Copyright 2000
Motion Media Productions, Inc.
Fairfax, VA USA.


THE FIRST STEP - Define the  reason for the video
THE SECOND STEP - Define your project
THE THIRD STEP - Develop your budget
THE FOURTH STEP - Hire the right production company
THE FIFTH STEP - Sign agreement with the company
THE SIXTH STEP - The company makes your program
Appendix A - Professional Video Equipment
Appendix B - Film vs. Video




This step may sound self evident, but you would be surprised how many folks start projects without a clear reason for the video other than "we ought to have a video."

Two possible reasons for a video production are to increase revenue and to improve employee or customer relations. More specific reasons are to tell viewers about a new process, procedure or idea; and / or to inform viewers about your new product. Other reasons include to educate your viewers about the correct way of doing something. The reason most often cited is to sell something. This purpose is also the most difficult, because it requires the viewers to not only retain the information seen, but also to be motivated by that program enough to reach for their credit cards and buy the product or service.



1. Who is the audience? What are their likes and dislikes? What turns them on? What is their level of ability to understand the information you plan to convey?

2. Under what conditions will the viewer see this video or film? Will someone from your organization be there? How many people will watch your program at the same time, etc.?

3. How visual is the subject matter? Remember, motion media may not be the best way to portray your subject matter.

4. Are people from your organization planning to speak on camera? Are they proficient speakers with experience speaking into a camera, or will they need coaching?

5. How soon does this project need to be completed? Is there an absolute, drop dead completion date?

6. Who needs to approve the dollars spent on this project? Will that person be available early in the design phase to describe their view of the program ? Will he or she be available to make critical decisions at various points during the production process? Has that person given his/her ideas about what the program should cost?

7. What do you expect the viewer to do after watching your program? Are they to take some action? Do you want them to change their behavior? Do you want them to be able to perform some task or procedure?

8. Do you expect them to be impressed with your organization after viewing your program? Will this film help keep members from leaving your group?

9. What will be the consequence of not making a program, or not making one right now? Will you lose a competitive advantage? Will you fail to accomplish a promised goal? If you delay, can you get the same funding for your project later?

10. Can you fund your project entirely from your own organization; or will you need help from another group? Does the other group understand and agree with your goals and objectives for your program?

11. Is there more than one program to be made at the same time? Do other work groups make films or videos regularly? Does a training group need a film at this time, or in a short time frame? Are there any future conventions sponsored by your organization which may need a dramatic opening video?

These questions, when answered, will help you define your project and can save you a great deal of time and money when dealing with your production company. Share these answers with your production company and establish a reasonable time frame for them to give you a concept for your production.



Once you have decided on your reason for making a film or video program , and defined it, your next step is to identify how important it is to your organization. That should guide you as to the overall professional quality you must have.

At this point, you are narrowing down the price range. For example, 10 minute informational programs can cost between $2,500. to $250,000.. Generally, the higher budgeted program will contain more production quality and thus will have more impact on an audience. However, a low budget yet very creative program may accomplish your objective very nicely.

The process of program development can be done by producers with many different skill levels, varying types of equipment and facilities. Not all expensive films accomplish their communications objective. It is equally true that some inexpensive ones do. For example:

A producer of infomercials (commercials 2 minutes or longer that call for viewer action) charged a client over $500 000. to produce an infomercial that was supposed to sell a series of financial books and tapes. When this infomercial aired, hundreds of operators were standing by to answer the 800 number and take orders for this product. By the end of the first 100 half hour segments, (purchased for an additional estimated $600,000.) only 50 packages had been sold. What happened? The producer had done a number of previously successful infomercials. The overall technical quality of the program was OK. The actors were fairly well known. The set was expensive and looked good on camera. Air time was bought in time slots where other similar products had sold well. So what happened?

The producers forgot the first rule: Who was audience? They targeted an audience that was used to seeing this sort of production selling non-financial products. The producer and director were expert at these other types of productions; and they thought they could use the same format to sell anything. They committed the cardinal sin of communication: They did not give the right message to the right audience. A new shampoo or facial cream might have sold well to that audience with that format. A correct and creative program format for selling the financial package needed to be implemented.

On the other end of the spectrum, a large corporation spent $10,000. to produce an 8 minute video program that creatively explained the features and benefits of a complex computer system. It had a very specific target audience and was designed as an aid to the sales force. That video helped make numerous sales worth several million dollars apiece.

Assuming money is not a problem, how do you guarantee a successful film? Unfortunately, there is never a 100% guarantee that a film will successfully meet all its communications objectives. This is the reality of any such undertaking.

