How to make explainer videos
When it comes to creating an online explainer video everyone wants to get a great result without stretching the budget.
The good news is there are logical steps you can take to ensure this happens.
By following this simple guide you can keep control of your content, your timescales and importantly your budget.
Step 1 (what are the core reasons for commissioning the project)
Set your objectives, intended shelf-life, delivery platform.
We recommended you create a hierarchy of objectives. It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to achieve too many and ultimately diluting the impact of the key objectives.
An experienced producer/director will be all too aware of this and should encourage you to draw the line whilst offering creative solutions to be as efficient as possible with the storytelling
Step 2 (references of other works)
This stage is optional and only recommended if you want to limit the concept generation scope of the agency.
Look for online references to find inspiration in order to backup your brief to the agency.
Beware, references can stifle creativity as agencies are often reticent to drift from your guidance when budgets are tight. This is understandable but a good producer should persuade you to be honest about your expectations with regards to referencing.
Step 3 (create the brief)
It’s always best to state your objectives and desired outcomes very clearly as they provide a way for the agency to ‘sense check’ their approach at every stage of delivery.
State the timescales including review dates.
On the technical front always state the following:
- running time
- intended platform, be it online, tv screens, projection, Vimeo/YouTube hosted, self hosted or all of the above.
- subtitles, purely VO, or a cut down version (key worded) text messages designed into the piece.
- music brief, along with references ideally. Be realistic about the need to use library/production music as in most cases well-known tracks are out of the question due to budgetary constraints.
- brand guidelines
- details of different versions required.
Think carefully about versioning your film for different uses at this stage. It’s always more expensive and stressful for all involved when versioning is an afterthought.
Send over as much background as you can as long as it’s relevant. This could include PowerPoint presentations that have touched on similar grounds.
Being this thorough means you are much less likely to run into complications further down the line – as always planning is paramount.
Step 4 (written treatment)
Request a written treatment. By all means allow the producer/director to explain their ideas verbally but a follow up written treatment not only holds them accountable but also helps to clarify what can easily be a loose creative approach.
This is the most important creative stage, where your chosen agency get to demonstrate what they’re bringing to the table. It also sets out the proposed narrative style which to all intents and purposes should dictate the style and tone of voice throughout the whole piece.
Step 5 (narrative)
Only follow this step if it has not been fully dealt with in step 4.
In nearly all cases a narrative is required to ensure a piece flows well. Even the use of montages require a narrative, albeit just a description of flow.
When there is voice over or written text messages we recommend the following:
Provide a script in its entirety if there are internal, political or legal reason this must be set in stone, or sent a bullet pointed list of content which needs to be addressed by the VO or text based narrative.
The agency can then recommend a narrative that suits the creative approach agreed in step 4. Once this is worked up to a level that allows you to agree on the flow on the piece move on to stage 5.
Step 6 (storyboard)
Once you’re happy that the concept is heading in the right direction ask for a storyboard or style frames. It can be a thorough step by step walk through of the narrative or just a handful of frames to illustrate the style approach.
Don’t feel disappointed if your agency recommends just a few style frames. In some situations it might unnecessarily add to your budget for extensive storyboarding. Whatever happens the producer should be able to explain this in a way that makes perfect sense.
Step 7 (work in progress)
Every project has its own particular workflow. Some projects are built in ‘layers’ and don’t really come together right until the end, a bit like renovating a house! In some cases an honest work in progress review may cause more damage when the intention was to prop up client confidence.
A very sensible approach is to ask the producer for 2 things:
A short sample of worked up ‘polished’ work from somewhere iconic within the piece, 5-10 secs should usually be ample.
A ‘blocking’ of the entire timeline. This means a full timeline (ideally with music if this has been agreed) with low quality placeholders throughout which represent the scenes. This provides an invaluable way to see how the piece flows. If you suddenly realise that something is amiss then you can discuss it at an early stage of the project before the agency has fully committed financially to a particular route.
Step 8 (amends to completion)
When submitting amends to the agency it’s always best to collate them efficiently. We recommended a word doc or even better google docs for this.
Drip feeding changes through will often result in the agency being forced to ask for extra budget as the need to draw a line in the sand arises. Every output or ‘render’ takes time for the designer to execute and producer to organise.
There are also the emergence of new online tools which allow you to make dynamic notes on the video itself see (links). These are proving exceptionally useful and popular and most likely represent the future of video content feedback.