Product video production on location gets expensive and complicated very quickly. If you’ve never been on a video shoot it may seem simple. You just walk into a filming location like a house, set up your tripod, and aim at the actors. Well, not exactly. There is a ton of effort and thought behind on-location work for our product video production that can be distilled down to a few key steps:
Finding the perfect location
Every product video production needs the perfect location. We need to not only serve the utility of the product, but also adhere to the “story” of the brand. Take, for instance, the French press (FYI I shoot a lot of these). Well, duh, it makes sense to see a French press used in the kitchen. But the kind of kitchens you might see a Pottery Barn French press used in versus a WalMart French Press are going to be very different, right? Same with every product.
So we pay attention to the location design, the existing decor, and everything that will play into the aesthetic of the product video. Often times when we have budget we enlist the help of a professional location scout. They literally scour the city every day for cool and unique locations. This helps us save time and also broker a deal with the property owner for the use of the space. The cost of shooting in a home can range from several hundred dollars a day up to $5,000 (we’ve been at both ends of the scale). That can be a wide range, but it all depends on quality of the space, usage length, and production size.
Locking it down
Without a pro scout it just takes good old fashioned hard work and research to find the right space. The creative of the project dictates the location need and for our product videos and that can vary quite a bit. But our usual suspects are upscale houses, gyms, small offices, campgrounds, and public spaces. Sometimes it just takes hours of driving around taking photos and turning onto side streets to find the perfect spot. To shoot in a public space (legally) we have to go to the city to get filming permits, notify neighbors, and cone off the area. It takes an army! But we do things the right way and the safe way.
After we lock down the space with the right look for the product video production then we scout it for technical requirements. Can we draw electricity from the location for our lights or do we have to bring in a generator? Where does the sun hit the space this time of day and how will that affect the look? Are we able to squeeze a big camera setup in this room or do we need to roll with a slimmed down package? All of these factor in.
Preparing the space for the crew
Video production can be pretty brutal on a space, especially someone’s personal home. Our crews are small, but typically range between 6 and 15 people coming in and out of the location all day. They’re moving equipment, furniture, and using the restroom (yikes). That’s quite a bit of traffic. So to limit damage and liability and keep the owner happy we start our day early with prepping the space. I first have production assistants roll out rugs or ram board around the house where there will be a lot of foot traffic so floors don’t get scuffed. We cover furniture and tape over door jams to prevent scraping as light stands come in and out.
Then I ask the gaffer (head of lighting) to put tennis balls on the bottoms of all our stands. That way no gear scrapes the floors. The worst thing is getting a bill after a shoot to replace someone’s bamboo wood floor. And I always have someone on location duty monitoring for trash, taking special care, and handling clean up at the end of the day. We even treat homeowners to a professional maid service after the shoot. We always make sure everything is left better than we found to maintain that relationship for the future. It can be a win for us because we get a beautiful, pre-set location to shoot. Plus it is a win for the owner because they have a new income stream that is pretty low maintenance on them.
On every product video production we pack a van full of our in-house props and set design accoutrema. We keep a stock of little things like rugs, lamps, vases, house plants, and the like that we can bring into any location to change things up as needed and really hone in the look for the videos. Sometimes it just means adding a touch of green here or adding a practical light source over there. Sometimes it means overhauling an entire room and redecorating. Most houses I shoot in are pre-scouted for a specific look we wanted. So we rarely have to change too much except to maybe move a couch more into the natural window light or something along those lines.
But sometimes the product video production calls for a super specific look that needs to be created almost from scratch. For example, sometimes we need a classic kids room look. Well, most kids these days aren’t playing with wood blocks and model airplanes. Every toy and t-shirt is overly branded with huge graphics and colors. And we can’t walk into a real kids room to sell a new toy with a bunch of bright Nerf gun logos and MineCraft posters everywhere. That’s where we have to come in and redesign the room with brandless props and set design elements. We only want our product to be the star, nothing else.
So as you can see every decision in the location process is well informed and based on the product video production creative. To make everything cohesive and look as beautiful as possible it takes a lot of work by a lot of people. But we love the work and do it to make our clients’ products the stars of the show and to feature them in their best light (literally).