Producing and directing promotional videos using green screen. My working process.

I spent most of this summer working with Karen Footman, co-creating this:

http://schoolforheroines.com/createamiracle/

She is a personal development mentor – we’ve had a very creative, lively, and productive collaboration so far. We’ve co-created the whole programme, the promotional strategy, the website, the content, the design. In the process, we got tons of insight about these kinds of products and services, how people respond to them, etc. We’re both learning, testing a lot, experimenting and trying different ideas.

I think it is worth writing about the process of creating the promotional videos. Currently, one of them is live on the Create a Miracle page:

From my first day of working for Karen, we had been planning to produce some professional-looking promotional videos for her programme. So we went through various similar videos to distinguish what it is about them that helps them ‘stand out’. All of them had clear sound, a person talking to the camera, some colourful background to help make the video more interesting, a bit of graphics – they were also filmed using green screen, so we decided we’d do that too. The main point, of course, was what to put in the video – we needed to have relevant content.

Pre-production: Content

One of the main challenges in working with a person like Karen is how to channel the never ending creative energy into something that is more than pretty words, helps to get an idea across, and hopefully helps sell her services – because of course you don’t go and invest in video production just because you felt like it – there is a clear purpose here.

My style of working is very different from Karen’s. I can spend days and days in planning, polishing an idea or sentence, trying to find the best and most appropriate way to say something, rehearse it, etc. Not Karen’s style. I would have limited her and killed her energy if I had put her in that environment. So the best thing to do was to combine both ways to do things, making sure we capture her creative energy in the most appropriate way that works for her. She is an energetic and active talent which can’t be scripted – and she communicates her ideas best while she’s talking. So we spent a few hours discussing what each video is going to be about, playing with words, ideas, getting distracted, then coming back… We used lots and lots of notes, but not in the way I thought we’d use them – we weren’t planning exact sentences or scripting, but rather just jotting down quick phrases that sounded interesting.

This is what our workplace looked like, by the way.

Creative chaos

I was trying to notice Karen’s levels of energy and engagement – there were times she was feeling almost ‘stuck’, while at other times, she would speak loudly, passionately, with lots of metaphors and a sense of humor. That was the sign – that’s when we took a camera out and started filming rehearsal sessions. Once she had a camera and she was in the right ‘energy’, it was a very focused and clear 5-6-7 minute speech with introduction, main content part, and end. These rehearsals gave us the much needed structure of each video – they were rushed, imperfect, longer than needed – but had all the right content.

I can’t emphasise enough the importance of these rehearsals. For once, it gave us a way to prepare Karen for a day in the studio – because of course studio hire is paid by the hour, and the less prepared you go, the more takes you’d need – and you’d end up paying more. Going to a studio is a stress big enough for anyone – you’re no longer in the comfort of your home, the camera and microphone are waiting for you, all lights and eyes are on you, and you are expected to be professional, to the point, and efficient. So you need to know your content well, and be prepared to deliver it with the right attitude. What is more, we didn’t want any edits and cuts – we wanted the videos to have a seamless, authentic and friendly feeling – as if Karen was talking to you personally – so any cuts would have ruined that idea. So we needed everything from start to end to go well.

After we had recorded the video rehearsals, the next step was transcribing them – not word by word of course, because we wouldn’t be repeating them in the exact form – but we took notes of all the main points in each video, the important phrases we definitely wanted to include, we discussed what needed to be left out – and where the focus would need to be. We also took note of things like posture, body language and eye contact with the camera; and of course the tone of Karen’s voice, intonation and emphasis. We had very specific ideas to get across, and we also wanted to differentiate from the possible ‘competitors’ in her business – the videos needed to communicate what is unique about Karen and her approach to what she is doing with and for her clients. Also, we made sure we plan her clothing, make up and hair style – we were going to use a green screen, so we wanted a light colour which is easy to combine with whatever we decide to put on the background, not too distracting or clashing, and also helping the eyes focus on her and not the background.

Production: Recording using a green screen

Once we arrived in the studio and familiarised ourselves with it, we sat down to prepare for the actual recordings. We prepared cue cards (5 x A4 sheets of paper), which contained the most important points of each section of the video we were recording. We arranged them on stands, just below the camera, so Karen can easily peak and be reminded of the next point while talking at the camera. We also agreed on signals I would make with my hands – counting each minute of recording (we later discarded that as unnecessary and distracting), making a signal when I felt she was getting distracted and needed to come back to the point. I also felt like nodding and encouraging her when she was making an excellent point – or trying to show her with my reactions that she was getting off track. There had to be a very gentle balance because she was the talent and she was the one with the ideas, and she was in front of the camera – I just needed to help and make sure she’s getting her point across in the way we had decided to.

Also, it was great we had an experienced operator to help us in the studio – he was giving useful advice on breathing techniques, how to start and end the video (hint: start and end with a few seconds just looking straight in the camera with a gentle smile and no body movement, so it’s easier to edit and add fade-in and fade-out effects). He was great in giving feedback and impartial advice, having an ‘outsider’s view’ on the content and a professional approach to the technical side. I was taking notes of each take, the strong and weak points, which take was best, etc. – so he can then digitise only the ones we needed.

