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Monthly Archives

October 2011

Dan shooting with DSLR on jib

Review of the SmallHD DP6 Monitor

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When shooting with the DSLR’s, a monitor is probably the first most important accessory you’ll need (other than lenses).  Especially with the Canon 5D and 7D, due to the LCD screen being fixed on the back of the camera body.  I’ve used Ikan, Marshall and Zacuto.  But a friend in the industry recommended SmallHD.

What I like is that this monitor is true HD– many of the others are still using a 800x something.  And one telling thing– the client the other day, over my shoulder, looked at the image ais that what my video is going to look like?”  She was amazed at the image.

So here’s my video review of the SmallHD monitor.

Video Production Services Industry

Adapt or Die in the Film & Video Production Services Industry

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Serendipitous is a turn key production company in film and video for corporate, commercial and feature productions.  Check us out by clicking about us and look at our recent work.  If you need a bid, give us a call at 817-371-9222 or fill out our form in the contact section.

The film and video industry has been changing dramatically.  From the early 1900’s through to the nineties, film production remained essentially the same.  Video started changing with the advent of VHS and beta in the late seventies and early 80’s.  And it’s amazing to see companies that fail to adapt to the changes of the industry simply die.  Big companies.

Take Blockbuster.  They were king.  Unstoppable.  When Netflix started because a savvy computer program didn’t like that he had just gotten slapped with a late fee from Blockbuster, Blockbuster ignored them.  When Netflix grew quickly, Blockbuster and Wal-Mart both decided to enter the industry of mail order rentals– but half-heartily.  I remember reading press about how this was the end of Netflix– there was no way they could survive an attack from such industry behemoths.

But Blockbuster couldn’t adapt.  And the industry was changing.  Now, Blockbuster is pretty much a memory.

Let’s look at Kodak.  This giant who has been in existence for over a hundred years.  They make film, among other things.  Even when I shot Striking Range in 2005 on 35mm, Kodak was king.  Film would always be around.  These upstart digital cameras would be a passing fad– they would never reach the quality of film cameras.  The big boys in Hollywood would always shoot film.  Around that time, I sat in the audience on a live taping of Spin City.  They had 5 panavision cameras churning through massive amounts of film.  I did some calculations in my head and realized that what they were shooting with this 23 minute sitcom, I had made two feature length films with.  Possibly three.  Kodak was certainly secure.

But now, Hollywood has faced the Great Recession and costs must be cut.  Shows (like “24”) went from film to HD.  Others followed.  Now the norm is digital and very few are shooting film.  Film Camera giant Arri has developed some good HD digital cameras.  They are adapting.  Kodak, while offering some digital photography products, has failed to really re-invent themselves.  It’s not to late to avoid the fate of Blockbuster, but they’re going to have to move quickly.

Closer to home, when we shot my first three features on 35mm, we used MPS Film out of Irving, Texas.  They had a full range of Arri cameras and grip equipment.  And not a video camera among them.  But ten years ago, they realized change was afoot.  They dedicated themselves to start carrying Varicams and even HVX’s.  Today, they have adapted.

So in discussing this over breakfast the other day with a friend, he asked me what I was doing to adapt to the changing industry.  If I were to hold fast to delivering DVD’s to clients… maybe even investing in DVD duplication and Blu-ray production, I’d be missing the boat.  Clients want their video on their iPad.  We’ve gone to school to find out the best ways to optimize video compression for the web and internet and for mobile devices.  We’re partnering up with animation and graphic companies and people that stay on the leading edge of the advances.  And we use the latest tools in video production, like sliders and DSLR’s.

DVD sales are dropping like rocks.  The industry said this would never happen– people did not want to watch movies on computer screens while their home entertainment systems sat idle.  But technology has opened doors to marry the internet with the home entertainment.   The demand for DVD’s is fading fast.

We have to keep adapting.  Whether a large company or a mom and pop.


Editing in studio

The Corporate Video Interview – Pt. 3

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I’m editing a series of videos for a Fortune 500 global company.  They had crews from around the world shoot these.  I’ve seen some really good stuff, and some not so good.  So in today’s blog, here’s some problems to avoid.

