Friday, June 23, 2017

Going Pro: Client Journeys - The Unexpected Call

One of the best-- though unnerving-- pieces of advice for new videographers/photographers is to make a pitch to your day job or a current associate, be that a hobby or a related businesses.  The bottom line is that every organization can benefit from a video, and people who know you will (hopefully) trust you.

I was lucky.  I didn't have to pitch my day job; they approached me to create a video and it was no small project.  They wanted a 4 part series on the statewide program, complete with a mini-narrative (or extended role play).  It took months to plan, weeks to shoot, and I'm still working on translations for them.  It didn't pay well by an independent contractor standard, but it did by a regular employment scale.

But that wasn't the Unexpected Call.  That call came from Hilton Worldwide.  They didn't want a commercial or even an in-house industrial; a senior Vice President was celebrating his 50th anniversary (and likely retirement due to illness), and they wanted a "thank-you" video from his colleagues and staff who were spread out across the U.S.  The video wasn't something they had planned on, either; it was a last minute addition, and it needed to be organized and edited in three weeks.  They wanted staff to film themselves-- using phones or cameras or whatever was available.  They also wanted it to be clever, humorous, and heartfelt.

I had no idea why an international company based outside of LA would cold-call me in the SF Bay.  He said he liked my website (really? the one with five videos?) and I didn't ask any questions.  He also said there wasn't a budget for this, but he wanted to see what it would cost to edit the staff contributions.  We talked about how many staff would contribute; I asked about general themes he thought we should cover; he told me a little about the Vice President, Greg.  I quoted him $1200.  It wasn't a living wage, really, but it wasn't embarrassingly cheap, either.

The next day I sent him filming guidelines for the staff, and based on our discussion, eight questions for them to answer, based on themes about Greg's personal style, computer style, driving technique, etc.  Everyone was to answer three of the eight questions, plus a statement about "one thing they appreciated about Greg."  I set up a Dropbox account for the incoming footage.  A week later, the files started to arrive.

As you can imagine, it was a hot mess.  Footage was shot on iPhones, in offices, in hotel lobbies, conference centers, vertical for Christ sake.  Airplanes roared in the background.  The President of Hilton Worldwide had his professionally done.  The 15 on-camera interviews ballooned to over 20.  Everyone had to be included.

Greg had started as a valet, and I found some archival footage of the Hilton where he worked; I organized the clips around the three major "questions."  And then I edited to the bone. Instead of fighting the bad and inconsistent quality of the footage, I went with it... allowing it to help shape the flow of the video.  

Rather than share the draft video with my client, I shared how I was structuring the piece.  After 10 days, I produced a draft for his review.  It was rough-hewn, a visual jumble tied together with playfulness, and audio earache to the refined.  He loved it.  I don't recall a single suggestion.  They played it at the 50th Anniversary, and the audience fell out; Greg and his family were deeply touched.

My client sent an email, introducing me to four new Hilton owners in the SF Bay (Hilton is a franchise), recommending me.  New businesses hasn't come from that-- at least not yet-- but I appreciated it as a sincere compliment.

Five months later I received an email from my client.  Greg has passed away from the illness that forced his retirement.  They played the video at his memorial.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Going Pro: Conversations about taking it to the next level

Photographer Ming Thein recently posted a discussion on his blog about the process of turning pro.  If you don't know him, his architectural photography is quietly phenomenal, with a subtle Miksang influence and flawless post production technique.  He writes a good blog, too.

For a unique perspective he shares this post with Robin Wong, a photog who's mid-stream in his journey of turning pro, and together they reflect on both the pitfalls and the tricks to being successful.  On point that can't be emphasized enough is how to think about and manage cash flow. 

"The reality is that most material work tends to be planned anywhere from one to six months in advance, and some clients may not pay for a month or two after that – which means your cash flow cycle should really be six months to a year once everything is stable."

An even bigger take-away in the piece is using smaller short-term jobs with quicker turnaround with the larger "meat" of your work.  This can sometimes mean taking on jobs that don't typify your work.  Ming may take the job, but he doesn't add it to his portfolio.

