10 Questions

Don’t say “Action!” just yet…
Questions to ask before producing your video

Whether this is the first time or the twenty-first time you’re producing a video or multimedia project for your organization, knowing what questions to ask can save you on time, planning, and budget. And taking the time to ask these questions will help to ensure that the product you get is the product you need. By providing this information to your production company, you will enable them to better target your needs, your audience and your budget to help Tell The Story.

Questions to ask yourself before beginning your Video Production…

1. What is the purpose of your program?
2. Who will your audience be?
3. What do you want to achieve?
4. What is an appropriate budget?
5. What will be the approximate shelf life of your production?
6. Are there other potential uses for your program?
7. Where and how will your program be shown or distributed?
8. What resources do you already have?
9. How should your program coordinate with your other materials and branding?
10. Who will be involved in the approval process?

What is the purpose of your program?
Try to come up with a single sentence that describes the purpose of the program. Focus on a single idea. Don’t make the mistake of trying to develop a program that is all things to all people. Focused is best. Ask yourself whether the program should be designed to train, inform, to motivate, entertain or to sell. See if you can come up with a sentence that uses only one or two of these words. For example: “The purpose of this program is to inform members of the community about our mission and to motivate them to contribute to our capital campaign.”

Who will your audience be?
The producer and writer will want to have a good idea of just who your target audience will be. Define this demographic as clearly as possible. Often, there will be a primary and a secondary audience.

What do you want to achieve?
In other words, what are your objectives? What actions do you want the viewer to take? What do you want the viewer to know, think, believe or feel after they’ve viewed the program? Limit yourself to no more than three or four clearly defined objectives. For example: “After viewing this program, the audience will understand that our programs have proved to be highly effective in combating juvenile delinquency.” Or, “ The viewer will be motivated to visit our website to learn more about our products and services.”

Focusing on what you want to accomplish and on defining your target audience is not only a good exercise for you, but is essential for your writers, producers, directors and editors. It will help them develop the best style or treatment for your message, inform them as they write an effective script and conduct on-camera interviews, ensure that the shots are appropriate, and that the graphics, editing and music are all working together to achieve your purpose. This is information to which they can refer throughout the development and production process that will keep your project on track and on message. Now, what will it cost to accomplish these objectives?

What is an appropriate budget?
Providing the information you’ve gathered from asking the previous questions will be a great help to your production company in developing a treatment and script to help you achieve your objectives. But they need more information in order to come up with a solution that will fit your pocketbook. There are a number of different ways to achieve your goals, and consequently a wide range in what your production might cost. You should have an idea of what you will be able to budget for your program. Asking yourself the next few questions as well will help you justify the expenditure and help you decide what is appropriate and feasible. Give your production company a general idea of what you might be able to spend. Doing so will allow them to recommend workable solutions to your communications needs and avoiding the waste of time spent in working on ideas which may be out of reach.

What will be the approximate shelf life of your production?
How long will this information be valid? Will the program be used only once for a specific event or purpose and then discarded, or will this information be timeless? If the program will be working for you for several years, it’s certainly easier to justify a greater effort and expense. You’ll also want to avoid anything that may date your program if you’re going to be using it for several years to come. The writers, producers and directors need to be aware of that.

Are there other potential uses for your program?
How many additional uses can you imagine for your program? A video that is developed especially for a large meeting or special event might also be screened at smaller gatherings, distributed as a gift or premium, posted to your website or made available as a podcast. Your production company needs to be aware of all the possible subsequent uses so they can develop a program that will be effective in each. Are you planning to produce another program further down the road? Try to make the best use of the days you’re out on production shooting your video. For example, if you’re taping a public service announcement, don’t just tape one – tape three or four. You don’t have to edit and distribute them all at once, but the footage will be “in the can,” available when you’re ready to create that second spot. Maximize the use of your program and your shooting days. You’ll save money and you’ll again be able to better justify the funds being spent.

Where and how will your program be shown or distributed?
As we just mentioned, the production company should be aware of where and how the product will be used. If it will be screened on an enormous screen for a large audience the show would be produced differently than if it were only going to be viewed on someone’s computer and delivered via the internet. Will it be broadcast on television stations or cable TV, viewed by hundreds of people on DVD or to untold numbers as a video podcast? How many copies will you ultimately need? The answer to this question will affect not only the price, but the style in which the program is written and produced.

What resources do you already have?
Do you have videotape shot by a local television station for the evening news that you’d like to include? What about high-quality still photographs? Do you have access to someone who does professional voiceovers? An intern who could assist in gathering materials or information? Do you have writers on staff? What about monetary resources? If you’re a nonprofit organization, is there a board member or foundation that would be willing to fund your project? Bear in mind that while you will naturally want to look for opportunities to save money, you also want to ensure that your production is thoroughly professional. Avoid using inexperienced volunteers and poor quality images. The money you save will not be worth the reduction in the quality and effectiveness of your end product.

How should your program coordinate with your other materials and branding?
Determine if the program’s look should fit in with your website, your print materials or your branding. If so, you’ll want to obtain logos as well as information on colors and fonts for your production company to use once the project begins. They’ll tell you what they need.

Who will be involved in the approval process?
Serious problems can arise when the individual responsible for approving the finished production is not involved at several points in the process. Finding out in the end that this person insists on major or even minor changes can be frustrating, time consuming and very costly. It should also be unnecessary. Before you begin, determine which person or persons will have the final say on the production. Make sure they are consulted at key points in the process including the approval of a budget, treatment, script and viewing a work progress copy of the program. Avoid involving committees or circulating the preliminary copies around to too many people. Too many cooks really do spoil the broth. Keep your eye, and theirs, on the ball (the purpose and objectives you’ve identified) and you’re guaranteed to have a program that is successful.

The most important time spent in developing and producing your video or multimedia project is the time spent before the director says “action!” The place to begin is right there in your organization, focusing on what it is you mean to achieve and thinking about some of the issues we’ve outlined here. The next step is to present these issues to your production company or to issue an R.F.P. Sharing the information you’ve gathered by asking yourself these questions will enable you to clearly communicate your needs. Once you’ve identified a producer who you feel will work with you to meet those needs, there are some questions you should be asking of them. But we’ll save that for another article.