My Favorite Things of 2017

It's almost the new year, which is a great time to plan for what's next while also taking time to reflect on the year that is coming to an end. This year, I decided to make a video about my favorite gear purchases of 2017. Check it out.

 

Here are the gear highlights from the video. None of this is comprehensive, but I may give more detailed reviews in the future!

Rhino Camera Gear Slider EVO - Motion Bundle

Rhino Camera Gear Slider

This is hands-down my favorite piece of video production gear purchased in 2017. As I mention in the video, I have owned an original GlideTrack slider and a Dana Dolly for years. The GlideTrack was a great intro to sliders when I purchased it, but it was an older model with no bearings, and couldn't handle heavier camera setups without binding. The Dana Dolly is a solid piece of gear – that I still own and use – but as anyone who has a Dana Dolly knows, it is large and cumbersome to travel with and set up. Enter the Rhino Camera Gear Slider EVO. This thing checks all the boxes for me: portable, flexible (I have multiple rail lengths at my disposal), can handle small and large camera setups seamlessly, has motion control, flywheel, locking carriage, and comes with a wonderful case that can expand to allow a tripod head to be mounted on the carriage during transport. All-in-all, a perfect slider in my opinion. My only wish list item is for Rhino to come out with a 2 axis motion controlled head – something I would wager they are already considering.

IntellyTech Light Cannon F-165 Bi-Color

IntellyTech Light Cannon F-165

I am a big fan of lighting equipment and I think it is almost always a great investment. Our cameras do one thing: they capture light. Good lighting equipment not only gives you the tools to shape that light, but it also lasts for years, doesn't become outdated quickly, and can be a timeless addition to your tool chest. I have been a big fan of Kino Flow, Arri, Mole Richardson and many other lighting brands for years, primarily because they make timeless gear that just works. For a while now I have been searching for an LED fresnel to round out my kit. I use mostly Kino Flo lights for my soft fixtures and was in need of a fresnel that was not a hot-light and wanted variable color temperature. The IntellyTech Light is a great fit so far. 

I purchased the light after my friend Aaron Draper had sent me some links to it. He was curious about the light and asked if I had used it. I hadn't, but the specs seemed great. LED, 165 Watts with a 1K equivalent (they also make a 300-watt, 485-watt, and now an 800-watt version). These lights have great output and are very efficient. Variable color temperature from 3000 Kelvin up to 8000 Kelvin, with the brightest setting in the daylight / 5500 range. There is a fan that needs to be on above 50% power, but it is quiet enough. I also have the softbox for this light but haven't used it much. Only downsides are that the light is rather large for its output, and IntellyTech doesn't offer a good case option (I recently saw a two-light flight-case, but it seems impractical for my use). Some other companies offer nice semi-rigid cases for similar lights that would be a nice addition, I modified an older Pelican case to carry my light.

DJI Ronin MX

DJI Ronin MX Brushless Gimbal Review

I bought this late in the year, so it's a fairly new piece of gear for me. That said, it makes the list because it works great so far and fills a void in my gear setup. I am a big fan of gimbals and have used them for about three years (Starting with the Freefly Systems Movi M5 - review here). I've rented gimbals or used them on productions, but never owned one. There are several reasons I've put off purchasing a gimbal, but mostly I've just been putting it off as I wasn't sure which gimbal/camera combo I would want to work with long term. In November of this year, I stopped kicking the can down the road and bought the Ronin MX.

So far, I am really liking the purchase. The Ronin MX takes about 5-10 minutes to setup and begin filming with my Canon 5D Mark III. I have used it inside of caves, on city streets, for home interiors, in parks – it's incredibly versatile. You can adjust settings quickly with your smartphone and the DJI Assistant app. I outfitted my setup with the Ronin Ring, Thumbcontroller,  and monitor mounting and cables for my SmallHD Monitor.

