Ten Tips for Managing a Mission-Critical Video Project with Unthinkable Deadlines

Ten Tips for Managing a Mission-Critical Video Project with Unthinkable Deadlines

In Global 1000 companies, an unexpected event occasionally triggers the critical need for video communication: a PR crisis, a time-crunched acquisition or merger, or a crisis communication that, if not addressed, will create a mudslide--costing a company millions or billions of dollars.

For a production agency, or any consultative partner, how we react when a project looks impossible is the primary ingredient for success in this type of project. As a business partner, we are known for dealing with very difficult deadlines at the CEO level and upper echelons of an organization. We’ve learned a lot over the years about how to keep cool when there’s a lot at stake.

For corporate communication professionals who find themselves racing the clock, the pressure is compounded by many factors. Usually the video communication is only one of the challenges facing the people we’re working with -- it’s just part of a cascading communication strategy. A nimble production partner can take some of the logistics off your plate and easily pivot when the need arises.

Here are 10 tips for managing a mission-critical video project with unthinkable deadlines.

It’s not Saturday night, but it is almost live! On a recent project we had a 48 hours for a shoot with each member of the executive board; we suggested a panel discussion where we shot with several cameras. The key for this type of project is to treat it like live TV, with a director switching between cameras creating a “line cut” that buys valuable time in the edit suite.

Break out the teleprompter. Another recent shoot consisted of several interviews including the CEO and CTO. The messaging was very specific, and we needed to get it right, with legal and PR teams monitoring every word closely. While we don’t often recommend using a teleprompter, in this case it was absolutely essential.

Create graphics in advance. Creating graphics and lower thirds during pre-production seems counterintuitive because graphics are high on the list of the things most likely to change. But think about ways in which you can deal with post-production during pre-production. If you’re lucky you’ll save significant time on the back end.

Use overlapping stage set-ups during production. In one particular tight-deadline shoot, we had several short interviews with top executives… and only about an hour and a half to shoot them all. The only way to make it work expeditiously was to have two crews shooting simultaneously in nearby physical locations. Sometimes multiple setups are not cost sensitive, but even having two make-up artists, for example, or two sets of lights, can speed up the process when every second counts.

Use overlapping editors during post. When the video is longer than a one or two minutes, consider multiple editors working simultaneously. In our office we have adjacent edit suites that can share the same media. Having editors work in tandem also saves significant time, communicating on story and tactics can help editors work more quickly.

Over-prepare. “The unexpected merely tests a good plan, it never destroys it.” Preparation is key. Make sure you consider everything that could go wrong and have system, process and chain of command for dealing with the unexpected when it happens.

Above all, be flexible. The unexpected WILL occur, even when you plan for every contingency. One of the hallmarks of a great production team is dealing with adversity when it occurs. We like to plan for flexibility, and we hire so that every last person on our team can handle adversity.

Vet the crew. The CEO suite expects concierge-level service. This type of corporate work is not like shooting a Red Bull commercial. It requires a sensitive professional approach that extends from a sound person threading a microphone through your CEO’s shirt, to the director asking questions, and entire camera crew. It’s vital for us to know the credentials of the professionals we bring to any set, understanding not only their technical experience but also knowing that no one shows up in board shorts and flip flops. And of course, everyone down to the last person is courteous, respectful, and discreet.

The human approach is always the best approach. Sometimes the CEO may arrive unprepared. Not purposely, of course, he or she just did not have the time to digest the information as he should have. This can make any interviewee frustrated and create an atmosphere of agitation. In this instance, it’s best to ask if he or she would like to stop and take time to review the material. Take a step back from the chaos of the time-crunch to ask how to make the process more enjoyable. There is no substitute for dealing with a sticky situation on a human level.

Over-communicate with your client. The producer typically concerns herself with coordinating all aspects of production, but there’s a heavier than usual customer service and client communication aspect to deal with a high-stakes and quick-turnaround production. Make sure everyone knows who the point person is on your team, has direct communications with that person, and work from a customer service point of view to keep your client happy and involved in helping move the project forward.

In the end, it’s easy to get wrapped up in a project’s urgency and make judgement calls you might not otherwise make. By relying on experience, being prepared, and having the right team in place, you can mitigate errors and work at unthinkable speeds to produce something that makes your client look truly great.