Shooting subject against a window might look good to your eye, but is a very tricky lighting situation.  There can be a difference of 5 or more stops between the ambient light on your subject and what’s outside that window.  So if you expose for the subject, the window is blown out.  If you expose for the window, your subject is dark.  With good lighting, you can get the exposure of your subject even with the outside exposure.  With this big editing job, I had about ten interviews sent in against windows.  One was lit nicely.  Half weren’t lit at all.

  • Your eye is drawn to the brightest thing on the screen.  So choose your background and light accordingly.
  • Avoid two person interview.  Two people on camera is problematic.  Do you stay in a two camera?  What if they talk over each other?  The other person not talking is reading her notes.  When she’s talking, the other guy is staring out the window.  Go ahead and shoot one.  Then shoot the other.
  • Find the quietest location.  However, if the location is not quiet, let’s go ahead and see what’s causing the noise.  For instance, if you’re interviewing someone on the factory floor, let’s see the machinery in the background that’s making the noise.  If you’re in a call center, let’s see people on phones in the background.  But it’s preferable to always find a quiet spot.  If it’s noisy, record some ambient noise to help cover edits in post.
  • Don’t let the subject sit in a swivel chair.  They will rock and roll all through the interview.
  • With the new DSLR’s and the shallow depth of field they bring, you can often roll that background out of focus.  This is good.  It also means, don’t sweat so much what’s in the background.
Corporate Video Interview

The Corporate Video Interview — Pt. 2 SOUND

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Serendipitous Films, in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, produces corporate video, commercials, music videos and feature films. This is the second part of the series on t corporate video interview.

Now let’s talk about sound in the interview. At the non-professional level, sound is simply taken from the mic built into the camera. At almost no level is this sound good and acceptable. So you get into a quiet room. You still contend with air conditioning noise, fluorescent lighting hum, and whatever other ambient sound. I don’t know of a single instance where this sounded good.

Next up is to put a decent shotgun on the camera. Still not so great. If it’s all you can do, get close to the interviewee. I was recently sent on a shoot where I was told by the client to simply have a shotgun mic– it was an incredibly tight deadline situation and it was a news-style shoot. What I didn’t realize was the client wanted to do a sit down interview. They wanted it to match other footage they had taken where the audio came from a shotgun mounted to the camera. So I found the quietest room and put the camera danger-close to the interview subject.

If I had brought a c-stand and XLR cable, the next step would have been to boom over his head with the same shotgun mic. I would have much better sound.

For interviews, our standard audio setup is to boom a mic above the subject and hide a wireless (or hardwire) lav mic on the subject. We record into separate channels, so we can take the better audio source in post. Beware! If you choose to take both, you could run into some cancelling issues (it will sound like the person is talking inside a well). And you won’t know until you burn that final DVD for the huge event, played over the sound system– the sound finally being mixed together. This might be the first time you realize it’s cancelling.

For the hidden lav mic, the most common problem is clothes rustle. This is another instance where you will get what you pay for. A good lav mic and screen versus a cheap lav mic– one can handle clothes rustle better. This doesn’t mean that an expensive lav mic is a magic fix for rustle– you will get some with certain fabrics. But you can minimize by proper placement and taping the actual mic correctly.

For larger jobs, we bring a dedicated location sound mixer who knows his stuff. Sound often gets minimized– the first thing cut from a budget. But without good location sound, you can be in a world of hurt in the edit.

Lighting for the corporate interview

The Corporate Video Interview, Pt. 1

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One of the mainstays of corporate video production is the interview.  Also the mainstay for documentaries– they have a reputation for being on the dull side– unexciting… static.  It’s not always this way.  And some of the most engaging videos are full of interviews.

Interviews are used to help tell the story.  Sometimes, they can be used as a substitute for a narrative– the pulling out of soundbites, linked together, tells the story without a script or narrator.  Or sometimes, interviews are used to help accentuate the narrative.

