BCM has completed all color grading for the feature film, "Keepsake" from Stormcatcher Films.
Shot on location in Virginia, the film was Directed by Paul Moore and shot over a 24 day period. D.P. Todd Gilpin did an incredible job with setting up the look of the film. He created a very rich canvas from which Colorist Walter Biscardi, Jr. was able to create an incredible palette of color. Biscardi worked closely with Moore, Gilpin and Producer Scott Tanner to bring out the gritty details and haunting images of the fight for survival.
Keepsake is the first feature film project for Biscardi Creative Media. The film will debut in Oct. 2008 in Hollywood, California.
For more information about Stormcatcher Films visit http://stormcatcherfilms.com/site.html Tools used: Color, Final Cut Pro, AJA Kona 3.
Well, we've got our HP workstation up and running with DoStudio's Trial Version now installed. The Trial version is the complete application with only the commercial replication features turned off.
First impressions are this thing is definitely NOT DVD Studio Pro or Encore. This is a very serious tool along the lines of Apple's Color compared to the 3 Way Color Correction filter in Final Cut Pro. There is a learning curve as a lot of programming is manually done rather than simple drag and drop type of operations. This feels more like a professional authoring tool and less like a toy. Don't get me wrong, I love DVDSP and it's simple drag and drop functionality, but it's nice to essentially have almost endless possibilities open to us and forcing us to actually learn what we're doing. Anybody can drag and drop, but it's nice to be able to get your "hands dirty" and go under the hood to see how to really operate authoring software.
In just one day, we've been able to get a nice main menu and chapter selection pop-up menu already underway. A little snag on the pop-up where we can get it to pop-up but it's not going to the various chapters like we programmed. NetBlender's support has been great to work with so far and we've uploaded the project file for them to poke around and see where we went wrong. I'm sure it's operator error as we've been using the software all of about 6 hours.
One big thing that is missing as of right now is an "Undo." This is reminiscent of Final Touch before Apple purchased it and turned in to Color. Final Touch did not have any sort of Undo so you had to be very careful of what you were doing. NetBlender tells me that Undo is a feature that will be added on this fall with an update and we're already looking forward to it! :-)
The big adjustment is that we have to essentially "forget" the DVD mentality. There are so many different possibilities in authoring BluRay that you have to design the menus and even the overall flow differently. Still wrapping our heads around this, but using this software definitely calls for more planning and thought than just hurry up and get it done.
So many of you have read of our failings with Adobe Encore trying to create BluRay discs. Today we start a new chapter in BluRay authoring by transferring all our needs to NetBlender's "DoStudio."
NetBlender has instituted a really neat month to month licensing option that's approx. $250 per month to use the software. This is truly a month to month deal. So I can activate it for September for $250 and then sign up again in December. There's no extra fees, nothing. They have several plans for 6 months, 12 months or you can outright purchase the software if you want. But in my case, we plan to produce maybe 10 BluRays all of 2009. Probably in batches of 3 or 4, so I might spend $1,000 total next year in the licensing fees, which is significantly less than $8,000 for the permanent license. So to start out, I can just go $250 per month which is easily charged back to the client per job.
The only caveat to this software is that it requires a Window machine, and we're a full blown Mac shop here. So I did what I swore I would never do..... purchased an HP Workstation loaded with Vista. Of course, the sad thing for me is this is a fully loaded workstation for less than $1,700 and I know that if I created a fully loaded Mac Pro it'd be around $5,000 or more. So that's one good thing, I guess!
One really neat little gadget I added on is a 160GB "pocket drive" that slips into the bottom of the HP machine. We'll use this to transfer the large MPEG-2 files and graphics files from our Macs to the HP. Neat idea to essentially put a portable drive that slips in like a USB stick.
So that's Step 1 - get an HP Workstation! I went by NetBlender's recommendations and picked up the following machine:- HP Pavilion Slimline s3500t PC- Genuine Windows Vista Home Premium with Service Pack 1 (32-bit)- Intel(R) Core(TM) 2 Quad processor Q9300- 3GB DDR2-800MHz dual channel SDRAM (1x2048,1x1024)- 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 9500GS, DVI-I, HDMI, VGA adapter- 1TB 7200 rpm SATA 3Gb/s hard drive- 802.11 a/b/g/n Wireless LAN card- Blu-ray DVD writer/player & Lightscribe SuperMulti DVD burner- 15-in-1 memory card reader, 2 USB, headphone port- No TV Tuner w/remote control- None (Integrated 5.1 capable sound w/ front audio ports)- Microsoft(R) Works 9.0- No additional security software- HP keyboard and HP optical mouse- 160 GB 5400rpm HP Pocket Media Drive
- HP Home & Home Office Store in-box envelope
I'll give you folks regular updates as we move forward with this new BluRay authoring tool!
I'm really happy to report publicly for the first time that we'll be providing all post production for 3 feature length documentaries that are currently destined for major film festivals and network HD broadcast in 2009 and 2010. We can trace at least part of this announcement to our investment in BluRay and in-house self-publishing of the high definition discs.
Yesterday a sample 9 minute version of the first of the three proposed documentaries was presented to the Carter Center here in Atlanta. Among the people present were both hollywood executives and an executive of an international television network and most importantly, President Jimmy Carter. It has been Mr. Carter's mission to eradicate major diseases to impoverished areas of the world and in this particular presentation, the story was Guinea worm and its debilitating effect on people, especially the very young. I'm going to be very honest and say that for the first week I had a very difficult time cutting the piece and had to walk out of the suite multiple times a day to get away from the screams of the little girl who serves as the primary focus of this presentation. It was a natural sound story told through the stories of the man who oversees the eradication program for the Carter Center and the volunteers on the ground. All in all, it presents a very powerful emotional punch.
