Directing the Training Video

Posted on: October 04, 2014 by Nettel Media

Category: General

Directing the Training Video

In our last blog we talked about training videos and online PSA’s. We recognized their relevance in today’s online world and what content and production aspects need to be considered when creating one. To get a deeper understanding of what it means to create a training video that deals with social issues and connects with an audience based on a specific curriculum, we interviewed our friend and colleague, Director Pierre Tetrault from Pierre Tetrault Media Inc. to get his perspective on what it means to direct a training video.


Pierre has worked with many non-profit organizations to create compelling training videos that not only fulfill a specific curriculum, but also tell a story linked to a specific social issue.


1) What are the main challenges a director faces when creating a training video of this kind?


PT: The most important challenge for the director is to understand and accept the wishes of the representative of the non-profit organization as to how they want the story to be told or how the training video content unfolds. This representative very often assumes the role of the producer of the project and can also be the writer, so they will have very clear ideas of how they want the material to be presented. So in this case, the director takes notes and attempts to capture the essences demanded to be extracted from within the interviews and wherever possible, add appropriate visual imagery (sometimes called "b roll") to support the content and maintain interest if there are a lot of "talking head" interviews.


If there are fictional or "simulated" situations being played out to illustrate various kinds of conflicts then the director must once again stick close to the writer's intent to achieve the desired results. It is appropriate for the director to offer changes or new directions to script and the shooting script if they occur to the director, but even here it is best to first ask the client or producer if they want or need the input.


I am going on at length about this as many directors of their own projects in film and documentary are very often in a position to create the "director's cut", that is, realizing their vision of the material as they see it. Very often when dealing with non-profit organizations, there are people assigned to the project who have spent many years contemplating various subjects and they can be seen as extremely knowledgeable in their fields.  The knowledge they are bringing to the project must be respected and then the challenge of the director is to make sure this knowledge has been captured coherently in the shooting.


In some cases the director is handed a script or an outline for a training video and the organization asks the director to come up with a final product with only occasional input from the organization. This is in some ways easier for directors who are used to shaping material themselves (like myself) but also has its own set of challenges. If the script or outline is vague in points or even confusing in the read for the director and the editor, then a lot of work and time goes into chasing down the client to ask exactly what this question means and how does it fit into their larger picture.


If deadlines are fast approaching this is also a time of great stress for all concerned depending on the size of the project and the time allotted from the start to complete it. Very often the organization is multi-tasking and fitting the training video into a number of parallel projects all with their own deadlines. It is most important for the director and the editor to be working as a close team in these circumstances trying to do the best for the client within the circumstances. In order to avoid misunderstandings it is also very important for the director and the editor to be very clear about what is possible within their schedules and at what date do they need certain feedback from the client in order to move forward and achieve the deadline. Most client organizations are very understanding about this and will adjust schedules accordingly. Those that don't and ask the impossible are rare and to be avoided.


2) How much do you need to know as a director about the research and curriculum that provide the content for a video and why is that important?


PT: It is of the utmost importance given adequate time to prepare that the director immerses her/himself in the research and curriculum that provide the content for a video. Many subjects of training/educational videos are extremely sensitive in nature such as child abuse, elder abuse, violence against women, unemployment amongst immigrants, poverty etc.


Any director must enter these discussions with some humility and learn to listen to those with first hand experience of these situations. It is actually the most important aspect of the director's work  - this preliminary research - as the facts themselves presented by the participants and the workers in the various areas will astound the director with the situation's complexity. This will lead the director into his/her appropriate role as the witness learning about very valuable material being presented and to be passed on as well as giving the director a visceral understanding of how important a certain aspect of a situation may be to the ones who have experienced or are experiencing it.


Again this research will allow the director to understand the client much better in terms of why they want to focus on this or that element within the situation. Very often in this kind of work it is most important for the director to know when to follow and when to lead the discussion. For the most part, we are listening and learning how to shape the material in video to reflect most accurately what the client wants to say - not what the director wants to say.


3) In what way does the creative input from the director help to better portray the issues that a training video needs to deal with?


PT: First and foremost, it is within the delicate exchange between the writer and the director that the director can influence how the story gets told. Very often I try to present the client with shooting scripts for the outline or the script they have presented -  how this written script can be transferred in form to the visual stream of the shooting.  It is in this process, that a rhythm and tempo can be suggested for the overall piece; suggestions as to how long the interviews should be; how they can be balanced with the insertion of supporting visual images; how voice overs can work etc. It is important to note if the client wants a simple, straightforward shoot of the event or symposium that what remains for the director to do is to make sure there is a variety of framing in the shooting - close ups, wide shots, slow zooms etc to make it interesting. Also something that continually gets overlooked by so many directors including myself is the sound capture. Every moment the creative recording team - director, cinematographer, sound operator - must be in contact staying informed about the sound quality. If there are any doubts, everything must stop while adjustments are made.


Each situation is different - each client has different needs in terms of their participation. As I have said it is most important for the director to make the accurate assessment of how much or how little creative input the client wants to contribute and to adjust accordingly and to remember that it is their story not the director's.


 October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We encourage you to view the PSA that was produced by Pierre Tetrault Media and shot, post-produced and subtitled by Nettel Media Inc. for DAWN Canada and Canadian Association for Community Living.


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