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If you want to make a great video for social media or your corporate website it is essential, that you have a plan. But what are the basic steps involved in the video production process?
The video production process basically consists of three steps: pre-production (planning), production (filming), and post-production (editing). Pre-production includes creating a manuscript, storyboard, interview questions, location scouting, and casting. Production includes setting up lighting, microphones, cameras, backdrops, filming, shooting b-roll, and doing an interview. Post-production includes footage preparation, video editing, subtitles/captions, lower thirds, graphics, animations, green-screen keying, color correction, color grading, music, and sound editing.
Let’s dive into this in more detail below. I’ve tried to write the article in such a way, that you can follow the steps chronically.
Not all the steps are necessary for all types of productions, e.g., if you’re shooting a vlog-style video for social media, you don’t necessarily need an interview questionnaire or a storyboard. It can still be a good idea to do a manuscript though.
I’ve included a video production process flow chart at the end of the article; you can download or pin for free if you like.
Pre-planning your video production
Before we talk about pre-production, I would like to make a short note on something I like to call pre-planning or pre-pre-production if you like.
Pre-planning for your video production is related to pre-production, and you could easily argue that it is, in fact, part of the pre-production process. But for the sake of clarity, I’ve chosen to separate this process from the steps included, which are more closely connected to the actual video production.
Pre-planning starts as soon as you start to think about creating a video. Whether you are vlogger, YouTuber, streamer, influencer, someone working with marketing or communication, or someone hired to do video production for others, it is wise to start with asking yourself some important questions:
- Why do you want a video? (Would other types of content do better?)
- How will the video fit in your broader content strategy? (Is it a single video, part of a campaign, etc.?)
- What should the video be about? (What are the topic and the message?)
- Who will watch the video? (Who is the target audience?)
- What do you hope to achieve by making the video? (What’s the goal? What’s the call of action you’d like the viewers to follow? What should people remember or learn (the key takeaways)?).
- How would you like to present the content in the video? (What genre? Vlog, animation, interview, etc.?)
- Who will produce the video? (You, in-house production, freelancer, external production company?)
- What is the time frame for the video? (Time vs. ambitions vs. needs).
- What is the budget for the video? (Budget vs. ambitions vs. needs).
- When should the video be published?
- How will your audience watch the video? (Mobile devices? Desktop? Intranet?)
- Where should the video be published? (On which platform?)
- How will you measure the effect of the video?
In a perfect world, if you’re hired to do video production for a company, most of these questions should have already been answered by the company, who contacted you. But the world isn’t perfect.
So it is wise to ask about these questions, so you get a good understanding of what the client wants. And it will help the client to zoom in on their needs in the process, and you get the opportunity to guide them along the way.
What does pre-production mean?
Pre-production is the process of planning or preparing for your next video production. It involves a series of steps to get you prepared for when the day comes, and you start filming.
Let’s take a quick look at the steps, which can be involved.
Create a brief for your video
Start by writing a brief. This is where you sum up the initial thoughts from the pre-planning process into a short description of your video.
The brief is an iterative process at first, and you can work together with others on it. But it should manifest itself into a final version before you start writing the manuscript.
The brief is a good way to keep your focus on the overall content, message, and goal of the video. You can always refer to the brief, so you don’t get obsessed with some unimportant detail later in the process.
You can view the brief as a sort of contract.
If you’re the one making the video for yourself, it can be a contract with yourself to help you not lose focus.
If you’re an employee making the video for your company, you can use it as a contract with your superiors. Get your boss to agree (in writing) on the overall lines of the brief. If your boss comes back when you’ve already finished shooting and says, that he/she are sure the video was supposed to be about something else, you can show him or her the brief again.
If you’re hiring an external video producer or are a freelancer yourself, both parties can refer to the brief later if the process somehow got sidetracked.
Create a manuscript
The next step is to create a manuscript – commonly referred to like the script.
This is where you write down, what you want to say in your video. It is also where you mark important camera angles and details, which need to show at specific points of time in the video.
In essence, the script is comparable to the screenplay of a blockbuster movie.
Make the script in-depth
It is important to make the script in-depth. That way all involved will know what is going on and when. And it will make the editing much easier.
You can use captions, bold, and italic text to make a system, which makes sense for you. Just be sure the system you decide on is consistent.
