Whitepaper: How to plan professional small-footprint video productions in times of travel restricions

10/08/2020

How to plan professional small-footprint video productions in times of travel restrictions

A Best Practice Guide for UN-Agencies, Development organizations and NGOs

Abstract

Publicly funded organisations depend on effectively communicating the progress of their work: Donors, taxpayers and policymakers need to understand how the money is spent, and that it is wise to continue the support.

With Covid 19 (and increasing scrutiny on air travel in general) making international travel more difficult, a new approach to video production is now evolving. The idea:
Let´s produce everything with local filmteams, and have a selected video editor make something out of the material.

While the idea is charming, there are caveats in practice. When implemented well, the principles outlined in this guideline can significantly raise the efficiency and reduce the footprint of international video productions.

This small guideline is aimed at communication personnel in UN-Agencies, development organisations and NGOs to make video project planning easier and closer to practical requirements.

If you are in the middle of planning an international video project or drafting Terms of Reference or a contract, you can take a short cut to the summarized tipps in the end of this document / at the bottom of this page.

Content

1. What do you need? The ingredients for a good video project.

  • A good story
  • A clear plot or thread
  • Image & Sound

2. How to get the material?

  • Local teams vs. traveling storyteller vs. hybrid production
  • How many people on a Filmcrew?
  • Tipps on archive material and recycling pre-existing material
  • Filming permissions and personality rights in real life

3. The art of the interview

4. Overview over practical tips, important considerations for Terms of Reference / Contracts


What do you need? The ingredients for a good video project.

A good story: Easier said than done

Storytelling projects depend on a good story or, technically expressed, a good case study. Which criteria matter most in selecting a good story?

  • General fit:
    Does the case study fit nicely to our core messages and content?
  • Charismatic hero:
    Is there a charismatic person who played a central role in the project? Is he or she able to express herself clearly about the case in front of a camera ?
  • Charismatic images:
    Which images can be shot? Are the images suitable for video? For example: A road that has been completed may be of great importance, but if construction work is finished, which moving images can be shown? Static pictures of buildings or infrastructure lack charisma in terms of motion picture.


    Practical tip No. 1 : Documenting infrastructure projects while they’re building

    For the documentation of infrastructure projects, make sure that ongoing work is filmed by a local videographer every now and then while the construction works last. This footage is invaluable for later, when a video project is planned upon the completion of the infrastructure project.


  • Talking heads:
    Interview statements are an important ingredient to a film, but usually lack attractiveness if shown too abundantly, unless you produce a podcast instead, where the focus of the audience is on voice only.
  • Scenery:
    An interesting / dramatic / strong scenery makes for a better film than a more everyday setting such as conference scenes only etc.
  • Surprise element:
    Not necessary and often not possible, but a great plus: Is there any surprising, unusal element about the case?
  • Waterproof:

    Every professional knows: Not all development cases come completely flawless. Often there are problems you wouldn´t necessarily want in the public limelight. Try to select cases without major open flanks.

  • Accessibility:
    Is it possible to shoot video in terms of practical considerations (Security, political green lights, logistics)?. For instance, in countries with limited freedom of speech or press, or significant security risks, only the local country managers can decide, often together with local risk managers, how accessible the story is.

scorecard story selection

The selection of the story is the foundation of the video. The stronger the story, the greater the potential of the video.


ToR / Contract Tip: Don´t make it the filmmakers contractual responsibility to research and organize the case study!

It is you who knows your organization best – or who has the resources to find out.
Pre-select the stories, and then discuss them with your filmmaker.



Practical Tip: Interesting longer film beats superficial short film

If a good story is well told, it doesn´t matter much wether a film is longer than the standard 3 minutes, which has become the norm for most projects. I dare to argue the opposite: If a film conveys really interesting content and is produced with heart and soul, it gets far better feedback even if it lasts 15 minutes, than a short standard beneficiary reportage lasting only 3 minutes.