My only real complaint was that in order to turn it on the first time you need to use the DJI Assistant app, have an internet connection, and be logged into a DJI account. I don't see the need for this with a gimbal (I get it for drones). DJI says this is only necessary when first initializing the gimbal after purchase, but my concern is what happens if somehow the gimbal resets itself and I am on a shoot? A shoot without an internet connection. I think support gear should work independently of any need to be tethered to an internet connection or a user account.

Runners Up

I didn't cover any runners-up in my video review, so I will add them here:

  • Kessler Quick Release System
  • Canon 24mm 1.4L (This should have been on the favorite things list)
  • Cyclapse TimeLapse Camera System

What gear did you purchase this year that maks your favorite things list? Let me know in the comments. 

Becoming a Creative Idea Machine

Everyone is Creative.

I think we are all born creative. For some of us, this might seem more obvious – musicians, artists, photographers, etc. – but creativity is about having an idea and creating something from it. We see this take place in businesses that were the raw idea of an entrepreneur, a new logistics system inside an industrial facility, or perhaps a different approach to getting your kids to bed at night without having a meltdown (for you or them).

Creativity is linked to the ability to come up with ideas. This post is all about becoming an idea machine, and strengthening your "idea muscle". The foundation of this concept is from James Altucher's blog. I encourage you to read his thoughts on the process as he offers some great insights.

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Here is the premise of the Idea Machine exercise:

  1. Come up with a topic
  2. Write down a list of 10 ideas.
  3. Do this every day.

Let me explain.

Every day, get out a piece of paper or the notes on your phone and write down a topic, such as "10 Books I Could Write", then proceed to come up with the titles of 10 books you could write. Come up with a topic and repeat this every day. It only takes a few minutes, and you should be able to easily work it into your morning routine.

When you first try this you will likely pick a topic that might seem easy to you. However, no matter what the topic is, those first 3-4 ideas come pretty quick in my experience. Ideas 5, 6, 7... those are more difficult to come up with for me. Altucher says if coming up with 10 ideas is hard, you should go for 20. Why? Because you will be forced to let go of the notion that your ideas need to be perfect.

This is an exercise in discipline, quantity, and execution - not quality. Often, the search for the perfect ideas leaves us hung up on our first reflexes. When you start to push through those ideas in the middle (which can often be terrible ideas), you may find that some brilliance lies on the other end.

Applying this to Video Production (or other fields).

I think this is a great exercise simply for the brain-bending benefits, but it can have some practical applications as well. I have used this in my production work and business on numerous occasions. Here are some examples:

  • 10 different opening shots for a video.
  • 10 people I can interview for a project.
  • 10 businesses that can use my services.
  • 10 locations within 10 miles that I have never filmed.
  • 10 ways to close out the video.

Now, when I do this I don't always come up with great ideas, but I do come up with new ideas. Often, one of those ideas makes it's way into a video or impacts part of my business. I have used this while writing scripts, on-location, at the beginning of an edit – basically, anytime I want to get a fresh idea. Another practical piece of advice is to use this to create action-steps. Have an idea for a new business? Write down the next 10 steps to make it a reality.

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This doesn' have to be all text! You can do something like this while walking around taking photos, working on a storyboard, or looking for 10 different ways to drive home. Being creative and thinking outside the normal, reflexive patterns is the goal here. I think you get the idea.

You: The Idea Machine

If you do this every day you will become an idea machine. By that, I mean that ideas will come faster and easier than they have ever come before. I admit I don't do this every day, but I did for a while and it had a remarkable impact on my ability to come up with ideas on the spot. I was able to walk into a meeting, and in an instant come up with new ideas in rapid succession. This is the big benefit of the exercise. It is as though your brain gets re-wired and the barrier between your creative subconscious and your conscious thinking mind gets out of the way. Ideas will stream from you.

How long will this take? I don't know. I did it every day for about 2 months and noticed a huge difference. I continue doing it regularly (but not every day). I do think the biggest benefit comes from doing it daily.

