Have you seen the most recent blockbuster? It was just great wasn’t it? They probably made up the whole thing on the fly; that’s why it was so good.
No they didn’t. The amount of work that goes into making a movie before the first camera begins rolling is astounding. We’re talking years and years of work, before they start the three to six months of filming. That is how high-quality movies are made, no exception. So why should our videos be any different? We should put some serious planning into any video we make.
I’ve broken down my pre-production workflow into a few essential steps.
- Concept to paper
- Map it out logically
- Gather assets
- Consider needed equipment
The pre-production steps are the same whether you’re working with a camera or a screen capture. As I work into the details of my steps, I’ll give examples from both sides.
1. Concept to Paper
Maybe I am sitting at dinner just thinking about my day, and it hits me. This concept that needs to be turned into a video. It could be a process taught through a screencast or a demonstration to be filmed. The first thing I should do is get that idea written down. As I type out concepts, I find holes in my idea or problems in trying to phrase my idea in a way that others will understand. If I can’t make my idea make sense on paper, there’s no way it’s going to make sense to my viewer.
2. Map it out logically
A demonstration may seem simple enough. But your now-written concept needs to be made into an easy-to-follow story. Likewise, your process needs to be clear and leave little to the imagination of your viewer. One thing I like to do is make a list, an outline, or a timeline. Do this, then this, and finally this in your screencast process. Say this, show this, and do this in your video demonstration. Have someone else review your timeline and ask them if the information flows logically. Now is the time to type a script as well. Most projects work well with a script. Documentaries don’t usually use scripts in the traditional sense, but they will bullet point the information they are trying to get and even map out interviews ahead of time.
You don’t have to be a fantastic artist or even pull out a single drawing. All I’m suggesting is that you start to consider your visuals. For me, some of the most confusing videos to make are screencasts, because I find myself in a sort of computer/camera inception sequence, and I lose track of where I am. But drawing a box that has inside of it, “I will show ____ and explain ____” is the form of storyboarding that I find works best for me. I do this beyond a script because there have been far too many times where I have no visual planned for my audio or text content. Even when shooting a demonstration, you need to have a plan for keeping your audience visually engaged. Write down things that will make your audience glad they watched your video and didn’t just listen to the radio.
4. Gather Assets
If you’re going to show how to download an item from a website, go ahead and ensure you have the website working and the item ready to download. Practice downloading the item, prepare a backup plan. If you’re going to demonstrate how to get candy from the vending machine, ensure there’s candy in the machine, that the machine works, etc. Think practically. What physical items are going to be required to make this work? Do I have the needed software? Do I have the needed connections with the people I am going to film?
5. Consider Needed Equipment
Now that you have your raw assets prepared, tested, and ready, it’s time to really start moving. Get your camera ready, and get a good microphone. Test your camera and microphone. Do you need lights for your video shoot? Do you need a quiet room for your screencast? Is the room you’re going to be filming in susceptible to echoes? You may need some blankets to put up to dampen that sound. For a screencast, do you have space on your hard drive for your recording? Do you have the needed software like Snagit or Camtasia? Fill your tool bag, and get ready to go.
Set aside the time you need to produce your video. Make sure to give yourself ample time. I try to always book myself at least an extra 30 minutes longer than I think it’s going to take. If you are working with other people, let them know you are going to need them for the full amount of time; don’t try to underestimate the time you’ll be working. Nothing is worse than having to tell your actor or assistant, “Hey, we need you to stick around for an hour longer than expected.” It is so much better to end up sending them home earlier than planned.
And with that, you should have a fairly good pre-production checklist. You’re ready to shoot! You can find more Camtasia eLearning tips about pre-production, production, and post-production in our Producing an eLearning Video blog series. Let me know in the comments if you have other ideas or steps in your pre-production checklist!