Category: Opinion

The Pros & Cons of Being a One-Man-Video-Crew

Canon 5D mkII Video RigFor better or  worse, I’ve become known as a one-man-crew – a Jack of all trades. But, we know how that saying goes, although, I’d argue that I am actually master of some. Of course, there are pros and cons of being a one-man-video-crew:

Pros

  1. I am confident in my own skills: I don’t have to teach anyone how to operate a camera or hold a boom before I can start shooting.
  2. If I’m on time, the whole team is there. I’m always on time and I always turn up so I never worry about having missing crew members.
  3. Communication at the speed of thought: if I want something to look a certain way, I just go and change the cameras. If I want things to sound just so, I go do it. Nothing gets lost in translation between departments, because there aren’t any.
  4. Adaptability: if production has to change direction or location there is no moaning (well. very little); as soon as I get my head around the new concept, or get to that new location, we can start shooting.
  5. Low impact: when production rolls up to your location there are no trucks and masses of crew wandering around, shutting locations down and causing a big disruption. There’s me, and what I’ve been able to pack and carry. I can edit my rig down to the point where I look like a tourist with a still camera, so I can get footage from places a crew can’t go without a lot of paperwork.
  6. Cost: I’m one guy who flies coach. I own most of the gear I need to get the job done. If you get me, and some of my gear, to a location we’re ready to shoot.
  7. There’s a seamless transition from pre, to production, to post. One person is responsible for all 3 phases so there isn’t a lot of hand-over time needed.

Cons

  1. My back aches – even travelling light there’s way more schelping involved in video production than anyone told me. Being a one-man-crew means that you’re your own roadie, grip, etc and it can be pretty physical before you ever get to hit record.
    Word to the wise: bring a spare shirt to the shoot. If the client asks you out to dinner after the shoot, at least you’ll look half-decent while you’re networking.
  2. It doesn’t scale – there is a limit to what I can do on my own. The temptation is to push beyond that, but that’s when things start to look amateurish.
    Word to the wise: Know your limits. Know when to contract out elements of the job. There are limits to what one person can do and you need to recognize those limits and know when to call in outside help and stop being a one man crew.
  3. There are limitations: if I’m manning 3 cameras and audio on an interview, the three cameras will be pretty static. I won’t be able to ride the levels on the mixer like a dedicated sound guy. I won’t be able to man a camera slider like a second camera operator could. Once we’re rolling I will have my hands full just keeping focus and making sure everything keeps running.
  4. Things can go wrong and no one will notice. If you have a camera operator per-camera, and a dedicated sound guy, there’s no excuse for everything not being in focus and the sound being perfect. When I’m manning 3 DSLRs, and wired, and wireless sound, it can take a while for me to notice that focus has slipped somewhere. Hopefully I have enough coverage that this isn’t an issue.
    Word to the wise: Never get complacent. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve run multiple cameras and sound yourself, that one time you get laid back and you think you have everything under control, is the time you will get bitten in the proverbial. You can never check your focus, exposure and levels enough. If you’re not, at least, a little bit nervous, something is wrong.
  5. If I’m late, the whole production crew is late. If I’m sick, the whole production crew is sick. If I screw up, the whole production crew has screwed up. That’s a lot of pressure for one person. It also means that I turn up for work, dosed up on Dayquil, on days when I really should stay home, and my stinking cold gets passed around.
    Word to the wise: make time to look after yourself and keep fit. When you’re the whole crew, there’s always something else too do which is a reason not to go run or to the gym. Make time. If you don’t feel good you won’t produce good work.
  6. There’s a lot to know. If you are all the production departments you’ve got to know your stuff. You don’t have to know sound capture like a 20 year industry veteran, but, you better know it better than the average enthusiast. And there’s a difference between book-smart (YouTube-smart) and street-smart. Don’t just read about a thing, or watch a tutorial video, get out there and try what you need to know. You only really learn by doing so get out there and shoot and edit every day. Shoot tests if you have nothing better to do. Just when you think you know enough, the technology or techniques will change and you have to keep up.

With all that said, I wouldn’t want to specialize and just do one thing. I like knowing enough to get the job done without anyone else. I like defying expectations. I like being asked, where the crew is, and tapping my rolling case and telling the subject, “This is it.” I like being responsible for my own success or failure. Whether you like it or not, the one-man-crew is the wave of the future, so you should learn to adapt and embrace the pros, and find ways to minimize the cons.

