How we produced an effective and affordable demo video on a startup budget

Hostfully needed a video for their beta and to demo potential investors

Company

Our client Hostfully was creating a “virtual concierge” to assist hosts in the alternative lodging industry (e.g. Airbnb, VRBO) create guidebooks for their guests. They wanted a demo video to inform hosts of their product for their beta launch and also present it to potential investors.

Challenges

Hostfully wanted a video that presents their service in a way that is warm and welcoming;  important as their service assists hosts to foster these sensibilities. This meant an animated explainer video was out of the running. It had to be a live action video which could be a challenge on their tight budget if the concept required too many locations and actors. And because they were in pre-alpha, their MVP (minimal viable product) was not ready to demo yet.

  • Shooting live action video with multiple actors on a low budget
  • How to demo a partially completed product?

Solutions

What is the right concept?

We narrowed our target demographic to just hosts to simplify the concept. After a couple of brainstorming meetings, we came to the conclusion that focusing on a single host and a few types of guests were our best option to economically convey the idea.  It meant we could cover a range of issues the guests present to our host, Bob, and how Hostfully would address them. 

  • Narrowly targeted demographic - Hosts
  • Simplified concept - One host with multiple guests
 Our host Bob.

Our host Bob.

If you need many locations?

Now we could write the script and rough in a budget, knowing that too many locations were a concern. To keep the production filming days to within 2 days, we decided to focus one day on the interior location for Bob’s house and the other on the exterior, and leverage places that were within walking distance or a short drive. 

  • One central location per day only
  • All other locations within easy access of that location

What if you need a lot of actors?

We knew it was important to have our lead character, Bob, played by a seasoned actor. He would be the focal point of the video, and had to convey the experience hosts go through.  This meant we could leverage friends, coworkers and family for the guest roles. That worked, as it give the video a welcoming feel. These were real people, representing real guest’s problems.

  • Lead played by experienced actor
  • Guests played by non-actors
 The guests.

The guests.

And if the product is still in alpha?

Since the product wasn’t complete yet, we couldn’t demo the complete site. Not a problem, as we didn’t want to bog the video down with shots from a web browser. We wanted to show the experience a user has using the service instead, such as finding their hosts favorite coffee shop or that perfect view of the city. And since many viewers watch videos on mobile or small embedded web videos (470x264 on Facebook) a lot of detail can be lost. We decided on graphic popups to augment some shots of the beta to convey the use of Hostfully which would also showcase their new brand.

  • Forgo showing product demos
  • Use graphic popups to convey use of the product 
 We used animated popups to convey hosts and guests using Hostfully.

We used animated popups to convey hosts and guests using Hostfully.

Conclusion

We needed to shoot live action, with multiple people and multiple locations. By using friends and family with strategic placement of where we shot, we were able to keep the budget in check and deliver a video that helped our client impress investors and raise their initial round of financing.

The final video.

Additional Files

Hostfully Shooting Storyboard

Simple storyboard to show the actual shots we would record during production.  Its intention is to communicate to the client and crew what we'll be shooting and how it will work in the edit. We also use it during our pre-production meetings with our editor to confirm we're getting the right shots and enough coverage for the edit.  These are not fancy concept storyboards, but simple, to the point, shooting storyboards. 

Hostuflly Shot Location Planning Sheet

This planning sheet collects stills shot during our location scout. Its purpose is to show suggested shot angles and potential lenses to use at our locations. 

TIPS for Recording audio for video

The first three rules of creating a great video is:

  1. Great Audio
  2. Really great audio
  3. Really really great audio

It has been often said but never said enough: a video that has lack luster visuals and good sound is okay, but not the other way around. If your beautiful Red Epic, 6k 120 FPS video is accompanied by audio that sounds like it was recorded with a paper cup and twine, no one is going to watch it. Good audio is vitally important as it is the one thing, that if done well, is “invisible”. If it is not done well, it is a show stopper.

My experience with sound actually starts as a recording engineer. I worked at a recording studio for a year and ran my own studio for two. That’s where I spent most of my time listening to separate instrument tracks and vocalists. Noise reduction, panning and fading, equalizing and compressing, are some of the necessary tools to create something that is audibly satisfying and not distracting. Most of my audio chops comes from that phase in my career.

It was pretty much an automatic response for me to reach for a quality mic and recording device when I started shooting videos. You don’t need expensive mics or elaborate systems to get the job done. But there are some simple rules I would suggest you follow to get the most out of what you have.

Try to avoid using your cameras built in mic for production audio.

