Come Out Shooting

When R/GA recently produced a music video for Nike’s NikeWomen.com, the agency knew from the outset it wanted to blend a commerce application into the experience.

Starring recording artist Rihanna and featuring moves from Nike’s “Rockstar Workout — Hip Hop” exercise video, the final product let viewers click for instructional video on how to perform the dance moves shown in the video. Then they could buy the clothes.

“By concepting an interactive music video, we were able to create an experience that was narrative, commerce-enabled and also instructional,” said Jerome Austria, associate creative director at R/GA. “You can watch the video, shop the video and learn the moves.”

The Rihanna video is a good example of making a video’s form suit the Web’s most popular functions, but it wasn’t easy to do. The caliber of talent, the shopping cart integration, and the project’s scope all required a high level of planning and optimization before, during and after the shoot. It’s a level of coordination that’s increasingly expected of interactive agencies much less experienced than the folks at R/GA. If you’re an advertiser or agency producing video for the Web, here’s what you need to know.

Your Producer, Your Friend

Regardless of your project’s size, you should always work with a producer.

For its “We are the Mudds” series of video Webisodes for client Jeep, Organic hired a producer from sister Omnicom agency BBDO. This person had a history working on video projects with scripts and characters, and was able to call in the appropriate writers and actors when the time came.

“I don’t care how small a project is,” said Organic’s Adam Wilson, creative director on the Jeep account. “Having a producer will keep things regimented. He’ll call you when it’s time to do the casting. He’ll call you when it’s time to do the conference call with the director. You can focus on the concept and the next Web enhancement that needs to go live tomorrow.”

The B-Roll

When shooting for online or other digital channels, always have extra cameras on set, or at least extra camera-time for the talent. From mobile to viral to Web site development, there are plenty of slots to fill with video material, and smart creative directors plan for serendipity.

“For the Web site, there are lots of interstitials and animations that you have to keep mindful of,” said R/GA’s Austria. “When I see something happening on the set that I think would be a great idea for a page transition, I’ll shoot that.”

“When you go with a traditional production company, they’re going to shoot the commercial. They’re not going to go after extra material for the Web,” he said.

No agency is better at spreading its video content across channels than Crispin Porter + Bogusky, as can be seen in its unique online deployments for Burger King, Mini-Cooper and Volkswagen.

“Going into a shoot, we’ll plan for shooting extra stuff,” said Jeff Benjamin, CP+B’s interactive creative director. “Even at the shoot, you’ll notice your talent may be really good at one thing. Maybe they stay in character the entire shoot. You can take them off to the side and create more content. Maybe you make alternative endings.”

In shooting its “Whopperettes” Super Bowl spot for Burger King, CP+B took an extra day after the TV shoot to create content for the Internet and other digital channels.

“We used that day to shoot them doing individual dances,” said Benjamin. “What we ended up using that stuff for was the Sprint phone. Because of the small size [of the screen] you can only focus on one character at a time.”

Not to say it’s ok to shoot randomly and build your site with whatever you come out with. Web sites can benefit from a script as much as a :30 spot can.

Said Benjamin, “We know that we have to go and get video of the dancers flopping on cushions to form the burgers on the site, but we also look for impromptu opportunities we can use later on. It only makes sense to send somebody there with an extra camera. Sometimes you’ll get great stuff and sometimes not, but you always have to be prepared.”

Organic’s Wilson is a tad more succinct: “Tape is cheap, so you buy several large boxes and use it all up.”

Compression

Once on set, you’ll face dry but crucial technical issues like whether to use a handheld or fixed camera, and how to optimize the footage for later compression.

“You need to be thinking about [compression] when going into the shoot,” said R/GA’s Austria. “If you look at the Rihanna video, you’ll notice it has a very high contrast lighting scheme. Because of the areas of dark on the screen, we were able to compress those areas a lot higher.”

Also, use too many colors and the compression process will produce a washed-out looking video. Because R/GA used a high contrast color palette, it could compress the color spectrum without sacrificing aesthetics.

Camera position is another seemingly innocuous decision that can ultimately affect the user’s download experience. In general, using a tripod or otherwise locked-off camera is advisable, since visual data can be shared from one frame to the next. “If you’re shooting handheld, there’s no real information that can be saved,” said Austria.

And unless you’re absolutely certain you want a grainy CGM look, it’s probably a good idea to shoot in high definition. Often you won’t require the degree of quality hi-def offers, as happened with CP+B when it put together a group of virtual test drives for Volkswagen at VWFeatures.com. The agency actually notched the quality back more than it needed to, just for authenticity’s sake.

“We brought the quality down a little bit and added stutters to make it more believable,” said Benjamin. “It was a little too seamless.” But, he says, better to shoot in hi-def and later on have to shrink it down, since the inverse isn’t an option.

Post-production

Editing and post-production will depend in large part on a project’s budget and the available facilities. Some do it at home. Most farm it out to studios.

“Everyone’s an editor these days,” said Organic’s Wilson. “If it’s a lower budget run-and-gun and you want it to have a grainy feel, hell, I’ll edit it. If you need green screen [or] color correction, we’ll go out of house for that kind of thing.”

R/GA, whose origins are in film and motion graphics, last year built a digital studio unit that handles much of the production work on its broadband deployments. “Part of the mission of the digital studio is for us to be able to produce video content for our campaign ideas, and really control the quality, and shoot the best footage for the end medium, which for the most part is the Web,” said Austria.

The Keys to the Studio

Of course, in-house digital studios like R/GA’s are rare indeed at interactive agencies. Instead of worrying about production and editing, many online marketing firms wonder whether they’ll be invited to the shoot at all.

A common scenario these days is for an interactive agency to receive an hour or so of time with the talent at the end of a seven-hour block that’s scheduled and run by the offline agency. This is not ideal for any number of reasons, including the exhaustion of the talent and the lack of continuity with the offline channels. But it’s something most interactive agencies are grateful to get.

One creative director at a big interactive agency, who asked for anonymity, said he’s often struggled to coordinate video shoots and budgets with his client’s agency of record. “It’s been tough,” he said. “Maybe 2006 will be the year of integrated shoots. That would be extremely cost effective for our clients and good for everyone all around.”

Others have found they can get the on-set time they crave if they’re proactive about it. Ian Schafer, CEO of digital agency Deep Focus, says a big part of Web video readiness is training yourself to think ahead.

“You have to get involved early in the process, which is fairly hard,” he said. “A lot of agencies are used to getting involved when the content is already shot. We make a strong push to get involved early in the process.”

For those who do manage to get invited into the studio, the work of producing quality video for the Web is only half the battle. With the money to produce quality video is coming a new period of accountability.

“We have marketers who see this as a good thing to do, and they’re moving money from print or TV over to interactive,” said Organic Creative Director Dave Stubbs. “And that really puts us on the spot as interactive agencies. The scrutiny has really increased. Four, five years ago, we could afford to be more progressive. As the budgets get larger and larger, people say, ‘What are you going to do with that million dollars?'”

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