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I’ve been hearing disturbing stories about video production companies sending camera operators out on shoots – without a Director!

They tell the client they only need a camera operator / director, and that the expense of a director isn’t necessary.

I couldn’t think of anything more shortsighted.

And yet clients are as guilty as the video companies making the suggestion.

Consider this scenario:

You’re a young video company, with a relatively thin portfolio, and a desperate need to keep working – or go bust.

So you meet a client, and all is well. They like your style, and want to pick you.

Then they start to screw you on price.

Sound familiar?

Your knees buckle, and you give way.

“Yes, Ms Client, we can save you a few hundred pounds by using our expert camera op / director.

He’s so good you won’t need a separate video director – we do it all the time.”

This is the slippery slope.

Let me tell you why.

A video director provides essential components for a shoot.

Without these essential components you run the risk of delivering mediocre footage that won’t quite live up to expectations.

Here are some of the concrete deliverables a director supplies:

First, let’s understand that the director is responsible for the content of the picture.

The director also has to organise all the locations, props, extras and whatever, to stay ahead.

The camera op is responsible for the image quality (eg angle, lens, positioning, lights, etc)

A director has been briefed to understand the script, storyboard, and business purpose of the video. Often the director will have written the script.

By contrast, a camera op already has enough to do without adding extra bricks into their pack.

Sure, a smart camera operator can get a lot of things right, especially if the shoot isn’t too rushed.

But I also know that camera ops skimp or cut corners if left undirected.

Often they don’t even realise they’re doing it.

Also consider that the opportunities for error on a shoot are compounded by the fact that filming is hard work.

It’s quite common for director or camera op to have an energy gap for part of a day.

We not talking about taking a nap – just a slight loss of creative edge for half an hour or so.

Normally a director and camera op will buddy-buddy each other through this, each helping out the other to stay creatively sharp as a crew.

But if there’s only the camera op, and the shoot has to proceed at a brisk pace to get completed. And if the camera op has enough to do looking after the filming, then it’s only a matter of time before something goes wrong.

Not necessarily dead wrong.

But wrong enough to deliver mediocrity.

And mediocrity is a completely self-defeating objective in an industry where a high quality portfolio is everything.

The fact is that many clients don’t know the full story.

They think they’re saving money, and getting more, by haggling over price (especially by playing video production companies off against each other)

The video company is desperate to win, and will say anything.

So the shoot doesn’t get a director.

Route 1 to savings.

And Route 1 to mediocrity.

There are exceptions to this rule.

> If the shoot isn’t rushed, and there’s plenty of time

> There are no cast or clients to film

> If only “general footage” (whatever that is) is required.

(Here’s an example of general footage, where an expert camera op didn’t need a director’s services, where there was plenty of time, when filming a marketing video in China )

> if it’s not necessary for the camera op to understand why the video is being made, and what measurable business objective it’s supposed to achieve.

Generally, I’d suggest that it’s the wiser move to use a video director and produce a video that wins hands down for the client.

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