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.

 

29Dec

NYC Film Production Adventures

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I feel bad. I really let the blog slide for awhile. Well, I’ve had my reasons. And one is a new short film I directed in New York City. It’s called “New York Love Story”, and it’s about a woman coming to terms with a breakup, and the city of NY showing her that the possibilities of life are truly limitless.

This is my first writer-director-producer film since “Unlaced” a couple of years back, so it’s a big deal to me. I can’t believe 2 YEARS have passed since “Unlaced”! I’ve been insanely busy with life, and work, so it was fantastic to jump back into a film. No offense to our commercial and corporate video clients- we love you, too. But it’s good to stretch, and doing a film lets one scratch a certain itch one cannot otherwise scratch.

So, here’s how it happened- I was in New York, and after a series of really swell meetings with clients, I had some downtime. I also had my RED Dragon, a few lenses, one light (a VisualBuddha LED), and a newly-purchased DJI Ronin. I also had my NYC apartment, and Manhattan. Most importantly, however, I had my friend and former costar of “Unlaced” in town- Joanne Ryan!

I sat down, and figured out a story that I could shoot, based around these resources. I wrote a script, and sent it to my LA writer’s group. After some great feedback, I decided- what the hell. Let’s make a movie!

It was a fantastic experience. First, Joanne and I got Broadway and Television actor Sean McDermott to play the male lead. He’s wonderful! And I know I’ll work with him again. Second, I called up my buddies Chad and Jason, and begged them to crew the film for me. They agreed, we found an excellent NYC makeup artist Lani Barry, and we were off to the races.

NY Loves Film was truly helpful in securing locations and answering questions I had (this was my very first real film in NYC, after all), and the City of New York also really helped us out. Despite 30 degree (15 degree windchill) days, and one weather delay, it all came together gloriously, and I’m really excited to get into post production on this one.

I’ll post a lot more about the film later on, but right now I’m in post on a client project in LA, and they have a very quick turnaround on their project. Thank you to all who helped on this one- you guys are my go-tos, now!

15Oct

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.

 

 

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!

 

22Jul

Long-Form Video Series Production

Most of what we’ve done so far at PatrickOrtman, Inc. has been short-form video production. You know, TV commercials, web commercials, PSAs, and corporate videos. So this summer, when we were given the opportunity to produce a long-form video series, I jumped at the opportunity to do something new. It is good to stretch.

It’s been a great experience, so far. It’s different than commercial production, in that you have to move more quickly, and your unit needs to be very agile. The approach demands different tools, too- instead of RED cameras, we chose Canon C-series cameras. And instead of heavy tungsten or HMIs, we’re using a variety of high-powered LED systems. These LEDs are impressing us, by the way. We’ve had Litepanels and Kino Celebs for a while now, but the new high-powered, hard, shapable LEDs we’re using in places we’d normally place, say, a 1K, are just lovely- very little heat, so tear downs are fast, and the quality of the light is really, really good.

With the schedule we’ve had, and the number of locations and scenes we’ve needed to get each day, this has truly been vital.

Our healthcare client loves what they’ve seen so far, and we’re about halfway done with the project. Fingers crossed, but it feels like we’ve really hit our stride with these long-form projects, and that’s an important addition to our skills and experience.

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