Designing Cost Effective Drama Video for Learning

Drama is one of the most expensive types of video for learning.  The key to effective output, both in terms of learning impact and cost, lies in the conception and planning.  The way we design a drama is by combining our knowledge of cost elements with a design for a story that communicates the learning. 

This article focuses on the key considerations when designing drama based video learning to fit a budget.

Production units for drama video
A 10 hour day, with an hour for lunch, is the baselines unit that we design a production around. All of the crew involved in shooting drama have their time measured in days. Actors also charge a day rate.

Usually we think we can get 10 to 15 minutes of drama from a day, but in special circumstances we have produced around 25 minutes in a day.

What elements affect productivity?

Number of cast
Generally speaking, the smaller the cast the more productive you can be.  There are less people to manage and the visual storytelling is simplified.  The more actors we bring in the more managing they need and the more complex the visual storytelling.  The maths is complicated by the fact that we could, for example, have several scenes each involving two actors, but different actors. 

An actor day will generally cost the same regardless of how many scenes they are in.  We think in units of actor-days.  Actor rates are a significant element of the budget and are compounded with the travel and other expenses of each cast member, plus the pre-production time necessary to cast them. 

It takes a time and skill to find a cast who fit the bill. They need to be able to act and also willing to work for corporate rates.  We usually provide 3 choices for each role.  If you have one weak player it can let down the whole show – so getting the casting right is key and it is therefore worth the upfront investment in the time spent on the casting process. 

Moving around while filming takes time.  Even something as simple as moving from filming at one desk to another in the same room (a re-set) takes time.  When moving from one building to another, or moving inside to outside, our assembled team of experts are essentially unproductive (i.e. they are moving gear from one place to another rather than capturing content!).  Our shoots with the highest output have featured a single cast in a single location. 

Story days
The events in a story often happen over a number of days.  To express the change of story day there is usually a change of:

  • costume
  • sometimes makeup
  • props
  • lighting. 

Each of these storytelling elements has an effect on the bottom line.  How to tell a story with an efficient but effective number of story days? 

Number of cameras
Nowadays we usually film drama with 2 cameras.  This necessitates two camera operators, and sometimes a camera assistant as well.  But it can usually improve productivity to an order that justifies the expense.  Occasionally we film with 3 cameras, often with the third being an unstaffed, static camera. 

Production values
The glossier the production the more it costs.  Gloss, or production value can be attained through several means all of which boil down to attention to detail.  The simplest way to increase quality is to allow more time to script, plan and film a drama.  Reducing productivity to increase quality.  More time for lighting design, more camera angles, more tracking shots, great makeup and hair, costume budget, location budget, maybe budget for set or travel. 

Studio vs location
Generally, with corporate filming, the end client can provide a location in their premises.  A meeting room, a corner of an open-plan office an oil derrick, a bus.  This is effectively a free asset for the production.  Locations though are potentially noisy and ungovernable.  When you have a team of 10 production staff held up while ‘Sam from Accounts’ does an important run of printing (because the printer is drowning out the dialogue) it can be a bit frustrating. 

A studio, on the other hand, is sound-proofed and has no external light sources.  It’s a completely controlled environment.  Productivity can be very high.  However, studios cost money – and that’s before we’ve even talked about building a set.  So, it’s a fine judgement, but sometimes the studio will be the most cost-effective option.

The reality
Of course, we don’t want to make loads of dramas involving just one or two characters in a single setting.  It’d be too boring.  The same goes for story days and tracking shots and all the nice things that are a pleasure to consume.  The art is to come up with designs that allow you get the most from each day of filming, that will work with a few locations to tell a big story. 

If you have an idea for some video-centred learning for your organisation, get in touch.

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