Corporate Video Production

23Apr

Storytelling.

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The longer I direct films and videos, the more I see that one factor, above all, helps make or break a project. It’s not the camera (although that matters), It’s not necessarily even the actors or director you hire (although those certainly matter, too). It is story.

If a project has a crappy story, it will fail- no matter how much money you have, no matter how much star power you throw at it, and certainly no matter which state-of-the-art camera you use.

And it’s my job to at least do everything I can to help my clients tell their stories.

It still surprises me when a potential client tells me they don’t want our input on the story they’re telling. I deal with story everyday. It is my lingua franca (that means it’s my trade language, I love Wikipedia).

My job is to learn everything I can about a client and their business, and it’s my job to then take their story and do what’s possible to make it a great story- one that appeals to their audience and incites them to action.

Sometimes a client comes to us with an idea almost-fully realized, and just needs a bit of input. That’s fine. Often, we write the whole thing. That’s fine, too.

But I hate it when a possible client believes they have everything nailed down, and won’t take my input at all. That’s the potential client who will freak out during production or editing, when it’s usually far too late to change direction.

I don’t have time for that silliness.

And so, today… finally… I am drawing a line in the sand. My job is to be your director. And my company’s job is to be your video production company. If a potential client approaches us from now on, and does not want us to help them make their project fantastic- including getting our input on their concept and script to some degree- I will not work with them.


Patrick is the founder of Los Angeles and New York City based PatrickOrtman, Inc., a creative video agency that has won a ton of ADDY and Telly awards, worked with 9 Fortune 500s (and tons of startups), and been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, Toronto Star, USA Today, and many other print and online publications in the advertising and other industries.

23Mar

Video Marketing for Startups, Tech-or-Otherwise

Image from the inimitable Robert

Image from the inimitable Robert

My agency has been lucky enough to have created videos for some truly exciting startups- myLanguage, with their Vocre app that won TechCrunch, being one of them. As I’ve worked with startups to tell their stories, I’ve learned a few things. And today I’ll share some of that hard-won knowledge with you.

Production Quality Still Matters

First, your video’s production quality still matters, even if you’re a startup. You cannot expect the public to put your video in context (“Hey! We’re a startup! Cut us some slack!”). People don’t care what your video’s budget was. They don’t care if you had to produce it under tremendous pressure. They’ll just judge the video- and your product/service- like they judge any video marketing. Meaning your competition these days is TV. Does your video look like it could be played on TV?

You Never Know Who Will See It

You never know who’s going to see your video. Yes, it’s important to try and figure out to whom your video should appeal- to figure out your audience. But a lot of the time, despite all the hard work you put in to define your audience, you won’t be able to account for every possibility. It’s in the nature of video marketing that your video will be shared and seen by audiences you may not have expected.

I learned this on our first promo video for Vocre, when the app became so insanely successful that for a few days local news throughout the USA and Canada played clips from our little promo video on the nightly news. Wow! Imagine my surprise, seeing our little video on screens that connected to millions of North Americans. Luckily, we put a lot of love and effort into the video.

Be Realistic With Your Budget

I get approached all the time by startups who tell me they want to shoot in midtown Manhattan or Beverly Hills, and they want 10 actors and 5 locations in their videos. And their budget is $3,000. Seriously, I get these calls and emails almost every day from well-intentioned CMOs and Marketing Managers.

You have to be realistic with your video. If you don’t have $50,000+ to make your promo, you need your video agency to find ways to creatively tell your story, within financial constraints. That’s OK, we do it ALL THE TIME. But… ditch the Cecil B. DeMille, Old-Hollywood ideas. You cannot have a cast of thousands and locations around the world, if you’re on a budget.

Remember, Story Trumps Everything

Here’s the biggest secret of all: even if you’re a well-funded startup willing to spend $100K+ on your video (we love you guys), if your story sucks the video will fail. I always get leery when a company approaches us with a fully-realized script, and “just” wants us to execute their vision. Those projects invariably fail.

No matter your budget, your video’s story is paramount: it has to grab your audience, and get them to take time from their busy day to learn more about you, and possibly even purchase your app/product/service. That’s a tall order.

Even if you’re a super-awesome marketing whiz,  you need a creative agency that truly understands video storytelling. Not merely a video production company. You need a partner who can work with your concepts and ideas, and make them better. Before the cameras start rolling. A partner who can make the most of what you have, budget and resource-wise, and help you come up with a story that truly engages your audience and incites them to take action.


