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Mike Cohen's Blog

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Divide and Conquer

Although I recently watched Lord of the Rings in HD, I am not talking about the Battle of Helm's Deep.

No, I mean to say, Given a large list of things to do, rather than trying to do more work than is humanly possible, simply pick and choose tasks until you can start knocking things off the list.

When I first started this blog, I used to talk a lot about workflow, project management and organization. I have not written about these subjects for a while, perhaps because I am more organized than I used to be. However, many of the principles still apply.

Make a List

This list can be daily, weekly, monthly, yearly or simply as often is necessary. Do it in Excel, MS Project, a whiteboard, a blackboard if you like chalk dust everywhere, scraps of paper, sticky notes or the back of an envelope.

If this list is something others need to see, I suggest a large markerboard in a hall or common area. I have both. The smaller board in the hall lists hot projects and shoot scheduling. The larger board in my office has a 3.5 month calendar and a column for each person including myself.

I keep a personal list as well on a running page after page legal pad (we will call this the LPad - take that Steve Jobs!).

Crossing off an item gives some gratification.

As for organizing not simply tasks or projects, one must often organize assets - media files, document version control, quality assurance and the like. An Excel file works, however this can result in a lot of file versions being emailed around. One file on a server that can be updated by anyone helps. A web-based spreadsheet that always appears in a browser tab can be even better. There are web-based services for this sort of thing like Basecamp and Dot Project - but you can get so wrapped up in managing the online service that it becomes a job unto itself (see "Balance" below).

Check it Twice

This is one reason I keep multiple lists - to make sure priorities are accounted for, to resolve conflicts and to make sure that we are not forgetting anything.

Periodically discussing the to do items with the people to whom they are assigned is another important function. And don't just say "do this, then this" - be sure to get feedback as to the realism of timelines and dependent tasks.

What is a dependent task? Why, it is a task that cannot be done until something else has been completed first. This can be a challenge.


As already mentioned, one must list items in order, or at least indicate somehow the order of completion that should be followed.

In our shop, we have a standing rule about prioritizing work should someone need to make a decision. In the case of a conflict, ask me. In case I cannot resolve a conflict, go to the boss. But the boss has better things to do than to do my job, so as a manager I need to maintain control over priorities, resolve conflicts, and stay organized.


Occasionally, a hot job comes through the door, or something on hold becomes active again. Thus, reprioritization can become all its own. No client should be told they are not the priority, as there is always a priority given to jobs that a client is expecting to be completed in a timely manner. And as soon a we can complete a client job, the sooner we can send an invoice!


This goes right back to the last two items. Find a way to balance everything that needs doing without resorting to multitasking or excessive overtime. You do this by delegating the right job to the right person in the right order, and evaluating the progress on a regular basis.

Easier said than done - management of jobs, schedules and priorities is a dynamic process requiring daily progress reports. It can be a simple "how's XYZ going? Do you think 2 weeks is still enough time?" or as complex as "attached is an excel listing the current status of XYZPDQ - we will update this at the end of the week and reevaluate the completion schedule if anything new happens this week, etc."

Balance can also mean, balancing the project tasks with the organization of the projects. Don't let whatever system you use become another project to manager. Being a project manager means you manage the project, not that you manage the managing of the project.

You have to manage the managing of the project, but not to the detriment of the project.

Do What Must Be Done

This does not mean working 80 hour weeks. It might, but it mostly means being focused on the tasks at hand, trying to stick to time lines, and being diligent in everything you do.

Think of the Big Picture

This big picture is your bottom line - profit. This bottom line is fed by successfully completed work, which keeps your clients happy. Simple really, but getting there is half the fun.

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 19, 2010 at 9:52:09 am workflow, project management

It's 1AM - do you know where your clients are?

It's 1AM - do you know where your clients are?
Hopefully in bed dreaming of the latest hernia surgery DVD - but what if the client is:

A) On the opposite coast and it is only 10pm.

B) In Europe or China and it is...well...some time in the near future.

C) In a crisis
I. Crisis = Something that is a matter of life and death
II. Crisis = Someone has lost their USB thumb drive and has a 7am presentation
III. Crisis = Something in between I & II.

D) Working on the same project as you and assumes you are still awake.

E) A doctor who, apparently, does not sleep.

If you are like me, you have experienced all of the above.

During the day, phone calls, emails and meetings are the norm. The sun is up. But when the sun goes down, anything can happen. Most of the time, you go home, watch some tv and chill out. Sometimes.

If you are an independent contractor, a small business owner, a large business owner, not the owner but in a position in which you manage projects, or somewhere between the owner and the low man on the totem pole, or the low man on the totem pole, you probably have a set of standards that goes something like this:

Should I Answer the Phone at Any Hour?

A. If the caller ID is from someone I know - let it go to voice mail, then check it and decide what to do.

B. If A + it is someone directly involved in a current deadline, and you are awake, answer the call.

C. If it is someone involved in a deadline and I am awake working on the project, then answer the phone.

D. If the client calls and does not get me, maybe they will send an email or a text. Then I can reply if I want to, need to or would not dare not reply.

But what if YOU initiate contact?