Try it out. Let me know how your experience is and if you too become an Idea Machine.

Creating Community Vision Films

Is it possible to make something from nothing?

What does that even mean? Let me explain.

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First of all, let me tell you what I am not talking about. I am not talking about making videos using animation to convey thoughts and ideas, but that can work. I'm also not talking about making videos to promote vaporware (the term for hardware that doesn't really exist yet) or to showcase 3D renderings of a future product.

What I AM TALKING about is using film and storytelling techniques to make a video about places and things that do not yet exist. These are vision pieces, and they can be incredibly effective for a number of marketing objectives.

I am currently working on a project like this for a local non-profit that doesn't have much to film in terms of tangible space. While they are building something physical that will be remarkable, it isn't near completion. What they do have are interesting people, stories and a vision for what they are building. Capturing that vision, the passion, and the stories of the people behind the project are the key.

These stories also work well to convey a vision for communities, religious organizations and other businesses that perhaps don't offer a tangible product or place that makes sense to shoot in the context of the story.

Meriam Park Film - An Example

A few years ago I was approached about making a film for Meriam Park, a new community being built in Chico, CA. All that existed was some land and plans. No buildings had been built, and no ground-breaking had taken place. However, through a creative approach of going inside the mind of the developer, we can gain a sense of the community that is being created. This video helped to cast the vision and convey it to the local community, gather investors, and attract tenants of the commercial spaces. All of this without a single wall in place.

Practical Advice

Here are a few takeaways from my experience with these kinds of projects:

  • Focus on the people. The people behind a brand, a business, a project – they have stories, passion, and experiences that the viewer can relate to. People are unique, and this could be your biggest asset in this kind of project.
  • Shoot as many tangibles as you can. In the Meriam Park video, we took advantage of the team (they're real), the office (it was real), plans laid out on a table, the developers walking on the project site. I try to avoid renderings and still images as much as possible, opting to film people interacting with those things is much more organic and feels more real than the alternative.
  • Use existing people, places and things. Showing off similar projects can help people imagine what might exist in the future. Be honest about the footage and weave it into the story. Avoid stock-footage if you can, because it almost always feels inauthentic. However, don't be afraid of mixed sources. Some of the footage in the Meriam Park film was "crowd-sourced" and when edited well, things just seem to fit right in.
  • Stay creative. You can gain inspiration anywhere. One of the things I often do before scripting out a project is an exercise I call 10 Ideas. I got the idea from James Altucher, which you can read about here. The short explanation is that I brainstorm 10 different opening shots, 10 different ways to close the video, maybe 10 different locations to shoot an interview...you get the idea. The point it to do at least 10 because you will stop being so picky about how perfect everything is and just get creative. Often my first 3 ideas are pretty good, then 4-7 aren't great at all, but maybe #8 is the winner. It always changes.

Conclusion

Those are just a few ideas on ways you can stay creative when the obvious choices for what to put in your video don't jump right out at you. You really can make something from "nothing", it just requires a slightly different angle.

A Favor to ask

If you've read this far, thanks for reading! Do me a favor, if you like this content shoot me an email or comment below to let me know and tell me what you find most interesting on this blog. Also, if you feel inclined, please head over to YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook - subscribe / follow / like. I'd really appreciate it.

 

 

Filmmaker Prep - Creating a Shoot Schedule

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A while back I wrote a post about some of the preparation routines I perform the night before a video shoot. (Camera Builds / Night Before) I figured in this post I would share a bit more about some of my pre-production process. Today we will talk about creating a shoot schedule. 

Before we get to far, let's define what I mean by pre-production. In filmmaking and video production – whether it be a tv commercial, a documentary, feature, or anything else – pre-production is any work that takes place before the cameras roll. This can include scripting, storyboard, scouting locations, gear lists, budgets, test shots, hiring crew and talent...the list goes on.

