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September 2017

Taking the Video Studio On Location

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The Portable Video Studio

This summer, we were fortunate enough to go shoot a commercial for Mattress Firm in San Diego.  We produced this spot through our partners Encore Live and Top Pup Media.  Stage Works in Fort Worth provided the sets.  We had a crew of about a dozen and used a very talented Mattress Firm employee as our actor.  Often, especially in commercial production, you have call to bring studio-like production value out onto location.

The Scope

video studio on locationWe needed to do a live comparison video, showing a new Mattress Firm offering opposite a leading industry mattress.  The turn around was the extremely difficult factor in this spot.  From the two days we shot this, the first draft needed to be completed by the evening of the second day of shooting and the final had to be sent to the media buyers two days later.  Incredible fast turnaround.  But we love challenges like that!

To pull this off, we needed to shoot studio quality out on location.  We rented a five ton grip truck, used three primary cameras (Canon C300’s) and one time lapse camera (Canon 5D mark 3) on the Kessler Second Shooter.  We used a 20x silk overhead to keep lighting consistent through the day as the sun traveled.

Once we had gear, cameras and crew on the site of the fair grounds north of San Diego, our portable video studio was complete.

The Shooting

Once we were all set, Encore Live helped us gather fair goers who were walking by to ask them if they wanted to try a blind test.  We would cover the mattresses and signs and the audio guy would mic them up.  We’d quickly slate the cameras and the action would begin.

We used a camera for a wide shot, and then coverage with the other two (one close up on person and one on the talent).  After shooting was complete, we’d offload right there and start cutting on the set due to the quick deadline.

The Editing

First cut of the spot was done on site while we overnighted the footage back to our studios.  Then the project file was sent to the studio where the edit team could take over.  Once the client had approved the draft, we had a colorist lined up for tweaking and completing the look of the piece.  Then closed captioning was added and the spot sent to the media buyers.  We actually beat deadline by half a day.

After that, we cut a longer version (90 seconds) for social media play.  The finished 30 second commercial has been airing and has 1.6 million views on YouTube so far.  You can check out is out right here:

File Management for Large Video Production Crews

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Large Video Production Crew File Management

We started this SFilms165 series on File Management for video production crews to do our part to stamp out horror stories of lost/missing footage from the video and film sets.  Yes, it’s happened to us.  In several different ways with different results.  Make sure you watch/read the Intro to File Management before watching this one.  Also, you can read Small Crew File Management here.  

The Large Video Production Crews

First let’s define large crew: Greater than 4 crew people.  This is a set that has many moving pieces and many crew people doing very specific tasked jobs.  In corporate video, it’s a little more rare to see large crews, but in commercial production, feature film making, and television, you can very easily have large crews.  Commercials can have 30 or more depending on the scope.  Feature films can easily have over a hundred, again depending on the scope.  Even a low budget feature film might have 30 or more crew people.

With a crew of 5 or more, chances are, File Management is your single duty.  And this is a good thing.. You can’t afford to get distracted and mess up your transfers.  On one of our feature films (the first one that wasn’t shot on film and was shot on digital), we actually had two file management crew people.  You might even be given the tile, duties and responsibilities of the DIT.  This means you not only do file management, but you’re responsible for the images on the set.  Dailies, one pass looks, etc.

The File Management System

file management video eventWe put forward the following system– you don’t have to do it at your shop, but have a system.  Cards, files and footage get lost and destroyed because a system isn’t in place or doesn’t get followed.

The File Manager will work with the Camera Assistant.. Make sure he or she is using a paper tape system—when a card goes into the camera, a piece of tape is marked with the letter of the camera and the card number. For instance, the first camera of the production gets “A” and the first card is zero one.. If a second camera is used, it becomes B and it’s first card is zero one, even if several cards have already gone through A camera.

Set up two open boxes for incoming and outgoing cards.. Go over the system with the camera assistant so that she’ll know where to drop off cards and where to pick up cards.. Make sure she tapes over the card contacts with the tape indicating the camera and card number before bringing it to you.

Hedge Your Bets

Use Hedge to transfer the card to your two hard drives.  If you don’t use Hedge, use another file management app.  Keep a good log of the cards you transfer.  When finished with the card, and verified that the data was completely copied, you can put the tape back onto the card, but not over the contacts and place it in your outgoing box.  The camera assistant can pick up cards to go back to camera from this box.  Make sure she knows that the tape back on the card, but not over the contacts is free to reformat.