Proof of concept: Most short videos on YouTube produced by ministries and many other development organisations are 1,5 -3,5 minutes long and get about 300 views on average. Everything over 1000 views is rare. While this number may not be the crucial KPI (what counts is mainly how many decision makers have watched it and liked it), the number gives a first hint of how attractive it is to watch the film on the basis of recommendations. My mini-documentary “Abahaui – The Father of Fire” lasts 15 minutes and got over 30.000 views even though it lacked a professional narrator. Themenbüro´s explanatory 15-minute film on Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN), which was commissioned by GIZ and hosted on YouTube by UNCCD received nearly 7.000 views so far. Of course it may be necessary to confine the length of the film especially if it is to be shown at events – this is just to say that the content is more important than minutes.


A clear plot

There are three main types of video films for development topics to construct a plot or thread which keeps the train of thoughts together:

Animation:

An animated infographic which is explained by a voiceover narrator. It is built up step by step and takes the viewer through the more complex train of thoughts.

  • Best used to help explain abstract concepts such as Land Degradation Neutrality or Climate Risk Management
  • For this type of film, no travel is necessary

Cinematic Documentary:

Original statements of interview partners, partly as voiceover, comprehensively filmed and carefully composed into a rather cinematic montage in such a manner that a narrator is not (heavily) needed, perhaps combined with text information, as familiar from great cinematic documentary films.

  • Best used in special projects with longer (>1-2 weeks) production time on site, and with a very high degree of artistic freedom for the filmmaker
  • Films would usually reach a length of a at least 10-15 minutes
  • This type of film cannot be outsourced to local filmcrews, as the filmmaker as the director needs to decide what to film and what to use as the camera is rolling and the material is unfolding.
  • If done well, the film has the potential to get 10-100 times as many views as a regular reportage. At the same time, the outcome is not easy to determine, and the whole approach requires a great level of confidence on both sides.

Reportage:

The voiceover reportage of a professional narrator, interspersed with original statements from protagonists/beneficiaries/interview partners, as familiar from a TV reportage.

  • Most universal way to convey any kind of success story with a maximum information density. Narrator needs to be a professional and carefully selected.
  • Due to its information density, this style is the most forgiving when it comes to combine hetereogenous material to a convincing, more or less homogenous film.
  • This style allows the specific, precise briefing of local filmteams to produce material later to be combined into one central piece.

Practical Tip: Utilize the filmmakers experience

For larger film projects, a mix of the three types may be an interesting option. We strongly recommend to give the filmmaker a chance to develop a concept, instead of confronting him or her with a pre-determined storyboard or style.


Image and sound

Today´s cameras deliver excellent image quality – it´s the skills that count

The full HD-image quality potentially coming from most of today´s cameras even below 1.000 EUR is fully sufficient for most video productions on development topics which are to be used online and at events, as long as they are recorded with sufficient ambient light. Commissioning videographers in developing countries is thus mostly not a matter of their existing camera equipment, but of the necessary skills, experience, and understanding of the storyboard, to deliver exactly the needed material.

From our experience, it crucial that a member of the commissioning organization accompanies the camera person on site functioning as a director when interviews are to be recorded by a local camera person, as you need to be very familiar with the desired statements and messages to conduct the interview and focus and filming at the same time.

Sound is so important

When it comes to sound quality, it is very important to use an external microphone and to observe background noise through headphones while recording. We have come along much video material which was difficult or impossible to use due to wind- and other background noise. It is the sound quality that makes or breaks the impression of a professional production in the final video.

The importance of B-roll material

For documentaries and reportage, many cuts need to be hidden by so called B-roll material: Images of people, of details, of things going on – everything that does not have anybody talking. B-roll material is also needed to illustrate things the narrator or the interview partner explains. We are looking for images that are charismatic, or informative or both, and which offer a wide mix of perspectives, from total/wide angle to close ups to perhaps aerial views. Many projects lack an abundance of B-roll material or footage. You should make sure that no matter who does the filming – they should deliver a wide range of B-roll material. A well thought out shotlist can serve as a checklist for the camera person. An example of a shotlist for a reportage on a water project could be:

Shotlist:

Interview Person A

  • Establishing shots of workplace of Person A
  • Person A, walking
  • Person A, talking with a collague
  • Person A at work, total
  • Closeup shots of Person A at work

    A family home, water use:

  • Dishwashing
  • Close up dishwashing
  • Handwashing
  • Child drinking clean water
  • Water coming out of a faucet

Drought

Water use for irrigation

Water tower

Water tower refurbishment works

Closeup of tools

…..

