When We Know Better, We Do Better – Quality Video is Affordable for Small Organizations

The Mears Foundation video utilized specific strategies to meet a limited budget.

If you run a small organization with a small budget and think you can’t afford a professionally done video to promote your organization or event, think again. Last summer I produced a promotional video for a small start-up non-profit that achieved all the client’s goals and came in significantly under his very small budget. While a number of concessions were made to stay within budget, NWS implemented several strategies to minimize the impact of those concessions. The same, or similar, approaches can be used to produce a quality promotional video for any non-profit or faith-based organization or business. 

The Johnathan Manesseh Mears Foundation hired me to produce a promotional video to be shown at events and to potential donors and other stakeholders as a way of introducing the foundation and its purpose. Having only recently been chartered with very little fundraising done, the organization had almost no money to work with. To come in under budget and still create a fantastic video we employed three key strategies:

  • Focused on an interview with foundation President Bill Mears as the centerpiece of the video.
  • Filmed the interview at a location already accessible to Mears.
  • Selected shooting strategies that provided more options for splicing that minimized the need for b-roll.
  • Used stock video and photos to build b-roll sequences rather than shooting original b-roll footage.
During the shoot, I (left) hung a diffuser overhead to control light from a large fluorescent to minimize glare off Bill’s (right) very reflective scalp.

Interview as Centerpiece

By focusing on one primary interview with the head of the organization — which we planned as our only shoot for the project — we minimized the amount of shooting time and eliminated the time and hassle of coordinating schedules with multiple interview subjects. It also eliminated the potential need to shoot in more than one location, if there was a need to shoot some interview subjects in different locations. Nor did we have to write a voice-over script or hire a voice actor, as would have been necessary if we’d focused on documentary-type footage of the foundation’s work. 

Having Bill do the interview was also the right way to go for delivering the foundation’s story and message. He founded the organization and his son is its namesake. The foundation’s story is HIS story. He is also a fairly charismatic speaker whose passion for the foundation’s efforts is easy to identify with. This lends the video a Voice Of Authority and Sense Of Authenticity that helps viewers agree with the message internally and start to form their own passion for the foundation.

Readily Available Shooting Location

Many times, it’s possible to film an interview in a subject’s office or an organization’s headquarters. But sometimes that’s not possible. In this case, the Johnathan Manesseh Mears Foundation did not have a home office yet and using Bill’s day-job office may have confused the message. Other reasons for needing an external filming location may be that someone is uncomfortable with filming in their office or home, or there may not be an in-house location free from distractions and interruptive sounds. 

Fortunately, Bill also teaches boxing at the Southside Spartan Gym, which has plenty of hours in which it’s not used. Inside we found a space with a terrific looking bare brick wall for a background that was easy to clear the workout gear from. As a bonus, the high ceilings enabled us to position lights at any height we needed or wanted.

With two camera angles, it’s possible to cut at one point in the interview and begin again at a different spot and make it seem like a continuous dialogue. It’s even possible to place clips out of order using this technique.

Shooting Strategies for Maximizing Options

So what does this mean? No one gets through an interview without some stumbling, some unwanted pauses or rephrasing, or other factors that shouldn’t make it into the final video. However, just cutting those things out leads to jerky looking footage. It’s common to hide these cuts by showing b-roll footage — different footage that is relevant to the subject being talked about — while the interview audio plays overtop. But we didn’t have the budget for shooting b-roll footage. We were going to rely on stock footage and photos instead. This meant finding other ways to hide cuts that didn’t require b-roll — cuz too much stock is too much stock. We achieved this with two key strategies:

  • 2 Cameras at slightly different angles — Hide a cut by ending one camera angle and starting on another angle. The visual transition is so significant, there’s no way to tell that a part was removed from in between.
  • Shoot in higher resolution — The final video was rendered in 1080p or Full HD, but we filmed the interview in 4K or UHD. This allowed us to zoom in from a hip-to-head shot to just a headshot without the picture pixelating or getting fuzzy. We can hide a cut by making the second clip zoom in tighter or zoom out further than the first clip. Just as with using two camera angles, there’s no way to tell something was removed between the two clips.
Cuts in an interview can also be hidden by changing the zoom distance in post production. To pull this off without losing resolution, you need to film the interview in higher resolution than the final product will be rendered in. In this case, we filmed in 4K or UHD, and rendered in 1080 or Full HD.

Stock Footage as B-roll

In a documentary about JFK’s assassination, you might see some footage of an interview with a Secret Service agent who was there the day of the assassination. Then, while the voice of the agent continues talking, you might see footage of the JFK getting shot and footage of people reacting to the event. That second set of footage is b-roll. While it’s playing the interview keeps going and the agent seems to be giving a perfect speech about his point of view. But most likely, the original interview has been hacked to pieces and reordered to leave out unwanted errors and make a better story. These cuts are covered by b-roll. B-roll also serves to enhance and illustrate the story being told by the narrator or interview subject. 

