More Behind-The-Scenes Shots, these from a Los Angeles Commercial shoot

Hi, Patrick here. The frequent flying back and forth between New York and Los Angeles has its perks and its pitfalls, but I know I’m super lucky to have two amazing crew families between these two fine cities. Jessica (bicoastal producer) and I really love so much about each coast, and I think being bicoastal helps our work continue to improve in interesting ways. So here’s our LA family doing what we do best- making moving pictures!

Help Wanted, Boutique Video Production Company Seeks Everything

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I love that talented, smart, hard-working people want to work with our production studio. Every day we get resumes and inquiries from at least half a dozen people who’d possibly make great co-conspirators in our company.

And that’s a problem. Meaning, we are a boutique video company. We don’t have an HR staff: the partners are our HR staff. And there’s not enough time in the day to watch every reel and to personally respond to everyone. Not even close.

This is a part of our  business that, frankly, we’re still figuring out. So it’s not rudeness if we don’t get back to you. And it has nothing to do with your worthiness or talent. Mostly, it’s that we’re not looking to fill a position that you’d be right for at this time.

And yet, I don’t want to discourage someone from sending us their stuff. Because once in a while, someone has perfect timing and their work comes across our desks just when we’re saying something like “wow, we could really use a great motion graphics designer”, or “I wish we had a junior director/dp in xxx city”. Or whatever.

We keep your stuff when you send it to us. We have files. We tag your emails and your reels so we can pull you up when needed. It’s just, we might not respond directly to you until we do have an immediate need.

We’ll keep working on our hiring process as our company grows. I just want those who share their creativity with us to know that I do appreciate it, and you. Thank you.

 

2017 In Review Part One: When a Project’s Not a Good Fit for Us

We do commercials, DRTV, and higher-quality corporate/promo/brand videos for clients and agencies. We get a lot of client inquiries, and as our business has evolved it’s become clear that a percentage of these leads are not a good fit for us. There was a time when we went after every lead that came our way, but that’s really inefficient for us and it’s not right for every potential client. So, in the past couple of years we’ve been working to refer leads that we don’t match with to video production companies that might be a better fit for their needs. We haven’t asked for anything back from these companies, we do this because it’s the right thing to do.

In the past year we’ve referred maybe $80,000 of video work to smaller companies in Los Angeles and New York who could use the business. I feel really good about that. See, I don’t believe life is a zero-sum game. I think life can be a win-win. I feel like being clear about the kinds of projects we do helps us focus on our strengths and attract the right kinds of clients for us. And I feel that referring business to other companies when the lead isn’t a good match for us helps the overall communities in which we operate.

One of our core values is giving back, and we’ll keep on helping others in the new year.

 

A Moment Can Make a Difference

A moment from one person can make all the difference.

Steve was working at the grocery store today. He’s a bagger and he’s always working to keep things tidy. Steve has the best attitude of anyone I’ve ever met. He’s also a special needs guy.

Today, I was feeling a little wistful because it’s Isla’s last day of preschool before Kindergarten, and as I was walking out of the store, Steve jumped in front of me and high-fived me, saying “today is a beautiful day!”. “Yes, Steve it is”, I replied. He liked that. And it put me in a good, maybe more mindful mood.

Then on my drive, I saw an older lady who was sitting on the ground. A friend was with her, but something didn’t seem right. So I turned around and asked if she was ok and if she needed any help, or even a ride home. They were actually ok, and lived a couple houses down, but, like Steve taking care of me, they were super-thrilled somebody stopped to show they care.

And maybe today they’ll be more mindful of others, too. And so on. To infinity and beyond. I like to imagine a human wave of kindness overtaking the frustration and bad feelings we’re all getting exposed to on a macro level.

Micro matters, too. Thanks, Steve.

How to Spend Money on Gear Wisely in 2017 (Skip the Camera!)

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This one’s for my fellow video production nerds.

Smart people realize that cameras have been solved. This might be why RED’s new product is a phone. Not a camera. Cameras are done. They’re great. Today. And semi-affordable. The huge gap between “great” and what the average DP can afford is pretty much gone, and if you’re still selling yourself based on your camera instead of your work, you are way behind the times.

Put simply, the most important thing is your talent in using the gear. The gear alone doesn’t differentiate you, anymore. Pros can Continue reading

On the Importance of Personal Projects for Creatives

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I keep relearning the lesson of how important it is for us creatives to always be working on personal projects. First, they’re fun to do! Second, they let you hone new skills. And third, sometimes they show clients a side of you that they didn’t know about. This can pay huge dividends.

