It’s funny, the last blog post I wrote had a mention of “Breaking Bad” and this one is going to discuss an episode of “Better Call Saul”. If you’re unfamiliar, the latter is a spin off TV show on AMC that follows around a lawyer in New Mexico set in the early 2000’s.
Recently I was watching an episode (episode 3 of season 2 starting at the 17 minute mark) that made me laugh and cry for the video production industry. Let’s set the scene:
James “Jimmy” McGill, Attorney at Law for the law firm of Davis Main, is working a huge class action case with senior citizens. They are being taken advantage of by their assisted living facility, Sandpiper, and Jimmy is in charge of bringing on the new senior citizen clients. In this episode, he’s asked to tone down his tactics a little bit – he’s a lawyer that takes the law into his own hands at times – so he decides to make a tv commercial.
The 3-4 scenes about the commercial reminded me the importance of many things within pre-production that are really important to ensuring the success of a project. Let’s dissect these topics in chronological order based on when they were delivered in the show.
The whole things starts off with Jimmy pitching the idea of a TV commercial to Clifford Main, Partner at Davis and Main. Jimmy clearly knows who he’s targeting and why. Here’s what he tells Main:
“At Sandpiper the trains run on time. Mussolini would be proud. Everyone I’ve visited so far, same exact schedule. 10am water aerobics, 2pm line dancing, so and so forth. They always leave 3pm to 4pm free. Why? ‘Murder She Wrote’.”
Jimmy continues, “Let me tell ya, when that thing comes on it draws the blue hairs out like moths to a bug zapper. 3:14pm. End of the first act. Cliffhanger. First commercial up… Davis and Main.”
Because Jimmy knew his audience, he was able to target them very intelligently and get the right eyes on his video. He didn’t need to do a huge media buy to have his commercial have impact, simply because he knew how to get his audience to view his content and because the concept and idea behind the video was spot on, he reaped the results.
During his conversation with Main, Jimmy finds out that they had done a commercial in the past. Like any video producer should do before making a new video, he decides to watch what they had previously produced. Maybe for inspiration, but probably just to get a feel for how the organization had previously marketed themselves.
It’s important to do this to find out what worked, what didn’t and to also match any branding requirements, logo bumps, etc.
Spoiler: the previous video was terrible.
Developing a good concept within pre-production makes all the difference in a video. It’s not just about getting all the best gear and showing up. You have to tell a story. Here’s how Jimmy explains it to his crew in their production meeting:
“Ok, we open on granny and she is rocking. Back… and forth… and back… and forth. And then, very slowly and smoothly the camera moves towards her.”
From here they get into dolley conversation which we’ll get to in the next section, but anyway Jimmy goes on, “She’s rocking and she’s shivering. She’s clutching at a tattered shawl. They turned the heat off on her, these evil bastards! She’s cold and hungry and friendless. This is heart rending stuff!”
Jimmy does a great job here. He knows his audience, has a script and his talent ready, and understands the story he wants to tell. It grabs at the heartstrings of his audience and that is a surefire way to make a video a hit.
With any concept, it is key that you have all the equipment you’re going to need for the shoot. This is the one thing Jimmy forgot to do. After Jimmy’s line where he says, “the camera moves toward her” here’s the back-and-forth he has with his crew:
Jimmy: “And then, very slowly and smoothly the camera moves towards her.”
Crew member 1: “Dolley?”
Jimmy: “A dolly. Good.”
Crew member 1: “You see a dolley here?”
Jimmy: “You guys didn’t bring a dolly?”
Crew member 1: “Nope, no dolly.”
The moral of the story here is just to make sure you communicate with your video team. If they don’t know you want a shot using a dolly or any other special piece of equipment, it’s critical to make sure that you have those discussion up-front within pre-production.
For how all of this ends, go watch “Better Call Saul” on AMC and if you’re making your first video production, you can download our guide here. Something that may have helped Jimmy with his video!