Planning a Video Project in 5 Steps

by Elizabeth Blessing

Knowing where to start when planning a video project can seem overwhelming at first. This phase is also known as "pre-production" because it encompasses everything you do before the camera starts rolling. Good video planning at the beginning of your project will help you stay on the right path to a successfully completed project.

STEP 1: Start with a goal and an audience in mind.

First, you need to define just what it is you hope to accomplish with your video. To get the creative juices flowing, brainstorm all the ideas you can think of as possible goals for your video. Write them down quickly without censoring yourself. The point is to generate ideas, not to critique them.

When planning a video, think about what you want to accomplish with your video and why you want to accomplish it. Really try to envision your audience and think about how your video might address their needs. 

Look at all your brainstorming options and cross off the ones you don't feel strongly about. Select the best of your options and write a few short sentences that clearly sum up the goal of your video and what action you'd like your audience to take after viewing your video.

Here are some examples:

  • "I want to make a video to put on my website that demonstrates the features and benefits of my new invention, The Handy-Dandy Kitchen Buddy. I think if people can see my new product in action they'll want to buy it."

  • "I want to create a how-to video that gives people tips on how to safely use a kayak. I own a kayak store and I want to put this video on a monitor at the front of the store. This shows my customers that I'm an expert in the field and they can trust me to sell them a good kayak. "

  • "I want to create music videos of my new rock band and put them on a YouTube channel. We want to publicize our music to help us get some paying gigs and begin building a fan base."

TIP: Curious about how to get FREE airtime for your videos? Read our article: "Public Access Television: Get Airtime for Your Videos and Build Your Audience!

STEP 2: Decide the tone, format and projected run-time for your video.

The next step in planning a video is to decide on the tone, format and length.

Tone refers to the overall feeling of your video. Think of the adjective that best describes your video. Is it humorous, informative, dramatic, provocative, confrontational, entertaining? Jot down a few words that best describe the feeling you'd like to convey to your audience.

Next, what format do you think would best suit your video? Think of format as the structure by which you deliver your video's message. 

Here are just a few format examples:

  • How-to video: These are informational videos that give your audience instructions on how to do something. Examples of these are cooking videos; home improvement videos; or videos that show your audience how to build or repair something.

  • Product review or product demonstration videos: Product reviews show you using a product and then offering your opinion. If you've developed your own product, you can demonstrate its features and benefits to your audience.

  • Customer testimonial video: You can interview satisfied customers who already use your product or service and want to let others know about your company.

  • Entertainment video: Music videos, dance videos, skits, plays -- videos that showcase talent. 

Once you've decided on your video's tone and format, think about the run time of the video. A rough estimate is fine. Will it be a short 5-minute product demonstration? Or do you need 30-minutes of scripted footage to get your message across?

At this point you don't need to do a scene-by-scene plan of your video, which you may not even need to do if your video is a relatively simple one. Right now we're doing just the preliminary steps in planning a video.  

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STEP 3: When planning a video production, be sure to review ALL your resources.

If you've done the first two steps, you should know the following valuable information:

1. The goal of your video and its audience.

2. The tone, format and projected run time of your video.

The reason this information is valuable is that it gives you a good idea of the scope of the video you'd like to create. A key element to planning a video project is having a clear understanding of just how big, small, elaborate or simple your project really is. 

Next you need to make a list of all the resources you have available to complete your video. List the following:

  • The time you have available to work on your project.

  • The equipment you have available. Include camera equipment, lighting, audio, computers and editing software. If you don't have any equipment or are missing some items, do you have money to purchase or rent the equipment you need? Even better, do you have friends or family you can borrow equipment from?

  • Do you have the skill to do the entire video project yourself? Or, even if you have the skills, would it be physically impossible to do all the work yourself? Make a list of friends or family members who do have skills (camera, audio or video editing) who you think would volunteer to help.

  • Determine the amount of money you have to spend versus the actual costs involved. Do a preliminary budget for your video. Do you need to purchase equipment, rent a location or hire people to help? Make your list as complete and realistic as possible.

Take an objective look at your resource list. Do you have the resources available to produce the video you envisioned in Steps 1 and 2? If yes, great! You're ready to go to Step 4.

