Video Pre-Production Planning Check-list – 11 Steps to a Successful Project


“Let’s really think this through before we start” is likely the best business advice you will ever receive. Too many video production projects start part way through the process – with a ‘cool idea’, a bad idea, a misguided idea or worst of all, no idea at all. If you haven’t taken the time to properly plan out your production, it will likely fail. By ‘fail’ I mean fail to achieve any measurable business objective. (Being ‘up on your website’ isn’t a meaningful business objective.)

There are many different types of videos that you can create to promote your product or business and there are many factors and costs that go into the production of a video. This post was created to provide the reader with a tool for planning a video production as well as to give the reader an appreciation for the many elements and tasks associated with the creation of a corporate video. Your video project won’t necessarily require each of the steps described below. In fact, some projects (i.e. recording an expert talking-head for training purposes) can be quite straightforward and only require a few of these steps. That said, the success of your video project will largely be determined by the time and effort you put into properly planning your project. If you don’t have a great idea and a solid shooting plan in place no amount of production or post-production expertise and experience can save your project. Consider the following before you start your next video project:

Pre-Production Planning Check-list

The challenge with this phase of video production is that while it’s the most important phase of video production it’s also the hardest to cost-justify. It’s relatively easy to cost-out crew, equipment and editing time, but how much is an idea worth? (A lot, as it turns out) … and who wants to pay for ‘planning?’ If you want your video project to succeed consider the following critical tasks that go into the pre-production phase:

1. Define your business objective. What do you want your video to do? To raise awareness? To drive traffic to a landing page? To motivate your customers to buy your product? To influence key decision-makers in your industry? To showcase your company as being environmentally conscious ? To clearly differentiate you from your competitors? To save money on travel costs for training or sales? To educate a new target audience on important issues affecting your industry? To drive prospects to the booth at the next trade show you will be attending? The list is infinite but each business objective should have a matching outcome that you can measure. If you can’t clearly articulate your business objective you are wasting your time and money. ‘Having a video up on your website’ or ‘keeping up with your competitors’ are not business objectives. Determining a business objective allows you to focus on outcomes. Lack of clear focus is the principle reason why business videos fail.
Answer this question: What do you want to happen when people finish watching your video?

2. Define your audience. Marketing is the process of communicating the value of your product or service to a specific audience. Unless you are Google or the Catholic Church {merger rumors are unfounded…} you probably have a very narrowly defined audience who can benefit from your product or service. You have to know who your customers and prospects are and you have to differentiate your message for that specific audience. This step typically requires some degree of research. The more narrow the focus the greater chance of success because you can deliver a message that you know your audience cares about. What is the demographic and psycho-graphic make-up of your target audience? What are the needs, preferences and biases of this audience?
Answer this question: What does this audience care about and how does your product or service relate to those concerns?

3. Develop your message. {We’re still not getting ‘creative’ yet…} By message I mean what are the ideas, themes or topics that you need to communicate. Ideally there is only one principle message but if you have a broader purpose in mind for your video then you may want to include two or three key messages. What are the things that you need to tell your audience that will resonate with them and what do you expect them to understand AND remember after they have watched your video. Obviously, the more messages you include the less likely your audience is to understand and remember any of them.
Answer this question: What specific problem am I trying to solve and how do I communicate the solution to that problem?

4. What’s your budget. This topic, more than any other, illicit’s the greatest ‘chicken and egg’ discussions. How can you determine a budget before you come up with the idea?” Or conversely, why would you even bother considering ideas outside of the context of a budget? (“OK!, imagine this… a thousand multicolored toy Poodles all chasing J-Lo, against traffic, through Time Square at rush-hour…”) You might have to do some research if you have no prior experience with video production but at the end of the day you, or someone you report to definitely has a budget for your video project. There is little point in discussing video with anyone if you can’t communicate a budget. If you are unfamiliar with video production costs you can start here as a reference point.
Answer this question: Find a video similar to what you are thinking about and ask potential video production companies ‘what would a video like this cost to make?’

5. Planned Distribution. While promotion and distribution are outside the scope of this post it’s important to understand how you plan on distributing your video before you create it. Where, how and why will people watch your video. Knowing the answer to those questions will help you determine answers to the next steps in production. A broadcast audience is very different from an audience on a professional business portal and different again from someone viewing your video on a mobile device. There is not a lot of value in creating a video if you don’t have a plan for getting people to view it. Putting it ‘up on your website’ may or may not move the dial. If the video production company you are talking to doesn’t ask this question then I’d suggest getting a second opinion.
Answer this question: How are you going to get people to watch your video?’

