Seem Familiar? Behind the Scenes of the iCON Video

Peter Ceglarek

I have been fortunate enough to work on the iCON project since its inception. Not only will iCON do a world of good, but I have had the chance to work with a world of different subprojects. And I’ve loved it.

So when I was asked to make a promotional video for iCON, you know I couldn’t say no. “Could the opportunities involved with this program get any cooler?” was my first thought, quickly followed by the familiar inflated confidence in my abilities. I’ve acted and directed both on-stage and on-camera. I’ve created premises for shows and scripts…even if I haven’t written the full script, myself. And let’s not focus on my limitations—I know people with skills where I am lacking, and I can make a deadline. Promo vid? Let’s do it live.

Cue obvious transition to part of the story in which I learn the process is not so easy.

I started off like a good social scientist—reviewing all prior knowledge on the subject. Turns out the most successful promo videos have very little to do with their product. They rarely tell people the pros of their product. They make an image—an experience—stick with their viewers. Viewers want to be entertai
ned, and they want something with a high degree of production quality. From there, all else is fair game.

Icon 1

So I sat down to write a script that attempted these marks. But I soon found that everyone envisions what you write differently. Even with explanatory detail in the script, I found that not everyone visualized the script the exact way I did. I greatly overestimated my ability to paint a perfect picture with words.

Enter lesson number one: you need a visual representation of your script—a storyboard. Whether you are writing a script for your colleagues, or to take to a production company, you need a visual aid. Now, I am no great illustrator, but luckily I have a friend who is a professional graphic artist. I asked for a storyboard, and one day later I have what appears to be a page from the Sunday Funnies in my hands. But wait—that isn’t Marmaduke, that’s my video! I was amazed at how much better I was able to understand my own script seeing it in a visual form. Once I took this back to the lab, things began clicking for everyone, and we were able to have much more constructive dialogues.

Icon 2

After these conversations were had, it was time to actually shoot the damn thing.

Second lesson: good filming equipment is hard to come by. At the University, renting equipment from the relevant departments (film studies, communications, theater, etc.) was tricky business—if you weren’t their faculty or student, you had to get in line. Conveniently, there was a small studio located in one of our affiliated schools. The in-studio equipment was pretty nice. The stuff to be checked out…well, beggars can’t be choosers, amirite? Because we needed to film inside and out, we ended up with shots on different cameras, with different sound equipment, and very different lighting. Remember that point about viewers wanting production quality? If you’re planning on doing a promo vid yourself, seriously think of the resources at your disposal—cameras, mics, lights, sound-mixers, recording software, as well as your “studio” spaces. Is your environment versatile to film all your scenes? If not, is your recording equipment mobile, and is it just as good when you take it on the road as it is in your studio? If the answer is even “kinda” to any of these, you will have serious limitations in your production quality.

And don’t forget the most crucial resource: people. Actors, directors, sound and video producers, tech people. Being limited to in-house production, I played all of these roles at some point. But even so, this could not be a one-person show. Therefore, I sought to recruit volunteers out of our Lab. A good amount of people were excited to help in any way they could, but they were understandably limited given their primary responsibilities. So, I had to outsource to professional friends, again. But with a hodge-podge team, scheduling shoots was tricky. Filming four scenes, a week deadline turned into four. The reality of volunteers: even if they wanted to work on this video, there were other things they had to do. And when we were together? People had little acting or production experience, so the process was prolonged by learning. It made for excellent bonding time, but time was not on our side.

Icon 3

Once the video was filmed, it was time for editing. This process was prolonged for the same reasons: lack of expertise, time, and dime. But focus in on the dime, here. Look up the prices for Adobe film editing software (you will need Premiere, After Effects, and Media Encoder, as well as a lot of hard-drive space and RAM to handle that jelly). And everyone’s favorite Final Cut is only available for Macs. Consider this if you are planning on doing your editing in-house.

And if you do keep editing within the family, keep your parents and siblings constantly updated. Editing a finalized product is way more difficult than editing as you go.

Let’s recap. If you’re thinking of making a promo vid, make sure you have a clear way to communicate your ideas (script + storyboard), adequate filming equipment and studio space, the right people with the right skills, post-production editing software, and time. Lots and lots of time. Then, set a hard schedule. Attempt to stick to it.