First, let’s start with the mechanics of the interview shoot.  Most likely you’re interviewing a person who is not a professional actor.  In the corporate world, people will have different levels of experience with being interviewed.  Often, people are nervous.  They want to make sure they say the right thing.  Jobs have been lost for bad interviews.  There can be much at stake.

Set the subject at ease.  Let them sit under the lights and just chat with them.  Let them know that when interviewing, they need to look at the interviewer and ignore the camera.  Let them know that it’s best to rephrase the question in the answer.  And then try not to give them any more instruction.  The temptation is to overwhelm an already nervous interviewee.

Common problems that you might encounter include nervousness, umms, “so’s”, “and so forth’s,” “as I said before,” and others.  See if you can ask them not to say “so” before every answer… but telling them they’re saying too many “umms” can make it worse.  If it’s too heavy, you can just ask the question again.  The more familiar the interviewee becomes with his answer, the fewer umms there will be.  You can fix some of this in editing, but it’s always best to get it as clean as possible on the set.

I prefer the interviewee to not come prepared with scripted answers.  Most times, this will come across as stiff and rehearsed.  I also recommend avoiding the use of a prompter.  Again, people reading who aren’t professional actors come across stiff.

Don’t let your subject drink a soda beforehand– they’ll be burping throughout the interview.  Have some bottled water handy.

In the next part, will talk about the actual production of the interview– lighting, sound, etc.

Greenscreen in studio

General Rules and Guidelines for Corporate Video Productions

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Corporate Video Productions

Stacie Herring accepts two Telly Awards

Caveat– all rules are made to be broken from time to time.  But to break a rule in art, I believe you need to know what the rule is, versus it being an accident.  So here are some random thoughts about corporate video:

  • Easiest way to price a corporate video is by the “finished minute.”  This means that if you want a five minute marketing piece for the web, the simplest way to quote it is $x times 5 minutes.  Standards for simple video might be in the $1K range.  I’ve had some videos in the $7K and $8K range.  Usually the shorter the video is, the higher the price per finished minute will creep up.  For example, if you price a video out at $2K per finished minute for a 5 minute video, and then decide to just cut it down to 1 minute, the price will likely be higher than $2K.
  • Biggest costs are Talent, Number of Shooting Days, and Length.
  • Rule of Three’s apply.  If you get an interview, you really need at least three.  If you cover a shot with broll, you usually need at least three.  This dovetails nicely into the Rule of Thirds discussed here.
  • The soundtrack, with audio, narration or voice over, is usually created first.  Then visuals laid down to match the audio.
  • Delivery of videos to clients used to be VHS tape.  Then DVD.  Now, most clients want a video file optimized for the web.
  • Corporate videos are usually straightforward (like talking heads or variations) documentary types, or creative “concept” videos.  Concept videos can be a lot more expensive.
  • Some clients use their own employees for on camera people.  This is good in that it saves money.  It’s not so good if that employee later leaves the company under dubious reason.  Then the client doesn’t want to use the video.
  • Teleprompter looks easy, but does take some skill.

We’ll keep adding to this list.

Importance of Depth of Field

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A quick way to make immediate impact on the quality of your picture taking or video making is to narrow your depth of field.  In this part 1 we talk about what DOF is and why it’s important.  In part two, we’ll discuss how to implement it.

Depth of Field is the difference many times between something that looks cinematic and something that looks amateur.  There are times to have a large depth of field, but better production value often means a narrower depth of field.

Dallas Video Production

Dallas Video Production

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Serendipitous Films is a full service film and video production company, specializing in corporate video, commercials, music videos and other production services like shooting and editing.

There was a time when Dallas claimed the moniker of “the third coast.”  Obviously, LA and NYC are first two, and in the 80’s, movies and tv shows were coming to Dallas.

