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Birmingham City University case study: telling authentic stories with video

If you follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn, then you may have noticed a few recent videos that we worked on with Birmingham City University. BCU commissioned us to produce a series of videos showcasing their courses, facilities, and what real students have gotten out of them. As with any big project, this was a great opportunity for the team to learn and take on a host of new challenges. In this case study, we take a look at the whole process – from pre-production to editing.

an establishing shot of Birmingham City University

What was the brief for the project?

Key to the client’s brief was that these videos would “focus on the student experience overall, as told by the students themselves”. Each video focuses on a different subject area – from science and engineering courses, to English literature and media studies. BCU wanted to showcase factors like their facilities, the support provided by staff, and their graduates’ employability prospects; but from the authentic perspectives of real students.

In practice, we would film interviews with the students – asking them about how their university experience helped them grow academically and personally. Then, we would cut those down into snappy voiceovers and pair them with dynamic, fast-paced visuals. Ultimately, the client wanted these videos to, not just inform students, but to immerse them into authentic student life.

What went on during the pre-production stage?

For a project like this, pre-production planning was of the utmost importance. Before filming began, going on a recce around the campus was a great way to acquaint ourselves with the space where we would be working. It also enabled our DoP to start planning out potential shots ahead of time. We also met up with the BCU team to refine and clarify the format of the videos, and to hatch out logistical details in advance of each shooting day.

What were the shoot days like?

Many of the shoot days took place around the BCU campus buildings. The different subject areas would take us to an array of different locations per shoot. These included the rehearsal spaces at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, the Law School’s mock courtroom, and mechanical engineering labs – to name just a few.

The general structure of each day would usually begin with filming the interviews. After that, we'd film B-roll with the students at the locations listed on our shooting schedule. These shots were often informed by the kinds of things had the students talked about and – to give the videos that youthful, energetic feel – were mostly filmed by a camera mounted on a gimbal, so the shots could be as smooth and dynamic as possible.

One shoot day took us a little bit further afield, and that was the Sports Placement video. BCU wanted to showcase what one of their students had achieved on his placement, working as a coach at Solihull Moors Football Club. The weather may not have been on our side, but it was a great opportunity to get action shots in the thick of a football coaching session – really showing how much real-world experience students can gain from BCU.

How did the videos come together in the post-production stage?

The main challenge when editing the videos was paring down the long-form interviews. We had to cut them down into shorter, more structured stories without losing the conversational tone of what the student had said. Using transcription software, we could efficiently generate scripts for each interview and use those as the initial building blocks for what would eventually make it onto the screen.

Finding the right moments to include wasn’t just a case of locating the most interesting things each student had said. We also had to ask questions like: what would fit best with the footage we captured on the day? What points can naturally guide the viewer's interest through the beginning, middle, and end of the video?

It was when editing one of the later videos that we got to see how effective this process was. For the Speech and Language Therapy video, BCU wanted something a little different. In order to reflect the sensitive nature of students’ placement work; they wanted a slower, more documentary-style video. So, for this one, we conducted eight interviews in total – with students, staff, and the users of BCU’s speech and language therapy services. Cutting all of these down into one cohesive narrative certainly posed a challenge! Ultimately though, we were so used to the process that it actually ended up being far easier than anticipated to edit.

Is your business looking to produce high-quality video content? Whether you have a vision that you'd like to bring to the screen, or you'd simply like to discuss what we could offer – please feel free to get in touch with us.

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