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Writing a brief for a film or video project

If you’re thinking about commissioning a short video for your organisation, whether it’s a small charity or business or a large international NGO or corporation, the best way to get started is by writing a brief for the production companies or agencies who are tendering for the work.

In some cases, you may already have a supplier in mind. This does not necessarily mean that a brief is unnecessary. However, with some last-minute projects (filming an event for instance), if you have a good working relationship with that supplier and trust that the project is straightforward enough for them to deliver exactly what you need, the ‘brief’ might just need to be an email outlining the essentials. Either way, it’s always best to have it in writing.

Our experience has taught us that in 99% of circumstances, a written brief results in a more successful output and a more fluid and efficient process. This is because both client and supplier are on the same page from the outset and it is always possible to return to the outline of the initial intent when projects get bogged down with indecision, opposing opinions, tangential ideas or even legal problems (which are, of course, extremely rare).

It’s important to note that the initial brief should never be considered absolute by either the client or the supplier. It is really intended to outline the client’s need at that moment and the product (film or related output) or service (process) that they imagine will satisfy that need. Over the course of the project, that need may change, either subtly or drastically. In these circumstances, a revised brief should ideally be written up in order that the supplier can re-quote. In other situations, a creative company commissioned to do the work may realise and point out that the initial assumed need may not be the client’s true need, perhaps due to recent market developments. In these circumstances, an open dialogue and a degree of flexibility from both parties is advisible. The collaboration will always work best when all parties are honest with one another and neither is afraid to highlight concerns or bring new ideas or solutions to the table.

What are the essentials for successfully writing a brief?

Always use a company letterhead.

Provide the date on which the brief was written, a draft number and the name and contact details of the person who wrote the brief.

Provide a snappy title for the project (even if it’s a working title).

Provide the names and contact details of any other key personnel, possibly including details of who will have ultimate sign off.

Depending on the size of your organisation and the number of projects/briefs going out, you may also need a project code number.

Provide a list of key dates: tender submission date, tender award date, shoot dates (if known) and deadline for all deliverables.

Begin the brief with some essential background information about the company, the department and the people involved. If this information is all available on your website, just provide a URL.

Provide an overview of the project. This could just be a few sentences which explain to the reader what you are looking for. You should always include the exact outputs that you’re expecting and how long each output should be. Here’s an example:

“We’re looking for 3 x case study films about 3 of our customers to be filmed in Luton, Sheffield and Middlesbrough in September. The films are to be shown at an event in November in London. They need to be about 2-3 mins long each and we expect that each will need to be shot in about 3 or 4 hours, meaning a 3 day shoot (including travel time). The films will include talking head interviews with nice backgrounds in each location, cutaways of the interviewees at work, background music (different for each film) and a few simple graphics.”

Provide details about your audience and how they will be watching the film. Sometimes a project may have more than one audience, which can create conflicts in terms of tone or content in some cases. It’s important to bear that in mind and discuss it in detail with the supplier. Alternative versions of each film might be necessary in order to meet all of your expectations. Here’s an example:

“The main audience for the film will be the delegates at the conference event in London. They are professionals of all ages and will be interested in how small businesses have used our services. We are trying to position ourselves as ‘thought leaders’ in our particular area and so these videos are not supposed to be selling our services directly – we want our audience to feel part of a dialogue about these industry issues and the films should help provoke some debate rather than feel like a hard sell. The films will also be uploaded to our Youtube channel and embedded in our website after the event. We’re hoping that they will reach potential new customers and will help them to decide to use our services.”

Provide details about your key messages. These may be hierarchical. Here’s an example:

“The main message for all 3 films is that it IS possible to find support when your small business is struggling and that working hard to overcome the obstacles that you face can make running small business the best decision you ever made. The secondary message for all films is that we offer services to help small businesses overcome these problems and that we’re a down to earth, friendly company who are always available for a chat about your needs. Each film has its own individual message about specific problems that small businesses face. We expect these ‘themes’ to be ‘cash flow’, ‘diversification vs specialisation’ and ’employing staff’.”

If you already have plans and ideas regarding structure, tone and style, include these now. However, it’s important to bear in mind that you are addressing professional creative industry practitioners. Be flexible and accept that your ideas might be a great starting point but shouldn’t necessarily be considered absolute. 🙂

“We’re keen to hear your ideas but thought it would be good to structure each film by beginning with an overview of the problem our customer faced, then explaining how we helped them and finishing with information about where they are now and their hopes for the future. We also thought it would be nice if you could use some split screen techniques as this would be in keeping with the look of our brochure. We want the music to be upbeat and happy.”

Provide details about branding. This may just be a link to a .pdf of your branding guidelines online.

For a tender process, it’s usually best to NOT provide details about how much money you have available for the project, assuming one of the tender criteria is cost. If you already have a supplier in mind, it might make sense to mention the amount you have available so that they don’t waste time by planning/quoting for a project which is much too small or too large in scale.

This article should be considered a starting point and it might help you to create a template for all of your briefs. The ‘essentials’ are exactly that – essential. You may decide to go into much more detail with your brief, particularly if it is a larger project with a greater degree of complexity than the above example. For example, you may wish to include information about each of the participants, the locations (noise hazards, restrictions etc), the questions you plan to ask the participants and whether they will have had chance to prepare answers, keywords, facts and stats to include somehow and questions that you may have regarding the process.

I hope this has been helpful and if you would like to offer feedback or ask any questions, please email us at