In order to present the project properly, we authored and created a BluRay disc and the production company purchased a Panasonic DLP HD projector for the event. Actually that part is kind of cool because now we have full access to a large format DLP HD projector anytime we need one. In addition to the presentation disc, we duplicated 20 BluRay and 30 DVD copies for all the board and associated personnel to take home. All packaged in proper DVD and BluRay cases with full four color sleeves designed in Photoshop and printed on our own laser printer. The discs themselves were printed on our new FlexWriter IV DVD duplicator / printer.
The fact that we were able to deliver and present the project on BluRay made an immediate impression before the viewing even began. At the conclusion of the presentation, the accolades for both the story and technical quality of the presentation were overwhelming. We will most likely debut at least one of the documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival and it is very likely that all three documentaries will appear on a major international H.D. network in 2009 or 2010. The narrator will be a major hollywood star or potentially several stars, talks are already underway.
What we were able to accomplish by not only jumping in to the BluRay authoring realm, but also the duplication and finishing was to allow our client to look incredibly good in front of a very demanding audience. It's because of this ability to not only tell the story on screen, but deliver it in the highest possible quality anytime, anywhere, that we were granted the offer to be a part of these three documentaries and essentially have one edit suite already fully booked for 2009.
BluRay self-publishing is here and it works.
Apple Final Cut Pro, AJA Kona 3, Apple Compressor 3, Adobe Encore CS3, FastMac BluRay Burner, Panasonic BluRay Duplicator, FlexWriter IV DVD Printer, HP LaserJet 3000 Printer .
We're working on a corporate documentary type of project that involves teenagers who lived through Hurricane Katrina. The project is all shot in high definition and of course, the producer was in the market for some news footage of the hurricane and its aftermath to help craft the story.
Looking around the web we found buyoutfootage.com with the most reasonably priced footage, about $450 for 19 minutes of the aftermath rescues and such. The description of the reel describes pretty much exactly what we were looking for with military personnel helping people, flooded streets, the mayor walking around, etc.... It's available on BetaSP so we naturally assumed it would all be clean, good quality footage. Being on a quick turnaround schedule, we simply ordered the master without getting the sample DVD.
That was a bad decision. When we received the tape, a lot of the footage looked like it had been captured at a very low resolution or it had been through about 5 or 6 generations of dubs. Most of it is very soft, again, like bad transfers along the way.
So I called buyoutfootage.com and it was explained to me that all of the footage is from the Department of Defense and it was all dubbed from the original sources at an Air Force Base.As there's no way to know what types of cameras the various folks were shooting with, the quality varies from very good to really really poor. That fact is not mentioned in the synopsis.Synopsis: The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a category 3 storm, which made landfall on the morning of August 29, 2005. Aerial views of the flooding in New Orleans and helicopter rescue of people trapped by the floodwaters.
Scenes of people being removed from a freeway overpass by helicopter, and aerial view of the Super Dome. People waiting at the airport. Short scene of President Bush and Mayor Ray Nagin walking toward camera. Shows devastation of homes along the Gulf Coast.
In fact I was told I was the first one to complain about the quality of the footage and that there are "DV folks" and then there are "video connoisseurs." I guess I fall into the later and the DV folks don't know the difference in quality? Regardless, approx. 80% of the footage is far below what I could consider full quality video and really should not be sold to anyone without an explicit note in the description along the lines of "This footage was shot by Department of Defense personnel using consumer and professional cameras. Video quality varies widely."
The person on the phone told me I really should have ordered the DVD Sample disc (for $35) before ordering the footage. Yes, we will definitely do that in the future. To be absolutely fair here, the folks at buyout footage were very pleasant to speak to the phone and they did do a makegood offer so that we will have enough images to make this project work.
So for those of you seeking out royalty free and low cost footage, especially of major events, be sure to:
1 - Ask how the footage was obtained.
2 - Ask what the quality of the footage is. (Is it first generation? What cameras / format was it shot on?)
3 - Order the preview DVD where available.
In Part 2 of this series, I gave you some thoughts on setting up your shop. If you missed that part or Part 1, links are at the bottom of this article. Now that the doors are open, the furniture and equipment is in, we need to get the word out so you can really get your company running and building. Just because you’re open, doesn’t mean people are just going to find you.Congratulations! Hopefully by now you’ve finished off that bottle of champagne, grape juice, coffee, or whatever it was you used to toast your new company. The doors are open, the business cards are lined up and you are officially In Business! Nothing to do now but just let the folks in and get to work.Yep, the coffee’s ready, the cups are out……Just a minute, they’ll be here in just a minute…..I’m sure they just missed that left turn, they probably turned right……Anytime now, they’ll just come strolling right into the office……Ok, so maybe they’re not going to come strolling right into your office. At least not the folks who don’t already know you and your work. Ok, at least not the folks who don’t already know you and actually want to hire your services. THOSE are the folks you want to get to know. The folks who don’t know you. You know?Just opening your doors is a major undertaking but being able to keep them open is even tougher. I think the last time I looked up the statistic, something like 65% of all new business failed in the first 12 months in the U.S. So more than half of the people just like you who were able to plan, finance and open a business didn’t make it to the one year anniversary. I’m not going to say that my pearls of wisdom that follow will guarantee you make it to your first anniversary, but they certainly did help me.