A. You are checking email before bed and you reply to a query or send a new message, assuming the recipient will get the message in the morning.

B. If you sent a message and the recipient is awake, in a different time zone, bored or antsy, perhaps they will get your message instantly, and reply.

C. If B happens, you have the possibility of engaging in conversation either via text, email or phone.

D. If 2 to 5 back and forth cycles of text or email does not seem to make 1 + 1 = 2, then it may be prudent to dial a number, or expect the phone to ring.

E. Assuming you intentionally engage in telephone talking or simply accept a phone call, and it is 1AM, then be sure to get to the point and get off the phone.

F. If you are in an all night edit session or whatever, then phone calls, Skype video chat or whatever may be the norm.

In general, I do not answer the phone after 7pm, unless there is a hot deadline in the works, or if one or more of the following criteria are satisfied:

A. A hot deadline is imminent.

B. A hot client is calling - this is someone you stop what you are doing for, morning, noon or night.

A and B may be mutually exclusive or inclusive to each other.

C. It's the boss.

D. It's the fire department/police/alarm company.

E. It's a co-worker who is out of town on a shoot, or working an all-nighter, or broken down on the side of the road with no one else to call.

F. I'm awake and in need of a surprise.

Note - if you are awoken by a call, clear your throat before you answer. Nothing is worse than answering the phone like Peter Brady going through puberty.

Sure, I could turn off the phone completely and avoid these concerns - but as you can surmise, I have a system of tolerances that if followed lead to sanity as well as the providing of customer service when appropriate.

Here are a few examples from the real world (details have been changed to protect the guilty!):

Call Out of the Blue (aka, I am not expecting it)
9pm (7pm Jackson Hole time)
Me, "Hello?"
Woman, "Hold for Dr McDreamy"
McDreamy, "Michael? Derek Shepherd."
Me, after a split second to get my game face on, "Hi, how can I help you?"
McDreamy, "I'm here with Trapper John, Quincy, Dr Quinn, Marcus Welby and Cliff Huxtable. Can you instruct us on how to import DICOM movies into Powerpoint. You're on speakerphone."

I went on to boot up my computer, find some links and send out some emails with instructions. I later got a call from my boss apologizing, who was there also and had no idea what was about to happen until it was already happening.

Expected Call (and one that never seems to arrive)

I was, maybe, going to fly down to East Buttonhole, North Carolina to shoot a new procedure. As of 5pm Friday when I left the office, it was not confirmed. I booked a last minute flight on a puddlejumper out of Raleigh. Saturday - nothing. Sunday AM - nothing. I am leaving voicemails and emails all the while - this was long before smart phones or even regularly used cell phones. Sunday afternoon - nothing. Finally at 10pm Sunday night, with a possible 6am plane the next morning, I finally got the call that we were on.

I initiate the call

Recently, while completing work on a publishing project, with hundreds of images to prepare for the final layout, I happened to be awake at 11:30pm. I had previously texted a doctor, who had just gotten back from vacation, to please text me when he was home. He did, and I replied "thanks, please download the new PDF." He did, then he called me around midnight. This is a scenario outlined above - don't send a message in the wee hours of the night unless you are prepared for an immediate respone.

Me, "Hi, how was your trip?"

notice I did not say "do you know what time it is?" - if you have that attitude you are best not to answer, which is perfectly acceptable behavior.

Doc Brown, "Marty, you'll never believe it. I just realized that the time circuits in the time vehicle are irreparably damaged. I'm afraid you are stuck here with me in 1885."

Me, "Cool, I've always wanted to learn to use a lasso. Hey, what's that noise in the background?"

Doc, "That's my steam powered ice machine. I've just invented Cream Soda!"

It was the middle of the night, but seriously, I engaged in friendly banter for a few moments, just to demonstrate that it was ok to call, because this was a hot deadline. I would not have answered the phone if it was not important.

We took care of the immediate question and said goodnight. But then he called back at 12:30 and again at 1:00am. I was up until 2am my time, and he was in Hill Valley, California 3 hours earlier. No worries - I don't do this every day, but given the time difference during business hours, this actually saved about 6 hours of phone tag the next day. I just hoped I would remember what we discussed in the morning.

Final Example - Opposite of Very Late = Very Early

In a nutshell, my good friend Lando Calrissian had to give a lecture to a conference of tabana gas mine workers on Dantooine (something about blowout preventers - especially important on gas planets), but he was at another conference on Malastair. The hotel he was in did not have a holonet transmission suite, nor could we find a vendor who was available at 3am local time on a weekend without involving the Hutts. Sometimes customer service is a black hole.
Luckily my ship, the Millenium Falcon, has a holonet transmitter. However it costs a lot of Republic credits to use it and it is often not working, so we sometimes use a free service that runs on a subspace carrier beacon. We ran a test the night before and it seemed to work, but one problem, Lando did not have a microphone for his computer, so we worked out a system using two comlinks and a microphone on my end. With Lando up at 2:30am, I awoke at 5:30am, we connected to each other's comlinks, then contacted the conference on Dantooine. The slides were transmitted directly from Lando to the conference, but the audio went to my comlink then into my computer to the conference. It seemed to work ok. At the end we had a good laugh.