Me-BlogPatrick is the founder of Los Angeles and New York City based PatrickOrtman, Inc., a creative video agency that has won a ton of ADDY and Telly awards, worked with 9 Fortune 500s (and tons of startups), and been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, Toronto Star, USA Today, and many other print and online publications in the advertising and other industries.

14Mar

The Skinny on Camera Formats: Raw, ProRes, H264, and Why It Matters for Your Commercial or Video

Why should you, as a business owner, chief marketing officer, or advertising agency creative care about what format your TV commercial, promotional video, or company/corporate video is shot on? I mean, video’s video, right?

Nope.

You’ll find a few flavors of video formats out there that video production companies and video agencies use to capture the footage for your videos. From highest to lowest quality, they are:

  • Raw
  • ProRes with a log or flat profile
  • H264 (what most DSLRs use)

Among these three types of footage, there’s a lot of sub-types. But that’s for another day. Let’s talk about when and why you’d choose any of these options, starting with the worst choice.

The worst choice of video format is H264, which is used by most DSLRs.

H264 is a very heavily-compressed format. This means you cannot push the image in post-production very much, without the image falling apart. Why is this bad? Because a vital part of making a commercial or video look like it’s a huge-budgeted national-quality spot is the magic we add in post-production.  The color-grading. The finishing. When you try to really dive in with H264 video and polish it, you can only do so much. And that sucks.

A step up is ProRes with a log profile. ProRes is a higher-quality video format that a lot of professional cameras and recording devices can capture in, today. It’s a professional-level format. You can do a lot with this footage, because it’s not so heavily compressed like H264. And if it’s captured in log format (an article for another day), you get reasonable flexibility in post-production. A lot of your local news, and some national spots are done in ProRes.

The best quality is Raw. There’s lots of types of Raw, but for today we’ll talk about the kind of Raw that the RED Digital Cinema cameras and Arri Alexa cameras can deliver. These are the platinum standard in the production world, and these two cameras are responsible for most of the national TV commercials, TV shows, and feature films that you see. Professionals choose these cameras and Raw format when they can, because it means you get tremendous flexibility in post-production to polish the look of your video.

There’s a time and place for every tool in the toolbox. Wanna guess which one we use the most? Raw, of course.

 

31Jan

Giving Thanks To My Awesome Crew

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I work with two of the best film crews, ever. One in Los Angeles, and one in New York, with some swing members that go between the coasts, and a couple of hardy souls who travel all over the world with me on assignment.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to work with this fantastic group of men and women who are more than hard-working: they are consummate pros, loyal, passionate about their crafts, and they always work for the good of the project- not their egos. It doesn’t matter if we’re doing a film, a tv commercial, or a corporate video: they always bring their “A” game.

These people are not merely my friends- they’re family. They don’t get the spotlight as much as the actors, or even as much as me. But they’re always there, kicking ass. And I am grateful. In no particular order, thank you Aaron (happy birthday!), Matt, Greg, Ernest, Gabriela, Laura, Rai, Nate, Crystal, Johnny, Anna, Katie, Tom (congrats on that Oscar nomination!), Jen, Martin, David, Andy, Jessica, Joshannes, Griff, Lani, Alex, Chad, and Jason.

We’re gonna keep kicking ass in 2015.

 

 

22Jan

To Thine Own Self, Be True. Mission Statement As Business Tool.

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We create exceptional films and videos for clients who “get it”.
– Mission Statement, PatrickOrtman, Inc.

In life as well as business, it’s vitally important to know who you are, and what you want. Or you’ll find yourself completely off-track, and miserable. That’s right- we all need that old business school mainstay, the mission statement.  I resisted the mission statement at first, but now that we have one, I find myself referring to it almost daily.

For instance, recently we got a video lead from a New York City advertising agency, for a tech startup client. I was flattered they’d found us, and wanted to work with the agency. There was one thing- the budget they’d proposed was a bit low. Still, wanting to work with the agency, I entertained the idea of the project, and talked with them about it. Things felt very positive, initially.

Then, more red flags went up- after spending some time talking with the agency, they told me the client wanted an even smaller budget. And then told me they were talking to other video companies, and wanted to pick my brain and “see what you can offer” before making a decision. Meaning, they wanted to play us off other companies to beat us up on price, and they wanted us to do spec work- to work up creative concepts for the project, for free.

Spec work is evil. They wanted our ideas- our creativity, which of course is what we sell- for nothing, and they wanted us to do the actual project for even less than the already pitiful budget they’d proposed.

