The Project Video: Research, Storyboarding, Animatics, and More

28 September 2014 | 8 Comments

A little over a month ago, a frequent commenter and participant on this blog reached out to me with an offer. Chris Harden, who was working on his building Kickstarter project at the time, had noticed that my existing KS Lesson about project videos didn’t go into details about how the various tools a creator should use to create a great video. He offered to write a guest post about it, and that post is here. Thanks Chris!


video headerI love telling stories, and film is my favorite medium.  For my Kickstarter video, I exercised some valuable lessons I learned while studying at Florida State’s Film School.  Jamey has already posted a concise set of core recommendations, and Steve Venezia has delivered a very practical set of tips.  I hope to build on those, but first I’d like to call out a resonant point from each of them.

Jamey says, “Also, remember that you don’t have to cram everything into your main video.”  I didn’t even think of adding second video clips until he mentioned it.  I followed his idea, and people talked about those videos.

Steve says, “Have a practice round”.  I agree, but I recommend having 10 or more practice rounds.  The more you are practiced in your script, yes write a script, the less mechanical you will be when talking to the camera, and the less time of the film crew’s time you’ll waste.  I say this, because Jeremy and I kept changing the script right up until an hour before the crew was there, and we burned valuable time with retakes.

video troboOnce you get past memorization (even if it is rough memorization), you should practice your body language.  I built in physical responses to what Jeremy was saying, and I queued my own body language when I spoke as  well – these standard acting techniques will ensure you a projecting the message you want to project when the camera is rolling.  Practice doesn’t make you disingenuous; it makes your message solid.

Here’s my biggest recommendation, right up front, so that if you read nothing past it, you at least get this message.  In film school, I learned that if you are going to write or shoot a comedy, a horror, a romance, whatever, you should watch 10 other movies in that genre to get a sense of the formula. The formula is not only the script, but the shooting style, the pacing, whatever makes that genre, that genre.  Not only do you watch them, but you rewatch them, and you dissect their mechanics.

The same is true for Kickstarter videos.  Like everyone else scrambling to do ten thousand things for their campaign, I had to budget my efforts.  So I picked 5.  I picked 4 in my genre – i.e. comparable products targeted to my same audience.  I also picked Coolest Cooler, because I’m a big fan of that project.  I broke down their flows, looking for common messaging, “problem statement”, “reinforcing the core message”, “why created the project – the dream”, etc…  Of course ALL OF THESE WERE FUNDED PROJECTS.

I tossed those into this excel spreadsheet and looked for common messages and messages that resonated with me (I’m also part of the target market).  I used those common messages to build my own story skeleton (left side of the diagram below).  As long as I hit on all those major messages, I knew I was at least performing on par with my contemporaries in ways that should resonate with my target audience.

Side note, the Coolest Cooler was for a significantly different target market, and it didn’t contribute as much as the others, which makes complete sense in retrospect.  It specifically did not have an emotional appeal like the others and focused more on features, which confirmed the recommendation of picking videos in your genre as guides.  If I had just followed Coolest’s format, I would have missed out on a significant part of our story.  I did snag some things, like his brilliant usage of arrows at the tail end to motivate people to like and tweet.

I wrote and revised the script many times, as we annealed the message.  I use Final Draft – highly recommended.


I built storyboards once with Toon Boom Storyboard (not recommended).  I used Sony Movie Studio Platinum – highly recommended for a cheap, powerful editor.  I used static images snatched off Google image search as needed, and put this animatic together, with a voice over and a still shot of me and my partner doing our initial pitch.  We iterated on it 6 more times, putting it in front of NEW, more, and increasingly less-familiar eyeballs every time, before reaching the message and timing we wanted.

Why do storyboards and rough videos?  Two benefits:

  1. The final shoot is more efficient.  Our final video was shot in two days.  The first day was the core conversation with the camera, the second was for B-roll, user trials, endorsements, and pickups.  With your animatic done, you can write a shotlist.  Making a shotlist will ensure you don’t miss a single shot for your video and that you can plan your shoots properly.
  2. You vet your message before you spend your time and money on the final video.  Changing everything in an animatic is cheap.  To vet our message, I combined the storyboards with a soundtrack I licensed from or a comparable site (yes please be professional and clear the license), and sent the 4th revision of the animatic off to about 60 people.  We have a focus group, so we used them.  We listened NOT to every piece of feedback, but to commonly occurring data points (we made it clear that this was an animatic storyboard, not a final video).  Turns out our initial message was too forceful and long to some people. About a fourth or third told us the same thing. We pivoted, changed our message.  Our biggest mistake here was getting this feedback a bit too late–if you’re going to ask for feedback, always leave yourself plenty of time to actually implement that feedback.

Then spend a little cash, and shoot your video with good equipment, lighting, and audio. If you can, pay someone who knows how to shoot video and how to edit. We used Filmscape.  They should be local to you.  Ask them if they have done a Kickstarter video before.  Companies who have, get its format a little better.  If you prefer to do this on your own, you can shoot with an iPad mini.  Check out this fairly thorough cheap lighting video. And for audio GET A LAV MIC with a  long cable (6-9ft).  The lav mic doesn’t have to be expensive, but it’s absolutely the cheapest and best investment you will ever make in your iPad recordings.  I was taught to do this for our video blog, and it made a wonderful difference.  Find a royalty free soundtrack on one of many sites.  Some make you pay, some don’t.   Just get the licensing right before you use it.

