I once worked on a project that had, I kid you not, over 100 revisions.
Triple digits, my friends.
Can anybody beat that?
I also had a roughly $80k commercial project that got killed due to the endless cycle of revisions. We were paid for our work up till that point and the project was never finished.
Having too many revisions, or losing a project like I did, stings real bad.
You feel like you could and should have done better. Like you missed something. You feel completely gutted going into your next project.
And of course, the more time we spend on revisions, the lower our profit margin becomes.
It should be said that some revisions are helpful. An open and collaborative atmosphere helps make the work better. But that often falls aways all too quickly and we can find ourselves stuck in the hell that is endless revisions.
Been there before?
Far too many times.
And it sucks.
And I’d love to help you avoid having to go back there ever again.
In fact, I’d love to help you cut your revision requests in half starting today.
Before we dive into exactly how we’ll do that, let’s take a moment to consider WHY these requests happen.
At the most basic level, most change requests happen because a client is seeing something other than what they were expecting.
They may have been expecting something better, or maybe just something different, but their expectations being misaligned from what you delivered is a sure way to kick that revision train into gear.
To reduce our number of revisions we, therefore, need to reduce this misalignment in the client's expectations. We need them to be ready to see what it is we’re going to deliver.
With that in mind, here’s one tried and true technique that will help you cut your revision requests in half.
Get alignment on the film's purpose before production.
A client hires us to create some form of content and they have an end goal in mind. It may be fuzzy or clear for them, but there is a purpose behind the work.
Now you, as the creative, take on the job and get pumped about being able to deliver something that will blow your client away.
The problem is, we don’t often enough take the time to ensure we’re aligned on the purpose of a film, and we, therefore, have a different end goal in mind from our client.
Imagine you and a group of friends all hop in the car deciding to go on a vacation together. Everybody wants to head off for a week, yet the lot of you haven’t discussed exactly where it is you’re going.
You, as the driver, take off in the direction of the place you feel would make the best adventure for both you and your group. You arrive with excitement, ready to start your adventure, only to find that each of your friends at a totally different destination in mind.
So one of your friends speaks up “I thought it would be warmer. Something with more nature.” So you all hop back in the car and off you go to try and make that happen.
A few hours later you arrive at the second location–this one warmer and greener. You’re pumped that it’s time to celebrate and start the vacation. But then another friend speaks up “ummmm I’d really like something with better food options, more organic choices…”.
Okay, you think. One more quick drive and then you’ll get this right. And so the cycle continues until you’ve quite simply run out of gas and land somewhere that’s totally unrecognizable from the original vacation you’d set off to take. You’re tired, burned out, and you really just want to move on with your life.
This little anecdote is how far too many client relationships go.
But there is one simple way to avoid so much of that turmoil.
Define the destination before you head off on the journey. In hindsight, how silly was it to take off in the car without all agreeing where you were going to end up.
Using 5 Keywords to define the purpose of a film.
With the Muse Storytelling Process, we use a method of 5 Keywords to help define the purpose of a film. We use a series of prompts that help cover the different objectives of a film.
For example, one prompt is “How do you want this film to feel?” And we’ll then brainstorm as many Keywords as possible. We use Keywords, as opposed to sentences or paragraphs because Keywords are far more actionable as a filter for your decisions that will follow.
If the Keyword is ‘warm’ you can see how I might use my lighting, white balance, lens choice, or character selection, to help convey warmth.
We suggest 5 Keywords as they let you get the breadth of objectives for a piece–the style, tone, audience, and actions needed–without it become too complex that it’s simply no longer helpful.
Having 5 Keywords forces you and your client to agree on the top level objectives. This is so, so overlooked. One film can’t be everything to everybody. And we often don’t come to a clear agreement with our clients early on, and so the revisions start flowing…
“Oh but I’d also like to include this person”
“I was hoping we’d have this shot”
“I feel like we’re missing some statements about x, y, or z”
Having a set of 5 Keywords that you and your client agree on give you a common filter for making creative decisions. It also a rock-solid way to push back on client suggestions if they don’t further the objective of the film (as defined by the Keywords).
So how do you go about creating Keywords for your project?
It all starts with having a series of prompts. We have 5 Keywords and 5 prompts. For each Keyword we like to brainstorm as many possible options as possible. You’ll often find words form clusters, groups of related words, and that’s great.
You want to have at least 20 Keywords before you’ve on to the next step. This ensures you’ve taken he time to really consider the objective and all the possibilities that could work.
After brainstorming, you may find it helpful to group the words into related clusters before you choose your 5 final words.
