My Top 5 Tips for Shooting a Quality Promotional Video - Run N Gun Style!

A lot of my video production assignments have me travelling to new locations and shooting outdoors in real time. This means I have had no time to prepare, plan or storyboard the scenes and instead I have to think creatively on the spot whilst managing variables such as strong sunlight and wind noise. It can also be challenging working with folks who have never appeared on camera and all of a sudden they are expected to perform.

You have to wear many hats when you are a one man band videographer. Here are my top 5 tips for shooting a quality promotional video - run 'n gun style!

1 - Get your gear sorted

I've said it before and I'll say it again, triple check your gear and make sure you have everything you need. I start prepping the day before the shoot by getting my gear together in one place. Then, I'll walk away for a while and do something else - I'll imagine I've arrived on location and I'm going about shooting the video and ticking off my equipment as I go. For example, now I'm shooting an interview - we're outdoors and it is windy - do I have my mic undercovers? Check.

Batteries, memory cards, lenses & lens filters & cleaning cloths! Tripods, rechargers, sliders, jobs, steadycams, boom mics, boom poles, GoPro and accessories - that's a lot to remember!

I've created a custom Video Gear Checklist - tailor made to suit my equipment and needs. I highly recommend you do the same, or you can download my Video Gear Checklist to get things started.

2 - Get to know your customer

Knowing as much about your customer, their product and/or services is crucial to being able to produce a valuable and relevant video production. I highly recommend researching your customer online, read about their company, their business and core values.

Remember names! The nicest thing you can say to someone is their name! 

What is the point of the video that you are producing? What is the problem that your client's product or service solves? How does it improve people's lives?

It is important to have a clear understanding of what your customer wants to achieve. In fact, quite often is it the customers intended goal that determines the type of video to be produced.

Brand Storytelling helps businesses to establish emotional connections and drive their brand loyalty while educational and demonstration videos showcase product benefits.

Once you have a solid understanding of what the key messages are that need to be presented in the video, you can start to think about how best to capture those messages both visually and audibly.

Example Video: Safelifter

I produced the following product demonstration video for Safelifter.

This video project was a little bit unique because the Safelifter product was new at the time and it wasn't on the market. So, I wasn't able to conduct any background research about this product before production. In fact, I didn't really understand what it was or how it worked until I arrived on location to shoot the video.

My client had taken a few photos of the Safelifter and emailed them to me with a brief explanation as to what it does. All I really knew was that it was a 'new device for lifting pumps in and out of waste water pumping stations'. Should prove to be an interesting shoot, I thought.

The SAFELIFTER is a high innovative safety lifting device that self aligns and attaches to cranes, lifting arms, hoists and winches. 

3 - Open your ears and listen!

'When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME'

That's a great saying. I think of it often because I have in the past had a bad tendency to think that I've heard what my customer has said but unfortunately I had not really listened and captured what they wanted. 

I thought I had of course, and indeed I had captured what I thought was required, however upon revision at a later date, I can see that I jumped to conclusions and assumed certain things.

This is an easy trap to fall into, especially when you are working under pressure, harsh conditions and tight time frames. So, it is important to always be present and mindful of what your clients says and wants.

It's also not a bad idea to playback the footage with your client while on location and seek their feedback. Give them the opportunity to review in real time and make creative suggestions. There have been numerous times when my client has suggested a shot that I hadn't thought of and which consequently has turned out brilliant so be sure to involve you customer as much as possible while filming.

Shoot for your edit.
Get creative! Think about your shots. I captured this footage by taping a GoPro to the end of my boom pole and lowering it several metres into the pump well.

Get creative! Think about your shots. I captured this footage by taping a GoPro to the end of my boom pole and lowering it several metres into the pump well.

In order to determine the footage required, consider shooting the interviews first. I always prefer to get interviews out of the way at the very start. This gives me a chance to not only settle nerves with my talent but also to think about how best to visually reinforce what is said during the interview.

It is also very important to talk and ask questions during any performed tasks. Mic up your main talent and think about the types of questions that people will want to ask as you film the action. This is a great way to capture real conversation and genuine, relevant information. 

Remember to open your ears and listen to what is being said as you film. Bookmark key visions in your head as the conversation continues and be sure to go back and shoot any supporting footage on the go.

4 - Be a nice guy (or girl if you are one) and call your shots!

Nobody wants to work with a snobby, know-it-all smart arse, right? So, don't be one. In fact, if that is the kind of person you are - perhaps video production is not for you?

Given that as a one man band you are wearing ALL the hats (i.e. camera operator, sound tech, director etc), you need to be able to work happily and cooperatively with all those involved.

It is in your best interest to get along with everyone to the best of your ability. Sometimes this can take hard work! But it is imperative to keep a cool head and stay on the good side of all the folks you are working with.

That said, you are also being paid to do a job. So, don't be afraid to call your shots. One of the many hats you are wearing is the Director's, so be sure to explain what actions you need to occur. You may need folks to perform a certain task multiple times and you want them to do so without fatigue or frustration.

Direct people calmly and patiently. Granted, it can sometimes be a real challenge and in reality, sometimes you do need to suggest changes that your client isn't expecting, like replacing talent. But if you take the time to explain your reasons and communicate effectively with your client, you will find that you can lead the way in your production, as indeed you should.

5 - Bring it on home!

You've shot all your interviews and gathered as much supporting footage as possible. You're exhausted, hungry and thirsty. It's time to shake hands with your team and thank everyone for being so awesome.

Just as I have recommended you triple check your gear before heading out to a gig, I also recommend triple checking you have packed all your gear before leaving the location. It is rather annoying when you are half-way home and you realize you left a lens cap on the rock beside the stream for example, or even worse, your camera!

Get onto editing sooner rather than later!

Copy all the footage onto your computer and back it up as soon as you can. Then get onto editing your project in the next day or so while the story and subject matter are still fresh in your mind.

You will remember what you were thinking while you were shooting the footage - you will remember what worked and what didn't, the conversations you had and hopefully you were shooting for the edit - so you should be able to put all the pieces together and have yourself a rough draft in no time.

Don't leave it until next week - unless you have to. I always prefer to keep the ball rolling on my projects and work on them from start to finish.

Get the draft video to your client for feedback before you start spending time colour correcting and mastering audio.

Once you client has signed off on the final version, its time to make your video look and sound the best it can. Go to town with your colour correcting and audio mastering. Fine tune your cuts and transitions and get your intro and outros in place.

The post production phase is my favourite. I love bringing together all the pieces of the digital jigsaw that is video editing - I especially love how it often times ends up being better that I thought it would.

The only thing better than the creative process involved during post production is receiving positive feedback from happy customers when you have delivered the final version of their video.

On every level it was both professional and easy working with Dave. He grasped very quickly what we were trying to do and gave excellent advice on the best ways to film the product, and the style of the video. Particularly impressive was his use of interviews for the commentary,  from people in the field, working on the project, giving an authentic, natural feel, missing in many video productions. Professional, organised and intuitive behind the camera and even more so with the editing. The final cut passed all my expectations. The video was a very important part of our project and a there was great concern to get it right. Dave took all those concerns away, making it all seem incredibly easy. A pleasure to work with, i highly recommend working with Dave on any project - Alex Prestwich, Safelifter.
Alex and the Safelifter team on location at Kyogle, NSW.

Alex and the Safelifter team on location at Kyogle, NSW.