CASE STUDY: 14 Lessons from Yellow Cape Communications, a Successful Multi-media Firm

Being a successful filmmaker is not only the province of those who make it in Hollywood.  There is a thriving industry within the corporate and industrial video markets that requires the skills of a filmmaker.  Although it might not be what many dream of doing when they go to film school, it is not a consolation prize.  Corporate productions can require budgets reaching hundreds of thousands of dollars which can provide a good living.  And many filmmakers who thrive in the corporate and industrial video markets still find time to pursue more personal independent projects. Jason Fararooei is one of those creative types running a successful communications firm in Charlotte, North Carolina that serves the corporate and industrial markets.  For many of his Fortune 500 clients, he provides corporate communications videos to support organization wide training programs intended to impact and reduce expenditures for high cost line items.  For the benefit of filmmakers, in and outside of the corporate world, he provided us insights for a case study on a series of training videos he did for a large national trucking company.

GENRE: Corporate training video


AD/PRODUCER: Jeannie Sullivan

BUDGET: Undisclosed 

FINANCING: Provided by client

PRODUCTION DATES: 2013 - ongoing


SHOOTING FORMAT: 720p and 1080p; shot with Panasonic broadcast cams and Canon HDSLRs

SCREENING FORMAT: for the Web and internal Learning Management Systems

SYNOPSIS: Training videos that outlined best case, mid-case, worst case scenarios for the leadership coaching of front line employees.

Development and Financing

1. FILMMAKERS SHOULD HAVE EXTENSIVE DISCUSSIONS WITH THE CLIENT.  Many filmmakers seek investment for their films but don't want to involve the investor in the production. Granted, creative decisions are best left to the filmmaker but there are investors who are genuinely interested in the art of cinema and including them in the conversation could be, (within reason) beneficial to all involved. Filmmakers who prefer to keep "the money" at arm's length should take a cue from filmmakers who work with corporate clients and have no choice but to include them. Integrating the client early on can generate good will and understanding of the filmmaking process which pays dividends later in the production.  Jason and his AD, Jeannie Sullivan, wrote all of the scripts along with the trucking company's Senior Leadership (SVP) and the Talent Development Director. Together they created videos that train and support a new behavioral coaching model to be utilized by the front line leaders of the company.  Working closely with the client, Jason and co. advised on the need for crew, talent, gear and time at each stage of the process. The client, being provided all necessary decision points, could respond accordingly in real time.  This closeness allowed the client to deeply appreciate the importance of the project and provide full support for its completion.

2. TRUST YOUR TEAM AND DELEGATE RESPONSIBILITY. Jason credits Jeannie with selling the idea and the budget.  After gathering a capable team with strengths in different areas, Jason trusts his crew to live up to their potential and have a stake in the decision-making. Jeannie cultivated and managed a positive client relationship with the client which led to a well organized production from the get-go.  This trust was also reflected during the production.  Unique to this shoot, Jason used 6 camera operators shooting with 8 cameras along with the usual motley filmmaking gang of a grip, soundperson, gaffer, PA, and hair/makeup. He gathered his team based on their professionalism and gave them creative freedom and autonomy to complete their jobs as they know how. "In other words, instead of being a micromanaging Director; I asked for something and left it up to my crew to execute. This included finding their own shots."

3. PREPARE THE CLIENT FOR WHAT IT TAKES TO GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT - THEN DELIVER IT. As Jason notes, "In this corporate video production finessing the relationship with the client proved to be the important and most beneficial aspect of the production. We had a very close working relationship with senior leadership that ensured client buy-in and commitment. Jason explained, "Time and time again, productions with large budgets (like this one) and a positive working relationship with senior leadership can be the difference between success and ultimate failure (no matter how well you execute on creative and technical aspects of the production itself). The client wanted to use employees as talent (no professional actors were utilized) and we took great time and effort to prep the employees for what would be their first on-camera performances. Had we not invested significant effort into preparing them and working with them before their shoots, their performances would have been subpar. But because we did invest time and effort on the prep/front end, they performed extraordinarily well on camera."
4. KNOW YOUR EQUIPMENT. It goes without saying that a Producer/Director needs to know their equipment. They don't need the specialized knowledge of a DP or an AC but they should be familiar with shooting formats, the types of images they're capable of producing under certain lighting levels and the types of lenses available for production.  Jason's company owns much of the equipment they use while renting the items they don't.  "Your equipment is crucial to your production - you must have the right tools for the job - otherwise your production is going to be a complete hell."  Furthermore, "Knowing your equipment means you can visualize during the scriptwriting phase with great accuracy."

5. CULTIVATE RELATIONSHIPS WITHIN THE FILMMAKING COMMUNITY.  A filmmaker's work lives and dies by the quality, talent and commitment of the cast and crew as much as it does by the quality, talent and commitment of the director-producer.  The advantage of the filmmaker who has worked in the community for years, while cultivating good crew relations leads to top notch productions. Jason puts it succinctly, "I’ve DP’d for over 10 years (5 years in the Charlotte market) and I knew crew from productions I shot for other companies in my current region. As a result, I was able to get crew who came from the Charlotte film and motorsports market (Fox Sports South).  Because they've worked for me and with me before and know how I run things they were happy to collaborate with me on the project."

6. HAVE PLENTY OF COVERAGE (MULTI-CAM).  Having a large budget and a close working relationship with his client, Jason was able to arrange a shooting strategy that was effective but not usually common in productions; using up to 8 cameras on the set.  "We had an incredibly tight schedule to achieve. Shooting what were basically 13 different scenarios plus client interviews, talent interviews, behind the scenes footage, and teleprompter work in a couple days was a challenge. Having 8 working cameras on set was crucial to ensure we stayed on time during production. If I had one good take covered 7 ways I had the peace of mind to know that I could afford not shooting safeties."