The System

Make your system—use your system.  Problems that occur are almost always because the File Manager did NOT follow the system.  And problems at this level are cataclysmic.  Don’t be that guy.  Follow your system and you’ll do fine.

Top 5 Things to Look For in Video Studios

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Top 5 Attributes for Video Studios

Commercial Studio ShootWhen you’re looking for a production company with a studio to handle your video production needs, to be able to compare apples to apples, it’s important to know a few things.  And while many companies use studios for many different things, this list is for businesses and corporations looking for video and film help in these areas:

  • Commercials
  • Training
  • Social Media Marketing videos
  • Informational

This isn’t really about still photography, though the points do somewhat crossover.  It’s also not really about feature filmmaking where you’re going to build sets and have them for weeks or months at a time.  We have our own studios to use at SFilms, but we’ve also rented studios in many cities across the country.  (For a peek at the studios we have available, click here.)  What’s important to know when renting a studio for a corporate video shoot?  So let’s get to it.

Quality of the Studios – Facilities

When looking at video studios, take a look at the quality of the stages.  Did they adequately sound proof the studio?  Do you have enough power?  Are the ceilings high enough for sets and lights?  We have shot in studios before that might have had a nice new coat of paint and clean, but you could hear the traffic noise outside the doors.  Then we booked our client to come in and do a six hour presentation.  We can’t stop and wait for trains to pass.

Do the studios offer other facility needs?  Like dressing rooms, makeup rooms, green rooms.  Take a look at the parking.  Can you not only get there and park, but if you’ve got trucks or gear coming, do you have an easy way to access the studio you’re going to be setting up in?


Sometimes it does come down to money.  Studios will usually rent you the space by the day (and occasionally by the hour if you work with them a lot).  You also might need a half day the day before to setup and light.  And that brings up other services– studios have a rate for “dry”– just the room.  Or you might get a rate for supplying power.  Then lights.  And grip equipment.  Make sure when shopping for a studio, you know what the rate they give you entails.

Sizes and Types

video studiosStudios come in many different configurations.  Small might be the size of a large office (15 feet by 15 feet).  Others might be mammoth sizes where you could play a football game inside the space.  Make sure you find a studio that fits the job you need it for.  You don’t want to rent that large studio for one person talking head against a green screen.  It’s better to use the smaller one for that.  (Besides the obvious cost difference, sound is typically better in the smaller stages).

Then do you need a seamless cyclorama (cyc)?  White or green (or blue)?  Black?  A one wall cyc?  Or a two wall cyc?  Standing sets you can use? Studios will usually have a cyc of some sort, but make sure it’s painted for what you need.  Have them do that before you arrive.  Be aware that when you have a white, green or blue cyc, make sure it’s clean, especially the floor.  Studios have to often repaint all the shoe and scuff marks that occur in a production.


Does the facility have qualified people?  Many times, you might be bringing in a local crew, but studios usually come with a couple of people to grip and gaff for you.  Do they know their stuff?  You don’t want to ask for a power tie in and have the in-house guy stare blankly at you.

When you are shopping for a studio to rent, these are good things to keep in mind, to help get that apples to apples comparison.


Video Studios Dallas Fort Worth

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Video Studios

While a lot of our shooting for corporate video takes place on locations, often clients need video studios.  Serendipitous Films is fortunate to operate from studios offering 43,000 square feet of sound stages.  The studios are located in between Dallas and Fort Worth, 15 minutes from DFW airport.  Boasting three main stages, each one has extensive sound proofing, lighting grids, cycs and sets.

The facility offers greenrooms, dressing rooms, makeup room, and offices for clients and producers.

Studio A

video studio a news set

This large studio comes with several standing sets– news oriented programming and a car show backdrop.  These can be removed or covered with other sets.  Politicians and celebrities have used the studios for remotes to MSNBC, CNN and other news outlets.  Studio A is large enough to handle studio audiences and multicam recordings.  A control room is provided for the bigger jobs.

While we used the A Stage for feature film shooting (featured in the movie “Rising Stars” with Barry Corbin and Fisher Stevens), it is a great place to shoot corporate interviews, press release videos and internal communication videos.

Studio B

video studio bStudio B is a medium sized studio with a full head to toe green screen seamless cyc on one wall, and a two wall seamless white.  This versatile studio is where a majority of our corporate videos are shot.  They’re perfect for that seamless white look (a curved white cyclorama that shows no horizon line).  And the large greenscreen gives the ability to shoot multiple people and movement if needed.

