That Time of Year

Typically, this time of year can be a little slow for us here at Tweedee Productions.  I blame it on vacations.  You know, projects don’t get started, approvals take longer, and you get the dreaded “out of office” email response from the person you need a critical decision from.  I say no more August vacations!  (Except for mine of course, which I just returned from and had a lovely time, thank you.)  For me, my client-related workload has been a little light of late, which has given me some time to work on the business side of my duties.

I am constantly assessing and evaluating our business.  I ask myself tough questions like, are our prices in line with the market?  Are we working efficiently?  How can we improve our service?  Are our clients satisfied with our work?  That last one is the biggie, cuz without clients, we’d be nothing more than a video production drop-in shelter.  This week I observed our team handle a potentially sticky client related issue beautifully.

At the end of last week we received a call from a client we had delivered a project to several weeks ago.  Apparently, there were some “discrepancies” with some of the content.  (I read of this problem in an email on Friday afternoon while I was still on vacation.  Just before I looked at my email I thought, “looks like we had a good week at the office – no major problems”.)  A meeting was arranged with the client first thing Monday morning by Steve Donovan, our senior editor.  He arranged for our business development guy, Mac Chorlton to attend the meeting as well.

The project in question consisted of a series of hour-long Power Point presentations with a presenter on camera in front of a group of people.  We edited in the Power Point slides later in post production.  A DVD master was produced with about nine segments on it and delivered it to the client for approval.  Once approved, they shipped the master off to the duplicator.  But…a funny thing happened to some of the Power Point slides when they were imported into our editing system.  Apparently, since the slides were produced with an older version of Power Point, some of formating changed when they were imported, thus changing their meaning which was not good considering the highly technical nature of the presentations.  Since we have limited knowledge of this client’s industry, we didn’t recognize the discrepancies. This was something that definitely needed to be fixed.

So how did Steve and Mac handle it?  Well, like the pros they are!  They both listened to the client and figured out what went wrong and how to fix it.  Steve surmised that the cause of the problem was the importation of the old Power Point slides.  He requested that the client make PDF files of all the slides.  Mac realized that the client was not in the mood to pay any more for this project so he wisely did not go down that road.  Bottom line?  Nobody’s fault, a few hours to fix, let’s get this done and move on.  The client’s happy and we will do more work for them.  Nice job, guys.

Yes, running a business can be stressful even during slow months.  If I could only stay off the email during vacations!

Gregg reading his email on vacation.

Gregg Schieve

 

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“So, how much will that cost?”

We get that question a lot!  Usually it comes after a brief, five-minute phone conversation with a third level office assistant charged with “getting a number” for his or her boss.  The caller typically has very limited information as to what production elements are needed for their video.  Yet, they expect us to spit out a number that we will have to live with moving forward.  At times I’m tempted to say, “Good news!  We have a web video special running today only.  For the low, low-cost of only $1995 you get the web video, a thirty-second TV commercial, and…”  These jobs usually do not go well.

Our business development guy, Mac Chorlton, recently sent me a link to a LinkedIn discussion about production rates for web videos.  It was interesting to read about how other companies deal with the tricky issue of asking someone to pay a fee for what we do.  After reading the string of comments, I concluded that others in our field have similar problems dealing with this issue.  Obviously, there is no easy, one size fits all, answer to this question.  However, it is reassuring that Tweedee Production’s rates and the way we charge for our time are in the “video production ballpark” as compared to other video production companies around the country.

When it comes to giving a client a ballpark number for producing a video, some providers use the “per finished minute” concept in pricing.  This number typically ranges between $1,000 and $1,500.  I don’t like pricing projects this way because there are way too many variables in what we might have to do to produce a successful video.  Jack Trammell of Dallas/Fort Worth contributes this brilliant observation on the LinkedIn discussion, “Paying for a produced video by the minute is like paying for a car by the pound.  There are just too many variables that make that equation unrealistic for most productions…”  A post by Scott Frangos reads, “Rates in Portland, Oregon range from $1500 per finished minute to $4500, depending on size of team, scope of concept, and production values.”  Quite a range!

Our approach here at Tweedee Productions is to ask a lot of questions.  So, before you pop the question on cost, have a good understanding of what you are trying to accomplish with your video.  Be specific, usually the “one size fits all” approach results in a watered down, ineffective, generic video.  Once we know what the intent is for your video we will prepare a detailed budget based on fairly standard market rates and pricing concepts.  We structure our pricing the same way that Rich Dubek’s company does in Phoenix, “We bill based on set rates for full day or 1/2 day, and hourly rates for logging, script writing, and editing.”

