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by Jamie Panton September 10, 2015

For a moment, forget everything I’ve told you about cameras, sounds and lights.

For this post we’re going to forget the equipment and ask ourselves — what do we want to achieve with our testimonial video? And how are we going to not only get it, but also present it?

I’m also assuming you’ve picked who you’re going to film at this point. If you haven’t, make sure you’re choosing a client or interviewee that represents the type of customers you want to pursue and is comfortable with being on camera.

You can film them at your own location but I’d recommend filming them at their place of business or home. We’ll go into why soon.

If possible, I like to pick businesses with more than one person to interview   it makes editing easier as there’s more choice of clips and it takes the pressure off getting just one perfect interview.

While a testimonial is not of piece a fiction (please don’t pay actors) it requires as much prep and planning as a fiction film shoot. Expect to wing it on the day and you will fall-short.

So back to the original question   what do we want to achieve with our testimonial video?

There is the obvious answer  — we want more sales! But how are we going to achieve that? Getting a customer on camera to say your product is the bee’s knees is great, but getting a story that your customers can relate to is much, much better.

When I shoot a testimonial I see it as two shoots in my head — one is the interview, where we get the snippets of speech from our customer that will tell our story (the backbone of the edit). Then there’s the second shoot — all the extra shots that help tell the story and add a bit of visual-flare to the piece (the fat) — the sizzle that will help sell your product or service.

Both require some good prep. Let’s lay it out.

I shot this video below earlier this year. While you may not be able to emulate all the visual techniques, you can easily copy the structure:

The backbone

Imagine you’re sat down with your client and your lights, camera and sound are all rolling. You ask them “what’s your name?”

They reply, “Gerald.”

“What do you make Gerald?”

“Car parts.”

“And what do you like most?”

“The challenge and people I work with.”

What’s wrong with this approach? Gerald’s closed answers. Or, more importantly the interviewers closed questions.

When we get down to editing our video, we want the customer to do the talking, we want them to sell our business by themselves. It looks and sound impressive to see the customer praising our company, seemingly without being prompted.

However, this interview with Gerald won’t work. Cut this footage together and you’ll get something like: “Gerald. Car parts. The challenge and people I work with.” This doesn’t make sense.

We need to ask our client, nice open questions. So “what’s your name” becomes “can you introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do?”

“What do you make” becomes “can you explain to us some of the products you make?”

And finally “what you like most” becomes “can you talk us through some of the things you like most about your job?”

A good tactic I’ve found with questions is to focus the first five-ten minutes of the interview around your client’s life/business. This should be easy for them to talk about and will ease them into being interviewed.

A few days before your shoot, work-out your angle, (what you want your client to say, what you want people to get from your film) and prepare open questions that will push them to saying what you want.

I shoot my testimonials mostly by myself. When I started I found it tricky balancing interviewing a client, watching the audio levels and keeping check of the camera and framing. As such it was hard to improv around the questions. If you can, get someone to interview your client for you, while you focus on the technical aspects.

And finally - go into your interviews expecting to over-shoot. Rephrase questions if you want to, deviate around the subjects, even banter between questions (this can be a way to get some great, “real” footage of your client, as well as make them more relaxed).

It’s infinitely better to have too much footage than too little. We can cut down the shots in post, but we can’t add to them.

If the interview falls short and you don’t get the open answers you wanted, you can always add title cards featuring the questions in post. I’d aim to avoid this if possible though.

The fat

OK, so we’ve shot our interviews. If you’re new to filmmaking and want to play it safe you could call it a day here and cut together a talking head video together.

But wait! While shooting more shots on the day may seem daunting or like extra work, having more material to edit in post will make your life, much, much easier. Trust me, your future self will thank you — it will give more scope to how much you shape the interviews, hiding cuts in the interview behind other shots.

What you shoot will vary depending on what your testimonial is about. Getting some shots of the customer interacting with your product/service is a must. I like to capture the journey to a shoot and get shots of the nearby location, to give the film a sense of place and help with the rhythm of the edit.

A few shots setting the scene will make your video a lot more engaging.

Shots like this are called establishing shots and are a great way to ease the viewer into the video, alongside some upbeat music.

I also like to capture images that show the personality of my client and show off their business if they have one. Remember, they’re doing you a favour, so selling their business in your video if they’re a business owner too is the least you can do.

For your first testimonial video a simple way to give your film a more “narrative” feel is to open with shots in the area you’re filming in the morning and end the film with shots of the approaching evening or night. Try this one out, it’s easy to do and will make the film more engaging.

As for the rest of the shoot   I always ask my clients to treat me like a fly on the wall for most of the day. As you get more adapt and know more of what you want, you can start asking them to pose for shots. Some business owners I’ve shot videos with approach me to do this before I approach them!

We could talk all day about techniques to capture the “the fat”. It’s here you can get really creative with your shoot. For your first testimonial, focus on getting some of the stuff I’ve mentioned and you’ll be on track to create a great first video.

The main thing is to lock down the interviews and then be flexible for the rest of the day, while having a firm plan. It’s this balance that I see as key to success with shooting video. Plan, plan, plan, get to location and then go with the flow.

Remember — people relate to and are drawn in by stories. People buy people. Now I’m not saying we carve out some epic story in our videos. But giving a little sense of narrative will make your video much more successful.

And most importantly: when you’re on the shoot don’t forget to have fun! Remembering all this stuff maybe stressful, but it will become second nature after a few shoots.

Stay tuned for Part 3, where we’ll explore what some people find the most daunting part of the filmmaking process: editing.

Hopefully I can show you why it’s the most exciting bit.

Jamie Panton graduated last year with a First Class Honors in Film and Television Production. He now works at Veeqo, producers of Inventory Management software, where he shoots their video content. In his spare-time he runs his own film-making business. On the rare instances he’s not working on films, he’s thinking about them.

Jamie Panton
Jamie Panton

Jamie Panton graduated last year with a First Class Honors in Film and Television Production. He now works at Veeqo, producers of Inventory Management software, where he shoots their video content. In his spare-time he runs his own film-making business. On the rare instances he’s not working on films, he’s thinking about them.

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