3.26.2014

Photographer leaps across the great chasm to produce profitable video projects.

This is an image of my friend, Suzi W. It has nothing to 
do with this particular post other than to point out 
that I love taking portraits. Whether they move or are moving. 
Or Both. 

I've been shooting video for a while but it's only in the past year that it's become more captivating for me as a part of my business. Still photography, as a business, can be a perilous undertaking (financially) and it's nice to spread out the risk by doing different, but related, types of work. I find that I love doing video projects because they speak to so many facets of my experience base. The frame work of videos for commercial clients is the marketing and branding message. All the pretty footage in the world doesn't matter if someone isn't taking time to bore down and understand what the basic selling proposition the client is trying to communicate.

My process in the video world is different from that followed by many in the industry who are, in a sense, just trying to trade their still cameras for a camera that does motion. There are legions of people who "just want to show up and shoot." In the parlance of the video production industry these people are referred to as "camera operators" and they are part of a crew that all works together to follow the orders of a director. The director may be working from a script written by someone he or she has never met.  For the camera operator the generic position is a day job. 

I recently put together and completed a job done just the way I wanted to do it. The client was a technology company with a bundled hardware/software product that has compelling features for a number of commercial and retail markets. They needed a video to show at trade shows and to put on their website that would speak about the features and benefits of the product and do so in a voice that would target a specific set of industry professionals. 

My first job was to immerse myself in the company and the product. Of course I researched on their website and read every scrap of marketing information the company had ever produced. I talked to the tech people, the salespeople and the company marketing people. I wanted to know what the product really did and I needed to understand a number of real world applications. The second most important piece of research was to find out exactly who the decision makers who trigger a purchase of the product would be. 

When I felt like I had a comfortable grasp of the product and the market, the problem the product solved and how the solution actually worked I was ready to plan and present a budget. We would use guided interviews as the framework for the story. As luck would have it one of the biggest customers for the software, in the retail space, was thrilled to go on camera and give and interview/testimonial. 

I also got lucky in that the client's product strategy director had a great voice and was a very good interview subject. Together, their interviews formed the backbone of the story we were telling. 

I created a secondary story with actors. The product is all about security and loss prevention so I hired two talented actors and secured a great retail location where we could act out some petty transaction theft. One actor was a "store clerk" the other his "customer" and accomplice. I would use their interactions, shot from six different angles and magnifications to create a visual narrative that would be like shorthand to professionals in the theft prevention business.

We started the project with our product strategist's interview. I shot the "A" camera and my assistant shot a different angle so we had visual variety to use in the edit. We shot lots of B-roll of people working with the technology and we shot B-roll of random stuff that inferred a corporate setting. 

While I was engaged in the shooting I had a graphic artist hard at work giving me variations of graphic transitions to use to accentuate primary information and also to animate both the company logo and the product logo. She was able to give me a number of options. 

After the first round of interviews and B-roll shooting I had to spend two long days in the studio reviewing the footage, marking the best takes and trying to figure out where the holes might be in my program. The back end of multi-camera shoots can be daunting. It's important to match up the footage from two camera angles on the set and to match up the sound tracks. 

We traveled to Chicago last week to film our client's customer interview and I was prepared with my list of leading questions to help guide the interviewee into filling the holes in my content. He was incredibly good and thankfully the client was flexible enough to let us rearrange the program to make more room for his interview.

I finally sat down last Saturday morning to start putting together the jigsaw puzzle from the "box" of pieces I had in front of me. I cut back and forth between my interview footage and my secondary narrative to constantly reinforce visually what the experts were delivering via spoken word. 

I spent all day Saturday and all day Sunday editing into the wee hours of the night. I had intended this round to be a "rough cut" but I had the vision in my head for exactly how I wanted everything to cut together and I just kept fine tuning and fine tuning until I had a fairly polished program.

I had to put everything aside on Monday to shoot a still job for a different client and I walked into a meeting with my video client Tues. morning with the same trepidation I always experience when delivering a creative product: Dread mixed with hope....