….


Practical Tip:

If the filmmaker/director and the camera person are not identical, make sure that the filmmaker conveys a complete and comprehensive shotlist to the camera person.


How to get the material?

Local camera teams vs. traveling multimedia storyteller vs. hybrid production

(I) Local camera teams

In the good old days of multimedia storytelling, entire western filmcrews were brought on site: A director, a camera person, a sound engineer, sometimes even one person for lighting and assistance. In corporate productions, add a photographer and a photo assistant, and you quickly have a standard multimedia production crew of six or more people. (In the production of advertising films for TV or cinema, this number easily goes up to 20+ people).

Outside of larger corporate projects, this effort is not needed. The setup is usually rather minimalistic, and with Covid 19 making international travel difficult, the trend is moving towards producing part of the required materials with local filmteams while having one central selected filmmaker responsible for concept development, instructing the local filmteam and editing / post-production.

While I always prefer to go out and shoot footage myself (as it gives me the greatest control over the desired material), I know that sometimes it is the wisest way to work remotely with a local camera person or -team, and that it can yield good results.

The challenges are

1. To identify the right team or person with a good track record and work samples

2. To convey the idea of the film, the desired images / footage and interviews via remote communication

3. To make sure remuneration and all copyright and personality rights issues are handled properly and transparently

In practice, all of these challenges can be mastered as long as:

  • a member of the commissioning organization on site actively helps with the selection process,
  • a member of the commissioning organization on site accompanies the camera person or crew when interviews are conducted, and organizes logistics and access for them to get to the respective sites and interview partners
  • and as long as the remuneration/payment is organized directly through the commissioning organization.

The reasoning behind these arguments, based upon many years of personal experience:

a. It is much easier to get the contacts of a reliable, professional camera person in let´s say Ethiopia for a person working in Addis Abeba than for a filmmaker who lives in London, Frankfurt or Berlin. We are talking about pre-selection: The final selection should be made together. Any Terms of Reference or Contract stating otherwise creates an unrealistic contractual framework. The contract should state that both parties together select the local camera crew or person.

b. In the same manner, a filmmaker who lives in London, Berlin or Frankfurt cannot by any possible means organize the logistics for example of an Ethiopian camera crew to meet a farmer somewhere in Tigray, or for a kurdish camera man from Erbil to film Person X in Mosul, while working from his homeoffice in Europe. Operationally directing the film crew on site can only be done from within the respective country. The contract should state that the local camera crew or person gets logistical instructions and organizational support by a member of the commissioning party on site.

c. The same goes for the remuneration of fees and expenses of the local camera crew or person: How shall a filmmaker in London, Berlin or Frankfurt practically commission a camera man in Ethiopia (with handwritten expense receipts in Amharic language for his Taxi ride from A to B?) These colleagues usually don’t offer PayPal or MasterCard. It is much, much easier to do proper and waterproof remuneration / compensation paper work when you have an office on site that is used to commission local service providers. Making this the responsibility of the filmmaker creates a huge amount of unproductive time to master this mission impossible for someone thousands of miles away. The contract should state that the commissioning party remunerates the local camera crew or person, and makes sure that all copy- and personality rights have been properly cleared.

(II) Traveling freelance storyteller

In many cases, the easiest option is to send an experienced traveling multimedia storyteller like me to do the entire job in a compact, direct action. How does this work in practice?

The freelance multimedia storyteller delivers photography, video and text from a single source, all produced with his or her own equipment. When I am commissioned, I go on production trips that usually last around one or two weeks depending on the project, and I bring home all necessary video material including all necessary rights, plus professional photos, plus all necessary text and other information for multimedia packages, plus perhaps locally produced music including all necessary copyrights.

