Things Are Getting Better

This past year Tweedee Productions has done work at several manufacturing companies throughout Wisconsin.  We’ve crisscrossed our great state from Fennimore to Green Bay, Milwaukee to Rice Lake for various clients.  Most recently we shot at a plastics manufacturing plant in Baldwin.  The news that we’ve been hearing is that “things are getting better.”  Companies are hiring, working multiple shifts and cranking out products.  The owner of the plastics company told us that they have been working 24/7.  In some cases, employers cannot find enough qualified workers to fill the jobs they have.  Not a bad thing in the short-term.  Nationally, recent economic reports have been encouraging.

It’s been interesting commiserating with other business owners over the tough times we’ve all gone through.  Many have told us that 2008-09 were the bad years which was also true for us.  In some cases business virtually ground to a halt and many of us wondered if it was wise to keep the doors open.  In our case, I’m glad we did.

During what has been called the “great recession” the thought occurred to me that the companies that are able to weather the storm will be stronger in the end.  When operating in a bad economy, you learn real fast what works and what doesn’t.  You learn that all major decisions are critical and that there’s not much room for error.  Ultimately, you learn to have faith in your skills and that things will get better.

Fortunately for us, our business survived.  The lessons learned over the past few years have paid off.  The last two years have brought us great success as we’ve experienced sustained growth for the past 30 months.  We’re now able to do the things that I love to do like rewarding our employees and giving back to the community.  I realize that many folks have suffered, careers were lost and companies closed.  I’m grateful we have been able to continue on.  I feel the best is yet to come!

CEO/Founder, Tweedee Media Inc.

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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

 

“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

It’s the people, stupid!

We just had an excellent initial meeting with a potential client here at Tweedee Productions.  As our meeting went on, I began to realize what a great team of people I work with.  I also realized that I didn’t have to do much during the meeting.  I was free to relax, listen to our new friends, react when I needed to, and not think that I had to “make” the sale in the end.  As many small business owners know, this is not always the case.  Usually the owner has to make the sale, perform the work, and then take out the trash at the end of the day.

When I first started out in business 12 years ago, I often thought that being a product driven business would be preferable to a service based one.  I thought that by selling a product I would see immediate results.  How many widgets did we sell today?  How full is the cash drawer?  How many customers came in today?  Immediate results.  Buy product – resell – buy more – repeat.  But, as we all know, selling a product is not always a guaranteed success.  Remember Circuit City anyone?

Tweedee Productions is a service based business.  As such, I’ve finally come to realize that what we sell (or what our customers buy) is “us”.  They buy “us” because we provide a unique service that’s not widely available for one thing.  They also buy “us” because of our unique talents and abilities.  But most importantly, I would suggest that they buy “us” for who we are as people.

It’s interesting to note that our potential client never asked about our technical capabilities – apparently not an issue for them.  I believe that first and foremost, they liked us as people.  Sure, we can provide whatever technology they need, that’s the easy part.  But the most important thing to them was working with a company that can tell their story.  That’s what we do best.  We are a company of individuals with strong storytelling skills and decades of combined video production experience – things that you can’t learn from a book or acquire from a software program.  We are also good people.  A big “thank you” to all of my co-workers for being as talented as you are.  Now it’s time to take out the trash.

The Tweedee Team

Gregg Schieve, Founder, CEO and guitarist, Tweedee Media Inc.

Photo-A-Day

I’ve created a monster.  OK, I knew what I was getting into, sort of.  I did it anyway.  What was I thinking?  It was supposed to be simple.  The good thing is, I’ve managed to keep it that way and to have fun.   

January 12, 2010

 It all started innocently enough.  I wanted a still camera that would take a decent picture, and that I could take with me where ever I went.  I love all the bells and whistles that come with my Nikon D300, but I wanted something simple without all of the complications of a big SLR system.  Simply put, I wanted more shooting, less thinking.  So, shortly after Christmas, I braved the post holiday, big-box store crowds and picked up a Sony Cyber-shot point and shoot camera.  My plan was to be ready to shoot at all times.  Simple= See + Shoot.  However, me being me, I was unable to leave well enough alone.  So I decided to complicate my plan.  On New Years Day 2010, I decided to shoot and post a daily photo on my Facebook page for the entire year.  365 photos.  Photo-A-Day was born.   

January 7, 2010

 As the New Year began I realized that Photo-A-Day would need rules.  None of this shooting-200-images-willy-nilly-until-I-got-the-right-shot approach.  I would be disciplined.  Using my trusty Cyber-shot, I would be limited to shooting a maximum of five images a day.  If I got my shot early, say in the first two images, I was done.  I would strive for an interesting photo, but not hike five miles into the woods to capture a great sunset.  In other words, I would keep my eyes open for a good shot in my day-to-day life.  The image would be posted on my Facebook page on the day it was shot with no explanation of the photo, simply the date it was taken.   

January 17, 2010

 Sounds simple, right?  Well, mostly.  The difficult part has been finding an interesting photo on a daily basis.  Sure, it was easy the last few days when I was vacationing in Florida.  But, on days like today when I’m stuck in the office, it is a bit more challenging.  Sometimes photo opportunities present themselves, other times I have to work at creating them.  Ultimately, I would like Photo-A-Day to help me keep my photographic vision sharp, to be aware of photographic moments, to enjoy photography, and, best of all, to always be ready to experiment and be spontaneous in my approach.  Snap.  As of this writing, only 347 more photos to go.   

Gregg Schieve

On Balance.

Life is good again. In the words of those musical maidens of the ’80’s, “Vacation…had to get away.” Sometimes, you just have to step back from the table before you get too full. It helps the food taste better the next time. I won’t bore you with the details of “what I did on my summer vacation.” But, I do want to talk about how something as simple as a little time away makes us all better.

My Grandpa Presser always used to say, “everything in moderation.” It’s a good philosophy… even if he didn’t always practice what he preached. Just ask my older siblings about the time he was hanging out of the car window singing “The Whippenpoof Song” after a particularly sozzled night at a Milwaukee Braves game. Sometimes, balance loses out to excess – at work and play. Although, I think even his occasional over-indulgence balanced out the pressures and stress of the “daily grind.” (We humans can rationalize anything.)

You’re probably wondering what my point is, right? (One of these days I’m going to try that writing method my friend Steve blogged about.) What I’m saying is that sometimes the best thing we can do for our clients is take a vacation. It helps restore balance, recharge the batteries, and make us hungry again. The creative juices begin flowing better and everything seems easier to handle. Steve says, “if the best ideas happen in the shower, a vacation is like a seven day soak.” I like that. Time to towel-off and get back to the glorious excesses of Tweedee Productions. I think I’ll start with the peanut-butter pretzels in the break room.

Dan in a happy place.

Dan in a happy place.