How do you make a big brand advert during lockdown? Jon Stroud, creative director, Jist Studios, helped create a campaign for a leading breakfast brand from scratch in the midst of the pandemic, mixing techniques with live plates, animation, user-generated content, GoPros, phone footage and the odd professional shoot with a skeleton crew. Here, he offers his advice on what video content creation will look like in a post-COVID world.
I love filming with big cameras, big crews and lots of kit. The quality and beauty of a RED, and what you can achieve when a whole team is poised and ready to create something special. But when a global pandemic and country-wide lockdown strips you of this option, you need to get creative. Marketers still need to deliver results and stories still need to be told – we just need to reimagine the way we capture them.
As a team of video content creators, we work in lots of different environments – everything from the traditional studio set-up to filming a documentary on the road to animation. What all of these have in common is people coming together – camera operators, producers, lighting, actors, clients… the list goes on.
Lockdown has provided content creators with the opportunity to show what they’re made of. Social distancing is not conducive to filming with a full crew; all that equipment isn’t going to work itself, so the tech has to be scaled back and teams need to be more multi-skilled than ever before. This isn’t about dwelling on the loss of options, but a chance to try new things. In this spirit, we have been experimenting with new techniques to help companies continue their storytelling (without blowing the budget). Here are our top five takeaways:
1. Campervan’s make great, cheap(ish) OB trucks!
We all have to work within the current restrictions to stay safe during this pandemic. Social distancing must be respected. Under APA guidelines, filming on location is permissible but crew welfare facilities on-site might not always be available. The solution requires creativity; from casting talent from within the same household to live streaming images back to clients and agencies for approval over 4G from the back of a campervan. We’ve just done all of the above on a recent ad shoot and it’s turned out exceptionally well.
2. Ditch the snobbery
Using less sophisticated tech is by no means a regression. There will always be nay-sayers who consider GoPros and amateur created content as inferior. If it fits the story and contributors are well briefed, professional editors can turn most content into something brilliant. Now is not the time for snobbery. After all, it’s the story that counts, not the tech you film it with. We’ve just completed a campaign where we sent out GoPro cameras to over 20 contributors along with detailed instructions on the shots we were looking for and how to use the kit. We approached this shoot with purpose and a creative ambition in line with the tech we were using. A good colour grade, quality sound mix and our professional ‘polish’ resulted in a great ad – pandemic or no pandemic.
3. Making it real
Having very little to work with (no big set, no big crew) and turning it into high-quality content is challenging. But don’t get caught up in whether the production looks more home video and less Hollywood. Creating something authentic (even if it’s less polished) is such a strong way to connect with people right now. Even when there are singing children in the background during a Zoom call or we catch a glimpse of a half-dressed spouse oblivious to an online meeting, people are much more open to depictions of ‘real-life’. It’s not perfect, it can get messy, but it is relatable and authentic.
4. Mix it up
While camera phones are great, they won’t always be the best fit. Using a mix of techniques can greatly improve the end result as well as making for more unique, interesting content. Consider combining animation, GoPros, phone footage, even sending out professional kit to contributors and helping them to get it all set up. Equally, working with an editor to pull everything together – mixing user-generated content with professional footage (the odd shoot with a skeleton crew is still an option). This isn’t just about making something pretty – think about the problem you’re trying to solve and what it is you want to achieve. What’s the story you’re trying to tell? You’ll then have a much clearer vision of how different types of visual content can come together to achieve that goal.
5. It has to make sense
It can be easy to get carried away with being creative first and strategic second, but marketers need to ask themselves: ‘does this approach make sense’? There’s no one size fits all way to tell stories, pandemic or no pandemic. Filming on phones may have worked for your last campaign, but is it right for the one you are working on now, where you are trying to reach completely different stakeholders? Consider your message and audience for each campaign. The tech used has to match the story. Sometimes, the big cameras are still the best – and that’s where the skeleton crews can come in.
What’s next? Life after COVID
It will be interesting to see if some of these ‘new ways’ of video creation will stick, or if we will go straight back to previous tried and tested methods?
Hopefully some will stick. That’s not to say we’ll forget about our love of big productions, but it is great to be able to carry out projects that match a variety of budgets and objectives. One word of warning, however; using non-professional kit isn’t always cheaper. A GoPro campaign can be just as expensive as a big camera shoot, if not more so. Think, for example, about the costs involved in getting those GoPros delivered to people, the time spent briefing contributors and inevitably the time taken for retakes or asking them to do something again! Also, just because the tech used to film is simpler, this doesn’t mean that the work or the editing process is any easier. On the contrary – often this means that more content needs to be captured to get the perfect shot, and logistics can be challenging if there is no set and several people in different locations.
There will always be a time and a place for large scale productions, and the sophistication they offer. But this pandemic has shown how content producers and marketers can work together to create, innovate and challenge the status quo.
By Jon Stroud