Secrets To High-End Videos on a Budget

We work with a lot of small businesses and non-profits that don’t have huge budgets, but still need video that looks and sounds great. How do we do it?

We thought we’d pull back the curtain this month to reveal some of the “tricks” we use, so you can get ideas to apply to your organization’s next video.

Issue #1 – Where should we film?
With so many home-based small businesses or organizations residing in tiny office space, it becomes a point of stress as to where to “set the scene” for a video.

Solution: You don’t have to film at your exact location to be authentic.

You don’t have to be in your home or even in another home if it’s a home-based business. Similarly, if you don’t have a lot of room or a beautiful-looking office space, don’t feel that you have to film there. It doesn’t really matter where your video is staged, so long as you choose something that feels right, represents your brand, and gives the essence of your organization.

We’ve had clients who have filmed interviews at a family member’s house that is larger than their house. We could use the length of the space to get a shallow depth of field, so the client looks like she could be sitting anywhere. Another organization wanted their video to feel like it was really outside of their building, even though they had a large and beautiful space. So we filmed many interview shots outside.  We’ve used conference rooms where we’ve literally moved an entire table so we could use a certain window for a backdrop. We’ve re-hung pictures in many different spaces to make a background work. When you go in with the eye that anywhere can be a “studio” or a “set,” you won’t feel limited by your space.

Issue #2 – How do we make this visual? 
Today’s world is full of many businesses and organizations that do a lot of “thought” work. They give advice or expertise through talking or writing – not something that typically translates well on video. It becomes challenging to figure out what visuals can go with the thoughts they are sharing in a documentary-style interview.

Solution: Don’t be afraid to stage.

Who is the mystery client talking to personal coach Anne Wotring? Guess in the comments below.

While I would never advocate filming an event or action that would never happen, filming action for the sake of the camera is a “trick” that has been used for years in the news media and even in some documentary films. When you see a news story featuring a doctor, for example, and see shots of him walking down the hall, or even meeting with a patient, that shot is almost always fabricated for the camera. It’s not that the doctor wouldn’t walk down the hall or meet with a patient - it’s just that he probably didn’t do it right at that moment.

For videos where we want to show someone meeting with a client, we typically focus the shot on our subject, and have them talking to someone just off-camera, or so that the person they’re talking to has their back to the camera. No one can tell if the person they are talking to is an actual client or my assistant. To me, it doesn’t really matter. The important part was to show the warmth and caring this person exudes when meeting with people, not the particular client he’s meeting.

We may stage other things, such as talking on the phone, walking down the street, or doing research on the computer. These are all things we can stage and film because they’ve actually happened at some point. It allows the video to be more visually interesting and shows personality.

Issue #3 – How do we make scenes happen over time?
As I mentioned before, most of our clients don’t have very large budgets, so while they might want us to follow them around for a few days, they typically can’t afford to do that. So how do we make all of our staged elements feel real and like they were happening over time, not all in a few hours?

Solution: Use wardrobe changes to enhance your video.

When we plan ahead, we often will ask our clients to bring several outfits to a shoot. We can quickly change wardrobe for each “scene” that we shoot, so that when you watch the video, it feels like it’s happening over a period of time, not all in one day.

In summary, the above solutions aren't about being dishonest or “tricking” your audience. It’s about being able to show all the things you do in your business or organization on a regular basis, in an authentic way, while saving time and money.

2 Comments
  1. February 28, 2014 at 07:07

    Is that you in the photo? Love the tips in this post & love the videos you've done with Anne. She's pretty terrific, right?

    • March 4, 2014 at 09:27

      Thanks! Yes, I'm the mystery person in the photo with Anne :) She's awesome - so glad you introduced us!