Fire. Aim. Ready!
Several years ago, I was sitting in my office working on some daily graphic updates when a producer poked her head in the door.
“We can replace someone on a background, right?”
I glanced over and said, “You mean – like greenscreen?”
“Yes, exactly. We can work with greenscreen footage, can’t we?”
“Not a problem. Just make sure it’s high-quality footage,” I replied. She looked pleased, and ran off down the hallway. I didn’t think much more about it, and went back to whatever it was I had been doing. In retrospect, I should have taken a moment to ask “why”.
A few days later, the producer was back and brought some footage on a flash drive. The project she was producing involved a few short videos, featuring someone talking about the various reasons a particular client’s business was the best choice for consumers. The various shots all looked a lot like this:
If you’ve ever watched a “making of” segment on the DVD of your favorite film, you’re probably familiar with the use of a greenscreen. The actor is shot on a green background, and then software techniques are used to replace the green background with something else entirely. Most sci-fi movies are shot this way; actors are filmed running about on a green stage, and then are combined later with footage of large robots (or an entire city) behind them. It’s often more cost-effective to do it this way, not to mention the fact that many locations (such as an alien planet) don’t exist, and are created digitally by the special effects department.
In the case of our production, each clip was around 30 seconds and we were to use 14 different takes for the final project. I opened my favorite software for this sort of thing, and started importing the shots.
Removing a green screen is not always a fast process. Sometimes the lighting can make it difficult; in other cases, an actor’s hair (especially longer hair on women) can pose a particular challenge. Nonetheless – after a few hours of work, all 14 shots now had the green backgrounds removed.
I called the producer to my office. When she arrived, I told her we were ready to finish the shots and asked her what sort of background I needed to put behind the actor.
“Black,” she said.
This caught me off guard, so I just went with, “Excuse me?”
“We want the actor over black. With their company logo on the right side.”
After another hour or so, the final shots were complete. The actor was now over a black background, with a logo to the right:
I called the producer again, and told her the videos were complete. She was pleased with the results, and was sure the client would be as well. Now that everything was done, I finally had to know something. I chose my tone carefully and asked, “Why did you have the actor filmed on a greenscreen, instead of just… shooting her on a black background?”
It took her a moment, but then she got my point. “Well, when I was writing the commercials, I didn’t know what sort of background I’d want.”
“So – we simply didn’t make a plan before the shoot?” I said.
She looked a bit annoyed, or insulted. “I see what you’re saying, but it’s not a big deal. The final product looks fine.”
“The problem,” I replied, “is that the client will be billed for all the hours I spent removing the green background. And as a result, is paying quite a bit of money for the lack of planning. If we’d simply decided on the background before the filming, we could have saved the client time and money.”
“But… I didn’t know what I wanted…”
I understood her situation, and knew that she had not intentionally created extra work for me, nor more expense for her client. Her problem was simply that she had not done enough planning before the video shoot, and wanted to leave the “creative” for later. We talked a bit more about how to approach it in the future; she agreed it would be a good idea to involve others more in the pre-production process and make sure everything was as streamlined and efficient as possible.
As creative professionals, sometimes we’re so amazed with the options our tools give us – the range of creative abilities that are just a few mouse clicks away – that we forget to use our main tool… our minds. Software and cameras have come a long way in the past 20 years, but it’s always important to remember: first and foremost, these new abilities should save ourselves – and our clients – both time and money whenever possible. And while clients always value our creativity, we must also respect their budget.