I both love and hate that moment. It’s usually something like this: having dawdled around with my tea and beginning to eat a cookie, crumbs subtly dropping into the mug, I notice Mr Orquad sidling up. It’s obvious, but he asks anyway. “Hey Mike. I’m so glad I caught you. I need someone to make a video for me.” I love that the person thinks I can make a video (yes, unfortunately my first instinct is caught up with self-worth) and I love the possibility, a sense of intrigue and anticipation – could this be another fun and interesting video idea that I could make and that could actually be useful for people? But then, reality sets in, because in my experience of people asking this question, it has most often been because they just thought having a video would be cool. They often do not have a concrete idea, and they often assume that making a video is a simple task for those who can make them. In fact, the next most common sentence that the person expresses is “It’s pretty simple so it shouldn’t take you that long”. Ridiculous. So, what do you do?
i) Beware of saying ‘no’ straight away. I hate it that I catch myself sneering at someone in my mind who asks me to make a video – “not another video request that’s completely un-thought-through and unrealistic.” (If you’re worried that I’ve done that to you before, sorry! Keep reading for my ‘apology’). My temptation is just to say “no”. But I know I need to assume the best intentions on their part – they’re not trying to push me into a corner and destroy my life (though if you have done that, shame on you). They just want a cool video. So before I say “no”, I want to help them think through what they’re actually asking so that both of us have a much better idea as to what it would mean for me to say “yes”. Then I can say no if it’s appropriate, and you’d hope the person asking will understand.
ii) Beware of saying ‘yes’ straight away. I think I did this a bit too much in my earlier days of making videos. I made a lot of videos and spent a lot of time making them, but I should not have agreed to make a number of them. I had said ‘yes’ because I was excited and wanted more opportunities. But I had not understood what they wanted from the video and how much effort it would take on my part. Mostly, those videos were barely used, and all that time spent on them could have been saved if we’d just communicated about what was wanted and what it would take to get it there.
iii) Start by asking questions. I’m going to outline some basic topics that are helpful to work out before agreeing to make a video. The main purpose is that you are better able to assess whether it is a project you want to invest yourself in and how long it will take you, but also that the person asking is able to see more concretely what they’re asking you to do and why. I’m still waiting for the day when a church minister asking for a video gets to the end of a video conversation and says “You know, this is going to take you more time and effort than it’s worth for the purpose I want the video for. Don’t worry about it.” So what should you be asking about? And what should you be thinking about as you listen to their answers? I’ve got 10 top areas to talk and think about:
1. Purpose – Why do they want this video made? What are they hoping to use it for? What are they hoping it will do? How will it fit with the other things that are happening around it? Basically, you’re trying to decipher if the video is worth making in terms of what it’s trying to do. As you hear the answers, you should be pondering whether this purpose is something you’re on board with. Are you willing to put however many hours into this video for the purpose that this person is suggesting? I have always found videos really frustrating and arduous to make when two things are happening: 1) I’m not on board with the purpose, and 2) when I hate the idea. So…
2. Idea – What is their premise? Does their premise have legs? Do they even have a premise? Actually, I think the majority of times I’ve been asked to make a video, the person has had a clear purpose, but either no idea or a really bad idea. When this happens, I need to know in my mind that if I can’t think of an idea straight away, then it’s going to take me a long time to come up with a decent idea that I’m happy with (because the video can only ever be as good as the idea), and that I’m going to need to work out with them how much scope I have to work with. If they do have an idea, then we’re going to need to nut it out a bit and work out if it really has legs to stand on and where it falls down, so that we can either reshape it or bin it. If they don’t have an idea, then we need to be clear about who has ownership over the idea, and how much work and time it will take if we’re going to have future meetings to work out the idea well. They also need to see how important a good idea is. (If you haven’t read my post on the importance of the idea, go here).
3. Target audience – Who are they hoping to show this to? What do those people expect? What things will they engage with? What kind of genre is going to be most appropriate for getting a message across to them? As you’re asking these, you should be starting to build a picture in your head of what the video might be like (with purpose, idea, and target), and so, what it’s going to take for you to make it. But further questions will help you think narrow this down even further…
4. Duration – How long do they want it to be? When the above person has assumed that it won’t take me that long, often they’ve also been thinking “it only needs to be 4 minutes”. I hate that word “only”. It gives a tone suggesting that they think a four minute video only requires four minutes of footage and the skills to operate a fancy editing program, so the whole process shouldn’t take more than half an hour. If you get this tone, make sure to start helping them to understand the different steps to making a four minute video, why they are important, and how long it will take you to do it. Also, a time limit will help you edit.
5. Equipment Resources – What resources do they have available? Are they expecting you to use your own equipment, and if so, do they understand what kind of video that equipment will achieve? Do they have equipment that you can use? Do they have a budget that can either contribute to your equipment maintenance or fund the hiring of some better equipment? Further, what are they hoping for in terms of sound track? Do they understand that you can’t use mainstream music without permission, and other things going on with copyright? What are they expecting of you in terms of acquiring the different resources you need? As you’re asking about equipment, you should be narrowing down in your mind what kind of genre you will be shooting and the idea behind it. Has it limited your possibilities? Is the idea and genre that you have in mind actually going to work on your equipment limitations?
6. People Resources – Do they have people who will be able to help you with the video? Are there people who will help you brainstorm the idea if needed? Are there ‘producers’ who will help source actors and locations or even do the interviewing for you? Are there people who can help as ‘crew’, maybe even a camera man? Are there actors who can be involved? Maybe they just want you to film and produce it and they have someone lined up to edit it? As you’re asking these questions, you can be working out more and more what jobs you’re actually going to have to do, and so how long it will take you.
7. Deadline – When do they want this video done by? Is this a fixed date or is there some flexibility if something goes wrong? As you’re asking this, you should be thinking about what you have on before the deadline, and whether or not you can realistically invest the amount of time required to make it.
8. Expectation of Quality – what kind of quality are they expecting? Is there an example they have of what they want it to look like? Do they understand what it would take to get that kind of quality? How do they define what makes a good video? As you ask these questions, you’re trying to give them realistic expectations. Chances are that you’re not going to make something of hollywood quality (technically of course) – do they understand that? Can you show them an example of what your video will probably end up looking like? Do they even care about technical quality? What for them will mean that you’ve made a great or terrible video?
9. Expectation of Feedback – how much are they expecting to be involved in the video process? Do they trust you to make something? Do they expect to be able to watch it beforehand and to give you changes to make before it is shown? Are they reserving the right to cut it if it doesn’t turn out the way they wanted? As you’re asking these questions, you’re thinking about whether you’re satisfied with this arrangement. Feedback takes a lot of time, but also being cut is just depressing. Have you both communicated clearly how feedback will be involved in the process, and are you happy with that?
10. Expectation of time – Do they really understand how much time it will take you to make this video? Do they really understand what things you will not be able to do because you are making this video? Do they really think that you making this video is worth the time it will take you away from other things? As you’re talking about this, you should be re-examining yourself to work out if you’ve actually been realistic in what you have communicated – whether you have under or overestimated the amount of time that it will take you.
If you get to the end of this process and think you’ll really enjoy making it, you may want to say ‘yes’ even if they have come to the realisation that it’s not quite worth the time for what it will achieve. Fine, but that’s up to you. The main point in the above conversation is for both of you to be clear on what is being asked of you so that you can both be clear on why you are saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to making this video.