Smart producers are using online video collaboration to get fast feedback from their clients and to make adjustments without needing to meet the client.
Smart producers are using the internet to broaden their market and quickly pass proofs to clients. Should you consider the internet as your next video business channel?
The internet provides a method for video producers to keep clients in the loop, from rough cut to final edit. You can look for a video-editing gig anywhere in the world. Have the client ship you the source footage (or a duplicate for safety) and get to work. The collaboration that happens between the arrival of the source footage and the send-off of deliverables is where the professionals shine. If you want repeat business or word-of-mouth marketing to work to your advantage, you'd better have a plan for working with clients at a distance.
The Myth of Internet Immediacy
While you can use a lot of good web tools to bridge the distance gap, sometimes the web cannot replace the natural process of collaboration that happens when working together in the same room. Let's pretend the client wants to see the graphic come in a few seconds later and with a different color for the text on their 30-second spot. In the studio, you can do that in a matter of seconds and review it in near-real time. On the internet, small, instant changes can be inhibited by the medium. For example, if you are using YouTube to upload files for approval, a timing change on a graphic will require more time: an edit change, a render, an upload and finally a new link sent to the client. In the best-case scenario, that's a fifteen-minute process. And, wait, the client changed his mind three times already. You see where the problem is with online collaboration, right?
Let the Internet Work for You
So, how to use the internet to make videos the client will approve and save yourself from pulling your hair? The answer is simple. Be prepared.
Where's the Script?
Your best defense to unnecessary changes or an indecisive client is a game plan. Although a script isn't a legal contract, it can certainly be used to your advantage. The first thing to do is send the client a script, an edit decision list or, at the very least, a brief outline of the different sections of the video. In most cases, you'll already have an outline for the project. Make sure you update it after seeing the footage and send it to the client for approval. Good ol' e-mail will do the job. Don't start editing until the client has approved it. Call, e-mail, or instant message (IM) them, and confirm they've looked it over and are satisfied. Remind them that this is the "guide" to the edits you'll be performing. It's wise to advise them that straying too far off the script with revisions or changes during approval of rough edits may lead you to reconsider your compensation or charge extra fees.
Show Me the Rough Cut
Give your client an idea of what you'll have completed for the rough-cut approval. Is the rough cut just the video edits without graphics, audio fixes and music? For a simple 30-second spot for local TV, a rough-cut approval could be nearly as good as the final version. It really depends on the complexity of the project. Also give the client an idea of when you'll have the rough cut ready for approval.
Test the collaboration tool you plan to use with the client. Web tools, e-mail, video files all have technical specifications. You will want to see if your methods actually work on the client's computer. For example, send a "dummy" file if you plan to get client approval through e-mail. You want to avoid sending the client an approval that they can't see, especially on a tight deadline. Mailing a DVD won't cut it in these situations.
Collaboration methods on the internet come in a wide variety of solutions. Many are free or relatively cost-effective. The biggest problem with almost all of these tools is file size limitations. That means you may need to plan for an additional hour or two (maybe even more) for compressing your file to a web-friendly format. You will also want to test to make sure that any compressed files you send will play back on the client's computer.
You can use e-mail to send video files directly to the client. Using e-mail can be a hassle, due to file size limitations. Many e-mail accounts have about a 2GB file size limit. You'll definitely need to compress your video file. A 30-second spot that is compressed for the web will be around 2-3MB file size. That's more than reasonable for e-mail, even for free e-mail accounts from Google Gmail, Yahoo Mail! and Microsoft Hotmail. You'll send the file by creating a new message and attaching the video file to the e-mail message. Attaching a 2-3MB file might take a minute or two, depending on your connection speed. It will take roughly the same amount of time for the client to download the file using a high-speed internet connection.
Simple File Transfers
If you own your own domain name and a web hosting service, you can utilize your FTP tool (File Transfer Protocol) to upload a client video to your web server. Then you can e-mail the link to the client. File-size limitations are generally less of a worry when using web servers that tend to have less-restrictive file-size limits. You should know what your data transfer limits are with your web server before putting this method to use. The FTP method requires a little bit of technical knowledge, so it might not be the best fit for you.
More simplified file transfer methods exist. Services like YouSendIt.com send relatively large files to your clients using a much more user-friendly interface. YouSendIt.com has a free trial version and tiered subscription plans for more professional features.
While doing simple file transfer using e-mail or other methods are effective, you must make sure the client can view back the video. A better method for playback compatibility is using an online video-sharing site.
The Center of the World is YouTube
Ironically, the video you are editing will likely end up on YouTube when it's finished. So why not use it for your approvals? Make sure that you do not post approval videos as public videos. YouTube allows you to make video private. You can assign which YouTube users can see these videos. You will need to make sure that the client creates a YouTube account. Ask the client to give you his username information, so you can assign it to the video. The client will need to log in to YouTube in order to view the video.
The Cutting Edge
Video-sharing sites are all competing for space on the internet, and high-definition video playback is making small appearances here and there. Vimeo.com has one of the cleanest designs and consistent playback of HD video. Vimeo.com will also let you set videos to a private setting, or you can assign a simple password to the video so that clients don't need an account to view the video.
The last piece of the puzzle is persistence. Keeping communication flowing between you and the client requires that you are consistently giving the client updates at each stage. Don't overwhelm the client with too much information. Sometimes less is more, especially with clients who can do more damage to productivity with this kind of information. Use web tools that make the collaboration simple, not a technical nightmare. After all, if you are a talented editor and you've chosen your projects wisely, approvals become a fun process that captures the best of creativity. Don't let the tools get in the way of that process.
Contributing Editor Mark Montgomery is an independent video producer and editor.