Christian Media

Style Guidelines for Media Producers and Video Editors

In a media-driven culture, we are bombarded with advertising messages on a regular basis – some say as many as 3,000 per day. It’s a complex media jungle out there, and the truth is, that clutter is why so many programs fail today – they just can’t get noticed.  Today, to “cut through the media clutter,” the best method is often a whisper, rather than a scream. At Cooke Media Group, we’ve been working lately with our clients on some guidelines for video editors to help them understand how to make their programs contemporary and effective. In that process, we wanted to share some of those tips to help media producers and video editors give their programs more impact.  Here’s their thoughts:

1. As a general rule, stay in touch with current television, web design, and art.  Secular TV will especially expose you to current style trends and ideas. We want faith-based programming to be up-to-date, contemporary, and relevant, and keeping up with current styles and formats is the key.

2. As a form of practice, record several hours of television and watch commercials, frame by frame if necessary.  We recommend you begin by copying others work and style exactly until you are able to produce the same quality. Turn off the sound, and you’ll begin to focus on the production techniques and style. Look at graphic effects, and graphic animation. At the time of this writing, “subtlety” is what’s hot. No raging, blaring graphics – just simple, clean, and stylish.

3. Enjoy art of all kinds from traditional to current.  Have a “deep bench” when it comes to your own personal knowledge of design, camera framing, and art.

4. Read the latest trade magazines.  Production and post magazines from the entertainment and media industries help keep you up to date on what’s working for other organizations and give you new ideas.

5. Refer to fashion magazines for the proper use of current colors and fonts.  Oddly enough, these types of magazines use color and font choices well. They are a great source of ideas.

6. Keep graphics clean and simple.  Again – not screaming graphics. Today, people are expecting something much more unobtrusive as they watch the program.

7. Lower 3rds and graphics should not be busy.  Make them readable and clear at first glance. Lower third does not mean lower two thirds. Use you screen space wisely, and if you have too much information, either change to a full page graphic, or use two successive lower thirds. Don’t be afraid of white space.

8. Rule of thumb when creating a spot or graphic – If you don’t understand it the first time, it’s failed.  Meaning: If a viewer doesn’t understand it completely on first viewing, it doesn’t work. Chances are, the audience will see your TV spot only once, so you need to be clear and simple with your art, ideas, and info.

9. Whatever video editing system you use, only add vendor plug-ins that make sense, just don’t use a plug-in because you have them or because they look cool. We recommend not using any until you can push pure creativity to it’s limits. The top editors rarely use plug-ins. The key thing to remember regarding the “look and feel” is that it must reflect the story you’re telling. For instance, don’t use a grainy look just to make it different. In a similar way, “wacky cam” works wonderfully well on a movie like “Man on Fire,” but on “The Gilmore Girls” it would be a huge mistake. Your shooting and editing style should not be chosen in a vacuum. It must reflect the story you’re telling.

10. Use music to enhance your work, and use it to tell a story and accentuate the visuals.  Today, music is a key element in all spots, segments, and programs. Choose your music cuts carefully and be very selective. Once again – use music to help you tell the story.

11. Keep to the style guide.  The programs ALL need to have a uniform look and feel. If your church or ministry has a logo design and style guide, chances are, they were created after a lengthy branding and identity process and with many factors in mind. Therefore, focus your creativity on telling a great story, or capturing a powerful message, not creating unusual and unique graphics. All producers and editors need to work together to create programs that reflect the new branding direction. Having the Photoshop and/or After Effects elements determined ahead of time will free you up to focus your time and creativity on the program itself, and not be bogged down in creating graphic templates.

We encourage all the producers, directors, and editors to have a real desire to grow and be the best you can be. The media industry is changing at light speed, and if you’re not learning, you’re falling behind.

Let’s commit to focusing our efforts on becoming the leading edge of television, and creating the format and template for what television should look like in the 21st Century.

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17 Comments

  1. Please more blogs like this so I can take them to my Church and Ministry clients and say look ~ Phil Cooke said so ~ when I’ve already told them the same thing. (Disclaimer: Only .22% of this statement is a joke.)

