Real Estate Video Production
Video Production Article from The Creative COW Magazine

Creative COW Magazine presents - Real Estate Video Production

George CohnGeorge Cohn
Mountain View, California USA

©2008 George Cohn and All rights reserved.

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In this article from The Creative COW Magazine, George Cohn discusses his real world experience in real estate video production and how 'No' gave way to curiosity - and then to profit.

When we started doing video, our business coach told us to read a particular book about branding. The essence of good branding, it said, is to focus yourself as narrowly as possible. The sharper the blade, the more deeply it will cut.

In real life, our opportunities have come from all directions, most of them unexpected.

A good example is when we got a cold call from a guy who asked if we do real estate videos. We said no, actually, we do corporate videos.

He replied that he had a client with a very special property who wanted video that was more than a run and gun treatment. He also told us that he was an architectural photographer who had just started a business doing online home tours, and wanted to form an alliance with a good video team.

I still was not warming to the concept. Then he mentioned that he was working closely with a local graphic designer that we knew from the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce. We were looking for a good graphics person to team with, so this was an opportunity to see first hand if this guy was any good.

The property turned out to be a heavily re-architected, multi-million dollar home in a very desirable area. The house had previously been owned by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. It still had a few features he had put in, such as a "dinosaur cave" children's discovery area, and a child's bedroom with a huge Little Mermaid mural rendered by one of the original artists. I figured if nothing else I could get a personal tour of the place.

Now I was on the slippery slope: I was no longer saying no. I found that, for the right money, I was willing to do the job.

Real Estate Shot


Even though the project was being commissioned by the listing agent, the owner of the house and his architect wanted to be involved in the selection and approval process.

My first meeting with the architect started out as a disaster. He showed me around the house and asked me what I thought of it. I let my candor get the better of me and told him they would never get what the price they were asking. He decided I would never understand his artistic vision, and I was not the right person to do the video.

The problem is, I really did understand his vision. I explained it back to him and he finally agreed that we would move forward with the video.

I told him we would have our very best script writer on the case. This was essential. The script would guide us during shooting, to get the right shots as efficiently as possible. More important, agreement on the script would ensure that we were moving in the direction the client wanted.

But our best writer was already overbooked. No matter how we tried to entice or browbeat him, he said the gig would not be possible for him.

Meanwhile the architect was insisting on meeting with the writer. We knew several other writers but felt none of them would be suitable for this particular job.

It occurred to me that we knew someone who would be perfect, except for the fact she had no video scripting experience. She has a quick and intuitive mind, and was running her own marketing and management consulting company. She has a great sounding voice, which might also come in handy. Besides that, she is fun to work with. We gave her a call and she said sure.

We set up a meeting with her, the property owner, the architect, and the real estate agent. Her interpersonal skills are much better than mine, and she quickly countered any damage I had done when I told them that the property was overpriced.

By the end of the meeting they insisted that she be the one to do the narration.


We went through a few brainstorming sessions with our writer and the guy that pulled us into the job to begin with. Rather than run through yet another anatomically correct tour through every room, we would attempt to convey the flavor of the place.

We began to build some structure and flow of ideas, but we had to move quickly. Residential real estate video is on a short fuse. Once the owner makes the decision to list, the property needs to be marketed and made available pretty much immediately.

That left us with only a very small window of opportunity to shoot, because the place needs to be fixed up and staged, and the shooting can't start until that is done.

In this particular house, light was an important element. Our script called for 2 full day time lapse shots and 1 evening time lapse shot. We could get some standard interior and exterior coverage on the day of the evening time lapse, but we would need an additional day on top of that.

Your typical real estate video has a lot of pans, zooms, and tilts – all necessary to give a better sense of the space and its details than a single static shot can. We decided that our homemade dolly could also be useful for this.

The construction was simple: 90-degree metal brackets, skateboard wheels, 2x4s and plywood, running on 1 ½ inch PVC pipe tracks. We tried it in the first few shots and they looked great. The movement emphasized the dimensionality of the space even more that we expected.

We ended up using it for most of the shots. This increased our shooting costs because of the additional setup, but was well worth it.

We shot with a Panasonic HVX200, which we overcranked on all shots that had moving water. We edited using Avid, and created some motion graphic titles using Combustion to combine section titles with architectural diagrams.

We decided the empty house would be a perfect place to record the voiceover. The children's discovery room had fuzzy walls on three sides and was pretty dead.


We had not taken into account that the HVAC was running all the time and we didn't know how to turn it off. We blocked the vents as best we could and set up the mic as close to her, and as far away from the vents, as possible.

Everybody loved the temp music so much we had a hard time coming up with a suitable replacement. We ended up going with some needle drop music, which again was costlier that what we had originally scoped.

Real Estate Shot 2


In the end, the client was very pleased and asked us to produce an additional video for another property that he owned. Even though we assembled the same team, it was a completely different property and resulted in a completely different video: lower budget, no time lapse, less shooting, and more use of stills.

We treated these projects like corporate projects because we didn't know any better, but we find that the same principles apply to every production: help clients clearly understand and define their goals, then creatively meet them.

We're ready to take on challenges even when they come from directions we could never have predicted. It doesn't do much for our branding, but no matter! It's a great adventure, all part of the fun.

George Cohn George Cohn
Mountain View, California USA

""I began my career as a software engineer, and then spent many years as a software development manager," says George. "Later I discovered that filmmaking and video production are exactly like software development except for where they are completely different." He operates Creation Ground Media with partner Marilyn Ritter, and frequents COW forums including Avid Editing, Cinematography, Corporate Video, Lighting Design and Panasonic HVX-HPX (P2).

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