In the past, I may have tried to make it work. I know a lot of people in the video production industry bow down to demands like this all the time. But, I’ve been there. I know that when a project starts with the other guy kicking you, it won’t end well, either.

My company creates exceptional films and videos for clients who “get it”. We don’t work for free, we don’t compete on price, and we don’t suffer clients who are cheap bastards, shitheads, or idiots. We’re among the best in the world at what we do, and I make no apologies for saying that- it’s the truth. This particular client clearly did not “get it”, and therefore failed our “mission statement” test.

I think the agency was rather surprised, and I know we may never work together now. But that’s OK- working under their requirements would mean they’d always see us as “the cheap guys” and “the desperate guys”, and every future project would be a terrible experience. Life’s too short. Pass!

Learning to say no and pass on bad projects is as important as landing the good ones. For me, my company’s heard-earned mission statement has proved vital in separating the good from the bad. Deciding to work or not with a client is a complicated dance. Having a solid sense of who you are and what you’re about is a fantastic tool to help you concentrate your efforts on the good ones. So, thanks business school. Turns out you weren’t useless after all.

 

9Oct

Let’s Talk Video Production Budgets

The almighty dollar

For some reason, a lot of video production companies and creative agencies don’t like talking about budgets until late in the game. That’s not how we work. In fact, one of our very first questions we ask clients is “what’s your budget for this project?”.

There’s two very good reasons why we are upfront about money when speaking with a prospective client:

  • Budget drives scope. If a client comes to us and says “I have $XXX to spend”, we can set expectations immediately, and come up with creative directions that make the most of what they have. It’s like buying a house- how weird would it be if a buyer came to an architect and said “I want a house!” and the architect had no direction from the buyer on their overall budget? When you’re buying a house, your budget helps determine how big the house is, where it’s built, and how nice the finishings are. An architect wouldn’t randomly create blueprints for you without having an idea of the parameters in which he must work. Nor will we.
  • It weeds out tire-kickers. If you can’t even say approximately what your budget is for a project, it’s not a real project, yet. If someone wants to get a rough feel for how working with us would be in the future, great. We’ll talk to you for 5 minutes on the phone, we’ll even give you some sample budget ranges, maybe. But we will not make up proposals for clients whose projects do not yet exist.

Our overall philosophy about “the money talk” is this: our time is our most valuable asset. We don’t want you to waste our time, and we don’t want to waste yours. So, being honest and upfront about budgets from our very first contact is a very important thing.

Interestingly, most sophisticated clients embrace our approach, and that has made us a very in-demand agency in both New York and Los Angeles.

22Aug

Camera News: The RED Dragon Breathes Fire @ PatrickOrtman, Inc.

 

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I (Patrick) was an early adopter with RED. I bought my first RED camera in 2007- one of the first RED ONE cameras available, and of course RED’s groundbreaking cameras went on to film ‘The Social Network’, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’,  ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, ‘The Hobbit’, and so forth. I loved giving my clients the high-end services we could with RED. And I loved shooting our award-winning film ‘Unlaced’ with it.

Then, we had  period of time where it didn’t make sense for us to own an in-house RED. We rented them, though, for clients who wanted the ultra-high-res imagery. I missed RED’s technology on the jobs where the clients chose other camera systems, sometimes- the RED’s ability to shoot Raw, 4K film-style video is something that really helps on a lot of jobs. Even so, it wasn’t the best choice for every job, and it was VERY expensive, so we invested in other camera systems.

Now, RED’s come out with DRAGON, their latest-generation sensor. This thing is amazing! It’s light-years ahead of our old RED MX camera. It gave me one of those ‘oh, my!’ moments, when you realize that the technology in your hot little hands can create images that you’d only dreamed of until then.

And our business has grown, to where we’re working with more of the higher-end advertising agencies and clients on a regular basis. You know, the kinds of clients who want ‘the best’. Disclaimer: the RED Dragon’s not ‘the best’ for every job. But it’s ‘the best’ for a lot of them, if you have the budget in your project to support it.

So, I decided to get one for ourselves, as our in-house high-end cinema camera system. This way, we get the advantage of having it all the time, which lets my team master it (like we did with the R1) in ways you just cannot if you rent. And, we can now offer this level of imagery to clients who otherwise couldn’t afford it. We’ll still do a lot of jobs on our other, more affordable camera systems. But this lets us compete even more strongly with the ‘big guys’.

I’m really excited!

 

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