Filmmakers are by nature storytellers. But how do we decide what angle to take a story and how can we know that it will be compelling? In pre-production, research is a crucial phase of preparation for the promo. Here are some thoughts on how to do the research phase and use it to help prepare you to tell your client’s story.

STUDENT: When doing research to tell a compelling story, how do you know when you have done enough research to start writing? How can I plan ahead to get information to tell a compelling story?

ANDREW: The Foltz Trucking commercial that we did, obviously, I don’t do trucking so I don’t have a lot of knowledge in that. But basically getting to know the client, talking to them about all aspects of their operation and understanding it that way. Making sure you understand the details that may not seem relevant at first can help you.

Even in communicating with the client, it can help to have a little bit of the background research. One way I explained the mood and style of the promo was using their trucks as an example They drive Volvo trucks and they have a very different look from Peterbilt. Peterbilt is very strong, hard, square, lines are supposed to look tough and mean versus the Volvo truck – smooth lines, white trucks, and they look a lot more clean and professional.

We wanted to make the video match their trucks, in that sense, a video that was clean and felt smooth and professional versus if Foltz’s brand had been like the Peterbilt-type trucks then it would have been more of that “hard driving, rocky music with splashing through mud” look. Since I knew some context, I understood they chose those trucks for a number of reasons (look more clean and professional) and that all tied into their brand.

You don’t have to be an expert on the subject, just make sure you know enough so that you can ask informed questions. You don’t have to know all of it going into the interview, but it is helpful to know when they might go off on a tangent that you didn’t realize even existed – knowing what tangents to follow because you might end up with something you didn’t expect that could be really good.

JOHN-CLAY: Promo is different than writing a feature film. Especially with feature films, it gets crazy if you start writing about things you don’t know about because then you are being more of an authority because you are the voice. That’s why its helpful to go talk to people who do understand the subject better than you. When you’re doing a promo, you’re not necessarily the voice – the person you are interviewing will be (assuming you’re going to film an interview and shoot b-roll and not a narrative-type promo).

When someone calls me up and wants a promo, I want to know their website address, I want to know if they have other resources, do they have videos – I want to know as much about them as I can without talking to them because I like to see what their written material is and get an idea.

I want to know what kind of styles are similar to the video they want. I ask them what do they like, what they are looking for, tell me a little bit about your background, so I find out what those key pieces are to them, and that’s what I go research or pay attention to.

For Carver College, they said there were missionaries who went to Moody and were ministering in China. When World War II broke, out they went to Atlanta and started a school for African-Americans in the south, so I know about some of those things already, but go do the research on those things that are pertinent to them, and then make a list of the questions to help them say what’s important and then you find out as you go what else might be more important than you realized.

I schedule quite a bit of time – I spend usually an hour doing interviews just because I want to really make sure I’ve heard them. Now it’s a three minute video so you hardly use any of it, but that is part of how I do research too – I extensively interview them. I usually do it with the camera there, just in case they say something I want to use.

You don’t have to know enough to go write a book on it – you just have to know enough to go talk about it for three minutes.

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