These days, attracting prospective families to your school is a multimedia affair. Glossy brochures, interactive presentations, and in-person tours all serve to show off what is great about your institution. However, of all the ways to introduce families to your school, few have the visual and storytelling potential of video. A short, compelling promotional school video can take families behind the classroom walls to experience what really makes your school special.
Unfortunately, the halls of academia are a long way from the back lots of Hollywood. Making a compelling and effective school video can be challenging for even the most talented directors, so to simplify the process, it can be useful to think like a studio mogul and break down your production into digestible chunks. From finding your story to hiring the perfect cast and crew, here are a few simple things to keep in mind that could be the difference between producing a blockbuster or a flop.
Tell Me a Story I Haven’t Heard Before
Picture it. The sun rises over your school at dawn. Smiling students file into bustling hallways, then into bright, cheery classrooms where dynamic teachers hold their rapt attention. Images like these are the backbone of many school videos. And that’s the problem.
In the old days when simply having a school video meant you were cutting edge, schools could get away with glossy, generic images of beakers in chemistry classes and students walking through falling leaves. Unfortunately, these days many schools have videos, and just like you, they also have a chemistry lab and trees. To stand out from the crowd, use your school video as an opportunity to tell the story of what makes your school special and showcase what makes you unique.
If your school has a long track record of academic and athletic success, perhaps you could approach your video like a short documentary highlighting your history. If your school is a relatively new upstart, perhaps you could tell the story of why and how your school was founded. Every school has a story to tell that is all their own, and whatever your school’s story is, make sure that you know it backwards and forwards before you begin.
Who’s Your Star?
When making a video, the first instinct for many schools is to feature the entire school community. Unfortunately, if you try to show everyone and everything in a short time, you take the risk that nothing will make a lasting impression. While you certainly want to show the breadth of what your school has to offer, you should follow the lead of Hollywood and make sure that your video has a star.
Compelling characters are what bring stories to life, and your school is probably full of them. It might be the long-time principal who embodies the school’s spirit or a beloved teacher or coach who every alum visits whenever they return to campus. Your star doesn’t even have to be one individual. You can highlight a class or team or group of parents or teachers. The key is to find the person or group who embodies what makes your school special, and tell the story of your school through their experience.
Let’s Put on a Show
With ubiquitous smartphones and inexpensive editing software, anyone can be a filmmaker these days. However, that doesn’t mean everyone should be. As you prepare to make your school video, you need to decide if you can do it in-house or if you need to reach outside and hire a professional.
Many schools already have resources at their disposal to make a video, like cameras, sound equipment, and computers with editing software. Some schools might even have access to staff, parents, or alumni who would be happy to lend their expertise. However, if you plan to make your video yourself, here are a few pitfalls to watch out for:
- Technical difficulties. Make sure you know your equipment inside and out. It doesn’t matter if you’ve set up the perfect shot if you can’t get the camera to work.
- Frame rates, aspect ratios, and codecs. If you don’t know what these words mean, find someone who does.
- Nobody is going to care what you have to say if they can’t hear it clearly, and good quality sound can be hard to capture in loud classrooms and echoey hallways.
Of course, if you do hire professionals, make sure they are making the video you want, not the video they want. Remember, this is your school and your story.
Use What You Already Got
Not everything in your video has to be shot from scratch. Your school might already have videos of musical performances and sporting events that can be put to good use. Another great source of material are still photographs, especially scans of old yearbooks. Don’t let your school’s history sit on a shelf collecting dust!
Fix it In Post
You’re going to want your video to be short, probably one or two minutes. This often means you’ll have tough decisions about what (and who) gets left on the cutting room floor. Fortunately, if you start the process with a clear idea of the story you want to tell, you’ll have a guidepost to help you steer the editing process. Trust in your instincts and don’t be afraid of these hard decisions.
How Was the Test Screening?
After you’ve put a lot of energy into a project like your school’s video, it can be difficult to look at it objectively. That’s why it’s important to show your video to people both inside and outside of your school to get feedback. Teachers, parents, students, neighbors… show it to anyone who you think will give you their honest opinion. Don’t overreact to every suggestion, but if you keep hearing similar responses, take them seriously and see what changes you can make to address these concerns.
When’s the Sequel?
Sadly, it’s not just Hollywood that constantly demands new material. Recognize that your school’s video might only have a shelf life of several years before it needs to be spiffed up again. Fortunately, by the time you’re ready to make a new video, you’ll already be an old pro with a star on your school’s walk of fame. Just don’t let all the glitz and glamour go to your head.