However, in the next step, we will show you how you can eliminate 99 % of the potential for failure.



You want to be certain you hire as competent a film producer as you can afford. Fifteen items to help you define that competence are as follows:

1. There is no licensing procedure for production companies, nor should there be. You are hiring a work of art. It takes years of training and experience to learn how to communicate effectively in the video medium, and even longer in the area of film production. Sales brochures or nice sales people do not give evidence of a company's quality . You can tell the capability of a company only by examining their previous work done with a budget similar to yours. Check the staff -- most companies that have a Writer/Director who has directed feature films will produce a more creative, better quality program than those that don't have this background.

2. Does the company show you samples of their work that was produced at your budget? Some companies will show you excellent examples of work that were done with very high budgets, i.e., they hired expensive writers and directors and other skilled individuals. Make sure you evaluate sample production quality shown to you as it relates to the budget of the program you plan to make. Ask questions about their sample of work. If it is represented as done for a budget similar to yours: Did that well known actor donate his/her time; did you shoot that on video or film? Did you do that animation "in-house"? Ask for the telephone number of the client (and call them - most will tell you the approximate cost of their production). If the sample work you are shown lacks technical quality, the program misses its communications objective, or if it looks too good to have been done at the stated price range, find another company.

3. Does the company explain the specifics of what you will get for your proposed budget? It may be that your communication goals are too high for the budget you have allotted. It is always possible to rethink your communication objective and / or use other than the motion media format to meet your objective with the budget you have available. Some production companies will take the time to assist you in rethinking your objective. For example, the cost of producing an eight minute stand-alone sales film can be cut considerably if it does not have to sell alone. Send it with a sales person or design it to generate calls to your sales people. However, if your communication objective still cannot be met, and video is the best way to transmit the message, it is best to wait until you can afford to commit the necessary budget dollars to do the program right. Nothing does more harm to an organization than a poorly done information or sales video program.

4. Has the company been in business for at least least five years? You want to hire a program producer who will be around to finish your project.

5. Does the company take the time to listen to your project description and explain their plan to accomplish your objective? Professional production companies should want you to feel at ease, because they need your help to make a quality program.

6. Do you feel comfortable with the production company staff? During the program production, you will spend a lot of your time working with the company. It pays to make that time as pleasant as possible. Ask them to explain their understanding of the communication into which you are trying to breath life. Do they seem to understand your subject?

7. Does the company have excellent creative writers on staff, or access to them through previous freelance working relationships? A creative writer can make all the difference between a boring, unimaginative production and a lively upbeat one. Obviously, you don't want to bore your viewers, so make sure the company knows quality in script writing. A good test of this skill is to ask for and view a program that communicates successfully with young adult audiences. Young people bore easily. Check this reference.

8. Does the company's advertising and demo reel show a creative flare? Does it indicate the company cares about quality? Does it spell out what types of productions are their specialty? Do they claim to be communicators rather than "videographers?" (Experienced cinematographers never refer to themselves as videographers. This title is used mostly by those who offer only video camera services rather than script-to-screen program productions).

9. How do their representatives handle the phone? Do they answer right away? Do they answer your questions? Do they make you feel at ease? When they say they will take some action, do they do it in a timely fashion?

10. Is their written material well written and packaged in a quality way?

11. Do they offer a free consultation?

12. Do they have their own professional production equipment? (see Appendix A)

13. Do they have their own "on-line" digital non-linear post production editing equipment? (see Appendix A)

14. Do they have their own studio?

15. What creative "talent" is on their staff?



If you are satisfied with the answers to the above questions and the references check out, ask for a written agreement. It should be relatively simple and straightforward (yet offer you protection).

Once the agreement is signed and a down payment has been made, the production process moves ahead.



Phase One -- Pre-production Phase

The process is divided into three parts: pre-production (research, treatment and script writing, casting, etc.); production (set building, location filming, studio shooting, etc.); and post production (graphics creation, narration, music recording and editing).

The writer responsible for your production is given all the material about the proposed program and any other material (usually gathered by you, the client) to help determine the best way to approach your audience. He/she, in conjunction with the director, comes up with a concept and treatment (a one page descriptive summary of program), usually within a week or two. The treatment is presented to you for approval.

If you don't like the treatment, it is proper to ask for another. However, keep in mind that you have paid experts for their time; and it is prudent to try to give them some leeway, unless you have your own script writing track record.