If you don't have the resources needed to produce your video, you have a few choices. If money to create your video is the problem, think about reducing the scope of your video to something you can afford.

Sure, you might have wanted to incorporate special effects or travel to a really cool venue for your video, but do you really need these expenses to get your message across effectively? Are there more cost effective alternatives available?

If your available time is the issue but you have the money, hire people to help out. If you have time but your skills are lacking, go online or take classes to learn the skills you need. (You can always check out the free tips on Groovy Videos!)

You may have to be creative, but there are ways you can produce a video you'll be proud of even if your resources are limited.

STEP 4: Add a little "wiggle" to your pre-production planning

"Wiggle room" is the step in planning a video project where you acknowledge that things don't always go as planned. It's a fact of life. Equipment breaks down. People don't show up or do what they promised. It starts to rain during your outdoor shoot. 

This is where "wiggle room" comes in. If you get caught in a tight spot, it can be handy to have some backup resources or a plan (i.e., your "wiggle room"). It might even make the difference between salvaging your video and having to scrap the project entirely.  

Here are some examples of where you need to add a little "wiggle" to your video project planning:

Budget: If your budget is $250 for your project, don't spend every last penny the day before you start filming. Squirrel away a fund of 10-15% (20% if you can stretch it) to cover those emergencies and unforeseen expenses that WILL happen. 

Time: Things always take longer than you think they will when producing a video. Plan generous amounts of time to complete your project and then add some extra hours.

Equipment: In case of equipment failure, do you have extra equipment available? Maybe someone on your team can bring their camera and equipment as backup?

Venue: If you're filming in a specific venue, have a backup location in mind in case your location doesn't work out. If filming outside, make sure you have an indoor alternative in case the weather gets bad. 

Crew issues: If someone on your team fails to show up on filming day, is there someone else who can fill in? Make a list of everyone's skills in case you need to ask someone to pull double duty. 

And don't kick yourself when the unexpected happens during your project. It's all part of the learning process. Despite all your careful planning, you will get thrown some curve balls. 

STEP 5: The most important step in planning a video project? Finalize your plan and put it in writing! 

Good project managers -- and "project manager" is exactly what YOU are when you step into the role of planning a video -- are always good communicators.

Even if you're doing a simple, one-person shoot where you are the talent, camera person and film editor all in one, you'll benefit from taking a little bit of time to go through these steps and put down your intentions for your video in writing. In this case, you might just write a few short paragraphs covering all the points in Steps 1 through 4. 

If you're working with other people to help you make the vision you have for your video a reality, you're going to need a way to effectively communicate with everyone exactly what that vision is. You can't expect people to help you fulfill your vision if they don't know what it is. There's no better way than putting it in writing.

Now don't freak out if writing isn't your "thing." This is not a college dissertation. Think of it more as a recipe for planning your video. 

You need to write down these 4 items on your Video Planning Sheet and give this to each of your crew members: 

  1. A few sentences on the goal of your video and who your audience is. (SEE STEP 1 ABOVE)

  2. A few sentences on the tone, format and anticipated length of your video. (SEE STEP 2 ABOVE)

  3. A list of the resources you will be using for your production. (SEE STEP 3 ABOVE)

    List the equipment you'll be using. List the people who are working on the video and a short description of their responsibilities. List the locations, dates and times you'll be shooting the video. You might decide to keep the budget portion of your resource list separate from what you distribute to your crew (unless you don't mind them knowing what you're spending on video production).

  4. Write down your backup plans and list of backup resources if things don't go as expected. (SEE STEP 4 ABOVE)

Before you finalize your Video Planning Sheet, I suggest you get input from your crew. They may spot some holes in your planning and can offer ideas on how to improve your production. Depending on the scope and complexity of your video, you may also provide your crew with a shot plan, which we'll be discussing in a separate article.

The bottom line is that while planning a video can take some time and organization, the end result is usually well worth the effort.

OK, I've Read About Planning A Video -- What's Next?

So, there you have it -- "Planning a Video Project in 5 Steps." Check out these other articles that can help you on the road to video success!

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