“Making of” BC’s Harry Potter Admissions Video

Harry Potter Admissions Video: Making Of

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Most recently, I wrote, directed, and shot “Special Delivery” – a Harry – Potter themed Admissions video for Boston College – and I wanted to write a blog post about the strategy, production, and results of the piece – hoping to draw some insights that can be applied to future videos.

Concept & Initial Storyboard

Like many others here at BC, I was drawn to the gothic, “Hogwarts – looking” campus as a high school student, especially when BC tour guides brought us into Bapst Library and pointed out its resemblance to the Great Hall.  With this year being the 20th Anniversary of Harry Potter’s release in the US, our Gothic architecture did indeed provide the initial inspiration for the Harry Potter theme. But the idea for this video actually began as a conversation I had with the Dumbledore figure of “Special Delivery,” Fr. Michael Himes. I was fortunate enough to take a number of independent studies with Himes as an undergrad, and with both of us being huge fans of the Harry Potter and often finding ourselves talking about the books, it was Himes who actually suggested the theme in one of our conversations last Spring, shortly before I graduated.

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Last July, between graduating and starting my full-time role as Creative Producer here at BC, I worked for Boston College Athletics to film ‘Beauford’ the Bald Eagle on green screen, who was featured in the football team’s intro video this past season.  After seeing the Eagle footage and feeling inspired, I put together a visual storyboard, using BC footage and Harry Potter movie clips, which was the initial concept that later became this “Special Delivery” Admissions video. The concept evolved quite a bit over the year, but the main concept from that storyboard – an Eagle in the bellower delivering the Admissions letters – remained the focal point of the video.

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When I started working full-time for BC after graduation in August, I began pitching the storyboard to University Communications, the Admissions team, and the BC Band as early as September of this year – most definitely weary that a new-to-the-job 23 year old pitching a concept like this might very well be laughed away. Fortunately, I discovered that many people have a deep love for Harry Potter, were similarly drawn to the visual similarities here at BC, and were willing to to offer their time and talent to the project.  I also think my visual storyboard was my best persuasion tool, helping people to visualize the end product and the type of video I wanted to create – short, playful, tongue-in-cheek, and heartfelt.

In years past, our Office of University Communications has created one Admissions video, which is emailed to our Early Decision and Regular Decision applicants, and later repurposed as a social media video in the spring for current students and alums.  This year, I proposed that we create two – one “BC Branded” video for Early Action, and a second “Creative Concept” video for Regular Decision, intended to be fun, exciting, and playful as students near the Decision Day of May 1st. Fortunately, Admissions was supportive of the proposal and let me take the risk to create something like this.

Pre-Production

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Though the initial inspiration may have come from the architecture of the campus, I wanted to unite the Harry Potter theme to BC in a way that might reflect a deeper sense of the Heights, and give new admits a sense of the mentors, friends, and community they will discover over the course of four years here at BC.  BC is a community of strong friendships and camaraderie, which is not unlike the spirit which makes J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series so endearing and meaningful to this generation.

To make this possible, I knew the majority of this video’s time would be spent in the pre-production phase – pitching the concept, lining up the locations and on-screen characters, figuring out the candle special effects and eagle green screen, and testing a lot of different scenes and concepts before shooting.

Utilizing my visual storyboard and an excel spreadsheets, filled with locations and potential ideas, I tried to draw upon relationships, locations, and small details from many aspects of my student life at BC to make the video – such as the bookcase at Connors Center where I had attended many retreats – to make the best Hogwarts comparison I could.   The key player, and the collaboration that gave me the most hope that this was possible, was most definitely the BC Bands Program – without Sebastian Boniauto and Kara Robbins’ generosity, we simply could not have made this video. After a series of meetings beginning in September, they provided the beautiful John Williams score, “Hedwig’s Theme” and “Leaving Hogwarts,” and also offered their time on a Friday night in January to film the closing scene of the film in Gasson Hall.

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Shooting

The first clips to be shot in the video actually came after our Social Media & Digital Business class.  While there were still a few snow flurries in the air, I flew the drone late at night at BC, trying to fly in the most oblong, mysterious, and Hogwarts-esque fashion I could.  The flickering lights on Gasson tower in the final video – which I lined up carefully with the music – became the first clip to replace trailer footage form my visual storyboard, which was altered and rearranged countless times until the finished product was released.  From that night in late January up until March of 2018, I shot the Kerry Cronin opening, the Connors Bookshelf and Bapst Candles, the Belltower sequence and Band Finale, and everything in between. Except for the Eagle Footage (shot on a SonyA7sII), I shot the entire video using a DJI Phantom 4 Drone and a Panasonic GH5 on a Ronin-M DJI Gimbal.