7. MARK OFF YOUR CAMERA POSITIONS AND ANGLES. "The other crucial pre-pro was marking off cameras and angles and set lines the day before our 2-day production. Prior to shooting, I utilized and budgeted for one full gear set day to ensure my crew was fresh for the performances and roll time. On our shoot days we had 3 main sets we were shooting on. Marking and pre-lighting (though this required extra gear) allowed us to move quickly throughout the shooting days to accomplish a very aggressive shoot schedule." Prepping early and setting the stage prior to shooting is meant to ensure quality too. "I’ve worked enough productions where a crew has had a tough 2 or so hours of setting up and then another tough 8 or so hours of shooting. There's a quality drop-off when you push your crew like that. I wanted my crew fresh and rested for the performance days." 

8. LISTEN TO YOUR CREW.  The Producer-Director is the person in charge but it helps to have a thick skin and an open ear to make it in this business. And there is another reason to have your crew fresh and alert; they can be your eyes and ears and cover your back.  As Jason remarks, "Prepping early and starting them fresh paid off - they caught a couple of mistakes I had made and covered those mistakes for me, without ever asking or even knowing about them. Had my crew not been fresh, I’d have had errors to work around in post."
9.  MURPHY'S LAW IS TRUE.  Filmmakers must have two contradictory thoughts in mind when they shoot; prepare to the fullest and expect to deviate from the plan when bad things to happen. Unfortunately, in such a complex multi-person, multi-equipment, multi-location operation there will be lapses of judgment, mistakes and simple bad luck.  That shouldn't detract from your strategy, instead, embrace it as a given and be ready to tackle it when it arises.  For Jason, when it arose, he was able to handle the issues during the different phases. During production he had some "continuity issues, of course, minor tech issues, and one downed camera mid-production (for all shoot days)."  Although he couldn't foresee exactly what would happen, you "always expect to have failures - which is why you cya (cover your butt) with redundancies."  Fortunately, he had a trusted crew who could troubleshoot the issues. He also had some sound issues, noting "audio from the lavs was tough - for some reason we had issues with scratches due to starch on the talents' shirts. It was just one of those scenarios where the TV Gods were pestering us but we resolved them using lots of mole skin and finesse."  Jason also had issues in post, "The biggest problem we had was with color - because we were shooting throughout the day (with lots of natural light) and using multiple cameras there was bound to be variances within the 7 different camera formats. I knew this would be a challenge going into post, and we simply worked through it."

10. NON-ACTORS STILL NEED TO PREPARE.  "The talent performed above my expectations," says Jason proudly.  This was due to close interaction and preparation, as well.  "I gave them step-by-step instructions, provided coaching via Fuzebox web meetings, and provided them their scripts for memorization 1 week before shoots.  Of course, there were some dropped lines during the shoot but this was expected since they're not trained actors. However, multiple takes solved this along with breaking the script up into segments for the cast. This was all possible because of our shooting strategy which afforded us plenty of coverage."

11. KEEP THE STRATEGIC GOAL IN MIND AT ALL TIMES DURING THE SHOOT, ALWAYS MOVING TOWARDS IT BUT BEING FLEXIBLE TO ADAPT.  "Whatever I'm shooting, once I commit to it as a Director, I accept no subpar substitutes in achieving the strategic goal and neither should a filmmaker regardless of her career level."  However, don't mistake planning for the bible. A shoot schedule is just a blueprint that should give you the confidence to get your strategic goals executed.  "On our shoot we had a detailed plan that we essentially threw to the wind once we started shooting because so many (uncontrollable) variables shifted and changed in the moment. Always be prepared to come off your own 'directorial script' and work in the moment and on the fly. Trust your instincts, your experience and abilities - continue to lead with grace and rely on your crew to help you overcome the barriers and obstacles."
12. INTEGRATE YOUR EDITOR INTO THE PRODUCTION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. This is highly important and is usually overlooked by filmmakers.  "First of all, I secured an editor I've worked with extensively. I kept my editor in the know before the shoot started and asked him specific questions about what would make his editing process flow smoothly. He advised me on preferred shooting styles, formats, and camera preferences."  The editor was also a trusted professional Jason could delegate responsibilities to.  "Again, I provided my general style/feel/wants and trusted in the expertise and professionalism of my editor. Making television is a creative process - for me it’s fun to see how others approach the work and what direction they go. If the approach is way off then I’ll adjust but for the most part I provide lots of creative freedom and enjoy that aspect of the entire process. The final videos are as much the editor's work as they are mine."
13. YOUR MARKETING IS ALWAYS DETERMINED BY YOUR AUDIENCE. This production was unique because the client and all of their employees were the target audience for this piece.  While there were external marketing prospects, the entire project was created for internal audiences.  Therefore, our discussions with the client revolved around how best to reach the employees effectively. 
14. THE GOLDEN RULE: TREAT YOUR CREW AS YOU WANT TO BE TREATED.  "Treat the crew with kindness, care, respect and professionalism. Pay them well, pay them promptly and rely on their skills, creativity and expertise." Why do this? "Because it's the right thing to do for you, for them, and for the industry." Jason's second tip - "Never undercut or give away services for nothing or near free. It hurts our industry, our colleagues and tells the outside world that our skills and work are not valuable in the least. That’s the worst thing we can do to ourselves as production professionals and as a culture."


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