The following is a guest post from our friend Andrew Follett over at Demo Duck.
In July, my company went on a 4 day retreat to Vancouver, a modern city at what feels like the edge of civilization. While there, we took part in a growing phenomenon known as escape rooms. An escape room is essentially that – you and your friends get locked in a room and have to find your way out in 60 minutes or less by solving puzzles. Usually each room has a theme ranging from scary (like Abandoned Dormitory) to suspenseful (Nuclear Crisis). In our case, we opted for Prison Detective, and after a short briefing, we were set loose to find our way out.
I’ll let you know how we fared in a little bit, but what does all of this have to do with video? After reflecting on our escape room experience, it became apparent that it’s a lot like producing a video – they’re both all about teamwork. Here are 5 things I learned about producing video from my night in an escape room.
1. Know your objective
When we arrived at the escape room, I knew next to nothing about what would happen next, how it would work, or even what the end goal was (although I had an inkling). This is similar to how most people feel when creating their first video. It’s a new experience in uncharted territory. However, I quickly learned the only 2 things that really mattered: the objective (get out of the room in 60 minutes or less) and the process (solve puzzles).
When it comes to video, knowing your objective is priority uno. If you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish with the video, you’re setting yourself up for failure. And it’s not enough for just you to know, you need the rest of your team to be on board too. So, before you even begin a new video project, make sure you, and everyone involved, are on the same page about why you’re producing the video and what success will look like.
It’s also not a bad idea to understand how the process will work so you’re aware of what’s coming and when. Having a grasp on the steps of production can help you anticipate what will be needed from you and your team, and set proper expectations as you move along.
During our first few minutes in the escape room, we quickly learned that everyone was going to need to play a part for us to be successful. There were clues, books, puzzles, and things to inspect in almost every corner. In addition to splitting up and methodically searching the room, we found that each of us had a role to play. Some were good with logic, others with numbers, and still others with encouragement and keeping things on track.
Producing a video, more often than not, is a team effort requiring all of these things, plus a sprinkling of scheduling, coordination, feedback, give and take, and more. In addition to being clear on the objective and process, it’s key that everyone have a well defined role in the project. This is true for both the customer and the studio. The customer should elect a point person, or project manager, as well as a small (ideally 3 or less) group of decision makers. The studio will often have a director, project manager, writer, designer, editor, and so on. With so many people in the mix, it’s imperative to stick to your roles and know when you should and shouldn’t be involved.
3. Pay attention to details
While in the escape room an eye for detail is a must. Seemingly inane markings or clues end up making the difference between success and failure. The same is true for video. From each word in the script, to the inflection in the voice over, to the design of a character, every detail counts and makes a difference in the final product.
With some projects spanning several months, being diligent about details is no easy task. That’s why it’s important to have set deliverables and scheduled reviews. A scheduled review lets you and your team focus on one deliverable (e.g. script) at a time, instead of trying to do it all at once. It’s also important to consolidate feedback and use a system that will ensure nothing slips through the cracks.
4. Try everything
At a certain point, with the clock ticking ever closer to zero, we realized we needed to start trying anything and everything. At one point I was touching every corner of every picture frame in the room just to see if it would open some mysterious door.
While I don’t suggest you go to quite this extreme with video, there are certain times when just trying something is not a bad strategy. Sometimes we get stuck when working on a video. Maybe it’s a line in the script that just doesn’t feel right, or a character design that no one seems to come to a consensus on, or maybe it’s a soundtrack for the video. Whatever it is, eventually you just need to try something and assess the result. We’ve found that sometimes people need to see options to be able to decide what they do or don’t like.
5. Celebrate and debrief when it’s over
Unfortunately, the time ran out just a few puzzles and one door before making it out. We were close, but became just one of the 86% of teams to fail the room. When our night was over, we had a few drinks and talked over what we could have done differently.
Fortunately for most video projects, there’s no red timer counting down in the corner. But with the wrap of any video, a proper celebration and debrief is in order. Everyone likely worked hard on the project and deserves some credit and appreciation for making it a success. A debrief can be extremely helpful for determining how to improve the process and experience the next time around. Scheduling a debrief shortly after the project ends ensures the experience is fresh and makes for a productive meeting. We often come up with plenty of new ideas and improvements, and they get us excited to start working on the next video.
If you find yourself in Vancouver, or elsewhere in the world, give an escape room a try. It’s a unique, challenging way to spend an hour, and you may even learn a thing or two about video along the way!
Andrew Follett is the Founder at Demo Duck and Video Brewery, where he makes video content for business. While not trapped in an escape room, he lives in Chicago with his wife and 2 kids. You can find more video tips and tricks on his company blog or follow him on Twitter at @demoduckvideo.