Sunday, February 26, 2012

High-end advertising, film, video production on a budget - Part 2

If you haven't read the first parts of this article please read it over here: Part 1

Optimizing the creative concept for a budget

Unfortunately there is not a lot one can do when it comes to the various hard costs of a production unless you're going to get talent, crew and locations for little or next to nothing which is viable for an indie-film-maker but not in the advertising world.

I’ve noticed that there’s been a trend for marketers to approach production houses directly over the last few years and bypass advertising agencies but in my opinion that's a seriously dangerous route that needs to be navigated carefully. My suggestion would always be not to try and bypass an advertising agency. You need creatives coming up with great ideas and you’re going to pay for that. (For film-makers this means you need good ideas and good writers). Marketing and advertising are two very different beasts and the latter relies on almost purely aesthetic means of creating brand / product. If you’re really intent on bypassing an agency find a production house that has advertising-like people on its team, preferably people that have worked as creatives in the ad industry in the past or as creative directors. These kinds of facilities and freelancers are few and far between but they do exist.

Rather consider down scaling a particular creative idea to a particular budget, or ask your agency to do this (they’re the creative ones). I use this formula all the time. If a client wants a script and storyboard and they have a really small budget I go as big as possible – I try not to allow budget to interfere with creative ideas…initially at least. Once I get their buy-in on the basic concept I will downscale that concept into a new script and storyboard that retains the overall concept but that fits budget.

For example, you could visually demonstrate the idea of competitiveness by filming high-speed shots of Olympic athletes competing on a track or you could film two people playing a game of chess. The visual impact of the latter could be equally appealing to the former with dramatic lighting, good camera angles and good direction. In this example we have scaled down from a huge crew with large rigs, a full lighting crew with generator truck etc down to 2 actors in a small room, some good lighting, a single tripod perhaps with a slide-n-glide dolly and a few crew members. Consider choosing the latter concept over the former and pay for a decent director, DOP (DP), editor and post production rather than going with the big location and skimping on these. The copywriting / script is what’s going to be key here either way. Of course some concepts simply can’t be scaled down and rely on their “bigness” but one gets the picture.

Optimizing production and post production costs

There’s been somewhat of a digital revolution over the past few years and this has it’s pros and cons for advertising. On the positive side, one doesn’t need a high-end Sillicon Graphics Inferno to do decent visual effects work, on the other hand there are a whole lot of untalented and unskilled people doing post production work from their garage. Similarly on the production side we have the Red camera and even DSLRs being used to shoot commercials.

About a year ago I popped into Pudding Telecine Services in Johannesburg next door to where I used to run my own little post production facility to discuss workflow using a DSLR on their new Baselight Digital Intermediate Grading system and was surprised to find out that they had been grading DSLR footage from the Canon 5D and 7D or some time. I had thought I was being quite revolutionary and was certain that one of my commercials shot on the Nikon D90 the previous year was the first DSRL footage to appear on TV in South Africa even though it was a vfx shot and only a small portion of the actual footage appeared in the final shot. So, the revolution has happened. I even know of high-end commercials where the Canon 5D was used as a B cam and produced such lovely shots that they were actually used over A cam in the final edit.

The point is that there are a lot of options here. Ask your production house, DOP or director to consider shooting with less expensive equipment. Some will of course refuse outright and many will still want to shoot on 35mm film. There is a caveat of course. The DSRLs aren’t without some serious issues even if they do produce a great image. Only those with extensive DSLR and post-production experience are going to know how to work around those issues. There are also a host of camera and lens options, like using the Panasonic 4/3rds cameras with still lenses all the way through to an Arri Alexa with Cooke Prime lenses if you have a budget. I know of one production house that has been producing fantastic high-end commercials for years by using prosumer HD video cameras at a greater distance from the subject with longer focal lengths to produce a 35mm like depth of field. I did some post work on some of their shots and thought the back plates came from 35mm film until I was told otherwise. Of course the shots were graded on a DaVinci Telecine so post production also plays a big role.

In terms of post production, these days everyone has a cousin with a Mac and Final Cut Pro – that doesn’t mean they know how to edit a commercial. They probably have Adobe After Effects too. A good edit, a good grade and finishing are absolute key and the money is well spent at a decent post facility. If you really have to save here look for decent freelancers with good show reels. Just make sure that they have some real broadcast equipment. It’s not a good idea to do a grade in Apple Color using an LCD screen if the ad is going to cinema or TV, on the other hand if your target is web or DVD that certainly is an option. There’s one exception to that but I’m keeping that my little secret for now.

As an Indie film maker you're probably well aware of the software that's available. If you don't have the talent or skill look out for good freelancers and negotiate a good rate with them. There are also post facilities in India that do fairly decent work but their turn-around times are really slow. Their rates are pretty good though.

As far as audio goes there's not a lot to be said. Decent equipment and facilities are required for voice over and final mix but one can shop around. Just make sure that the engineers know how to mix and EQ for your final media platform. Don't expect a studio that records garage bands to know how to EQ for TV.


The good news with this digital revolution is that if you’re a small business you can now produce some very decent marketing material in the form of video or animation even if it’s just going to be displayed at the local doctor’s rooms. If you’re a big brand there are tons of ways of getting more bang for your buck and a host of alternative media platforms to explore where budgets are just not going to be all that good – at least for now. The most important point to consider though is not so much on how to get bang for your buck but doing that while maintaining or growing your brand appeal.

Have a quick look at my showreel. A lot of the work under the Directing / DOP section of the reel was completed on an unbelievably tight budget often filmed with my basic DSRL Kit: 

No comments:

Post a Comment