FastMail Customer Stories

Customer stories

In this blog post we go behind the scenes on the FastMail Customer Stories videos. This is the eighth post in the 2016 FastMail Advent Calendar. Stay tuned for another post tomorrow.


Behind the scenes on the Buildkite shoot

We know that for many businesses, email is still one of the most important tools they have.

And this got us thinking more about how our customers use and rely on FastMail to run their own businesses, planting the seed for our FastMail Customer Stories videos.

The idea was reasonably simple – create a series of visual stories that share some insights of everyday FastMail users and the businesses they’ve built.

Pre-production

Video is a great storytelling medium. Not only does it let you engage with your audience in a different way to words on a page, it can quickly transport you into other people’s lives.

Creating a FastMail Customer Story is literally a production. And one that requires considerable planning and skill to execute properly.

And while it’s true that modern technology has made it reasonably easy for anyone to embrace the medium of video, the reality is it’s still quite an involved process to end up with something that’s a bit more advanced than your garden variety cat video.

A good video production draws on a range of skills to help it look just right. There’s the lighting, choice of camera and lenses, framing of a room, direction and editing.

To help us realise our vision we worked with Ben from Benzen Video Productions. Ben’s experience spans international news, commercials and corporate video production. And as we found out he’s also collected a few interesting stories along the way (it’s not everyone who can say they’ve worked with The Hoff).

Cameras roll

Drawing out the essence of each story begins by interviewing our participants on camera, which we later edit down into just a few choice quotes. Unfortunately much of this footage ends up on the ‘cutting room’ floor (except these days it’s usually digital).

Having once fancied myself a latter day Michael Parkinson, I really enjoyed the role of being the off-camera interviewer. Our talent probably not as much – they had to make direct eye contact with me while repeating their answers as we did take after take! It’s no easy feat and I commend Gemma, Richard and Keith for their professionalism.

Ben on set, miking up Keith

While the final length of each video runs to a few minutes, you might be surprised to learn that just a couple minutes of completed footage can take many hours, or even days, to plan, shoot and fully edit. Working in different locations also means repeatedly setting up lights, cameras and microphones for different shots. Then there are the stand-ins. Not to mention carrying around all the equipment.

After we’ve filmed the speaking parts we then grab the ‘B roll’ or cutaways. These shots help to give a bit more depth to the story and will include the non-speaking footage such as street scenes, shots of the FastMail interface and our business owners in their working environment. It was a lot of fun taking to the streets of Fitzroy with Keith and Tim from Buildkite to help put the finishing touches on their story.

We’ll fix it in post

Next it’s time to put all the footage together for a visual rough cut. Getting the right rhythm and story flow is a bit like doing a puzzle. Grab a piece from here and see if it fits, then repeat until finished.

Once the rough cut is in place the music bed is finalised, which in itself can really influence the feel of the production. We got extremely lucky with the New Palm Court Orchestra video, being able to use one of Gemma’s compositions 'American Suite, Movement 1', which itself is worthy of cinematic release.

Gemma is a talented musician and knows a thing or two about giving a great performance

With the footage and music all done, it’s time to add any supers (words on the screen) and a ‘top’ or ‘tail’ to tie it all together.

The whole production is then sent off to be colour-graded to ensure the final look is right for the small screen.

And finally it’s time for the premiere screening!

Thanks again to Ben, Gemma, Richard, Chris, Keith, Tim and Sam for participating and generosity with their time.

We’re already in pre-production for our next Customer Story, so look out for that one in 2017.