Insider Insights #3: Photography and Video

Neil Adams, Managing Director of Powerhouse photography studio explores the benefits of using photography in times of Covid-19.


[00:00:01] Okay. Thank you. Thanks, Grace. And hello, everyone. I hope you are well and safe. I’m just gonna go to… Grace, could you enable my screen sharing? Because I’ve got some slides that I want to kind of walk you guys directly please shout up if you’re feeling death by PowerPoint. I’m definitely not gonna try and do that. I’m going to kind of race through things. So I guess just while you’re doing that, Grace I’m conscious that when zoom time now that means f minutes because we’re all, you know, economising. So, yeah, so I’m, like Grace says I’m MD of powerhouse we’re a concept production company, so I’m actually going to be talking about content in general today from a video photography perspective of what’s possible. We established 20 years ago, we’re based in Leeds, but we service companies right across the UK and Europe. And even outside of that, to some degree, that is starting to happen more and more now with a lovely likes of digital technology. And is that is that working? Oh, yes, it’s working that way.

[00:01:14] I’ll go in and open that, just bear with me.

[00:01:21] So, Grace, would you just mind let me know, you can see that begins, I’ve now lost. Oh, great. Okay. Right. Okay, so yeah, let me get straight into it. So I was going to kind of cover today is basically what is possible given the current lockdown restrictions. And also, you know, it’s likely that things are going to immediately change and go back to normal even as they start easing restrictions. So we’re taking the view at the moment that this could be here for a long time to come, kind of go in six more. Still even a year out. So base, though, can you actually do when it comes to, you know, what kind of photography you can get, what kind of video content and shooting is possible? And then secondly, one of the things that is massive for a lot of brands and retails that we worked with at the moment is, you know, how can we be more efficient because we haven’t got the budget that we used to have and how can we get more out of our production investment? So the last part of that session is really just around that. And then we’ve got a little bit of time for Q&A at the end. And I’ve been told not to be offended if no one’s got any questions, maybe that means my job properly. And if you have maybe stick some questions in the chat box as we go in, then we can maybe consume at the end, but don’t feel obligated. So I guess the first thing to say to you guys is that everything I’m going to talk about today is only possible if it’s safe.

[00:02:50] We’ve implemented Covid safe policies right across the business, and I’ve got very strict guidelines when it comes to how we conduct shoots. So, you know, these are the obvious things like social distancing, minimising the amount a crew, the layout to the studios is all changed. Hygiene is clearly a massive thing and so on. So I think the thing to say is that we will not take on a job that we cannot do safely. So that is absolute categoric first thing. But assuming now that we can operate safely, what can you actually do now? And actually, quite a lot, quite honestly, you know, while work arounds for a lot of things. So when it comes to studio shoots, we’ve got tabletop shoots, product shoots, rooms that shoots all all very, very doable. And we are operating at the moment and carrying those out, you know, kind of no problem. I guess the big question mark is over anything that requires models. And there are some caveats around what we can do. You can still conduct model shoots, but clearly nobody’s allowed to go in and do a model’s hair and makeup. Nobody can go in and do the styling unless they happen to be isolating with them, which is highly unlikely. So what we’re finding now is agencies are promoting models that are capable of doing their own hair and makeup. Many models actually are hair and makeup artists as well. So that that kind of that kind of works.

[00:04:26] And also, I guess to be fair, a lot of models are investing a lot of time in perfecting this as well. And that, unfortunately means there are there is less choice around in some of the models you can utilise. But nevertheless, it is still a work around. And then when it comes to groups, the lifestyle settings will also finding that there’s a lot of models who are effectively isolating and living together, again as a way of being able to kind of work and put themselves forward as a bit of a lifestyle group. And then you’ve also got, well, genuine model families, if you’ve got great looking kids. My wife’s not around, so I’m not going to comment on that one at the moment. I guess one of the other things as well is that whilst we are operating within the studios, we are still operating from our homes as well. And that includes shooting. So our photographers are shooting a small tabletop items and so on, food shoots and so on can still operate out of their home. But I guess the big question mark for you or question for you guys is, yes, OK, we’re operating, we’re shooting. You want to art direct, that you want to come along and get involved in the shoot and clients want to come down and kind of approve the shots that we’re doing because at the end of the day, it’s your money. Then this is where live streaming kicks in. So right at the early start stages of this pandemic, we pivoted very, very quickly and looked at technology that could enable us to livestream basically the shoot as it takes place.

