“Let’s do some video case studies”
“How about a little montage of the Minister doing the visit?”
“We could do something on YouTube – you know, liven it up a bit”
There’s something compelling about film, which is why so many events and launches open with an uplifting compilation to a jaunty soundtrack. They set the scene, tell real people’s stories, bring events to life, make the conceptual personal.
Expectations seem to be changing. In a YouTube world, I think it’s fair to say that the assumption is now that effective government communication online will incorporate video, whether it’s formal, informal or full-blown interactive.
But it’s easier said than done.
A number of recent projects have brought me face to face with the world of video and the practicalities of making it happen:
- You need the gear to record video, or access to people who can do it for you (at a significant cost)
- You need to find a way to look after and manage any in-house gear
- You need people to project manage each shoot, getting the people lined up, the venues arranged etc
- You need release forms and briefings (speeches, bullet points, background notes, whatever)
- You need to manage the expectations of Important People who are used to being interviewed by the BBC with autocues
- You need some way to edit what you shoot
- You need a grasp of aspect ratios and codecs, video formats, frame rates and embeddable code
- You need somewhere to put it and process for getting it OK-ed
- You need rules about what you publish and how you moderate comments
- You need an answer when someone says: “So why exactly are we doing this?” and when someone says: “So how come the YouTube ‘related videos’ show a girl in a G-string?”
All of which can be done. But the hardest bit – and why I have newfound respect for graduates of media studies courses – is that you need to know how you tell a story through video. Talking heads are fine, but often dull. Proper film-makers know about finding interesting locations, putting interviewees at their ease, which bits to keep and which bits to chop, how to do intros, transitions, titles, splicing clips together, fixing the sound and colour balance, storing and converting the footage and lots more. And too often recently for me, it’s just been a cheerful civil servant with a Handycam and an Important Person wondering why the outputs aren’t a bit more polished.
The answer might be to leave this to people who know about video – just brief it out and leave it to the professionals. But I think video is becoming like typing: one day soon, the practical skills to communicate through video are going to be as normal as being able to put together a Powerpoint presentation – you don’t bring in an agency for that. In the same way that bullet point slides look dated these days, fairly soon the smart kids will be making their points with vox pops, Qik streams and mini-documentaries, and we’ll see film-making skills creep into person specifications and CVs for people in communications roles.
I think it’s worth it: the prize will be a much more engaging and authentic way of communicating.