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July 31, 2014

Filmmaking Tips to Take Your Brand Video From Zero to Hero

Content to-dosThese days, the to-do list for a content marketer over at General Electric probably looks suspiciously like that of a producer over at Funny or Die, Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, or another high-volume media company – and, let’s face it, this isn’t altogether surprising.

Top brands are becoming more like media companies because they’ve realized the benefits of releasing compelling content on a regular programming schedule. Great content helps you gain attention from your target demographic online, but if you’re going to compete with video marketing, you need to step up your game. Only the best online videos will catch your audiences’ discerning eye because you’re technically competing against all the “real” media company stuff in newsfeeds.

So what can you do with your brand’s videos to make a real difference?

Here are a few unique tips you can implement today. They extend beyond production (two are stolen from the film industry) and you’ll be surprised how these tactics can change your approach.

1. Give Your Video More Focus With a Logline

Whether you’re writing a screenplay for the next silver screen blockbuster or a brand video for your company, some of the same rules apply. One of my favourites involves giving your video more purpose and structure with a logline.

A brand video logline can keep you on track to a great story.

In screenwriting, a logline is one sentence that summarizes the entire premise of your film in about 25-30 words. Usually you can recognize which famous movie is being described right after reading its logline. As an example, which movie does the line below describe?

“A cop must find out a way to save a busload of people stranded on a bus that will explode if it drops below 55 MPH.”

You guessed it! It’s the logline for the 1994 Keanu Reeves film, Speed. But you’d also recognize the loglines from Star Wars, The Godfather, and other classics too.

So what’s this good for? Well, in just one concise sentence, we now know exactly what this movie’s about, but we also get a sense for production and scope (and thereby budget). This is important for film studios to understand before green-lighting a major production that requires a remote mountain location or lots of special effects, but it’s important for your video marketing strategy too.

When making your brand videos…
Create a logline for the same reasons you’d do this when pitching Hollywood execs. First, this requires you to determine the very essence of your story (which is super important). If there’s no story, or point, you shouldn’t be making the brand video in the first place. Second, it’s easier to pitch proposed content to your editorial board or team if they can conceptualize not just your idea, but also the scope involved in production (indicated with a particularly good logline).

For one of our recent brand videos, for example, the logline could have been: “A B2B marketer must provide quantifiable results to her boss, all the while struggling to hide that she has no idea how to measure video campaigns”. This line not only tells us the video’s a comedy, but the story has a clear conflict and doesn’t set too high a bar for location (indicating you could likely film in a simple office space versus, say, a speeding bus).

Before filming your next video, use a logline to direct the focus. If your idea or story can’t be distilled down into one sentence (your overall pitch can be longer), then it’s probably not a simple concept and maybe not your best bet to produce.

2. Cast People who Bring Your Vision to Life

Image via: videomaker.comYou might have a great idea for your video, but sometimes that amazing idea requires a ton of acting. Every so often I’ll have a fun concept, but our videographer Blake reminds me “Hey, this is gonna take a ton of acting if we’re going to pull it off” – and he’s absolutely right. Some videos are tricky and require going the extra mile.

As a content advocate, I don’t think brands should shy away from acting-heavy videos (these are often risky pieces, but can pay off big time if done right), and the trick is to cast your video very carefully. Your staff accountant might look like Donald Trump and would be perfect for the new video spoof you’re making for the financial industry clients you want to target, but, maybe Stan is really difficult to coach on camera, or he’s too shy (the list goes on).

Sometimes folks on your team really get into video marketing and want to be on camera, but remember that if your video concept relies on authentic line delivery or believable, funny characters, it’s best to get someone with a natural presence on camera. They should be comfortable taking direction and their lines shouldn’t feel scripted.

Remember: don’t shy away from a great concept just because it’s acting-reliant or acting-heavy. Just cast especially carefully.

Here’s an example from Southern Comfort, a brand that had to cast exceptionally well in order to pull of this Cannes award-winning ad. It’s got no dialogue and requires the confidence and swagger only this dude could have ever pulled off:

Overall, if your concept is truly funny and your vision is communicable to others on your team (imagine trying to pitch this beach spot!), then get the right person and embrace it. A word of warning: be ready to ditch your idea if the acting doesn’t work out. Nothing is as sweaty and awkward as a video that feels forced due to poor acting. Know the difference and always go for authentic.

3. Use the “Save the cat” Trick for Storytelling

Blake Snyder's Save the CatIn the famous screenplay book of the same name, Blake Snyder explains why you need to “save the cat”.

In other words, when writing your movie (or concepts for your brand videos), remember that the audience needs to have a save the cat moment in which the person we’re meant to empathize with as the viewer does something heroic or really good at the beginning of the story. It’s kind of a nod to the audience assuring them, “this person might be tired or fighting a big fight, but they’re inherently good. You’re on this person’s side.” It’s a way to develop character.

Snyder gives the example of a movie in which a cop is about to pull off a huge crime bust of a bunch of gang members at a baseball game. Only thing is, one of the gang members isn’t savvy it’s a bust and brings his young kid to the game. The ‘save the cat’ moment is when instead of arresting this guy in front of his son, the cop sees the fear and recognition in the criminal’s eyes and says something like “game is cancelled, but we’ll see you next time”.

Basically the audience gets the sense that this cop isn’t letting this guy off the hook, he’s just too good to humiliate this guy in front of his son. We immediately like the cop for the entire movie now.

V-cat agrees. In terms of YOUR brand videos, if you’re telling a customer story, consider what you can do to make your subject seem more human, trustworthy and likeable. Where’s the clever save the cat moment you can throw in quickly? It doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, if you start a customer testimonial with a funny blooper from the interview, this can humanize the person in the video and serve as your mini save the cat moment. Or if you’re telling a short documentary style video, similar to Telus, what can you include in the short about the family you’re interviewing to make them seem extra lovely? Do they have a cute family tradition they can talk about? Does dad come home early to tell bedtime stories? Find the save the cat moment and share it early in the video to make your audience love who you want them to love. This is a character-based story element and we see it all the time with big brands telling big stories.

When Canadian airline WestJet made a video about families, they showcased a customer service rep’s family and made him (and thereby the company) all that more likeable.

Find a moment in your videos where you can do the very same.

There’s plenty more filmmaking/screenwriting tips out there, and we’ll be sure to save those for upcoming posts. In the meantime, are there tips you’ve discovered that work especially well when making your videos? Share them with a comment below!

Jennifer Pepper

Jennifer Pepper

Jennifer is the Customer Success Content Strategist at Unbounce. One day she wants to direct the ads you skip on YouTube. Follow her on Twitter @PeppersWrite.

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