Turning to smartphone video production during COVID-19

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Some of the most innovative branded video content has been self-shot.

Andrew Coyle

We’re living in a time where traditional forms of content creation are being challenged by a variety of government restrictions intended to protect public health. Due to the initial restrictions, which included travel limitations, social distancing and strict group sizes, our SHERPA team had to press pause on some productions all together and rethink many individual projects.

Thankfully, our creativity thrives on constraints. So, for the past few months we have been at our most inventive as we’ve discovered new ways to connect brands with audiences and navigate this temporary normal.

Although the Australian film industry is one of the few now back in production, we should still consider what we have learnt and how effective our alternate production methods have been for our brand partners.

A woman filming with a smartphone

Great video creative is about the idea or story, not the production

Instead of developing ideas and planning productions that rely on teams of dedicated film professionals, we’ve been working with talent at home, coaching them through the best ways to capture engaging footage themselves.

That’s right – we’ve been working with self-shot media!

Until March 2020 the concept of self-shot footage was generally reserved for influencers and home videos – not branded content or marketing.

But our focus has always been on placing customer needs and motivations at the heart of all of our creative and content planning.

We also recognise that when it comes to video more generally people often care more about the message than the format or production quality, so our efforts have been centred on generating solutions that connect on an emotional or practical level.

It is possible to craft compelling stories on a limited budget

What brands need above all is well considered and consistent messaging that keeps them top of mind and relevant in the moments that matter.

Bigger budgets don’t always equate to better ideas, and self-shot media enables us to keep the wheels in motion throughout the pandemic and capture genuine moments, with the added benefit of lower costs.

All the usual production expenses, including locations, props, cameras, equipment and lighting are suddenly out of the picture. We simply get to focus on the talent, front and centre. And then get into the edit suite for our usual post-production process.

There’s also a sense of familiarity. People are a lot more comfortable interacting with a smartphone than a large film camera. It’s far more intimate and unobtrusive, which means we can garner a natural reaction, or at least get an easy sense of engagement.

Similarly, audiences are also used to consuming self-generated media and content from an individual's point of view. So, they can relate to the format with ease.

Things to consider when using a smartphone to create video content

Video production is highly democratised – almost anyone can afford a reasonably good kit. But that doesn’t mean everyone can tell an interesting story or captivate audiences with original footage.

While many individuals have a surprising grasp of filmmaking techniques, our job over the past few months has been to build a creative structure around that knowledge in a way that works strategically for the brand. So far, we’ve helped chefs in isolation share recipes with would-be patrons at home, authors bring their books to life and entertain restless children, and retailers embrace viral footage shot by their customers.

After embracing self-shot media we’ve developed a ‘how to’ guide for our clients, their employees and talent. If you’d like a copy, or are keen to explore how we can work together, email me at andrew@sherpa.today

What did we learn?

A professionally crafted production approach to advertising media will still benefit brands in the future, and SHERPA is still heavily engaged in these high-end formats. However, we should also embrace the smartphone as a strategic option that clearly offers an alternate approach for our brand partners.

We may use smartphones to create quick, digestible pieces of media or to approach a new advertising campaign in an innovative way.

As an industry we have started to embrace the potential of the smartphone in the past few months, but I would say we are only at the beginning of what is possible.

For now, here are some tips to make your next smartphone production successful.

1. Shoot at 4K with 30fps

Modern smartphones enable you to shoot at high definition. This is an optional setting worth switching on. Take one look at Apple’s promo clips and you will see the visual results the iPhone is capable of. 

2. Make sure your content has a beginning, middle and an end

We can find the best moments to stitch together in the edit suite but it’s crucial that your message flows. This is especially important for instructional videos where you’ll have to explain every step of the process.

3. Consider the camera’s orientation and framing

You’ll want to capture content with your main subject in the centre of the shot surrounded by a fair amount of negative space on the edges. Remove anything unnecessary from the scene but make sure it doesn’t feel too bare or unnatural. Your camera should be set up in landscape or a 16:9 aspect ratio. This orientation works across most channels and allows the content to be edited for vertical and square formats too. A tripod can be handy to keep the smartphone steady.

4. Don’t keep yourself in the dark

Try to film when you can capture natural daylight with even exposure across the frame. Generally, the middle of the day works well. Avoid shadows and standing directly under or against a light source.

5. Go for variety

As a visual medium, it’s beneficial to capture different types of shots to help the final edit feel dynamic and hold attention. Consider wide shots, closer shots and cutaways to general subject matter. It’s also good to get a hero shot if you’re shooting something with a reveal like a recipe or craft project.

6. Test the sound

If there’s any dialogue, you’ll want to have a mic set up to capture your sound. Be aware of ambient sounds too and switch off major appliances or ask noisy neighbours for some quiet time.

7. Have fun and be yourself

The most important part of the process is capturing your story authentically. So, remember to smile, have fun and be yourself!

Andrew Coyle, director of SHERPA

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