Let’s look at an example:
If you’re shooting an instructional video on how to tune a snare drum, you could write something like this:
SPEAK: “Start by tightening the first nut at 12 o’clock. After that, you should tighten the second nut at 6 o’clock. Just keep moving clockwise around the snare head and always tighten the nut opposite to the one you’ve just done.”
B-ROLL: Show footage taken directly from above the snare drum, showing hands tuning the snare drum head.
TEXT: Use text overlay to give each of the tuning nuts numbers from 1 through 10
Make the script conversational
There’s a big difference between the way we write and the way we speak.
The should sound like something you would say and not like something you would write. In other words, you should make the script conversational.
The best way to make sure that you will be able to deliver a performance of the script with good flow is to read it aloud to yourself. Make adjustments to the wording, so it flows more naturally.
If you’re more than one person speaking in the video, you should have a table reading of the script and make adjustments to the wording if necessary. That way you can get a good idea of the flow and rhythm of the video, and also an idea of how the final output will look.
It is easy to copy-paste the speech parts into to a new document you can use on a teleprompter later in the process.
You don’t need to buy a real teleprompter. You can use a tablet or laptop and an app such as….
If it is a short script, you can even use a piece of paper and hang it in front of you with a piece of tape. Just make sure to print the letters big enough, so you can read them all without squinting.
Creating a storyboard
A storyboard is a series of sketched thumbnails (often annotated) that break down the script into a series of key scenes of your video.
Each thumbnail should focus on the most important elements of the scene. What’s important may differ vastly from scene to scene.
One thumbnail might show a presenter speaking directly into a camera. The next might show a speeding car from a low-angle perspective with added comic book style action speed lines for conveying the speed of the car. Another might show an establishing wide-angle shot of a city skyline for the beginning of the new scene.
Storyboards are used a lot in blockbuster film and resemble a comic book. The artists working on that storyboard are very talented at drawing.
You might think, “but I can’t draw!”
Neither can I if I were to compare myself to those artists working on blockbuster cinemas.
But I can draw some stick figures. And a box with four circles, if I want to draw a car. And what I can’t convey through my limited drawing skills, I can put in a note next to the drawing.
You don’t need to sketch out every little detail. You need to establish the overall timeline through the most important key scenes and key elements in the video.
Below the thumbnails, you can add notes about important elements such as speak, effects, lighting, etc.
Before you start drawing, be mindful of the aspect ratio of your video. The thumbnail size should resemble the aspect ratio.
E.g., if your video will end up in a square format on Facebook, it will be a bad idea to make a storyboard in 16:9 widescreen format with a lot of important details placed near the edges of the frame.
You can use some pieces of paper and a ruler to sketch out some frames quickly. Or you can use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Microsoft PowerPoint, Manga Studio or storyboardthat.com to make your storyboard.
You can also hire an artist to sketch the storyboard for you. Walk him or her through the script and explain what you want to achieve.
Developing interview questions + tips and tricks for a good interview
Interviews are very different, and the questions you need to ask is dependent on the topic at hand.
When you develop your questions here are a few guidelines:
- Keep the questions short and on point.
- Ask only one question at a time.
- Avoid questions, which might end in a simple “yes” or “no” response (unless this is your intention, and you’ll
include thequestion in the video).
If you want to learn more about developing interview questions for video and tips and tricks on how to perform a good interview, I recommend you read this article: How to do great interviews on camera.
Location scouting is the process where you look for suitable locations to shoot your video. It might also include negotiating legal access to specific by local authorities or property owners.
Usually, different teams do thorough research to find suitable location candidates who fit the overall aesthetics of the film. Then a smaller team travel to the potential locations on a “go-see” or “recce” to make a final decision, on which locations should appear in the final movie.
On big productions, location scouting is often a large task, which spans many locations in several different countries. There’s a lot of logistics involved as well as financial considerations.
Think about what it takes regarding finances and logistics to move a big cast, extras, and crew together with all the heavy equipment to a remote desert village somewhere in Tunisia. This is what Lucasfilm did for the scenes with a young Luke Skywalker on the planet Tatooine in the first Star Wars movie (and again in The Phantom Menace of which we do not speak!). All those people need food, water, and shelter. And all the gear needs electricity.
Location scouting for small scale video productions
On small scale productions is it still a good idea to think about your location regarding the context of your subject and what you want to convey it aesthetically.
