All Push and No Play Makes You a Dull Person

Google expects their people to spend 20% of their time working on pet projects. That’s a whole day a week. It’s a really great idea, and not just because it often results in new products and services for Google to offer the world. It also makes for better performance at one’s “day job”. Google’s not the only big company pushing the idea of encouraging their people to spend time working on projects not directly related to their “real jobs”, either. 3M’s been doing it since forever. And they brought us post-its, so you know they’re onto something.

That insistence on working on pet projects and playtime gets me thinking about our business, the business of video & film production. Often there’s not enough playfulness involved- I know a ton of talented guys who spend all their time going from video production gig to video production gig. Never resting. Never tinkering with pet projects. I’ve watched a lot of them get burned out, and most of them fall into a rut, where their videos get stuck at a certain quality level and never progress to the next level.

I really believe that all push and no play makes one a dull person. That’s why we’re always working on a couple side projects while we do our paid projects. It makes our paid work better, and it makes us more well-rounded people. Sometimes, it even opens our minds to new ways of doing things.


It’s a Great Time to be a Filmmaker

Whatever kind of films or videos you make, this is a great time to be a filmmaker. There’s amazing cinema-quality cameras out there that are affordable (Blackmagic Cinema Camera, 2K Raw footage), super high-end stuff that’s becoming affordable for professionals to own, not rent (RED Scarlet-X), and now, finally, ultraportable “crash cams” like the new GoPro Black Edition (2.7K footage).

The big drawback of the GoPro is its codec: it only records in H264 mode, which isn’t as robust as what professionals like. But it does have a HDMI out, so it’s likely possible that you’ll be able to hook up something like an Atomos Ninja to it someday, for better quality footage. Here’s a link to the GoPro announcement.

They’re hoping to start shipping in November. Which may mean you won’t be able to actually get it until Spring, who knows. But I do think this is a camera that every professional video production company will have in their filmmaking kit. Again, not as a main camera, but as a specialty one.

I’m excited. These are the kinds of tools that even a wealthy person, or a high-end production company could not afford even a few years ago. It’s a great time to be a filmmaker, and I can’t wait to continue using these tools to tell amazing stories, both for myself and for our corporate video clients.


RED is like the godfather

Most of you know we shoot primarily on RED digital cinema cameras, in 4K (that’s a lot more than HD) resolution for our corporate videos, TV commercials, web spots, and so forth. It’s one of the many things that set us apart from the competition, as RED helps us deliver images that look as good as feature films for a fraction of the price.

When I bought our original RED One, we qualified for the very generous trade-in to RED’s latest generation cameras. Problem was, I was shooting a film and those cameras weren’t ready, yet. So instead, I just upgraded our RED One to a RED MX (new sensor, new SSD storage, etc). That camera performed amazingly on my film “Unlaced”, and it’s done a lot of work for clients, too.

But I’d always pined for the latest generation of RED cameras. Why? Because as awesome as our RED MX is, it’s a beast. It’s heavy. It gets really hot. And it’s a pain to travel with on airplanes. Still, our window for the trade-in to the latest generation had closed, so I figured we’d just suck it up for a couple of years and deal with what we have.

I considered jumping ship to BlackMagic Designs for smaller jobs, to still deliver quality work to our clients, even putting in an order for their new 2K Cinema Camera.

But today RED made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. They’d rented out a limited number of Scarlet-X cameras for a big project, and they are re-selling them for about 40% off their list price. I just had to jump on that, and we cancelled our BlackMagic order. For what we do, staying on the cutting edge is important. Moving down to 2K from 4K doesn’t seem smart. Plus, we already own all the stuff we need to make REDs work, and we know how to make gorgeous pictures with RED.

And now we can offer our clients multi-camera shoots, which will come in very handy going forward.

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The Biggest Secret to a Successful TV Commercial

We do a lot of local and regional TV commercials, along with the occasional national spot, and we’ve won a ton of awards for some really good work we’ve done in that space. After working with a variety of clients from the Fortune 500 to Mom-and-Pops, it’s become painfully obvious: the reason many spots just don’t work is a total lack of focus and the absence of a solid concept.

Conversely, if you create a local TV commercial that has a strong concept and message, one that’s focused and not scattered, you’re miles ahead of the competition.