[00:06:04] So the way this happens is I mean, there’s a video that you can go into on a website that explains it all. But very briefly, you’ve effectively got two camera angles. One of them sees the view of the camera itself. So as you would see a video feed on a monitor, or if it was a still shoot, what the camera is capturing on the photographer’s screen. So you that’s that’s the that’s what you get ultimately. And then the second camera puts everything into context and we show a wider shot to show the whole set. And that’s where you can interact with a director or the photographer themselves. Because what we found that a lot of brands and retailers, whilst they are now allowing people back into the workplace, they’re not allowing them to trouble to supplier sites. They’re not allowing them to go on to photo shoots, et cetera. So, you know, this is working really, really well at the moment. We’ve already shot numerous shoots, we’re shooting today in exactly this way, video and photography. And it’s and it’s pretty seamless, actually takes a bit of getting used to in terms of a way of working, because it’s not quite the same as I’m sure you guys know, having a face-to-face conversation and having a web call, just some things are kind of lost in translation. But I actually feels that this has been you know, we’re seeing this as a real opportunity because as I as a Leeds-based production company, we’ve got clients in London and some of those clients are pretty lockdown, have been quite reluctant to some degree to come to Leeds and travel regardless of the fact that we can save them a lot of money because the costs are so low up here.

[00:07:53] But, of course, now kind of location is not a barrier anymore. So we’re actually finding that we’re shooting for one of the Unilever brands that are based in the Netherlands and they’re shooting with us now because they can’t they can’t go to a photography studio down the road anymore. So there may be opportunities for you guys with some your clients or if there’s client here today on this call, you know, to kind of think about, well, you don’t have to be in Leeds anymore. You know, if you need to. If you can utilise a production company anywhere in all honesty. Then location shoots. You’ve probably seen on the news, like the BBC are going to great lengths to show you a wide shot to show the presenter with his mic held at arm’s length and a cameraman away, etc., you know, say, hey, look, we’re capturing this with social distancing in mind that clearly, you know, we operate exactly on the same level. What’s been interesting is the Advertising Producers Association has now actually produced a set of guidelines for the industry, but we couldn’t wait for that to happen. So we introduced our own guidelines.

[00:09:07] And thankfully, you know, they pretty much mirror what’s been required of us. So, again, we’re more we’re more than happy and unable to go out on location. I guess, obviously, though, there are restrictions, we can’t travel outside of England currently. We can’t stay over in hotels either. So it does limit what we can do, but it’s still possible. And so I guess looking at what are the alternatives then, if we know if we can’t go out on a shoot, particularly what the alternative is overseas locations. So, you know, one as a fallback, of course, is something that I guess most people are familiar with now is, you know, movie magic of green screen where we can shoot in the studio and we can superimpose backgrounds. It’s clearly dependent on budget. I mean, there are budget ways of doing this, which we’ve carried out. It needs a rethinking. In some cases this is a creative approach and what is possible. But nevertheless, it is possible to kind of take you know, I kind of live action or still shots and superimpose them into different backgrounds. So that is an option. Another option is basically fake it till you make it. And I think is brilliant. I saw it post on LinkedIn the other day, what they’ve done is they’ve gone look at the location portfolio and look at how they could utilise UK locations to mimic overseas locations. So if I’ve given one here with an example of Hollywood.

[00:10:51] To be fair, this is something we’ve already been doing to date for many years because….

[00:11:00] I think we were shooting pre lockdown for Bertelli. We were using the Yorkshire house to mimic an outdoor scenery and try to recreate Tuscany because we can. We can completely change the lighting with the right angle and lighting. Then it’s me using what you can actually reproduce. Then what are the alternatives to actually shooting live action? I guess. One at one at one of the most cost-effective ways is to repurpose existing content and re-edit it. And again, there’s there’s a there’s an example on our website here at Booth’s where we’ve we’ve taken all of the content that we’ve shot for them over the course of the last year. And we’ve been able to recreate a new narrative effectively using those shots. But we’ve been able to shoot specific items, you know, said there’s less of there’s new products, etc., and we can shoot them in studio and interweave them into existing content. Clearly, it’s very cost effective as well! So that obviously is an option. And then you’ve got your more obvious routes, such as animation, motion, graphics, CGI, et cetera. But I got some here today to talk more around, you know, actual live action photography and video. And, you know, one of the other ways in which we can do this, and this is the only bit of motion I’ve got in my slides. So dependent on your streaming. I don’t know how good disappearing at the moment, but what this is doing is it’s taking existing motion footage and creating cinema graphs from them.