Most of the story-based, interview-driven web videos we produce are in the $5,000-9,000 range on average.  Again, even within this narrowly defined video category, there can be a number variables that will determine the ultimate cost.  So, if someone tells you after a five-minute phone call that they can do your video for $1995, ask yourself if you will be getting a video specific to your needs.  Lauri Oliva of Miami confirms what we all know, “I always refer back to the old adage, you get what you pay for.”

Producing a web video.

Gregg Schieve

Things keep changing.

The new year has brought us a new video camera here at Tweedee Productions.  And with a new camera, of course, new technology.  Well, kinda.  We’ve already been using Panasonic’s P2 technology for a couple of years.  Our new camera, Panasonic’s HPX500EFP is actually a compliment to our well used and reliable Panasonic HVX200.  Both shoot amazingly good, eye popping, high-definition 1080i video.  The 500 has a few more bells and whistles, and comes in a more traditional shoulder-mount, Betacam-style configuration.  So far, I love it!  In addition to shooting great looking video in several HD and SD formats, there are also loads of other menu settings that allow the user to customize the “look” of the camera.

The most amazing thing to me is the recording media.  Both the 200 and 500 record video and audio onto a P2 memory card.  We can record about 2 hours of high-definition video onto a 64gb card about the size of your average smart phone.  This technology is a far cry from when I started in the business.  (OK, I don’t want to sound like an old guy here – so no stories about how I used to lug my 25 pound video camera and 25 pound 3/4 inch record deck 5 miles through the snow.  Uphill.)

When I started working my first job as a video photographer, videotape field recording had just started reaching markets like Madison, Wisconsin.  Three-quarter-inch tape was the industry standard back then, employing a two-piece camera/record deck setup, and recording standard-definition video onto a 3/4 inch videotape cassette.  We were able to record a whopping 30 minutes of two-channel audio and SD video (yes, in color!) onto a tape about the size of a small Gideon’s Bible.  Years later one-piece Betacams came along with a smaller 1/2 inch tape cassette, then even smaller DVCPro and mini-DV tape formats with smaller cameras.  Today you can record fairly decent HD video on a cell phone.

So now that we are digital and tapeless, what’s next?  My colleague Dan Presser and I where just discussing the “next big thing” in video production technology while getting coffee last week.  You see, the weak link in the whole video aquisition-input-edit-output chain has always been the time it takes to transfer recorded media into an editing system.  In most cases videotape has to transfer in real-time.  With digital, large HD files may take several minutes to copy onto a hard drive.  Sure, there are some costly solutions now available that will speed up the process.  But what about this – a field camera/recording system that moves recorded images live, wirelessly, and as they are being recorded right into an edit system!  Sound far-fetched?  Yeah, well so did recording HD video onto a playing card sized device way back in 1980.

A 3/4 inch videotape is much bigger than a P2 memory card.

Gregg Schieve, CEO and Founder

this is cool – part 2

check this out – tweedee productions has its own bar code! yes – bar code! if you use an android smart phone, you just scan this bar code (called ZXing) and it will take you magically to the tweedee productions web site. google came up with this cool idea. you can make a ZXing code for just about anything you want to share… we are placing our code in conference print ads, on envelopes  – it has a ton of possibilities. check out the google ZXing site for the details…. and get scanning!

sandy thinks honesty is the best policy.

sandy is trying to stay trendy.

the perfect client plans ahead

it’s probably pretty obvious, but i think video is the best way to tell your story…

sandy kowal - trying to stay on top of things

but before you come in to chat about your production here are six things all clients need to think about:

first of all, who is your audience and how will they watch it? is your production something the whole world will potentially watch on the internets or is it for a more local audience? do you need a TV commercial or do you want a DVD to hand out to your clients? there may even be ways to make your project multi-purpose… we can help you brainstorm all the options.

#2: what’s the focus of your story? will you need scripting help or will you provide the script?

#3: where will we shoot your video? do you have a location or do we need to find one for you?

#4: what style are you looking for? do you want an active documentary style story or something more highly produced? will you need a green screen? if you’re not sure we can provide some direction for you.

#5: will your production need graphics? will you need graphics that are animated? are you able to provide us with your graphics? we’re more than happy to help if you need some creative input.

and, finally #6, what is your budget? some of the stuff we’ve already talked about will have an impact on your bottom-line. it’s a good idea to come in with a general idea of what you’d like to invest in your production.

congratulations!  you are now the perfect client and we’re ready to give you the perfect production… let’s get started! we’re ready to help you tell your story.

