In filmmaking, numerous decisions fall to the director and cinematographer when deciding upon the look of the image. Whether they’re discussing lens selection, color saturation, lighting preferences, or camera rigs, each gear decision and technical decision has an impact on the overall artistic direction of the piece. There are few right and wrong choices, but each choice has an impact on the viewers’ perception of the finished work. A highly desaturated, darker image is dreary, ominous, perhaps a bit depressing, which means not ideal for a product launch video or glamour shot of a product. A saturated, bright image is cheery and associated with a more uplifting mood and feeling. The choices aren’t as simple as they seem, though, because each camera move communicates a feeling or an idea and must be correctly chosen for the style of the video.
The most common choice that companies face when deciding on a style for their video production is whether to lean more cinematic or more documentary-feel with the footage. A testimonial video is likely to lean heavily documentary style, but a product launch video will more likely be cinematic. The choice is not merely budget-related, as it first may seem, because many major brands for national commercials choose a documentary approach to lend authenticity to their messaging. They feel that by making the video more “home shot” in feeling, it makes what they are saying feel genuine and less marketing-heavy. The correct decision really comes down to the brand and the image you want to create.
A video showcasing your company’s work on interior designs for luxury yachts, in my opinion, would best be served by high-end, cinematic feel to each shot. You want to make the video look expensive and each shot needs to shine, because you’re charging a premium price for specialty work that few people can afford or need. You want to sell your company’s image as being nothing but the best quality, which means impeccably lit shots, perfect, smooth camera moves (dolly and slider shots, crane or jib shots, etc.), and attention to detail. By contrast, a budget beer brand may feel like they want to cut through the pretentiousness of their competitors’ advertising and show a bunch of guys hanging out, enjoying a relaxing night, and drinking their beer.
The biggest issue with the documentary style of filming for corporate and commercial videos is making sure the style is “professional documentary” or “faux documentary” rather than “film school student with a camera” documentary. Even the pseudo-documentary commercials that major brands produce are still manipulated in post-production, still involve large crews, and each element is very carefully selected. They are planned with the same precision of any other high-end spot, but just shot differently. The false authenticity is illusion, just like most advertising, meant to disarm unaware viewers and give an edgier feel or more naturalistic camera movements.
With documentary-style corporate work, many accomplished, veteran videographers are using filmmaking aids like budget steadicams, glidecams, gimbals, and other devices that allow for a handheld feeling but with a smoother motion. The key is the work is still fully professional, well planned, and cohesive, but it has a different vibe than, say, Transformers or your average summer blockbuster. Training videos and internal corporate works are almost always shot with more of a documentary feel, because the key is to showcase your company’s “behind the scenes” workflow and operations. Customer-focused videos are often more polished and cinematic, aimed at creating a larger-than-life impression of your goods or services.
Whatever style you choose for your videos, make sure it makes sense for the messaging and branding you want to communicate. Make sure the style is intentional rather than accidental, like amateur-style video that looks semi-documentary but mainly calls attention to being a low budget feel. Discuss the style with the production company before shooting, especially by providing example videos that they can emulate where possible. If you’re choosing a production company that has done similar work, which is always a good idea anyway, mention which of their videos you liked and what parts you want to emulate for your own video. Having a clear understanding and setting expectations in advance helps guard against any future disappointment.