How to make a TV Commercial
October 31st 2018
A Guide to TV Commercial Production
Fundamentally, producing a tv commercial – whether that’s DRTV or BRTV – is pretty much the same as producing any other kind of corporate or promotional video. You have the pre-production (planning), the production (filming), the post-production (editing) and then you send it off to wherever it’s going to be played. However, when it comes to TV commercials there are far more intricacies that must not be overlooked in order to produce a successful TV advert.
This step-by-step guide will take you through everything you need to know to produce a TV commercial. It will cover some of the same areas as our Corporate Video Guide did but there are some essential aspects that we’ve covered here that aren’t included elsewhere.
What is a TV Commercial production?
Firstly, just to clarify, this guide will cover the entirety of the production of the TV commercial but not media buying. You can check out our quick guide on What is Media Buying and the different strategies available here. This guide is meant as an introduction to producing a Brand response or Direct Response TV commercial but could also be applied to TV bumpers as well (like the one below).
No matter what type of advert you’re wanting to produce, one fundamental difference between producing videos for TV and online is time. When creating a 60 second TV commercial, it has to be exactly 60 seconds, not a frame longer, which is why it’s so vital to put a lot of time and effort into the pre-production.
Schedule, deadlines and budgets
Pretty much the second question we get asked when taking on a new project is something like “Can you get it done by Christmas?”, the first question, if you were wondering is always about how much will it cost? The point is, both the schedule and budget for a TV commercial need to be resolved before anything else starts. You need to know what the client’s deadline is so you can make sure it can physically be completed in that time and once you know the budget you can start putting together ideas or developing the client’s ideas.
When it comes to the schedule, a good plan is to work backwards, starting from their deadline, allowing a couple weeks here, a few days there plus a little extra in case of any last minute changes.
Creating an idea that fits the budget and suits the client may take some work but once you have it agreed you can start developing the script. Now this might just be a voice over script or it could be lots of different actors all with lines.
Whatever the case, you need to put it together in a clear and coherent way outlining everything that is happening on the screen at that time. This can include the main action and dialogue, background action, setting, on screen graphics and titles, voice over, supers, music and calls-to-action at the end. This makes it absolutely clear to anyone reading the script, exactly what is happening at every single moment during the TV Commercial – remember what I said at the beginning – 60 seconds means 60 seconds so you’ve got to make it count. It’s also a good idea to get into the practice of performing the script with co-workers and timing it exactly.
Depending on the client you may well start producing storyboards at the same time as the script in order to accompany them. Alternatively, some prefer to have the script signed off before they go ahead and get them produced. Either way, it’s a good idea to get them at some point.
Storyboards and mood boards really help in getting the look and feel of the TV commercial across. They also are essential in planning your shoot. As you research and develop the look you’ll realise what props and backgrounds you need. They’ll also help you plan out your shots and framing as you work out how much space is taken up by legals and on-screen graphics.
If you have time it’s also helpful to put together an animatic or pre-visualisation of the video either using the storyboards roughly animated or even stock footage. Combining this with a temporary voice over can really help you cement the timings of the video.
I’ve mentioned the term supers or legals a few times so I guess I should explain what I mean by that. Unlike when we produce a promotional video for use online, television commercials are overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority which is there to ensure that companies don’t make unsubstantiated claims or mislead TV audience members (either deliberately or accidentally). Therefore in order to claim, for example, that you’re the best service provider in the world, you’d better have a reputable source to back you up.
To make sure our TV commercials do actually make it onto TV, it’s essential to send the scripts to ClearCast. It’s their job to check the content of the script against the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising and advise us on any legal text we need to include (that’s the small writing at the bottom of the screen that says things like “not actual size” and “sequence shortened”). This process will add time onto the pre-production so it’s imperative that we accommodate it into our schedule. It’s also important to allow time extra time in case of changes to the script mean you have to send the script back to ClearCast for approval. Once the script has been signed off then you’re locked in and need to get on with the shoot.