Studio B is used for corporate training, social media marketing, commercial spots and many more.  Our client, the NASE, shoots a series of informational videos with us in Studio B.  We also shot our award winning Airbus Helicopter video using the seamless white cyc, shown here.  For that shoot, we took advantage of the white seamless to add dynamic animation that the actor could interact with.

Studio C

video studio c white cycWhile bigger than Studio B, the C Stage is purposely left unfinished and is the place for longer standing sets and projects.  It’s also used for holding studio audiences and having large meetings while on site.  It has a large one wall cyc that can be painted from green to white and anything in between.

So whatever your studio needs in Dallas or Fort Worth, we’d be glad to help and give you pricing.  Studios are usually rented by the day or half day.

File Management for Small Video Production Crew

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File Management Part 2

This continues our campaign to squash file mis-management once and for all.  In this part 2, we cover file management for the small video production crew.  As long as there’s been digital acquisition on the film and video sets, there’s been the need to ensure that digital content makes it back safe and sound to the edit room.  One time of losing a camera card is one time too many.  For Part 1, click here.

Small Video Production Crew

Okay, so first let’s define what we mean by a “small crew” for video production.  Sometimes, one person goes out with a camera and shoots all he or she can for the client.  Then maybe a second person is there to help carry the gear.  For interviews, a third person might be added to cover sound.  Or back to one person who does it all.  A small crew is one to three people.  So maybe you’re a one man band, or you’re the grip slash PA, but here’s our system for file management.

video production file managementThe Small Video Crew System

When you place the card into the camera, tear off a piece of paper tape that you keep with the camera bag, and with a sharpie, mark the camera letter and the card number.  The first one would be A zero one.  Place this tape over the card bay on the camera.  When you’re ready to pull the card, take the tape off, wrap the card contacts with the tape, and set the card aside in a safe place.  A card with the contacts taped means that card has NOT been transferred.  The new card gets placed in the slot with a new piece of tape on the outside of the camera, over the card bay. 

Off Loading

Then, when you get to the computer, take the card that has the tape covering the contacts out and insert into the computer.. Open Hedge and copy the card over to your two sources (we’ll explain Hedge in a future chapter).  If you’re not using Hedge, then use file manager or whatever software you’re using to copy over to your hard drives.  Once the card is transferred, and the footage is confirmed on the hard drive, remove the card.  Place the card backwards in the card wallet—it’s best practice to not use the card again on this shoot, unless you absolutely need it.  Stack the piece of tape on the card reader or computer.  As you go through cards, keep stacking the tape—you never know when you might need to go back through and see which cards got transferred and in which order.

The paper tape is a great way to keep everything straight.  Buy a couple of different rolls and keep them in the camera bag with a sharpie.  It should become part of your kit.  Think this is overkill?  You’ll wish you’d spent a few dollars on tape and markers the first time you accidentally delete footage.


Look for part 3 soon!

File Management for Production Companies

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On Set File Management

Production Companies Problems

One of the biggest “gotchas” that production companies can encounter is lost or corrupted footage.  It sounds simple: “Copy camera cards over to hard drive.”  But it’s the most critical job on the set.  You mess this up, and you can lose that great performance, that wonderful camera work, those awesome sets.  So to avoid this pitfall, let’s look at the tools you need.

File Management Tools

First of all you need a computer and hard drives.  Preferably two (or more).  Industry best practice is to take the camera card, copy it over to two different hard drives.  And make sure you copy to each hard drive from the card—don’t copy to a hard drive, eject the card, and copy from the first hard drive over to your back up hard drive.  If you have anything corrupt, you just copied that over.  Always copy from the camera card to your primary hard drive and your backup hard drive.

Software and Apps to Use

production companies on set file managementNow when you copy, you can use Finder (if you’re using Mac OS) or windows file manager and just copy the contents of the card over to the hard drive.  But how do you know there was nothing corrupted in the transfer?  There are several apps that will copy for you, and run verifications (check sums) to make sure every single 1 and 0 was copied over.  We use Hedge for the Mac—it allows you to copy straight through from card to hard drives, which speeds the transfer up a bit, instead of going through your computer bus.

Have a system.  Use one color box or colored tape for cards that need to be transferred, and another for cards ready to go back to the camera team (they’ve been verified).

In addition to the physical system, make sure you have a good file management system on the computer.  A master folder should be created for the Production.

Smaller Shoots

On smaller shoots, it might be that you have other jobs on the set—make sure you don’t get confused on file management.  For our video on the small video crew file management system, click here.  What good is it to help craft a well shot scene, only to mess up the transfer and that scene get deleted?  I’d say your file management duties are more important than any other job you might have on the set.  If you mess up, everyone’s work was practice for the re-shoot.  Yes it’s pressure—that’s why you have to have a system and follow it religiously.