But in the end, the goal is to choose your 5 Keywords, write a brief description of what each means, and then send them off to the client for their approval.
Here’s a look at the five Keyword prompts. Note how they encapsulate the tone, audience, and what's special about the story.
And here is how we would present the Story Keywords to a client. This is an export straight out of Storybuilder. The 5 Keywords, each with a short description.
How can you suggest the idea of Keywords to your clients?
Now if you’re wondering how to integrate the idea of Keywords with your clients, we suggest bringing it up as early as possible.
Clients love a process–they want to know what’s going to happen and why. Educating them on the steps you’ll take and what you’ll deliver is a powerful way to cut down revisions.
As Keywords represent the purpose of your film, we suggest having this as your first client milestone.
More so, you’ll really be showing your storytelling prowess when you tell your client that you’re taking the time to understand their goals and define them in a clear way.
If you were to simply call up your client and ask them about the goal for a film, they’d likely ramble on for 5 minutes sharing a series of points they’d like you to hit.
But now, with the Keyword method, you’ll notice that most clients come back with nothing more than a suggestion on how to tweak a single word or definition.
It sounds powerful, and it is. Having this alignment early on has certainly cut our revision requests in half.
Now, there may be another lingering question.
How the heck do you actually come up with what the Keywords should be?
In one word…listen.
Earlier this year we did a 7 part series on listening, and we highly recommend you check that out here.
The idea is to get to know multiple perspectives related to the story you’re telling. Multiple perspectives can mean the management team, customers, online research, and other people related to the story.
This research is something you should absolutely bill for AND it has a double-bottom line since it will make the rest of your creative process much more efficient.
As you’re doing this research and talking to people, you’ll start to notice themes that come up. Usually, after speaking with as little as a handful of people related to the story you’ll be able to sit down and have tons of ideas on how to respond to the 5 Keyword prompts.
Now if you’re wondering how long this may take, a small commercial project ($2,000-3,000) might mean a half day of research and listening, whereas a medium size ($10,000-20,000) could be a couple days, and a large project ($50k plus) could be a week or more.
We’re currently doing a large health care project with a roughly $500k budget. We spent two weeks doing research and coming back with our suggested Keywords. It helped create incredible alignment and has the client feeling excited that we really get who they are and why this content matters.
We’ve used the Keyword method for 3 feature-length documentaries now, commercial projects of all sizes, the last handful of weddings shot by Stillmotion, and our own personal passion projects.
And how do you actually use the Keywords once you’ve gotten them approved by your client?
These Keywords are meant to act as a filter for all of your decisions.
As you know, every piece you create comes with a million decisions. And we can’t make the mistake of assuming that anything we don’t understand or didn’t intentionally choose, doesn’t matter.
For example, say you don’t understand how camera height affects your story. If you setup your camera super low and shoot up on your interviewees, that’s going to make them feel larger than life, whether you recognized that or not.
These Keywords, therefore, are how we can check all of our decisions with one source of truth. Not your personal preference, bias, or what the client has asked for–but what truly serves the story,
We use the Keywords to help ensure all of the characters in our film are relevant, we use them to help define the look and feel of our interview locations, and of course they are also very powerful in making the technical decisions on how you approach the shoot.
One of the strongest unintended benefits of adopting Keywords is that you’ll be able to break that habit of shooting a certain genre of film, whether it be a wedding or small commercial, the same way every time.
A Keyword of ‘rough’ versus ‘raw’ will suggest totally different ways to approach your camera movement, as an example.
The goal is that whenever you come up against a big creative choice, or the client has a suggestion, use your Keywords to ensure that every decision is intentional.
Try it, and if you run into any roadblocks, just hit us back here with your questions.
Here’s a quick recap of the Keywording method:
- We use 5 Keywords to define the purpose of a film
- We develop these Keywords by ‘listening’ to multiple people surrounding the story
- There are 5 Keyword prompts that will help you brainstorm possible Keywords
- Come up with at least 20 options before selecting your final 5 Keywords
- Educate your clients early on about the Keywords, and then submit your 5 Keywords, along with a short description of each, to ensure you have creative alignment
- As you develop your creative and go into production, use your Keywords to act as a filter for all of your decisions
If you enjoy the Keywording method, here is a downloadable desktop pattern to help you remember the prompts.
And of course, if you’d like a tool to help you with these Keyword prompts, clustering, and how to prepare them as a PDF for your client, sign-up for a free trial of Storybuilder. You can grab a free trial in just a few seconds by clicking below.