If you’re interviewing a person, should the interview take place in his or her office, or would it make better sense to shoot the interview in front of company headquarters? Or maybe you should take a stroll through the local community if it makes better sense?
If you’re filming outside, how will the lighting be at the time of the shooting? What is your back-up plan if it starts to rain?
Make sure always to get the right permits, before you start shooting.
Location scouting for B-roll footage
Location scouting is also relevant for your B-roll footage because it provides a context for your subject.
Is your video about skateboarding? Make sure you go to some nice skateparks for some B-roll. Is it about organic food in restaurants? Make sure to visit a farmer, who delivers organic crops to the restaurants.
Casting for your video production
Casting is the process of selecting the right actors and extras for your video.
On big budget productions, casting involves a series of auditions performed by actors in front of a casting panel consisting of the film producer, the director, and the casting director.
The actors are asked to perform audition pieces such as monologues, action choreography or reading from a script together with a “reader,” who reads all the other lines of the script.
The performances are videotaped for further assessment, comparisons, and final decisions. Often headshots and a resume are also included.
Casting is sometimes outsourced to casting-agencies, who do the initial assessments. Casting-agencies often have a large catalog of actors and extras; they can contact.
Casting for small scale productions
Now, if you’re vlogging or streaming, casting is usually not a problem.
But if you’re shooting, e.g., a commercial, a music video, or a short film, then casting the right actors or extras is often a necessary step.
Sometimes a client wants to see the actors in a specific outfit too if it is relevant to the scene, e.g., underwear, an evening gown, a tuxedo or sports gear.
If you’re the one doing the casting, make sure you include all the necessary material for the client, so they can make the final decision on who they want to appear in their film.
What’s involved in the production phase of video production?
Production includes setting up lighting, microphones, cameras, backdrops, filming, shooting b-roll, and doing an interview. Let’s dive into the subjects in more detail below.
Prepare the scene
The first thing to do is to pick the right spot at the location and prepare the scene.
If you’ve decided to film yourself or another person in, e.g., an office space, look for any windows, which might cause problems with a strong light behind your subject.
Search for a nice spot to film your subject. Look at the surroundings. Look at the foreground, the middle ground, and the background. Are there any distractions? Do you need to move a plant or tidy up a desk?
Are there computer monitors or other types of documents, which might have confidential information on them, which shouldn’t be in the frame?
Is there a noisy air-conditioning system or loud office workers in the room next door? Can you make the room silent or do you need to move?
Are there harsh fluorescent lamps which need to be switched off? Are there any led-screens, which might cause flickering due to the frame rate of your camera, of which you need to be aware?
In other words, be aware of your surroundings and make any changes necessary to make the scene fit the purpose of your film.
If you need a backdrop, e.g., a green screen, a white or black backdrop, or something entirely else, this is also the time to set it up.
Setting up your camera or cameras is the next step.
First ask yourself: what is the function of the shot?
Is it an extreme wide establishing shot of a city?
Or is it an extreme close up shot of a character’s mouth, to convey a certain emotion?
Questions like these determines the rest of the process.
Think about the framing, i.e. the presentation of the visual elements in your image/frame.
- What should be in the foreground?
- What should be on each side of the image?
- What should be in the background?
- Should the foreground and background be blurred or clear?
- What kind of shot do you want? Do you want, e.g. a wide shot, a medium shot, a close-up, or maybe an extreme close up?
- Should the shot be a Point-of-View like that from the eyes of a character in the scene? Or is it an over-the-shoulder shot, e.g. shot over the shoulder of the interviewer?
- What kind of angle do you want? Do you want the character to appear big and menacing – then try with a low-angle shot. Do you want the character to appear small and insignificant? Then try with a high-angle shot.
If you have multiple cameras, you need to decide which angles will benefit the final output, and what will feel natural, when you cut between them.
Remember to be aware of the 180-degree rule if you shoot from multiple angles. You should only break this rule intentionally when it makes sense to do so. You can learn more about the 180-degree rule here.
Choose the right way to mount for your camera, e.g., a tripod for a stable shot, a handheld shot for more action, a gimbal or Steadicam for smooth camera movements, a slider for subtle camera movements, etc.
Setting up your lights is the next step. Good lighting is essential to get a good looking image.
Lighting is an art form in itself, which can be used in an infinite number of ways.
