Rant

22Jan

Purpose and Values: 2014 Edition (Part One)

The power of purpose

Cool image by net_efekt

I’ve always been about purpose and values. I act in an ethical way, and I expect the same from our team and our clients. When I started my first company, it was with an almost intuitive sense of purpose and values. It was never just about the money, it was about creating cool stuff that delighted people, and that made a difference, too. This ad-hoc approach mostly worked throughout my 20s, but time goes on, and things change. For instance, my shop has grown in size and geographically, and continues to grow as we add strong teammates. And we are constantly approached by potential clients of all kinds, asking us to be involved in their businesses. The old ad-hoc approach from my 20s wasn’t cutting it, anymore. It became time to codify what we do, and why we do it. I wrote a post about that, and it really helped my team focus on what’s important to us, and it helped drive our decisions for the company.

It was fantastic, and quite helpful.

Well, it’s been a few years since my original post about purpose and values. It’s time for a redo, it’s time for an update. Founding father Thomas Jefferson suggested the need for a revolution every 20 years. I tend to agree, although this isn’t quite a revolution, but more of an evolution.

I’ve been thinking about this post since our work with PepsiCo, as their ‘Performance With Purpose’ is such a driving force for their business. It feels like companies who have strong, codified values tend to do better at the things that matter. As we’ve grown, it’s become incredibly important to me that everyone here knows what we’re about. It’s important that potential clients do, too.

I’ve recently been involved in another company’s efforts to create their own purpose and values program, as the director of their company video. Unfortunately, as the project progressed it became clear that this company didn’t ‘walk the walk’ with their values (and they really weren’t 100% sure what those values were, either). It was all just words to them, calculated to extract incredible loyalty and instill fear among employees. The company practices management by intimidation.

It made me really think. ‘We can’t be blamed for what happened’, I thought ‘How could we have known?’. Well, in fact, there were a few red flags in preproduction that I ignored: 1) they tried to lowball us, and only grudgingly accepted a fair project price, 2) they insisted on splitting the project into two videos instead of one great one, and 3) my initial dealings with the CEO and his minion made me feel a little icky inside, from his sportscar parked across 3 parking spaces, to the minion being insanely late to our kickoff meeting, at a purposefully-snooty locale.

At the time, we were just opening one of our studios, and we didn’t have much local work, yet. I ignored the red flags, and we went in full speed ahead- even when they started making adjustments to our working relationship, ignoring their part of the contract while insisting that we follow every word on our end.

Thus began my re-education about the importance of a strong, well-thought-out purpose and values manifesto. We needed- I needed- a roadmap, updated to our current business realities, that could guide us in our day-to-day dealings with clients, as well as in our more long-term decision making. We needed to revisit the core of our business, and figure out what we’re really all about. And we needed to refocus ourselves so that we can identify both good and bad opportunities, before it was too late. It’s easy to get caught up in the craziness of day-to-day life in a creative agency, and miss out on the chance to not just do cool stuff, but to do the right cool stuff. To create work that delights, and work that makes a difference. And furthermore, to build a company that radiates these values so brightly that it attracts the good, and discourages the bad.

Every company, nay, every individual should take the time to occasionally think about- and write down- their own purpose and values statement.  Next time, I’ll share our company’s shiny new purpose and values manifesto with you.

 

28Aug

A Fantastic Yelp Review

“Onto the review:

–Patrick is an absolute pro that has won my business forever.

–He knows what he’s doing. While I plan on producing more commercials with Patrick, I will never again need to worry about what camera we’re using, what shots will look like, how the camera should move, or what should be in a set. Patrick’s on it.

–He is involved in every step of the way. Some competitors pass projects through the production process like an assembly line. I don’t like assembly lines for creative processes. They work for repetitive tasks, but not dynamic, creative projects. In an assembly line, every person on the line puts their part in and, if there’s a problem with the finished product, everyone points the finger at someone else. Here, the buck stops with Patrick. There is no assembly line — he is involved in every step of the way to ensure that the final product is perfect.

–Collaborating with Patrick is fun. He has superb ideas himself, but throughout my project, we bounced hundreds of ideas off of each other. Patrick really has the vision to help determine whether an idea or suggestion has potential or not.

–Actors and production staff love working with Patrick. I tend to ask a lot of questions and I ask the crew how they like working for Patrick. Not a single person had anything negative to say; in fact, they raved about Patrick, especially when comparing him to other producers they had worked for.

I am looking forward to my next production with Patrick. Definitely 5 stars.

To see the commercial Patrick produced, check it out on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/w…

(Patrick’s Note: I love what I do, and I love working with clients who “get it”. Working together with Kevin was a dream)

Original link for the full review.

