Three Stages in the Life of a Retail TV Commercial

If you’re wondering why it takes longer to produce some TV commercials Picture for Post #21than others, it helps to know some of the nitty-gritty “behind the scenes” stuff.

There are usually three stages in the life of a retail TV spot:

1) Pre-production

2) Production

3) Post-production

And the level of complexity in each varies greatly. While EVERY production is unique, the following offers a brief glance at the kinds of things that happen in each stage:

Pre-production

In this stage, it’s all about planning, planning, planning.

The production company (and sometimes the ad agency creative staff) meet with all the venders needed prior to get the ball rolling.

  • Timelines and budgets are finalized
  • Prop people get the proper specs so they can gather everything needed to stage the set appropriately
  • Castings are held to choose the right actors
  • A wardrobe specialist is consulted so the appropriate attire and accessories (and sizes) can be gathered for the actors
  • A location scout is sent to find an ideal place to hold the shoot (if it’s not in a studio).
  • If a custom music score is being written, the composer is briefed during this stage so that the music fits appropriately with the creative vision and is ready in time for Post Production.
  • If animation is being used, animators may begin their work, sometimes showing up on the shoot day to take proper lighting measurements depending on the animator’s needs.

All the while, the agency’s creative director and the commercial’s film director will collaborate closely to supervise and ensure a unified vision.  Prior to the shoot, the film director will compile a shot list so everyone is on the same page come shooting day.

Production

This is where the film director, creative director and film crew come together to bring the storyboard (the script and accompanying visuals that were used to explain the idea) to life.

Sets are constructed. Actors arrive.  Scenes are carefully lit. Performances are tweaked. And because every moment counts, a detailed shot list and schedule keeps everything on track. Subsequently, a composer may now be elsewhere working on a custom music track, and animators may be on set taking lighting measurements (or at their studio bringing additional components to your TV commercial to life.)

Post-production

If you’re shooting on film, this process begins in a telecine lab where the film is color corrected. From there it goes on to editing where the shots are laid out and the commercial gets its rough shape (called a rough cut). Often, any animation will also be added into the commercial during this process.

Then it’s off to sound design where the voice over is recorded and the music (stock or original) is added in along with any sound effects. Then it’s back to editing where everything gets married together.

It isn’t always this intense. In a “graphics commercial” with little more than price supers and still photos, it may be a simple matter of the ad agency giving definitive direction (and a tool kit) to the edit house along with a voice over and music track.

But don’t be fooled. Even the smallest of projects require thorough planning.

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