Over the last twelve months, we’ve all become familiar with seeing TV adverts filmed with modest phone set-ups, interviews conducted over video chats, and all manner of lockdown-friendly self-filmed and remotely filmed content.
The video conferencing software and ordinary smartphone cameras that are lifelines for this kind of production are far more than just convenient solutions to a temporary problem, though. What are the more general, long-term advantages of this more “lo-fi” style of video production?
In the early days of lockdown especially, a lot of the appeal of homemade-looking footage (complete with occasional technical hiccups on live TV) was how it authentically reflected what many people were going through while adjusting to the strange experience of socialising remotely, and working from home.
Channel 4, for example, released a series of short social media-friendly video clips as their #StayAtHome campaign, for which a host of famous faces had filmed themselves carrying out comically mundane everyday tasks; and Bird’s Eye used similarly home-recorded photos and video clips to publicise their “Helpful Ideas” page, designed to present families with cooking tips and “life hacks” for getting through lockdown life.
Outside the pandemic, this kind of relatability and authenticity is becoming increasingly important for brands in the age of social media. Users are mostly on social media to share aspects of their real lives with real people; so, for brands to make an impact on these platforms, the glitziest campaign isn’t necessarily their best bet. As Bryan Loewen writes in Hootsuite’s guide to authenticity on social media:
“Your followers can spot inauthenticity from a mile away. We connect most with content that is real, and people are catching up to content that is inauthentic.”
For all the technical work involved in video production, one of the trickiest parts of it can simply be the logistics involved. Having limited time to film at your location, while having to work around an interviewee’s tight schedule, for example, can have a big impact on the whole process.
This remote style of working, then, allows for a bit more flexibility. If you’re making content that’s responding to the news or quickly-changing current events, for example, a video call can be a much quicker and more manageable way of getting access to expert contributors. This sentiment has been echoed by one of the UK’s true master interviewers, Louis Theroux, who talked to Dazed about getting used to conducting interviews over video chat:
“It’s a controllable format; it’s just two hours or so over the internet. It’s a conversation, I’m not wandering around, and we’re not having to spend days and days together … It means that we got many more people who are willing to be guests; Lenny Henry and Boy George were both people I’d tried to profile all those years ago, who both turned me down."
On the surface, this style of filming can seem very restrictive and limited. While it certainly is true that there are a number of areas in which self-filming is no replacement for a more expansive production set-up - this hasn’t stopped people from pushing the boundaries of what can be done.
Probably the most famous example of this has been Rob Savage’s ambitious feature film, Host - a video call-themed horror film in which actors were directed remotely, filming themselves and setting up practical effects in their own homes. In an interview with Vodzilla, Savage explained how this unique situation enabled collaboration and creative problem-solving:
“We put a lot of prep time in. What was great was that anyone with a Zoom account could help us out. So we had stunt performers who were all isolated together and could do amazing stunts and double for our actors, and we had pyrotechnic people who could blow things up…”
For many people in marketing and content production, adjusting to the “new normal” has faced them with colossal challenges. By embracing these unique circumstances however, there are truly valuable lessons to be learned that can - and definitely should - be applied to production after the pandemic.