Hello…. Is This Thing On?Number one thing you have to do is let the world know you exist. Marketing yourself is actually a rather awkward thing to do and many folks just really don’t seem to get it right. Keep in mind that what works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you. Think about this, you never see two companies with the exact same advertisement on TV, do you? If Brand X has an incredible ad campaign they why don’t Brands Y and Z run the exact same ad? Because it would be very un-original and folks would associate Brands Y and Z with Brand X.. Besides, Brands Y and Z might have a completely different target audience so they need to structure their ads differently. So think about how you want to be perceived in the marketplace and structure your marketing based on that.Now I’m not talking about a full marketing campaign with advertisements, postcards, flyers and all sorts of stuff you have to pay for. Sure you might do some of that, but there are many other ways to start getting your name out there that won’t break the bank. How about online forums?Online forums such as the Creative COW are a fantastic way of getting your name out there. Troll around for a bit and just see what the landscape is like. If you have some knowledge to share with folks, jump in and give the advice. It doesn’t cost you anything and if your advice and wisdom are consistently useful to the community, folks start to trust and turn to you for advice. Especially for a very small company like my own, just being out there giving advice can lead to many great things down the road. True Story. I started participating in an online forum back around 2000 called the WWUG. I found some useful tips for After Effects and Photoshop and really thought it was cool that like minded artists could help each other out from around the globe. In early 2001 I started my present company with a brand new Final Cut Pro system with really no idea how to operate it properly and migrated over to the new Creative COW community with a ton of questions. 6 months later I was the one answering a lot of questions about the Pinnacle CinéWave card and being asked to start a new CinéWave forum. Because I took the time to learn how the product worked and was so willing to share my new found knowledge with others, I generated some very positive feedback about myself.A few local folks might call you for some advice from time to time and just like in the online forums, it’s not a bad idea to offer some helpful hints if you can. Don’t let this interrupt a paying session, but if you have a few moments, be polite and help folks if you can. Word of mouth will definitely circulate and before you know it, you’ll get friends of friends of friends calling to ask you how to get such and such to work correctly. Yes, some folks will abuse your generosity and that’s what Caller ID is for! But if you have the time, offering assistance to folks is a great way to spread your name around town as someone who is helpful.Emails and newsletters are wonderful tools if you don’t abuse them. How much do you enjoy getting unsolicited ads for stuff you don’t need? Keep that in mind when you send out an email blast or post card campaign. Don’t send emails every week to everyone you know reminding them that you’re now available to do work for them. Don’t send a newsletter every few days notifying the world that you’ve installed a new stapler and it’s ready to be used on their newest script. I think a good general rule is some sort of email every four months and maybe a newsletter every 6 months. That’s enough to let folks know you’re out there without becoming too obnoxious about it. Keep your communications short and simple with a quick update on what you’ve been doing, any major news about your company and a thanks for their time. It’s not the amount of words you use, just how you use them.
Take the High RoadIf you’re alive, then someone or some company has probably done you wrong in your life. Most likely in your career and it might even have been a driving decision to start your own business. It was definitely a motivation for me. No matter how much it hurts and how easy it would be to strike back, do not give in to this temptation. If you’re confused about what I might be talking about, consider a situation like this. An employee is disgruntled with his company. He’s been working there for a while and is the lead Producer for some of the biggest clients. He strikes out on his own and when communicating with those big clients, he degrades that company and the quality of their work. “Company B just doesn’t care about you guys, they’re just after your money, if you knew what they were saying about you when you’re not there you would never want to work with them. You should really consider me to do your work now since I was your Producer anyway.”He’s counting on the client being shocked that Company B would take advantage of them. Exactly the opposite will happen at least 90% of the time. What really happens is the Producer comes off as being a whiner and nobody wants to work with a whiner. The Client will most likely stick with Company B happy that the troublemaker is gone.True Story. I had a partnership for three years and it eventually went sour. I made the decision to leave the partnership as it was just not going to work any longer. My first step was to send a mass email to the company clients to inform them of my decision to move on and to notify them that my partner was going to continue the company and it would be available to service them. I even included the phone number and email addresses of the company again. I was informed later that his communication with the clients was drastically different and very negative against me. The result was that the biggest client from our partnership followed me. That client essentially supported my company for the entire first year as I built up my name and other clients. To this day, I still work with the same people and even helped some of them when it came time to start their own business. No good can come of being negative in any of your communications or marketing materials. Keep it positive and stay above the fray. Even be careful when talking to a client about a fellow Producer, Videographer, Editor, whomever in town. Everyone talks to everyone and eventually your words will get back to you. Oh and I’m not perfect by any means, but I really really try to stay positive at all costs. It seems like it takes longer to build a company “when you do things right” but ultimately you’ll feel better about yourself and what you’re building.
I Got an Offer You Can’t RefuseWhen you first open your doors you have no reputation. Sure you might have built a reputation as a great talent at what you do. But you have no reputation as a company, even if you’re just freelancing. It’s a lot of different to be that great talent and manage the business. Sometimes you have entice folks to get in the door or pick up the phone to use your services. How about a first time incentive like a discount? When I first opened up I would let folks know that they could have a discounted rate for their first job. Usually it was the first day free for a multi-day edit or a lower rate for a single day, things like that. How about an open house? Just open the doors for a day, have some snacks and finger foods on hands with soft drinks and let folks see what you’re all about. Be sure to have something going in each room or at least things for people to see and take. Have plenty of business cards, some one-sheets that describe the business and your services and hopefully a demo. If you have monitors in the shop, have some of your work running in a continuous loop. You might even offer some prizes to folks either for arriving at a certain time or putting their business cards into a jar. Free work, discounted work, a prize, whatever you want it to be, give an enticement for showing up. And make sure you have a sign-in sheet when folks arrive so you can get their phone numbers and email addresses. Whenever I’ve done this I’ve actually done two on the same day during the lunch hour and again after hours to allow more people time to come. Personally I never serve alcohol at these events and it’s never missed. I just really don’t want to deal with the expense and potential liability of alcohol at my offices.
