In the world of video production, you’ve got two poles sitting at either end of the spectrum. On the top end, you’ve got your Oscar-nominated, popcorn-salted-by-your uncontrollable-tears, life-changing Shawshank Redemption style stuff.
On the bottom end, you’ve got corporate training videos.
Whenever I’ve found myself seated in front of a sterling corporate training production, it’s felt like the scene in A Clockwork Orange where your eyes are being forcibly held open in order that you ingest the torture.
You know you have to watch it, but it is just awful.
There are times when you have to almost take off your hat to the levels of cringe some companies are able to achieve. If the brief stated that the training video should cause any potential staffers to claw their eyes out, well done.
There are too many examples of corporate training gone wrong to count, but often these little nuggets of gold are kept firmly in-house, like the “special” son who can’t be trusted around other kiddies.
And sometimes, they manage to escape.
Just look at this corker from Wendy’s, a US burger chain. In the 80s, there was nothing cooler than hypercolour rapping, and God, didn’t Wendy’s know it. Presumably, post-production, the directors and producers sat back with a cigar and high-fived the skin off each other’s palms at the timeless piece of genius. I think you’ll agree that the singing patties bring a sense of theatre that is impossible to capture with live actors.
And for a classic example of a real, get out of your seat, we can do this, corporate motivational video, wrap your eyes around “Service is Selling, Selling is Service.” Featuring the sort of voice talents you usually find yelling obscenities at passers-by in a mall, and video that appears to have been shot from a Nokia 3310, if you get through more than the first minute I’ll give you a chocolate bar.
So we all are well aware that corporate videos are generally steaming piles of excrement that are sometimes accidentally so bad they’re funny. But can they be done well? Is this within the realms of possibility in the slightest?
Duncan Wiggetts thought so. A British lawyer, he’d sat through his fair share of corporate training flicks and became as jaded with them as every other person in the room. The counter-productiveness of the whole thing got him thinking, and, finding himself in the sort of industry that doesn’t mind a marble-lined office tower or a gilded fountain pen, he thought he might be able to do something about it.
While a counsel at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Wiggetts asked for a (relatively) modest budget to produce a new training video for the company that he planned to shoot not as a boring, instructional piece, but rather as a moody, dimly-lit short film, with a proper plot and paid character actors.
People appreciated the effort, and PWC requested another to be made soon after. By this point, Wiggetts’ story had done the rounds in a very cliquey industry, and the firm DLA Piper headhunted him to start producing their videos.
Wiggetts now finds himself at another firm, Dechert’s, and his latest corporate training video is the sharpest of the lot. “A Price Worth Paying?“ is once again a moody, dimly shot piece, using legitimate talent to train the audience on corporate risk. With a budget of $100,000, it was certainly never going to be The Godfather, but it’s still more than what was laid down for The Blair Witch Project, and the quality not only says a lot about the man behind the idea, but also the firm that was willing to invest.
Being a video for the legal sector, it could never be the sort of rap masterpiece that Wendy’s produced, but the danger is that this sort of production would slide into boring territory. Wiggetts manages to sidestep that with a well thought-out script that minimises the obvious ‘training’ aspects and maximises the plot and the action.
It’s a salient lesson that Wiggetts teaches. There’s absolutely no need to bore your audience when it comes to training videos. Nor is it a requirement to create something so rampantly shite it goes incidentally viral.
You can also forget the $100k purse. A well written script, some people who feel natural in front of a camera, and the courage to have a go should be the only ingredients your training recipe needs.
As the Wendy’s video says, “Now, you gotta salt the meat, from the back to the front to make the taste complete.”
Nothing to do with this blog, but sound advice nonetheless.