6 Reasons Why Now is the Time for Video

It seems like 2013 was the year that video really rocketed to the fore as the marketing and communication tool for companies big and small. We all realize that video is the way to communicate your story but why the sudden up-tick in interest in video marketing?

Canon Vixia HFM3011. Bandwidth:

It didn’t used to be viable to host or watch videos on the internet because of bandwidth limitations. High speed access to the inter-tubes, at home, at work and on the move, is now seen as a right in the 1st world, rather than a privilege. We see this in the film world as video on demand becomes the default way to consume video, and physical disks become old-school. The reality has finally caught up with the promise (almost) of being able to steam and watch what you want anytime you want, anywhere you want (unless you’re trying to stream Netflix on a Friday night of course).

This fast bandwidth is just as beneficial for marketing and corporate video as it is to entertainment providers, and it’s only going to get better, and faster. Streaming a video is no longer a chore with low-fi results. We expect HD video and great audio from YouTube (they’re already talking about 4k) and even uploading video is no longer something you start before you go to bed, and pray it has uploaded successfully by the time you get up in the morning. For viewers and creators, fast, stable internet connections everywhere make video as the preferred communication medium, totally viable.

2. Mobile:

When I said ‘everywhere‘, I mean ‘everywhere‘. Smart phones and tablets with fast connections make video on the go simple. I went to change brake-bulb in my wife’s car the other day. When I got out to the car it wasn’t as obvious a task as I’d thought. But I pulled out my iPhone, and fired up YouTube app, and queried on “VW new beetle brake light replacement” and in an instant I had several decent videos available to walk me through the process. As someone who grew-up with black and white televisions this is sci-fi. Seriously, even a couple of years was this as simple as it is now, and was there as much content to mine as there is now? Accessing video on my phone is a daily occurrence and I’m an old fart so, to the digital natives, this is all totally mundane. And the rest of the population is not far behind. Video is not something just to access at your desktop or TV – video is, literally, everywhere in large part thanks to smart-phones.

3. No One Wants to Read Anything, Anymore:

Given the choice between reading a page of text about how to change a car brake light, and watching a short video on how to do it, of course, I’m going to watch the video. What about you?

You and everyone else.

The video gets the job done so much more effectively and efficiently.

4. Easy to Create & Everyone Wants to a Creative:

It used to be difficult to create a video but that was before iMovie and everyone having a HD movie studio in their pocket. Now everyone wants to be a creative and video gives them that opportunity. Even if someone has never created a video before, it only takes a little push to get them up and running. At work, everyone knows that they should be communicating through video. As soon as you offer help to get them started, or ask them to be a stakeholder in a video project, everyone gets enthusiastic, has an opinion, and their inner-producer comes out to play. People have so many dull tasks to complete; being involved in a video project, even in a small way, allows you to be creative and play and just have fun. Who doesn’t want to have fun?

5. Social:

Social allows you to target your specific audience. Instead of the blunderbuss approach of old when you put an ad on cable TV and hoped it was applicable to a tiny percentage of those who saw it., now, you can target a very specific audience. They will find, and see, and promote your content. It doesn’t matter how many thousand people see your video on TV; what matters is that your video gets seen by the people really interested in it. Using social in a smart way allows this to happen.

6. Cost of Technology & Creation:

Back in the day, only a small percentage of companies could afford TV advertising campaigns – you can now create and host a video for virtually nothing so there’s no reason not to try. The quality of your content doesn’t need to match a Super Bowl ad; in fact you can get started with the iPhone you already own and a free YouTube account. Even if you aspire to higher production values, the barrier to entry has never been lower. There is no excuse for not producing your own videos, if you have any desire to get involved.

If you haven’t got involved yet, make 2014 the year.

How to be Disruptive Without Being a Jerk

Being a guerrilla videomaker in the corporate world implies that we are being disruptive. I’m using both guerrilla and disruptive in their positive sense. The natural inclination, especially in a big company that is doing OK, and is set in it’s ways, is to go with the flow and to keep the status quo. This can be useful in the day to day operation of a business, but it kills growth and innovation. That’s why big companies seek out, and encourage, disruptive energy.

kanye-west-vma-taylor-swift[1]There is a difference between little Billy being disruptive in class and the kind of disruption in technology, culture and business that we want to be part of. I’ve met a lot of people in Silicon Valley, and read article and books by writers, who get the two confused.

