aware of the video’s ultimate message.

It’s also important that in no way should production values get in the way of keeping the viewers’ attention. Effective programs benefit from qualified filmmakers with high expectations. They include scriptwriters who can create absorbing scripts, well-prepared producers to put all the elements together, solid directors who know how to set up scenes and bring the best out of every participant, imaginative cinematographers, crew members with excellent audio and lighting skills and editors who bring emotion to the story. Like the people who sit behind you in a movie theater and talk throughout the feature, viewers dislike distractions. They are also used to watching extremely well made programs on broadcast television, cable and the various streaming services.

Testimonial Videos: Finding the Story

I’ve been producing three minute testimonial videos for the petroleum and lubrications division of a huge company in Inver Grove Heights for the past fifteen years.  When I first started working for them, I figured that a video featuring a farmer or a trucker waxing poetic about a certain diesel fuel or engine lubricant would drive most viewers out the door in a matter of minutes. So I decided that I needed to make each video as fun and engaging as possible.

The first testimonial I produced featured a pair of brothers named the Miilers (not a typo) who had a large corn and bean farm in South Dakota. They were diehard John Deere fans. They’d been using my client’s lubricants for many seasons and were extremely happy with them. However, when my grip and I drove up to the plain white house with the bare front lawn, I had my doubts about making the video fun and engaging. When I walked up to front door I was greeted by Michael Miiler, an animated man in his mid- thirties. He was excited to see us and immediately invited us in. My reservations were put to rest once I walked into the house. The entire place was done up in John Deere yellow and green. The walls of the house were green with yellow racing stripes, there was a matching Deere washer and dryer set, a Deere refrigerator, stove, ceiling fan, clocks, even a John Deere popcorn machine! Well, needless to say, I decided to start the video with Michael saying the words with a laugh, “I really like John Deere.” We went on to film all the John Deere memorabilia and ended with a shot of Michael filling a box of popcorn. During post production, these shots were set to music. Once we finished filming inside the house, we walked outside and filmed Michael and his brother showing off their fleet of Deere tractors and explaining why the lubes were a perfect complement to their machines. The story was handed to us on a plate. If the lubes were good enough for a couple of John Deere tractor freaks, they were good enough for anyone.

Excited by our good luck with the Miilers, we traveled to our second assignment. It was a road construction company in Nebraska. Our clients told us going into the project that the repair division we would be dealing with was full of crazy bikers who liked to run around at top speed smoking Camels and playing Metallica music full blast while fixing construction equipment. We were also told that, although they really liked the lubricants our clients made, no one, especially the manager would have the time to sit down to do an interview. When we got there, everyone was fueled on high octane caffeine, going 200 MPH, and trying to get machines out the door as fast as they could. So my grip and I took the plunge. We each chugged a pot of coffee and went at it. It was the most manic video I’d ever shot. In fact, when we edited the show a week later, I wrote and recorded a Metallica sound-alike that we used as the soundtrack. While I was there I always kept an eye on the manager. I included him in a couple of shots and finally got to know him. He was unshaven, looked like he’d been on a two week bender, was hoarse from screaming and seemed like the interview from hell. But I didn’t give up. I waited until things settled down later in the afternoon. Around 4 PM, I asked him if I could interview him about the lubricants. He looked at me, looked around the shop and said sure. He’d be right back. Of course, I figured he was slipping out the back door. Much to my surprise, however, he showed up five minutes later in fresh clothes and a shaven face and gave one of the most articulate and thoughtful interviews I’d ever recorded. He told me he was impressed that the lubes held up to all the pounding they gave it. We had story number two.

Over the years, I’ve found that not all stories are as obvious as these two were. In many cases, I’ve had to find some sort of angle to make a story interesting. I always do my homework and find out as much as I can about the company and the individuals I’ll be interviewing. I also like to learn about the area where the company is located. I do whatever I can to trigger story ideas. I always keep my eyes and ears open for anything out of the ordinary that will take my client’s program to the next level. It always makes for a much more successful and satisfying project.