For the real story (names still changed, but not quite so geeky) check out this blog, which I should have entitled "Mork Calling Orson, Come in Orson..."


Can you tell I have had a lot of coffee? Which reminds me, I think I'll do a blog about the perfect cup of coffee - that should be good for the COW's Google results!
Seriously - our jobs as media professionals are to provide excellent customer service to our...customers. Whether this takes place during regular working hours, any hour of the day, or if you consider any hour of the day to be regular working hours, likely will depend upon the client and upon the project, and upon YOU. Sometimes, duty calls, sometimes not. But in any case, your job is to get the job done.

Preferably while the sun is up!

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

PS - If you are reading this after midnight, go to bed!

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 8, 2010 at 7:00:20 pm business, customer service

Pulling it all Together

Workflow is everything. As described since the inception of this blog, how you go about getting the job done can, in fact, decide how and when you get the job done.

I spent this past weekend gathering images for a textbook on pancreatic surgery. Approximately 200 frame grabs from video were needed to illustrate the surgical procedures described in the book. Some chapters included stills and/or illustrations, but others needed some further visual enhancements.

First, I printed out the current build of the book, and while reviewing a PDF on my laptop, marked up the printout with locations for images, and the video clips from which they will be generated.

Next, I confirmed that the videos are correctly numbered. I do this either by reading the text and viewing the videos, or simply checking the layout against the online content management system we devised for this project and ones like it.

Next, I locate the hard drive containing most of the videos. Yup, it's a eSATA internal drive in an external bay - great for sneakernets and great for collecting dozens of drives - usually one per project plus backups. Sometimes the best solution is whatever is simplest.

Each chapter has a folder, including word docs, videos and premiere projects.

Open the premiere project, or make a new one as the case may be.

Now, looking at the content of each paragraph in the book layout on one computer, I locate the associated video clip, drag to a sequence, then scroll quickly through the clip to get a sense of the content.

Then, move the cursor to the approximate frame I want, then use the arrow keys to find the exact frame. Given the nature of the subject, surgery, the appropriate frame is somewhat subjective, and somewhat dictated by the video itself. If we are looking for a shot of an anastomosis (joining together of two structures, such as a hollow viscus and a solid organ, or two hollow viscus segments - me smart, use big words!) then we may get a clear shot of applying a suture, firing a stapler or simply the end result. The available frame decides what will be used. The thing is itself.

Then hit ctrl+M to export a TIF. There have been numerous discussions around the COW about how to get print quality images out of video - SD, HD or DSLR (usually also HD). Well, we simply take the 720x480 TIF and print at its native size of about 2x3 inches within a 300 dpi document. The printer's pre-flight check will flag any non-300 dpi image - but we tell them in advance what is coming their way.

Naming convention is vital. Never, and I mean NEVER, should you name something Slide 1.TIF, because inevitably there will be other files with the same name elsewhere on your computer.
In this case, my naming scheme is:

ch_vid#_# (chapter_video number_image number from that video).

Since the video numbers are already listed in the chapter, the layout designer need only locate the video number in the layout and insert the images with the correct name.

Exceptions to this are if there is more than one image, there MAY be a directive to place the images at particular points within the text. However usually there is simply a reference to the image inline with the text, and all of the images live below that paragraph.

Periodically it is a good idea to browse through what has been captured to make sure I have not mis-named anything.

tick tock......time passes........a few breaks to watch Meet the Press (a show I always liked but especially now that a fellow alum of U of Hartford is the director of the show) and a This Old House episode...

8 hours later, with just a few chapters to go, my eyes bleary, watering and the 3rd cup of coffee sitting cold on the desk, it is time to call it a night.

Tomorrow, I need to save a backup copy of the raw images (raw meaning original, not raw meaning RAW. If anyone can tell me how to get RAW images out of DV I'm all ears. Actually my friends tell me I'm all nose.). Then all images go to photoshop for deinterlacing and color correction, cropping and the occasional cloning tool or other touch up. The danger here is that sometimes when you grab a still from interlaced video, it cannot actually be deinterlaced due to the particular type of motion involved. So then a decision has to be made - live with it, re-do it or discard it.

Finally, pass images off to layout, and then check everyone's work.

Gotta go watch True Blood and Being Human - we like Vampires around the Cohen household.

Thanks for reading.


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Aug 15, 2010 at 6:36:39 pm workflow, photoshop


This past week was a perfect example of contrasts in my job duties. I often say that I wear many hats, that every day is different, and that my job entails a wide variety of activities.

What better excuse than to update my blog with a new post (it has been a while) and share some photos from my week. Sorry to my die hard blog fans - grainy cell phone pictures are a thing of the past.


Spent the better part of the day, until about 1:30am Monday, reviewing a 384 page PDF of an upcoming book about Pancreatic Surgery. I am the project manager of We are about to go to press, but first, we need to do the following:

1. Make sure all the images are correctly placed.
2. Make sure the 100+ illustrations are reviewed, revised and updated in inDesign.
3. Make sure the video references are in the correct sequence - there is an accompanying DVD-ROM containing hours and hours of video and narration.
4. Capture additional video stills to populate image-free zones of the book - deinterlace, color correct, add to layout.
4b. Integrate final changes from proofreader.
5. Lock down the cover design.
6. Get approvals.
7. Send to press.
8. Review proofs (formerly called galleys).
9. Pray.
10. Receive copies - move to secure underground bunker (I am not making this up).

