What does your company do best and how are you different? These are two difficult questions to answer yourself. Yet I help clients to answer them confidently and creatively. But could I do the same for my own company?
In this article, Craig Thatcher shares his experience of creating a film for StrawberryFinch. I originally had the idea for creating an animated story in April 2021 but realised I didn’t have all the skills myself to pull it off. Whilst I can develop storyboards, write copy, I don’t have the graphic design or motion design skills to bring it all to life. But I could use the medium of film instead. How difficult could that be and what could possibly go wrong?
The challenge: Create a 2 minute story in film
So I set myself the challenge of creating a short 2 minute film on what it is like to work with StrawberryFinch, what we do best and why we’re different - and to do everything myself. The only problem was that I was going to be the star of it too. Like most people, I don’t really like watching myself on screen.
This meant that I had to develop a concept for the film, write the script, cut it down, then edit it ruthlessly, until I had something workable. I jotted down a few ideas and then had a coffee with Graham Jerome-Ball, Global Branding Director of Informa plc who gave me some sound advice about making sure the offer is crystal clear by laser-targeting the messaging at ideal clients and what they're trying to achieve and the challenges they're wrestling with.
what we do best and why we’re different
The concept of the film was based on taking the viewer on a short, engaging journey and explaining what we do best and why we’re different. I wanted there to continual movement, so either the camera is moving or I am.
Using the classic 3 Act storytelling technique
Every story has a start, a middle and an end - but does not necessarily have to go in that order. So I decided to go with Act 3 first, then Act 1, then Act 2 before finishing the story back at Act 3, but in a different scene.
Act 1: Setting up the conflict
Act 2: Working towards a solution
Act 3: Achieving the big solution
Written like a song
I wrote the story in verses, like a poem or song, although it was never going to be set to music. Unfortunately, this is another skill I don’t have - the ability to write music or play a musical instrument.
This tight structure enabled me to think about the sequence of the story and reorganise the verses for greater impact than if just written it in prose. For instance the opening verse sums up what the film is about, grabs the viewers attention and yet I originally wrote this verse to finish the story.
The first verse of the script
If you’re a Start-up, a Scale-up
Going for Market Share or Growing to Sell,
We can Help you Build a Stronger, Fitter
And More Engaging company with
A Prosperous Future and Greater Value.
350 words & 10 verses in 2 minutes
I ended up with 350 words in 10 verses, making around 35 words in each. The shortest was 25 words long and the longest, 52. I memorised and combined two of them for the car scene - 64 words in just under 30 seconds. Which I was pleased with, because normally I struggle to learn lines and so I printed out my scripts on tiny A7 pieces of paper taped to my camera and rehearsed my lines in front of them.
Deciding on the best locations for each of scene
Once I had the overall script as a structure I started to think about how and where I was going to film each of the scenes. As all locations needed to be within walking or cycling distance of my house in Maidenhead in Berkshire.
With my script as inspiration, I needed locations that included a construction site, contemporary offices, a bridge and an outdoor stage area. At the same time I jotted down ideas for how the cuts would work between the individual film sequences and also what cutaway shots I would need, that would add a bit of interest whilst I was talking to camera.
Planning saves time but stay flexible
I planned each shot in advance, because this helps me to decide which camera and equipment to take and what microphones would work best and which props to take. I was going to be riding my bike, as this was one of my props. I also had to consider background traffic noise and aircraft overhead. This ruled out the A4 bridge over the Thames for one of the scenes as it was far too busy. So I decided to shoot on a Bank Holiday Sunday morning when there were not too many people around, but still a few wanted to stop and ask me what and why I was filming.
film scenes in geographical groups not sequence
I filmed the scenes in groups with locations geographically close to each other and tried to get them all shot in one day, for consistency of lighting. It did not quite work out as I planned, and I managed to shoot some of he scenes in better ways than I had planned, having rehearsed them a few times at the location. It also meant that I shot scenes out of sequence, which made me have to think about the way I was speaking in each scene and the way that related to the scenes on either side. Taxing stuff.
I packed all of my kit the night before and made sure I charged all my batteries, then made an early 6.30 am start as I rode my bike down to Boulters Lock on the river Thames for the first of my scenes. I got most of the shots I wanted on the Sunday morning and two of the scenes a couple of days later.
Editing and getting feedback
I edited the film together, using the soundtrack from the best takes and using a few of the cutaway shots. Then I shared the film with a client and re-shot a couple of the scenes as a result of his feedback.
My favourite scene was the one in the car
The car scene was shot on a very quiet road, and I mounted a camera on the inside of my windscreen, pointing at me and let it roll, whilst I acted and drove. I then mounted the same camera pointing forwards and drove the same piece of road to get the footage our of the front window.
Back at my studio, I reviewed all the takes and discarded the useless ones before uploading the best to my editing software. Then I edited the sequences together and once I was happy with the edit, I uploaded the resulting file to an automated transcription and subtitles service. More than 90% of my speech was correctly interpreted and the remainder I edited before uploading it to a video hosting service, ready for embedding on my website.
If you would like to explore how to create a film about your company then get in contact with Craig now.
things I found most difficult
Acting and filming at the same time is incredibly difficult. Thinking about the transitions between scenes and having to come up with cuts that are not too abrupt, and that disrupt the flow of the film. I use jump cuts a lot.
I liked the camera in a box for an unusual opening shot and closed the lid at the end of the scene and it jumps to me in the car, in scene two. I really could have done with a person to take the film and to shoot the cutaways and could have concentrated on making my performance better. Finally, it is tricky to keep my hair looking the same across shots - in fact this is almost impossible without the help of a make-up artist.
Story telling and story boarding
Script writing and editing
Planning a shoot
which cameras and sound equipment to use
Reconnaissance of locations
Filming, lighting and sound recording
Learning lines and rehearsing
Listening to feedback