Producing factual video

A friend and colleague is mentoring a science engagement project today. Since it involves video, he asked me:

Do you have 3 key “producer” questions that I can use inside my head to help me review their film on the spot?

Well, gosh. Here’s what I wrote, somewhat stream-of-consciousness:

Basic stuff:

  • Does the story make sense?
  • Can you hear and understand what people are saying?
  • Are there moments when you find yourself saying ‘What was… oh, right, I see’? Fix those.

Advanced stuff:

  • What’s the ‘take-home’?
  • what, specifically, are you expecting a viewer to remember/think about/learn/be impressed by/etc?
  • Where do you get bored?
  • The first time you watched the film, when did you first glance away? When did your internal voice first say ‘Oh crap, there’s six more minutes of this’? Why?
  • Is there something that could be left out that, by omission, would improve the film? (note that ‘shorter’ is almost always ‘better’ with video. While there’s a lower bound to that, it’s far lower than anyone expects).
  • The other way of looking at this; does each element of the film earn its place? Does it advance the story, add information, provide breathing room, entertain, set the scene? Or is it padding?
  • Is it sticky?
  • What makes me want to share the experience of watching the film with other people? Is the idea so cool and exciting I have to tug someone’s sleeve? Do I have burning questions I need to discuss with someone? Do I immediately want to see it again?
  • ‘What will they talk about in the playground’ is a mantra of kids’ TV. It’s one of the few bits of dogma to which I subscribe, though my interpretation may differ from that of others.

Over-arcing stuff:

  • The producer is the viewer’s proxy.

The viewer is – for TV, at least – a very large number of disparate individuals. The producer’s job, then, is to smooth the film’s acceptance to as broad a range of people as possible; you’re trying to reach into the tails of the distribution, to broaden the appeal. So you’re looking for big stuff, but also really finicky little bits of annoyance, because every tiny niggle you spot will be a deal-breaker for someone else. And you want each of those people to watch.

Can’t believe I’ve boiled down ten years’ experience to that, and then given it away. I’m an idiot.


  1. Great stuff, which I’ll be passing onto some moving image students. Mostly they’re non-factual narrative types, but so much of this still applies. Thanks for sharing. You should have a tip jar, at least.

  2. Tip jar? Pfah! Kind of you to say, but asking people to pay for the standard of blether here might be stretching credulity a tad far.
    On the other hand, I’m doing a fair few lecturing/workshop/seminar/training gigs at the moment. Bear me in mind if you have call for guest lecturers. 🙂

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