"Everything I’ve done up to this point has that question at the heart of it: is it core to what I want to shoot and what I want to be as a photographer? If no, unless I really, really need the money, I don’t do the job – and even then, I don’t tell anybody about it. So the answer is – let’s call it ‘identity building’ – must happen directly or indirectly, all the time. In practical terms, this means 3-4 hours a day answering email, making content for the site, maintaining the other social media channels (FB, IG, Twitter) etc. And that’s of course on top of the actual shooting and admin and logistics."

It's a long read, but a good one for anyone thinking about the leap.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Do you really cut on the blink?

Celebrated film editor Walter Murch famously said that you should almost always cut on the actor’s blink; and less famously explained that you never cut on the actual blink, but sometimes before and only when it made sense for other reasons.  What I’ve never heard explained is why that technique so often works: it’s because unlike people in daily life, people on camera usually blink intentionally.

For actors, dialogue and physical movement are both considered actions. Script analysis reveals each character's objective, and the various actions they take to obtain their goal.  They speak in order to reach their goal, to convince another character do something.  Actors will identify the beats (or sub actions) that determined when an action is complete.  The action, for example, may be to intimidate the other person.  They'll accomplish this by probing their vulnerabilities, insinuating that harm might come to them, and escalating to a blunt threat.  Each sub-action (probe, insinuate, threaten) is a beat that makes up the action, and they'll only give up on a sub-action when it's clear their not reaching their objective.  They’ll push through each beat with 100% intensity until its done.  Then they’ll blink.  It's a divider, a rest, before they begin their next action.  The actor’s “beat,” therefore often coincide with cuts.  What this means is that you can often predict when an actor will blink just by analyzing the script for beats.  Though you'd never want to edit so blindly, you could almost edit without watching the actor at all.

Actors are trained to do analyze beats and actions (Stanislavsky is the most famous teacher of this technique), but non-actors also do a gentler version of action-blink when they know a camera is pointed their direction.  People tend to become more directed on camera.  No one wants to ramble or fumble or stare meaninglessly into space.  So they make sure there’s a reason for everything they say.  An action.

A blink is a “rest” on several levels: resting the eyes, arresting the action.  As editors, though, we often want to keep forward motion of the action, which is another reason why cutting just before the blink works.  It keeps the action moving at top pace.  What’s fascinating (and rarely seen in movies) is when an actor blinks as an action, rather than a rest.  Takeshi Kitano in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is a wonderful example of that, in a film that's getting a second life of sorts.  Next time you watch a movie, look at when the actor blinks, what it means, and why the editor chose to cut or not cut.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Going Pro: Facebook or Twitter? Or Instagram? Or Tumblr?

The only social media tool I advocate for one hundred percent is blogging.  Which, of course, isn’t really a social media platform at all.  Which is probably why it's so useful.  It allows you to target your audience and craft a detailed message and a precise brand over time.  So even if you only post monthly, write a blog.

But what about the rest?  What follows is just my opinion and anyone who tells you they know the right answer is just a dingbat.  And take everything I write with a grain of salt because I’m not a social media type of person.  On a personal level I shy away from these services, engaging with them as little as possible even as I use them as a professional. 

For business purposes, I am not a fan of Facebook.  Yes, Facebook is by far the most popular social media platform;  according to the PEW Research Center, nearly 70% of Americans have a Facebook page with higher earners being more likely to participate.  Yes, Facebook is second only to Google in advertising buys.  But it’s really social, and that's a problem for businesses.  It’s for your friends, and it’s a clumsy tool for getting out a brand or message.  You may have "Liked" a business of Facebook, but do you really visit their page on a weekly or even monthly basis?  I visit my favorite blogs daily.  That's engagement.  Facebook will also filter out posts that are targeted to potential clients; unless you pay for a boosted post, they’ll never see them.  Because you don’t have a relationship with them.  To me, this is a bad communication model, dependent on paid advertising which is exactly the opposite of what people engage on Facebook to see.  Facebook is a good tool for events.  This is because you're reaching out to your friends and distant friends and really not a friend but somehow you got connected friends.  My theatre production company has a page and we use it for every production, posting rehearsal notes, images, and events.  Hurricane Images Inc. has a page and I completely ignore it. 