Post-production: Editing in Premiere, colour correction, keying, adding background layers and graphics

This was my first ever attempt at working with a green screen, so I had read some theory and practical advice long before the actual shoot. Also, I had asked some friends for advice on how to edit the videos. Dimitar recommended using After Effects for keying out the green screen – but to be honest, AE is still quite confusing for me, and a bit overcomplicated for what my needs. So I was very happy to find Premiere also had a ‘Color key’ tool which worked well.

Here is the ‘tutorial’ I watched (and laughed quite a lot) – so if it worked with this guy’s green wall, it *had* to work with our green screen 🙂

Before keying out the green screen, I applied basic colour correction to the raw videos. There were much more than needed green reflections around the footage, so keying before solving this problem would result in keying out the wrong elements. First and most importantly, I fixed the white balance, then corrected the whites and blacks separately, and decreased the greens everywhere. I also had to work to bring out blues and reds and make all colours more concrete. Here is a ‘before and after’ example:

Green screen - before and after

So after applying colour correction, I could finally key out the green screen. I used three different Color key filters so I can get rid of all the green screen’s nuances and shades of green in the video. My next step was cropping and composing the raw footage – with the Motion and Crop filters.

Even though we had filmed the videos in HD, I chose to edit and work with wide-screen standard definition. For our purposes, it didn’t really add anything positive to have the videos in HD; what is more, HD creates additional problems when editing and handling files, not to mention the size and time it takes – especially when the videos are layered. What is more, we were using paid stock footage for the backgrounds, and stock footage costs more the more pixels you add to the quality.

For the background, it was very important for us to have something that doesn’t distract the viewer from Karen, but at the same time works as something to have your eyes look at instead of constantly focusing on the speaker. So I hope the defocused particles work well enough. We used this particular video:

www.istockphoto.com/stock-video-15104490-defocused-particles-floating-dots-blue-brown-green-loopable.php?st=afa8298

For this video, we actually purchased the smallest size – because it’s defocused anyway, we didn’t need all the details and it was good enough for what we were doing. But note the price difference for HD (1 credit ~ $ 1).

The stock video wasn’t quite the colour we needed – so I added a transparrent gradient PNG with the turquoise colours of Karen’s branding to achieve consistency. Also, I had a black video turned to blue for the lowest layer, so when using transitions there are no blinks between the different cuts. I also applied colour correction to the other stock video of the dandelion to have the whole piece with one consistent shade of blue / turquoise. Transitions were a nightmare to deal with – with all these layers of footage and still images in different colours and styles, there was lots of trial and error in the process.

Green screen - video layers in Premiere

Instead of using the Render area function, I was exporting a few seconds’ worth of video every time I made a change. This meant I didn’t have to rely on Premiere’s preview and used a proper video player instead, for easy replay and frame-by-frame preview. Also, throughout the process I was also uploading some trial files to YouTube so I can see how the website recompresses the footage. I found that for these types of videos, deinterlacing only results in lower picture quality and lower contrast and detail – so I didn’t allow Premiere to deinterlace the footage while exporting.

I was using the following export settings in Adobe Media Encoder (after a lot of trial and error and research on how different settings influence the image quality).

  • Format: QuickTime / no deinterlacing
  • Video codec: H.264 (recommended by YouTube and Vimeo)
  • Quality: 100 %
  • Frame size: 640 x 360 (for YouTube 360p wide screen)
  • Frame rate: Same as source
  • Field Order: Upper
  • Pixel Aspect Ratio: Square Pixels (for online video)
  • Bitrate: 30 000 (this is more than the source footage; it doesn’t actually make the video larger by adding nonsense, but just ensures the highest possible quality from the raw footage)
  • Audio: Mono (we were recording in Mono anyway)
  • Frequency: 44 KHz (recommended by YouTube and Vimeo)
  • Sample size: 16 bit
  • Alternates: Compress Movie Header (helps when uploading to YouTube)
  • The file sizes for ~5 min videos were around 100 MB each.

In terms of handling multiple videos of the same style and origin, I was copy+pasting most of the filter settings and then just tweaking them for the new video. I was copy+pasting the whole layer structure for each of the four videos, then changing the main speaker track and nudging the start and beginning. I also added a tiny detail which I think works quite well – the Create a Miracle Project logo in the middle of each video, when Karen speaks about it. I hope this adds a visual emphasis to the words, and helps the listener / viewer to focus or re-focus on the Project.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this experiment and learning experience – going through the whole pre-production, production and post-production process, dealing with all sorts of issues along the way, being creative while sticking to a basic branding guideline – and hopefully producing something of value.

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3 thoughts on “Producing and directing promotional videos using green screen. My working process.

  1. Pingback: Professional experience – Recce and test filming for Karen Footman « Rumena Zlatkova

  2. Pingback: 201MC Professional Experience Proposal « Rumena Zlatkova

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