There is no such thing as a perfect video or film - every project has flaws and every project has to settle for compromises for one reason or another.
This is just a fact of life – from the second you say “and I can see the female actor playing the part of the CFO looking like a less sultry version of a young Madonna” the compromises have started (assuming that you aren’t a really close friend of Madonna and an accomplished plastic surgeon). They may be tied to budget, timing, location or just plain old being realistic, but you are compromising… and you’ll never see the CFO actress as anything but a poor shadow of Madonna!
So a big part of what we do is about evaluation – about looking at the reality of what is on the screen and giving our best advice on what works, what doesn’t and what could be manipulated to create a better outcome.
Why is this important when you, as the client, are the one who knows the product and your audience better than anyone? Two reasons, one is that you are also heavily invested in the project and it’s success, and so it is very hard to stand back and see what is really there versus what you want to be there – especially where your own ideas are included. The second is that in many cases clients only know what they want when they can see what they don’t want – for the most part our clients aren’t expert film makers, able to precisely picture the shot when it is still just words on the page through years and years of experience, and so this is perfectly natural, but going down a dead end in the production phase can be very expensive and almost impossible to recover from.
So we put on our target audience member hat and look at each phase of the project’s development – concept, script, storyboard, pre-shoot, shoot footage and so on – and ask if it would motivate to take the predicted action or change of opinion. (Of course, this role playing is why we ask so many questions about the end viewer and the targeted response – so we can get accurately under their skin as an actor would)
If we see a way of improving the communication without drastically affecting cost or time then we test it and suggest it as a solution.
Once the production phase is complete then the evaluation takes a different turn. Because now we are into putting the story together in the edit phase and the only thing that matters is what we actually have in the can, and making this material work as hard as possible to create a great program. Again this is a tough period for the client and the director, because it often means facing up to the reality that the scene you spent a day shooting just doesn’t work and has to go in the bin, or the assumption that you started the project out with turns out to be a little different in reality and now needs to be modified to fit what we have captured.
Quite a number of our documentary film project clients come to us at this stage – particularly when they have the program 75-85% edited and they suddenly realize that it has gone off track and are lost on how to find the story again, or make a new one. At this point evaluation is essentially breaking the film down into clips and working out what is actually there and how it can be made to conform to something like the story the producer has in mind. It’s now a very complicated jigsaw, and they are too close to each piece to see how it might fit if turned round 90 degrees and moved sideways a little. We excel at this sort of work on full length feature films – but it is just as important on any type of video or film project.
The last part of the equation is evaluating the finished program, honestly and accurately, from multiple viewpoints. The reason is simple, a program is very rarely fixed in place when it is first shown – other than when it is time sensitive to a single screening. So if it doesn’t quite work with the actual target audience and there is something that can be tweaked to change that… then let’s work out what it is, evaluate whether it is worth doing from a time and budget perspective, and make the change then kick out a new master if the answer is yes.
This is especially relevant when you have, say, a recording of a live event and it is going to be put out on the Internet – if a presenter trips then we can cut it out, if they get words wrong then we can change them, if they miss their timing then we change time, and so on… so often the pieces that we master following an event are faultless performances, whereas the reality may not have been quiet so perfect!
Like many of the other areas that we put under creative and strategic agency, evaluation is a function of what the production company physically does. But it should have this degree of separation so that is looked at with a different hat on, and a different attitude so that when the easiest way isn’t necessarily the right way to go we are all able to make the hard decisions for the right reasons.