One last word—I used the term File Management instead of DIT.  A true DIT also does first pass coloring and is responsible for the image being created on the set.  In corporate video, it’s mainly just managing the data from the cameras.  Remember—keep it straight!

History of the Camera Part 2

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History of the Camera Part 2

For part 1, click here.  The importance of this information is in giving you, the new camera production person, background into why things are the way that they are.  We discussed progressive film rate and interlace film rate in part 1.

The 1990’s

camera production companiesThe call was out for quality.  For decades, the television signals and standards stayed exactly the same.  But technology was starting to improve and though the television industry resisted change, eventually it to caved.  Why did they resist?  They have millions of dollars invested in equipment.  You change to HD and all that expensive gear would become garage sale material.

But eventually, the call for quality started to overcome the call for everything to stay the same.  Everyone agreed it would be called “High Definition” or HD, compared to Standard Definition or SD.  Again, just like the RCA/Philco battles of the 1930’s, Sony and Panasonic squared off, each pushing their own standard.  Sony wanted to double the NTSC quality– instead of 525 lines, they picked 1080.  Panasonic chose 720 scan lines across.  However, they claimed theirs wasn’t a quality loss compared to the Sony because they were doing “progressive” images like film.  But Sony stuck to their guns on 1080 interlaced.  Well today, the winner of the HD battle has been 1080.

And when HD was created, everyone wanted a wider screen, to closer match more the cinema ratios people were used to watching in the theaters, so instead of the SD square (ish), a wider rectangle was created, by making it 1920 columns by 1080 rows.  The 1920 was almost 2,000 (or 2K).  So now you can understand what 4K is.  6K.  now 8K.  It’s that column number.

Is DVD up to HD Quality?

So when a client asks for their video that you’ve shot and edited on DVD, is that HD if you shot it at 1920×1080?  No.  The DVD format is a Standard Definition format.  The best it can do is 720×480.  That’s it.  Doesn’t matter if you shot on a Red camera at 8K resolution.  To output your file for the DVD authoring, it will be at best, 720×480. You can play High Def from Blu-ray discs.  But most clients today need delivery of their video as a file, whether uploaded to a service like weTransfer, Dropbox or Box, or placed on YouTube or Vimeo, or copied onto a thumbdrive.  They just need the file.  We’ll discuss the compression/decompression factors in a future lesson.

4K and Beyond

But the difference today in the adoption of new standards, is that today’s televisions can display different standards.  So multiple choices are being offered.  And cameras have continued to get better.  Cameras have been shooting 4K for some time (so roughly 4,000 columns across by roughly 2,000 rows).  Why not go ahead and create televisions that can view this jump in quality?  So 4K televisions are for sale right now at Best Buy.

Why is this history lesson relevant?  Today’s production cameras have all sorts for settings for file size and frame rates.  It’s important to know what each of them does.

History of the Camera, Part 1

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Intro to the Camera

For incoming interns and new students of corporate film and video, we cover the basics of the camera and answer questions such as “what is progressive scanning?” and “what’s the difference between component and composite video?” and more.

Brief History of the Camera

Cameras were created in the 19th Century by utilizing glass to focus light onto a chemically treated surface.  As technology improved, glass got better and the chemically treated surfaces were improved.  By the early 20th Century, the cameras had become somewhat standardized.    Then motion picture cameras came along.  Same principle- but instead of taking one frame or picture, now a motor was created to speed the chemically treated surface (film) through the housing to enable taking many pictures each second.  This started by hand cranking the film through (resulting in variable speed– notice in those old movies all the action is sped up).  But motors eventually were added which led to a standard of 24 frames per second.  Each image was exposed in it’s entirety, creating a “progressive” order in the images.  And these cameras were all mechanical.

Now for Television

Then television was invented.  Now, images were created electronically, not mechanically.  Since the United States was leading the world in the new technology of television, a group of bureaucrats and engineers sat down (actually mandated by the FCC) to create standards so that everyone who bought a tv could see the same programming.  Up to this point, you had RCA making television signals with 400 or so scan lines across, and Philco making theirs with over 600 scan lines across– the signals weren’t compatible, so the government stepped in.  This group called themselves the National Television System Committee (nice name).

In 1941, this group, with the acronym NTSC created the television standard of 525 scan lines at 30 frames per second.  (Important note: the television would “draw” the odd lines by skipping every other one on it’s way down to the bottom and then go up and fill in the even lines.  It would do this every second, so each pass was called a “field.”  This procedure is referred to as “interlace.”  So technically, the NTSC standard was 60 images a second).