Just Say No!The most powerful word you will learn to build you business is “No.” Sounds counter-productive, but trust me, “No” is the key to growing your business.When you first start open your doors you’re going to take on just about anything at just about any rate. You have to. Bills are already arriving for your office, your gear and your furniture. So if your regular rate is $500 and a client offers you $200, you’re probably going to take the gig because $200 is still better than $0. But once you establish a foothold and start booking yourself steadily, you’ll find yourself staring at some problems. Slow / No Pay clients. You know the ones who take 120 days to pay or keep promising they’ll take care of you “next week.” Rude and Obnoxious clients. You dealt with it when you needed the money but now they’re a drag to keep working with.Aren’t I your friend? The client you helped out with some steep discounts when you were starting out and now wants you to maintain those discounts because of the “relationship” you guys have going.The Next Big Thing. Just help me out with these projects and I promise you’ll get more than your worth as soon as we do the Next Big Thing.Ok, Slow / No Pay clients are just not worth ever booking again. They don’t have the decency to pay you on time, they’re not worth the headache. Rude and Obnoxious, who has time for that? Your Friends are those who stand behind and support you, not people who try to take advantage of a situation. I’ve heard about “The Next Big Thing” for almost 18 years now and I’m still waiting to see it. It doesn’t happen.When these people call and try to book time, just say No. Be polite about it (remember that thing about keep everything positive?) by telling them you’re fully booked up. You’re always booked up when they call. When I started saying “no” to folks, my income took a hit for a little while, but then suddenly those problem clients were replaced by solid people who are a pleasure to work with, brought challenging projects to my door and always pay on time. It may take some time, but if you just keep the negativity of problem clients out of your shop, eventually things should start an upswing.
It’s On the HouseOne great way to get your name out there in the community is by doing some donated or “pro-bono” work. A lot of times, these are done for church groups or fund-raiser type of events. These are great because generally the folks running these events are high ranking folks in local businesses. Your involvement can bring some goodwill and positive feedback for your company. The hope is that when these business folks need the services you provide, they’ll look you up.It can be extremely rewarding, especially in the video / film production world, because you’re the “hero” who made such a great video presentation. You’re the center of attention because everyone wants to meet the person who did “the video.” Now the danger of this kind of work is overdoing it. Remember, the point of these project is to generate actual paying clients, not MORE pro-bono work. And trust me, once someone finds out you did a great job with so and so’s presentation, you’ll get a whole host of phone calls and emails. If you’re not careful, the free work will take over your schedule and you’ll find yourself neglecting the paying work. That’s definitely not a good thing for someone trying make a living running their business.I strongly encourage you to come up with a limit on your Pro-Bono work and then stick to it. In my case it’s no more than two projects per year and I prefer working with a few folks that I know and trust. Setting this limit allows me to very respectfully decline the myriad of requests I get through the year by simply explaining that we only do two per year and only when the schedule permits. Foundations and groups completely respect that you’re trying to run a business and when you make it clear to them that your time is limited and their project simply doesn’t fit into the allotted time, they will understand. If they don’t understand and give you grief, then you didn’t want to work with them anyway!
BenchwarmersIf you’re running a company that requires the use of freelancers, remember one thing. These people represent YOU. Not themselves. YOU. What does this mean? If your client has a bad experience with a freelancer you assigned to their job, that client is going to remember that YOU gave them bad service. You absolutely cannot lay blame on the freelancer for screwing up the job. YOU hired them, YOU assigned them the job, YOU are responsible.As you grow your business you have to remember that anyone assigned to any job is representing you at all times. So you darn well better be sure that these people can do what is expected of them, in the time expected, and in a way that makes the client happy.Absolutely list your positions in the normal places like the Creative COW Job Forum as you want to get a nice cross section of resumes from local talent. But also ask all of your colleagues and friends in the business for referrals. These people have worked with the local talent or heard from others about the quality of their work. If you can, try them out on a small project, even if you have to pass through all your profit to them. This gives you a chance to see their work and work habits first hand. Nothing like seeing the real deal in action.Finally, if you get some good freelancers working with you, pay them fairly and pay them quickly. As much as these people are representing you to the client, you’re representing yourself to them. If you pay a fair rate and pay them on-time you’ll build up a reputation as a good business to work with. Then you’ll have quality folks calling on you to offer their services and then you’ll have a nice solid crop of local talent to take care of your clients.