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Perhaps the best story from the shooting of the piece was the Belltower sequence.  Due to liability concerns from BC, myself and a guide from facilities were the only people able to enter the Belltower to film – preventing me from shooting students or faculty like I had planned.  Honestly, I was panicking, because this was the whole point of the video – without the ‘courier Eagle’ theme it suddenly lacked a story- and the last thing I wanted to do was film myself in the tower.  In my mind, I think it’s safe to say that the man who saved this project is John Luniewicz, a member of our Carpentry Shop at BC who was kind enough to provide my escort to the Gasson Belltower. He had absolutely no idea that I was going to ask him to be part of the video that night, but he generously played along with the Harry Potter theme, donned the cape, scarf, and lantern, and circled the bells many times in order to get that shot with the Eagle.  He truly could not have played a more perfect part – he quite simply had “the look!” John is a proud father of two daughters who currently attend BC, and I couldn’t be more grateful to him for starring in the video in such a fun way.  

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Post-Production & Effects

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When it came to the effects in the film, Paul Dagnello, my partner in crime in the Office of University Communications, and I worked endlessly on the Bapst Ceiling Candles shot that linked BC to the world of Harry Potter.  As pictured on the right, we shot a single candles 8 different ways on green screen in order to reflect different flicker rates and shadow direction. We then arranged them on the ceiling of Bapst in Adobe Premiere, having to come up with ways to give them proper scale, relationship in space, random arrangement, different levels of focus and sharpness, etc.  It’s most definitely not an Industrial Light and Magic special effects result, but I’m proud of our end shot and simply could not have accomplished this without Paul’s post-production savvy and systematic approach to the process.

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Additionally, I worked with Owen Edwards, one of our freelance designers, to create a green-screen Heights newspaper cover, which would allow the moving drone overlay during Kerry Cronin’s opening scene.  I included headlines such as “Lighting Changes in Bapst Library” and “BC Pleased to Inform New Class” to mirror fictitious Daily Prophet language, and key-ed out the green screen to create the effect.

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Lastly, I worked for weeks on many different Eagle green screen shots.  I had over an hour of Eagle footage and played with many different angles and types of shots, but ultimately determined this slow-mo shot, with a bit of added zoom for a slight “zolly effect,” was the best way to make the Eagle look as real as possible.  As you can see below, the Eagle was shot in broad daylight last July, so I did a lot of color grading to make the exposure, contrast, and look of the Eagle match that of the nighttime belltower.

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Funny enough, I decided only 3 days before to release this video in color.  Originally, I had been creating a video that turned black and white once entering the newspaper, only to return to color during the hyperlapse of the St. Michael Statue and the opening of the Gasson doors.  Although this was done to create a different fantasy, vintage feel, I mostly went with the black and white thinking that it would be a “crutch” that allowed for better special effects work. After feeling more confident in our Eagle and Candle special effects than I ever hoped initially, I opted for a color video that I think was ultimately warmer, more inviting, and more fitting of the tone of an Admissions piece.

Admissions/Social Media Treatment

For the first time at BC, we committed to a platform-focused treatment of the video, and drove all traffic to our Admitted Student Microsite, created by our class’ talented guest speaker, Melissa Lesica Beecher. The full video was 1:24 for Facebook, YouTube, and Vimeo, we made a 0:30 Instagram version, a 0:30 Facebook cover video, and even a 0:15 teaser video for Instagram Story and Snapchat the night before it was released.  Even further, Melissa created a “Making Of” page, which allowed prospective students to click on links, explore program offerings, and learn more about the BC elements featured in the video.

Results – Analytics & Press

Harry Potter Admissions Video Results
As of 4/15/18
Channel Reach Views Shares Comments Likes
Facebook 501,070 235,000 2,242 3,196 10,610
Instagram 25,109 301 4,731
YouTube 17,281 4 128
Vimeo 3,409
Twitter 92 11 381
Total 501,070 280,799 2,334 3,512 15,850

 

External Press
CNBC
Babble (Disney Sponsored)
PopSugar
WizardsandWhatNot
The Heights
Bookstr

Takeaways

  • Circular approach to digital strategy – website, social, email – that drives everything together is most effective (more to come in next blog post)
  • Playful, story-driven, short video is best for social
  • Platform – specific formatting is crucial 
  • The more people involved in a University video, the better (especially the BC Band!)
  • Pre-Production & aligning concepts to actual marketing strategy makes creative freedom and fun projects possible

 

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10 comments

  1. Hey John, this was an awesome video and I am really glad you helped make something that was fun and appealed to such a wide range of viewers. It is incredible that it has over 200 000 views on the BC Facebook page. It was also a great idea to split up the videos and put out different versions that fir better with the different platforms that you were using to send out the video. As a huge Harry Potter fan I was super excited when I heard of the video, and the final product definitely did not disappoint.

  2. John, great post!! It was so interesting to hear about all of the behind the scene details that I was totally unaware went into the process. To me, the most surprising aspect of your blog post came at the beginning when you discussed how much planning went into the video. I couldn’t believe that this had been in the works for nearly a year!! A lot of the time, I feel like we talk about the use of social media for business purposes as something that is more impromptu or off the cuff. In class, we’ve talked about using social media to respond to customers and crises facing the company. Rarely do we discuss how companies plan these interactions (probably because a lot of the time, they don’t even know they’re coming!). It was interesting to hear the other side of things, how videos and campaigns can be planned.