There are a lot of different lights available today, and luckily you don’t have to carry around hot and heavy tungsten lights if you don’t need to. You can use thin LED-panels, light mobile fresnels, ring-lights, and even on-camera sun-guns. Each type have their pros and cons.
Where you place your lights has a big effect on the outcome of the final image. The contrast between light and shadows has a tremendous effect on the scene and the subjects in the scene.
The temperature of the light, e.g., if it is daylight-balanced, tungsten balanced or something in-between helps define the overall mood of the scene.
Furthermore, there are a lot of accessories you can use to bend and shape the light to your will, e.g. barn doors, gels, flags, diffusers, scrims, reflectors, flags, and gobos.
On big budget productions, the director of photography (DOP) is in charge of the lighting design. The DOP works closely together with the gaffer or chief lighting technician and various other persons, to create the necessary lighting for each scene.
The most common lighting setups for small scale productions such as vlogging, streaming or interviews are on-point lighting, two-point lighting, and three point-lighting.
If you want to learn more about lighting setups, I recommend you read…
Setup microphones and audio recording
Good sound is just as important as good image quality. So the next step is to set up your microphone.
The three most common microphones used is the directional (sometimes referred to as shotgun) microphone, the lavalier microphone (wired or wireless), and a studio microphone. The latter is usually a dynamic microphone or a medium to a large diaphragm condenser microphone.
The directional microphone can either be mounted on your camera or a boom arm if you’re more than one person on the job.
The lavalier microphone is placed on your subject and is either wired or wireless.
Both the directional microphone and the lavalier can go directly into your camera or to an external audio recorder (like the Zoom) for later audio sync in post-production.
If you’re doing voice-over work, live streaming, or maybe podcast-style videos for YouTube, it is common to use a microphone used for speech. While there are some microphones available which go directly into your computer via USB, most high-quality speak microphones need an external preamp and a good soundcard.
You can read about recommended microphones in this article.
When the scene preparation is done, your lighting and audio set up, and your subject ready, it is time to dial in the correct settings for the camera. Make sure to pick a lens, which fits the scene.
Make sure you’ve set the right white balance, focal length, shutter speed/angle, frame rate, aspect ratio, color scheme, bit depth, and bit rate.
The same goes for the b-roll footage.
If you want to learn more on how to choose the correct settings on your camera, you should read this article.
Use an ND-filter or polarizing filter if necessary. If you want to learn more about lens filters, you can read this article.
Remember to have extra batteries (which are fully charged) and extra memory cards in case you run dry. Although it rarely happens if you buy good quality memory cards, they do tend to fail from time to time. So it is always nice to have extras.
What does post-production mean?
Post-production includes footage preparation, video editing, subtitles/captions, lower thirds, graphics, animations, green-screen keying, color correction, color grading, music, and sound editing.
Let’s see what’s involved in these steps in more detail below.
Footage preparation is the process of preparing your footage for editing.
It includes transferring your footage and audio from your memory cards to your hard drive and making back-ups.
You also need to divide the footage into the right folders on the hard drive, import it to your video editing program of choice, creating proxy files if necessary, and labeling and logically organizing the footage in your editor. It may also include syncing audio from external recorders to your video footage, and syncing footage from multiple cameras, e.g. via timecode.
It might seem like boring and tedious work when you want to get started with editing, but it makes the next step so much easier.
Footage preparation may also include keying any green screen footage, you might have, so only your subject appear.
Video editing is a step where everything comes together. It’s at this point you assemble all your footage and audio into the final video.
Video editing usually involves importing your footage, audio, graphics, animations, and music into a timeline in your editing program of choice.
It also includes setting up the project regarding the frame rate and aspect ratio.
Video editing steps
I usually start by importing the footage from my main camera into the timeline. From there I build the overall narrative.
When I’m satisfied with this, I import my b-roll footage and picks the best pieces, which fit the narrative.
From here I start to tweak the footage and remove unnecessary pauses and gibberish. I also start to look at sentences which might not be necessary to understand a certain point and to look for any “darlings,” which might need to be killed off.
In short, the video editing step is an iterative process which might need to be repeated several times to make the message as clear as possible.
When I’m satisfied with the narrative, I start to add any music, sound effects, graphic components, lower-thirds, and animations needed. This step can easily mean several detours into other programs such as Adobe Effects for advanced image manipulation.