Take Care of the ClientThe best way to build your business is to treat the clients right. You take care of them, they chat you up to fellow workers and they lead more business to your door.You’ve taken the time to open your office, now keep it clean and neat. Nothing is a turn-off more than paying someone to do a professional job and having to visit them in a messy office. It doesn’t need to be perfect, just straightened up and clean each time the client comes to visit. If you provide your service on location or at the client’s location, dress cleanly. Sure you can wear some cool T-shirts or clothing if that’s your style, but make sure it’s clean. Torn and dirty clothes just don’t make a good impression.Be polite. It’s that simple. Just be polite and positive during the time you spend with the client. It’s a small thing, but it amazes me how rude and negative some people can act around a client, especially when things don’t go quite right. There are always going to be problems with equipment, people, locations, software, etc… Just keep a positive attitude, figure out workarounds and move on. Clients not only want a great talent, they want someone who’s easy to work with. A very important way to treat the clients right is to address issues immediately, especially if it’s a technical or other problem that causes a delay in production. Say your camera is not working correctly, the software won’t run today, your VTR’s need to be cleaned, you’re late due to traffic, just something is not quite right and it causes a problem or delay in your work. Take care of the situation right then and there, don’t wait a few days, don’t wait a week, do it right on the spot. I will immediately tell the client what I’m going to do for them in the case of an issue. Usually it’s a discount worth more than the time lost, maybe some free services, whatever the situation calls for. I tell the client right away and then I will follow up with that by also putting the reason for the discount in the invoice. Taking responsibility for an issue on the spot makes a very positive and lasting impression on clients because you just don’t see a lot of people doing that anymore.True Story: I was working on a project that absolutely had to be in New York on a Monday. I finished on Saturday and couriered the tapes to another production house that had a DigiBeta deck ready and waiting to lay off the show. In my haste to get the show down to that production house, I forgot to move a few of the items around in the timeline. The editor on site tried to fix the timeline for the client, but it didn’t quite work out. I ended up fixing the master on Sunday and we ended up having to use same day air cargo service to ensure the master would be in New York first thing Monday morning. I told the client immediately that the air cargo charges and extra duplications would be covered by me. It was the right thing to do and my client very much appreciated the gesture.
Stop the Presses!You read press releases all the time. Companies announcing the latest product, latest service, latest project and so on. Well you’ve got some news to share too! Heck just opening your doors is worthy of a press release. As you build up your clientele and get involved with some projects, start telling the world. Obviously the Creative COW is a great place to release your news, but trade magazines, local newspapers, area trade groups and websites are also good choices.Read some of those press releases and see how they are put together. Always start with your city / state and the date. Write in third person at all times. Never “I am happy to announce…..” but “XYZ Company is proud to announce…” Sounds more professional and the “company” sounds larger than an individual. Building the company name is also important if you plan to eventually hire folks to work for you. If your company is getting a lot of good press, that will transfer to the team around you. Issue as many press releases as you see fit, after all the more your name it out there, the more likely people are to notice you.
Money makes the world go aroundManaging the money is so incredibly important as you try to build your business. Yes you want to pay yourself as much as possible, but you also have bills to pay and there’s always another “thing” you need to purchase to keep running the business. This is especially true if you run a business like my Post Production house where technology and equipment is constantly changing.If you are not that good managing money, please, please get some help. Hire a CPA, ask a family member who is good managing money, just get someone to help you. I’m the first to admit, I’m need help in managing money and am so very fortunate that my wife is an amazing help in this area of the business. Especially when it comes to a major purchase, we discuss the needs of the company, what the prospective income is over the next few months and our current financial situation before taking the plunge. I could run the money side of things alone if I absolutely had to, but I know that together we are doing a much better job managing the company finances. So please, do not be ashamed to admit if you need some help with managing your money.If your business requires the use of contractors or freelancers it is very important that you take good care of these people, sometimes even at the detriment of your own short term income. My policy is always to pay my freelance / contract work first before we pay ourselves. This builds a good reputation for me among freelancers and people will put my jobs ahead of others if there is a choice. It’s also just the right thing to do. You know the budget, you know how much you’re going to make on the job, you also control how the payments are received. Whenever I have contractors involved, especially with field productions, I always demand 50% down payment before we start a job. This money is always earmarked to pay the freelancers and contractors knowing that I will make my income from the remaining 50%. When possible, especially when dealing with outside help, request a deposit of 50% or at least equal to what you will need to pay out to these independent contractors so you can take care of them immediately.I must make one thing incredibly clear at this point. At no point should you allow yourself to get behind on payments to independent contractors or anyone else owed money for a job. What happens at that point is you start “paying backwards” by using the next job to pay for the last job. This is a never-ending spiral. What I have seen happen time and time again is that the business owner gets so deep into the hole that there are simply not enough upcoming jobs to ever get caught up and they lose all their reliable freelancers. Eventually they lose their clients. If you get nothing else from my four part series, please remember this one point.Carefully pay yourself keeping an eye on your schedule at all times. Have a full schedule for the next 60 days? Go ahead and pay yourself more as you should be good to cover that and all your bills. Things kind of slow? Keep some money in the company bank account to cover the bills so you’re not completely stressing on trying to cover the company payments. It’s a careful balance of paying yourself to make income while making sure the company stays afloat. Again, please get some help managing the money if you need it.
The Walls are Closing InWhen you open the doors everything is set up just so. You’ve got some furniture, equipment and other odds and ends so you’re fully functional when you start up. As you start working day to day you will find some shortcomings and some additions that are necessary. The trick here is to manage your space wisely so it doesn’t become a completely cluttered mess that’s difficult to get around.I have to admit I’m having this very problem myself as we are growing faster than my space will allow. The biggest problem I have is lack of storage space as we have converted a room that used to be for entertainment and storage into a third edit suite. So we’re a bit cluttered at the moment and instead of rushing out to purchase bookshelves and cabinets just to get stuff onto shelves, I’m taking my time and ensuring that we can store everything correctly and it will all look good to the eye. But I have placed too much emphasis on just getting what’s convenient and not considering the overall workflow and client comfort in the shop.So as you need furniture, equipment, etc… carefully plan out what you are going to get and how it will fit into your overall space. Is there something you should consider removing from your office to make more room? Can you consolidate multiple pieces into one? The basic idea here is to manage your space as you move your business forward. Consider every piece of furniture and every piece of equipment and how it will affect your client comfort and overall workflow.Well, there you go folks. Only one more stop on this 4 part journey and I’ll have given you all my best thoughts on running your business!
