How the COVID-19 pandemic changed our creative approach to video production

March 11, 2021 at 12:00 AM
by Black Box Productions

Today marks one year since the WHO declared the COVID-19 pandemic. In this post, we’ll reflect on how the Coronavirus changed our creative approach and our video production workflow.

The early days: No contact productions

When the pandemic started to impact Canada in March, we quickly shut-down our in person operations. Early on, we saw an increase in “no contact” productions, such as self-taped messages, re-purposing of existing content, and relying heavily on motion graphics and stock visuals. These remote production methods ensured there was zero chance of spreading a disease that we had little knowledge about. Keeping an authentic tone and focusing on substance over style, these early stage videos bridged the gap, while productions reorganized. Eventually, marketing agencies and production companies began to find creative ways to inject production value back into their content.

Of course there were a lot of "uncertain times" campaigns that all kind of blended together, leaving viewers felling like Every COVID-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same.

These are a couple of our favorite campaigns that stood out in the early days of the pandemic:
Apple - The whole working-from-home thing
Heineken - Connections

Establishing a way forward

As time went on, and the scientific community began to get a handle on transmission risks, the production industry developed guidelines for health and safety best practices. We take health and safety seriously. Our head producer was one of the first in Canada to be certified COVID-19 (Level A) by Safe Sets International. If you’re interested in reading more about the protocols that we have in place, check out our blog post about “Video production health & safety best practices for COVID-19”.

Keeping it small and nimble

One of the major changes in how we moved forward was to keep our on-site crew to a minimum. Being nimble on set has been at the core of our approach to production long before 2020. Our skilled creatives have always felt comfortable wearing multiple hats. And unlike the larger union shops, our DP’s aren’t afraid to adjust a light, ride the microphone levels or pull focus if the situation calls for it. Don’t get us wrong: We love large scale productions with specialized roles and big set-ups too. The point is that our ethos has always been to be adaptable to what is needed. And like it or not, as we returned to production, our approach has been to keep our on-set footprint small and versatile.

Remote video production: A game-changer

As we returned to production with a smaller team, we developed a workflow that allowed clients and creatives to log-on to a Zoom or Teams call and see exactly what our production camera was filming. This has opened us up to new clients, located anywhere in the world, looking to capture content in Canada. With this approach, the director can give feedback in real-time from the comfort of their home, while seeing and hearing exactly what is being captured in the final video.

One example that comes to mind is when we filmed this promo video for Best Buy, with a director based in Vancouver. We were able to wirelessly transmit the signal from our production camera into a Zoom session. The director was able to speak to the crew and talent via an iPad on a stand. While we were filming, we muted the iPad, and the director was able speak directly to the cinematographer with an in-ear headset. This allowed camera moves and framing to be adjusted while recording without interfering with the audio that was being captured. Of course, producers, advertising agency account managers, and Best Buy marketing team could also join-in to ensure brand alignment and approve product integration.

Since then, we’ve filmed many interviews with Canadian experts or spokespersons, while directors half-way around the world logged in remotely. In our connected world, these virtual sessions will become commonplace. It has been an interesting lesson that we don’t all need to be in the same room to collaborate creatively.

IRL goes virtual

Another major trend we saw was an increased demand for producing engaging video content to replace the conferences, live events and fundraisers that were cancelled “in real life”. We helped multiple organizations connect with their audiences by incorporating video into virtual conferences and events.

Working with IBM, we produced multiple segments for their annual Think Summit. Our approach focused on finding an entertaining way to communicate dense technical information and abstract concepts about technological modernization. We filmed with the chef from the SAT Foodlab in Montreal. We collaborated with the incredibly talented Cecile Gariepy and projected her live illustrations on the walls of the Satosphere while IBM leadership delivered their outlook. In another video, we staged a conversation between an actor and IBM specialists to talk through the challenges facing IT applications owners. Every step of the way, the goal was to keep the content more engaging than a Zoom call, while simultaneously meeting IBM business objectives.

With Sciex, we filmed in the atrium of their closed offices using a green-screen. Our collaborators in the UK then composited the keynote speaker onto a virtual stage for an impressive new product rollout. Watch until the 90-second mark and you’ll see how the artifice of the CGI event breaks down and the host acknowledges the challenges that we were all facing.

The videos mentioned above were pre-recorded to allow ultimate control over messaging and to augment with VFX before releasing the the public. We also helped clients livestream events, allowing interaction with the audience and real-time global conversations.

Creativity always wins

Over the past year, we’ve found many creative solutions to capture a desired scene safely. For one national campaign, we wanted to show friends enjoying eachother's company maskless, in close proximity. So we hired roommates who were already in the same bubble. By selecting participants who already lived together, we could obey social distancing guidelines and still get that natural shot. In some situations VFX compositing can allow multiple people to appear as if they’re in the same space, even though the actors are filmed alone at different times. Plexiglass can be used as a physical barrier and then erased in editing. And of course, for some of our productions, we have PCR tested cast and crew to further reduce the risk on set.

As the world begins to recover, we think some of these production transformations will stick around. Video continues to be an effective marketing and communications tool, enabling brands and sales teams to connect with customers, even when we can’t be in the same room.

Want to learn how your brand can use video to connect with and engage audiences?
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