Creating from Afar: Opportunities and Constraints of Video Production during a Pandemic
For several years, digital video has been on pace to make up an overwhelming majority of all global activity online. COVID-19 has accelerated this trend, but changed the dynamics considerably. Zoom and other remote communication tools have changed what the workplace looks like, but also struggled to replicate long standing routines for social interaction. People are consuming more digital entertainment as viewership on YouTube and Netflix skyrockets, but are doing so less on their phones, reversing recent trends. Video production for organizations of all types has never been more relevant, yet producers and filmmakers are social distancing. So how is high-impact digital media being produced remotely during the constraints of COVID-19?
Creative production has continued, in large part due to the range of multimedia tools that are available to tell stories and deliver messages in the digital age. Even when the current pandemic is tamed, these tools will continue to allow organizations to work with video producers remotely and produce high-impact visual media when hosting a large film crew isn’t feasible.
Re-editing existing content
The advertising world’s response to the pandemic has been brilliantly satirized, as advertisers seemed to collectively agree upon a handful of techniques to communicate messages during COVID-19. Slow, melancholy piano music plays, and at some point the phrase “Now more than ever” appears in the narrative. This pivot happened quickly in large part because major advertisers had a large stock of existing video footage that could be re-edited with updated messaging. By recording new audio voiceovers and changing the music (for better or worse) many advertisers were able to shift the tone of their communications relatively quickly as social distancing became the norm.
User generated content While the power of beautifully-shot cinematic footage is undeniable, some of the most engaging content comes from users, customers, fans, employees, and clients. As the existing archive of social media continues to expand, “re-mixing” social content in digital video projects can help reinforce a key message, highlight impact, or strengthen an emotional connection with audiences. This video for Frontline Foods for example, relied on creative displays of social media posts to highlight, in a visceral way, the real-world impact of the organization on the ground.
Animation Remember those cheesy animated explainer videos from the early 2000s? Oh wait, they’re still around! Thankfully, explainer videos are getting more nuanced and stylistically interesting. Take this explainer video for a digital service, or this explainer video for an education technology company. Both of these rely primarily on live action footage, but what about animation? Animation is a great tool for explaining new things in a concise, digestible way. Animation doesn’t mean cartoon characters; there are many ways for animation to bring a message to life for all kinds of audiences. Particularly for abstract concepts, animation can often be a more effective method for explaining the mechanisms behind how something works.
Archival media doesn’t need to mean old, grainy, black and white footage. The world’s supply of video footage has increased exponentially over the last several years. Footage from filmmakers and photographers from around the world can be licensed through a variety of third party services. Older news footage and other available content can also be repurposed through “Fair Use” copyright provisions, though it’s always best to check with a legal expert. Similar to the idea of user content, archival footage represents another opportunity to remix and re-imagine something that already exists to give it new life and meaning.
Increasingly, footage from remotely-recorded interviews is being used in videos and digital advertising. Do people really care about poor audio/video quality? It depends. Remote interviews are a good tool for obtaining content not otherwise possible due to travel, budget, and other limitations. Footage from Zoom has also become part of the zeitgeist during the time of social distancing, and may help a digital video feel more timely and relevant. For getting information across in a simple way, this format can be very effective. But for a well-produced digital spot to really shine, this footage will need to be creatively edited, and ideally complemented by other forms of media.
Aerial footage and location B-roll
In many cases, original footage can still be obtained without bringing groups of people together. Aerial footage can be gathered in a variety of environments with any kind of close contact between individuals. B-roll footage of relevant scenes or locations can also be filmed by a solo cinematographer without constructing a dedicated film set. This footage can be used to complement other media elements (user content, archival media, animation, and remote interviews) to create a visually diverse piece. Location b-roll helps to create contrasts to more up-close-and-personal footage, and create a sense of place (perhaps even more desirable when people are stuck at home!).
Smaller, safer filming sets
Filming with others continues on, provided that safety is a top priority. In addition to following public health guidelines, productions can be smarter by getting smaller. A multi-talented production crew that can accomplish more with less is a significant resource. A producer who can run sound, a cinematographer that can co-direct, or a director that doesn’t mind stepping into the shoes of a production assistant will go a long way to creating high-impact work without relying on a crowd. Production is a powerful art form that’s best done with a team, but versatile and talented teams will go a long way.
Building a diverse media portfolio
Animation or live action? User content or remote interviews? None of these media elements are mutually exclusive. While a well-defined concept will rely heavier on certain components, bringing together mixed sources of media can be a powerful strategy. Specific media formats should also be tailored to the type of content that is being produced; it’s important to clearly define goals, target audiences, and use cases prior to production. No single video will accomplish every messaging goal for an organization. A strong communications strategy intertwined with creative production will help define what specific needs are being met and how a suite of videos can build on one another. By iterating and using multiple approaches, organizations will be better equipped to tell stories, convey feelings, and get messages to stick, both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.