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The Pros and Cons of Shooting Video Content on a Set

Peter Chapman

Okay, video folks. Is it more work to scout an existing location or to build one from scratch? Designing, building, dressing, filming and striking a set is fun and challenging and makes for a cohesive look for your creative output. It can allow you to be somewhere you might otherwise not be able to film, whether it’s a place in history or somewhere that doesn't exist. Conversely, caveats to set-building may include cost and the difficulty in making the setup look realistic.

Let's break down some ways to get the results you want—let’s talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of filming on a set.

The Good

Control 

Control is everything when it comes to production design. The creative vision for a commercial can flourish and be achieved through building a set. It can be challenging to find the right location to fit the creative perfectly. Houses and existing structures are readily available, but if you want to perform large dolly moves or need a specific layout for a given action in a scene, a set can allow for that creative space to work. Additionally, spaces such as restaurants, offices, conference rooms, banks, classrooms and historical buildings can be difficult to gain access to for a shoot. This is where a set can quickly transport you into the space where your story can unfold.

Bonus Pro: When you're in-studio or on-set, you don’t have to worry about weather, noise or traffic ruining a shot. The environment is a clean sandbox to build upon, and control over lighting can be a big benefit. With the sun constantly moving, it can have a negative effect on your shots—in a controlled environment, you tell the "sun" what to do.

Singular Location

Everything is in one spot. All the crew will be in one location, saving you the time it would take to move from one place to the next. Everything is set up and ready to roll by the morning of the shoot day. Studios make it easier to bring in large equipment like cranes or dollies and keep them set up and secure. Lock up the studio at the end of the day, and everything inside is safe and ready to roll the next day.

Quantity/Efficiency

It's important to maximize your budget and get the most out of every commercial shoot that you can. This often means filming multiple videos in one shoot. When creative copy is written with one or multiple locations in mind, a constructed set can allow you to quickly transition to filming elements of different pieces of video content with minor lighting changes or fixture adjustments.

Further Reading: How to Improve Your Selling Proposition with Demo Videos

The Bad

Cost

It costs more to build a set than to pay a location fee—at least in most cases. You have to consider the cost of wood for flats, windows and doors, and the cost for the studio space rental if you don't have it in-house. (And a studio can mean any open space big enough to temporarily place your set.) You should account for the time to build, dress, film and tear down the set when looking to rent studio space for your set build. Setting up will always take longer than tearing down. This is when it's best to have someone experienced in set construction leading the building team.

Pro Tip: Having a team of three or more people putting the set together will shorten the amount of total days it takes so that you can get to the painting and set decorating stages more quickly.

Realistic Settings

If realism is what you’re looking for, then extra attention must be taken when dressing the set. Real locations have natural wear and tear and the benefits of already being, well, real. This is why there are professionals who specialize in set decoration. You are starting with a blank canvas, so you must source all furniture, appliances, dishes, curtains, shelves, wall hangings, etc. If you are looking for that upper tier of production design that big-budget shoots have, talk with some local furniture and supply companies in your area and see what you could borrow in exchange for a promotional social post or some other co-branding.

You'll also need to consider realistic lighting. Because your set will be indoors, you won’t have the sun to assist you, so all lighting will be artificial. You should light the whole space inside and potentially outside the set if you have staged windows. This typically means more lighting equipment than you would typically have on a location shoot.

Pro Tip: Backdrops can sell the look—creating the world outside windows or glass doors on your set is quickly remedied. Rather than dealing with a giant green screen in post-production, backdrops bring the environment to life for the actors and are often more cost-effective to rent. They can be easy to light and offer a day-and-night capability in one backdrop without the need to employ tons of extra lights.

Further Reading: How to Tell When Live Video is Right for Your Company

In Conclusion

So is a set build right for every job? No. But when the budget and creative allows, it is an amazing option that will get you the results you want. Sets can be a small, two-walled, half-room or multi-story creations on a massive soundstage—and each of these will have varied budget requirements. When you are limited by where you can travel or the availability of the space that fits your scripts, you could potentially benefit from a set build.

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