The past few months, we found ways to connect with others while physically distancing. We fought for justice and equality, protesting safely in the streets. We turned out in record numbers (and in masks) to cast our ballots in the most consequential election of our lifetime. And here at Blue State, we continued to tell impactful stories — even when we’re all apart. 

A new addition to the Blue State toolbox, I’m part of an in-house crew that writes, produces, and edits videos to help our clients’ stories shine and help their messages break through. Through the course of this year, we adapted the way we produce videos to ensure the safety of everyone involved. But how do you create a beautiful, captivating video without being face to face? Here are some things we’ve learned: 

Working with what you got: The basics of COVID-era production

We’ve all had to get a little creative when taking video calls from home. From arranging the right background, adjusting lighting, or testing mics — you work with what you have. For our work with Senator Elizabeth Warren, it’s not too different. 

In March, her campaign had just ended and a pandemic had begun — which meant the work was far from over. Senator Warren was working non-stop on issues like holding the Trump administration accountable and calling out voter suppression in Georgia, so we produced videos to make her a leading voice on these causes — all in the safety of her home. For production, our best friends quickly became QuickTime Player, Zoom, and an external mic we could plug into her computer. We also put a few Astra lights in front of her set-up, and propped the computer on a few books. (Production tip: eye line is important!) 

The key to a stellar background? Depth. Place your subject in a place in the room where there is some interest behind them. Avoid blank walls. For the Senator, we used a beautiful room with lots of plants and windows! And it’s been working — we’ve been receiving consistent 9/10 and 10/10 room ratings from @Room Rater for Senator Warren’s setup. 

Screengrab of a tweet from @ratemyskyperoom, giving Senator Warren's set up a 10/10.

Taking Zoom up a notch

Outside of production, we’ve explored how to innovate in the post-production realm to elevate the quality of Zoom recordings.

Let’s be honest, Zoom recordings are ugly. Their resolution is low quality, the color is dull, and oftentimes, the backgrounds aren’t all that great. Sure, the topic of conversation can be dynamic and important, but if someone gets distracted by the cat walking in the background, or that pile of random laundry, how can the message truly shine? Here’s how: Add graphic and text animations, news clips, transitions, and other brand design elements to spice things up. It’ll make even dull backgrounds pop. 

Here are a few examples of videos we were able to put together with our partners: 

We Demand More

We Demand More is a coalition of 70 organizations using their collective power to fight for the courageous women workers and caretakers — especially women of color — who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. 

For this video, we interviewed the women that COVID-19 has impacted most  — nurses, teachers, and small business owners  — so that they could call on Congress to pass another COVID relief bill and demand that corporate leaders step up to do their part.  To enhance the Zoom videos for this clip, we utilized animation — with text graphics, stats, and transitions — to help move the video forward in a polished way. Also, by filming the computer screen and incorporating a split screen design, it allowed us to have a range of different shots that switched up the standard frame. 

To make the piece unique, a border with a subtle moving background was included, helping to elevate the video from “just another Zoom conversation” into a branded and standalone asset that hooked the viewer.

Democracy Defense Coalition

In another challenge, the Democracy Defense Coalition was aiming to inform activists on how to stay safe during a protest. To help the viewer follow along and incorporate the brand into the video, we:

  • Animated icons and text to support what the narrator was saying;
  • Added a border and moving background that fell within the brand’s guidelines; and
  • Animated a direct-to-camera Zoom recording so that the principal, community organizer Jasmen Rogers, would “pop in” on the screen.

The engaging animations, along with the narrator’s powerful and educational message, came together to create an informative yet entertaining explainer video that would help activists take steps to ensure their safety while making their voices heard. 

Warren Democrats 

How do you break down a 10,000-word report in a 7-minute video? When the team at Warren Democrats aimed to digest the lengthy New York Times report on President Trump’s tax returns, they needed to make sure they were bringing viewers a digestible version of the information. 

To help make this happen, we pulled out particularly appalling parts of the report for both Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Katie Porter to read and react to over Zoom, in a conversational way. For the video itself, we added a designed intro sequence, split-screen design, b-roll of news clips, and animated text graphics to switch things up and make it easier to follow. It was also important for us to reel in viewers with a little humor, so we made sure Rep. Porter’s famous sidekick (the whiteboard) made an appearance.

This conversation became one of Warren Democrats’ top-performing videos with over 900,000 views on Twitter and 259,000 views on YouTube. These additional post-production elements enhanced their conversation and made room for what was important: holding Trump accountable.

Back to Basics 

This year has forced us to find new and creative ways to produce and film videos, leaning on post-production animation and design. And even when we start doing more in-person production, we’ll continue to innovate and try new things to make your story shine. Because that’s what actually matters the most: The story, the voice, and the message. All of this “magic” and “spice” is really only there to highlight the core message that you want to share — and the voices you want to uplift. 

Here at Blue State, we want to bring people together and move them to action through the videos we make. Let’s do that work together.