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.

baddie

 

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.

 

 

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

 

Red-Epic

 

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!

 

A New Telly Award for “Meet Biff”

Photo by SoulPhoto (http://soul-photo.com)

Photo by SoulPhoto

Guess what? We won another award for our TV commercial “Meet Biff”, for Realtor Kevin Paffrath! It’s awesome having to make yet more space in the old trophy case for yet another metallic award for our video-making prowess. Yay us! We’re soooo brilliant. And modest, of course.

Thanks again to the cast and our lovely crew. Love ya’ll. Mean it!

 

Purpose and Values: 2014 Edition (Part Two)

The power of purpose

And now, after a couple months’ worth of crazy work deadlines and 18-hour days, here is our Part Two. Finally! I can’t complain, we love doing what we do, and the realities are that sometimes clients have immutable deadlines. It’s been a nice week so far, enjoying a bit of downtime at SXSW while we spin up for new projects.

Our Purpose and Values:

Our corporate side of things exists to do great work for good clients that fulfills and exceeds their expectations and baselines, while making a fair profit.

Great Work
We’re not interested in doing crappy work. We get calls all the time from clients who want us to cut corners. We will not. Everything we do reflects upon us, and short-term gain for putting out garbage work never ends up well (for the client, or for us). What we love is making films that tell stories which educate, entertain, and inspire your audience to action. Every project we do has to be done well.

Good Clients
We choose our clients carefully, as the kind of work we do tends to reflect upon us. We don’t need to always agree with everything our clients say, but we certainly will not work with a client who comes across as ‘evil’. What this means is, we will do work for clients who may not be perfectly aligned with our values, but who believe in what they do, and want to make this world a better place. We’ve worked with clients from a multitude of religious, political, and social differences. But if all a company is about is greed, or screwing people over as part of their business plan, or hurting others, then no thank you.

Fulfilling and Exceeding Expectations
Not every project we do has to win an ADDY. But everything we do needs to meet our clients’ needs and beyond. We exist to wow our clients and to give them the tools to help them further their causes.

A Fair Profit
We charge a fair price. We don’t gouge our clients, but we demand and deserve a profit from every project we do that isn’t pro-bono. Our prices are quite a good value compared to other video agencies of similar stature, but we don’t respond well to potential clients who try to lowball us or compare apples to oranges: we are a world-class video agency, not a couple of kids with DSLRs right out of film school. We take on projects that help our clients grow their businesses in a major way. That requires mutual respect, and part of that is charging a fair price for the work.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.

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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.

 

 

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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.