First, let me start this article by admitting that we’ve all been there. You know….that place where someone asks a question that we don’t really have a reliable answer for. Wanting to help in some way, we respond with information that may actually date back to 1967 or derive from an alternate universe. Your heart is in the right place but your answer might be a tad dated or technically incorrect.
In my nearly 20 years of providing digital cinema and video services, I’ve heard several zingers that continue to find their way into creative conversations with clients. Through this article, I want to emphatically state that “Enough is enough” and that it’s time for the most frequent video demons to be permanently vanquished! Wishful thinking? Perhaps but I’m still going to give it my best shot to dispel five of the most frequent myths I continue to hear in the world of production.
The “Per Minute” Myth
Apparently, many light years ago, some well-intended soul came up with a magical formula that enabled marketing gurus everywhere to quickly determine the price of a video. The formula went like this: X (minutes) times Y (dollars) = Cost of Video. In the analog (tape) days of video production, the formula used to be $1,000 per minute. For many, the genius resided in it’s simplicity. Want a 3-minute video? $3,000! A 7-minute video? $7,000!
I’ve heard a lot of myths in my day but the “Per Minute” Myth is the one that has been brought up the most. Nowadays, the Y figure (dollars) is higher ($2-3K) when it’s brought into the conversation by a prospective client but it doesn’t matter because the logic of the formula rarely holds up. A good case in point to help squash this myth is the following commercial developed by Volvo Trucks. It’s about one minute in length. Enjoy:
Volvo Trucks – The Epic Split feat. Van Damme (Live Test)
Any takers out there that believe it cost $1,000 to make this legendary commercial? Neither did I. The “Per Minute” Myth’s wheels fall off the bus once you realize that there may be high-end cameras involved, advanced production rigs, talent, custom or licensed music considerations, set design, wardrobe, graphics, animation…..all wrapped into a killer concept. A far more accurate formula would be represented more along these lines: X (creative service hours) + Y (licensed content/talent fees) + Z (reimbursable expenses) = Cost of Video.
Breaking this down further, the X variable represents all the man hours required, be that filming, lighting, editing, animation, scriptwriting, storyboards, etc. The Y variable would address any rights-managed costs, including music, stock photos/footage, voice-over talent or actor’s fees. And finally, the Z variable would be all those expenses which are incurred as part of the production phase. These can be difficult to predict because of complexity of their cost. These would include travel fees (which can vary wildly depending on where you are traveling to and how much time you have to book tickets or hotel rooms in advance of a shoot), location fees (like renting a production stage, a house or park to film at), props, wardrobe, meals and the like. These are all reimbursable expenses.
This updated formula is not perfect but is certainly far more accurate in determining the actual cost for a given video project.
Henceforth, the “Per Minute” Myth has been VANQUISHED!
The “Internal Use Only” Music Myth
This is definitely one myth that needs to be out to pasture for good. Somewhere along the way in B2B corporate circles, an unfounded rumor began to solidify around the use of popular music. It usually starts with an initial request that goes something like this: “We’ve got this great new project for you guys but we don’t want to use some cheesy corporate stock song. We’ll only be showing this internally so we’re good. Our boss is a big Taylor Swift fan and she already has a couple songs picked out to give this video the energy it really needs to get everyone excited.”
Of course, the conversation that I follow-up with is a total buzz kill for the client. As it turns out, this is highly illegal. No copyrighted music can be used as part of any corporate production – internal or otherwise – unless the appropriate licensing and clearance has been attained. Yes, it stings that you can’t use a song from Billboard’s Hot 100 but that’s actually how this works. Artists need to be compensated for their hard work, not ripped off.
“But it’s just an internal piece,” clients will say. “Nobody will ever see this publicly….I promise.” Doesn’t matter. Without sounding too harsh or like a legal expert (which I’m not), the simple logic I convey to clients is that, if it’s for private/personal non-commercial use and you purchased the song, that’s one thing. However, if it’s for business purposes, that means there are financial considerations. What’s interesting is that many companies had no problem with the concept of paying for the video. However, the thought never occurred to them that the music they desperately wanted to include also came with a price tag too.
The good news is that, over the past several years, stock music sites have popped up everywhere and their libraries are growing at a phenomenal pace. Sure, they typically don’t feature world-renowned artists but the days of “cheesy” corporate songs have quickly faded away. There are many fantastic music sites that offer music at a very reasonable price. That Google engine is just begging you to give it a whirl and once you do, you’ll realize that…
Henceforth, the “Internal Use Only” Music Myth has been VANQUISHED!
The “Better/Faster/Cheaper” Myth
When video began to saturate the market several years ago, an interesting psychology began to emerge. I started seeing demand for videos that were better (which was great), faster (“We’ll have script finalized on Friday afternoon….can we wrap things up by Monday?”) and cheaper (no explanation required). To some extent, this general sentiment is understandable. However, the reality on the ground is a far cry from this desire. The graphic below sums up the intersections of these ideas quite succinctly in the world of digital cinema and video:
The general rule of thumb I convey to clients is – when absolutely necessary – pick two of these concepts. It’s important to note that this is the exception rather than the rule. Once you start getting into a turnstile, churn-and-burn mentality with creative projects, the cold hard reality is that cracks begin to appear in the foundation nearly everywhere. When clients press hard for all three, that’s when I insist on a sit down chat. Creatives can work all kinds of small wonders but there are certain trade-offs which can never be avoided.
Henceforth, the “Better/Faster/Cheaper” Myth has been VANQUISHED!
The “Royalty-Free Actor” Myth
Many moons ago, the wonder of royalty-free stock imagery and music made waves in creative circles. Suddenly we had access to some good content that, in a pinch, could get us to the finish line in decent order and much quicker than before. And the great thing was we only had to pay for the content once and could re-use it multiple times. I can’t stress enough how this has impacted certain creative endeavors.
