A Sea Change in Production Requires a Change in Our Thinking

Posted on by Larry

Robert Cole sent me an interesting email last week:

You might want to explore the sea changes that the pandemic has wrought.

For example, clients used to send a crew to create a video interview, sometimes at fairly significant expense. Now, the interviewee opens his laptop, and records himself, or is recorded during a Zoom session. The lighting is terrible, the audio is barely adequate, but the interview looks authentic, it happens immediately, and the cost is minimal.

For those of us who mastered three-point lighting, and how to pose someone to his or her best effect, the market for our skills has shrunk.

Always enjoy your views of the business and art of filmmaking.

Larry replies: Bob, since its inception, our industry has constantly changed due to shifts in technology and what is considered “acceptable quality.” In some respects, today is no different than before the pandemic.

However, in other ways, today is profoundly different and that troubles me a great deal.

High-end, high-quality productions will always exist, with the clients and budgets to support their vision. But that’s not where most of us work.


(Image courtesy of George Milton, Pexels.com.)

What I’ve seen is that the pandemic has redefined “good enough.” You are right, the skills needed to light and mic an interview have been undercut by mobile devices and Zoom video. Both are immediate, low-cost and omni-present. In many cases, both are “good enough.” But that isn’t the same as good.

When clients can record a Zoom meeting on their laptop, post it to social media and get thousands of likes, where does that leave us? Far too often, with fewer clients and shrinking budgets.

No one would dispute the quality we can bring to a production. But what they would dispute is whether that quality is necessary to meeting the needs of the client.

Sigh… I spent my career looking for ways to make productions look and sound good. But that is not necessarily the objectives of a client. Clients are looking for ways to reach their audience as often as possible, garner likes and web traffic to drive visibility and sales. Quality doesn’t enter into this equation; contact does.

I think what we need to do – as media creators who want to pay the bills – is to refocus our thinking. Instead of thinking that we “provide professional skills to create high-quality video,” we need to become “professional communicators who help you connect with and expand your audience using video.”

NOTE: Or, for wedding videographers, don’t emphasize “high-quality images,” instead “we create ever-lasting memories of your special day using the best technology that fits your needs and budget.” The first pitches gear, the second pitches emotion. Emotion always wins.

We need to shift from thinking about gear to thinking about communication. It is no longer compelling to say to a client that “we can help you look good on camera.” Instead, we need to say: “We can improve your ability to connect with your audience.” Then offer a range of services from iPhone videos to full-blown, gear-heavy shoots. Anyone can shoot an iPhone video. Not everyone can make it look good enough that someone else wants to watch it.

Clients are ALWAYS asking, to quote Dale Carnegie: “What’s In It For Me?” Focus on what you can do to help your clients. Sell yourself as a communications expert, not just a production geek.

I think those of us who pitch our production expertise to clients are likely to slowly starve to death. While those who pitch their skills at powerful, effective communication using video will be in demand regardless of what technology is used to create the image.

Always focus on how your clients benefit by working with you. Technology is making production easier and cheaper. But communication? That takes an expert.


13 Responses to A Sea Change in Production Requires a Change in Our Thinking

  1. George Johnson says:

    You’re so right – it’s always been about communications not technology. Technology is only the tool we write with. Welcome back to the east coast where you can find a drink of water.

    • Larry says:

      George:

      The seductive trap, though, is the fun we have working with the tools. It is easy to get blinded to the reality that the tools exist to serve the story and the client.

      Larry

  2. Philip Snyder says:

    My brother worked for many years as a technical director at CBS News & Sports and Fox News. He noted that, since the pandemic, the networks have realized how cheaply normally remote interviews can be done via Zoom or Skype. Viewers have become accustomed to the poor quality which has now become acceptable. Therefore, the cost savings and the immediacy of the content wins the day.

    • Larry says:

      Philip:

      News and sports have always prioritized immediacy over quality. First is always better than best. In this regard, Zoom et al is a HUGE production win.

      Larry

  3. Peter Phillips says:

    The key questions which effective video professionals still need to help their clients answer are:
    – who do you want to talk to?
    – what’s the key message you want these people to remember?
    – how much do they know about this already?
    – how should they have changed after seeing your video?

  4. Ron B says:

    No doubt about it, the Coronapocalypse has shifted the landscape, but in my world (no-budget media producer in higher ed) it hasn’t significantly impacted the number of projects I work. Since I don’t charge our internal clients (mostly faculty) for jobs, there’s no incentive for them to drop my services.

    One thing I have noted, and I suppose this is a plus, is that many folks have uped their games in terms of self-produced video. Before the pandemic, most paid no attention to basic production factors (lighting, audio, framing, etc), but a lot of folks are now aware of these aspects of visual communications. I’d guess a lot of Blue mics and ring lights have been acquired over the past 18 months.

    • Larry says:

      Ron:

      Smile… anything that improves production values to include focus, legible audio and the ability to see the entire face of the speaker is, overall, a good thing.

      Larry

    • Dennis says:

      I also have worked in higher ed multimedia, and the pandemic increased the need for soft skills for one-person, no-budget production: Putting the talent at ease, asking good questions and, if possible, making them entertaining.

  5. Tim Gallagher says:

    Ironic that this article uses a high quality image to show someone doing a low quality video 🙂
    I think what has really happened is that the mystery of how to do a good production has diminished. I now see news anchor with a cell phone, a basic light and a mic, often now without an extra camera person. The shot is great, especially for on-scene news. People having been doing cell phone productions on Youtube for years.

    I don’t do video for hire (I do my own productions), but I would wager that those who are interested in those low quality videos to get their message out, are the kinds of people who would never hiring a professional to begin with.

    So, back to the image on this article. I don’t think that the market for high quality has diminished, I just think the market for low quality has grown – without necessarily encroaching on the high quality market.

  6. Clayton Moore says:

    Also Youtube has capitalized niche markets with all kinds of quality thats all over the map.

    We are so saturated these days and the ability to place your clients where a search will find them is a whole other deal. It all seems very daunting.

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