[00:12:38] And this isn’t something that’s unique to the current situations that we’re in at the moment. But nevertheless, it is an option for you guys.

[00:12:48] So that’s a very whistle-stop tool really through the options. And I totally appreciate I’ve not gone into loads of detail there at all. But, you know, if anybody who either wants to kind of go into more detail at the end or contact me separately, more than happy to do that. The other thing I wanted to talk about really is getting the most out of your production investment. We are finding that budgets are and have always been strained, to be fair. But in particular, at the moment, there’s a real emphasis on maximizing that production investment and being more efficient. So I guess the first thing really. And I guess this is this is a this is fundamental, really is we always start with a strategy first of all, I’m not going to explain this slide in detail at all. I’m using it really just to illustrate the point that if we don’t understand the audience who we are targeting with our content. And we don’t understand the of content that they are going to engage with, then we’ve got no chance of actually getting them to see the content. We’ve got no distribution strategy. Then nobody’s going to see our content and anything we actually do produce, which isn’t cheap to do. No matter how great the creative is, basically you’re going to get lost in a sea of content. So that’s the I guess the first the first point.

[00:14:28] Secondly, then the tends to be the tends to be one shoot that kind of stands out as a big production investment. And what we’re trying to do is maximise the amount of assets that we can get from that any one production. We’re trying to avoid spending a load of money on a single execution or campaign. We need to look at the way the business needs the wider asset usage that we we could look at so that we can get multiple uses outside out of that content. A good example of this is we’re actually, as we speak in the studios now where she was shooting for Morrison’s and each year we do the Christmas foods to order catalogue, always coming very early in the middle of summer….with loads of turkeys. And that basically contains hundreds of lifestyle images. So it’s a real big investment. And previously that was shot as a single execution. And then the needs of the business elsewhere were all split across different departments, production companies, different agencies. But we worked with all of those departments to look at who had similar needs basically. And what it boils down to is that if you look to advertising point of sale, PR and digital, actually they all needed to or they all could utilise assets from this one shoot. So we basically rolled everything into one shoot and actually drove production cost down by 70 percent.

[00:16:00] Now, clearly, that’s something that is a pretty pre-Covid situation, but I think now companies are looking more or more to drive those efficiencies. So, you know, let planning is the key, really, you know, early, early planning on content. One of the other things that we also look at is formats. So if we’re shooting a video, for example, we’re looking at multi versions shooting at the same time. So that’s different aspect ratios for Instagram, for Facebook, for YouTube, for digital, outdoor. I guess, you know, not only does that reduce costs overall, but, you know, we’ve seen a lot of increase of performance from creating content that is actually platform specific as well. And then finally, this is one, to be fair, that is something that’s come around from the current crisis, and that is the need to create multiple narratives for many shoots. So to give you an example. We are looking at shooting content for Boots at the moment at the supermarket for their Christmas campaigns. And what do we what do we pick – let’s say the creative route is, you know, you’ve got family and they’re all in during Christmas dinner together, etc – Well, is that actually going to be able to happen come Christmas? Because we might be still in lockdown. Are the grandparents dialing again by video link? And the problem is, is we don’t know yet.

[00:17:41] It’s too early. However, we have to start production now. We can’t wait and try and pivot and do it within weeks, you know? So what therefore, what we’re doing is we’re creating multiple narratives for those different scenarios so that we’ve got one where the family can come together and we’ve got one where they can’t, and we’re having to shoot those different with those different narratives in mind so that we can then pivot very, very quickly and change the messaging so that it’s appropriate to, in this scenario, what is going to be allowed come Christmas time. But I think also what we’ve all witnessed is a massive shift in consumer behavior in literally weeks. And so we’re trying to plan and think too far in advance is incredibly difficult in terms of understanding what that messaging is going to be. So I guess, you know, that’s another way of not wasting money. If we’re going to shoot, we do multiple scenarios and then we’ve got it in the bag. And then when it comes to post-production, you know, obviously we’re much nearer the timeline then of going live. And we can change things around. So I’ve just noticed the time. I’ve probably talked really quickly there, haven’t I? So I’ve actually done that in the record time of 17 minutes. So thank you, everybody. There’s my details on screen if anybody does want to contact me afterwards.

[00:19:12] And yeah, I’m kind of going to go to questions if there are any.