The allure is clear– Dallas has a strong national commercial production industry, which provides top quality crew and equipment.  So bringing the entertainment work in is a great compliment to the corporate and commercial video and film work.  Since the 80’s, Dallas has been on a  roller coaster of a ride– seeing the heights of Walker, Texas Ranger shoot week to week providing much in the way of jobs and rentals.  And seeing the lows, like when the SAG Commercial actor strike diminished the commercial market and it took years to recover.  Or the lows when neighboring states New Mexico and Louisiana started offering huge incentives for movies and tv shows, and nodoby would shoot anything serious or big here.

Today, Dallas is again on the upswing.  A year ago, three tv shows were shooting here (unfortunately all three cancelled), and today several more have taken their place.  Movies continue to lens in North Texas, but most of them are micro-budget indie films.

The bottomline for Dallas film and video production, is that there are great crews here, top notch equipment, and prices that are lower than the other two coasts.  At Serendipitous Films, we shoot a lot of our work in Dallas, as well as in our adjoining home city of Fort Worth.  We travel all over North Texas to take care of our clients.video production company

DP Ron Gonzalez and Director Dan Millican

Cost of Video Productions

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“How long is a piece of string?” 

One of the most common question we get from potential clients is “how much would a video cost?”  As you can imagine, there are so many variables that go into this answer.  So what we do is ask a series of questions to figure out the elements, time frame, use, etc., that can help us give an accurate estimate.

Here are some factors that greatly impact cost of a corporate/commercial video:

Talent — Using a professional spokesperson, or a handful of actors, or even a voice talent can be expensive.  We use both union and non-union talent and have relationships built with the talent agencies.

Days of Shooting — A big cost for us is a day of shooting.  So if the video requires two days of shooting, that line in the budget can double.  Occasionally, someone might see what it would cost for an hour, but the lowest we break it down is the half-day.  This is usually 4 to 5 hours.

Length — the longer the video, the more it can take to edit (though there are some notable exceptions, like commercial spots).  When we estimate cost we usually figure in a formula for hours of editing based on finished minutes.

With answers to those three factors, we can get much closer to presenting an accurate estimate.  We turn in estimates for turn-key productions– from concept to finished video, as well as just the shooting, or the editing.

Slow Motion

Slow Motion (Slomo, Slo-mo, overcranked or whatever you call it)

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Most of us know what Slow motion is– it’s the slowing down of the movement in a video or film shot. There’s several ways to accomplish this– by just slowing down the shot in editing, or “over cranking” the shot when you are shooting.

Shooting takes place at 24 frames a second, or 30 frames (or 25 for you PAL users) and some other variations as well. We won’t even get into fields. If I take 24 frames that were meant to display all in one second and I tell the clip to display those 24 frames in 2 seconds, what you’ll basically get is slo-mo that doubles up every frame. It will appear jittery or jerky. Not really ideal. I watched a movie recently and this is the slo-mo they had– it meant they didn’t shoot it for slo-mo and decided in post to do it. I’m not a big fan. But if you want slo-mo and you didn’t shoot it that way, you’ll have to do it.

If I tell the camera to shoot in 48 frames a second, it will be a more fluid slo-mo shot. If I tell it to do 100 frames a second, it will be even slower. Because those 48 or 100 frames will be played back at 24 or 30 frames a second… thus the term “overcrank” on the set for slo-mo. There are the new incredibly slo-mo cameras that shoot 1000 frames a second. They’re usually computer based and you see them in play on shows like “Mythbusters” and “Top Shot.” I’ve even seen them used in a music video.

For DSLR users, it’s been slow motion getting slo-mo. When Canon added video to their beautiful 5D camera, they could not figure out how to do over-cranked– it’s just too much data for the camera to handle. For the next model they created, with slightly smaller chip– the 7D, they were able to double up the processor and provide a 60 frame, but smaller sized picture to give DSLR users a slo-mo option. So you’re shooting in 1920 size and want slow motion– you have to step down to 1280 size to do it. And your only option is 60 frames a second. And you can’t play back in slo-mo– it will look “different” through the viewfinder– because you’re actually seeing a 60 frame per second video. But you need software to re-configure the clip to display it as 24 frames to give it that slo-mo look.

I do believe the cameras will get better in this area– so look out for that.