The video has to talk for you when you can’t be there to represent the product yourself.  Pay someone who knows how to shoot video and how to edit.  Doing so will allow you to focus on your messaging.  If you want eyeballs on your video, I’d be happy to give you constructive feedback.  You can contact us via this page.

Chris Harden is Co-Founder of TROBO the Storytelling Robot, a talking plush toy and interactive storytelling app that teaches kids 2-7 about science and engineering.  TROBO is currently live on Kickstarter at


If you have any questions for Chris about filming a powerful Kickstarter video, feel free to ask him in the comments. Or post a link to your favorite Kickstarter video!

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8 Comments on “The Project Video: Research, Storyboarding, Animatics, and More

  1. I’m close to launching my second Kickstarter and this time I’m thinking of using an animated super short trailer video made on Spark which will be under 45 seconds but get across the basic idea of the game. I’ll put on a run through video lower down the page but I think the animation will get the game across better and more efficiently, and look more professional at a lower cost. What are your thoughts about non live action KS videos?

  2. Hi Kim, you raise an interesting point. I also think that sometimes videos can hurt a campaign, instead of help them, if the creators didn’t put enough time into the video to make it worth watching. I can’t speak for other Kickstarters, but our video is seeing 41% of plays go to completion. Does that mean it could be better at the mid point? Probably. Does it mean we should have shot for a minute or perhaps 2 max Yep, I think so. But there are probably lots of other things that go into a decision to stop playing the video early. What some advise is that we put our videos on youtube early, watch the playback analytics, and make a new, shorter version based on that. If a Kickstarter has the runway to do so, I think that it’s a great idea. I think it’s one of those things where you try your best, listen to advice & feedback, and hope you do well.

  3. Really good advice for video planning here thanks. Having said that I rarely watch intro videos of KS projects at all. And almost never all of them. I mainly go off the quality of the content and presentation on the page because that quality is much more relevant to the table top game style product than a video. I do watch gameplay videos more often, and I almost wish intro videos were just 1 minute overviews of the game without much else. I wonder what % of people watch zero / 30 seconds / 1 minute / all of a table top game video.

  4. Hi Jason,

    Regarding your note: ” I would not be surprised if you don’t start seeing things that are in the realm of movie trailers on a regular basis in the tabletop game area.”

    I think that some gamers have been able to accomplish it, or at least their storytelling is on par with trailers. And you are right about production value adding so much to the video – particularly for appealing to strangers. My friends and family will support me for a myriad of other reasons besides the quality of my video, but complete strangers ONLY have that to go on. Many of them will never meet you, and they use the quality of your video to judge your product or ability to deliver that product.

    I can tell you – the guys that have a leg up on Kickstarter videos are those who have been to film school or are professionals shooting documentaries, etc…. Their KS videos are almost always at trailer quality, as one would expect.

    Good times, :]

  5. I also thought long and hard about my video. In the end it is a bit longer but the production value on my video is pretty good I think. it has after effects in the beginning and the end and the video is a bit off the beaten path which is what I wanted. So much of Kickstarter now is not about the “Hey I have and Idea” It is more about production value. That is your video, production value. least that is how I see it.

    Everything that goes into it is production value. the quality of the work, the sound, the lighting, the cut, and how each of those things affects the overall video. Does it add to the quality or not? There are a ton of different things you can do in your video. In a year, I would bet to get folks to notice you you are going to really have to ramp it up if you are new. I would not be surprised if you don’t start seeing things that are in the realm of movie trailers on a regular basis in the tabletop game area.

    The hello this is my project is not going to cut it as a new company looking for backing.

  6. Great advice Chris! I’ve actually been watching a TON of video lately to plan for my KS project. I am glad I am already following your biggest piece of advice :-) And I’ll definitely be taking you on your “constructive feedback” offer!

    I do have a question though. How important is it to “shoot your video with good equipment”? I def agree about the lighting and audio, but won’t most iphones shoot good enough quality? Or would you totally recommend against this?

    1. Hi John,

      If you are going low-budget, iPads are fine. Jamey is going to add an update from me that makes a few recommendations around using iPads, lav mics, etc… The one thing about a basic iPad setup for video, is that you get no control over depth of field. So everything is in focus. After decades of going to movies, we are trained to associate high-quality theatre or TV experience with variations in depth of field. In our video, Jeremy and I are in focus, but the background is not. Lots of the B-roll footage shows this too. That’s what you can do with a professional camera vs a basic iPad, which is CMOS technology intended to keep everything in focus for easier shooting. So barring that, it’s more about lighting and audio than camera quality. If you don’t care so much about a cinematic appeal and are just trying to get the job done with decent quality, ipads are fine. Just use the outward facing camera, not the one where you do selfies. You probably already know that is generally a lower quality camera.

      P.S. Yes, I’d love to give constructive feedback on your video when ready. ;]

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