30Jun

Fun in Casting for a TV Commercial

This week we officially started preproduction for a new TV commercial. I love new beginnings. Of course, we’re behind the 8 Ball on securing locations, but I’m hopeful my contacts and our awesome friends (especially Gary) will be able to help us out and let us create something that’s visually fantastic for this spot.

The exciting thing is, we did casting this week. Unlike a lot of TV commercials, this one actually has a concept and the client’s put some thought into their brand. So finding the perfect people to help realize his vision is paramount. Jess and I set up shop with the client at Spacestation Casting (my favorite for smaller projects) in Hollywood, and we saw about 60 people. I think out of that 60, only two didn’t really give of themselves- everyone for the most part was, as good actors are, very giving and open and fun.

It’s hard to be an actor. You’re running around Los Angeles all day, popping in and giving of yourself for a few minutes, then back in your car and onward. You’re constantly honing your craft, taking classes, performing in theater and web series projects. And you work hard at keeping your instrument in tune. You meet a lot of people, and it’s a life filled with hundreds of “no”s, yet it only takes a strategic few “yes” calls to turn your life around. I respect actors.

It’s also not so easy on the other side of things, if you do it right. Most casting directors are lazy, and they don’t do it right. I do. I feel if I’m meeting people who give of themselves, it’s incumbent upon me to give of myself, too. So I work hard at remaining present, engaged, and open to the actors I meet, and I genuinely try to help them create the performance they need so they get the job.

It’s kinda like going to 60 auditions in one day. But it’s worth it, when you find the right fits for the project at hand.

Onward.

5Jun

A Secret To Working With Guys Like Me

My grandmother was an artist, and she painted until she died. Mostly the folk art of Tole Painting, and she was pretty good at it. As far as I know, she never asked for, or received, payment for her work. It was all about the art and the craft of creating something beautiful and unique, then sharing it with people she loved.

I’m a little like her, in that I absolutely consider myself an artist and craftsman. You know what? All good filmmakers are. If you’re in it only for the money, if you’re dispassionate about your work, even if you’re “just” doing TV and web commercials, then you’re a hack. In this business, your job is to create something, and part of that is creating a connection between audience and idea/client/product/service. If you’re not full of wonder and proud of what you’re doing, then you’re a sucky hack. And your work will reflect that suckiness.

I’m not saying money doesn’t matter, by the way. It matters a lot. But money without passion or love is… well, crap.

And no, I’m not naive enough to think every video I direct is art. That’s silly. But there’s a certain craftsman’s pride that I need to infuse into every video and every film that I create. That’s a good thing, not just for me but also for my clients. It makes the work better. And sometimes it’s the difference that elevates and makes the work resonate with audiences in ways that continue to amaze me. What we do is powerful magic, and to attempt to reduce it to a formula or paint-by-numbers assembly line loses that magic.

 

 

31May

June Is Simplification Month

Leo over at zenhabits is proposing a “Simplify Your Day Challenge” for June.  He’s got a whole program you can sign up for, an app for your phone, etc., to make it easier to simplify your day.

I’m skipping all that. It sounds too complicated.

I jest. Of course, Leo’s program has a lot of merit. And I love his blog and book. But I’m (as usual) doing my own thing.

I’m cutting down how often I check and respond to email. Unless we’re in crunch-mode on a project, I’m cutting down to 3 times a day on weekdays and once a day (maximum) on weekend days. And when on vacation? Phone’s off (unless, again, a client emergency’s brewing).

Truthfully, I’m getting better and better at turning the phone off or leaving it at home. Used to be, that phone’d be with me everywhere and I’d check it obsessively. But I still check email way too often. That’s gotta change.

I’m not doing it to simplify my day, though. I’m making this change to make space and time to do more, and more outstanding work. See, studies say that when you interrupt a task you’re working on (to, for instance, obsessively check your email), it takes 25 minutes to really get back in the groove.

If you check your email obsessively, like I do, that adds up to a ton of lost productivity and fun every day. What could you do if you had an extra, oh, 3 hours a day of productivity? I could do a lot.

So that’s my contribution to June Simplification Month. Humble (and simple) though it may be.

9Apr

Blackmagic Changes Things Again

Today, Blackmagic Designs announced two new cameras (and some other stuff, like a new version of DaVinci Resolve- one of the tools I use every day to make beautiful videos and films). The first is a 4K, super35mm sensor camera that uses Canon EF lenses. Oh, and it’s got a global shutter. Price? $4,000. They claim it’ll be shipping in July, too.

The second is a pocket Super16mm 1080p camera that records ProRes or compressed DNG (like the 4K camera). It’s TINY. It fits in the palm of your hand. And it can use the beautiful Leica and Fuji lenses we own and use on our XPro-1, with an adapter. Price? $999.

This shakes things up quite a bit in my world. Now, if Blackmagic can actually ship these things in quantity, on time… well, it’ll change things for filmmakers of all budgets.

