Creating Community Vision Films

Is it possible to make something from nothing?

What does that even mean? Let me explain.

Stephen Chollet Editing.jpg

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 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.


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


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.


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?

The Future of the 30 Second TV Commercial

Some History and the Current Situation

My first employer-employee job in video production was working for a small cable advertising company in Chico, California. I had paid work before that as a freelancer, but this was an 8-5, Monday through Friday job. I made 30 second TV commercials – a lot of them – five days a week. Eventually, my work took me to freelance and I started my own production company, and the 30 second commercial remained a stalwart of my production portfolio.

Frame from a Tri Counties Bank commercial shot on location at Mugshots Coffee in Oroville, CA.

Frame from a Tri Counties Bank commercial shot on location at Mugshots Coffee in Oroville, CA.

The 30 second TV commercial has been the standard in video advertising for decades. This is what I was making daily in the early 2000’s, a hay day for the cable advertising industry.  

Fast forward 17 years and I’m still making videos, but a lot less of the 30 second commercials. There are a few reasons for that.  

  1. My pricing is higher than many local and even regional advertisers want to spend. TV stations offer production services that is incredibly cheap, which is hard to compete with. However, “you get what you pay for” rings true here.
  2. The internet has opened up a whole new world for advertisers to spread their message. Distibuting your video content (it doesn’t have to be 30 seconds) is easier than ever before. This means I am producing videos that don’t fit the “30 second commercial” mold, but often serve a similar purpose. 
  3. The pricing for traditional media is overpriced. TV, Radio and Billboards are struggling to keep attention. They offer reports that are biased and ignore human behavior trends. This leads to fractured attention, and paying too much to reach too many of the wrong people. Whereas Google, Facebook, Instagram and others offer you attention at a fraction of the price, and you can laser focus your spending on the ideal audience. Some advertisers are catching on and killing it, others are stuck in the past and may go the way of the dinosaur. 

So, What is the Future of the 30 Second TV Commercial? 

If You asked me this question when TiVo and DVRs first came out, I would have said it was bleak. However, as we’ve moved to on-demand TV, YouTube and other online distribution, the pre-roll ad has created a new distribution option for time-constrained advertising. Better yet, advertisers can laser target their audience and get better metrics then traditional media could ever offer. Add in re-targeting, look-alike audiences, and other modern advertising strategies, and you have an incredible ad space to work within. Oh, and did I mention, it’s incredibly underpriced!

Now, let me say that I think traditional advertising can still work. I do think it is overpriced, but for certain businesses in the right markets there is ROI and benefit. I also still make these commercials on a weekly basis. However, advertisers may reap greater benefits on those same dollars elsewhere, and many are splitting their budgets between traditional and digital platforms. 

There is now an even better, larger, and more effective way to advertise your business. By creating content, advertisers can skip the media companies and deliver messaging directly to their customers, fans and audience. This is so much more effective, conversational and authentic. Creating content and using platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram to connect with your customers puts you directly in the driver’s seat. What’s more, you don’t need a big following online because this same content can be placed in targeted demographic’s newsfeeds just like ads, for a fraction of the price of traditional media. Best of all, it’s right where people are paying attention. 


Attention is what you are after. The TV ad has a shelf life. But great video content is here to stay and growing exponentially.

Great messaging, audience connection, and strategy are the key elements to being remembered and inspiring customers to take action. How are you using video to get your message out there?

How To: Replacing the Sky in Your Drone Footage - An After Effects Tutorial

Raw Footage Shot with DJI Phantom 3 Pro

Raw Footage Shot with DJI Phantom 3 Pro

Hey everyone! This is my first foray into making a tutorial. It's a quick one on how to replace the sky in your drone footage, however, this technique is not limited to drone video. It works with just about any kind of footage you may have.

Final Composite Image with Replaced Sky

Final Composite Image with Replaced Sky

In the tutorial I go through some quick color correction and color grading, and spend some more time showing you how to use masks, motion tracking and parenting layers to acheive a sky replacement that follows the camera movement of your shot.

Please enjoy, subscribe to my channel, and let me know what you would like to see more of.

The example I used in the tutoral was from a TV commercial for Wittmeier Auto Center, a business located here in Chico, California. Check out the original commercial below.

Working Vacations


I’m on vacation right now, sitting in the lounge of a hotel up in Tahoe. I'm thinking about work and vacation. Well, actually, now I'm writing about it while enjoying a beautiful view and eating breakfast. My thoughts are that the there are working vacations and then there are vacations where you bring your work. Let me explain.  

Working Vacations

To me, a working vacation is when you have an assignment or work related motivation to travel, and you are able to convert your downtime into vacation time. In my work as a filmmaker this happens quite a bit. I’ve had assignments all over the world, and typically these involve several travel days mixed with production days. I love to travel and explore during my downtime. Sometimes I take the opportunity to extend my stay a few days beyond the wrap of production. 

Vacation Where You Bring Your Work

Being a CEO, self-employed, or principal within a company often means you are always working. This could easily mean that with every vacation you bring your work with you. For some this sounds like a nightmare and for others it just sounds necessary. You might think only workaholics would work while on vacation, but I think otherwise. 

You see, I love my work. It is my passion and therefore it rarely feels like work to me. Vacation is a great time for me to focus on branding, creative and strategy. Often being in a new place brings new perspective. I love being able to think creatively about a video production project, or how to get my clients story in front of their audience. Spending some time working on social media, marketing, or script writing is a fun way for me spend my downtime.

How do I find the time? The nice thing about vacation is it often presents moments of downtime throughout the day. Sure, I spend time reading a book or exploring the area, but I also find moments where I am feeling creative or focused on business development and I enjoy that as much as anything else.

Love what you do.

There is a quote that says, “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life”. Sounds catchy. I don’t think it’s entirely true because sometimes it does feel like work and hard work is the most predictable measurement of success. However, I do agree with the fact that you need to love and have a passion for what you do to be truly successful. Find something that you love, something you are good at, and something that can provide for you and your family, throw in some hard work – and you are on the right path.

Now I think I’ll go back to just relaxing. I mean, I am on vacation after all.