Movie Making – Lessons in project management

By Jonathan Levy, Managing Director

As a Managing Director, project management is probably the most important part of my job. Yet sometimes its worth can be hard to quantify, as it’s often a huge time-eater and seems to involve a mountain of ‘tasks’ that are not that easy to attach to results.

For 100 years (yes, you did read that right, no I haven’t been around for all of them!), we’ve supplied businesses with products that help them present information. The format that information takes has changed dramatically, with digital formats increasingly gaining favour over brochures and paper-based giveaways.

As a company, we’ve responded to this change and recently unveiled TwistKey – a bespoke USB presenter that delivers digital information in a fully customisable physical format. The latest in my project management exploits has therefore been the coordinating our latest toe-dip into the digital marketing world, TwistKey: The Movie.

Ok, so ‘movie’ might be a bit grand as it was only a short animation, but turns out there’s nothing short about the effort involved in creating one. So what did I learn from our foray into the movie-making business?

Begin with the basics

As with everything, the beginning is the place to start. You might think I’m stating the obvious, but what I’m talking about is brainstorming, planning and time-tabling. This is the bit that will form the bones of your strategy to getting the job done and help you keep an eye on where you are. For the animation, a big part of this was the story board, a frame-by-frame description of what visuals we wanted the animator to make together with a script for the voiceover.

Pick your personnel

Making sure everyone knows what they’re doing on a project is really important. Not just working out who might be best for the project but also making it very clearly what everyone’s role is, right from the start. Again, it’s about preparation and setting things down in a format that you can refer to later.

This refers to everyone who’s working on the project, including any extra skills you’re outsourcing. Finding the right people to work with outside the company was tricky, as a good website isn’t necessarily be reflected by good performance. In the end it came down to lining up a number of possible contenders, coming up with a set of criteria (budget and location for example) and ruling people out according to those.

Deciding whom to trust was scary, but we were lucky to get it right. So here’s a plug for Tony Nottage of Nottage Productions, who was brilliant throughout the entire process. Not only was he patient with a novice client and made changes until we were happy, but he also gave us terrific advice and input on areas outside his direct remit. Most importantly, he acted like one of the team.

Seek advice when things go wrong 

Hiccups will happen, that’s why project management gets its own title – and a whole load of blogposts – dedicated to it. The daily project management stuff is a smoothly oiled machine (because you’ve planned and delegated effectively, of course) so don’t let the whole thing crumble at the first sign of trouble.

In my experience, the best way to nip problems in the bud is by keeping them confined to the people that it relates to. For bigger problems, don’t stress the whole team out and look to an outside expert instead, as they can provide an much needed fresh pair of eyes.

In our case, we had our hearts set on using a certain song for a soundtrack. The product’s called TwistKey, so the Chubby Checker song ‘The Twist’ (c’mon baby lets do the twist, twist baby yeah etc.) seemed like a clever little idea. Then we found out what that would cost. Gulp. Easily solved by some good advice from an external voice… Thanks Mike!

Include time for testing and re-testing 

Going on with the theme of outside help and getting your timing right, you should have planned time for making adjustments. This is especially towards the conclusion of the project, when you might look to test the deliverable with potential end users. Unfortunately this can be a real time killer, especially if the testers reveal something big that needs remedying.

When the animation was almost complete, we sent it to various smart people for comment. While they didn’t all say it was awful, that was the general consensus. Our movie was far too long and didn’t actually make any sense to anyone except the team that had worked closely on it, apparently. Not the fault of the animator of course, just a poor story board and a hopeless voiceover (yes, the one we were pretty pleased with at the start… oops).

At that stage we couldn’t really throw the entire thing away and start again. So we revised the order in which the frames play, shortened it by dropping parts and speeding other parts up, and rewrote the voiceover to try and make it work better with the animation to highlight the benefits to customers.

In the end, we were really pleased with the final video, and the feedback on our second version was positive. You can check out the results of the TwistKey team’s efforts below – we’d love to hear your thoughts!

Meet TwistKey from BLL Holdings Ltd on Vimeo.

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