But shooting b-roll costs time and money. And, in the foundation’s case, there wasn’t a budget for it. So we used stock footage — footage filmed by other people and made generally available to video editors for a price — because we could find what we needed for the price the foundation could afford. In the end, it did a great job of enhancing the foundation’s story and helped cover some sections of the interview with heaving editing. 

Samples of stock footage used as B-roll to add more interest to the foundation’s video and hide points in the dialogue where there were too many cuts to jump back and forth between shots. Images courtesy wwwstoryblocks.com.

Custom Video is Available for Most Any Budget, But Budget Video Isn’t Always the Best Way to Go

These and other strategies can be used to create a custom professional promotional video for almost any budget. Video is one of the most effective tools for promoting a business, organization, product or event. Don’t let the fear of high-priced video production stand in your way. 

That being said, if you can afford a video with higher production value, deciding to take the budget route can do more harm than good. If an organization like The Salvation Army used stock footage for b-roll in their fundraising videos instead of footage of volunteers out doing their thing and footage of people being helped, they’d hardly raise two nickels and their reputation would start to tank. Your video budget should be commensurate with the size of your organization and it’s brand reputation. 

If you’d like to see how a promotional video could fit in your budget, please give me a call. The first 30-minute consultation meeting is free and so is the quote. I can be reached at 419-995-0324. Or shoot me an email:

Letting Go — A Parallel Lesson For Filmmaking And Faith

Making The Jeff Kirwan Testimonial Film Was a Reminder to ‘Love The Message’

I’ve worked on a lot of rewarding projects lately, but in December I worked on one that I think will stick with me for quite a while. It was both rewarding and growth experience. WARNING: I get a little self-revealing in this post — no inappropriate photos involved. 🙂

As a volunteer member of the Shawnee Alliance Church video team, I was asked to take lead on production of a video testimonial to be shown at our Christmas Eve service. Our interview subject was Jeff Kirwan, an older gentleman with a strong and deep relationship with Jesus Christ. I was excited about the project. As a crew, we had a good plan and we knew what we wanted to achieve.

In the end, we produced a beautiful video with a powerful message about Christ’s love and how Christ worked in Jeff’s life to transform his understanding of salvation and transformed his relationship with Christ and others. But, for me, as the editor, getting from the original interview and b-roll footage I shot to the final product was a difficult and tumultuous journey.

Failure Seems Imminent

After the interview shoot, when I got to the editing bay and reviewed our footage, I found that most of the interview content was repetitive and circular and it was very difficult to find a core message – or even several distinct messages. This is no slam on Jeff. Many people, including myself, have difficulty getting things out precisely the way they mean to when in front of a camera. When on-site, I and the other team members thought we had all our bases covered. (Eventually, we were proved correct, btw.) Additionally, much of the b-roll footage, which I filmed outdoors late in the day, was too dim to be of use and there was too little of it because of limited time between the interview and sundown.

RIGHT: Some of the original b-roll footage came out dim and grainy due to failing light and a time crunch. We were also working with different gear than originally planned for the b-roll. 

None of these issues were particularly unique to this type of project and I’d love to say that I took them in stride with a great attitude and whistled while I worked until the job was done. Alas, it isn’t so. And that’s why this project will be so memorable for it. It was a growing experience for me – both as a filmmaker and as a follower of Christ. 

I’m good at telling people’s stories. I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years, first as a journalist, then as a freelance writer, and now as a filmmaker. And I enjoy doing it. I enjoy helping people find the words and pictures to tell their stories and share them with others in a way that helps enrich people’s lives. 

But I couldn’t find Jeff’s story in that 40 minutes of interview footage. There were a couple of anecdotes and some good phrases, but in the way it all came out, there didn’t seem to be an underlying message or story. It was frustrating – really, really frustrating. Usually, when I get that frustrated during a project, it’s because the editing software just crashed or the special effects software won’t do what I think it should do. But this was different: this was about ME. This was something I couldn’t do. I thought it was about the interview, but it was really about me. 

The Voice Of Clarity

Somewhere in all that frustration, that little voice in my head got itself heard — you know the voice, or I hope you do. It said, “That’s not Jeff’s message you’re looking for. It’s MY message and it’s in there. Love it. Listen for it.”

I realized I was approaching it wrong. This was not a commercial project. This was not a showpiece for MY resume. This was a showpiece for Christ’s resume. I began approaching the project with a new perspective. I was no longer searching for the message but allowing the message to be revealed. Actually, it was the perfect mirror for what Jeff was saying, that he learned that he didn’t have to “do” anything to get into heaven because Christ already did it. He just needed to live as Christ guided him to.