TV Online on TV

Amy's looking for something good to watch

I don’t know about you, but I find myself watching more and more TV on my computer.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, I’m a big fan of Glee.  However, I am usually not home when it airs.  And even if I were, I couldn’t watch it because we don’t get FOX.  (We don’t have cable or satellite TV, and FOX’s over-the-air signal doesn’t get to us, for some reason.)  In order to get my Glee fix, I have to watch it online.

Last week, CSI did a trilogy that started on CSI: Miami, continued on CSI: NY, and concluded on CSI.  I was intrigued and wanted to check it out.  But I knew I wasn’t going to be home to see all of them.  So what did I do?  I watched them online.

My husband also wanted to watch these shows, and watching them on one of our laptops is far from ideal.  Fortunately, we are able to connect a laptop to our television, allowing us to watch the online episodes on our TV.  It’s not a perfect situation, but it beats watching them on a 15″ laptop screen.

And in the past year, online video quality has improved.  Last week, YouTube announced that it would have videos in full HD 1080p.  A lot of the networks already post their shows in HD.

On my way home last night, I heard a story on NPR about watching TV on your computer on your TV.  They talked about how easy it is to hook up your computer to your television, and they also talked about some products that can be a permanent addition to your entertainment system.  It was good timing, because I knew I’d be watching the final installment of the CSI trilogy later in the evening.

But it also got me thinking about the increasing importance of the quality of online videos.  As more and more people watch videos online and as more and more people watch those online videos on their televisions, the videos need to look good.  That starts with the format used in the shooting of the video and ends with how the video is encoded for the web.  That sounds very technical, I know, and it can be easily overwhelming.  When clients come to Tweedee Productions, we start by asking them what the video is going to be used for, how it’s going to be used, and where it’s going to be viewed, and with that information, we can make sure the finished product will look great, no matter where it’s viewed.

Paranormal Activity

I saw Paranormal Activity last Friday night.  I hadn’t heard of it until my brother-in-law and sister-in-law started talking about it and suggested we go see it.  I’m always up for a scary movie, so off we went.  If you haven’t heard of it, either, the website provides this summary: “After a young, middle class couple moves into what seems like a typical suburban “starter” tract house, they become increasingly disturbed by a presence that may or may not be demonic but is certainly most active in the middle of the night.  Especially when they sleep. Or try to.”

Like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity is shot with a hand-held camera, except for the overnight scenes when the camera is placed on a tripod.  These lock-down shots work well in contrast with the shaky hand-held scenes of the rest of the movie.  While I didn’t suffer from sleeplessness after seeing this movie, it was pretty scary.  Well not scary so much as creepy.  Unsettling.

Then yesterday, I heard a story on NPR about it, focusing on why films that rely on the hand-held style have been successful.  Here’s what they say:

“I do think there’s something horribly creepy about the shaky hand-held camera,” says Judith Halberstam, who literally wrote the book about horror and technology. “It comes so close.”

That shakiness pulls you right into the film. Think of the sequence in The Silence of the Lambs where the killer uses night-vision goggles to stalk Jodie Foster’s heroine in a basement. Or the movie Cloverfield, in which a guy at a party videotapes a giant mutant monster. The idea, it seems, is that the fourth wall has somehow sprung a leak.

“If the person shooting the film is about to get it, what about the person watching the film?” Halberstam asks.

I like the idea that “the fourth wall has somehow sprung a leak.”  The audience becomes a participant in the action in a way and more easily relates to the characters, since the camera’s point-of-view is the character’s point-of-view.  Suddenly we feel like what’s happening on screen is happening to us, too.  Scary!

But this technique – breaking down the fourth wall – isn’t limited to horror movies.  It can happen when the people onscreen are unscripted, too.  Whenever the audience feels that they’re watching something that isn’t staged, the fourth wall disappears.  That’s part of the reason reality tv shows are so popular – we can easily imagine ourselves in the contestants’ place.  It’s even more effective when the unscripted video isn’t edited.  We believe in it more when there aren’t any cuts.

All this got me thinking about businesses and how they can create a similar no-fourth-wall feeling with their clients.  Does your business relate to customers in a way that creates that same perception?  Do your clients feel like they’re being met on a human level?  Do they feel part of the action?  You can foster this feeling on your website.  There are a lot of methods to do it.  Adding video is one way, and Tweedee Productions can help.

Looking over my shoulder in fear.

Looking over my shoulder in fear.