[00:19:25] Grace If nobody has any questions at the moment, you can also feel free to just let me know as well and I can pass those on to Neil.

[00:19:40] Grace Assuming no one has any questions. Thank you so much for joining us…

[00:19:45] Question Hi Grace, sorry, I’m renowned by my team to ask questions quite late in the day, so I’m bothering you guys with this as well. I did actually have three questions. I hope I’m not intruding on anybody’s time, if I could just fire them across, there might be kind of kind of wider detailed answers. Well, the nature of what we do in our organisation is a lot of talking head videos, a lot of kind of lead generation content and talked about research that we create. And one of the challenges we’re having at the moment is having to depend on stakeholders in the business to kind of take that footage themselves. And you kind of alluded to, you know, getting better quality out there is trying to give them the gear and the set up just to have that, because we are really heavily dependent on them shooting on cameras or laptops and so on and so forth. So we are we are actually comfortable and sharing that kind of content because in our environment, it’s mostly social. It’s mostly online. And people are comfortable with seeing videos like this now, with the norm of Covid, so to speak. My challenges is, do we also fight to be experimental with regards to b-roll footage? Because one of the one of the issues we have in the team is we normally would use b-roll footage for video and you could kind of not see the scene. So, you know, the quality of the b-roll footage doesn’t feel too “stocky” in comparison to, let’s say, a talking head video when they’re in an office setting or a corporate setting, and then you have some cityscapes shot to cut away to. However, if we do that now, it does feel a bit jarred in comparison to the quality of the video that’s coming out. Is this something that we should just totally dismiss or is there any tricks to try and have these b-roll footage? Is it something that we should be contacting the stakeholders to try and do and be a little bit more creative with.

[00:21:50] I guess you know in the early stages of Covid, we’re in exactly the same situation and, you know, we’ve been shooting for M&S and as we were doing recipe videos with Chris, and then suddenly he’s shooting it now on his phone because he’s having to self-isolate. So that’s absolutely not an option anymore. You’re right: you know, it’s kind of galling to some degree for me, you know, because the performance of those videos are doing really well. How long that’s going to last for, and at what point in future the customer goes, “hang on a minute, that’s a bit amateur now”, we don’t know, obviously, but hey, make hay while the sun shines, I guess. But yeah, I guess there’s a couple of options. One involves a lot of post-production for every skilled editor to seamlessly match in the b-roll footage, be maybe more selective over the b-roll footage. You know, in terms of trying to ensure that the grade is the same, so the colour profile is the same. I guess I guess, you know that there’s quite a bit in the planning format that’s required and the skill set from the editor at the end. But it feels.

[00:23:01] Feels like it’s a difficult way round it.

[00:23:06] That’s not, I would suggest the best solution. I think what we’re finding now is that the talking heads we’re able to do unless that person is literally self-isolating so nobody can go near them. And, you know, we’re utilising local crews and we’re directing them remotely. So we’re having to do a shoot down in Bangor and we’re filming a professor. It’s not for you guys is it, I’m not too sure. So apologies if it is for you already.

[00:23:36] Yes, so. And the reason for that is because we’re cutting it into existing footage, and with the best will in the world, we’ve spoken to this professor. He’s not going to be technically proficient to film himself to any degree because he couldn’t actually get the webcam technology to work on Zoom.

[00:23:59] So sending him equipment is a no no. And actually, you know, it was it’s ended up being a cinch, really, to just send a crew along to shoot and retract again. And therefore, we know that footage is going to fit with we’d b-roll all existing footage.

[00:24:18] That does not help it, does it?

[00:24:21] Question It kind of leads into my second question a little bit where you touched upon right at the beginning, which is about the safety steps, your organisation is taking to capture the footage. And we’re seeing a lot of trend on this with a lot of TV production series and so on and so forth, making a clear statement that they have considered Covid. All of this was shot before the number one. Yeah. Is that something that you guys are doing now? So, I mean, a lot of our content is more of the current and the now. But we haven’t really, unless it’s obvious, and you’re seeing somebody’s very colorful curtains in the background. And, you know, we haven’t really done the talking the video itself. Are you having to make a quick kind of disclaimer of such on these videos when you’re sharing? Or is that something that you guys have considered to do where you say, you know, this was shot with Covid safety in mind?