Marked up a printout, sent some notes to the designer and hit the hay.

Monday - AM

Spent a few hours on e-mail and general housekeeping. 11am, leave for the airport. Made good time, no traffic this time of day. Realized I would miss the CT Primaries for Governor and Chris Dodd's Senate seat - oh bother.

The flight was delayed about 45 minutes - what to do with extra time....

I even started a thread using the COW MOBI site, entitled "Sitting Around Waiting" and got some interesting responses:

Monday - PM

Board Southwest flight for quick 1 hour flight to Baltimore. As the only airline that does not charge for extra luggage, SWA is a pleasure to fly - and the flight attendants are known to sing over the PA. I am surprised this is allowed by the FAA.

We arrived just in time for rush hour on the Beltway, but still made it to K Street in about an hour. Hampton Inns are predictably nice - comfy room, free coffee and tea round the clock and usually conveniently located.

We got settled and then took a brief walk around Chinatown, took pictures of the NPR building

(clearly the money I have donated has not gone into the building! But I'll bet Cory Flintoff has a nice cubicle.), and looked for something to eat.

I live and breathe by my black berry phone - and lately I eat by it too. Google maps is not fast, but handy for figuring out where you are and what is nearby. We wound up at a unique Japanese eatery, Kushi Izakaya. It has a sushi bar as well as wood fired grills for skewered meats, fishes and vegetables.

Incidentally, I recently upgraded my pont and shoot still camera to a Sony DSC-H55 - it even has settings for food and pets - custom made for this blog!!!

We ate at the robata bar (presumably the location on K St means that all the tables and booths were occupied by lobbyists)...

...the menu resembles Tapas and so did the check. But the variety of foods resembled the variety of job duties I'm supposed to be blogging about :)


Up at 7am - breakfast buffet - carbs and more carbs - long day ahead (potentially).
We met our surgeon client at his office, changed into scrubs and made our way to the OR. This surgeon is one of the first I worked with early in my career. The case started at 9:30am and went until about 5pm. While I cannot discuss the medical aspects, it was, supposedly, the first time such a procedure has been videotaped.

The case could have gone on until late at night, but what was able to be done was done, and we hit the road around 6:30 for a 9:30pm flight home. A quick stop at Panera for predictably good food, guaranteed to be better than most airport selections - I particularly like their chicken noodle soup.

Boarded flight on time, arrived in Hartford around 10:30, luggage by 11, car by 11:15, home by 12:15am, quick shower to wash off hospital and airport (sorry forgot to take pictures), and bed by 1am.


Returned to office around 10am, spent most of the day on odds and ends. I bought a pack of 100 to-go cups to go with my single serve coffee maker. Today was a two-to-go-cup day.

Odds and Ends

Reviewed a printout of the next catalog we will distribute.

Reviewed a new DVD series we are selling - best sellers in our nursing series.

Collected, scanned and emailed some release forms for a competed project - one can never be too organized when keeping track of such important documents. We also sometimes collect tax forms for consultants, so a locked cabinet for sensitive documents is important.

Reviewed some stills from Tuesday's shoot - since we are making both a DVD and book, some high res stills will be important.

Confirmed with the surgeon our next shoot - one down, six to go. Our illustrator will join us next time.

Back to the Pancreas project - already discussed items on the to do list.

Also worked with our web designer on some updates to our website. Our site is both an e-commerce site where we sell our books and videos, as well as a newly expanded Services area to help generate new business, a video gallery and improved layout for product display. Launching sometime soon.


I had a client scheduled for an edit session at 9:30am. I made a coffee to go and actually got to the office at 6:30 - tweaked some initial edits and did some further refining to prepare for the client. This is a promo video to be shown at a corporate event in the Fall.

Worked with client until about 1pm, then continued working on audio levels and color correction.

Afternoon conference call and some more Pancreas work.


Spent most of the day refining the video, adding supers and a snappy opening, and rendered a WMV for client review.

Did some more work on website redesign and some more odds and ends.

At the end of the day, packed up my editing computer for some weekend work - you guessed it, Pancreas! Sat in the wonderful daily traffic jam in Waterbury. Got home and discovered that some devilish creature had eaten my 6 beautiful eggplants growing in my patio garden. Blasted!

Well, they were looking good, as were the other plants.

Ode to a Lost Soul

Once you were young, but a seedling from Lowe's,
Then as you grew with your siblings beside you,
I knew you would make me a meal worth enjoying,
And would perhaps be worthy of prose.

As the weeks went by I fell deeper for you,
With your tender skin, your supple feel, your color,
I yearned for the day my lips would embrace,
The taste of your body in salad or stew.

Yet at last came the day my imagination had framed,
The breading prepared, the pasta al dente,
I opened the door to harvest your soul,
And all that I found was all that remained.


But if you leave town for a couple of days during a heat wave, not much you can do about it. Next year - bigger pots and perhaps a trickle watering system.

