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Ellen Friedland

Ellen Friedland is president of two multiple-award-winning video production companies: JEMGLO, which produces documentaries, and Voices & Visions Productions, a corporate video entity. Through JEMGLO Ellen has produced and written eight documentaries, seven of which have been broadcast on PBS stations across the US among other showcases, and one of which was an Official Selection at over 35 international film festivals. Through V&V Ellen has produced and written videos for clients hailing from an array of industries who want to use the medium for marketing, investor relations, HR, websites, social media, education, and other corporate needs.

When a corporate client sends me out on a marketing video shoot, I often feel like I’m getting the chance to make a short documentary replete with funding. Other than the subjective slant inherent to this type of product – okay, a big “other,” I admit -- many of the elements of story development are similar.

Here’s how our shoot in Germany last week unfolded: Our client, an American holding entity, filled me in regarding the mission of the European company they own and the purpose of having it videotaped. The initial description was followed with a phone call to the company’s CEO so he could relay his perspective on the aspects of the company that are important and what we can expect to see when we arrive at the scene. From the documents and phone conversations I was able to piece together enough of a picture to compile a list of questions for the CEO to use as a jumping off point.

That is how I see interviews and storylines during field production for many corporate video shoots and documentaries: Jumping off points. You often go in self-assured with a script concept and images of supporting b-roll and graphics derived from the pre-production work you’ve put in, and you walk out holding nothing but question marks in your brain.

For me, that is a moment of pride, of reassurance that I have not fallen prey to closed-mindedness. It is an opportunity for creativity, to reshuffle the new facts that have emerged in the actual interview and the tour of the facility in order to build a more accurate, colorful marketing story despite the challenges presented.

That is how it works in documentaries, too. You learn about something so interesting and unique that you dive into learning as much as you can, getting inextricably hooked on the topic as you construct a story in your head. You don’t storyboard it out in pre-production, though, because the story is not predetermined. It unfolds as you record it, and the process may not happen as you predict. An obstinate insistence on your original vision is not your friend here; success will come from letting go again and again as you re-write the story you learn while allowing yourself to sink into its depths and truths.

Of course, the corporate marketing video is not being produced to tell the whole narrative. But as the writer and producer, my job is to learn it in all its depths, then tell the part of the narrative necessary to accomplish the client’s goals. And almost always, that is a wholly different account than the one that first flashed before my eyes when I heard about the assignment.