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How we organise our film production team

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Setting up filming

One question we've been asked a few times is: “What does your film production team look like? How can our department/agency/organisation build a team like that too?”

In the spirit of “publish, don’t send,” and since this isn't a topic covered by the Service Manual, this post explains how our team works at GDS. You might find the same approach works for you.

Flexible roles

Filmmaking, like user research, is a team sport. We usually get a team together for each film, and we take a flexible approach to assigning tasks and roles, depending on what's required.

With a bit of juggling, it is possible for one person to do everything: setting up the camera, recording the audio, and conducting the interview. It's possible, but we don't recommend it - this approach is hard work for one individual, and you'll get much better results by spreading the load a bit further.

So at a minimum, we tend to assign two people to each film project: one to operate the camera/monitor the sound, and one to conduct the interview. They are the owners of that film project and will look after it from beginning to end. This works very well for the majority of films we make, which are usually talking-heads interviews with one, two or three people.

Film-making roles

The camera operator is responsible for the recorded image. They need to make sure the subject is well framed, properly lit, and in focus. Lighting is a skill in itself, whether that means making use of available natural light or setting up specialist lighting equipment. Recording the sound properly means someone has to listen to it while the interview is taking place. We usually combine those three roles, so the camera operator is in charge of setting up lights and listens to the audio while watching the camera screen as well. It's quite demanding and requires a lot of concentration, but it works for us.

If you can separate out the technical roles of camera operator and sound recordist, you'll make life easier for both of them. That means they have fewer tasks to juggle at once. We don't do this for every shoot, but it's useful to have it as an option.

We’re lucky enough to have several people who can take on the role of editor. Like operating the camera, recording the sound, setting up the lights and designing motion graphics, editing footage is a skilled job that can take years to learn. Our camera people double as editors too, but that doesn’t mean you can’t separate the roles if you’re able to. One thing to consider is that editing is very time-consuming; if your camera operator and editor are one person, you’ll have to allow them enough time to edit each film they shoot.

We don't use motion graphics in all films, but we do in some, and one member of our team is a motion graphics designer. This is another job that's often a lot more complicated and time-consuming than people expect it to be. While it's not essential for all films, we think it helps to have access to someone with this skill - either as a member of the team, or as an occasional freelancer.

The interviewer poses questions, and has to listen carefully to the subject’s answers and respond appropriately. A good interview sounds like a conversation. The interviewer should prepare in advance by ensuring they understand what the finished film needs to say, and how they can guide the interviewee to say the most helpful things. Generally speaking, our interviewers double as writers for the rare occasions when we write a script or a storyboard.

The producer makes sure that everyone on the team:

  • knows where and when to be for the shoot
  • has what they need to make the film
  • understands what the purpose of the film is

Often, it’s useful for the producer to sit in during filming, keeping an eye and an ear open for problems that the interviewer and camera operator are too preoccupied to spot.

Roles and people

We've found that roles don’t necessarily equal individuals. Often, the individuals on a film production team will perform more than one role, and those roles vary from one film to the next.

Just as you'd expect with other multidisciplinary teams in government, the film team is flexible. Sometimes a film might only need input from two or three of us. At other times, all of us will chip in. It helps to have lots of people with a variety of skills, so they can swap roles when needed. Sometimes we do hire in extra help from a production company, and on those occasions juggle our roles and to-do lists to fill the gaps that the production company's team can't fill.

We usually go through rough cuts as a team as well, and use feedback from those sessions to make more polished edits.

Whatever works for you

This arrangement works well for us, but we're very aware that we still have a lot to learn from other teams elsewhere in government. So if you have tips or suggestions based on your own experience, please let us know or post your story in the comments below.

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  1. Comment by Paul Bond posted on

    What is the user need to have videos showcasing your internal teams?

    Neither as a member of the curious public, as a taxpayer or as someone who has worked in numerous roles on major web projects can I see value in a video letting us know you have a service desk team of helpful coffee drinkers, for example.

    If it shared something over than standard practice it might teach something but it just says you have a service desk team. Like doing a video saying your office has a printer.

    This isn't a rhetorical question - which 'user need, not government need' made this a priority?. Looking forward to your reply.

    • Replies to Paul Bond>

      Comment by Carrie Barclay posted on

      You wouldn't know it from seeing them on the web, but these films are sometimes used for internal training sessions, inductions and other presentations. The user need is often that of the person providing the training or doing the presentation, who needs things like photos, diagrams and videos to use as part of each session.

      Regarding the IT team film in particular - back in 2013, we published the Government Digital Strategy. If you look at the Actions section of that document ( you'll see many references to "improving digital capability" across the Civil Service. In other words, helping civil servants make better use of digital technology and the internet. The "meet the team" videos are part of that work. The IT team video helps us to explain to other government teams what it might be like if they took control of their IT in-house, rather than outsourcing it (which has been the common approach in the past).

