How to make a TV Commercial, the whole process

In Insight, TV Advertising by danny

Making TV ads can’t be much different to making any other type of promotional video that you’d just stick online, right? We go through the usual stages of development, and then get stuck in with production. But instead of just putting it on the web when it’s done, we send it off to TV land.

Wrong. Oh so wrong.

TV (before the internet) was the top dog in promotional platforms. When you’re sat watching Corrie and an advert comes on, the likelihood is that you’ll watch it and take in at least some of the information, even if you’re not conscious of doing it. Because of that, we have to be incredibly careful of the claims we make in adverts. Not to mention the colours have to be graded a certain way and it has to go through various stages of approval, and……well, basically, there’s TONS to think about. It’s easy to be caught off guard.

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Our first TV advert back in the day was for a company called Coral Windows, a massive window/door/conservatory company here in Yorkshire. We’re currently in the middle of a new bunch of ads for the very same client – loyalty in this business is everything. The first ad was a learning curve, giving us a nice wealth of experience for future projects. However, with each new project comes new challenges.

The basic principles of the production process are the same as any video project. We meet with the client, in this case Coral Windows. Either they have an idea in mind of what they want and they just want you to visualise for them, or we put together something from scratch and wow them with our incredible tenacity and creativity…as any video production company should. In this case, we had a number of different ad projects to be getting on with for the same client, including updating some existing ads and working with new concepts – so many adverts…so little time.

The beginning.

It’s good to work backwards; If the ad is airing on this date, then it needs to be sent off to TV land on this date. Which means that it has to go through clearing on this date…so it needs to be shot on this date, which means we have to have a concept agreed with the client by…3 weeks ago. Where there’s Red Bull fuelled all-nighters, there’s a way.

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A project of this size takes time and patience – the extra weeks should be added to the schedule before hand to allow some leeway. The likelihood is that, as the client, you’ll want your advert aired at a particular time and will have payed for that airing space, so this is when a strict deadline comes into play. In our case, the first ad has a Christmas deadline – but in real terms, that means it has to be tied up and sent off way before. No longer is there a safety net of “Sorry, these new late edits you requested will take us over the original deadline, we’ll have it to you by Friday” – there may be a bit of flexibility with other video projects, but unfortunately the TV gods can’t wait.

Pre-Production.

Given this rock solid end date, it’s important to keep on top of every factor of pre-production. We get a concept sent off to you early on and keep in constant contact. As the client, can decide that you don’t like something at any point during the production process – we want to have hashed out every detail with you before we get to shooting to minimise this risk. The earlier everyone involved has agreed on the direction of the advert, the more time we have to faff about with the mistakes and poor planning choices that we’ll inevitably make later on.

Working on the script.

Once the overall arc of the advert has been settled on, it’s time for scripting. However, we always keep in mind at this point that some foresight will be come in handy. We start looking at locations. We begin the hunt for our cast. If the ad is mainly motion graphics, we start to think about the design of it. There’s no such thing as being too prepared – it’ll give us more time to bounce back when the location falls through later on, or our main cast member turns up still reeling from the night before (something that has unfortunately happened to us – you just can’t get the people these days). Mingling all this in with the scripting process is beneficial, and it helps us to avoid scrambling around in the coming weeks. A good script is nothing if you haven’t got the tools to shoot it.

Now, we get the script sent off to you and meet with you if possible – finding a date for this may prove difficult if we’ve both got busy schedules, but you’ll often get much more from an around-the-table discussion than the odd email here and there. Video chatting, though slightly awkward and painful if you’ve got a bad connection, is also a great way to touch base. It’s somewhere between settling on a concept and moving forward with a finished script that we find the advert changes the most. What we thought was a done deal has turned into another week of switching things around. But this isn’t a setback – if anything, the advert just got better, and now you’re truly happy with it. It’s better that these changes happen at this point in the process than sometime after shooting – after all, it would be time consuming to photoshop a rapping CGI dog into the coffee shop scene at the clients request when we could have just used green screen from the very beginning. But we’d advise against using a rapping CGI dog in anything…ever.

By getting in touch with Coral Windows in good time and talking things through with them, we made the decision that the advert we wanted to shoot before Christmas would have to wait until new year – it required location changes, the use of animals and green screen. It’s good to bear in mind that if you want an advert on the air in time for Christmas or the boxing day sales, then approaching a video production company on the 1st December is a little bit too late – ideally, planning should start in October, especially if it’s a big on-set shoot. Although we’d had a good amount of time to plan the advert we were going to do for Christmas, the client was worried about finding a suitable location for us as it would have to be the home of one of their customers, so we pushed the whole thing back to next year – giving us a wider window to alter the existing adverts. We designed a new set of grahics-based high-tech screens, a la Minority Report, for the adverts we’d already done for them.