Worst case is the client looking silently at the three minutes you've put on the screen and then turning and saying, "Well, it's a good first start but........"  And the response you pray for is: "Rough cut? You're kidding, right?" Followed by, "We love it just the way it is. Can you give it to me right now on a memory stick?"  While the second response is rare it does happen. 

My client had one change at the approval meeting. I held my breath....  She wanted to add the company's website URL at the very end of the program. Just a quick build of white type on black.
That was it. Everything else was approved. I went back to the office to polish the project; tighten up the sound and the music bed, fix any inconsistencies and generally make it as perfect as I could. I delivered the final today. Three days ahead of schedule. 

And that was a great benefit to my client who would be taking the program to a trade show on Monday and was dreading having to approve a project right under the wire. 

I got to use my marketing skills, my 58 year old life skills, my interviewing skills, my camera operation skills, my sound engineering skills, my editing skills, my job management skills and my writing skills to put together a project that I'm proud of and with which my client is very happy. And I'll be well paid for every skill set. A much better proposition than being an interchangeable camera operator. And a wonderful adjunct to my traditional photography business. 

Tech nuts and bolts: 

Cameras: I used Panasonic GH3 cameras for all the video production. I made the most use of my Olympus Pen FT 60mm 1.5 lens and my Olympus Pen FT 40mm 1.4 lens. Wicked sharp with beautiful drawing. I also used the Olympus 12-50mm 3.5 to 5.6 zoom and it worked well in video. 

I used a Benro S6 fluid head on a Berlebach wooden tripod for my Austin work and a smaller Gitzo tripod with a Manfrotto fluid head for my work requiring travel. We used a Manfrotto micro fluid head on an Igus rail as a home made (and very effective) slider to do lateral camera moves and push ins. 

Lighting: All of the interviews in Austin were lit with multiple Fotodiox DayPro fluorescent light banks. In Chicago we used four Fotodiox 312AS LED panels which survived airline baggage handlers and worked flawlessly.

Editing: I used Final Cut Pro X (version 10.1.1) to do all of the storyline editing, sound sweetening and lower third title effects. My designer used Apple's Motion to animate titles and transition slides. 

Consulting: Ben came back from a college trip just in time to look at the project and suggest three valuable changes. Which were made. And which improved the final product. 

More video projects, please!

(project currently embargo-ed until client's first public use. Then we'll share.)

9 comments:

Tom said...

Thanks for the insights. I like hearing the nuts and bolts of a project, it's rare to get it. Looking forward to seeing the results! Love that you are using two "vintage" lenses and a native lens that most "experts" disparage...

Alex Sokolsky said...

Thank you so much for sharing the story and technical details. And for great story telling. Any chance you could point to the delivered clip?

Kirk Tuck said...

Tom, thanks! The "experts" tend to disparage a lot of stuff that works really, really well. Some of my friends were aghast that I would use the little Panasonic cameras instead of a "real" video camera. My take on it? If you like the way it looks and you like the way it works then that's what you use.

Kirk Tuck said...

Alex. Thank you. I find that I like telling stories. In any medium I can get my hands on. As to the video; I'll link to it as soon as the client puts it up on their site. And I'll let the VSL readers know.

Ron Nabity said...

Kirk, thanks for sharing the backstory behind your video project. So many photographers (and some clients) think shooting video is simply a different button on the camera.

One side note, when I read your posts, the italics are pretty difficult to read. Not sure if it's a problem with my Firefox or a font issue with Blogger. Just a head's up...

- Ron

Kirk Tuck said...

Ron, what kind of device are you reading the blog on? I generally read on a 27 inch Apple monitor and the italics look like they've been typeset and engraved to me.... Just curious.

Mike Rosiak said...

Kirk, Ron, re "italics" - using a Dell U2410, Windows 7, they look fine.

Ron Nabity said...

Kirk, I was reading on a 24" monitor (Windows 7 machine). On my Nexus tablet the italics look beautiful.

False alarm. Sorry.

Brad Calkins said...

Looking forward to seeing the end result!