We’ve been working on a special project over the past few weeks: a brand new demo video for Ceros. Video is a tricky medium to get right, so we wanted to share our process with you: what worked, what didn’t, and how we approached things from an ideation and execution standpoint. This article will take you on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Ceros backlot.
Why a Demo Video?
The original idea of a demo video came out of a tangible need for a better lead qualification process. This falls squarely on the Science side of things; you can hop over to the companion article that dives into our new lead gen and nurture flow if that’s your jam. My expertise is in the realm of Art, so this article will focus solely on the creative process.
At the point I became involved in the project, the team had clearly defined the problem and outlined an integrated workflow that included a video. Let’s dive into how we designed a solution to this problem.
Goal-Setting & Design Anchors
Here at Ceros, we start every design project with the same question: What’s the goal? The answer to this question forms the backbone of our internal creative briefing process, as well as the process we use with our clients.
When we had our first planning meeting for this video, we started to get really prescriptive up front instead of focusing on the goal we were trying to achieve. After a half hour of mostly fruitless debate about what the video should look like, we control-Zed and went back to the goal question.
We eventually landed on a video that’s a hybrid of a traditional 1:30 marketing video and a 30-minute demo video in terms of content, length, and tone. Here are the 3 design anchors we eventually came up with:
- Content: 70% educational, 30% marketing. We wanted to strike a good balance between providing concrete product information and selling the product itself.
- Length: Between 6 – 8 minutes. It needed to be long enough to give a solid product overview without diving into all of the nitty-gritty details.
- Tone: Informative but humorous. We wanted to get across all of the business-y stuff like examples, features, use cases, and pricing, without being stodgy or boring.
Balancing science and art, selling and telling, humor and facts, was no easy feat. But, true to our company mantra, we “found a way” to make it work.
Once we had our goals, concept, and approach nailed down, we turned our attention to the script. Before writing anything, we first defined the essential ingredients that had to be in the video: things like client examples, pricing information, and specific product features. We also spent a lot of time thinking about the flow of ideas and framework we’d use to communicate our story.
Once we had the essentials and framework nailed down, we started drafting the script. This was an extremely iterative process. We did a couple of drafts on paper—Ashley, our content lead, did the initial writing, with heavy input from myself and Simon. Then Simon and Ashley read the entire thing out loud, tweaking it as they went to sound more conversational and get the right tone. When we finished, we had about 90% of the ideas on paper, leaving 10% wiggle room for improv and experimentation during the actual film date.
Based on the script, we then began putting together a storyboard. This included a pretty detailed visual treatment of what would be shown on camera in each segment of the script, like this:
Each of these segments became a mini-story in and of itself. In addition to the words, we had to brainstorm all of the different visual components: props, B-roll, extras, screencasts, and motion graphics.
Storyboarding is where your aesthetic and story really start to come to life. It’s difficult to envision the final product when you’re just looking at words in a document. Adding visuals into the mix helps to bring your ideas to life.
Prior to filming, we nailed down all the logistics such as talent, location, props, and wardrobe. True to Ceros form, we decided to manage everything in-house. Our account manager Katy and designer Lauren provided on-screen talent; other Ceros employees volunteered for B-roll material. We filmed in our office and made or purchased all of the props ourselves. Our CEO even pitched in with creative direction and styling on the day of the shoot!
We filmed the entire video in one (very long) evening with two cameras, a professional lighting rig and sound kit, and about 10 people.
In particular, sound recording has been a huge challenge for us in the past, so we were thrilled that it came out so well for this shoot. We found this audio guide from the folks at Wistia really helpful.
The post-production process was a bit rough. This isn’t a huge surprise, given that post-prod is one of the most complex stages in the life of any project. This is the point at which video, dialogue, screencast elements, motion graphics, and music come together all at once. It’s also the point at which you can no longer control-Z your ideas. All the pieces are happening in real time, and you’re left wondering whether they’ll really coalesce into something close to your original vision.
As with the production process, we also managed the post-production in-house, coordinating screencast elements, graphics, musical selections, and editing with members of the team. This allowed us to work in an extremely collaborative and efficient manner.
The beginning of this phase of production is super nerve-wracking. When you’re reviewing raw video footage, you feel something between happiness and terror. What you see off the back of a camera is flat. It doesn’t yet have a soul; it doesn’t really match up to your memory of shooting it. But once you start to treat the footage and layering in some of the other visual elements, you start to gain confidence in the work.
It took us about 5 days into a week-long process to create a rough edit that we felt good about. At that point, we were finally able to let out the collective breath we’d been holding. It finally felt like it was about 90% there, and we’d be able to get the other 10% there with a bit more effort.
Our cast of characters was a bit unusual in that we filled all of these roles ourselves. However, for those of you who don’t have in-house teams, here are the key players you’ll need to create a really killer brand video:
- An Art Director who supplies the visual direction and storyboards.
- A Screenwriter who provides the script.
- An Onsite Director who provides creative direction during the shoot.
- On-screen talent who perform on camera.
- Videographers who do all of the filming and provide raw footage.
- A Lighting and Audio Producer—this is often the videographer.
- A Wardrobe, Hair, and Makeup manager.
- A Props Master who creates and organizes all of the props.
- A Video Editor who cuts all of the footage and layers in other visual and audio elements.
- A Motion Graphics Artist who provides additional graphical elements to be paired with video footage in post-prod.
- A Post-Production Producer, who oversees the creative direction and schedule.
What We Learned
We learned two major things from this shoot:
- Collaboration leads to great things. Leveraging the talents of our team to brainstorm and execute on this video was truly awe-inspiring. We drew on people from every department during the process. It truly is our collective baby, one that we’re very proud of.
- Don’t leave the workflow for later. We ended up planning our full workflow after we’d already shot the video. During the process of planning how we’d use the video in our new lead gen flow, we discovered that we actually needed to film a short teaser video for the initial landing page. If we’d known this up front, we could have done it the night we filmed the full video. Instead, we had to scramble to shoot during a workday, which was not ideal.
I’d love to hear your tips and tricks on producing videos if you have them—let me know in the comments below!