I pre-ordered the pocket one today. Why? Because it’s priced right, and because I can use lenses I love with it, and because I can put it in a bag and use it underwater if I like. It’s just incredibly flexible. Oh, and I’d be able to shoot stuff in crowds and in plain sight without getting busted by the police. Not that I’d ever do that, of course- one must obey the laws of one’s municipality regarding shooting films.

I’ll most likely get the 4K one, too, but I want to see some footage and get some “in the field” reports of it, first.

To me, these cameras really aren’t for TV commercial production, or corporate work. They’re for indie filmmakers. They’re what the RED Scarlet should have been, which is a quality way to record images that look like film. Blackmagic is even branding these cameras as “digital film”. For most TV jobs, we’ll stick to Alexas and Canon’s C-300 or whatever the latest is (that’s another story), because those cameras are the standards and they do an excellent job. But if I were shooting another indie film like “Unlaced”, or maybe a web series, I’d seriously consider using the Blackmagic cinema cameras.

 

2Apr

When a Competitor Lies

We recently lost a bid on a project- it happens, but when it does I always ask why. After all, I’m always trying to improve our business. In this case, I was told it wasn’t our quality of work, nor was it our budget. It was because we are a smaller company than the other guy, who boasts of a 30,000 square foot facility, staff of 20, etc. He felt comfortable going with them (at least partly) because he felt “bigger is better”.

In the interests of learning something to help us win against these guys in the future, I went to their website and did some digging. Well, they do not have a 30,000 square foot studio. Nor do they have a staff of 20. Their business is two guys in a tiny office above a shop. The only thing big about them is the lies they tell people on their website and in their proposals. Oh, and their work is pretty bad: very cliche 1990s-looking.

What did I do? Did I blow the whistle on them to the client, and suggest they rethink their choice?

No. I let it be. Mainly because I feel that the client’s getting what they deserve- if it only took me 10 minutes of digging to get the truth, anyone who did any due diligence at all could get to the truth, too. And if that particular client is so scared about making a purchase decision that they base it on the line of B.S. those guys fed him, well, it means he doesn’t care about quality (or even budget), and isn’t the kind of client we’d like to have, anyway.

In the end, life’s too short. Next!

7Mar

A Little Perspective

I was driving down the 405 last week on my way to my office in Santa Monica, and got stuck in an obscene traffic jam. I shouldn’t have been surprised, LA traffic is insane. I figured it was just the ongoing/never-ending giant construction project on the 405 and Sepulveda that was causing it. Then I saw the flashing lights, and heard the sirens.

A few moments later, my little hybrid SUV crawled past the true reason for our slowdown: a car and a semi truck had a run-in. The truck, of course, won.

I’m not sure how the accident happened. Probably somebody was speeding, or maybe somebody wasn’t looking where they were going. Man, the car was trashed. It was upside-down, and the roof of the car was crushed down to about 8 inches tall. I watched the firemen go at the car with the jaws of life. Crossed my fingers the occupants survived.

I like to think that everyone who passed was hoping/praying the same thing. And of course, we all probably also thought to ourselves “I bet one of them was speeding”. Or, “one of them wasn’t looking where they were going”.

I never found out if those people were OK. I didn’t see anything on the news about it, but then, in a huge metropolis like Los Angeles, it wouldn’t necessarily be reported. By the time I thought to check the usual blotter websites, it was days later. I couldn’t find anything. I choose to believe that the people in the car survived.

And I know it’s a little weird, but I had a bit of an “aha” moment, hours after witnessing this horrific and tragic event.  I began to wonder, how many of us are speeding through life, or not looking where we’re going? I mean, it’s easy to do. We’re creatures of habit, and once you’re on the hamster wheel, it seems to make sense to keep spinning in it. It feels like you’re getting places. ‘Cause you are booking it! But in the larger scheme of things, you’re not. You’re just careening through life, without any regard for who or what’s around you, or with any thought as to where you’d really like to go.

 

14Jan

Should you work with a video agency or a video production company?

A bunch of people wonder why I call our company a video agency, as opposed to a video production company. It’s an excellent question.

I’ve found that there’s not a whole lot of video production companies that can really guide a client from the very beginnings of a project through completion and distribution strategies.   Straight-up video production companies are really good at execution, if your idea is pretty well-developed. But that doesn’t happen very often. That’s where we come in. We’re a full-service video storytelling firm, and we’re as interested in working with our clients’  stories as we are about flawlessly executing them.

It comes down to a willingness to work with a client to help develop their story. Then execution. And after that, helping clients find ways to promote and expose their stories to their audiences. What we provide is a 360 degree service, much like how a traditional advertising agency will often work with a client. Thus, our moniker “video agency”.

 

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