G-Dragon in Fantastic Baby, Bigbang. Photo credit: YG Official.

I was going to write a retirement article but I started watching K-Pop on YouTube instead

And it got me thinking about many, many things.

You see, I enjoy K-Pop but not like normal people are supposed to enjoy it. While the actual music is sometimes interesting, I watch K-Pop videos because most of them are exceptionally well directed artistic performances. Some serious consideration for detail is present, as well as strong expression of style for each featured artist, even for the bands where there are 6, 7 or more members. They all shine and in short, they’re fun to look at within a storyline of some sort. Given that I don’t speak Korean, I will only bother with finding out what the song is about on maybe 1-2 standout videos every 6 months, and only so that I can understand the visual performance better.

And while I was analysing all this in my little head, it occurred to me that many amongst us live our lives like this too. We enjoy what we see, but do not bother to understand what it means. We listen to something, but often excuse ourselves from the meaning of what we listen to. We also want things for free, without considering what really goes into making them. So today I take a little look into what really goes into creating a video. And yes, I’m a producer in advertising for a living, so I should know this stuff, right?

The idea

It all starts with an idea which is then developed into a script. The idea might already be existing, like a song, or a campaign that already exists, or a book. But before it becomes a script, it might not be suitable for a video. Once the idea is translated into a script, the visual style, preferred style of framing and the flow of the video are agreed. This is often referred to as storyboarding and can be a very involved process for the creative(s) in charge. While the script is not always prescriptive and will only sometimes include minute details such as how an actor should position their hand when they are saying a specific line, storyboard visualises the script and and such key details. The storyboard is often drawn by hand and digitised – the drawings of individual scenes are commonly called scamps and in addition to being indicators of how each piece of dialogue or important action in the script are tied together, it also includes information about what main things should be shown in each scene and how some of the action transitions should be handled.

The crew

Video production calls for a number of skills. Sometimes you can be your own crew (think beauty YouTubers and daily vloggers before they got big) but sometimes you literally need the manpower. A typical video crew for a short video includes a producer(s), creative team (director or directors, creatives responsible for script execution in accordance to agreed style), videographers/camera operators (usually more than one person), lighting engineer (also often more than one), sound engineer, script supervisor, and of course the performers and extras. It is not unusual to also have make-up (including prosthetics) and hair professionals, costume designers, specialist choreographers, subject matter experts and medical team on hand. Oh, and somebody to handle things – where everybody already has hands full, there is always a space for the unsung heroes who move stuff around, find missing hairpins and do the famous coffee run. Blessed be the set assistants, just saying.

And yes, this list is not exhaustive. It is not uncommon for your insurance rep to also tag along if he/she thinks what you are doing is a little on the risky side.

The equipment

The very basics include: a camera with a microphone, a light. A first aid kit, sometimes a tripod. Something to preview your footage on in HD or 4K – a laptop is usually pretty useful. A connector for your recording device compatible with your preview device. Oh, and spare batteries, charged and tested.

You’ll often see TV crews recording news with literally just a camera, portable microphone and a laptop. Most low budget productions can be run like that successfully and with excellent results.

But where it comes to more complex shoots, the list grows. Your equipment will not just include recording devices and lighting (and spare bulbs if you’re using them!), you might need professional sound management equipment and microphones (depending if you are recording on set or adding voiceover in a studio the list changes!), camera dollies, costumes, props and… additional spare props. Chairs for people to sit on, tables for the catering, umbrellas and some form of shelter when shooting outdoors. Water and snacks, preferably ones which are unlikely to land you in an insurance hell by giving anybody an allergic reaction. Lots of paper towels, some super glue and some single use nail files (trust me on that one). On the positive, a lot of the equipment can be rented.

The location

If you are shooting in a public space you will need a permit to do so. If you are shooing in a private studio or a space, you will of course need to have secured said space. Regardless of where you would be shooting, any locations used for commercial shoots need to be risk assessed and advised to the insurance company.

It’s important that if the location does not offer basic facilities such as washrooms, such facilities are provided. This might include a glam job of ordering porta-potties or even washroom trailers for the crew for however many days you will be shooting for. It could also include arranging travel and overnight accommodation for everyone, private trailers if you are working with certain celebrities and stars and of course a space to store all equipment securely. There honestly isn’t anything as discouraging as coming back to a shoot in the morning to discover that somebody stole a goddamn sword and now you can’t shoot the scene until a new one is made.

The paperwork

Aside from the shoot permits and an production insurance, there is one more thing to square off. Unless you are putting yourself only in your own video, everybody else who appears in it will need to sign a contract. Such contract not only stipulates their rights and obligations, how much (if at all) they will be paid, but also sets out so called use license. Use license in simple terms details how the image of a person can be used – in case of commercials this could include use on TV, specific social media channels or for somebody’s business internal use only. It also stipulates the period of time the recorded material can be used, how a person appearing in it should speak about the material (in case of films this could be attendance at specific events, in case of ads this could be permission to include the ad in their portfolio) and what their obligations are in general.

The money

I wouldn’t call myself a financial blogger if I were to skip this part.

You might be surprised that one day’s shoot is not actually terribly expensive in business terms. You can manage a nice little production for less than £1k per day – self funded budding music artists are known to often take that route until they are signed with a label who is willing to invest, and shoot whole video in a single day. A ‘standard’ K-Pop video costs anywhere between $100k-$300k to create – and this cost is more in line with what costs can be on full-crew productions. As example, GoT season 8, shot over approximately 2 years cost $60m. If they were to shoot continuously every day (which they did not), it would have landed them at right around $8.2k a day. A 30 second TV ad on UK TV starts at around £80k and can run into hundreds of thousands if you are casting somebody famous.

And this does not necessarily include post-production, which is a whole other topic which I’ll leave for another time.

To close this off, while there is a lot of money in the moving image production, it is not unusual for people on the bottom of the ladder to be unpaid. It honestly is an interesting but also a very peculiar industry and while the outcomes of work can be highly satisfying, it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of work stability, fair pay and work-life balance.

And if you were ever wondering which K-Pop videos are my favourites, Fantastic Baby by Big Bang is right up there.

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