      Thanks for your comment - I hope this answers your question.

  2. Comment by N White posted on

    Nice one Team! We use Qumu as our base system.

  3. Comment by Giles Turnbull posted on

    I like to think of them as just another tool in the explaining-things-toolbox. Some things are best explained in a blog post. Other things in a 20 minute presentation. And a few things in 2 minutes of video.

    Often, films act as introductions or illustrations. For example, take a look at the page about agile in the Service Manual:

    ... there's a 2 minute film near the top of the page that gives the reader a short introduction to the subject, without attempting to explain the whole thing.

  4. Comment by Trevor Pyle posted on

    At the DfT we've been making videos since 2009. A change of line management necessitated a briefing note on our activities which I thought might be helpful to share as it covers roles and how we use video. Email me if you'd like to know more:



    The video unit operated informally during 2009/10 and formally came into being in April 2010. To date the team has completed 390 video projects and has over 400 hours of video material in its library.


    Trevor Pyle – producer

    An experienced producer and corporate affairs writer who, prior to joining DfT, Trevor ran a small video production company producing corporate videos for a diverse client base and he made several broadcast documentaries for ITV and Channel 4. He originally came to the DfT as a speechwriter.

    Trevor is the team’s producer, effectively project managing productions from brief to delivery, a process that encompasses; scheduling work, working with SCMs, press officers, policy and private offices on developing briefs, scripting, directing, interviewing, planning shoots and supervising editing to completion and sign off.

    Paul Weekes – cameraperson/editor

    Paul is responsible for all technical aspects of production and benefits from BBC camera and editing training and has worked as a freelancer for production companies. He joined the DfT in an IT post, but because of his skills had been called upon to make a number of training programmes prior to the inception of the video unit. He has extensive and up-to-date technical skills/knowledge and these are the foundation of the high production quality achieved.

    Margaret O’Mahony – trainee cameraperson/editor/graphics

    Mags studied has a Bsc film/communication and cultural studies and worked on the web team. She is an experienced Photoshop user and is familiar with several other graphics programmes. She has been with the video team since April 2014 and is training to be a cameraperson and editor. Over time, she hopes to add to her graphics capabilities to give the unit an animation capability.

    Work undertaken

    The team undertakes a diverse range of work:

    • Programmes to support comms and strat comms programmes, announcements, consultations, franchising, ministerial visits etc. for YouTube and, increasingly, directly for stakeholder audiences and events (e.g. the DfT outward facing events such as business breakfasts and rail franchise bidder’s days), for stakeholders and in conjunction with stakeholders (e.g. the launch of Siemens rolling stock for Thameslink at Excel)

    • Video speeches are regularly undertaken for all DfT ministers when they are unable to attend an event (the video unit also assists in the writing or sub-editing of speech content).

    • Internal comms has a very limited video capability, so the video team is called upon when a more professional end result is required e.g. Shared Services Implementation Board for group and MCA staff audiences, briefing HA staff on the transition to a government owned company, scripting and working with actors for an HR campaign seen by all DfT staff

    Cross Government working

    • The team provides, when available, cover for filming the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister along with various Cabinet Office and Defra ministers

    • As part of the ‘hub marketing’ initiative, the team produced several programmes on behalf of the Cabinet Office, Defra and DECC, but has tailed off because of increased demand from DfT clients

    • As well as working for OGDs the team has also made programmes for DVSA, all three Accident Investigation Branches, and MCA

    Where and how we work

    • Programmes are edited using computerised, non-linear professional software Adobe Premier 2014

    • Location filming – the team travels extensively across England, which often entails overnight stays and car hire, using professional broadcast standard cameras to shoot high definition material for productions across all modes of transport

    • The studio, which benefits from autocue (operated by volunteers), is used to film ministerial speeches and interviews

    • Trevor also undertakes interviews in the studio and on location with ministers, council leaders, elected mayors, LEP Chairs, CoC chairs, Perm Sec, DGs, stakeholders (from CEs and chairs of corporations to frontline staff and the public) etc.

    Commissioning process and current priorities

    The commissioning process for all video work has recently been revised and is based on a video briefing form using OASIS principles. Requests are assessed against the brief to focus on current priorities and availability to undertake work.

    The team’s current priorities are centred on DfT Core Comms Campaigns:

    • Growth (includes local transport investment and growth around Aviation and Maritime)
    • Roads
    • Increasing understanding of HS2 as a vital investment in rebalancing the economy
    • Providing reassurance that HS2 recognises its impact on people and places and is committed to treating people fairly
    • Leading a World Class Railway
    • Drug Driving

  5. Comment by Robin Carswell posted on

    I'd love to hear more on *why* we make films at GDS. (How is cool, too though.)