6. Concept – What’s the big idea. Often (especially for broadcast commercials) video projects start off as concepts in search of a purpose. (“Imagine a video with these amazing roller-blading babies in diapers, someone’s gonna want it!!!) I suppose that if your concept is epic enough then you can tag a logo on just about any idea and realize some benefit but the execution of most clever ideas never reaches the giddy expectations imagined at conception. So… back to earth, the vast majority of video production concepts are driven by both practical and creative imperatives. The ‘concept’ or ‘idea’ can be as simple as ‘let’s move the CEO out from behind his big desk and show him actually talking to customers’ or it can be as complex or grand as your imagination and budget allow. Either way, this is where the value is really created. No one might remember who’s idea it was to invite all your brand enthusiasts to a one day event and film them talking about your product but that may be the’ big idea’ responsible for tripling subscription rates on your website. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to charge for ideas so they typically get wrapped up in execution costs.
Answer this question: What is the idea for this video?’

7. Treatment and Storyboard. Your concept or idea is the big picture idea. A ’treatment’ is a summary of how you realize that idea. On larger projects the treatment is usually a one page summary of your idea which will outlines the style of the video and the devices used to communicate your key messages. From there you need to flush out the video in detail (typically by scene). For this a ’storyboard’ is created to outline the various sections of your video. The storyboard takes your concept or idea and considers things like: do you use voice-over to support what is being shown; do you use animation anywhere; do you employ actors, if so which ones and how; do you use music to set a tone or maintain a pace; what locations do you shoot at; etc. This is the step where you determine the style, the flow, the length (more on this step below) and the structure of your video. The storyboard is the physical manifestation of the treatment. It breaks down the video into three key components: 1. Script / Narration – what is being said by whom on-screen or as voice-over. 2. What is being shown on screen – where is the action taking place and who or what is in each scene. 3. What other elements (logos, text, animations, cgi, etc. music track, sound effects etc. are needed to support what is being said and shown. Even if you don’t plan on developing a detailed storyboard (as a rule you should…) it’s still a very valuable exercise to write down the structure of your video. It allows you to think through the video in a logical fashion and share this vision with others. It’s also a tremendously valuable tool for accountability. You can’t ask your production company when the video is finished why something wasn’t included during shooting if it wasn’t included in the storyboard. A well written storyboard holds everyone involved accountable.
Answer this question: What are the list of details that need to be included in the video?

8. Length of Video. Shorter is better, but shorter is also harder. Shorter seems riskier because you necessarily have to leave things out and narrow down your message to a very few key ideas. That’s tough to do. But as online attention spans continue to shrink, ‘shorter’ should definitely be the target. ‘Shorter’ is a guideline not a rule, however. If you are creating a product demo, a training video or something else for someone much further along the sales cycle – then these audiences may want more information, they may want more detail. The length of your video then really depends on the motivation of your viewer. A good rule of thumb for promotional videos (targeting the ‘awareness’ or’ interest’ phases of the sales cycle) is between one an two minutes in length. Your video needs to be succinct, it needs to include targeted, relevant information and it better be interesting.
Answer this question: How long do you need to get to the point of your video?

9. Approvals. Who has to be involved in the approval process. What is their involvement and do they have any input or biases that should be communicated upfront? This becomes much more important in large organizations. If you don’t circulate the storyboard and schedule to the folks involved in approving/blessing the video you may be in for a shock when they tell you that you’ve left something out or you have not represented the material the way they would have liked. Every business video ever made has, prior to release, first been sent to at least one colleague accompanied by the question ‘what do you think of this?’ Why wouldn’t you give the storyboard the same due diligence?
Answer this question: Who needs to approve the video and where do they get inserted into the process?

10. Pre-production meetings. The size and scope of the job will determine how many meetings and how many people are involved in the video production process. On large conceptual projects we sometimes hold facilitated story planning meetings with a range of people associated with the project to ensure that we are getting all relevant perspectives on the project. This process has proved invaluable in uncovering stories and reference that no one else would have known about or would have considered. On smaller projects a simple video production brief may be enough to estimate and start the planning process – especially where a good client/supplier relationship already exists. The better the collaboration, the better the outcome.
Answer this question: Who’s input/perspective would really be of value in the planning process?