So to summarize, this week I was a project manager, a road warrior, a food connoisseur, a tourist, a surgical videographer, an editor, a client relationship manager, a still photographer, a poet and a coffee barista. What did you do today?!

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Aug 13, 2010 at 6:07:48 pmComments (1) travel, workflow

Live Blog - Books and Videos and Planes..Oh My!

Live blogging seems to come and go. We saw it a lot during the 2008 election season - now Tweeting seems to have supplanted live blogging. And soon Tweeting will be replaced by some new made up verb. Perhaps the forthcoming Yiddish social networking service will introduce the world to Shpulking - you have as many words as you want but your mother has to approve whatever you say!

Ok seriously, this will be a photo-based live blog. I often do a photo-based tape-delay blog, so this is something slightly new. I can't actually post to the blog by smartphone, so daily updates will have to suffice. And speaking of smart phones - my phone's camera is only as smart as 2009 would allow so the pictures are intentionally grainy.


Yesterday, I packed up what I needed from my office for the days ahead (I won't spoil the fun by revealing all my cards) - video camera, DSLR, laptop, desktop computer and a selection of hard drives.

This year I have been doing more gardening than the recent past.

I enjoy driving up to the house and seeing a colorful front garden

and I am also attempting to grow some basic container vegetables too on the back porch. The cherry tomatoes are starting to arrive! Lettuce and basil are going strong too.


Woke up early to get going on my to do list. Sure weekends are supposed to be for relaxing, but some weekends you need to get some work done, especially if days out of the office are a possibility.

First I finished editing some orthopedic surgery video. Tough to shoot if the surgeons are wearing those big space helmets, but the stuff that looks good looks really good.

Mid-day I took a break to go to the vet for some cat medications, then hit the library and a big box store on the way home. Picked up some fresh cod for dinner.

Back to the edit bay/living room - finish the shoulder replacement and render out WMV files to post to our client review website. Gone are the days of racing to FedEx for the 7pm cutoff.

Next task is to burn 8 DVD's, authored earlier in the week and saved out to ISO files from Encore. A variety of edited surgical cases for use later in this blog - maybe.

Testing on both the computer and a standalone DVD player is important - you never know when and where these might be used.

Last assignment of the day - edit an interview between a surgeon and a patient - about the experience, decision-making process and result. This is becoming more common for promotion of a surgeon's practice. In this case, it is purely educational.

Next I prepared dinner - cod wrapped around crabmeat stuffing, topped with crab claw meat, lemon juice and white wine. 40 minutes at 375 and we had a nice treat. We don't eat like this every day, but once in a while we pull out the stops! (camera phone pictures of food never look good - sorry)

Final step of the day is to write this blog.

Next stop - Tomorrow - see you then....

...time passes....(Zork reference)

Three Days Later

So much for this live blogging idea - one must have access to the internet and an energy level to go with it.

So I left off on Day One - the prep work.

Day 2

Flying somewhere on a Sunday is a mixed bag - you don't want to spend all day away from home, but if you are checking luggage that you can't live without, then you don't want to give United Airlines an opportunity to lose something. They love those opportunities - love em!
Well this trip is mostly me and my carry-ons, so I flew out of Hartford at 5:30pm - direct to Chicago. Met up with my colleague, our on-staff medical illustrator, who I do not see very often. We had a nice dinner at PF Changs to catch up and strategize for our meeting.

Day 3 - The Meeting

We have a series of surgical books we are producing - a book with accompanying interactive Flash disc with all the surgical videos, narration and illustrations. This project has about 100 original images all about pancreatic surgery. So we had an 8 hour marathon session with the book editors to review every image and note changes to be made for the final draft.
Next steps after that are the final layout, proofreader, then send to press, review the "galleys" which are not old-school galleys but rather a digital printing at print size with bleed, but we still call them galleys. Then the actual printing.

Oh my.

Meeting broke at 3 - cab to O'Hare which was rather deserted compared to later in the day. Stocked up on food for the flight to Vegas.

...hours later (took off 1 hour late)....

Arrived in Vegas to learn that NAB was in APRIL!!! Yikes.

Ok just kidding. After the very long wait for luggage and equally long wait for a cab, I checked into the hotel, got a nice upgrade thanks to some nice person somewhere, and met up with fellow Creative COW Steve Wargo for a late dinner and drinks at the Harley Davidson restaurant.

Steve and his crew had arrived before me to setup in a suite, and they actually did some interviewing before I even landed.

This gets me back to a point I made in my previous post about working with freelancers. If you have something critical that needs to be done at a location away from your home base, don't just trust anyone you find on Google. Remember what Forrest Gump says about boxed confections. But I know I can trust a crew with whom I have worked before to do the work that needs to be done, even if I am not there yet.

Steve, feel free to chime in.

Well that's the short version. The long version to come...

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 19, 2010 at 10:40:07 pmComments (1) workflow, GTD, teamwork

Musical Cameras

No Steve Jobs, this is not some new gadget you can sell us, just a play on words.

Sometimes we have almost had to keep a separate calendar to keep track of who has which gear and when. For example, we recently had 6 shoots in about 10 days. A shoot that is out of state, which many are, means that a camera and associated kit will leave the office at 5pm and not return until approximately 10am 2-3 days later(a person goes too). Multiply this scenario by two kits and three people and you had better make sure you have planned ahead.