And that’s all I have to say about that.


Five Tips to Produce Quality Video for the Web

We do a lot of broadcast video and corporate films, but we also do a fair amount of video designed for the web. So I’ve learned a few things about how to do web video right.

Web Video Tip #1: If you’re still shooting using interlaced video- stop that! You shouldn’t be shooting interlaced anymore, anyway, unless you’re shooting sports videos. Even corporate videos deserve progressive-scan video signals, and web videos look a ton better when you get rid of that ugly “1980s” look by shooting with a camera that can shoot progressive, not interlaced.

Web Video Tip #2: Shoot to deliver your video at 24p. It looks way more filmic and cool.

Web Video Tip #3: If you’re going for a cinematic quality (and you should be, to stand out), try to minimize shaky camera moves. They scream “cheap amateur”. This is why you invest in things like tripods, dollies, and Steadicams.

Web Video Tip #4: Make sure you expose properly! You have no idea how much crappy video we see, here. Usually we’re asked if we can fix it. If the video involves blown-out highlights, we can’t fix it at all. Some places to watch for blown out video: foreheads of men. Noses. Anything that gets too shiny when you shoot. And yes, some video has blown out backgrounds. That’s usually not so bad, it doesn’t look as amateurish as blown out faces.

Web Video Tip #5: Audio quality matters! If you can’t use a dedicated soundman, then at least record with lavaliere microphones and listen to the audio as it’s being laid down. Ideally, you’ll be recording into a separate audio system. Why? Because most cameras’ onboard audio sucks. Sometimes, we run a mike into the camera and still record a separate, higher-quality mike into our dedicated audio recorder. Then, in post we use software that automatically syncs the good audio to the camera audio. Then again, we almost always use a dedicated soundman, too.

Upon reflection, each these tips applies equally well to almost any kind of video you create, if you’re going for a quality look for your message. But many companies and organizations don’t put as much thought into creating a web video as they do when creating, say, a corporate film or a TV commercial. As the web becomes the dominant medium in our culture, learning to do your web video correctly will help you stand out, and give your message the best chance possible of connecting with people.

What’s a Minute of Video Worth?

According to Dr. James McQuivey of Forrester research (and really, he’d know, right?), a minute of video is worth about 1.8 million words. That’s something like 36,000 web pages. It’s a stack of novels. It’s… well, it’s a lot.

I’m not sold on a minute of video being the equivalent of almost two million words. But a well-crafted video that really shows off your company is an incredibly smart investment. It makes sense- the average attention span of an adult is now hovering at around 8 seconds. What’s going to grab and maintain that interest- reading words, or watching a well-made video?  Video engages like nothing else: over 70% of consumers online watch online videos, and experts say that the amount of online traffic that’s video-related will jump to 90% by 2013.

That’s huge. You want a part of that for your business, right?

Now, for a company that wants to put its best foot forward and engage its customers, video’s a win. Pretty much everyone knows that. But a problem still remains- how do you stand out from the competition with your video? I have a few thoughts on that, but they’re for another post. Stay tuned!

4:2:0 Has Got To Go (Quality Matters)

We’re in the middle of a pretty large project that involves CEOs from major companies from around the globe. I wish I could say more about the project, but I cannot. I can say this: the corporate video departments of these multibillion dollar corporations really ought to invest in some quality video equipment, especially with regards to new cameras. Much of the footage we’ve received has been in the dreaded colorspace 4:2:0 that cheaper HDV cameras put out. And that’s a problem.

It’s not only a problem because the footage comes in as interlaced video. We can fix that. But 4:2:0 video doesn’t key well, and many of the shots we’re dealing with involve greenscreen keys.

I feel bad for the corporate videographers shooting this stuff. It doesn’t matter how hard they work it, they’re stuck with a colorspace that makes their video look bad.

As for us, of course we shoot on RED. Which is a digital negative, basically a 4:4:4 full colorspace image. The difference is startling. Yes, it costs a lot more. But it’s absolutely worth it to get rid of that cheap video look that 4:2:0 gives. That’s technology from the early 2000s. It’s time for it to go.

