Industrial video is a majority of my day job right now, and has been for the better part of three years. I've edited training videos, advertisements, and video blogs, and I occasionally have to go into the field and shoot. I find myself in hot, loud places sometimes, and I often have no idea what anything is at first. I do know two things: don't get run over, and don't stick your hand in anything. Those are a couple of freebies you can take with you into any walk of life, really.
While this industrial video stuff isn't exactly the Hollywood cinema experience I longed for as a child (hey, we all gotta start somewhere right?), I've picked up on some patterns that consistently give me some good results to help my videos stand apart from what else is out there. A lot of these tips are standard for any video production, but I've added a perspective of industrial/corporate video production to help you focus on this particular task.
1. Don't forget to get or use contextual/establishing shots.
If you're editing a movie and don't have an establishing shot, you curse the DP or director or everyone. In industrial videos, one has a tendency to get wrapped up in whatever process is being demonstrated. We often have little familiarity with whatever we're covering, so it can be difficult to not just skip ahead to each little piece of a process. Try not to get distracted and forget to use establishing shots in your videos to give your viewer context. For example, let's say you're showing the various steps of an assembly line. Assembly lines usually have a big piece of a machinery making it all happen, but the magic really occurs in one tiny little space. You might want to jump right to that space to show the thingy being attached to the other thingy - because that's the cool or interesting part. However, you need to show the context of where that thingy is being assembled - the whole piece of machinery. That's your establishing shot. For another example, if you're showing an engine - you need a shot of the whole engine before you delve into the little parts. And take an occasional step back to remind your viewers where they are.
2. Light equipment from behind.
Industrial places are often dark, hot, and filled with a lot of wires and pipes and whatevers. If you're shooting in one of these areas, you need to light it well. Don't forget to add some backlighting too. Let's say you're shooting a brake system on a vehicle, and you need to show the tie rod. Toss some light from behind to make it pop out from the mess of wires and tubes and stuff. Backlighting creates separation, so it's easier for a viewer to see what you're talking about. When it's all flat, everything blends together, and it's hard to tell where one thing ends and another thing begins.
3. Shoot big equipment from the ground.
This is particularly helpful if you're trying to market either the equipment itself or the operation of the equipment. Big equipment, when shot straight on, looks ok but rather ordinary. If you can get lower to the ground and shoot upward, it starts to look imposing and majestic. Making something like a large vehicle look extra big really speaks to the demographic of people who enjoy the operation of such equipment - raw, towering, and loud as hell. This is pretty much the same strategy that Cosmopolitan magazine uses for their cover models - women, shot (in a flattering way) from a lower angle, look tall, strong, and confident.
4. Bring cleaner and wipes.
If you're out shooting industrial stuff in its native environment, there's probably a good chance that it's dirty, if not completely covered in crud. You don't want your gorgeous cinematography marred by ickiness. Sometimes if you ask ahead of time before a shoot, equipment can be cleaned specifically for your shooting. This is ideal because there's probably a good, efficient way of getting the thing clean if experts are involved. But bring some cleaner and wipes anyway, in case there's spots to fix. And make sure it's OK if you use the cleaner on the surface. You never know.
5. Prepare for poor audio situations.
Have I mentioned that industrial video is usually in loud places? Try to prepare for the worst audio situation. This might include getting more directional mics, planning for ADR or VO, or scouting for a quiet room for necessary on-location interviews. Sometimes I find myself in situations where none of these things are possible, so I try my best in our run-and-gun situations to position the subject in a way where the mics will be least likely to pick up the noise. If you're at least prepared to deal with rough audio in post, it should ease the pain a little. One good thing is that this kind of background noise is not always a terrible thing in industrial video - the people watching it seem not to mind, and it helps to create an atmosphere. That is, if you can make out what the person on screen is saying.
6. Get a lot of angles.
When you shoot equipment, you'll find that when you get to the edit, one angle will tell the story of the equipment way better than another. Sometimes, it's hard to tell on-site what angles are clearest or most effective. Getting a lot of angles also gives you more options in post, obviously. This tip is basically the same as "get a lot of b-roll" which as an editor, I believe all shooters should have tattooed backwards on their chest, Memento-style. It's just a different way of thinking specifically about b-roll for equipment.
7. When you set up a shoot, explain what you need to your subject in simple terms.
Just like you're probably not familiar with the process you're shooting, the people on site are not familiar with the process of shooting. Make contact with your on-site coordinator and briefly explain what you'll need, avoiding jargon. The people you're shooting don't need a film school education. Just let them know your basic schedule, anything specific you might need from them, and how their assistance with your requests will help make their video look great. They'll feel involved without being confused.
8. Understand the process you're shooting or editing.
If you're working on a training video, read the manual and research the subject you're training. If you're putting together a how to, learn how to do it. Educate yourself on the basics. For example, if you're putting together a video that demonstrates a brake checking procedure, look up how to do it, and try to understand it. This will help you assemble the video as accurately as possible, with less time spent revising simple errors.
9. If you want lower thirds, shoot with them in mind.
In a past training video where I was shooting an engine, The DP didn't think far enough ahead of time to the edit to consider that I needed lower thirds to convey some points of the training. This made for some unnecessary fiddling in post. If you're shooting an intricate piece of equipment up close, leave some room for whatever sort of labeling you might need. And if it's for DVD, remember to consider title safe.
10. Add some movement.
Often in industrial video, we're shooting things that don't really move much - a vehicle sitting still, a piece of machinery that has moving parts but overall just kind of sits there. Adding a little bit of subtle movement can add a lot to the production value. A pan, zoom, slide, or if you have it, jib, can help bring a viewer into the environment.
11. Condense time, but not too much.
In the edit, you'll probably need to condense time in industrial video so you don't lose your viewers to boredom. You need to make sure you don't condense time too much. For example, there are vehicle inspections that require steps that take 2-3 minutes to accomplish, like pumping up air brakes. If you show 2 minutes of someone just sitting there, pumping up brakes (literally just hitting the brake over and over, watching a gauge), your audience just bailed. But if you cut away as soon as they start, it doesn't give the viewer an accurate big picture of the process. Find a middle ground where you can really imply that a task takes longer than a moment to complete. A dissolve will also help show the passage of time.
12. Tell a story.
It may be the production of a sheet of metal, or the process of cleaning out a tank of garbage, but it's still got a story. Give it a beginning, middle, and end. For example, at the beginning you might introduce the production facility. Or you might show the finished product, and jump back to how it all gets started. Then the middle - the process. The end should be easy - the finished product in it's newly manufactured state, and then in use out in the wild. Simple and effective - and easy to forget if you're new to industrial videos. It's storytelling, like anything else you cut.
13. Be careful.
Shooting industrial videos can often have an aspect of danger to them, at least more than usual. Take great care to pay attention to special instructions, watch your step, and avoiding touching things. If you have questions, ask.
Photo credits: morguefile.com