How To Make A Commercial, Fast!

Brandon Peterson films a medical TV commercial on a gurney.
You’ve got to be able to work fast in video production, no matter the project. Here’s how to conceptualize, produce, and edit a commercial fast.
Medical TV commercial production filming in an ice rink.
The team at ECG Productions observes Brandon Peterson set up a shot for a medical TV commercial production.

Working as a creative in the fast-paced world of commercial production means moving quickly, moving efficiently. You can’t just be nimble-minded. You also have to be adaptive and decisive. If you have an idea, explore it; if that idea falls flat, you better be ready to redirect, and fast!

When a beloved client asks if you can concept out, produce, and edit a kick-ass, creative tv spot in less than a month, what do you say? If the answer is anything less than a resounding “DAMN STRAIGHT, WE CAN,” then you’re in the wrong business.

Making an amazing commercial is tough. Making a memorable, brand-defining spot in little to no time requires well-honed skills married with a calculated approach. It’s not impossible, but it’s always an endeavor that makes for a good story.

This is one of those stories.

Prologue: The Importance of Building Relationships

In the commercial production game, as in all business, relationships are everything. Separating yourself from the pack requires more than a knack for great visuals and cutting edge creative. Don’t get me wrong: those are vital to any video production agency. However, even the savviest team will inevitably fall flat if they can’t develop meaningful and lasting relationships with clients.

Our story hinges on our great relationship with Resurgens Orthopaedics, Georgia’s largest provider of orthopaedic care. Though we’ve only worked with Resurgens for a little over a year, our relationship has blossomed into something great. From exciting days on set, to late nights of back-and-forth emails, to getting together to just shoot the shit, we’ve been through it all with Resurgens. Because we work tirelessly for our clients, we’ve fostered a steadfast relationship that we both enjoy and prosper from.

Establishing ourselves as a great video production agency won their business; but displaying our tenacity and aplomb won their trust. And with their trust, we won the chance to work on an awesome commercial.

If you only take one thing away from this post, let it be this: never underestimate the importance of building a relationship on hard work, reliability, and trust. It goes without saying, but these connections will do wonders for any business, not just commercial production.

But, I digress…

Step 1: Thorough, Brutal Creative Development

From the jump, the client made it clear how important this spot was to them. Not only did this tv commercial need to expand the Resurgens Orthopaedics brand, it needed to be super polished, as it was scheduled to air over 60 times during the 2018 Winter Olympics. That’s a lot of air time!

So, as soon as Resurgens Orthopaedics greenlit this commercial, we dove head-first into creative development. Working in concert with Resurgens’ agency of record, Brain Bytes Creative, we spent hours deliberating on ideas. And over the Winter Holidays, no less.

While this step in the commercial making process is exciting, it’s also taxing. At first, every concept you conjure seems like a spark of brilliance. But then, once the entire team offers their invaluable perspective, the spark fizzles and fades. Over and over, like flint striking tinder but failing to ignite a fire, your concepts fall short. You’ll get so close, crafting an idea that seems perfect for this tv commercial. Yet even this concept isn’t right, and you have to scrap the entire idea.

It’s exhausting work, killing your darlings.

Over the course of a few weeks—and more meetings, calls, and late night emails than I care to recall—we worked tirelessly to create the perfect concept. Often times that meant we had to be brutally honest with one another. We’d shoot down ideas that were good but not great without batting an eye. Then we’d take that good idea, rework it, and reconsider it. Though it took some time, the brutal honesty and constructive criticism of ideas led to an awesome concept that our team loved.

Step 2: Efficient Pre-Production

Getting our creative concept in order was only a quarter of the battle. Next came pre-production and logistics coordination for our shoot days, which is never a small task. Luckily, we had a great plan in place execute our complex concept with ease.

Rely on seasoned production veterans

Ensuring that everything on your pre-pro checklist gets checked off quickly is easy: surround yourself with professionals who’ve been there and done that. Our pre-production team, led by our lead producer Mary Winter, did just that. For our team, getting a great production together in no time flat is second nature. Knowing the exact steps to securing all your production needs makes even a quick turnaround pre-production more of a dance and less of a scramble. And you can’t put a price tag on experience.

