How We Made How Bail Works
For almost a year we’ve been trying to find a solution to communicating the bail process in a straightforward and easy to understand manner. We knew we wanted to put together a video for our bail agent network, AboutBail.com, but weren’t sure of the format. In fact, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a how bail works rap idea floating around Lawgical at one point.
There are a lot of articles and videos on the web that explain the bail process, but many of them provide information that is unnecessary to a person who just needs to hire a bail agent. If someone wants to learn about the history and types of bail there’s plenty out there, but a person who is stressed out and in a time crunch wants the basics and they want them fast. That was the gap we were looking to fill with How Bail Bonds Work.
Understanding what we were taking on
Early on we decided against a live representation of the bail process as a live arrest, jail, and courtroom would automatically project a negative image. Instead, we chose to use illustrations and stop motion. It turned out to be an awesome project–equal parts artistic and technical.
Since this project was a first for us, we consulted someone who knew what they were doing: a videographer. That’s when we learned the technical aspects of the project and the style of video that we wanted: a combination of stationary shots with sliding illustrations and stop motion. We also learned that in choosing to go with illustrations we saved ourselves valuable time and money in not having to hire actors, find shooting locations, and work around innumerable other factors that wouldn’t have even crossed our minds. Aside from hiring someone to shoot the video and a voice actor we were able to keep the project in house.
The first thing we chose to tackle was the script because it dictated what information we would include, the pace of the video, how everything would be oriented, and what needed to be clarified with visuals. The major goal of the script was to communicate the information in a clear and concise manner. This meant staying away from complicated terms like indemnitor, surety, and guarantor and taking every opportunity to cut two or three words down to one.
It was important to develop the script in a way that would allow for easy transitions in the visuals, which is why entire sections were clipped and sentences were rephrased and reoriented throughout shooting. Our final script was about half as long as our initial one and continued to evolve throughout production.
Here’s an example of one sentence that was changed:
After the premium has been paid and any collateral has been signed over, the bail agent will post the bond and the defendant will be released from jail.
There were a few problems with the sentence:
We had no logical visuals to show after the premium has been paid and any collateral has been signed over, and for the rest of the sentence we needed to slide in the judge, slide in the bail agent, cut to a new judge and bail agent giving the thumbs up, slide them out, pull in the defendant in jail and take off the bars. That’s a lot to accomplish in the bail agent will post the bond and the defendant will be released from jail. Even when we did attempt it the transitions looked rushed, messy, and unclear. The solution was to alter the sentence, which now reads:
The bail agent will post the bond once the premium has been paid and any collateral has been signed over. Then the defendant will be released from jail.
This spread out the transitions and also made the sentence easier to follow and understand. As we became more and more aware of how important the script’s pace and wording would be, we altered it to fit the illustrations through the storyboarding process and recorded a temporary voice-over to see what we could realistically manage with our transitions.
Storyboarding and Illustrations
With the script ready the storyboarding process began. This is where things got messy. We had three highly conceptual and creative people trying to determine the single best way to visually communicate an extremely complicated process. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a lot of disagreement, but it was still effective to have one person designated to make the final decision when more than one great idea was being passed around. Storyboarding may be the most crucial part of the process. As the blueprint for the video, it unites the script, audio, and timestamps for each section with the visuals, illustration style, and transitions. The more clearly defined the storyboard, the more quickly and efficiently the footage can be processed.
Our storyboard was constructed one sentence at a time. Reference points for every single transition were added to the written script, and corresponded with images on the board and a chronological list of which illustration would slide in or out and when. Once finalized, we took an inventory of exactly what illustrations we needed. We ended up with about 30 separate illustrations, a few of which were cut during editing. Dom DeLisle completed all of our illustrations in house, and did an amazing job.
Here are some shots of the storyboarding and illustration process (Instagrammed of course):
Storyboarding is a very detail-centric process, but even a meticulously planned storyboard should allow for some flexibility on shooting day. Had we strictly adhered to our storyboard, How Bail Works would have been a completely different video.
Shooting the video was by far the easiest and fastest part of the process. Our setup was pretty basic: two sets of lights and a camera (a Canon 7D DSLR) all on tripods pointing down to a piece of melamine. Each sentence was shot individually, so we ended up with about 40 separate takes. Total actual shooting lasted about two hours at most, including one set of reshoots that took place during processing. Even though a lot of prep went into transitions we realized once we got on set that some transitions were too complicated, didn’t make sense, or should be discarded. A good portion of the shooting was improvised–in fact, we didn’t physically run through the motions and transitions until it came time to shoot each sentence.
Here are a few shots of the setup and shooting process:
Each sequence was shot one at a time, meaning from the first illustration sliding in to wiping the illustrations off to a plain white board. About halfway in we abandoned following the voice-over. We pushed each illustration of the sequence in one at a time, cleared our hands from the frame, and then moved on to the next one. It didn’t matter if a shot was too short or too quick because we could cut footage or make a freeze frame during editing. It actually made for very simple shooting.