For instance, about a year and a half ago I was in New York more than I wasn’t. I live and work in both LA and New York, and I’m not sure why LA wasn’t clicking for me at that time, but I was grateful that New York was. New York was keeping Continue reading

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.

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.

 

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.

 

Why We Sold Our Canon C-Series Cameras and Bought Another RED (dragon)

There’s a really good blog post by Dave Wallace on why he sold his RED and bought a C100. Interestingly, I’ve gone the complete opposite way, selling our Canon and buying another RED. You can read Dave’s article here.

Back? Great!

Our story… back in 2007/2008, we took delivery of one of the very first RED One cameras. Up until that time, I’d been shooting with a variety of cameras, starting with the Panasonic DVX-100 and getting to the HVX-200. We used a bunch of frankenstein-like 35mm adapters with these cameras, because we were always about quality- and those cameras’ tiny sensors made everything look quite “video-y” without the 35mm adapters. When Jim Jannard introduced RED, I was sold. It was groundbreaking, and although the production process wouldn’t be as easy with the RED as with the Panasonic DVX-200, the huge jump in quality was worth it.

Unlike Dave, we didn’t start out on DSLRs, and so our tripods, steadicam, jib, and so forth were all “RED-ready”.  And we’d always done things film-style, with separate audio and camera people. After all, I’m from Hollywood.

Our RED One paid for itself in only two jobs. And we started getting better quality jobs, too- this is when my company got to jump up from “corporate video only” to “and TV commercials”. We did a series of TV commercials that won awards for their creativity as well as overall quality, all shot on RED.

But then, RED came out with Scarlet-X. I got one. I didn’t like it. It was loud, and its image was no better than the RED One MX. In some ways, it was worse (frame rates, no 4.5K). Realizing that the RED One was obsolete no matter what, we sold our RED and looked at replacements.

For awhile, we just rented Arri Alexas or REDs when we needed the highest quality images. But our in-house go-to camera became the C100 with Atomos Ninja2 recorder. And it was fine, for awhile- certainly the workflow was easier.

But the images… don’t stack up. Maybe for a lot of jobs, it doesn’t matter. But to me, given our mission statement… it mattered. I’m not saying you cannot create fantastic images on the Canon. We certainly did that. I’m super proud of a few projects in particular, where we really pushed the tech to its limits. But the flexibility in post (despite the additional work needed) and the flat-out advantages to more resolution just weren’t there with Canon (even Philip Bloom shoots in 4K for corporate interviews- these advantages matter. By the way, Philip sold his own C300 recently).

What I loved about the Canon: workflow, an ‘all-in-one’ camera out of the box, and the ability to shoot in less light (although I never used that).

And the Canon made me lazy. It was easy to “sort of” get the shot without taking the time to think things through or to bother really lighting things.

What’s worst is, it made me and my team feel like plain old corporate videographers. Not filmmakers. After all, the C100 is meant for wedding videographers. And clients were not as impressed and therefore didn’t always treat us or the project with the excitement we saw when we’d bring in a RED or Alexa. Perception matters.

As does Raw. One day, I got my hands on a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema camera, and went out on the streets of New York City to play with it at night. I got home, and fired up my Mac Pro, and immediately was amazed at how much I could tweak the images more than the Canon imagery. I’d forgotten how much of an advantage shooting in Raw was. Now, the Blackmagic isn’t going to replace anyone’s main camera. But it did make me think, this is something I’ve been desperately missing in my year without RED.

To be fair, unlike a lot of other shops I’ve always been deep into the geeky side of things in post- we’re a full-on VFX house, and we have two DaVinci stations, here, not to mention ProTools and all the other expensive software and hardware that you’d normally find in companies 5 times our size. Quality matters, and we only go after projects where we can deliver quality to clients who appreciate that. We’re basically a mini-feature film studio, so we have always had the tools and pipeline to make it happen. But that’s us- and we’re not every production studio. If you’re not an excellent colorist and know how to run the big toys, RED probably isn’t the camera system for you.

Meanwhile, RED came out with its new Dragon sensor. It looks fantastic, and the new cameras solved my beefs with the first batches of Scarlets and Epics.

So, I bought one.

Is it the be-all-end-all camera? No. No camera is. But for our shop, which mainly does web and TV commercials, along with story-driven corporate films and narrative projects, it’s ideal for 90% of the jobs we do. If we did mostly docs, we’d go another way (such as C300 or even Sony- which we rent when doing documentary-style shoots).

In the end, choosing a camera is a very specific and unique process for everyone. What worked for Dave didn’t work for us- it actually worked against us. Our year without RED really helped me to understand who we are as a shop, and what makes us different than other production companies.

And that’s a good thing.

 

 

Posted by in Filmmaking, Rant

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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.