Supercharge your case study videos

By September 25, 2015how to guides

Case study films are a wonderful way to talk about your cause. An original human story – an experience shared or a personal anecdote – allows viewers to feel a connection with the subject or to imagine how they’d react in the same situation.

But too often case study films are simply a collection of talking heads. I think there are some simple tricks and techniques drawn from TV that charities could use to make case study films far more interesting and watchable.

So here are my insider tips, drawn from 15 years working in TV and 6 years making films for charities.

1. Be visual – think pictures not just words.

The great power of video is that it can create character and intimacy by showing things. So instead of just thinking what people might say in your film, think about what they could do instead. If you want to create memorable case studies that people will watch and share, then you need to go beyond a simple ‘talking head’ style video.

Picture sequences don’t have to be complicated but a bit of careful planning will really help bring your films to life: find out what your contributors do to relax – a simple walk in the park, or playing a game with the family can be wonderful if shot carefully. Even better is if you can capture someone doing something to do with the film’s subject – an appointment with a doctor, exercise programme or a cooking class.

These films from Age UK and Barclays make the most of people doing things and bring real warmth and character in the process.

We recently made some case study films for Age UK and even with people in their 80s we managed to get some life and movement into the visuals!

2. Use music to drive the pace not set the mood.

Music shouldn’t be there simply to convey mood (how many times have you head a piano tinkling away under a moving interview?). It should be used to drive the tempo of the film or to signal a change in subject.

Music can also help with pacing: don’t be frightened to have a break in the interviews or talking heads. Let the audience take in what they’ve just heard or think about how they’d respond in the situation described by allowing them a break with a sequence of pictures and music. Just 10 seconds will work wonders.

Think about using several tracks, even in a short film: it makes my heart sink when I hear a track that begins at the start of the video and runs all the way through to the end, 3 or 4 minutes later.  In this title sequence for a series I directed for the BBC we used 4 tracks in 2 minutes, using different pieces to change the pace and mood…

3. Natural Sound or Actuality.

OK, this may sound a little arcane but it’s the big secret of TV documentaries and it’s the key to creating realistic and engaging films bring to lide character of the people you’re featuring. And it’s missing in nearly all the charity case study films I’ve seen.

Natural sound or actuality is all the sound and chatter that happens ‘in real life’ – the moment that someone walks in and says hello, or asks for a cup of tea or laughs.. or people have a chat…. In fact anything that’s not an interview. It’s the simple moments of overheard conversations or communication that create a sense of ‘being there’ and becoming intimate with the audience.

Actuality is used to great effect in this advert from McCain – no interviews about how great fish fingers are, no voice over about how healthy they are but just ‘genuine’ chatter from real family mealtimes that show the goodness!

They’ve also made a series of 30” clips that are really fun – check them out on their youtube channel.


(i) People just like us….

  • Messages are better accepted and more effective if they come from people we perceive to be ‘like us’, especially when targeting hard to reach groups.
  • Don’t be shy about asking your clients or beneficiaries for their stories. People who’ve used your service are nearly always pleased to help in return.

(ii) Pick up the phone

  • If someone is confident and engaging on the phone then there’s a good chance they’ll be good on camera.
  • And they’re less likely to back out at the last minute if you’ve spoken rather than emailed.
  • During a chat people will often surprise you with an insight or a nugget of information that you’d not heard before: all good material for your film.

(iii)  Listen and learn

  • It’s the authentic human story that draws people in and keeps them watching. So it’s important not to put words into people’s mouths or give them scripts to learn.
  • Spend time talking with contributors and then incorporate their words and stories into your script.

(iv) It’s not about the camera

  • Time and again, our clients tell us a shoot has gone well because everyone knew what was expected of them and what was going to happen.
  • We always work in a team of at least 2 or 3 people and always dedicate someone who’s entire job on the shoot is to be the point of contact with the contributor. This is always the person who is going to do the interview. Everyone else can take care of the technical stuff so the contributor feels relaxed and properly informed.
  • Tell them where the film will be used – your website, Facebook, YouTube – so they clearly understand what they’re agreeing to.

(v) Now say thank you

  • All most contributors ask for in return is to know that their contribution has been valued.
  • So keeping in touch with feedback, a copy of the film and a thank you are all vital.