Use great pre-visualization tools, like Animatics

Running a production that’s on a tight deadline means there’s no room for discrepancy between your vision and the client’s. As such, it’s beyond important to make sure you’re on the same page. Storyboarding is a great way to solidify your unity of direction. However, taking it a step further and creating an animatic is the ultimate pre-visualization tool. As soon as Resurgens saw our animatic, they knew without a doubt that we had the exact images we needed.

Use a trusted casting agency

When you’re making a tv spot with a tight turnaround, a trusted casting agency is your best friend. It is cheaper to cast actors yourself, but that’s just another task added to your pre-production plate. Casting agencies aren’t all created equal, but the good ones are a godsend. In a case like this, only use a casting agency that you’ve worked with before and that you know can deliver. With that knowledge safe in your back pocket, you’re on your way to a great production.

Step 3: Have A Dedicated Production Team

A man helps spot another man bench pressing while a camera operator films the weight lifter from above.
Our camera op gets the shot no matter what.

We shot Resurgens Orthopaedics’ commercial over the course of 4 days at 5 different locations. These shoot days were far from easy. Our team braved the chill of a midwinter pre-dawn, schlepped gear through a busy gym, and push-broomed salt from icy roads all for this shoot. We traveled all over the Metro Atlanta area, shooting in brief but intense spurts. We had to push a day due to winter weather, and we had to do some on-the-fly props sourcing. In short: we faced an abnormal and intense production schedule, and overcame the odds.

At Entertainment Creative Group, we’re lucky to have a full team of on-staff production professionals. When you work together every day you build rapport. And when you have a strong professional rapport, you’ll grind to get that big, important team win. We were lucky to have this team-first dedication ingrained in our squad from the start.

If you’re producing a tv commercial on the fly without a pre-set team, however, then it’s best to be upfront with the demanding nature of the project. Tell your crew what they’re getting into. There’ll be long hours and a need for flexibility. Not everyone will be on board with such a demanding commitment. However, the crew who signs on will truly be all-in.

Step 4: Set Yourself Up For Post-Production Success

While shooting this tv commercial was a challenge, running it through post-production seemed like a daunting impossibility. We had a week to shoot the commercial but less than 24 hours to turn around a cut once we wrapped. Sounds crazy, right? Perhaps it would be, if we hadn’t already thought ahead.

Production is just on-the-fly problem solving, and part of that means thinking 3 steps ahead. As such, we devised the plan to run post-production in joint with production. After each day’s shoot, our editor would lay in the footage we captured that day using our animatic as a guide. Piece by piece we laid footage in, creating a working assembly before we’d even finished production. It set us up for great success in our short post-production timeline.

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Production is just on-the-fly problem solving, and part of that means thinking 3 steps ahead.'” quote=”‘Production is just on-the-fly problem solving, and part of that means thinking 3 steps ahead.'”]

That being said, our post-production push was still an intense one. Working in tandem, our editor Kelsey Merriam, sound designer Joe DiCosola, and colorist Jenn Lee worked into the wee hours of the morning to put the finishing touches on this tv spot. Their dedication & sacrifice were well-worth it, as the commercial turned out better than we hoped!

See for yourself:

To Make A Long Article Short

In the end, the keys to quickly making a commercial are:

  • Well thought-out creative
  • Streamlining pre-production efficiency using great tools
  • A kick-ass, reliable, dedicated team of production professionals
  • An achievable and creative approach to post-production

So whether it’s a video production agency like us here at ECG or a coalition of freelancers, following these steps will set you up for success. I can’t guarantee that you’ll have as much fun without us on set, but I have faith you’ll get great results!

3 Responses

  1. Thanks for these tips for making a commercial. I’m glad you mentioned in the article that you should have a good pre-plan production and get help from those who are use to it. It seems like a great way to not only speed up the process but also identify potential problems early on.

  2. Hey Taylor! Thanks for the kind words. You’re totally right, of course: pre-production is so, so key to a successful shoot. Having a great team is awesome, and having an experienced team is even better.

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