In Part 4 of this series, “Expansion, Make the Right Decisions,” I’ll look at some ideas on expanding your business. What to consider when expanding, when to expand and my own personal experiences in the growing pains / expansion of Biscardi Creative Media.Walter Biscardi, Jr. is a 17 year veteran of broadcast and corporate video production who owns Biscardi Creative Media in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Walter counts multiple Emmys, Tellys and Aurora Awards among his many credits and awards. You can find Walter in the Apple Final Cut Pro, AJA Kona, Apple Motion, Apple Color and the Business & Marketing forums.
Part 2 - Setting Up Shop
Part 1 - Are You Ready?
This is Part 1 of a 4 Part series on Starting and Running your own business in the creative industry. We start out this week by asking, Are You Ready? Are you really ready to step out on your own and become your own boss? Before you say yes, consider these thoughts.
Recently I posted a blog entry detailing the wonderful experience we had upgrading our facility with fellow Creative COW leader Bob Zelin. An unexpected response to that entry was someone who found the setup of our facility somewhat overwhelming. He was questioning what would he need to start a company and compete after seeing something like our upgrade.That post gave me pause and the inspiration to write down my thoughts for anyone thinking about striking out on their own in this creative business. We all start at Square One and a facility like mine doesn’t just happen overnight. So over the course of the next few weeks, I'm going to give you my ideas about starting and building your own company. Take what you want from my advice and experience and when you find something that works for you, be sure to pass along some knowledge to others. I’m going to start at the beginning with this entry and end up with thoughts for expansion in my final installment. In between we’ll talk about setting up shop and running / building your current business. So let’s get started.
Are You Ready?It’s a simple question. Are you ready to run your own business? It sounds great, equipment and software is relatively cheap, your friends think you’ll have no problems building a successful business. So why not? Well, there’s a million reasons “why not?” but if you never take a chance, what’s the point of living, right? Ok, here’s some things to take into consideration if you’re seriously considering your own business.
Dude, Where’s My Project?So how much experience do you have in the industry? And be very honest with yourself here. It’s easy to watch a commercial, a movie, a music video, a TV show and say “I can do better work than that!” Maybe you can, but have you? I mean have you actually done work that looks better than what you’re watching and did it on a tight deadline while staying within the budget constraints? First and foremost this industry is driven by the deadline. Whether it’s a church video for the service on Sunday or the next episode of “The Office” for NBC. Your must make the deadline that is set for your project each and every time. Failure to do that even one time can ruin your entire business. Creative skills honestly mean nothing at all if you can’t get a project done on time. The deadline pressure is the one thing that I see which dooms many new people to the business. It’s something that you really can’t describe because it is a completely different pressure than any other industry I’ve ever seen. With most industries, everything is black and white. The product was delivered on time, the new contract was signed, building was completed and so on. Generally something that is very black and white where you can look at the product, hold it in your hand, see it in front of you, witness the signed contract. When a product is delivered under deadline, say a new tennis ball, there is it, you can hold it in your hand and see it.The Creative Industry just sells ideas. Sure there is usually an end product attached to those ideas, such as a DVD or TV show, but we’re just selling creative ideas. So we’re at the complete mercy of our client’s moods, ideas, changes of heart, even just a change of mind. I’ve been in a situation where we have been working on a project for 9 days only to have the producer completely change their mind on the look and script 36 hours before a show is about to air. The deadline hasn’t changed, the show is going to air in 36 hours. It doesn’t matter that I’ve spent 9 days following the script and editing in the agreed upon manner which has been reviewed at the end of each of the 9 days. They’re changing it now and they just want it to happen in 36 hours. So what do you do? You can’t tell them it’s too late because the products have already been produced and shipped to the stores. You can’t tell them it’s too late because you can’t get the necessary supplies to build the widget in time. I mean it’s just a video so it can’t be that hard to make the changes they’re asking for, right? Do you miss the deadline or drink a lot of coffee and work up a miracle in the wee hours of the night? Don’t forget you’re running this business so it’s your decision. There are some amazingly talented people coming out there who get drawn into the relative ease that exists today to open up your own shop. Software and hardware is very affordable so why not just take the plunge to go it alone? The software and hardware is just one very small part of starting up your own production company, creative suite, editing boutique, whatever you want to call it. The ability to handle the pressure of the deadline, no matter what is thrown your way is a very large part of running a creative company.So be very honest with yourself here and decide if you are ready to do whatever it takes to meet each and every deadline you take on. 9-5 is out the window. Each day has 24 hours and you better be prepared to use every last minute if you want to make it on your own. Your reputation is riding on it. Handling the deadline pressure can only come from experience.In case you’re wondering how the story ends, I had already been working 12 hours that day when I got the news to make the change so I ended up editing for 48 hours straight. The show aired on time and I was nominated for “Editing in a Television Series” at the New York Festivals. I haven’t been able to kick my coffee habit since.
