INTERVIEW: Expert Video Producer Shikha Shahdeo Talks Career and Branded Content

In the competitive climate of contemporary content creation, video production specialists are responsible for many different things, but one of the most important skills is the ability to take many disparate production elements and help them gel.

This is especially difficult in the area of branded content. The messaging can’t seem insincere, and at the same time, it has to meet the requirements of the brand in question.

This is both a technical and creative problem, but talented video producers are finding new and innovative ways to do all this and more.

Our interview today is with Shikha Shahdeo, one such video producer who has built her career on seamless brand integration and heartfelt content creation.

Shahdeo began her career in her native India, where she worked with some of the biggest networks around, including UTV Network, Zee Entertainment Network Limited, Star India, Times Television Network and Reliance Big Broadcasting.

Her work here in the US has been similarly impressive, including projects for major brands like Microsoft, Nordstrom, State University of New York- UB and award winning ad agency Code and Theory.

One of her more recent endeavors is a social media platform titled “This is My Story, What’s Yours?” The project is a video series where she interviews people from different cultural and life backgrounds so that they can share their unique individual stories, their experiences, struggles, victories, what they’ve learned over the years and the message they have for the world. From founders and CEO’s of companies to photographers, engineers and medical professionals; through this platform she aims to tell the extraordinary stories of ordinary people.

We had so many questions for Shahdeo but we had to narrow it down to just a few. We talked about the challenges of branded content as well as Shahdeo’s transition to working in the United States. We hope you learn something new about video production and the great deal of effort that goes into content creation today.

Is creating branded content a creative challenge? Are there often strict guidelines for this content?

I had the opportunity to get exposed to the world of branded content at a very early age, as I was hired as a trainee for my first job in the creative services team for a big media brand in India. From then on, I continued working towards creating promotional branded content for some of the leading television media networks in India like UTV, Zee, Times Television, and Star.

Creating branded content is definitely a creative challenge. As the producer for the project, I would not only have to build brand awareness of the television shows that I was creating the promotional and marketing campaigns for, but most importantly, I had to creatively and effectively establish brand awareness of the advertisers sponsoring the shows as well. I had to make sure that the advertisers’ core values were aligned with the core values of the content of the show.

As a producer, I had non-stop meetings with both the show producers and the clients, trying to brainstorm concepts and ideas that could marry both brands and establish a final product that would have an impact on its target audience.

For example, the show ‘Let’s Design’ was sponsored by Cotton Council International, and the show ‘Zoom Fashion Drill’ was sponsored by leading denim brand Pepe Jeans. I had to collaborate with my team, show producers, and the advertisers to create promotional and digital marketing campaigns that could marry the two brands seamlessly.

So the ‘Let’s Design’ promo focused on a script and visual treatment that brought out the essence of cotton in the design industry, while the overall look of the campaign was focused on how cotton can be a symbol of glamor. For ‘Zoom Fashion Drill,’ we created a campaign that brought out the ruggedness of the brand Pepe Jeans, as well as the glamorous quotient of all models and judges that represented the essence of the channel.

Yes, there were strict guidelines that we needed to follow while handling branded content because it is not just about product placement. The challenge is to push your creative boundaries within the realm of those guidelines.

How would you compare video production in India to its equivalent in the United States? Was it difficult to adjust from one to the other?

I have had the great opportunity of working in the video production industry in both India and the United States. The one thing that I learned and realized through these experiences is that no matter which part of the world you are in, the craft is still the same.

Video production in both countries has been an interesting experience for me. There is a similarity in the approach towards creative projects in both countries, the workflow, conceptualizing, the production teams, the deadlines, the brand guidelines, the work ethic, and the budget. The only difference that I have experienced is in the kinds of clients and content that I’ve dealt with.

There was a bit of a struggle involved in my transition from India to the US. I was usually the only female video producer in the production team. I definitely met a lot of independent female photographers, but not many independent video producers.

There were two main things that I had to prove. The first was that my video production knowledge from India was of use to the work that I’m doing here. The second was that I could handle all aspects of video production including videography, video editing, graphics, audio design, and marketing.

 How did you arrive at the idea for the “This is my story, what’s yours” project?

Having been in the industry for ten years now, I came to a point in my life, where I wanted to use my craft as a video producer and storyteller to create a greater impact. ‘This is my story, what’s yours?’ is a culmination of a few instances in my life.

A few years back when I was working for the ‘School of Public health’ at the State University of New York, Buffalo, I was working on profile videos of students and faculty, asking them about their journey which brought them to the school and to the master’s program at UB.

They would delve into their childhood days and how they developed a passion for public health, or how a sick person in the family pushed them to pursue a career in medicine. I really enjoyed the process of telling these personal stories.

Meanwhile, in my pursuit for inspiration, I stumbled upon the work of two great artists, Brandon Stanton, founder of ‘Humans of New York’ and Jay Shetty, an award-winning storyteller, podcaster, and former monk who is making wisdom go viral through his videos, which have earned billions of views.

Through their work, I was inspired to combine the concept of telling people’s stories and seeking wisdom from their personal journey that could be shared with the world. This is how ‘This is My Story, What’s yours?’ was born.

With regards to the technical side of video production, which aspect do you feel most comfortable with? Do you need to know how to handle all aspects of production?

I enjoy video editing a lot. It’s the time when you can bring the story to life. You can shoot tons of video footage and interviews, but the challenge is to bring it all together and create an impactful video.

It is not necessary to know to handle all aspects of producing, but in today’s world, it’s always good to know it all. You might not be an expert in all aspects, but your practical knowledge will only help you become a better producer and the results will be evident in the work that you create.

Tell us more about working with on-air talent. Do you ever need to direct/coach performers so that they’ll better fit the style and content of the video?

I have worked with multiple on-air-talents including TV hosts, models, and actors. It’s an interesting dynamic. As a producer, we always have to create a professional rapport with the talent so they’re able to align with our vision and deliver.

When directing projects, I do have to coach the performers in terms of their expression, body language, voice modulation, and styling. This is an important aspect of all shoots, since they are the face of the video and they represent the brand.

Of all your work, has there been a single project that you enjoyed the most?

One of my favorite projects has been the video projects that I created for the nonprofit organization Hoja Nueva and Fashion for Conservation in Seattle, Washington.

I collaborated with a bunch of amazing women who are working towards saving the Amazonian rainforest by promoting eco-friendly fashion through fundraising galas, fashion shows, and events.

I was not only creating the video content for their digital platforms, I also functioned as the media coordinator for all their events. I have really enjoyed my time working with them.

Do you have plans for any upcoming projects that you’d like to share with us?

My upcoming project is to shoot at least one hundred more videos for ‘This is My Story, What’s Yours?’ in the coming year. I intend to cover stories of people from different backgrounds, different countries, and race.

I am also in the process of  launching a Kickstarter campaign for this project so I am able to execute my goal. I also intend to hold community gatherings to get people together to share their stories with an audience

My other upcoming projects are creating video content for WIT Regatta, as well as video projects for Nordstrom.

I will continue to create video content for Hoja Nueva and the recent Peruvian retreats that they have organized

I will also be rebranding the digital platform for Biz Kid$, a prominent national financial education initiative based on an Emmy Award-winning public television series about kids, money, and business.

by Giorgio Chang

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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