DOC’s “Alternate Route” | Breaking down the elements of a a successful creative process

By 17 January 2017Video Production
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In January of 2017, we were really pleased to hear from a client ( DOC ) that a video we had made for them in late 2016 had done really well, getting over 150,000 views and 1000 shares on its 2 online platforms. We thought it would be useful for us to share some of the steps we went through.

Background

After the devastating Kaikoura earthquake of 2016, the State Highway 1 from Christchurch to Blenheim was closed and the subsequent SH7 route via Blenheim, Murchison, and Lewis Pass became the Alternate Route through the top half of the South Island.  This road is less suited to heavy traffic and it became apparent to many people that travelling times were going to increase. As a response to this, we were contacted by the Department of Conservation (DOC) to help with some comms.

DOC wanted us to help communicate, to both New Zealanders and international travellers, information about this new route.  The primary goal from their perspective, was to make people more aware of some of the roadside stops along the way. In doing so, they’d not only be encouraging people to take their time and not get too stressed about the increased travel time, but also to get into our great outdoors.

The Process

Having worked with DOC before, we were given full creative control with the condition that we included DOC’s key requirements: make it engaging, informative, shareable and also contain information about the relevant stops along the way.

We were given a pretty tight timeframe of 3 weeks to conceptualise, script, shoot, edit and deliver so that it would be available pre-Christmas. One of the first helpful factors was that we were provided with an approximate budget to work from at the outset. Receiving an idea of what we had to spend meant that we could cut our cloth to fit; in other words, any ideas we would come up with would need to  fit the budget in order to go ahead.

Our first decision was that, given the timeframe, two creative heads could work better than one. Hamish, who has a strong background in tourism, conservation and marketing, teamed up with Sam who has a strong drama background.

At this point, it became a couple of days of brainstorming ideas. We had to decide how best to treat this video – is this a presenter-lead piece, is it a drama-style with multiple actors, is it a voiceover? etc. Finally, we whittled our ideas down to two, and after presenting these to DOC and receiving their feedback, we settled upon our final idea – a character called Kenneth.

Creative Development: Kenneth

The character of Kenneth was born from two places – budget (we found we really only had budget for one talent) and us looking at the wider DOC communication picture. During our pre-production meetings with DOC, we asked ourselves “what if this one person could go bigger than just this video?” We concluded that a one-off character video may end up being something of an oddity and that it would be much more valuable from DOC’s perspective to have a character that could work in different environments and allow for further campaigns downtrack for DOC.

Having resolved to the idea of one character, we had to decide who this character was: were they real (eg. a well-know personality) or made up? We decided a fictional character would provide the best benefit to DOC and so we began to give this person attributes; age, sex, ethnicity and emotional characteristics.

We then spent a long time thinking about keywords that would help build the character, at which point you ask yourselves all sorts of questions – is this person well-spoken, are they aloof or happy, are they endearing or do you laugh at them? You end up asking a lot of questions about what they may do in various circumstances and it’s the answers to these questions that shape the character. Keywords began to emerge – endearing, loveable, goofy, enthusiastic and as these words stuck together, the character of Kenneth was born.

Kenneth is an enthusiastic, but slightly amateur, video blogger from Hawkes Bay who has a series of vlogs and an audience following.  He is constantly making new blogs about all sorts of things – hip hop, pavlova making etc.

As we refined the character of Kenneth, we began to sketch out how he would fit within the story and what he would do along the way. We knew Kenneth needed to communicate certain things eg. stopping points at Kerr Bay, Murchison, Maruia Falls etc, but we knew it would be what he did at each of these points which would help drive the character of the story and in turn, keep the audience engaged with him.

Each location required something for Kenneth to interact with – putting up a tent, breathing the big mountain air, spotting wildlife, taking a swim, an object, an action, part of the environment. Kenneth’s characteristics are all brought out as he interacts with these elements.  What may seem entirely natural and unscripted are actually well planned out in advance. Things like putting up a tent in haphazard and goofy way, finding two wonderful German tourists to breakdance with, were all part of the script but what we needed to do was find the person who could realise the role and into that stepped the mercurial Cohen Holloway.

Bringing Cohen on as Kenneth was like watching a paper description of someone, get turned into a real life character.  Cohen totally got the character from the first moment and brought ( as great actors do ) a bunch more depth to Kenneth than we dreamt of. As the script developed, we found that we really wanted some people for Kenneth to engage with, and so it was that two more unseen characters were written into the script – Trev the camera man and Sharon from DOC.  Both of these characters gave us dialogue opportunities to help develop and illustrate the loveable Kenneth.

Once we’d had a script approved it was a case of VERY quickly getting the production up and running, with a three day shoot scheduled, followed by a three day edit to turn it all around.

The Shoot, Edit & Distribution

It would be fair to say spending three days on the road with such a great crew was like being on a roadie with mates (albeit working long hard hours ). Great directing and sweet-talking allowed us opportunities to film little cameos along the way, with the Stop-Go Man and the German Tourists all being real characters we found along the road.

As with the creative side of things, Sam and Hamish worked in tandem on the post-production, creating a style of homemade graphics (aka “what Kenneth would do”) and selecting music that fill the overall concept.

We sometimes liken a great video to successfully baking a tricky cake recipe.  There are plenty of ingredients that need to come together in the right way for the cake to come out just right.

One of the key things that can sometimes get overlooked is the distribution.  Videos like this are designed to be enjoyable, to be shareable, to be engaging and to do this it is really important that they are seeded via a good distribution network.  We were lucky to have such a well loved organisation as DOC with a good distribution network to help with audience engagement.

It’s a new style of video for the Department and it’s exciting to be with them helping forge the path.

You can watch Kenneth in action here.

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