And speaking of planning ahead, you may want to find time to plan two or three shoots in advance. For example, as of this writing, one of our guys is returning from Maryland. Someone else is taking another kit to Vegas - they may cross paths for half a day in the office to exchange tripods. Then the next day I am taking limited gear on my own trip to Vegas where I will meet up with a fellow COW for a couple of days of shooting. Over the weekend another exchange will need to occur for something happening Monday in NY. Next week seems clear so far, but that could change, so we need to make sure we have gear available, which we will. Then I'm back in the office for a day, then out again the following week for a day or two. The TSA guys at my local airport seem to recognize me.

See what I mean? I am planning three weeks out, yet also doing or coordinating work in the intervening days and weeks.

A few months ago we installed an open source calendar on our web server, and we now have an easy way to see where everyone is going to be - all you need is the password. We thought about using Google Calendar, but not everyone has a Google account(believe it!), and honestly it would become one more account to have to remember to check. We just set the company calendar as one of the home tabs on Firefox and that's all you need to remember.

However we have dry-erase calendars tacked to the walls and the odd post-it note for good measure. Those of us with a smart phone likely store our important dates there as well.

So in summary, know who has what, where they are going with it, and when - and when they will return so that you can rinse and repeat. You always want to make sure you will have what you will need when you need it. To paraphrase everyone's favorite scientist, "Maybe in 1985 you can just buy a video camera at the corner drugstore, but here in 1955 it's just not possible."

Thanks for planning ahead.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 16, 2010 at 8:51:43 pm organization, coordination, business

A Fly on the Wall

If you don't work in broadcast television, often the last time you review a video project is in fact the last time you see it. It is satisfying to have the opportunity to see how the fruits of your labors are used in the real world.

Over the past few months we have been working on a training video for one of our local hospitals. Interestingly, I first met this client at a medical convention in San Diego two years ago. You just never know where an opportunity will present itself.

First I met with the working group in the hospital composed of nurses, physical therapists and administrators to develop the script. Several meetings later I submitted the draft, obtained feedback and created the final shooting script. When we finally settled on a shoot date in February, we had access to a disused wing of the hospital where a few features have actually shot, a couple of patient volunteers and of course the stars of the show - nurses! We shot two HDV cameras plus the recently acquired Canon 7d.

Next came the edit, a few more meetings to review and revise and the final cut. I wound up doing the voiceover also, but the shoot and editing were definitely a team effort of our whole crew.

Just today I attended the premiere of the video. This was not a red carpet affair, but rather part of a 1 hour continuing education seminar in the hospital auditorium. The two nurses in charge of the project and the chief of laparoscopic surgery gave some PowerPoint lectures, showed the video and then did a couple of brief case studies to test the audience. I was listed as producer and introduced to the group of people, with praise all around. Finally some light refreshments were served.

Seeing how my work is actually used after it is delivered is very satisfying indeed.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 16, 2010 at 8:29:38 pm results, opportunities, collaboration

Working with Freelancers / Vendors

On the Business and Marketing forum there are innumerable posts with such catchy titles as:

"I did work for someone and now I can't get paid"


"I did a job, but didn't have a contract, and now such and such has happened"

or the all time favorite

"Long time client has gone with some kid with a iMac and a Flip HD - bummer"

May you the reader never find yourself in such a situation. Follow the advice dispensed on the forum and you should avoid many negative situations.

What I want to talk about is how to hire and work with freelancers and/or outside vendors. I never want to find myself on the receiving end of a rant on the Business and Marketing forum - and neither should you.

Some of the COW audience seems to be independent operators and small business owners. There are certainly plenty of pros working for studios, tv networks and larger production companies.

So this post is aimed at small business owners / employees who, like me (not the owner but in charge of such activities) find themselves in any of the following situations:

1. Need a video crew because:
A) We are fully booked

May we be so blessed at all times!

B) It is more feasible to hire a crew than ship my whole crew and kit to the location

Let's say I need to do a 3-camera shoot at a hotel on the coast and do not want to take my whole in-house crew out of the office for a week, due to other editing or shoot obligations. Find a crew nearby, preferably someone with whom I have worked before.

C) It is a job well suited for an independent operator, and more affordable than going myself

Shooting a conference, for example, can often be done with one or two cameras, and takes 1-3 days, so why not use a local resource for this. I have hired a few folks off the COW Services page for just this type

2. Need a talent that we do not employ full-time, ie Illustrations, Animation, Voice Over, Copy Editor, Graphic Designer, etc


2a. Need a talent that we do employ full-time but we need more manpower or womanpower, ie Illustrations, Animation, Voice Over, Copy Editor, Graphic Designer, etc

In both 2 and 2a, you should identify reliable contractors who do good work at a fair price.

3. Need a service provider that we do not employ full-time and/or that is event related, ie, Video Conferencing, Webcasting, Audiovisual / I-Mag, Medical Equipment, Surgical Simulators, etc.

These services are often associated with an event, such as a meeting, a course or a trade show.