    The flip side of this, though, exposed how technology allows up to change many details right up until their release. You mentioned your decision to released the video in color just days before it was scheduled to debut. In the past, this would likely not have been a possibility.

  3. John I have to say this might be one of my favorite articles I have read to date. I originally viewed this video on Facebook because one of my cousins was recently accepted to BC and really enjoyed you and your teams work on it. I had no idea that you were behind this production and I am thoroughly impressed with your work. I must agree with @wilsonlucia18 in that I never would have guessed you were working on this for almost and year and all your first person background insight was awesome.

    It would be an interesting in class discussion to maybe analyze how much this video might affect overall enrollment in the school. Personally, if a video like this came out when I was accepted I feel it would have peaked my interest in BC a lot more because it shows a fun yet sophisticated side of the school. Great work!

  4. John, amazing blog! It was fascinating to read about everything that went into making your vision a reality, and it definitely gives me a newfound respect and awe for you and those who work on the videos. I was particularly struck by all of the different platforms and apps you used to make it possible – I think it speaks so much to the interconnections between all the apps. One of the difficulties of a job like yours seems to be how to synthesize all of the different options and choose what to use and how to connect all of the programs. Once one decision is made, I am sure that affects others, as well. This also relates to @wilsonlucia18 comment about the need to make all of these decisions and to make them in a quick time period. The need to be agile and fast has to balance with the time and attention it takes to make the video a success. Thanks for all of your hard work, I know I and so many others loved the final product!!

  5. Hey John! I am very impressed by this video and the amount of work that was put into it. Knowing how everything works in the back end really helps understand the how complex and demanding the process for creating digital content is.
    I also thought that most of the work would be actually creating the content and not pitching/planning it. Coordinating all the teams and people involved in the video must be really hard. It looked like a really fun video to be part of, especially because the theme is so popular amongst all generations.
    I also liked how you talked about the social media strategy at the end because it shows that you put a lot of thought into how people use the different social media channels available. By using different platform, you definitely reached as many people as possible.
    Overall, I thought the video was very cool and it made me proud to be part of the BC community because everyone is so caring and hardworking.

  6. Great post John, especially since it coincided with our discussion in class this past week. One of the things that was mentioned in class and you bring up here to an extent is the difficulty in finding the delicate balance between the prestige and professionalism that comes with the BC brand and the playfulness that exists on social media. I thought that this video did a great job of finding that balance, as the pop culture reference catered to the desired audience, and its elegance eliciting the mystique that exists with Boston College’s legacy.

    This blog really gets at something that I think individuals and business alike struggle with on social media, which is to find their digital voice. Making sure that all posts, pictures, and videos have an overarching message or theme attached to them that ultimately hearken back to the user’s brand is essential on social media today. At an institution such as BC, this could be tricky because there are so many different groups that fall under this umbrella, but I think that you did an awesome job to make sure that the BC brand shined, which has been seen through the massive amount of attention that the video has received on social media. Job well done!

  7. John, long time fan, first time commenter on your blog. I absolutely loved this approach to a blog on digital being that filmmaking is a passion of yours many BC followers know you for. I’ve always been intrigued by the making of your videos, so I am beyond happy I got to learn from you what goes into the making of.
    Like @wilsonlucia18, I am surprised by the amount of time it takes to plan and prepare for shooting. Trust me, you can tell by the quality of your videos that there was a tremendous amount of effort needed to execute their creation, but the amount of months needed still is jaw dropping. If you wish to do an additional blog post regarding your films, I would love to hear more about post-production. By the end, how many hands have worked to produce these videos?
    Overall, fantastic blog post and fantastic video!

  8. I really liked this post for a few reasons. As a student that just came to BC for grad school and was not here for undergrad, it was cool to see the video and what makes BC so special. It’s also incredible that the video even reached me, considering how few people from BC I am friends with on social media (aka 0). I never would have known how much knowledge about the school and planning goes into the making of such a brief but powerful video. I can only imagine how sentimental it must have been to come up with it and how it must have made all the students, alumni, and prospective students feel about the school.

  9. Hey John this video was awesome and the blogpost you wrote was even cooler to get an inside look. I’m not a creative person at all so to hear about the creative process was just absolutely awesome. I’m always amazed to hear how much work goes into each small clip we see on the internet but I think that this video really hit it home. Everyone on the BC campus has seen at least one of your projects and this one was probably one of my top 3!

    As for using emerging technology I can only imagine how you feel about the new tech that has changed the way that filming and the creative process goes. Drone filmography has majorly changed what it means to make a really creative and cool video. The magnitude of some of the shots and the access to aerial footage has been utterly changed. This post was great! Love hearing about some of the videos that I and my friends watch in our spare time!

  10. Fabulous post. Thanks for sharing the “behind the scenes.”

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