Disruptive Doesn’t Mean Contrary

Disruptive doesn’t mean that your default stance should be contrary. Being contrary for contrary’s sake can make you look more like an asshole than a free-thinking innovator. There has to be a good reason to disrupt the status quo.

Many times the way your company is doing something is right, so every process doesn’t need to be disrupted and changed. Let’s pull it back to the world of corporate video for a second: a big company that wants to live stream content with a multiple cameras in a studio setting, that they want to rival a news program, may have an expensive studio that costs a fortune to equip, man and run. Could you achieve 80% of that production value with a couple of DSLR’s and Google hangout? Probably not so you leave that to the big boys and you seek out those situations that warrant a new approach.

If the same company wants to send a 5 person crew to interview a customer for an internal testimonial video at great expense, that might be a time to be disruptive. That could be a job one person could do with a single case of gear. The outcome won’t be quite as slick but if you can achieve 80% of the quality for 20% of the cost it is probably worth going guerrilla. Pick your battles carefully and choose where and when to be a disruptive force

Disruptive Doesn’t Mean Unpleasant

large_wb6mB6R9vscPhyAegbbNDFZUAIs[1]Disruptive doesn’t mean being unpleasant to work with. This goes hand-in-hand with not being contrary. Video production is a collaborative process. Even if you are a one man production team, you will be working with other people. You might be a video-making genius but if you’re a jerk to the people you encounter and work with, they will choose to work with someone else next time. The person they choose to work with might not be as good as you, but if the process is more pleasant, they will be willing to sacrifice a bit of production value. Be disruptive with a smile on your face: not a fake smile – you have to enjoy what you’re doing. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Failure is an Orphan …

Being disruptive means that you have to be prepared to fail. If you’re being truly disruptive, and are challenging the way things are done around here at the moment, you are going to fall on your ass. You’re probably going to fall down a lot. When you play it safe everything you do will ‘work’ but you won’t be breaking any new ground. Prepare your boss for this possibility. Be adaptable and have a plan-B. Know when to abandon plan-A and move to plan-B. There’s a very thin line between tenacity and stubbornness.

… Success Has a Thousand Fathers

Being disruptive means you may lose the work you’re doing at some point. This is the cost of success. Once the status quo catches up with you they will want to take credit and responsibility for this work going forward (and sometimes retroactively). Know when to let go and move on to the next project, after all, you want to be the guerrilla innovator – you’re not trying to take over central marketing’s responsibilities. This is easier said than done. While you own a project you may care deeply for it and it can be hard to see that given to someone else.

The Disruptive Character

Being disruptive requires some courage. You have to know when to stand up and say, “What you’re doing might be wrong.”

It means being curious. Don’t blindly accept current processes and working practices. Ask why, not just how. If you don’t know why a process is the way it is at the moment you have no way of knowing if your big idea addresses all requirements and issues.

Being disruptive means being true to yourself and it requires knowledge and experience. You can choose to be a disruptive jerk or a creative disruptive.

Links:

When Corporate Videos Go Bad: Everyone Wants to be a Rock Star (Part 2)

Let’s jump right back in where I left off last time: last time I proposed that there were no good examples of corporate music videos and I have since been proved wrong, not once, but twice. And yet, there are still many more bad examples of corporate music videos than there are good one.

Let’s start by doing the time-warp back to the 80’s. It’s really not fair to pick on the 80’s out of context but, as it was the time I came of age, I’m going to allow myself one of two:

We Are ADP

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t cool even in the 80’s.

Wendy’s Grill Skills

Rap took off in the 80’s and white, corporate America tried to incorporate it into everything including boring training videos for their young, minimum-wage employees.

Pier One: And Make a Sale, Y’all

You’d think by the late 90’s/early 2000’s we’d have learned our lesson but no. Here Pier One goes making the same mistake, trying to rap their way through a training video. If anything, this one’s even worse as they don’t have the excuse that ‘it was the 80’s!

