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Appendix 5: Production stages

The many processes involved in producing an effective video presentation are approached in different ways by different people, and can of necessity vary considerably from project to project. These notes indicate a path which is often followed.

The Brief:
Taking the brief is usually the first step; what is the main objective of the video, and how much do we know about the target audience, their interests, their levels of prior knowledge, and the kinds of arguments that can sway them.

Usually the overall order of costs is discussed at this stage too; both customer and producer want an idea of the likely budget. Costs can vary greatly project by project, according to programme length and contents, the locations for filming, and the human and other resources needed. 

Once the brief is clear, some form of programme outline and budget is usually prepared.

The Outline:
The first programme outline is normally a short, simple description of the project and how it would be approached.

It should give a clear indication of the contents and style of the proposed programme; it can be discussed, negotiated and amended until the customer is satisfied that it meets the requirements.

The Budget:
The outline (based on guidance from the brief) provides a strong indication of the time, technical resources and other inputs needed, and so allows a production budget to be calculated.

This is often presented together with the programme outline as a "pitch"; specification and cost hand in hand.

Minor variations in programme contents need not affect the budget; changes resulting in substantial increases (or decreases) in the resources needed should be reflected in a revised budget.

Payment terms (dates) are included with the budget. 

For productions using professional production teams and  high-quality equipment, budgets range from a few thousand pounds to a few tens of thousands of pounds.

Once the pitch is accepted and subject to normal refinements in the production process, unless the customer subsequently changes the specification the programme should be delivered as described, at the price agreed, with no "hidden extras". Check this at the negotiating stage.

Script and pre-production:
Once agreement is reached, a detailed shooting script is often prepared, indicating all pictures and commentary. This is available for discussion and amendment; once the approach is set, arrangements for filming can be finalized.

This is carried out with crew, equipment and other facilities appropriate to the project, and can be undertaken.

Often it is desirable that a contact person should be available within the commissioning organization, so that access and permissions can be arranged, any wrinkles or problems can be sorted out promptly on the spot, and an expert eye is available to ensure that inappropriate or undesirable procedures are not inadvertently recorded.

Graphics production:
This is normally undertaken in parallel with or after filming, using specialist video designers and computer graphics equipment; though on occasion there is still a role for hand-produced artwork.

Preliminary Edit: ("the off-line")
Once the main picture elements have been collected they are normally transferred onto a computer hard disc, edited approximately to the script, and refined as necessary. Usually a guide voice track and music are also added.

The emphasis at this stage is on taking time to make sure that the story-line and pictures work as well as possible, and not on technical quality. Any reasonable changes the customer desires can usually be accommodated, normally without cost so long as extra filming or graphics production is not required.

Final Edit: ("the on-line", or “finishing”)
With the off-line edit and any amendments agreed, the final voice-over narration track can be  recorded and a polished final edit prepared.

Depending on the production format chosen, this may involve recapturing the source material at top quality (“conforming”), smoothing out  the “look” and visual quality of the edited pictures (“colour grading”), or adding final versions of any captions and special effects. An “audio sweetening” step will further balance, filter and refine the programme’s sound. If the programme involves a complex  track a separate sound mix in a specialist dubbing suite is sometimes needed.

The whole on-line editing process can take anything from a few hours to several days.

While changes can be made after the final on-line edit, this should not often be necessary. Changes after the on-line edit are not normally included in production budgets, and so can result in an extra charge.

Because the on-line edit is the creation of the programme master from which all subsequent copies will be made, this should be done on a high-standard edit suite to maximise the quality of the show copies. Online editing (“finishing”, “completion”) on non-linear computer-based editing systems is now the norm for most programme types, though there are still some  traditional style, tape-based on-line edit suites in use.

Duplication and distribution:
A small number of show copies can usually be made at the on-line edit. Once the finished programme is approved, bulk copies for distribution can be made. This usually means copies on DVD, though web video and other portable playback formats are increasing in popularity.

Box and label design and print are not normally included in the  video production budget, though an attractive presentation can help in creating the right impression and is worth considering.

Copy quality is perhaps best assessed by viewing show copies as the audience will see them; usually via playback from DVD to a domestic television set. The difference in quality between material originated on the higher-end formats and that filmed on domestic cheaper camcorders can be very marked and is usually immediately apparent (even on low quality copies), affecting both picture and sound quality.