E v a l u a t i n g   f i n i s h e d   v i d e o s

The worst way to evaluate your commissioned video. So you’ve shot your video. You spent ages constructing the right brief, selecting the right production company and shooting the footage. What now? How do you look at an edit for the first time and know that the film will work? To some extent, this will depend on how the pre-production process was handled. If you were involved all along the way, you will have seen how the director’s thinking developed. You’ll have been reassured that he or she understood your brief and (even more important) your organisation’s culture. You will have agreed a shotlist or even a storyboard. These are important as they’ll give you something to tick off when the film is finished: “where is the shot we discussed of XYZ widget on my new product?” However, none of this will give you any idea of how the finished film will feel.
A finished film is both complex and delicate. The effect on the viewer relies upon a lot of variables, from the music to the performances by the people involved to a million tiny aspects that are understood at a subliminal level but are very hard to deconstruct consciously. The golden rule when viewing any video content for the first time is to put your pen and paper away, just sit back and feel it. This is the only time you’ll ever see your film in the same way as your intended audience: fresh and with few pre-conceived ideas. Time for rational evaluation later. I once worked with a Brand Manager who had been trained at the Royal College of Marketing (Proctor and Gamble). He went through a finished TV commercial with a remote control, freeze-framing every scene and noting the position of all the elements on-screen. Of course, this gave him something to report up through his line management, but his analysis was the polar opposite to how a real person assimilates moving images.
Even worse is when a finished film is viewed in a focus group. Resist this at all costs. It is very reassuring to senior management to know that “key communication points” are recalled by significant numbers of an audience, but again the viewing conditions are hopelessly artificial. Far better to spend a research budget up-front to get the initial brief right.
The next temptation is to tinker. Wrong again! If on first viewing the film feels right, it probably is right. In which case, alter as little as possible. I often describe film as like an old jumper: pull on a single thread and it unravels quickly. How different images are juxtaposed in an edit will produce one effect on your viewer. Altering very little will diminish this effect or alter it altogether. Of course, certain shots will require work. If you are worried about how long your brand or packaging appears on-screen, ask for a change. If you are worried about how a particular action or product benefit is displayed, ask for a change. Otherwise leave well alone. If on the other hand the film feels entirely wrong, it is wrong. Don’t try to understand why it is wrong. Simply try to explain your feelings and define how you should have felt. This is far more helpful to the production company who is then free to re-edit in a more creative way.
The final and most cardinal error is to involve a lot of other people. Everyone thinks they are an expert in film. However, just because someone watches a lot of television does not make them an award-winning editor. My heart sank when I was called into a client meeting and the MD said “…I emailed your initial edit around the company asking for comments…”. If senior management ask employees for comments, that’s what they’ll get. It’s much easier to criticise than praise and so we were given a list of changes that ran to two pages, many of which directly contradicted themselves. The Golden Rule is to make everyone aware before any filming takes place just who will be involved in the approval process and make this list as short as possible.

< I wonder how many people were involved in the approval process for this Taylor’s Coffee ad? I bet it was very few. Ask lots of people for comment and lots of criticism is what you’ll get. (film by BMB)


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