Bank Of America – One (U2 Cover)

Let’s finish up with a classic of the genre; not a video as such this time, but a live performance. The song and message are delivered competently but without a hint of irony or humor. You just end up feeling sorry for everyone involved. Whihc brings us to the takeaway: don’t fall into this trap. Just because it smells vaguely of rap or rock’n’roll doesn’t make it cool. In fact, the more dilute and beige you make it, the more pathetic it comes out looking. Let’s be careful out there…

When Corporate Videos Go Bad: Everyone Wants to be a Rock Star

On this site I try to highlight videos, corporate and others, that inspire me. Sometimes, however, I come across work that has the opposite effect. There are terrible videos and films in all genres but coporate video has more than it’s fair share. There are so many, in fact, that I’m going to break them down by category. In this post I’ll highlight one of the biggest offenders; the coporate music video.

We all want to be rock stars. Maybe you sing your heart out along with the radio on your commute home. Maybe you have a guitar on display in your man cave. Perhaps you even dabble in a little music creation on the weekends. None of these things qualify you as the next American Idol. Just because you have a little of this years marketing budget left you have to spend or lose, please, don’t be tempted to make a music video for your company. It never works! I can’t find one example of a good, independantly verified, corporate music video (if you know differently, send them my way – I’m happy to be proved wrong). Unfortunately, there are many, many bad examples to prove my point:

 The Gazprom Song

First up is an original tune for Gazprom, the Russian energy monopolist. Vladimir Tumayev, director of the Gazprom subsidy Spetsgaza, attempt to compose and perform a feel-good anthem without an ounce of irony or humor:

Let’s drink to you, let’s drink to us,
Let’s drink to all the Russian gas
That it never comes to an end,
Though it’s so hard to obtain
For those extracting the new sun
From down beneath the ground

But Gazprom at least have the cultural excuse that, we in the west, can’t understand or appreciate what they are doing here. They maybe right and they should at least be aplauded for trying to create something original.

Let’s move on to purpatrators who have neither of these arguements in their defense…

BlackBerry Is Going To Keep On Loving You


This video did the rounds a little more than a year ago. From the outset punters were confused. Let’s face it, BlackBerry is not the tech darling it once was and you’d think the three RIM employees would have better things to do than to craft a homage of REO Speedwagon’s 1981 hit “Keep On Loving You,” directed at their developers. It went viral for all the wrong reasons. Now it’s very difficult to find the actual video on the web – I had to hunt in all the wrong places to bring this copy to you. This means either BlackBerry didn’t clear copyright for this song or they’re trying to sweep the video under the carpet. Both are mistakes you, as a video producer, should try to avoid – a company as savvy as BlackBerry should have known better.

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Case Study: Just Do It!

As the premise of this blog suggests, I work in a very large company making videos and other multimedia, but not in the central marketing department. I try to apply the ethos of my favorite guerrilla filmmakers to corporate video production, but sometimes, you still find yourself getting bogged down in the corporate process.

Let’s look at a recent case in point: one of the teams I work closely with also owns the usability labs at our company. A big part of those labs purpose, outside of their obvious, primary, practical use, is as a location for customers to visit, to get a feel of some of the new technologies we are working with, and products we are developing. Hundreds of customers pass through the labs every year but what about those customers who never get to visit our headquarters? A couple of years ago I did suggest to one of my colleagues responsible for outreach, that we should create a virtual video tour of the labs and the suggestion was embraced.

Unfortunately, it was embraced by too many people. Too many stakeholders became involved. There were more man-hours spent in meetings about the project than there ever were in action to move the project forward. It should have been simple but, instead, all those opinions got in the way and a couple of stiff, rough scripts were written, but it never went any further than that.

Cut to some time later and another colleague from this team came to me saying that he was going out of the country the following week to visit some partners, and could we quickly knock up a temporary lab-tour video he could use, until the official one was created.

We met the next day: me with minimal kit and he with just bullet points for a script but, in couple of hours, we’d captured the footage we needed. By the end of the day we had a final cut, and it was posted on YouTube. It’s not perfect, but sometimes you have to let an ideal go, and accept ‘good enough‘, as ‘good enough‘ turns out to be way better, and much more useful, than you ever imagined. You can probably guess the rest: no one has put any time into making the official virtual lab tours video, because, this video that two of us created from start to finish in a single day, is good enough.