Instagram is the next most popular medium, trailing at roughly 30% of Americans.  I like Instagram for its quick engagement and because it is a visual medium.  It’s one of the tools I use, though I don’t dedicate much time to it.  That’s because you can’t really control who you’re talking to, and you can’t provide a whole lot of information about yourself or your service.  You can generate a feel about your company, but you can’t direct it to you customers or be specific about who you are.  If you use it, have fun, and curate your posts/images ruthlessly to make sure they are your finest.  As with many things, there are a rare number of individuals who have managed to parlay Instagram activity into business success, but unless you love using Instagram it's a poor investment.
Twitter.  Twitter's numbers are surprisingly low given its status as a social media tool.  Roughly 20% of Americans use it, with the highest engagement being among 18-29 year olds.  Which may or may not be your client.  Twitter should be a better tool than it is (and perhaps I'll figure out how to use it more effectively).  It allows you to post images, link to video, and deliver a pithy message.  The problem is that you can't control your geographic target, and most production companies end up tweeting about things that only interest other production companies... not their clients.  Twitter distills one of the essential problems of social media as a marketing tool:  you end up posting about your activities and your interests.  Your reader is "you."
LinkedIn is not one of the social media platforms people talk about when discussing social media marketing, but you absolutely should be engaged here.  Twenty-five percent of adults use LinkedIn, making it a rival of Instagram in terms of reach, and they use it specifically for businesses.  The challenge is figuring out how to be social on LinkedIn.  It takes more work.  You should participate in groups, be sparing (as in monthly) with your updates, praise and highlight your clients, and write carefully crafted articles and responses.  No one wants to hear about you every day, which is its own type of blessing.
My bottom line is this:  Blog and use LinkedIn.  Look for ways to link the two.  Use one other type of social media largely for fun.  Don't try to engage on all of the platforms, it's too time-consuming.  Pick 2-3 and do it well.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Going Pro: Client Journeys - Promotional Video

As a part of this series I’m describing a few of my early client journeys in time-condensed form. Clients arrive at your doorstep in different ways—and when you’re just starting out, that’s give you time to develop your approach, and hone your skills.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Going Pro: Meeting the Paparazzi

It’s sounds idiotic when you say it out loud, but so much of pregnancy, having a child, is nothing like you imagined from books and movies.  The first sonogram, for instance, isn’t done on a Vaseline-smeared belly eagerly looking for fingers and toes.  That comes later.  It comes now, as a matter of fact.  And it isn’t a quick snapshot.  It’s a paparazzi affair that takes 25 minutes, photographing from every conceivable angle, measuring everything that can be discerned.  The technician is part photog, part judo master—manipulating the belly (and the little one inside) for the best shots.  And they say the photographer should never touch the model.  

It’s as exciting from Mom and Dad as it appears in the movies, but in a different way.  That little heartbeat has been with us for months, so the sense of life-- the reality of the change to come has been ever present.  But the blurry, mysterious images on the screen convey a glimpse of the future, a first contact via a strange language of abstract shapes and barely recognizable features.  We're worlds apart, and we've been signaling our presence to each other through rubs, kicks, and soft voices.  But until now we've been speaking across a galaxy.  And this brings us closer.

Another unexpected reality:  having a child is work:  from the medications to the constant doctor’s visits to the classes… and reading up on the side.  It seems impossible to get anything else done, which I guess is a good prelude to parenthood itself.  How will I get anything done once he/she is here?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Going Pro: Client Journeys

Clients arrive at your doorstep in unexpected ways—when you’re just starting out, the variance is even greater.  The professionalism of your clients, the types of products, and the trajectory of the process varies wildly.  As a new company, that’s a good thing.  You need to develop your approach to working with clients, as well as define your strengths and weaknesses.  But the arrival-- and sometimes departure-- of clients can be mystifying and stressful.  We expect the process to unfold a certain way, and it often doesn't.

So as a part of this series I’ll present a few of my early client journeys in time-condensed form, from initial contact to conclusion. 

If you’ve been following these posts, you’ll notice that I’ve already included a couple client journeys: my first “client” was imaginary… a promotional video for Schools for Africa that still features prominently in my portfolio.  My second client was a pro bono piece for a non-profit.