You’re the Boss of Me.If you’re new to the industry, whether right out of college or looking for a 2nd career, working for someone else has some very distinct advantages.Soaking it all in is one thing. I mean what does it take to run the company? Whether you’re working for a small company with one other person or a huge group with 1,000, soak in what is going on all around you. Notice how your room / workstation is set up. What do you like and not like about it? Ask someone why the room was set up like it was. How are the clients treated? How does the billing work and what are the rates? How do they figure out the rates? What extras does the company provide, like food and games, and why? Now don’t be obnoxious about this and ask a question at every turn, but just observe, ask polite questions when appropriate and soak in everything going on around you, especially if it is a successful business. If it’s not successful, try to figure out what could be done better, maybe even make some suggestions to management if appropriate. Working for a company also generally means working around other folks more experienced than you. Learn from them. In my own experience, I started at CNN and had absolutely no clue what a Waveform or Vectorscope were until someone explained them to me. Funny how many posts I see about this very thing on the COW these days. I also discovered that while I could edit very well, I had no idea how to tell a story. I just slapped down what was on the script without a thought to how all the shots really cut together. Two amazing editors took me under their wing and taught me how to really craft a story in the edit suite, not just push buttons. Could not have learned it this well from books, the internet, or in the classroom. You can generally focus on your singular task when you’re working for someone else. If you’re a graphic designer, then all you have to do is work on making the best looking graphic to meet the specs of the project. Of course there are exceptions when working for a smaller firm, but for the most part, your only concern is what is immediately in front of you. You can spend your time practicing your craft, trying out techniques and so on. At CNN I played with every single piece of equipment I could get my hands on, including this new thing that arrived one day call an Avid. It was all sitting there and I would even come back to the office on my time to practice on the gear and my editing style. You get exposed to a variety of clients and styles, regardless of whether you work for an independent company or in the communications department of a company. Each client is different and what works for one client won’t work for them all. After CNN I went to work for Foxwoods Resort Casino in their media department and I worked with very real clients, even though they were all Foxwoods departments. Marketing, Dining, Entertainment, Transportation, Hotel, Maintenance, Museum and so on all had projects that needed to be done by our department, about 200+ projects per year. Each department and even different people within each department had varying styles and needs. I had never been exposed to anything like this at CNN where we pretty much did the same thing no matter who the Producer was. Now I had to please about 100 different people who all had their own idea of what their project had to look like. This was some of the most valuable experience I ever received and it wasn’t anything anyone could have taught me in a classroom.Working for someone else also means you will most likely be exposed to a bunch of different equipment. No better way to find out what the equipment looks like than to get your hands on it. If you’re really lucky, your shop will have an engineer. These guys are awesome to talk to. Any question you have, they’re usually happy to answer. I use every opportunity I get to speak with engineers as very often some nugget of information gleaned comes in very handy as we plan, troubleshoot or make changes to our facility. Finally, working for someone else gives you the opportunity to make a reputation for yourself. Your boss, clients, producers, other creative workers all get a chance to see both your work and your work habits. This business is all about word of mouth and the more you can build on your reputation before you start your new venture, the better chance your business has of succeeding.In my own experience, I spent 5 years at CNN, 2 years at Foxwoods, 1 year at another corporate job before I started my first company with a partner and finally 3 years later I started Biscardi Creative. I saw each step along the way as a learning experience. CNN taught me how to tell a story, Foxwoods gave me confidence in designing a facility, the partnership showed me I could run my own business. So ask yourself, are you truly ready to go out on your own, or would you be better served spending time at someone else’s facility? If you’re working for someone else right now, have you built enough of a positive reputation and learned enough at that location to step out on your own?
Focus, Focus, FocusThe number one biggest mistake I see in this industry is the inability to focus on what you do well. You can’t be all things to everyone. If you try to do everything, you’ll end up doing all things ok. If you simply focus on one or a few areas, then you have the potential to be very good at what you do.In my case, I’m an editor and over the years I’ve picked up a lot of skills in After Effects and Graphic designs so my focus since striking out on my own has been Post Production. Editing, graphic design, digital compositing and some special effects are what we concentrate on. So all of our marketing and our money for equipment is spent to better our Post Production. I can shoot with a camera but there are dozens of photographers here in Atlanta alone who are so much better than me, why would I waste both mine and my client’s time? The client deserves the best shooter I can give them and it’s definitely not me. So I have made my main focus Post Production. So what is your focus going to be? Whatever it is, that is what you need to really expend your energy and money on. This industry is literally changing by the month with new equipment, new software, new technology, new standards and so on. It can literally make your head spin and theirs is just no way to stay on top of everything. So stay on top of what you can control. Stay on top of what it is that you do best. To help you stay on top of everything else in the world, befriend some good folks locally if you can and of course use the tremendous resources of the Creative COW.In my case, I get a lot of questions about cameras because I work with so many formats. Honestly, all I know about them is what I see on the screen when I watch footage shot by them and what I glean from D.P.’s and the manufacturers. That’s about it. If I have a question about a camera or about something to do with cameras, I ask my D.P. friends or research on the COW. Really my biggest question about any camera is what format does it shoot and what frame rate am I working with? That affects me in Post. Lenses, filters, matte boxes, shutter speeds and the like are the domain of the shooters, I just want to know how to get it into my system and edit with it. As my business has matured, we do offer now offer full turnkey services from script to screen, but that’s only because I’ve built a great team of colleagues I can call upon to complete any project that walks in the door. But my focus is still the Post side, I hire other folks to write, produce and shoot the actual material.So what is truly going to be your focus? Who can you call upon to help you with areas outside of your focus? Two questions to ask yourself.
