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10 Tips for Making a Low-Budget Commercial

Do you own a small business? Research shows that if you advertise it via facebook or other social media, video greatly increases the number of responses. You can, of course, hire a video production company to make a commercial. But you’ll save money—and probably have a lot more satisfaction—by doing it yourself. The following tips can help even a novice achieve solid results.

Tip 1. Decide what kind of commercial you want to make. Here are four proven options:

  • Straight pitch: You or your representative looks right into the camera and states the virtues of your product, store, or services. This may seem uncinematic, but Alfred Hitchcock used this “talking head” approach to sell many of his movies.
  • Voice-over pitch: Show clips of your product while you or another person narratives the scenes. Hint: Do not put into words what viewers can see. Rather, the narration should add hidden or behind-the-scenes information.
  • Testimonials: Interview a few satisfied customers. This is the easiest approach, but you do want people who are confidant when facing the camera. Good if you can get variety—male, female, young old.
  • Story: Create a short narrative in which one or a few characters have success using your product or services. Think of the famous 1984 Apple Commercial. This can be the most effective kind of commercial, but it’s also the most difficult to pull off.

Tip 2. Write a script. You don’t need fancy software. The easiest—and often most effective—approach is to make a shot list. Almost all movies are made of separate pieces of video. A shot is the video taken from the time you hit “Start” to when you hit “Stop.” Here, for example, is a shot list for a 30-second commercial for a hair salon.

Shot 1. Child with long, out-of-control hair enters the salon.

Shot 2. Close-up of scissors cutting the hair.

Shot 3. Close-up of hair on the floor.

Shot 4. Child looking in mirror at well-cut hair.

Shot 5. Text giving the name of the shop and contact info

If your commercial is going to include narration, write it out in simple, short sentences.

Tip 3. Cast your commercial. If it’s going to be you pitching to the camera, that’s easy. But if you’re going to feature staff members and/or customers, you need to choose the people and make sure they’re enthusiastic about the project.

Tip 4. Collect props and costumes. Often, you won’t need any, but it’s frustrating if your script calls for something and you don’t have it.

Tip 5. Location scout. This is easy if you’re shooting in your place of business. But sometimes, a script will require other places. For example, if you sell sporting equipment, you might want to show customers using the equipment at a playground.

Tip 6. Shoot the commercial. Inside, make sure the lighting is adequate. Outside, choose a place where you can avoid having people in the background interfere—e.g., by waving or making gestures. Professionals budget for crowd-control, but those working on limited budgets need to be creative. You might do this by shooting early on a weekend. Hint: Try to limit the amount of “takes” that you shoot. If you shoot too much video, editing becomes time consuming.

Tip 7. Edit your visuals. This means putting the shots into the best order—often not in the order you shoot. Then trimming so that each shot begins and ends where you want it.

Tip 8. Add titles if required. For example, in the haircutting commercial, you could insert a title card with the price. Or you could imitate old-fashioned movies and put in a card that represents what a character says. Adding titles is very easy to do. (Tutorial)

Tip 9. Add narration and music as required. To avoid problems, use copyright clear music. You can often find it free or at a very small cost.

Tip 10. Test your commercial. This step is often overlooked but it is extremely important. Show it to honest friends. Don’t ask if they like it. Rather, ask: “How can I improve this?” Write down everything they say even if you disagree. Then, later, look at the commercial while reviewing the comments. Is a scene too long? Too dark. Confusing? Make fixes as needed.





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