  2. Most video editors aren’t that skilled or knowledgeable in creating the kind of program opens and graphic elements that exist in secular television today. Most of these graphics packages go through an elaborate storyboarding process and take a team of people weeks or even months to produce. It’s better to hire a specialist or company if you want a top-notch polished look.

  3. Overall, great post with great advice, but when are we as the Church going to stop chasing secular media? The Church used to be the source of great media… Sistine Chapel for example… why shouldn’t be strive to lead the way again?

  4. Love it.  Asked the graphics guy at church if he had a style guide?  He said he was working on one, but mostly it was in his head.  He’s really good, but it would help me figure the headroom for branding the pieces I get for vid.  Our producer(he too is really good) is going to push it and he likes it BIG! I’m trying to figure out how big, big is.  Seriously great post.  I find myself seeing motion in every id, opener, inters, bump, mort and tag I see, mostly cause now my church might really use it!!!  Render, render render.

  5. ProducerD, as an editor with almost 20 years of “secular” experience, I heartily DISagree… I have seen too many times where a major company was brought in to outsource the graphics or design package only to have the local animators, editors and promo staff have to adapt the material to make it work. We had one instance where the outside company created animated graphics for our station where half of the elements rotated clockwise and half counterclockwise. We were told by higher-ups that the outsource company would not redo the graphics without compensation and it was not affordable. The local editors and graphic animators had to work together to blend the graphics so that the sudden switch from clockwise to counterclockwise in the middle of the news open was as unnoticeable as possible.

    I don’t know about most editors, but over the years I have developed a fine eye, catching even a missed frame while playing real time. The best advice I would give editors is practice, practice, practice. I started editing tape to tape long before non-linear was all the rage. When I started editing on a non-linear system, I had to edit at least 2 spots per day. Now, they weren’t always the best looking spots at first, but doing it every day, the easy cuts become rote, leaving more time for the more difficult and creative editing, time to be creative and play.

    Also, take the time to learn how things were done in the past. Too many editors these days rely too heavily on computers to make things work visually. We did not always have computers and even my tape to tape editing was nothing new. But I had someone I worked with who had been trained by his brother, one of the top editors in Atlanta, how things were done when he started editing, back in the early 70’s. Knowing how a visual effect was created back then can often aid in discovering how to make it work on the computer, whether its nesting effects or even just straight cuts. Even just the way something is shot can assist with the editing process. Or knowing that if an image was shot in poor lighting that yields a bluish tint, it can be fixed by applying the right orange filter to compensate.

    And never, never say to a client during the shoot, “It’s okay, we’ll fix it in post…” If you have the capability to do it right the first time, please do so.

  6. @JohnsonStephenM, Great point. It’s great to make a blanket criticism like this. It shows just how much you’re doing to change things. I would like to see the Body of Christ leading the way as well…

    Unfortunately, we have to at least catch up before we can lead the way.

    Read some more of Phil’s posts – he’s much more on the same page as you than you may think.

  7. Sorry, I meant to add my editing ideas/comments to the already excellent guidelines provided by Phil’s team at TWC.

  8. Phil, this is really great stuff. For years I’ve been telling editors to turn off the sound and watch the picture. If you can clearly understand the majority of the clip w/o sound, you’re on the right track. Also…think BACK to FRONT. I’m about to direct a new tv series and have already – before we even get into production – thought through the series look, music, graphics, visual style, audio mix and post-production workflow…which then impacts our choices upfront for the cameras, microphones, HD format and shooting approach. Style guides for the feature editors are already in the works – BEFORE shooting,

  9. After watching Avatar this weekend, it amazed me as to how much time and money that must have gone into that movie. I’m sticking to rom-coms and such.

  10. thought through the series look, music, graphics, visual style, audio mix and post-production workflow…which then impacts our choices upfront for the cameras, microphones, HD format and shooting approach. Style guides for the feature editors are already in the works – BEFORE shooting,

  11. For years I’ve been telling editors to turn off the sound and watch the picture. If you can clearly understand the majority of the clip w/o sound, you’re on the right track. Also…think BACK to FRONT

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