However, we still have to settle on a new script to match the changes to the advert for a new voice over to added on top. Whether we’re filming anything new or just making changes to something old, the script must be sent off to Clearcast – they’re the people that read through the script and decide if what we’re saying is allowed on TV. If we say there’s 50 % off, we have to be specific on which products. If we claim that you’re the number 1 window company in Yorkshire, we have to provide proof that you live up to that title. This process can go back and forth, and it usually takes somewhere between 2 – 7 days to get a response from them. So, if we send the script out to them 3 times, that’s potentially, though not necessarily, 21 days added onto our pre-production schedule. Now we’re getting into scary numbers. That ad that we all thought would be turned around in 3 weeks has now turned into a month and a half. But, we try not to panic – this feeling of paralysing fear and impending doom is the reason we got into this business.

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Currently, we’re waiting for Clearcast to get back to us about the script. This is where our current journey halts for the time being until we hear from them. The advert itself has been edited and (mostly) okay’d by the client, but the script has be signed off by Clearcast before we can add the voiceover. This is the part that is perhaps the most uncomfortable. We’ve done everything you can do up until this point – it’s a similar feeling to thinking you’ve been caught by a speed camera and waiting for a fine to come through the post. But, for arguments sake, lets go through the whole process as if we are doing fresh filming for the advert.

Filming.

So, we’ve had the script back and everything is a-okay. It’s time to shoot the thing. This is the part that shouldn’t catch us off guard – there’s no special shooting requirements here, it’s pretty much the same as any other video shoot. We’ve secured the location, kit and crew, sent out the call sheets, had our last minute panic attack over some little problem or other, and now we’re ready to go. This is the bit we love to do, and it’s often the shortest part of the whole process. At the end of a long day that ran over by 4 hours, we back the rushes up and go to bed, happy that all went well.

Now we’re into editing. This process often takes a little longer than expected, There’ll be a lot of back and forth with you, as is the right of any client – this has to be perfect, and we’re here to ensure that that’s the case. In the case of Coral Windows, it’s always fairly straight forward. The client knows what they want, and we don’t tend to feel like we’re drowning in last minute changes. Here come the finicky little hoops we have to jump through to get the ad on TV. There are things called supers which are little asterisked clarifications that you see on adverts that often say things like “50% off *on selected ranges*”. The words have to be on screen for a certain amount of time so that the viewing audience can read them (the minimum amount being 0.2 seconds per word, a number that increases with the amount of words that appear on screen) and they also have to be a minimum height otherwise they’re impossible to read and you may be accused of misleading viewers. Any information and important action has to be displayed within a certain frame on the screen – in the action safe area and title safe area. If you live in the dark ages and still have a mildly square shaped TV, this set of precautions still survives because of you. We may shoot things in wide screen these days, but that doesn’t mean everyone has caught up.

Post-production.

Now we’re onto colour grading – this can make all the difference between something that looks like it’s been shot on a 2nd generation iPhone vs the new Star Wars movie. According to legal broadcasting standards, the blacks and whites in the commercial have to adhere to a certain legal limit (without getting too technical here). Anything above or below these legal limits, and there’ll be a loss of detail in the image. It isn’t always about making the thing look pretty – as with every step of this lengthy process, there are strict guidelines to adhere to. One more trip through Clearcast to make sure the script matches with what we’re putting on TV, and we’re almost ready…

One last thing. We’re required to add a clock to the beginning of the advert that counts down from 30 for scheduling reasons. During these 30 seconds, there must be 3 seconds of a black screen before the advert starts. Then, there has to be 12 frames of silence when the visual starts, and 12 frames of silence at the end but again, there is still a visual to accompany it. This sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is, and is one of the easiest parts of the whole process.

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Delivering the advert to the TV channel.

Finally – and I mean FINALLY, the advert is ready to go. It gets uploaded to Adstream (or another similar company), an online platform designed to facilitate the airing of adverts, we tick the necessary boxes, and it’s on it’s way. We can all relax now. Perhaps get some sleep and take that long, LONG overdue shower. Then we can watch our real life TV advert play to thousands of people, safe in the knowledge that not a single one of them realises the effort that was involved in making it, or that we actually made it at all.

TV ads are all about tight schedules and deadlines, late nights and constant people chasing, but there’s nothing more rewarding than basking in the end product. It takes push and pull from us and the client to get the thing to where it needs to be, this is why developing a comfortable working relationship between the two is essential. We’re here for you when you call us at 10pm panicking over tomorrow’s shoot, as long as you’re there for us when the clearance process is taking longer than expected. Seeing the finished ad airing on TV is well worth the blood, sweat and tears that we all put into making it – and believe it or not, everyone will be laughing about it once their hair has grown back.

To find out more our TV commercial production services and what we could do for your business CLICK HERE.