bcu, birmingham city university, jazz, department, video, production, content, marketing, birmingham
If you’ve never embarked on a video project before, it can be hard to know what to expect from a day of filming. Or, if you’ve recently commissioned a video project, you might be wondering about why the filming team have asked to set specific interview times, why they’re keen to get to you early, or why they’re bringing all that seemingly extra kit along. Every shoot will be different depending on the type of video you’re making, of course, but hearing a little bit about how a typical production day for us might be able to answer some of those questions and give you a better idea of what to expect.
Earlier this year we had the pleasure of producing a promotional video for Birmingham City University’s fantastic jazz department, who had recently been kitted out with an all new state-of-the-art conservatoire. Filming for the project involved attending a concert at the University’s in-house jazz club to capture footage of student performances, as well as one day of touring the department and filming interviews with staff and students.
I had the opportunity to tag along with the team on the second day to lend a hand, so here’s a little run down of what an action-packed day of filming looks like:
We arrived bright and early with a car full of kit and were greeted by our contact, BCU’s marketing officer, who was kind enough to be our host for the day. We were guided to a room in the new conservatoire where we could store the bulk of our equipment, which turned out to be one of the brand new edit suites. The room featured a huge mixing desk with an array of buttons for crafting any kind of effect, as well as feeds displaying every performance space in the building. Everyone was quick to agree that it was a great filming location in itself, and we bookmarked it for use later.
Next we grabbed the equipment we needed for the interviews and headed down into the ‘Eastside Jazz Club’ for our first scheduled interviews. Another beautifully eye-catching room, we rolled down the blinds and took advantage of the lighting desk at the back to tinker with the stage lights and create a bit of a dramatic feel. Shortly afterwards, our first interviewee and the Department Head, Jeremy Price, arrived.
We set Jeremy up in front of the audience stands to give a sense of the room’s depth and an indication of the size of the crowd that regularly visits to watch student performances. Whilst he a radio mic to his collar, we made some lighting adjustments to make sure he was evenly lit and nicely picked-out against the dark background. We had quick sound check, which turned out to be well needed as one of our mics was giving off some crackling feedback. Not to worry - we always come prepared, and we quickly got Jeremy sorted with a different one that sounded great.
From getting in to the room to having Jeremy ready to speak, the set-up took about 40 minutes. Our other interviews throughout the day would only take about 10 - 20, but the first one of the day is more likely to need some troubleshooting, which is why we like to get to location nice and early.
We were aiming to create a video of about three minutes in length, which is a fairly tight window to feature all the amazing facilities and opportunities we wanted to show off. Because of this, our goal with the interviews was to try and get short sound bites that would ensure we covered all our key talking points as quickly as possible.
This can be a very tricky thing to do on the spot, especially if you haven’t been in front of a camera before. That big lens staring at you can feel intimidating, and as soon as someone tells you not to look into it, naturally that’s all your eyes want to do. Our director/producer for the project, Ben, always eased each of our contributors in by playing with a few warm up questions (“What did you have for breakfast this morning?” is a favourite), which helped to break the ice. Ben then prompted Jeremy with a few talking points, offering his thoughts in return to make things feel relaxed and conversational, and Jeremy’s obvious knowledge and passion meant the discussion flowed well. The occasional word-stumble is par for the course, and we were happy to do a few repeat takes to ensure everything was succinctly covered.
Next up was the department’s Deputy Head, Andrew Bain, who we positioned in front of the club’s performance space in order to mirror Jeremy’s spot in front of the audience. We kept the lighting consistent, though added in an extra spot on the piano in the back to ensure it stood out from the shadows. Andrew gave us some wonderfully witty back-and-forth which really helped to set the tone, and his musical “warm-ups” ended up making a great intro to the final video. Sometimes we find it’s the spontaneous moments like this that end up as the highlights of the final production. Running through the same process as we had with Jeremy, we were able to grab some more great summaries of the department’s opportunities, which marked a wrap on filming in the club space.
We had a couple of hours before our next interviews were scheduled, so we used the time to collect some B-roll footage. This footage would be used for supplementary cutaways throughout the video to keep it engaging, and to really show off the size and capabilities of the new conservatoire. We headed back up to our kit room and dropped off as much as we could to keep our load light, then started wandering around the department.
A few classes were kind enough to let us pop in and film some of the work that was going on, whether that was singing & tuning practice, or a full band rehearsal. Ben usually filmed these alone as we wanted to avoid being too disruptive by sending the full team in. Meanwhile, the rest of us scouted out other filming opportunities: lit up ‘recording’ signs, a seemingly silent pianist practising in a soundproofed room, musical wall decor featuring famous works, students editing their latest creations, and more.
Whilst we were working on this, it also happened that a few more staff members had some time to spare, so we also managed to squeeze in a couple of quick interviews with the Senior Lecturer, John O’Gallagher, and the head of Music Technology, Simon Hall. The latter interview proved to be a great chance to use our kit room/ editing suite location as we’d hoped to earlier. Generally, a shoot runs smoothest when we know in advance exactly which interviews will be conducted when, but we’ll always do our best to leave some time spare and take advantage of these kinds of moments if they pop up.
By the time we’d finished up with these, we were right on schedule to meet with the students that had volunteered to be a part of the video.
We met the students in one of the larger conservatoire practice rooms, and for the first half an hour or so we were treated to a live performance as we filmed the talented group playing together. Once we’d collected plenty of shots piano keys pressing and cello strings strumming, the majority of the group went to wait in the attached editing suite so we could start some one-on-one interviews.
We opted to primarily use our gun microphone for these interviews, as asking each student to fiddle about with taking the radio mic on and off would have taken too much time. This proved to be a slight hurdle as the high lights in the room meant the mic kept casting a shadow across our interviewee’s face, but with some quick adjustments this was soon removed.
Our student contributors seemed a little more nervous than the staff had been as we got started (no doubt because they were being asked to discuss the teaching in front of some of their tutors!), but after a few warm-up questions they really rose to the occasion and delivered some fantastic answers, their genuine interest in jazz and enjoyment of the course shining through.
After finishing off the last of our student interviews and thanking all our fantastic contributors, it was back to the car for us and our kit. It had been a fairly long day of filming but it was certainly one of our most enjoyable shoots to date, with the good humour of everyone involved contributing to the fun and (ahem) jazzy atmosphere of the final video. That light-hearted tone wound up being a perfect companion to the more dramatic video that we also produced for the department, focusing solely on a tour of the Conservatoire spaces.
Not all of our filming days are quite as action-packed as this one, but hopefully this can give you an idea of what to expect if you’re considering creating something similar. An early start, a warm and relaxed interview approach, plenty of technical considerations to make sure you look your best - and a great result in the end.