And yeah, it’d make this project a lot easier if we could have gotten quality video footage. Ah, well. We’re not just great cinematographers, we’re also pretty handy in the edit suite. We’ll make it work, and we’ll make it look outstanding.

MidasMount SnapFocus Prototype

Brandon, our friend at MidasMount, has been working on a special new prototype SnapFocus/Shoulder rig for our RED MX camera. We’ve got one of the very first prototype SnapFocus devices, which allow us to pull focus on the fly as we shoot, without needing a second person to pull focus, like traditional film cameras do. The SnapFocus is a huge advance, and will let us get some amazing shots that previously wouldn’t have been possible.

I’ve donated the shoulder pad support from our Birns & Sawyer shoulder mount to the cause, and Brandon’s bringing out the acetylene torch and the welding kit to build us a one-of-a-kind, RED MX version of his awesome invention.

Stay tuned for pictures, as this project develops.

TV Ad vs. Web Ad: Which Is Better?

A couple years back, AdWeek wrote about a study by Dynamic Logic on the effectiveness of reusing your existing TV commercials on the web vs. creating new, web-focused video advertising for your brand. The results? Both have a place, and you can use both effectively. Original web video does better on converting people to customers, though. Here’s a link to the original article.

And a special shout out ‘thank you’! to our friends and colleagues at Explore Media in Indiana for pointing out this ‘oldie but goodie’!

So Long And Thanks For All The Fish (On Leaving Website Design Behind)

I’m one of the pioneers in the world of website design. My company was one of the first 12 web design companies on Yahoo!. I’m responsible for a lot of Internet and web firsts- the first rock concert on the web (Moist, Matthew Sweet, Hootie & The Blowfish, and Blues Traveler at the 99X Chinese New Year concert in Atlanta, 1993), the web’s first live news event (Freaknik news coverage, 1994), the web’s first large-scale corporate rollout of multimedia technology (BellSouth, with Shockwave), groundbreaking virtual reality web projects (The Olympics, Major League Baseball), and so on. It’s been a wild and often wonderful ride, helping to create some of the best websites in the world.

And this week, my agency dropped ‘website design’ from our list of services.

Why? Because I don’t think websites in and of themselves matter so much, anymore. What matters is content, and connecting with customers. A website is just one way to do that, and it’s not even a very effective way nowadays. Moreover, the vast majority of website designs bore the heck out of me. It’s like we stopped innovating years ago- “put the logo at the top, put the navigation across the top or down the left side…” etc. The only cool thing lately has been the movement to embrace web standards. But it’s not enough to hold my interest. Web design has become, with some notable exceptions, a commodity.

And we all know commodities suck.

The one exception I am making: I love working with startup companies on their digital strategies. It’s been a lot of fun working with positive-minded people to help get their ideas off the ground. And designing a killer website is usually part of that, so we’ll keep on with that aspect. But general corporate website design and redesign projects? No thanks. I need more, to stay interested. And I need more, to make a difference to a company’s success. And I like making a difference. I like helping clients do good things for their businesses and their communities. Helping clients create great digital content that tells their stories gives me that.

In the past year, we’ve had an absolute explosion of projects here that are still web-based, but which are more content-related: things like creating quality digital video, and interactive content and applications for use on mobile devices. It’s been a blast helping our clients tell their stories these ways, and thanks to things like YouTube, I get to reach a lot more people this way than I ever could with a website.

I still believe in the web as a medium, of course, it’s just that I’ve found better ways to work with clients and make a difference than by designing websites for them.

Many of you won’t be surprised at this shift away from website design. After all, we started positioning ourselves as digital storytellers over three years ago.

I’m thrilled that storytelling has finally taken its rightful place in the online world, and in a big way, this shift is less of a retirement, and more of a re-focusing, it’s a return to my roots- I began my professional life as a multimedia designer with clients like The Cartoon Network, NASA, and the Department of the Navy. I’ve always liked to tell stories and help clients tell their stories, in a variety of media and platforms. So I’ve decided to refocus my agency on doing exactly that.

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About PatrickOrtman, Inc.

PatrickOrtman, Inc. is one of the top-rated video production companies in Los Angeles and New York City. We make high-end corporate videos, and commercials for TV and digital for clients that include 11 Fortune 500s.