After your approval of the treatment, the writer starts writing the script. Some programs are done without a specific script, but have an outline of specific visuals associated with the detailed treatment. The same creative process is involved, so this outline method takes about the same time as script development. If it is in the budget, some directors like to use a graphics artist to create a "story board" (uses a cartoon-like format) of the major scenes to be shot. In the case of commercials, it is often the practice to depict every scene on a story board in great detail. Story boards are useful when a number of different decision makers must agree on the program content. On large or complex programs, it provides a way to gain agreement on the scenes to be shot before committing thousands of dollars in production costs. The drawback to this approach on smaller projects with few decision makers is the cost. Each picture can cost between $300 and $1000.

The writer delivers the first draft to you (within two weeks for short programs of two to five minutes).

Most times, you will immediately approve the script. At other times, you may want to discuss additions, deletions, and/or corrections and return it to the company in a specified time frame. (It is here that sometimes a client, for one reason or another, cannot get these changes completed in the time-frame requested-usually a week or two in a twelve week schedule. The end result can be a delay in completing the finished program.)

Writer and director make changes. Usually, this occurs within a week or two for short programs. The finished script is then returned to you for final approval. Ideally, you are the person who can sign off on the final script.

After the script approval process is completed, the production phase begins.

Phase Two -- Production Phase

Field and studio shooting are arranged, lighting is designed, field and studio sound recording are arranged, and models are built; to mention just a few of the specialties needed to accomplish a high quality program. At this point, the production company has spent, or committed to spend, over two-thirds of the production budget.

Phase Three -- Post Production Phase

After all program elements are captured on film or tape, they are combined in the editing process (in film productions the film is developed and transferred to tape for editing). Editing is usually done in two phases: Off-line and On-line. After the off-line is completed, a rough version without music is produced for your approval. It is here that you can request some fine changes to be made before the finished program is built. With some short films, companies allow and even encourage the client to be in the editing room. However, beware; if the person with final approval is not the one involved in the editing process, confusion and delays usually occur. This is because some re-editing is necessary to accommodate requirements of the approval person. Good organization on the client's part helps save time if there are complex graphics provided by the company, or there are numerous sequential items that have to be in order.

The on-line edit is where the finished program is fashioned. It is at this point that special effects, music, graphics and professional narration are woven into a high quality program. The product, of course, is a film you can be proud to have played a key part in producing.

We hope this information has helped you understand the process of program production better. Please call us if you have further questions about the process of film making or program production.

Appendix A

Professional Video Equipment

The defacto video recording format standards for obtaining the best picture quality are produced by Sony, Panasonic, and JVC.

Sony Betacam / Digital and Panasonic MII /digital recorders, in conjunction with several manufacturers top of the line cameras and lenses, are the only way to capture video footage and be sure of consistent, overall picture quality.

Other formats for recording do not allow the producer to make multiple copies of a scene without excessive picture degradation. Without this ability, the director is limited in his/her ability to manipulate the images for best affect on the audience. Also, the finished program will be less clear if other formats are used or mixed into in the original footage.

If your footage is shot in analog mode, it should be copied to a professional format, i.e., Digital computer editing systems (AVID, FAST, MEDIA100), Betacam, or MII,  for editing. This assures that the picture quality of the end product will be superior to a lesser format (S-VHS, VHS, 8mm etc.).

These are only guidelines, because so many variables can impact the final program, not the least of which is Professional Lighting . It should go without saying that an uncreative novice with the finest camera, recording, lighting  and editing equipment will never produce as good a program as an expert film maker using low end consumer equipment.

Equipment should always be your second consideration when looking for a production company. It is the creative and experienced film maker that should be found first.



Appendix B

Film vs. Video

Normal recording speed

Film is recorded at 24 frames per second

Video is recorded at 30 frames per second

Aspect ratio (horizontal width to vertical length)

Film is 4:3

Video is 9:5

Lighting requirements

Film demands exacting lighting, depending on the film used.

Video requires less skill at lighting under most situations, however there is a dramatic improvement in quality when professional film quality lighting is applied to video.

Film has a limitless final "look," due to the variety of different film stocks available. Film makers are artists who see film stock as their "canvas."


Video is currently limited to 525 lines of resolution with current camera and lenses available.

Film is the highest resolution currently possible, only restricted by the type of film selected.


Film production usually costs more than video, due to the cost of film, processing, and mostly the skilled talent.

Video is quick and can have numerous "takes and retakes" without concern over film and processing costs.

Normal uses

Video is used for regular day-time TV shows, local commercials, short non-broadcast programs, and educational/informational/sales films.

Film is used where a very high polished "look" is required, e.g., car and cosmetic commercials, theatrically released feature films, documentaries, etc.