Processing the footage
If you’re making a video and are not experienced with the editing program, I would recommend having someone who knows the program walk you through setup. All settings need to match what they were on the camera and still be compatible with the format that the final product will be exported in; otherwise the audio may get out of sync, the video might end up with a low-resolution and grainy look, and exporting and rendering will take days instead of hours. You don’t want to find out that one of your settings was off and can’t be changed after you’ve already put 20+ hours into the project (trust me). If you want to work with Final Cut Pro and fps, .MP4, deinterlacing, 16:9, and rendering are all unfamiliar terms, I’d recommending reading up on the program or looking into something simpler like iMovie. We processed our footage in Final Cut, which we had some experience with going into the project.
After converting our video files to MPEG-4’s (never a good idea to work with original files) and importing them into Final Cut, we selected the best of each sequence (usually the last take) and dropped it into our timeline for editing and fine-tuning. As we matched the footage to the temporary voice-over we were able to, again, reevaluate where stop motion would work best in place of sliding the illustrations in and out. When it made sense to do so, we clipped the footage of the hand sliding the old image out and the new one in, so the video would cut from still image to still image. Aside from a few pre-determined sequences, all stop motion transitions were chosen after-the-fact, and no transition effects (cross-dissolving, fade-in-fade-out, etc.) were added in the program.
The best way to ensure quick processing is to stay organized throughout the process. Having a finalized storyboard that outlines transitions, timestamps, visuals, and transitions can take a huge chunk out of editing time. The more you do in pre-production the quicker and more efficiently production will be. With our video exported as a QuickTime movie, we passed a few rough cuts around the office, settled on a semi-final version, and started looking for a voice-over artist.
Oh, the voice-over. If I had to pick a least favorite portion of the project, this would be it. There’s nothing like rifling through hundreds of clips from commercials and book narrations trying to find the right tone, pitch, and disposition for a video you’ve spent months putting together. This was an easy part of the project to get caught up in, because we had virtually no control. We were at the mercy of another person’s ability to try to understand our needs and alter their voice to fit them. In the end, we’re happy with the voice-over we went with, but it was a surprisingly difficult part of the process.
Good, professional voice-overs don’t come cheap, so we put out a job on Elance to see what was out there. We received over thirty replies and estimates with audio clips. The first person we went with couldn’t match the upbeat tone we were looking for without it sounding forced, so we scrapped it and hired a new person. As a package, we sent the voice-over artists three things:
- A finalized script with every word (numbers, abbreviations, times, everything) written out.
- A low-resolution rough cut so that they could get an idea of what we were looking for in regards to pace, pauses, transitions, and tone.
- A silent, low-resolution rough cut for them to record along with.
Between two individuals we paid $230 (cheap, cheap) for the voice-over. We dropped the final product into our video editing timeline and matched up the speed and transitions. This was a fairly uncomplicated process, and mostly involved splitting and separating the audio clips to create longer pauses. The only issue we ran into is that the artist we chose was masking an accent which creeped up from time to time. In the few instances where it was an issue we spliced in audio from previous recordings and sections to mask it, but overall we were happy with the outcome.
Final processing was a quick fine-tuning of transitions and audio as well as setting up the proper size, format, and file type for the channels we wanted to share it through. We chose to upload .MP4 files instead of .Mov’s because in my experience, .Mov’s and Facebook just can’t find a way to get along (especially when uploading to the video app on a fanpage). All cropping and converting was done in MPEG Streamclip, a handy little program I completely recommend.
We ended up with two versions:
- A YouTube video at a 16:9 aspect ratio for social sharing on Facebook, Google+, and other social media.
- A Wistia upload at a 4:3 aspect ratio for websites and blogposts.
There were definitely A LOT of bloopers:
But with this for a final product it was worth all the bleeps:
About the project and credits
This project was a lot of fun and a massive undertaking unlike anything we’d done before. As a definite team effort, credit goes to Trent for dreaming up the project and intense script work, Dom for her amazing illustrative skills, Beth for spending days rifling through voiceovers, Ian for prepping us for some major distribution, and the rest of the Lawgical crew for all of their hard work. Special thanks to Rodney Wilson of Pretty Monkeys for helping us out with the video.
Here’s the crew:
We’d love to get your feedback on the video! If you have a question or comment, post below or send an email to [email protected]
As Director of Marketing and Multimedia, Kimberly sets strategy for outreach, distribution, social media, and network growth, and manages multimedia production for the network. She has a Bachelor of Science with a background in design, marketing, production, editorial, and operations and strategy. Kimberly consults with the production, operations, and tech teams on a variety of projects and initiatives. You can follow Kimberly on Twitter at @kimberlyfaber.