What does the traveling storyteller need in order to work like this?

What traditionally a whole professional film crew has done, is in this approach executed by a temporary, project related mini-team:

1. A reference person or main partner on the side of the commissioning organisation for the project to develop the concept and storyboard together. This person can be either on site, or located in the western headquarters.

2. A main contact person on site (can be but doesn´t have to be identical with Person No. 1) , who will help to organize everything necessary in the country: To make appointments with project managers on site or with beneficiaries, to organize the logistics etc. This person should accompany the storyteller on the production.

3. An interpreter, if necessary (can be but doesn´t have to be identical with Person 1)

4. (A driver, if logistics make it necessary).

One person on this small team temporary team gets a crash course in sound engineering and supports the storyteller in sound recording by monitoring background noise with headphones and possibly adjusting the recording level.

The others help the storyteller a bit in carrying and setting up film equipment like tripods and lights.

A freelance traveling multimedia storyteller can be – based upon his skills and business model – the most cost and time efficient way to organize an international video project, as the number of interfaces is reduced to a minimum, and you get the huge benefit of producing high quality photography at the same time. Everything comes from a single source, all fits together well, time consumption is reduced to a minimum.

(III) Hybrid production

Sometimes film projects about development topics become quite global in its truest sense: If a worldwide topic is to be explained, it is often useful to include examples from different countries around the world, perhaps too many for the filmmaker to travel to each country. Sometimes, travel is extremely difficult due to Covid 19 related restrictions, or other security or visa related issues. In these cases, a hybrid type of videoproduction can make sense:

It combines approaches (I) and (II). From my experience it makes sense to center even a complex film around one main story, and to complement it with additional side stories or examples. It is advisable to send the filmmaker or multimedia story to the country where the main story takes place, and complement it with locally 3rd party produced material for the complementing or side stories.

In the case of our film on Land Degradation Neutrality, the center of the narration was Benin, where I filmed with a small local GIZ-team (one local PR-Manager, one interpreter, one driver) on site for a week; the other material was from UN-, GIZ-, my personal- and commercial archives.

How many people on a film / multimedia crew?

It is advisable to think about this question in planning a video project, as it is an important determining factor for the budget. Yet there is no easy answer to this question. There are different models to approach the task, with model 1 representing the classical full scale approach and model 2 being strongly condensed, small-footprint, “multimedia storyteller” approach.

Model 1: Classical full scale film team /multimedia crew approach – 3-4 service providers plus 2-3 members of commission organization

classical full scale multimedia team

Model 2: Small footprint Multimedia Storyteller approach – 1 service provider plus 2-3 members of commission organization

small footprint multimedia team

Depending on the actual case, the transition between model 1 and mode 2 can be fluid. If it is possible in terms of the bidding process, it could be a fruitful approach to let the bidder make a suggestion how they would prefer to organize it and to calculate their bid accordingly.


Practical Tip: Clear the copyrights of pre-existing, “recycled” footage

When working with archive material in a hybrid production, make sure your have cleared the copyrights. Filmmakers often charge additional license fees when material specifically produced for one project shall be “recycled” in a new project.



ToR / Contract Tip: Use standard licenses for stock archive materials

When using material from commercial stock archives, make sure you only purchase the standards license, which usually comprises all social media uses, streaming, embedding on websites, and showing the film at events and conferences. If you make the filmmaker purchase the material, do not make him or her contractually responsible to purchase TV rights. License costs will go through the roof. TV rights for archive materials are very rarely needed and should be purchased only as an exception!


Filming permissions and personality rights in real life

The importance of filming (and photography) permissions depends on different factors, with some basic rules of thumb, as derived from my experience in the field:

Differentiate between theory and practice

Like in many other contexts of development cooperation, it is important to differentiate between theory and practice. For instance: It is possible to have a comprehensive permission for filming from the government, but still the merchants of a public market insist on handing out their own permit in exchange for a small fee. The other way around, it could be that having a friendly cup of tea with the state secretary of press and information affairs (and getting his or her oral consent to filming in the region) is the only thing you need to go, while at the same time it would be nearly impossible to get a written permission.