When I talk about applying guerrilla filmmaking techniques in a corporate settings this is what I’m talking about. If central marketing had made this video it would be much slicker, and would have cost us much more in time, and money, than was really required just to get the message out there. Would slicker have been better? Sometimes there is something more honest about a video that’s a little rough around the edges. This video has plenty of very rough edges, and yet it still works.

Twerking, Jimmy Kimmel and Mermaids

If you’re into Web Marketing, or just popular culture in general, and you’ve not been living under a rock, you must have seen the controversy Jimmy Kimmel caused with his manufactured Twerking accident video. Just in case you haven’t seen it, Jimmy Kimmel created a video of a woman, allegedly, trying to dance on amateur video. She falls onto candles on a glass coffee table and her workout pants catch fire. Or, at least, that’s what happens in part one that Kimmel’s team put out on YouTube and, without any of Kimmel’s promotion, it went viral. Viral enough that many TV ‘news’ and commentary programs reported on it and played it as if it were genuine.

Cut to part two, and the directors cut, where we see that Jimmy Kimmel fooled everyone. It is hilarious and everyone is saying that Jimmy Kimmel schooled the news agencies and the internet which is partly true. I have to say that I, myself, was schooled, because I didn’t think that you could manufacture this kind of viralility. I thought that most viral videos were accidents of popular culture – now I know better. But it is a pleasant lesson. I get huge giggles out of the fact that the news agencies look like idiots for broadcasting this as fact when they obviously didn’t do any research to verify it’s authenticity. I realize that a girl’s pants catching fire in a dancing accident is not as big a deal as a viral video of one faction bombing another, as evidence of war atrocities, or anything, but if these news programs aren’t sweating the small stuff, I doubt it is to pay more due diligence to the bigger stories.

But I don’t want to get carried away. Jimmy Kimmel’s prank doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world for news agencies, or even tell us anything about TV news that we didn’t already know: they’re desperate for a story, and viewers – they’re under staffed, they don’t care. They don’t do adequate research and they play a viral video that turns out to be fake to fill a few minutes of air time. Big deal! Kudos to Kimmel, but still, tell us something we don’t know.

Moving from a fun bit of fakery to a less good-natured (pun intended) piece of deception: Animal Planet released the follow up to their mermaid fake-out, The Body Found. If you dig deep enough you will find out that Animal Planet say that they intend these shows to be treated as works of fiction. What? What they have done is released a couple of pseudo-documentaries about evidence of the existence of mermaids. These programs include actors playing government officials and academic experts and ‘found footage’ courtesy of the SFX department. At no point do these shows say they are works of fiction – they’re played, not for laughs, but deadpan and they released onto a supposedly documentary TV channel in the obvious hope of going viral. In the follow up, the program makers are obviously proud of their deception which they measure in the number of dumb celebrity tweets they managed to garner as a result of the previous show.

Now you, and Animal Planet, may claim this is just a piece of harmless fun: that people stupid enough to believe this shit get what they deserve, but that is unfair. If you put programming on a documentary channel, the general public can be forgiven for expecting what they see there to be, in good faith, factual. This is especially true if you, at no point before, during, or after the show do you explain that everything you’re showing is made up. There is a section of the American population who are susceptible to conspiracy theories, and I do realize that they read the X-files as fact, but they shouldn’t be encouraged by audience-hungry, TV programmers. The government (National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administrationhas had to take time to explain the experts of this show were not their employees but, in fact, actors. They have more important things to do than attempt to calm down a riled up public due to deceptive filmmaking (of course, due to the shutdown, they can’t do anything right now but that is by-the-by).

You might be right in saying that I’m over reacting, and that the viewing public, and the government, get what they deserve, but I argue, like Uncle Ben, that with great power comes great responsibility. Video is the most powerful, and persuasive, communication medium of our day. When Jimmy Kimmel fools us for a joke, and explains exactly what he has done, which makes that joke even more funny, that’s fair use in my book. When a TV channel sets out to deceive, just to improve their viewing figures, that’s cynical and deplorable.

At least, that’s my opinion and this is my blog, but I’m open to argument, so what do you think? Am I over reacting?