Creation of Color TV

When color was brought into the industry in the 50’s, the NTSC mandated that it must be compatible with everyone’s black and white set.  So the three signals of info that create a color picture had to be composited into one signal.  Thus “composite” was born.  Meanwhile, the rest of the world took what the US had done and improved on it.  The PAL standard was created much closer to the film rate and had 25 frames per second.  The scan lines were an improved 625 lines across.  And when color came around, PAL redid it to keep the three color signals separate or “component.”

And this was the way it stayed for decades.  Watch Camera History part 2 for more (coming soon)!

Harvey Cleanup Continues in Houston

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Harvey Cleanup

Every house has piles like this.

Along with clients, we also have friends in Houston who were hit hard by Harvey.  The SFilms crew put away the video cameras and put on boots and gloves and got work for a couple days.  One friend’s mother’s house was a total loss.  The 89 year old woman was safe (rescued by boat), but her belongings were pretty much gone.  Among the antique furniture, we found her photo albums from the forties, fifties and sixties– they had been under the flood water.  We’ve done our best to save them.

To read about our arrival, click here.  The work is incredibly difficult.  There’s the physical part– and it’s brutal.  The Houston humidity mixed with the August heat and it zaps you quickly.  One of our team members had some heat exhaustion.  But it’s not the physical that drains you the most, it’s the emotional.  Right now in Houston and Beaumont, there are hundreds of thousands of stories just like this 89-year old woman.  Across the street from her, an older couple was struggling.  The woman told me she’d been married for fifty years and nothing even close to this has ever happened.

In our neighborhood, crews from Second Baptist were everywhere– and it’s people like this make a huge difference.  The homeowners are in shock. It’s difficult to make decisions.  They need people right now who can come in and do the heavy lifting.


Houston Harvey Aftermath

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Houston Harvey Hurricane

With the exception of one fast food worker in Fort Worth, most people have heard about what the hurricane Harvey has done to Houston.  We’re reporting today from Houston where we’ve spent the last few days doing some filming and lending some helping hands.

Driving Down

The drive from Fort Worth Dallas was pretty much a non-event.  On Thursday morning when we left, there were some gas stations in the DFW area that were closed.  So we drove with the philosophy of refilling when we got down to 3/4’s of a tank.  But we never had any issues.  As we neared Houston, we still couldn’t see any of the devastation we were seeing on the news.  And fuel was fine and actually cheaper than DFW prices.

As we headed to our clients headquarters near the NRG Stadium, the only clue was a shut down of the Sam Houston Tollway as it went into Sugarland– we could just make out the water over the highway.  We arrived at our clients building and got to work.


houston harvey devastationWe drove into some surrounding neighborhoods and that’s where we saw the devastation.  It was a bright and sunny day (the second since the hurricane hit), and all seemed normal– until you see yard after yard of furniture, mattresses, dry wall, all stacked, in some cases over our heads next to the curb.

People were very busy cleaning up.  If you look at each house, the floodwaters left a mark where they topped out at.  Some were a foot.  Other neighborhoods had water marks much higher.  We talked with one survivor who hasn’t been allowed back to her house in Katy, Texas.  She’s told they still have four feet of water.  It was over their chest on the night that had to be rescued by the coast guard.

We helped one of our Encore friends clean out his house.  Old albums and pictures ruined and tossed in the trash.  The “keep” pile noticeably smaller than the “trash” pile.

Houston Strong

houston harvey refugee cotsWe are able to see first hand the strength of these people.  And not just Houstonians.  We saw trucks with license plates from Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana and others.  Everyone wants to help and that brings people to tears here.

Some people have insurance.  Some don’t.  We talked to one woman who has lost literally everything but the clothes she’s wearing.  Her co-workers at Mattress Firm brought her a bunch of clothes.

We stopped by the refugee center at the NRG Stadium, (host of the Super Bowl six months ago).  There were blackhawks flying constantly overhead, mobile command centers set up in the parking lot, and supplies stacked, being distributed.  One of the center’s guys told us they were not taking individual donations anymore.  They could handle pallets, but not the smaller stuff.

houston harvey NRG stadiumToday, Saturday, we’re going to some more houses to help the cleanup.  We’re short of masks, water proof gloves and water boots or waders.  There’s no more plastic gas cans on the shelves.  But the Houston spirit is strong and alive.  And there is an amazing amount of love, generosity and community down here.