The shoot – Part 7: How to make a (good) promotional film
The shoot – Part 7: How to make a (good) promotional film

The shoot – Part 7: How to make a (good) promotional film

This is the latest instalment in our How To Make A (Good) Promotional Film series. If you missed previous posts or want to go right back to the beginning and find out what it’s all about, click here. New instalments will be released every Friday. Click here to have them emailed straight to your inbox the moment they go live.


The big day is upon us! You’ve done all the preparation, you’ve got a great team of professionals and you’re raring to go! Here are some top tips to make the day as productive and enjoyable as possible.


1. Don’t be timid

There isn’t time for shyness. This is your only chance to get all the content you need. So don’t sit quietly in reception hoping someone will notice you and don’t say ‘no worries whenever you’re ready.’

Get stuck in. Find the people you need, make friends, be confident. Everyone there doesn’t know about filmmaking, they’re looking to you…so take charge. Ask for what you need. Tell people (nicely) what to do.


2. Managing the client

You need to keep your client on board, but you also might need to keep them out of the way. People get over excited and have lots of ideas. That’s great, but you might not have time for it all. So lead; don’t be led. Know your plan and stick to it. Be open to suggestions but make quick decisions about whether they are going to improve your plan or not. Manage interruptions and ask for space when you need it.


3. Managing your team

Again, your team wants to be led. YOU are the director and YOU are in charge. Be polite, be respectful, listen to everyone’s individual needs, but know your plan and stick to your plan. Tell people where you need them to be and what you need to achieve.

Reward your team’s hard work with tea/coffee, snacks, a proper lunch break, finishing on time, and thanking them for their hard work. Then pay them the agreed amount and on time.


4. Managing your ‘talent’

These kinds of films don’t have scripts and you don’t have actors. If you arrive on site and everything is really busy and exciting, then it’s easy to get great, active footage to portray that. However often there’s not so much going on, or everyone is running away to avoid the camera – so you’re going to need to find yourself some ‘talent’.

If you need a shot of an engineer opening up a machine, putting something in, closing it and pressing go, then you’re going to need to make friends with one of the engineers and ask them to do just that. Again, don’t be timid, and don’t wait for permission. Most people are actually very willing to help, if you explain what you need and ask nicely.

Once you’ve got your willing volunteer, be nice to them. This is scary and new for them and they’re doing you a favour. Explain what you need and how you’re going to direct them. Be firm and clear so they can trust you, but also be encouraging and supportive so they feel relaxed. And thank them afterwards. A few jokes about calling their agent or their Hollywood debut never go amiss!


5. Managing your schedule

This is the hardest part. You have to stick to your schedule.

If something changes on the day and you decide you need to do the interview in the morning instead of the afternoon, that’s fine. Just make sure you rearrange the schedule in your head and still keep everything to time.

You have to be thinking constantly about timing. If you’re in the lab getting some really cool footage, you might not want to leave. But you’ve got to make a judgement call – if we stay here longer we’ll have less time in the engine room. Do I think this lab content is better than what I was planning to get elsewhere? What’s the priority here?

Your camera person especially might get carried away in pursuit of the perfect shot. You have to decide whether it’s worth the compromise on the rest of your schedule. Sometimes ‘good enough’ has to be enough.

Conversely, there’s no point cutting something short if you haven’t got the footage you need. If three more minutes is going to make a whole section usable, then that’s better than wasting the last 30 minutes you’ve spent trying to get the shot there.

That’s the whole day, constantly calculating. And it’s really hard.


6. Check your shot list

After spending so long preparing, it’s easy to think you’ll remember everything on the day. But there’s a lot to keep in mind; so keep checking back to your shot list. You’ll be glad when you suddenly remember that you needed a shot of someone walking from inside to outside in order to link up your two different storylines…


7. Be adaptable – remember why

You can’t always get what you want. You might have really wanted a shot of a machine opening and a piece of finished product being lifted out. But then on the day someone tells you the machine is broken, or the client has decided it’s too IP sensitive. When you’ve got to change your plan, it helps to remember why you wanted that shot. Think back to your storyline. What are you trying to portray? That way you can think of an alternative that achieves the same result.


Next, we’ll take a more in-depth look at the actual filming in Part 8 – A non-camera person’s guide to shooting


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