[00:25:17] Yeah. It’s like it’s like no animals were injured in this in the making of this advert, isn’t it? You know, it’s it’s a really interesting point, and honestly, no we haven’t. I mean, what we have done is we’ve set up a Covid hub on our website. Yeah. We’ve got very clear Covid policies that we send out to all of our clients before we engage the process we have in place, now, for every single project that comes in, the first stage of the project is can we produce it Covid-safe if we can’t? Well, sorry, we can’t do it or we need to change something. So that’s an absolute clear policy. But it’s an interesting point. And I’ve actually not seen any content out there that says, “oh, by the way everybody, we did this Covid-safe”.

[00:26:02] I think what is people are doing is to quickly go into the wide shot and show him the camera, and emphasise “look, we’re safe. We’re going the distance here.” But I guess either or, but that’s an interesting point. Yeah, I’ve certainly not had any backlash from the that we have produced so far to put it one way.

[00:26:23] Question That’s brilliant. And my third question and forgive me Grace, I’m gonna get my money’s worth from this free session, was around…so we have a capacity of taking video on in the team, but then we use amazing outsourcing organisations like agencies, like yourselves and everybody, the majority of people on this call to be honest with you, where we’re asking for bigger production stuff, which is we don’t have the capacity to do. Are you alluded to time being one of the key factors? Is that, are we still alright to kind of set those expectations that we would normally doing in the normal times around production and video? Because you’re talking about some of the outfits that you guys are having to kind of factor the logistics around. What we were in a way of doing is making those requests now to agencies thinking that they’re going to have a challenge anyway, and what we’re going to get is probably a diluted version of what we would have got with a normal time factor to involve. Or should we be just be clients and crank on the pressure in briefing you guys and setting our expectations. What’s the margin? Does it need to have a bit of thinking?

[00:27:40] Yeah, it’s really interesting that one, because, you know, we were doing a shoot and I’m not gonna mention the client and we’ve got livestream technology.

[00:27:52] So they’re all dialling in. So we’ve got different people from all over the country all dialling in together. So you can get everybody knows this is going to be a challenge, isn’t it? This is gonna be slightly difficult. But at the end of the day, the clients like, you know what? They’re not going to take the excuse that things aren’t working quite right because they’re paying for it and they want it right. And they’re not actually that compromising when it comes to it. And I think really I think you guys have got to come in with “this is what we want, and we need to set our budgets and these are our expectations”.

[00:28:27] And it that then to come back and not just go: “yes, yes, fine, we’ll make it happen, when clearly we’re thinking behind the scenes, there’s no way that’s gonna happen”. You know, and that goes with regard to any relationship. I think we just got to be very brutally honest about what is possible. And in some cases, what we’ve had to do with some clients who say, look, we’re going to after what in an extra day’s production here as a contingency because we can foresee the issues. I think one of one of the fortunate things with ourselves is that was as a content production company.

[00:29:06] And therefore, we’ve got we’ve got the last four weeks where we’ve been shooting out of the studio safely. But we’ve got plenty of projects under our belts, which we’ve learnt from. So we already now know what is possible and what isn’t. So I guess I would say to you guys, you know, look, you know, I guess be mindful of fact that there are going to be some challenges here, but try not to let it impact your, you know, your creative thinking and your freedom and your ideas, if anything what I would say is get an early calling with those on consultation at concept stage so that we can very, very quickly say right, if you’re going down that route, let’s think about production here and what is possible rather than it going all the distance to the client, the client loves it, signs it off, then it comes to us and we go “I don’t think we can do that”. Or you can, but it’s going to cost probably double what you were expecting.

[00:30:08] No. Brilliant. Thank you. Thank you both for answering those questions. It’s very helpful for us to kind of take away and mull over really. Yeah. Thank you.

[00:30:19] Yeah, I guess, look, every project’s different.

[00:30:22] And please, please, just use us, you know. I mean, many, many people that we work with, a lot of the creative ideas never make it fruition, they don’t come off. You know, it’s a pitch situation and we didn’t win it, you know. I mean, that’s the game we’re in, unfortunately. And I think what we tried to do is work in partnership with people, with guys like you guys. So, you know, we have to take the rough with the smooth. So please don’t think, oh, my God, we’re burdening these people with all of these questions and queries. And it might never happen. And we would much rather get involved the early stages and advise on production because that’s our expertise.

[00:31:03] Yeah. You know, it’s just a much better way working.

[00:31:08] That’s great. Thank you so much, Neal.

[00:31:36] Thank you so much for your time. And thank you everybody else for joining. I will try once we have made this session available on our Web site.