Even though this comes next in the list, you’ll probably want to start scouting for locations, casting, crewing etc at the same time as sorting out the script. Locations especially could have a big impact on what shape your script takes so it’s good to have them in the back of your mind. Some shoots will be achievable in a studio, this gives you greater control over lighting, sound, backdrops etc but it means you may have to work harder to dress the set. A real location on the other hand gives you that sense of realism and authenticity but there are more variables to consider – it’s a less controllable space in terms of light, sound and availability. And if you need multiple locations it could end up getting quite expensive. We go in to more details on the pros and cons of studios or locations here.
Now comes the time to find the person, people or animals who will the face of the brand. Similarly to the location, the actors in the advert need to connect with your audience, either in terms of being relateable or aspirational. In our equity release DRTV commercial for example, the advert featured two 60-somethings in a suburban house as that was the target audience. The casting process begins with a casting call where we advertise for the roles either using an agency or website such as mandy.com. Here we’ll list the role, what we’re looking for in ideal candidates and the fee. Once we have our applications and have picked out the best suited then we can arrange to meet them in order to see and film them reading lines and work out which actors have the best chemistry on screen. Once we’ve picked our faves it’s then a case of working out schedules and getting them booked in.
As with our corporate productions, crew sizes really scale depending on the size of the production. I think the smallest crew we’ve worked with on a really simple studio shoot only included a producer, director, DoP, camera assistant and hair/make up artist. Most shoots however, will often have an art director to dress the scene as well plus a gaffer and a lighting assistant but it really varies. You might also need specialist roles such as for motion control filming or underwater filming but every project is different.
That should be all you need for the pre-production other than of course to send out call sheets to everyone. These are vital bits of paper that tell all the crew and cast where they need to be and when. It’ll list contact details, tell them how to get to the locations, transport links, emergency services and give a start and end time for everyone who will be there on the day. Once you’ve sent them out it’s time for the shoot.
Hopefully if you’ve done everything right then the shoot should be an absolute breeze. After all you’ve only got 60 seconds to film, we’ll probably be done by lunch right? Wrong.
As every second on screen counts, you really agonise over every frame of the TV commercial, every bit of background action or scenery. Every light gets moved 20 times and then put back to where it started.
Even though everything has been planned perfectly, film making is still a collaborative and creative process so you need to be open to ideas and small tweaks that could enhance the final product. Every crew and cast member brings something different to a production so it’s really important to listen to everyone’s ideas and work together to make the best TV commercial possible. And naturally you go into overtime but it really is worth the time and effort when you see it come together in the edit.
The edit of the TV commercial, like the shoot, should hopefully be fairly straight forward with no big surprises. You will of course have multiple takes of the same shot to pick from and many clients like to have different versions of the same advert for different times of the year – i.e. Christmas, Easter, Summer.
Every edit will need the graphics and legal text applied as well as the voice over and music if needed. We’ll need to check that all the text is within the title safe areas of the screen and that the supers are the correct size and distance from the edge. Of course if the advert features CGI or other specific effects then the editor will work with the effects artist the put the commercial together with all those other aspects.
When it comes to music, the cheapest and easiest option is often royalty free music however some clients prefer to get a track specifically composed for the commercial. This would have been going on during production with final tweaks made to it during the post-production of the commercial before being finalised and added on to the video.The final steps are to grade the advert and make sure that all the colours, blacks and whites are safe for broadcast and process the sound levels to make sure that they are in-keeping with TV regulations.
We’re so close now but there’s still just a couple more bits to do before the TV commercial will be ready to air. The first is to add clocks, black frames and 6 frames of silence to the beginning and end of the advert. This is essential for broadcasters like Adstream to cue the commercial ready for play.
The advert also needs to be sent over the ClearCast for final approval who will check that the final advert is the same as the script you initially submitted (and you haven’t snuck in any wild claims about how you’ll make who visits your website everyone a millionaire). With that signed off it’s finally ready to be uploaded to Adstream or Honeycomb or whichever ad management platform you’re using.
And that, in a nutshell is it. As you can see in this pretty speedy run down of what to expect during a TV commercial production there’s a lot to stay on top of. Plus we didn’t even account for the all the time spent in meetings, going and back and forth with the client and then a wild change of direction. With all that in mind you really need to have a great partner when it comes to producing TV commercials. One who is creative but also reliable and will keep the whole process running as smoothly as possible.
If you want to speak to Echo Video about a TV commercial then contact us now on 01273 911345 or drop us an email.