And that’s pretty much how things went with the video. Instead of searching for pieces that went together or a particular order to put things in, I started removing things. I removed repetitive parts. I removed parts that seemed to NOT belong. The more I removed, the more a clear story emerged and the more succinct the message became. 
As the story became clear, so did the need to reshoot b-roll. Not only did we need more and better, but knowing where the story was going defined just what type of shots we needed for the b-roll. I scheduled the reshoot with Jeff, we got it done, and the film came out great. 

LEFT: With better more time and better light, capturing great b-roll for Jeff’s story went without a hitch.

Loving The Story

Jeff Kirwan’s testimony is a great reminder that God loves us all so much that He removed the barrier of us having to do anything other than belief on His Son in order to have eternal life. Likewise, this film project was a great reminder to me that the reason I love telling people’s stories, is not to show how good I am at, but because those stories have a great message that needs to be shared. Telling a great story comes from loving the story, not loving the work. 

Do you have a story to tell? I’d love to help you tell it. Give me a call and let’s talk: 419-905-0324.

Bumper Video — A Creative Mini Film

‘Lies We Believe’ Offered Chance to Portray the Supernatural

So, recently, I had the opportunity to put together a bumper video for a sermon series titled, ‘Lies We Believe,’ for Shawnee Alliance Church in Lima, Ohio. The series addressed the various lies that Satan whispers into our thoughts in his efforts to steer us away from the good things God has in store for us.

I love doing these sermon bumper videos because they really give me a chance to let loose with my creativity, special effects, and pension for moody or dramatic scenes. The opportunity to visually represent the most powerful supernatural forces in the universe totally geeks out the filmmaker in me — we are talking about the power of God after all — or, in this case, the wiles of the devil. Sermon topics also touch heavily on the human psyche and the way we react to spiritual influence and situations in life. That’s always the stuff of good story and, subsequently, good film.

The Story

For the Lies bumper, we wanted to represent the various forms that the lies come in. The series was to focus on four primary lies – one each week – but we wanted to represent that each of those has variations. For instance, the lie “I’m not good enough,” is essentially the same as, “they’re better than me.” I chose to use audio of Satan’s voice whispering different versions of the lies into people’s minds while even more versions of the lies floated eerily in and out on the screen with a custom motion graphics template. Finally, a voice, representing each of the character’s own thoughts spoke the main lie that the others were were versions of. I thought this best represented how Satan whispers in our ear repeatedly until the whisper becomes our own thought.

Behind The Scenes

To get the audio, we recorded staff members acting out the lies. They all did a great job, though one gal in particular, who is so filled with the joy of the Lord all the time, had tremendous difficulty “feeling” the lie and required many takes. It was quite entertaining. I knew right from the beginning who I wanted to voice Satan — Assistant Pastor Kris. He did not disappoint. Kris is never afraid to stir the pot once in a while and required very little coaching to get the perfect devil’s whisper. Thanks, Kris! 🙂

Visually, I used stock footage of individuals in various forms of worry or emotional stress to suggest a mood of self-dissatisfaction. And while the voice of Satan spoke his whispers, a dark, smoky cloud writhed near the person’s head, representing his dark influence. At the end of each scene, except for the last, when the character finally accepts the lie as their own, the smoky cloud goes away as Satan has won and no longer needs to exert his influence. In the last scene, when the lie is accepted, the cloud grows, becomes darker and envelops the character. The blackness of the smoke also transforms into inky blue and red swirls, which then becomes the closing title graphic — the sermon background graphic as chosen by the staff. The graphic was given to me at the start of the project and played a large roll in my decision to use the smoky cloud to represent Satan.

The third scene made a break from the standard stock footage — which all began to look the same to me after picking three for the other scenes. Instead, I turned to my own footage collection and grabbed a clip from one of my short films, putting my friend and star of two of my films Alex Parker center stage once again. Alex, you’re so versatile!

A Rainbow of Bumpers

The ‘Lies We Believe’ bumper video is a sort of narrative bumper, a bumper that introduces a topic through imagery, It kind of tells a story of its own to prepare the viewer for the topic that is coming next. But there are many other types of bumper videos, also called “introduction videos” or intro videos, or just “intros”.

One of the most common types of bumper or intro videos is the branded intro. This kind of bumper is the short bit of video you often see at the beginning of YouTube videos that are released on a regular schedule. They identify the YouTube channel or video series that the video is a part of. You will also see them at the beginning of training videos or motivational videos and the like. They serve a similar purpose as a title sequence to a TV show. Sometimes a branded bumper is used in the middle or end of a video to re-identify the channel or to identify a sponsor. A branded intro is usually fast-paced and either features or ends with the channel or series logo. And, of course, it’s accompanied by music designed to get the viewer’s attention so they sit up and take notice of the video.

Noble Warrior Studios can help you with both Branded Intro and Narrative Bumper videos, or whatever sort of bumper video you have need of. We can film and record custom footage and audio, or edit your intro from stock. Get your intro customized for use on the web, DVD/Blu-ray distribution, live projection or other media format. Please give us a call and get a free quote on your project: 419-905-0324.