If you can, invest in an external microphone and record from it as opposed to the mic built into your camera. This goes for most DSLR cameras that do not have great internal mics. Your sound will be much better if you invest in something like a RODE VideoMic GO.

 The R0DE VideoMic is a great start. It's affordable and much better sounding than your DSLRs built in microphone.

The R0DE VideoMic is a great start. It's affordable and much better sounding than your DSLRs built in microphone.

An even better solution is using an external microphone and recorder and sync it to your video in post. At Pixel Valley Studio, we typically use a RODE NTG2 shotgun mic and record into a ZOOM H5 recorder. That way, we can get as close to our talent and eliminate outside noise as much as possible. Then we sync in post and use the internal camera audio only as a reference.

Remove audio reflections in production as much as possible.

If you are shooting in a location with lots of hard surfaces that can reflect sound all over the place, grab a couple of blankets and place them around your talent but not in your scene. This will keep the echo at bay. You’d be surprised how much time a little prevention on set can save you in post.

Get good at using your editor application’s audio tools.

Don’t just drag your audio to the sequence and call it a day. There are many things that you can do to enhance audio in your editor. By simply sticking with the tools provided in your NLE you can work miracles. But you have to know that they are there and how to use them.

I won’t get into too many specifics, but most good editors have basic compression, filters and gain controls to get the most out of your sound. Learn how and when to use them.

 This is one of the many tools available in an editor like Adobe Premiere CC. 

This is one of the many tools available in an editor like Adobe Premiere CC. 

There are more advanced tools available outside of your editor. For example, we use Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite of applications, so I sometimes jump into Adobe Audition to do some more advanced work. But the audio tools inside of Premiere get the job done most of the time.

Great audio is achievable by everyone

The bottom line is when creating your production, audio should never be an afterthought. If you’re creating high quality videos like we do at PVS or adding a simple video to your YouTube channel, always remember: great audio FTW!

Using Video to Show vs Tell: Grilling with Lamb

We got to work with the awesome team at The Electron Shop on a series of videos for their client Salt & Company/Tri-Lamb Group. They needed a series of content marketing videos that demonstrate how easy it is to grill with Lamb and the different ways it could be used (ie cold in a salad, lamb burger). 

The client was inspired by food videos she had seen online that were short, to the point but above all fun. The idea was to show vs tell lamb recipes that convey how lamb is a lean and nutrient rich food. 

For the Lamb Burger recipe, to spotlight the layout of ingredients, we built an overhead rig for the camera using one by three inch baton. This allowed us to position the camera directly over the table, pointing straight down, making it easier for the food stylist and art director to work.

 Frank (L) with chef/food stylist Chris Rossi (R) adjusting the shot using on an overhead rig.

Frank (L) with chef/food stylist Chris Rossi (R) adjusting the shot using on an overhead rig.

For the composition of the burger, we simply stacked the burger piece by piece in front of the camera, and in editing cut it to look animated, like it was building itself. We then animated text sliding into frame to the music for each ingredient, and then changed each to its healthy description. 

The videos were posted throughout the summer on the Lean on Lamb Facebook page to coincide with their Thrill to the Grill Sweepstakes, cosponsored by Weber Grills.

The amazing look and concepts were by Electron Shop creative director Laura Wimer.

How to Use a Shot Angle Sheet to Setup Shots

One thing we find valuable in our productions is a Shot Angle Sheet, created in pre-production along with the editor. It's somewhat like a storyboard except its main purpose is to facilitate the composition of shots, whether for live action or animated project, to ensure they match in post.

We create our sheet by setting up the rough shots we’re thinking of using: a closeup, medium, medium wide, two shot etc, take stills of those shots and then bring them together in Photoshop. We lay them out side by side so we can get a feel for how the shots could potentially work together in the edit as we cut from one angle to another. For example, from a close up of one character looking camera right, to a close up of the other character who is looking at them camera left.

 Level Playing Field video "The Resume."

Level Playing Field video "The Resume."

During this process, we usual end up tweaking the shots a bit and adjusting the eye-lines, until we get a set of shots that we know will work.

We could even go a step further with these stills and create animatics if needed. Once it’s time to shoot, we open up the shot angle sheet and use it as our shot reference for the day.

Here’s a sheet with two characters sitting at a table in the company cafeteria. We decided to have them both sit on the same side of the table, because they were not eating lunch in the scene but reviewing resumes of potential hires. We had a few more shots than what you see here, but for the most part, these were the major shots that needed to match.

 Setting up shot angles

Setting up shot angles