Write, Teach, Laugh

NAB 2015: A Producer’s Guide to Story, Budget, Strategy and Brand with Amy DeLouise

(Originally published on Blogcritics.org)

At this year’s National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show, the annual Las Vegas conclave of television, radio, internet and supporting industries, Amy DeLouise set an aggressive goal for her presentation titled: “A Producer’s Guide to Everything That Matters.”

Amy DeLouise

Amy DeLouise, “Strategist & Digital Storyteller” consultant

Everything? Maybe not, but DeLouise, an award-winning video- and multi-media producer, came pretty close with a comprehensive guide to working as a producer without going crazy, or at least not too crazy. With several short films on my resume, I wish I had been able to take this class several years ago.

DeLouise, who now bills herself as a “Strategist & Digital Storyteller” consultant, proved not only knowledgeable, but entertaining as well. Her agenda covered story, budget, strategy and brand. Although primarily focused on producing videos for companies and non-profits, her suggestions are applicable to almost any film project.

Story. DeLouise suggested that producers need to be aware of three major trends.

The first trend: everyone makes movies. “There is an explosion of content, online resources. Three hundred hours of video upload to YouTube every minute, five Vines tweeted every second and 4.9 billion videos streamed on Vimeo last year,” she said. She suggested that this makes people think that filmmaking is easy, so it is important to carefully define your deliverables.

What kind of impact is the project supposed to have? Does it need to be evocative, informative, or emotional? What are the expected outcomes? Does the client want people to sign up for an event, make contributions to a cause, or get engaged in or share a campaign?

Once these questions are answered, producers need to develop and sell the vision. She suggested that “Concept Boards,” like storyboards for feature films, be used to clarify the story arc and characters and tie the vision in to the business goals and audience measures.

Next comes the script. She advised to move step-by-step, from treatment to shooting scripts to editing scripts, getting sign-offs at each stage. Her strategy is designed to avoid the situation where a lot of work has been done, and someone says, “Oh, that’s not what I meant.” She also advised getting sign-offs for the Production Schedule and Budget.

The second trend: Multi-Platform Madness. The initial use of the video may be on the web. Maybe next year, however, the client will want to show it on a giant screen at a shareholders’ meeting.

As a producer you need to add time and budget for reformatting, re-cutting and compressions for multiple platforms; know the optimal output specs for possible distribution platforms before you shoot; and clear rights in advance for all outlets. A release to use a shot of a building in a training video does not mean you have the right to use it in an on-air commercial.

DeLouise recommended storing all your releases as PDFs with the source material. Handy tools she has used include Easy Release App (on the iTunes store) and releasemeapp.com. She also recommended the American society of Media Photographers as a resource. Music rights, including master recording, performance, and estate releases are also critical. Any questions regarding releases, she said, should be directed to an attorney. The stakes can be very high.

people story

No matter what your message, make your story about people

The third trend is that human stories resonate. She said that as a producer, you should, whenever possible, ground concepts in stories about real people and shoot to engage the audience in the lives of your subjects. “Aim,” DeLouise said, “to engage your audience beyond the initial story experience.” Including actionable links in the video or capturing email in order to view the video are ways to do this.

Budget. The key to budgeting, according to DeLouise, is learning to make the most out of what you have. She discussed budgeting tools such as those provided in Movie Magic, Gorilla and HotBudget. For her own projects, she sticks with Excel spreadsheets.

She identified the key budget areas for Pre-Production as:

  • Planning
  • Meetings
  • Scripting
  • Storyboarding
  • Location Scouting
  • Permits
  • Casting

For the Production phase:

  • People
  • Gear

And for Post Production:

  • Editing
  • Graphics
  • Stock Images
  • Stock Music
  • Narrator
  • VO recording
  • Hard Drive or Tape Backup
  • Compressions

Budgeting

Budgeting for production is all about people and properties.

She emphasized that it was important to plan enough time for client reviews and revisions and that you should build in a fixed number of rounds. Otherwise, the reviews could go on so long they could be a budget buster.

Sometimes, DeLouise said, you can actually save your budget by adding things, rather than taking them away. Adding additional camera angles with your main camera and adding a DLSR for b-roll and cutaways can save reshoots. Adding a grip, production assistant or makeup artist can keep a shoot from grinding to a halt. She also suggested getting behind-the-scenes photography for online sharing and promotion.

Strategy.

DeLouise said that learning to negotiate was critical. Negotiations take place with vendors, clients, and your team. Keeping the long-term goal in mind and not letting little things trip up the project is important. She recommended reading the business classic Getting to Yes.

Good contracts, she said, work for both parties. She emphasized that a contract should include Scope of Work, Delivery Schedule, and Fees. Also, be sure to reference your dependency schedule – if your client fails to provide, perform, or approve on schedule, know how this will affect cost.

DeLouise said that you should realize that your crew and editors are part of the team. She recommended that you keep them informed, get teams that have worked together before, share your budget if possible, and avoid surprises.

Brand. “Ask yourself,” DeLouise said, “who are you as a producer? Where are you going? What makes you unique?”

She explained that a successful brand is based on storytelling, relationships and authenticity. To develop your brand, you need to identify your communities. Find the thought leaders, clients, advice givers and collaborators you admire and connect with them.

DeLouise said that your brand is your story and that it will change over time, but it is important to set goals, schedule time for brand development, always add value, and measure your impact. She emphasized: “Build your authentic voice.”

I explored DeLouise’s website and found many valuable things there, especially her blog. It contains both practical advice for producers and fun stuff like where to find the best eateries in Vegas while at the NAB Show.

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