On private land, you don´t need a public permit

As long as the filming takes place on private land like a farmer´s field, a factory, a shop etc., in practice it is totally sufficient to have the landlord´s consent for the filming. Often, this leads to the fact that an official filming permit is not necessary at all.

Keeping a low profile always helps

The smaller the team, the less sensation is stirred. One more reason in favor of the small-footprint storyteller approach. When a permit is not at hand, low-key filming with a photographic small camera may still be feasible, for instance for street- or market scenes.


ToR / Contract Tip: Let the local personell get the permits.

For a filmmaker based in Berlin, Frankfurt or London, it is downright impossible to organize an official filming permission in most countries. Only the local members of the commissioning organization know the local, practical groundrules and can secure the necessary permits. Don´t make it the filmmakers contractual obligation to be responsible to organize filming permits. It simply does not work in practice, or takes up so much time that the project gets entirely inefficient. When the issue is too difficult to put in a paragraph, just leave the topic out of the contract or simply write: Both parties together pay the necessary attention to securing all necessary filming permits.


Personality rights and consent forms

With omnipresent content on social media, and a raised awareness for data protection and personality rights, development organisations have raised the standards concerning consent forms significantly over the past years.

In practice, you would always ask a person first wether he or she is willing to be filmed or photographed before you shoot. For a more intensive coverage (especially for portraits or interviews), it is important to also make the person aware that these images will be publicly visible on the web.

Groups / streetlife: When filming people in larger groups in public spaces like streets or markets as part of general public life, you usually do not need consent forms in practice, provided the filming is done sensitively and unobstrusive.

Usually, development organisations have sophisticated consent forms in all necessary languages, which need to be signed and carefully archived. This task is often performed by the local contact person or the interpreter during the production, on site.


Practical Tip: Proper handling of consent forms

How do you assign a certain consent form to a certain face afterwards, when all you have is the name? 1. Either write a careful description of the person on the printed and signed consent form (“young male, green shirt, interviewed inside bakery”) or 2. Make the person hold the signed consent form and take a photo of both. This is the easiest and safest way to strengthen the management of these personality rights. For documentation purposes, store the photo together with the signed and scanned consent form.

Collect the consent forms in real time It is not enough if somebody somewhere has the forms. Take care that all consent forms together with the photos of the respective persons are centrally collected for future reference (that is – for auditing purposes or when a problem comes up in the future).



Practical Tip: Filming children and minors takes extra diligence in terms of personality rights.

If you plan to shoot video or photos in a school or kindergarten, you need signed consent forms all children appearing in the pictures. The teacher cannot sign it for them – it must be the parents. Organize the shooting in a way that the teacher gets the consent forms ahead of time, gives them to the parents, and collects them in the days before the shooting. This is the only practical way to properly handle this situation. The children whose parents were not willing to sign the form can then be spatially separated (to one side of the classroom, for example) for the duration of the shooting so that they do not appear in the images.


The art of the interview

Good interviews take a lot of care and attention. Depending on the type of film (un-determined, “open-end” documentary vs. condensed reportage), it is desirable that the interview partners says what we would like them to say, yet we don´t want to the interview to be forced, or to make it artificial.

The technique to go about is to ask questions which provoke the answers that we´re after, while always paying attention that the interview partner feels comfortable and never pressured. This takes experience, cultural sensitivity and real empathy.

benin interview

Interview break in rural Benin: “Could you please try to summarize your statement a little more briefly?”

Don´t have the interview partner look at the camera. The strict convention for a professional appearance is a slightly out of center placement of the interviewpartner in the frame, with a diagonal direction of sight, with the interviewer sitting directly beside the camera, and an interesting yet semi-blurred background telling part of the story.


Practical Tip: It usually takes 2-3 persons on the team to conduct a good interview.

