You have a story to tell. You have compelling visual components. You want to attract prospective students. Guess what? You probably want a web video!
If you don’t have the resources to hire a firm to do this, you’ll want to start on that learning curve asap. If you do hire a firm, you’ll still want to know a few things so you go into the pre-production meetings armed with knowledge. Time to put your remembering caps on! Here are five pointers to get you started on the right foot (or left foot, if that’s the right one for you).
Audio Drama is Bad Drama
When your audience is watching a video, they will forgive all manner of visual sins. Bounce moving light around on subject’s face? Meh. Camera crew’s shadows in shot? Kind of lame, but they’ll still watch. Improperly mic your subject? Fail to clean up background noise/wind/birds/busses? Let your audio peak too much? You’ve lost them. Attention to detail with your cinematography and things like color correcting in post are great, and you should work towards a unified video where both the photographic and the audio elements are superb. But, if you have the time and resources to focus on only one of these elements, focus on the audio. Your message will be lost in a wave of annoyance from your viewer if the audio isn’t finely tuned.
We know you have a lot to say about your department, and all of it is important! …but is it? Think about this. The average attention span for someone viewing a web video is 90 seconds, if they’re hooked (obviously it’s much less if they’re not). In 90-120 seconds, you basically have the option to get across 3 key points. Whittle your message down to the bare minimum and make sure each point has an engaging visual to accompany it. Then, direct the viewer to your website, where they’ll be able to find more information. You want to avoid packing too much information into your video. Your edit will be jumpy, and too many focal points will water down the overall message.
The Core (Starring Aaron Eckhart?)
*Expanding from the previous point* This relates more specifically to those of you containing other schools or departments in your domain, you might have difficulty finding a point of focus, or you might have multiple departments clamoring for real estate in the video. That’s completely understandable, and ideally, each school/department would be able to show off their assets in a school/department-specific video. Until everyone gets the resources to do that, however, as a College, you have to think about the broader goal of attracting prospective students to your College. You might want to inform the world about each and every one of your majors, but realistically, you’re going to have a few that standout. If you choose to focus on the academic aspect of your College, you’re going to have to pick a few to talk about while directing people to your website for information about the other majors in your purview.
Find Your Voice – Literally
Talking heads are a good way to communicate information while putting a face with said information. A talking head is just a medium shot of a person (framed from the chest up), talking. This can be in any location, whether that’s in a studio with a backdrop, in your laboratory, or in an office setting. The goal of a talking head is to make sure the audience gets to see a representative from your college speaking about the things you want people to hear about. Basic, right? And probably, the best person to talk about this would be the head of your department, right? Well, not always. See, there’s this phenomenon, where you’ll have a person who is the most vivacious, interactive person, great at giving talks and doing tours and disseminating information, and then you get them on camera, and they become a deer in the headlights. It’s crazy, but it happens. You want to make sure that the person you’re putting on camera is comfortable in the hot seat and can effectively communicate your information without sounding wooden. If no one in your department has been on camera before, a simple screen test is a great way to vet out the uncomfortable folks.
Be Your Own Unicorn
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you make a video. If you have an awesome and unique idea, by all means, do it! But you don’t want to force it in the pursuit of leading the pack. Watch other videos, and do some research. Watch music videos, NPR videos, documentaries, promotional videos from other colleges, commercials, anything that inspires you or looks good to you. You might find a camera movement in a music video that you want to incorporate into your video, or a lighting technique in a documentary that you think is striking, and would look great with your subjects. This is a great way to narrow down what you want your video to look and feel like. When you’re doing this research, look for links between the different elements. You don’t want it to be generic, but you do want your viewer to be drawn in rather than thrown off by a video with several non-integrated elements. Some of this information might seem a little contradictory: be unique, but not too unique. Get all your information across, but don’t say too much. The biggest key to this is, don’t sweat it. If you’re just starting out, trial and error is going to take you far. Try a few different things, see what works, and change what doesn’t. Or, if you have more resources, you might be able to hire professionals and circumvent some of the trial and error. But the professionals are still going to want to know what you want, so you’ll still have to hone your message and pick a visual or storytelling style you’re interested in.