So the decision has been made to bring video production in-house, and you’re the company’s video guru. You’ve been tasked with building an in-house video facility. You’re not sure whether to jump for joy or to become a stock holder in Alka Seltzer. Where do you start?
Prior to starting my own video production company, I was the Manager of Video Communications for Burger King World Headquarters. I was tasked with building a studio from scratch – not once, but twice! The first time was after Hurricane Andrew totaled our original studio, and the second time was after the world headquarters was moved to a new building.
Luckily in my early career I had designed and equipped studios for a living, so I kept reasonably cool. Yet with all my experience, it was still a challenging (but often fun) experience, both times.
I’m sure I don’t stand alone. Most video production people would love the idea of designing their own video facility the way they see fit. Regardless, it’s still a huge undertaking.
The decision to move forward with your own studio is complicated and depends on a wide variety of factors, not to mention that there’s the issue of the fluctuating economy and fluctuating budgets. So how do you know whether you should be building and staffing a studio, outsourcing everything, or a combination of both? It’s a topic I dig into in depth in an article where I ask whether or not it’s worth the expense to build an in-house corporate video production studio. It should give you the information you need to consider your options.
If you’re ready to begin the process, you’ll need to have the answers to some important questions right up front. Here are the questions, as well as some suggestions for what you’ll need:
1. What’s the Budget You’re Working With to Build Your Studio?
Let’s face it. In corporate America budget plays a key role in most projects. This is no different. You’ll need to get a clear picture up front on the amount that’s been allocated to this project. You’ll also need to know if there’s any wiggle room. Your actual budget will influence everything from your equipment choices to the space you create.
2. What Types of Video Production Projects Will You Need to Accommodate?
You’ll need to consider just what will be done in the studio in order to design it properly. Ask yourself what types of videos will be produced. For example, are you looking to shoot small tabletop products? Or will your videos involve a spokesperson talking while standing and looking directly into the camera? Will you be shooting multiple people at the same time? Are you interested in green screen projects? Or will you typically shoot individual seated interviews? All of these projects may have different requirements, so you’ll need to plan for all future possibilities.
3. What Space Can You Get? What Space Should You Get?
Ideally, at a minimum you’ll need at least a 15’ by 15’ studio space with around 12 feet of ceiling height. Is there available space somewhere in the building to construct a studio and edit suite? If not, can it be added?
Space is critical, especially when you’re trying to control lighting. You may often need anywhere from 6 to 12 feet between the back wall and a person on-camera so you can light them properly without casting shadows on the back wall, or so you can add some depth of field to your shots. Overall, the distance from the backdrop, green screen or wall to the video camera should be about 18 feet if possible.
I was once tasked with building a studio in a company after they had already dealt out all of the company’s physical space. This is usually how it happens. A corporate TV studio can be an after-thought. In this case the space they allocated was 10’ by 15’ with a 10-foot ceiling height. I was asked what we could reasonably shoot inside that space. My answer was “Children, small people, and maybe some tabletop products.” Not quite what they were hoping for. That’s the studio we built, but what we could do in it was very limited and it was very frustrating for the crew to work in it.
For a green screen studio, or even if you have a white wall, you’ll want to have enough room to not just avoid shadows on the background, but to move the camera back far enough to be able to shoot a full body shot.
Some people say that a good rule of thumb is that the distance from the back wall to the presenter should be twice their height. So a presenter who is 6 feet tall should stand at least 12 feet away from the rear wall for optimum effect.
Consider that the camera should be about 10 feet away from the presenter and you’re automatically looking at 22 feet of space.
For ceiling height, it’s always best to be able to hang lighting from a grid. This is especially true when you’re building a green screen studio. This allows you to create even lighting on the background, and not have to worry about lighting the background each time from scratch.
With a presenter standing, and being about 6 feet tall, there should be around 3-4 feet of space between him and the lights, so the lights are never in the shot. Some video lighting can be 2-3 feet wide, thus the recommended minimum of a 12 foot high ceiling.
4. How Do you Get Good Sound Quality and Noise Reduction for Your Studio?
How quiet is the space? Are there going to be sounds that are beyond your control with the potential of ruining your videos? Listen to the room with your eyes closed, and check for noises. There are a variety of sounds that can impact your videos on a day-to-day basis. Here’s a short list:
- White noise
- Window noise
- Foot steps
- Phones ringing
- People conversing
- Doors closing
- Outside traffic, airplanes
- Elevator and door access
I’d strongly suggest that you avoid having a window in your studio if it’s at all possible. Windows may allow sound from the outside in. Also keep in mind that sound bounces off of windows. If you can’t avoid having windows, you may want to black them out with boards, or black out shades.
White noise is a tool that’s commonly used in corporate offices, with white noise speakers inserted in the building. This helps deaden the sound and adds to the privacy of conversations. Make sure that there are no white noise speakers in the space you’re considering for a studio, or it will negatively impact your sound quality.
Air conditioning noise is often a challenge. Most construction companies do not consider HVAC noise when they are building an office. This noise can be loud and inconsistent only creating noise when the room is being cooled. HVAC is very important when building a studio. I’d suggest that you consider using oversized air conditioning ducts. Oversized air ducts cause the airflow to be spread out, reducing the sound of the air coming from the ducts. Consult an HVAC expert who can determine the proper air flow necessary to keep the studio cool and people comfortable, even with video lighting, while at the same time keeping the sound to a minimum.
Of course there’s always people noise to contend with. Let’s face it, people make noise during their workday. Phone’s ring, they walk to meetings in their high heels, office doors or exits are opened and closed, elevators chime… All of these sounds can interfere with a video shoot.
See if you can find a suitable location away from high traffic areas. It should be an area with easy elevator and door access. You may need the ability to bring in sets, props or additional video equipment for a particular shoot. Having access to doors and freight elevators will be beneficial.
For good sound isolation, you may want to consider building double walls around the studio. It’s almost like building a room within a room. Many studios are built with an inner wall, then an outer wall with an air gap in between.
Think about sound travelling between these walls. The sound will go from the outer wall into the air gap, and then into the inner wall, and finally the studio. Since the walls and the air gaps have different densities, the ability of sound to penetrate into the studio is greatly reduced.
The shape of the studio will also dictate the ability of sound to bounce off of the walls. A contractor experienced in sound absorption will usually have answers for you.
5. What Are Your Power Needs?
Adequate electrical power is very important. It needs to be stable and clean. By that I mean that there should never be any other types of equipment connected to the same power lines. Otherwise you’ll have power surges and possibly audio hums in your equipment. Also know and understand the amount of power that your video lighting and equipment might draw. Get as many individual circuits as possible.
Edit systems should also have dedicated, clean lines. Each computer should be on a dedicated line. Keep copy machines, fridges etc. on their own circuits.
The best advice I can offer is to hire an electrical professional with experience wiring recording facilities or at the very least computer centers.
I hope this gives you some ideas to consider. In our next article we’ll discuss budget implications and how to run and staff your studio.
Greg Ball is the president of Ball Media Innovations, Inc., a full service video production and post-production company focusing on corporate video production, as well as film and video translation. The company headquarters is in the Miami – Fort Lauderdale area, with crews in South Florida and the Orlando area.