The vast majority of corporate video work doesn’t require a trained or skilled director, primarily because there are no actors involved, but also because the budget doesn’t usually allow for it. In filmmaking, the director makes or approves all key creative decisions and works closely with department heads like production design, director of photography (cinematographer), and wardrobe, besides directing actors. Corporate video production often involves interviews and B-roll, neither of which specifically requires a creative director. In the corporate video world, you’re more likely to find videographers who double as the director on set, helping the interviews go smoothly, making decisions about which shots will look best for B-roll, and helping move the day along. The “one man band” mentality predominates, not because it’s the best way, but because it’s the cheapest way. When does a corporate video need a director?
The simplest answer to when hiring a director is required is whenever actors are brought aboard. While you can certainly take the risk and go without a director on set, letting the actors do their best and the videographer record whatever they do, it’s not advisable or highly professional. Not only are actors more comfortable with having a director who helps focus their performances, but a videographer may be equally uncomfortable trying to give advice or feedback to actors. They are not compatible or even related skills whatsoever. Videography is a technical skill highly dependent on camera knowledge, lighting temperatures, camera gadgets, and a general sense of painting with light. Directing involves tapping into inner emotional realities and bringing forth believable performances from actors as well as having an eye towards the bigger picture and how it will ultimately fit together.
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Director Jonathan L. Bowen on the set of The Phoenix Project (2013) during an exterior jib shot.
Even without any acting talent, bringing a creative director aboard could be necessary with a complicated concept involving specific camera setups and a heavily scripted video. For instance, a detailed shot list may need to be executed perfectly to obtain a high quality result that is later set to voiceover. A creative director will have the vision and talent to bring together disparate elements into a cohesive whole, more than justifying the added cost. I’m not arguing that a creative videographer cannot obtain the necessary shots, only that putting too much responsibility on any one person means their work is going to suffer.
Asking a videographer to focus on perfect lighting and camera setups, tending to their gear, and thinking technically is enough of a challenge, but to ask them to perform the responsibilities of a director at the same time while watching the clock and schedule is too much. Typically, on a feature film set, there is an entire camera department that has its own separate but related department, grip & electric, to deal with lighting, none of whom care about the schedule or time whatsoever; that responsibility falls to the AD (assistant director) unit, itself comprised of at least two members (1st and 2nd AD) and sometimes several more.
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From a creative standpoint, having no director will make any video a bit more of an assembly-line piece and a bit less of any one person’s vision. As a typical example, after a number of client e-mails and phone calls, a series of notes becomes a full proposal for the video production specifications. Based on the specs, a producer hires the necessary crew to execute the vision, let’s say a videographer and an assistant, plus consulting with a staff editor about the time required to turn the raw footage into the finished project. In pre-production, the producer communicates the basic idea of the shoot and its schedule to the videographer, but during production the videographer is fully responsible for whatever is shot.
In post-production, at a company like ours, the producer is hands-off until the first edit is completed, at which point it is internally reviewed. Usually, the producer in charge makes several notes and sends it back to editorial for changes, after which it is sent to the client. In essence, the producer is only fully in charge of pre-production, the videographer is solely in charge of production, and the editor is almost fully in charge of post-production. The results are the collective vision and skills of three separate people and based on their common understanding of the client’s wishes.
Now, take the same corporate video but add a director and let’s examine the process and how it changes. The director is involved from the very beginning of the process with the client, taking notes about their preferences and desires for the video. The director makes creative suggestions that can be taken into account during the budgeting phase. Based on the creative ideas the director suggests, in combination with the client’s budget and opinions, an appropriate crew is hired to execute the vision. In a smooth relationship, the client trusts the director’s vision, which will carry the whole project forward.
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During production, the director oversees every aspect of the decision-making process on the shoot, making sure each shot matches perfectly with the desired end result and the client’s goals. When the shoot wraps, the director works closely with the editor, often for many hours, to craft their vision in the editing room. At all times, the video remains the vision of the director (with the client’s blessing), which is a huge advantage to the finished project.