4. Additional talent to support our crew on a larger project or to work with at least one of our people.

I have hired a few COWs over the years for this purpose as well.

If you have done your job right, then those you hire will do their jobs right.


So as to avoid problems with your hired guns, heed the following advice:

1. It is a buyer's market for hired crew. Thus, shop around - it keeps everyone honest about rates. You should have an idea, over time, about how much the services you are looking for should cost in an average market.

If you are like me, you have done a lot of the jobs you may be hiring out, so you should also know if you are getting a good value.

2. Once you find someone, which can be a challenge sight unseen, ask for some references. Measure twice, cut once my Uncle Ted used to say.

3. Assuming you have negotiated a rate and services to be provided, even if this has happened via email, get something in writing. Usually I will draft a 1-page contract saying how much you are paying, what you get, a deadline if applicable, payment terms and any other details best not left to chance (ie, load-in 7pm Monday, allotted breaks, travel allowance, how and when to get you the media (ie, give them your FedEx #), etc). Get both parties to sign the thing.

4. Find out how your contractor operates - independent contractor (get a signed W-9) or some type of business for which an invoice and regular payment is appropriate.

5. Confirm the week of and the day before the event (or if it is a project, like a writing assignment, make sure they are really available).

6. At the conclusion of the event or the project, followup by email and/or phone, whether you were happy with the results or not. And if you were not happy, hold the person accountable, assuming you have something in writing. This is where it can get murky however. If you say "1/2 day video shoot, interviews, b-roll" and you get that, but an elementary school version, your recourse will depend upon the professionalism of who you hired. Thus, ask around and specify in writing your expectations.

In summary, if you need to hire someone either to supplement your own resources or in lieu of the same, know who you are hiring, make sure they know your expectations, pay them fairly and in a timely manner and if you have done your homework you should not only have a good result, but you may also make friends with a professional colleague.

Thanks for hiring!

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 15, 2010 at 4:29:41 pmComments (1) freelance, vendors

Ready for Action

Yep, another travel-related blog, complete with signature bad cell phone pics and a few DSLR images for good measure. Hey, everyone has to have a signature!

What can I say - I spend a day, a week or more preparing (on and off) for a big trip. Sometimes a big trip is a weekend, a few weekdays or likely just an overnight.

This entry will give the highlights on the past two trips, and attempt to give some tips and tricks for a successful shooting / travel experience.

Planning Ahead - Locations

The first trip was actually to a familiar location - a hospital where we had worked in 2008. So we knew where we were going, but it is still a mystery until you are actually inside if it will work out as planned. This is why we have a pre-production meeting the day we arrive. We sit in an office and go shot by shot through our extensive shot lists, making sure the equipment is available and there are people who know how to do what we need them to do.

Another important location is the hotel. In Denver we tend to stay near the airport, right off the highway. A little planning as to travel routes can pay off - on this most recent trip the Denver Marathon happened to be passing right by the hospital on day 2 of our shoot.

At the conclusion of the 2-day shoot, we had a few hours to kill before the red-eye home, so we went to another cool location, the Red Rocks amphitheater - very cool place.

Planning ahead - Equipment

Given the every-increasing fees for checked luggage and overweight items, we have started weighing our gear before leaving. We just borrow the scale from the shipping desk.

Lately we have had a shoot almost every week. As of this writing, we have four shoots in one week. Thus it is important to test the function of everything before every trip. Wear and tear is inevitable. And we keep everything packed and ready to go. The kit at the moment includes an Anvil case containing HD field monitor, 50' HDMI cable, wireless mic, wired lav mic, blank HDV tapes,small makeup kit, AC extension cord, XLR cables and a couple of pieces of grip gear for our various surgery tripod systems.

Next is the Arri kit - a 150w, 300w, 650w and a Lowel Omni for good measure. Last most important item is the mini-rock-n-roller cart. These things are relatively indestructible compact and sturdy. I never leave home without it!

Seeing these items come down the belt is always a good feeling. We always fly out early enough in the day that if the airlines manage to lose something(they will try), they have time to manage to find it. Last flight of the day is a bad idea unless everything is a carry-on.

First thing to do in a new location is to test the wireless mic. Sometimes, especially in older hospital buildings, the steel construction causes too much interference for the signal to transmit clearly. Assuming you have a clear signal, extra batteries should always be nearby.

Procedure Planning

As with any shooting situation, you should have some idea as to the content you will be shooting. In the case of surgery, the best thing to do is talk to the surgeon about positioning and key steps. Experience with the subject matter also helps, so you can anticipate what comes next - as in cooking, sports or DIY shows.

The second trip, this past week, took me back to Pittsburgh, home of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

They have a cool display at the airport terminal. I watched Mr. Rogers every day from about age 2 to 6 and a number of times as a young adult. The man was very wise and a good influence. And I think Picture Picture was an early influence on my career choice.

Actually, this trip I was out in Monroeville shooting some joint replacements. Fascinating to watch, as there are dozens of specialty jigs and tools used including saws, drills, hammers, pulse lavage and what looks like a large caulk gun.

Not so far removed from shooting a home improvement show, however instead of replacing the crown moldings or HVAC system, the patella and femoral head are replaced.