11. Scheduling and production planning. Video shoots, even small ones, are logistically challenging. There are a tremendous number of moving parts in video production and as a result there are a tremendous number of things that can go wrong (something always does…) Pre-production planning will minimize the risks associated with your project. Some things to consider before the folks with cameras arrive:

Location Scouting – Where are you going to shoot and what challenges do you have there? Are there lighting, audio or other logistical problems that you will have to solve. A pre-production location visit and discussion with on-site maintenance or security is often necessary.
Permits – Do you require permits for shooting, sign-off /waivers for people in the video, special insurance, parking access for the crew and equipment, etc.
Crew – Who is on your production crew? Camera, Audio, Lights, Director, Production Assistants, Grip for special equipment, Teleprompter operator? When is shooting scheduled to start and how much time is required for everyone to set-up?
Equipment – What type and how many cameras do you need. What do you have as back-up if something goes wrong? Do you have all of the right lights, lenses, audio equipment, jibs, sliders, reflectors, tools, power, etc. necessary? Do you need special equipment or props or products for the shoot.
Talent or PresentersWho is on-camera? Are they prepared to be on-camera? Have they rehearsed their lines or will they be using a Teleprompter. When should they arrive? What should they be wearing? Do they want / require hair and makeup? Are they on a tight schedule? (The answer here is almost always ‘yes’….)
Weather – Are you shooting outdoors. What happens if it rains/snows/hurricanes? Do you have an alternate shoot date?
Schedule– – Does your storyboard include a shotlist and schedule that let’s everyone know when to arrive and how long each scene or shot is going to take?

If you consider all of the above steps and take the time to properly plan you will have a much higher likelihood of success on your next video production.


Shooting Over To Video Production

Next week, we will begin the process of learning what it takes to write, shoot, produce and edit a news/feature report.  There will be a lecture on both video production and on performance development.  You will be quizzed on the lecture.

There will also be an in-class demonstration/tutorial on the use of both the video camera and on Adobe Premiere Pro.

You will be required to turn in a written proposal on the news or feature report you are planning on producing.  You will present in class as well.  Your proposal will include, but is not limited to:

  • Rationale for your story.
  • Your choice of talent (who will do the stand ups and voice-overs).
  • Potential selection of people to interview (check guidelines on the website for this).
  • Potential location(s) where you will shoot your story.

Some examples can be found on the course website at:


1) Copy the the Audio In-Class Assignment to your external drive.

2) Open audio files (vo, sfx, & music) in Audacity.

3) Create a 30 second commercial based on the audio techniques

   you have learned in class and through the tutorials provided.

4) Copy your finished spot into your Google Drive folder

5) Upload your finished spot into SoundCloud and then embed into a

   blog post titled “Audio Editing In-Class Assignment.”

6) This assignment must be completed by the end of

   class today to receive full credit.

Professional Announcing & Vocal Development

Here are the PowerPoints from the last two lectures:

Professional Announcing

Vocal Development

We will have a brief quiz during our next class, along with a demonstration of Audacity.

As we move onto the audio portion of the class, please take time to go through the links below to better prepare yourself.

Download Audacity

Download LAME mp3 encoder

Audacity Manual

Audacity Tutorial

Video Tutorials (You Tube)

Audacity Quick Start


Tascam DR-07 manual

What is Royalty Free Music?

There are a lot of inaccurate ideas circulating about Royalty Free Music This article will attempt to explain exactly what Royalty Free Music is and dismiss some of the most common misinterpretations.

In a nutshell Royalty Free Music refers to a type of music licensing that allows the purchaser to pay for the music license only once and to use the music for as long as desired.

For example you purchase a Royalty Free Music license for a video on your website. You pay one single price whether you have 100 visitors or 10,000 visitors, and whether you use the music for 1 month or 10 years. Or you purchase a TV advertising license for your new restaurant. You pay once and the commercial can play once a week or 50 times a week, for 3 months or for 5 years. You pay once and you use it for as long as you want.

The term “Royalty Free” is confusing for more reasons than one. In fact it simply means “Free of Royalty”. The term is in opposition to “rights managed” licensing where the purchaser pays fees (royalties) according to the number of times it will be used as well as the size of the territory. With Rights Managed licensing or “Needle Drop” licensing you would need to pay a fee every time the music is used or as the old term expressed every time the “needle is dropped” on the record.

