Ten Tips
An Adventure in Remote Directing. What happens to a script when there is no director? About what you would expect...
Ten Tips for Better Videos screen grab

Recently I had an idea for a project. Quick background: Two sales training classes that I conduct in my other life have activities where the learners are supposed to create short videos on their phones, which we later watch all together in class. Some are great. Most aren’t. We see the same basic errors over and over again, so I thought: Why not make a basic video that covers the most common mistakes we see? If we alert the students to the pitfalls, perhaps they won’t fall into them.

So I wrote a script that addressed the ten most common (and terrifying) gaffs. Well, I guess I wrote a “treatment”, which was all I needed since I was going to shoot everything myself. The script sat for a while as other things kept bumping it down the to-do list, but finally it was time to make it. And then I had a thought. There are nine trainers that do these classes, so why not have them shoot the individual tips? I’d rather edit than be on camera, so what could go wrong?

Not Completely New

I had actually done something similar about a year before this project. On the birthday of highly-respected co-worker (okay, it’s probably more truthful to say that we all love him), I thought I would be creative and send him a Happy Birthday video. But then I thought, why not have all the trainers that work with him (and love him, did I mention that?) provide clips that I could stitch together? Everyone came through and the result was pretty cool. How would you like to get a birthday card like this one?:

A Script with no Director

But back to the present. One of the trainers who would be contributing is also a filmmaker. I respect him a ton (and live in fear of others judging me a little), so I had to do a proper script. What I wrote wasn’t 100% proper, but it was marked up using fountain.io and I created a nice, standards-compliant PDF. I emailed the script to the trainers, aggressively optimistic about what a great idea this was and sat back and waited. It didn’t take long.

The first submission I received was, um, way off base: It was shot vertically (the first tip!), didn’t follow the script and the facilitator didn’t appear on screen. That last bit was, you know, the purpose of having others create the clips. To his credit, he did manage to get the point across. And, honestly? I was happy because 1) someone had been brave enough to try and 2) through his failure, I could see what I had done wrong.

A Script with no Director Needs Direction

The birthday video had come together so well because everyone immediately understood the vision with only my sample to go by. They all did their own thing, wrote their own script, and it was great. The script was the big difference and where I let my team down.

Lesson #1: If the director can’t be there to guide the work, then each scene must be described in quite a a bit of detail. Without a detailed shooting script, the person making it has little chance of producing what the writer was after. So, actually, the real lesson is for a director to be there! Realistically, this method of creating a video isn’t something that one would do often. Or ever, normally. But it was a really interesting exercise and it made me think much harder about what I was trying to do.

And the lessons kept on coming.

Lesson #2: Some people actually do rock! The next submission that came in was pretty great. Mark did four scenes (clips) and they were awesome. While not perfect, all of his footage was usable. Two clips were damn-near perfect and make it into the final product. I was stoked. And then the next lesson …

Lesson #3: Not everyone is Mark. I was so happy with what Mark did, I put a reel together of just Mark and shared it with the others, hoping to inspire them. Some nice stuff followed, but no one recreated Mark’s magic.

And … it’s a wrap!

After some prodding, everyone submitted clips. Some are great and some are a little less than perfect. We may still re-shoot some of these, but it’s done, it works and we’re using it. See the final at Ten Tips for Better Video.


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