At this stage, I also look to see if any transitions and fade-ins and fade-outs need some tweaking.
Mixing the audio tracks
I then start to look at the audio tracks. I might set up a sidechain compressor to duck the music a few decibels every time someone speaks. I usually also use an equalizer and a vocal compressor on the vocal tracks.
Coming from a background in music, I approach the audio mixing step like I would approach the mixing of a music track. I try to carve out space for each element with equalizers, compressors, and panning. And I make sure, that any dialogue or narrator is always audible.
If music is to play a prominent part, I might start with importing the music part. From there I add the footage, and I cut my footage to fit the natural beats, breaks, lifts, pauses, etc. of the music.
Here’s a quick tip: even if your video doesn’t contain any music, in the end, you can still “cut to the beat” of a suitable piece of music. Music has an inherently natural rhythm to it, and you can use this rhythm to get a natural flow in your video.
Most of my work is meant for social media. And with social media comes the need for subtitles, because a lot of videos online are being watched without sound on mobile devices.
If you haven’t got a script to go by, subtitling involves transcribing every word in the video and then creating subtitles in your editor.
You might also need to translate the subtitles into a foreign language (or hire someone to do it) if the target groups are different from your native tongue.
Subtitles and captions are often used as if they refer to the same thing. However, technically there are subtle differences.
Subtitles present the dialogue and narration in a film in either the same language as spoken in the film or as a translation of this.
Captions present the dialogue and narration as well as other audible effects present, e.g., describing what kind of music is playing in the background, if a significant loud noise is heard by the actors in a scene or the distant sound of a thunderstorm. In other words, captions are used to describe any sound, which is integral to the understanding of the film.
Captions (and subtitles) can be either open or closed.
Open captions are always visible and cannot be switched off. They are “burned-in.”
Closed captions can be turned on and off. If you’re making videos for social media, this is like using YouTube to create a .srt-file containing the transcribed text for later use on, e.g. Facebook where viewers can toggle the subtitles on and off.
Color correction and color grading
The final step is usually color correction and color grading of the footage. Though the two terms are often used synonymously, and a lot of the same steps can be found in both processes, I like to think about them as two different things.
Color grading is sometimes often referred to as digital color correction.
What is color correction in video production?
Color correction involves fixing any blatant issues with the footage to reach a neutral baseline for all the included shots.
Color correction can be used to accurately reproduce the color at the original scene, and to compensate for any variations in the material across time, locations, and cameras.
In other words, I view color correction as a somewhat scientific process for fixing any issues or mistakes.
When the color correction is done, all the footage should look professional and good enough for a client, and without any artistic interpretation added to the images.
For example, this could mean fixing an overexposed or underexposed shot, fixing the white balance, fixing the contrast, or fixing the skin tones of a subject.
Color correction is like the mastering process of a pop-song: you try to make the image look good on as many devices as possible.
What is color grading in video production?
Color grading I view more as an artistic process. It is where you take the footage, and give it a certain look.
The look might be saturated or desaturated. It might pivot towards certain color profiles like the (in)famous orange-and-teal look found in many Hollywood blockbusters.
Color grading may also include things like motion tracking, color separation, vignetting, and adding film grain to get the digital material a more analog look.
If I’m in a hurry, I might use a LUT (Look-Up Table) which is a quick way to apply a certain look to your film.
A LUT is kind-of like using an Instagram filter or an Adobe Lightroom preset to quickly give your photos a specific look, atmosphere or feel.
Final thoughts on the steps of video production
So there you have it. These are usually the steps involved, in most of my productions for clients, intended for social media, websites or commercials.
As I mentioned in the beginning, not all the steps are necessary in every production. How much work and time I put into each step depends on the type of shot, I’m going to produce.
What became clear to me, as I wrote this piece, is how small (but essential) apart the actual shooting plays in the overall process. I’ve always been aware of this of course, but it became really clear, as I wrote this.
How much time and work goes into a video production before and after the actual shooting is something which can be hard to explain to clients. Clients might think that the two hours of shooting was the majority of the work. Add to this all the time you’ve put into learning the craft and invested in gear and maintenance, which also need to factored in when you send a quote. But that is a subject for another day.
Below is a video production process flow chart, you can pin, share or download if you prefer.
About the author:
Jan Sørup is a videographer and photographer from Denmark. He’s the owner of filmdaft.com and of the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.