Man of 1,000 HatsIt’s a wonderful idea to open your own business. It’s truly a dream come true. But one thing even I overlooked is the fact that you’re now responsible for every single decision. I mean, the creative stuff, that’s easy, that’s what I do. But where is the office going to be? What chairs do I need? Where do I get the furniture? How many paperclips will I use?My point is quite simple here. Once you’re the boss, you are now responsible for every single decision for your company from what font to use for that corporate commercial to what long distance service are you going to use. It’s all those little mundane things that many of us never take into account when deciding to go out on our own.You will have to set up and manage your finances, the equipment, the software, the clients, the marketing, your skills, your demo, the office supplies, the tax returns, the research and the list goes on and on. Oh yeah, don’t forget you’re also going to have to be very creative and meet all your production deadlines to keep the clients happy. Not trying to scare you here, just being honest. Whether you want to or not, you will be wearing about 100 hats the moment you decide to open your office. If you’re not prepared for this, it becomes overwhelming very quickly. Fortunately I have a wonderful wife who is my partner in my venture and she oversees many of the financial areas of the company allowing me to concentrate on technology and creative. Make a list of all the things you need to take care of and think about whether there is anyone you can call upon to help you out with some of the details.
Swallowing your prideThose of you already working in the industry have experienced this. All of you entering this industry and ready to start your own place, here’s the rude awakening. The client is always right. Repeat. The client is always right. Keep repeating until it sinks in. If you don’t believe this, then don’t start your own business.I’ve had situations where I’ll describe an idea to a client, complete with sketches and pantomime with an enthusiastic response. I’ll go create the project, show them the rough cut and their eyes glaze over. “Oh, that’s not what I thought you were describing. I really don’t like this. Can’t you just do this other thing instead?”Now the artist in me wants to tell the client exactly what I think of this other thing they’re suggesting. After all I described to them what I was going to do, I spent 5 days executing that idea and NOW you tell me you don’t get it? But the business owner in me takes the suggestion and I tell the client, “Absolutely I can do that, let me go back to the office and get right on that.”Ideas and pride will not pay the bills. Checks from clients will. If you want to run your own business you have to be accepting of the fact that the Client always gets what the Client wants. Your primary responsibility is to give the client what they are asking for in the most creative and professional manner possible. One thing I always tell people is I don’t care if the client wants the sky green, the grass blue and the people red. As long as my levels are broadcast spec and the client is happy and they pay me, then that’s exactly what they are going to get. Sure I’ll offer my input, but ultimately, I will put on the screen exactly what the client wants to see. It’s the client’s money, not mine.Look at it this way, you’re not going to like every single thing that leaves your shop. If you don’t like it, don’t feature it on your website or your demo. So can you swallow your pride and produce exactly what the client wants and not just what you think the client needs? If you fail to grasp this basic concept, you will not be getting checks from clients for very long.
Show Me Some Money…. PleaseFinally, a very simple question to ask as you consider your own company. Are you prepared to not make any income for any amount of time, up to 12 months? Is your financial situation stable enough that you can afford to not make any money at all from your new venture as you start up?It’s the old adage, you need to spend money to make money. You are going to have to purchase some equipment to get started. You’ll need to some sort of marketing, maybe a website, definitely business cards, probably a Demo. Your personal bills are not going to stop coming in the meantime. So can you afford to all of the expenses incurred in starting a business and continue to pay all of your personal expenses if you do not earn any actual income for up to 12 months?Not much else to add here, just something for you to seriously think about. It takes time for the checks to catch up to the expenses and you can start paying yourself, just be sure you’re financially stable enough to not back yourself into a corner. In my own situation, my wife was extremely supportive of my new venture and she carried the financial burden for us until my business was able to earn us some income.
Well there you go folks, a lot of things to consider whether or not you’re truly ready to start your own business. And don’t get me wrong here. I’m not trying to scare you off and say don’t start a business. It’s a very exciting thing to start your own business and it’s easy to look at all the positive reasons for doing so. When done right and done well, it’s the most amazing thing you will ever do for your career. I’m just trying to give you a reality check before you jump feet first. And don’t just take what I say here as law. Be sure to do more research on the internet, talk to family, talk to other friends in the industry. Get as much information as you feel you need to make the best decision for you.In Part 2 of this series, “Setting Up Shop,” I’ll look at setting up your business. From location to type of company to client comforts, we’ll explore the next steps in taking your decision to start a company to actually opens the doors. Future blogs will cover Running your Business and Expansion Decisions.
Walter Biscardi, Jr. is a 17 year veteran of broadcast and corporate video production who owns Biscardi Creative Media in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Walter counts multiple Emmys, Tellys and Aurora Awards among his many credits and awards. You can find Walter in the Apple Final Cut Pro, AJA Kona, Apple Motion, Apple Color and the Business and Marketing forums.
Part 2 - Setting Up Shop: http://blogs.creativecow.net/node/277
Part 3 - Running and Building your Business: http://blogs.creativecow.net/node/300
As Chi-Ho Lee noted on the Final Cut Pro forum today, Quicktime 7.1.6 has been released in anticipation of Final Cut Studio 2 and you can now read timecode in the Quicktime Player. Wow! Finally! Not sure why it took so long, but here's the proof.
If you click on the running time you now get a drop down box which gives you three choices of the Standard Running Time, Timecode and Frame Number.
Here's the clip now showing the original timecode off the camera tape. VERY cool and now anyone with Quicktime Player can accurately see timecodes without the need to burn in TC windows. Thank you Apple!
Professional Video Editor, Producer, Creative Director, Director since 1990.
Credits include multiple Emmys, Tellys, Aurora and CableAce Awards.
Creative Director for Georgia-Pacific and GP Studios, Atlanta. Former Owner / Operator of Biscardi Creative Media. The show you knew us best for was "Good Eats" on the Food Network. I developed the HD Post workflow and we also created all the animations for the series.
Favorite pastime is cooking with pizza on the grill one of my specialties. Each Christmas Eve we serve the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional Italian seafood meal with approx. 30 items on the menu.
If I wasn't in video production I would either own a restaurant or a movie theater.