Person 1, the lead interviewer or filmmaker, is responsible for setting up the static camera and asking the questions/leading the conversation. Person 2 (optional) is the interpreter in case of a language barrier. Person 3 monitors the sound. It may be better to send all other bystanders out of the room to avoid further bustle. Allow ca. 20 minutes to set up camera, light and sound before the actual interview starts; allow ca. 10-40 minutes for the actual interview, ca. 15-20 minutes for portrait photography (and consent form collection) afterwards. Including B-Roll filming and photography of the surrounding context, a typical session will last between 1,5 and 3 hours in one location plus travel time.


Excerpt / Overview

1. Overview over the practical tips mentioned in this paper

2. Important Tips for drafting real-life contracts and Terms of Reference mentioned in this paper

checklist

1. Practical Tips: Summary

Documenting infrastructure projects
For the documentation of infrastructure projects, make sure that ongoing work is filmed by a local videographer every now and then while the construction works last.

Interesting longer film beats superficial short film
If a good story is well told, it doesn´t matter much if a film is longer than the standard 3 minutes, which has become the norm for most projects.

Utilize the filmmakers experience
For larger film project, a mix of the three explained production may be an interesting option. We strongly recommend to give the filmmaker a chance to develop a concept, instead of confronting him or her with a pre-determined storyboard or style.

Pay attention to the shotlist
If the filmmaker/director and the camera person are not identical, make sure that the filmmaker conveys a complete and comprehensive shotlist to the camera person.

Clear the copyrights of “recycled” materials
When working with archive material in a hybrid production, make sure your have cleared the copyrights. Filmmakers often charge additional license fees when material specifically produced for one project shall be “recycled” in a new project.

Establish a super-clean handling of consent forms

  • How do you assign a certain consent form to a certain face afterwards, when all you have is the name? 1. Either write a careful description of the person on the printed and signed consent form (“young male, green shirt, interviewed inside bakery”) or 2. Make the person hold the signed consent form and take a photo of both. This is the easiest and safest way to strengthen the management of these personality rights. For documentation purposes, store the photo together with the signed and scanned consent form.
  • Collect the consent forms in real time It is not enough if somebody somewhere has the forms. Take care that all consent forms together with the photos of the respective persons are centrally collected for future reference (that is – for auditing purposes or when a problem comes up in the future).
  • Filming children and minors takes extra diligence in terms of personality rights.
    If you plan to shoot video or photos in a school or kindergarten, you need signed consent forms all children appearing in the pictures. The teacher cannot sign it for them – it must be the parents. Plan ahead of time.
  • It usually takes at least 2-3 persons on the interview-team to conduct a good interview
    Person 1, the lead interviewer or filmmaker, is responsible for setting up the static camera and asking the questions/leading the conversation. Person 2 (optional) is the interpreter in case of a language barrier. Person 3 monitors the sound.

Tips for drafting real-life contracts and Terms of Reference (ToR) mentioned and explained in this paper.

All tips are explained in depth in this whitepaper.

Selecting a success story and testimonials

§ Don´t make it the filmmaker´s contractual responsibility to research and organize the case study!

When combining the work of a central filmmaker with local camera persons:

§ The contract should state that both parties together select the local camera crew or person.

§ The contract should state that the local camera crew or person gets logistical instructions and organizational support by a member of the commissioning party on site, not by the filmmaker who works remotely from his or her home country.

§ The contract should state that the commissioning party also commissions and remunerates the local camera crew or person, and makes sure that all copy- and personality rights have been properly cleared.

Copyrights for archive material

§ Do not make the filmmaker contractually responsible to purchase TV rights of archive materials unless really needed. License costs will go through the roof.

Filming permits

§ Don´t make it the filmmakers contractual obligation to be solely responsible to organize filming permits. It simply doesn´t work like that.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this white paper may be in contrast with other filmmakers viewpoints and experiences. These recommendations are no legal counsel, but rather a call and wishlist for more practical planning and more realistic contracts in our wonderful field of work. I hope to make life easier for all participating parties by contemplating these recommendations in their next project.