Unfortunately, this watershed moment had some unintentional spillover, especially for B2B clients. Actors are a very different beast and rarely come “royalty-free”, meaning you can’t use their likeness in perpetuity. It’s a tired cliché but if I had a nickel for every time a B2B client was stunned to learn that onscreen talent will likely come with some rights restrictions, I’d be in the Republican debates right now, not Donald Trump.
So what do I mean by “Rights Restrictions”? It’s actually quite simple. Onscreen talent typically has two main variables to consider: 1) A Service Fee for their time to perform on-camera and 2) Rights Restrictions. Rights Restrictions speak to the distribution channels where the talent will be shown (ie. TV, the Web, Trade Shows, Internal Communications, etc.), as well as the duration of the creative project. Where the rub always becomes evident is in the duration portion of the Rights Restrictions. A high percentage of the clients I’ve worked with want to hear that they can use a video featuring talent forever (in rights terms, this is called “perpetuity”). They are basically trying to apply the rules of royalty-free stock music or imagery to actors as well. I can see how they arrived at this line of thinking but, unfortunately, that’s not how this often works with onscreen talent.
The problem with this can be illustrated in the following example: Company X has a new hair product they want to create a video for to feature on their site. An actress is featured in the promo video and agrees that her likeness can be used in perpetuity for this effort (meaning it can shown on TV, YouTube, Instagram, etc. forever). Then, a year or two later, Company Y approaches this same actress with a great opportunity to be featured in a series of promo videos about their competing hair product. However, once they find out she is being permanently featured by Company X, they find another actress to represent their product.
Just imagine the fury of the actress for having agreed to the terms Company X offered. She just missed out on a major opportunity because she more or less agreed to “royalty-free” terms. In my experience, most onscreen talent for B2B productions are fine with 2 or 3-year agreements to use their likeness but rarely for perpetuity. The question you have to ask yourself is this: “Are we really going to use our new video for longer than 2 or 3 years?”. In most instances, the answer is going to be no. And to put your heart at ease, if there’s a possibility that additional years may be needed to continue showing the video, negotiate that fee upfront so there are no surprises down the road.
Henceforth, the “Royalty-Free Talent” Myth has been VANQUISHED!
The “15 Second Testimonial Clip” Myth
I love this one. It’s largely the result of shortening attention spans and the need for frequent content. Why have a 3-minute testimonial video when you can have 12 shorter stand-alone clips that are each 15-seconds each? In theory, it all sounds so wonderful and content-marketing savvy. However, the real truth is that testimonial clips are much closer to 60 seconds than 15. When you factor in that a question has to be posed either in the form a verbal cue (from the interviewer) or through onscreen text, that alone will take up to 3-4 seconds. Then there’s the subject matter’s answer.
Let’s talk about the interviewee answer portion further. In order for a satisfied client to provide some context and genuine appreciation for your product or service, it’s probably a safe bet you would like for them to convey more than the following: “Working with XYZ Company was a really great experience. They were a lot of fun to work with and I enjoyed collaborating with their team to accomplish our company’s marketing objective.” Guess what? When you include the leading question, that’s basically 15 seconds. However, was anything meaningful conveyed?
The best stand-alone interview clips we’ve seen tend to fall between 45-60 seconds. That provides the interviewee with enough time to form an answer with context. That means the question needs a little set-up in the answer and some key takeaways that speak to the strength of a given product or service. In general, the more detailed an interviewee can be about their positive experience, the better, because viewers will tend to want specifics vs. fluff. I say this because it’s quite possible that there are potential buyers of your product or service watching these clips and making informed decisions. It may well be that a good video testimonial from a client of yours proves to be the deciding factor for a new prospect to move forward with your company. Below is a great video I recently found on YouTube by Ryan Spanger that covers many important considerations when filming a client testimonial:
How To Create Great Customer Testimonial Videos
A good rule of thumb when pursuing video testimonials is to share examples that speak to the duration desired with the interviewee in advance of the actual interview. That will help them get their head around the types of responses that would work. Be certain to point out that you’re looking for some context in their answers to make the connection with your brand but that brevity is the hope with any answer.
Another best practice when conducting interviews that will be used as stand-alone pieces is to discreetly time the first few responses to your questions. Just use your smart phone to keep track. This will help you to gauge how the interview is going. Despite your best efforts, some interviewees might provide answers that are 3 minutes long before coming up for air. Timing their responses will give you with an idea of how things are shaping up and if they are getting too long in the tooth, a change in strategy might be required. What has worked well for myself in the past in these situations is to politely remind them of your hope for brevity. If you are still struggling after mentioning this, then be very specific and request that you’re hoping to keep the responses to around 30 seconds (trust me, it will actually end up being closer to 60 though).
The other strategy is to film the interview with two cameras or capture some B-Roll to provide you with some editing options. Not all budgets allow for this but filming with two cameras or capturing B-Roll enable the editor to potentially trim an interview response by cutting from one camera to another or briefly showing some cutaway footage (B-Roll). This is actually the greatest secret of all. Oftentimes, some clever editing can shorten a response to the desired length range but, to do this, you need either a different camera angle or some B-Roll to pull it off. So where you can, find a way to include a second camera or spend a little time afterwards capturing footage to use as cutaway shots.
After reading the paragraphs above and how some interviewee responses could qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records, I think it’s safe to say that……
Henceforth, the “15 Second Testimonial Clip” Myth has been VANQUISHED!
Of course, there are many other myths I didn’t include this go-around. I’ll cover more in a follow-up article. Until then, feel free to add any myths you’ve come across in the comments section below.