A key element in a video production of any size is creating a shoot schedule. Sometimes this can be an in-depth process covering the roles of dozens or even hundreds of people: call-times, locations, etc. At other times it is as simple as looking over a short commercial script and numbering what order you intend* to film the shots. (*I use the word "intend" because we all know that things can change quickly on set!).

The Basics

A basic shoot schedule should contain the following information at a minimum:

  • Time of arrival for all crew and talent (call-time)
  • Blocks of time designated to each task. Examples include load in and setup, filming exteriors, filming master shots, filming scene#xxx, load out, and so on. Tasks will vary depending upon the project, but I try to include at least a high-level description of each major item.
  • Crew and talent needed for each task. This is a key to efficiency. Crew and talent are expensive, and if you can arrange your shoot schedule to maximize the use of their time you will be all the better for it. This also let's the individuals in production know when they can expect to be needed, or when they will potentially have a break. 
  • Gear or props needed for each task or setup. Do you need the generator all day? What about the overhead scrims? Specifying when certain gear is needed can save time and money.
  • Contact information for key personnel. The day of the shoot is not the time to be searching for someone's phone number in an email buried deep in your phone. I like to have the contact info for all major members of the crew. Your crew should have contact info for anyone on their team as well.

Having a Plan

The primary goal of creating a shoot schedule is to have a plan. Does this mean you are bound to it come hell or highwater? No. But any good director walks onto set with a plan. I'm always open to flexibility and spontaneity the day of a shoot, but I also always have a plan. Having a clear roadmap enables you to get the job done, look professional, and stay on task.

Getting the job done means getting every shot needed to bring the script to life in editing. Without a clear plan, you may miss a much needed shot. My shoot schedules often have a column for checking off the shots and making notes as we go. A quick look can tell me what we have left to do, and what kind of progress we are making.

Having a plan is not just key to looking professional - it IS professional. The client or producer hired you, your job is to be the professional they hired. Professionals are organized, and can set clear expectations - then deliver on those expectations.

If you want to have an effective shoot, you need to stay on task. The schedule helps everyone know what we are doing and when we are doing it. Sometimes you may feel like a task-master making everyone hustle to stay on schedule. You may even feel like a jerk. I can tell you this, you will be much more respected by your crew and talent by getting the shoot done on-time so they can go home at the end of the day, than by being the "cool nice guy" that ran 3 hours late. Your budget will also be all the better for it.

Efficiency 

I believe the one of the biggest reasons to use a shoot schedule is efficiency. Efficiency of time and efficiency of resources. Time and resources means all of your people, gear, locations, light (including the sun) are maximized. Time = money and the longer the shoot takes the more money you use from your budget, or worse: you go over budget.

I can't stress how important it is to be effective stewards of the time we have on set. From the personnel cost (both monetary and in terms of energy / morale) and the hard costs associated with a shoot. Being efficient in these areas will help you be successful, and it all starts with a well-organized and thoroughly thought-out schedule.

Staying On-time and On-budget

In addition to the cost of time and resources, efficiency has the glorious benefit of helping you finish on-time or in some cases ahead of schedule! A chief complaint I hear from so many people that work with filmmakers and producers is that they are always behind schedule and over budget. If you can reign in your projects in those two areas you will please a lot of clients!

Occasionally the problem of coming in over budget or behind schedule is one of not estimating the cost or time well...that is something to address in a future post. However, I would say that often filmmakers fall behind schedule or over budget because they lack some simple tools that will help them with their delivery and efficiency.

For video producers working on a flat rate for projects, being efficient means increasing your profits. The more quickly you accomplish tasks, the more work you can accomplish. This equates to the opportunity to take on a larger work-load or to simply free up time for other tasks.

Using tools like a shoot schedule will improve your professional results, efficiency and help give you a head start to delivering projects on-time and on-budget.

What do you do? 

I’m interested to hear your thoughts. How do you prepare for a shoot?