During some down-time after arrival on Sunday, I visited the Monroeville Mall - legendary shooting location of George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead." By today's standards, the mall is rather tired, but once upon a time this was a mecca of indoor shopping - and zombies! Nearby I went to an electronics store to try out the new tablet computer from Apple - perhaps you have heard about it (not much press coverage). Always good to check out one's own website to make sure it works.

And I pulled up my favorite YouTube video for good measure. Miss you Grandma!

With activities done for the day, I dropped my colleagues off at the terminal, fueled up the rental van, "enjoyed" a gas station hot dog, returned the vehicle, checked the cases and waited for my own flight home.

Stopover in Dulles - very busy for 10:30pm on a Monday.

Upon landing in Hartford, got my checked items, loaded the wagon queen family truckster and made the familiar drive home.

Sometimes something simple is the best image of all:

Next morning, up at at 'em early for some morning meetings a short drive down the road in, of all places, Connecticut!

So in summary - plan ahead, know what you are doing before you have to do it, check your gear, allow time to actually get your gear at the other end, say please and thank you to everyone you meet at the airport especially if they are having a bad day. Basically, follow the advice of the man in the zippered cardigan.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 8, 2010 at 7:50:40 pm travel, pre-production, neighbors


I define Logistics as "all the stuff you have to do in order to be able to do what you have to do."

Yes, working in production is not just about showing up on time, getting your shots and meeting deadlines. In many cases, it is also about planning for what comes next. Sometimes this simply means having a conference call with the crew, the talent and the client and setting times to arrive on location and to manage everyones' expectations for the project.

But sometimes, and with increasing frequency, planning involves a lot more than simply times and locations. Here are a few examples:

Live Webcast

In our world, a live video webcast or point to point video conference could be a surgery or it could be someone giving a powerpoint lecture. In either case you have to first evaluate the connectivity options. Does the source of the signal actually have the means to transmit? Does the receiving end have the ability to receive? If it is an individual at a web browser, do not assume that everyone has Flash or Silverlight or Firefox or whatever. Don't even assume there are speakers attached to a computer in a corporate setting. We production folks take for granted these simple things, but a computer designed for data entry on a network of 2000 computers might have difficulty accessing a live stream of video and audio. Likewise, the receive end could be a conference center or hotel meeting room. In my experience, video conferencing is not a standard capability at even the most well-equipped conference centers. But there is usually a vendor within a few hours' drive, unless you are in some out of the way place like Cleveland. Sorry Cleveland, could just as well be Little Rock, Boise, Birmingham or Austin. Well, probably not Austin.

Next, if either the source or the receive end do not have existing connectivity, they pray you have enough time to arrange for it. Does the hotel have ISDN or T1 lines available? Does the source have the ability to transmit either type of signal or do you need a bridge? If neither site has connectivity, can we send a vendor into both locations? Can I get an ISDN line dropped into the room in time? Is Verizon or Comcast going to be able to do it on my schedule? What about IT in both locations? Chances are they do not know about the event and may not even know who it the right person in their department to address this? I once was part of a distribution list of at least 50 people trying to arrange a conference call just to find out who needed to be involved. As it turned out, the call was at 4pm on Good Friday, so only about 5 people actually dialed in, and we managed to figure out whose job it actually was. In the end, we got all the ducks in a row and we made everything quack!

Generic Hospital Video Shoot

We have been in and out of enough hospitals to know what we need to do to get in and out easily - or at least as easily as possible. Do we need immunization records? Usually. Do we need a location agreement? Sometimes. Does security, public relations or the vendor management office need to know what we are doing? Varies. We used to have to allow time to get our equipment checked by biomedical engineering. Back in the day we sometimes had voltage leaks on the BetaSP power supplies and we needed a ground lifter. Nowadays cameras are battery operated so we have an easier time. But that does not change the fact that we are hanging video cameras over open abdomens - we need to make sure the nurses are comfortable with what we are doing. And nurses are the gatekeepers in the hospital - be nice to your nurses!

Occasional Crazy Situation

On a few occasions we have shot multiple cameras in mass casualty disaster drills. As far as logistics go, all bets are off. We need to know precisely where to be and when and we can't stop what people are doing to ask them what happens next. If the helicopter is landing on the roof we'd better be there. If the fire department is hosing people down in the decontamination tent we had better capture it, and be upwind of the water! If we are shooting a motor vehicle crash victim extrication drill in a remote roadside location we had better make sure there is a generator available if we need it. You don't want to be unplugging the Jaws of Life if you need to charge your batteries. Today's Lithium Ion batteries have solved this pesky problem, but once upon a time this was the case.

When planning all the logistics for a shoot or other event, it can feel like everything is an urgent emergency. It isn't, but it feels that way because it is urgent for all involved. Or likely, it is urgent for some of the people involved but not the few who should be acting with a sense of urgency. This is your job as a manager - to maintain your cool and get the job done (because all of this has happened before and it will all happen again). Because of your experience in logistics before a big event, you know there is a 99% chance everything will work out. It's that 1% that seems like the end of the world at times, but that's just part of the process.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 1, 2010 at 3:25:39 pm pre-production, logistics, planning ahead

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I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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