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Tell, Tell and Told – How I (accidentally) improved quality in production and post

Still trying to figure out what to write as a caption for this picture. If you think of one, tell me in the comments section.
Photo by Jay Mantri

Last week I had a three-day shoot in New York City. It’s been a few months since I’ve shot anything of substance on a location and I could feel my “cameraman muscle” atrophying. During the shoot I did something I’ve been doing outside of shooting entirely on accident. Afterwards I realized I improved the quality of the video, lessened time spent in post and made the client happier.

Lately I’ve spent a lot of time writing posts and editing videos rather than shooting. An approach to writing, and content creation in general, is the Tell, Tell and Told method. I’m going to go over with you what it is, how I used it on my shoot and where it fits in in post production.

Honestly I have no idea what this is actually called. Someone help me out in the comments section if you know!

Tell, Tell and Told – Explain this, please.

Tell, Tell and Told is simple – tell the audience what you will tell them, tell it to them and then tell them what you told them.

Tell the audience what you will tell them is the basic introduction. I did this above when I said “I’m going to go over with you what it is, how I…” Tell it to them is what we’re doing now. I’m telling you the information I want to give you in the post. Tell them what you told them is a recap. Ex: Today we went over how to change point text to paragraph text in After Effects.

You should do this in any sort of informative product (written, video, other). Think about most of the non-fiction programming you watch. There’s a short introduction that says what’s going to happen in the show. That introduction teases something big that you always have to wait until the last 5 minutes to see. Then the meat of the show happens. Finally there’s a recap of everything that was covered in the last 45 seconds that the editor squeezed in before the credits get squished over to the side to show the start of the next show.

The Shoot

Day 1 of my shoot was wrapping. We had a solid non-talent talent and were actually done early. This was an amazing feeling after getting up at 3:45am to catch a train to NYC. But since we had some more time, and despite of some sleep deprivation, I decided to stop everyone from packing up and leaving when we thought we got everything done on the shot list. Together I guided us through everything we shot and our notes. This turned out to be tremendously helpful.

We realized that 1) we skipped a shot 2) two of our notes were wrong and 3) we should shoot these couple quick items that weren’t on the list.

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An Hour in Pre-Production Saves Two in Post

An hour in pre-production saves two in post. Are you prepared?
An hour in pre-production saves two in post. Are you prepared? Photo courtesy of Unsplash by Mario Calvo

This article is on the importance of pre-production for video editing projects.

“An hour in pre-production saves two in post,” is one of my favorite sayings.

Whether you are editing or shooting and editing (and producing, directing, etc.), this post is for you. Spending time planning, scripting, brainstorming and storyboarding will significantly decrease the time you spend in post production.

I have been on the winning and losing side of being prepared and not being prepared. Below are some strategies I use in pre-production to save time in post production along with some victories and mistakes I’ve made. These example will highlight the importance of pre-production.

Pre-Production Site Surveys

Whenever possible do a site survey. Canvass the area that’s going to be shot. As far as production goes, check for access to outlets, sunny windows and those typical production-related items. For you the editor, speak up if you have concerns. Is the busy road going to cause you trouble in post? If so, can you move that shot further away? Is there a logo of some sort that’s going to be in the background that you’ll have to blur out? Change the shot or at least you’re prepared in post and won’t be swearing at the videographer.

Recently I had an emergency video that I had to shoot, edit and publish in an hour (crazy, I know). There was only one spot I could shoot in. It had overhead lights and a bright, sunny window with no blinds to one side. I had no time to strike lights and all I had in my camera bag was a green screen. I clipped the green screen across the window to diffuse some of the light. My PA sat in the chair and it looked pretty good, or so I thought.

I shot the quick video with the talent who had a shiny, bald head. I didn’t notice the problem during the shoot because I was in such as rush. When I got to my laptop and plugged in the SD card I saw it… a green glow on his head. If I had spent 2 more minutes setting up I would have noticed this and could have gotten access to a white screen. Instead I was in a rush and had to spend the rest of the dwindling minutes trying to color correct the guy’s head.

Everyone Reads the Script During Pre-Production

The scriptwriter, shooter, editor, producer, director and especially client must read the script before shooting. The more eyes on it the better. You will catch mistakes. This might cause a couple extra rounds of revisions, and piss off whoever wrote it, but it’s better that the client realizes they want one more executive interviewed then than 4-weeks later when you deliver the fine cut.

As the editor you want to read the script so that there are no surprises. Was something marked saying that you’ll create some elaborate animation that’s way out of your abilities? Plan ahead. Tell them you can’t do it, need extra time or they’ll have to hire a freelancer. You can also start laying shots out in your head. If you realize that a nice CU of a smile or someone’s eyes would look good there, ask for it to be included in the shot list.

Years ago my old production manager and I started forcing our team to have pre-production meetings (what a novel idea!). Even though many of the videos we created were based off of templated scripts, there was a fair amount of improvement that could be done. We got together as a team (most of the time) before a shoot to read through the script together. We were always able to find a couple lines or shot selections to change for the better.

Additional Recommended Reading: The Importance of Timecodes

Brainstorming in Pre-Production

Brainstorm everything. Make a list of the top-10 things that could go wrong and what the easiest/quickest/cheapest solutions would be. What happens if you forget the camera or it gets broken on the flight there? What if a high-level executive takes your interview space?

When my wife and I were planning our wedding in 2012 I wrote out a backup plan for nearly everything. What happens if the florist forgets to make the flowers? I had addresses and hours of the next closest florist and Costco. What if one of the groomsman forgets his tie? I brought a backup. What if a friend drinks too much? I got all my friends drunk the night before so they wouldn’t drink as much at the wedding! Luckily there were no emergencies but I was prepared for anything.

I also like to brainstorm what I can do to make a video better before shooting and after completion of the whole project. Should I hire someone to do makeup? Is there a cheaper way to do this? Could my assistant editor have done more?

I’d like to know if and what you brainstorm for projects. Leave your thoughts in the comments section!

Importance of Storyboarding During Pre-Production

I seriously cannot draw. Nonetheless I still draw storyboards. They are very elementary in terms of how they look but they allow me to easily see how the video will play out and I can rearrange and tweak as necessary before the shoot. If you’d like to see a post or tutorial on storyboarding let me know in the comments sections.

I have a gift for you. Click here to download the storyboard that I use! Oh, and don’t make fun of it. I threw it together real quick years ago and it’s worked for me ever since. If it’s not broke don’t fix it!

With storyboards the shooter and editor can put together a better shot list. Storyboarding also gives me a better idea of what graphics I’ll need to create. I can start working on them before or during the shoot.

Summing Up the Importance of Pre-Production

An hour in pre-production saves two in post. The importance of pre-production for video editing projects cannot be oversold.

Before a shoot try to head out to the location to take a site survey. Take note and bring up anything you think will make editing more difficult. Make sure everyone, especially the client, reads the script. Brainstorm what could go wrong and have the best backup solutions ready. Lastly, storyboard your video. This will give you a head start when beginning to edit and help you put together a better shot list.

I’d like to know how you save time in post with better pre-production. Share your thoughts!

Last thing… if you know an editor or someone in the video world that would benefit from this post do them a favor and send it to them. There are some handy sharing shortcuts below or you can always just email them the URL (hey quick shortcut – on a Mac use Cmd+L to highlight the URL).

Okay, this is really the last thing! Thank you so much for reading. Every view, share, subscription and comment gives me inspiration to keep going. I’m headed on a three-day shoot next week so I might not be as active on Twitter but I’m still planning to have new post or tutorial out on Wednesday. If you haven’t subscribed to get emails when I come out with new posts you can do that here.