Just as importantly here is what Royalty Free Music does NOT mean…

Royalty Free Music is NOT free!
It is “Free of Royalty” not cost free. Just like a fat free cookie is “free of fat” not free of cost. Or a “tax free” product is not free, it is just free of taxes. And yes some people may be offering their music for free – whether it is also Royalty Free or not! For example a composer may be offering you his music for free for your College film in exchange for listing his work in the credits.

Royalty Free Music is NOT Stock Music
Although most Royalty Free Music comes from Stock Music Library such as they are not synonymous. A Stock Music Library is a music library that offers music already in stock – already made and ready to license and use. Although some people consider Stock Music negatively as cheap “canned music” it is not the case at all. You have the full range of music quality in stock music from very amateurish poorly mixed music to highly professional music tracks. Stock music is understood in opposition to “custom made” music that is created for a specific product – a film, a commercial, a TV show… Many stock music libraries offer their music on a Royalty Free basis, but other libraries prefer to offer their music with a Rights Managed model or “per usage” based on the frequency of use as well as the size of the territory.

Royalty Free Music is NOT Copyright Free music
I am not sure there is such a thing as “Copyright free” music since anyone who creates a piece of music automatically owns the Copyright for that music. The creator may not care and say that anyone can use his music for any purpose. In this case the Copyright owner is giving you the “right to copy” his music for any purpose. So it may be free to use but that does not make it free of Copyright. And this does not mean that the composer has given up his Performing Rights if his music ends up a background music on television for example. The composer as the Copyright owner may want to receive his composers royalties for the public performance of his music. Even the recordings of Public Domain music are not Copyright Free. The composition may be Copyright Free but not the actual sound recording (also called the Master). You can read an excellent text about Copyright and Public Domain music at

Royalty Free Music is NOT a specific type of music
It can be music in any genre from Classical to Heavy Metal to Country music. Instead it is a type of “Music Licensing” for commercial use. Commercial use here means using the music for more than your private usage (your home, your car, your iPod). Private usage is the right you get when you purchase a music CD or pay and download your music from iTunes for example. That does not provide you with any broader rights (your website, your videos, your slideshows, TV shows, etc.).

Royalty Free Music is NOT poor quality music
Any music can be licensed as Royalty Free music. The good the bad and the ugly. This choice for music licensing has strictly nothing to do with the quality of the music itself. The quality will vary enormously from one library to the other. The quality of library music has more to do with management policies, whether the music is hand-picked or not, whether composers are screened or not, etc.

Royalty Free Music is NOT cheap music
Royalty free music can licensed at any price. It is not a price structure, it is simply a licensing model. You can find Royalty Free music for $30 and you can find it for $600. It has nothing to do with pricing, it has to do with the licensing model of not charging royalties each time the music is used. This being said most of the time music licensed with a Royalty Free model is inexpensive and affordable for most people.

Royalty Free Music is NOT Royalty Free!! Say what?
Usually Royalty Free Music licensing does not include “public performance” royalties. Those are royalties paid to composers when their music is performed publicly – on television for example. But these royalties are not being paid by you (the music purchaser) they are being paid by the network that is broadcasting the show where the music is performed either as a featured piece or more commonly on television as background music. Performing Rights Organizations (PRO) like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN, PRS, etc. are being paid by the networks and are in charge of distributing the performing royalties to the music composers. So for the person purchasing the music license it is entirely Royalty Free but if fact some royalties may be paid to the composers by the PROs. Wikipedia mentions this as well on its Royalty Free Music page.

Why is it so confusing? Is there not a better term to describe Royalty Free Music?
The truth is that although I have yet to meet a single person in the industry who actually likes the term “Royalty Free Music”, it is the term that appears to be “sticking” at this time. Chances are in fact that you are reading this because you Googled these words.

Other expressions have been proposed by several people in the industry to describe Licensing from Music Libraries like These terms are better in many ways. But none of them are sticking for now. Here are few expressions that have been proposed to replace the confusing “Royalty Free Music”:

  • Pre-Licensed Stock Music
  • Pre-Licensed Production Music
  • Pre-Licensed Music Library
  • One-Stop Stock Music library
  • One-Stop Music Shop
  • Single Fee Stock Music
  • Single Fee Music Licensing
  • Single Fee Production Music
  • Pre-Paid Production Music

So should we call it One-Stop Pre-Paid Production Music Shop Licensing Library?

I guess for now we’ll stay with Royalty Free Music.

Gilles Arbour