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Is Thumbtack Any Good?

By | Reviews, Tips/Techniques, Uncategorized, Video Production | No Comments

The Beginning of Thumbtack

SFilms was one of the first companies on Thumbtack.  I remember this new startup listings/lead service app that looked interesting.  I signed us up as a vendor.  But as I looked at it, it seemed more focused on B2C– plumbers, electricians and such.  Even though we had an account, I never really used it.

Then one day I was talking to another video professional in a different city and he told me he was getting a lot of leads through thumbtack.  I was puzzled– the only leads I seem to ever see were for people wanting a music video for $250.  He said that while yes, the majority of the bids were micro budget, by getting his foot in the door, he was able to find some good customers.  Okay, I decided, I’ll have to take a closer look.

Updating Our Profile

So I dived in.  I updated my business profile.  Worked on getting a review from an existing customer.  Set up the different industries and notification levels.  And I started getting email and push notifications for new jobs to bid on.  Event Video, wedding, under $500.  That’s not us.  And then some Corporate Video, Conference, under $500.  Closer.  But what if I could raise the dollar amount for jobs in which to get notified about?

So I did.  And in corporate video it worked.  But nothing I did would stop the event video wedding low budget emails and push notifications.  Nothing.  I had long since made sure I wasn’t even listed for that.  Didn’t matter.  Eventually, I don’t know if the bug was worked out, but 6 months later, I’m finally not getting all those.

The Thumbtack Process

Thumbtack’s SEO and SEM Push

thumbtack langing page corporate video dallasAnd let’s talk about the process.  A user searches for “corporate video company dallas” and thumbtack has aggressively gone after the SEO for these tags.  Kudos to them. So the user clicks on the thumbtack link which then takes them to fields to fill out.  What do you see?  A simple, clean window with a video production photo in the background, and a mention that there are XX number of professionals near you.  What’s your zip code?

So at this point, the user is still thinking that they’re searching for a video company.  But they’re not.  The user puts in her zip code.  Then a new screen with type of video you’re wanting.  Then another with other information.  All the while, the user is still thinking they’re just googling for “video companies in Dallas.”

dallas corporate video company

Eventually, maybe they fill out the few remaining screens and hit submit.  And now they’re getting five quotes.  Not what they thought they were getting in to.  No list of companies (look at the Thumbtack google listing– it reads “definitive list of Dallas’s video production.”  But you will never receive a list.  What you’ll get is the five fastest clickers in the area.

Because I get a ding on my phone. And email.  And I can read it and click to send in a bid.

Faster Clicker Wins

Actually no.  I can’t read it.  Because if I take the 8 seconds needed to read the bid and determine that this is the perfect fit for my company, I’m too late.  First five get to bid.  Doesn’t matter if they can do the job.  There is no vetting.   And for the jobs that fit us, we have to send in a quote in under 8 seconds.

Which BTW, the Apple Watch has dramatically increased our response time– I get the push there and can open and send pretty quickly.

Our Thumbtack Results

So what about the results?  We specialize in corporate video.  We shoot conferences and seminars all the time, with live on-site editing when needed.  We haven’t even gotten close.  And this might be part of the low bid wedding projects– corporate conferences are events.  So are weddings and birthday parties.  Thumbtack really needs to separate out B2C and B2B.

What about other corporate video jobs?  I tried my friend from another city’s advice and did a low ball for someone.  The problem with this strategy is that for some reason, the low ball clients end up being the highest maintenance.  And so you bid and do the job at break even or even a slight loss, but they’re not going to agree to up the budget on the next.  Just doesn’t work.

Two Jobs after Two Years

So to date? Two jobs.  This is after several years.  And lots of “credits” purchased (and they recently moved away from credits and just call it was it is “dollars.”)  Most people never even open up the quote.  That’s because when they filled out those fields, they didn’t really understand what they were doing.

And in fairness, let me mention one of those two jobs was exactly what we were looking for.  A corporate client needing event (tradeshow) shooting and onsite editing.  That was a win for both sides.  Unfortunately, this is an outlier.  Nothing else has even come close.  Thumbtack might say it’s my profile, or that I need more reviews.  I think the large number of unopened bids speaks to the fact many of these leads are simply not qualified by Thumbtack.  Sure, Thumbtack does refund you the money if someone doesn’t open the bid.  But what about those who gave a cursory open, but realized this thumbtack thing wasn’t what they were looking for.

To Thumbtack’s credit, there are situations that this service is great for.  I talked to one professional in another city looking for a local crew.  My rates were just too high, because she’s been getting a college student with a DSLR and that’s all she needed in these different cities.  Awesome.  Thumbtack works great for her.

Two Suggestions

I have two suggestions for Thumbtack.

  1. Find a better way for the bid process.  The five fastest clickers is no way to qualify vendors.  Either do away with the 5 quotes only rule or come up with a better way than a mad dash to submit in the few seconds after a job is posted.
  2. Qualify the Lead.  Let the user know what they’re getting into on the landing page.  Sure, you might not get as many, but the quality would increase, and that means something to your customers– Us.

Bottomline on Thumbtack

And I think this is the bottom line.  You need to have a “win” on both sides– the client and the vendor.  So that’s what Thumbtack is for– matching those who can do the video work for pennies on the dollar and still win, with clients that need a low cost solution.  If you seek a professional, skilled video company through Thumbtack, you’re going to get the five fastest responders, regardless of skill level, experience and quality.  Just fast on clicking.  You won’t be able to really do due diligence.

So google search for a video production company in the city you’re looking for and click on those companies and check out the website.  And watch their samples and portfolios.  Then contact the ones you like.  Unless you just need a warm body with any kind of camera.

Shared Storage Review

Shared Storage Review Small Tree Titanium Z5

By | Reviews, Tips/Techniques, Video Production | No Comments

Here’s our shared storage review of the Small Tree Titanium Z5 portable system.  We are not quick to review products– too often, product reviews are written right after receiving the product new and before there’s been time to work through bugs and get the product up and running.  So we are writing this review of the Titanium Z5 (TZ5) after we dragged the box through a heavy duty 8 day, on-location conference where we had four computers plugged in.  An important note– looks like Small Tree has renamed this product to ZenStor.  But I’m not sure at time of this review.

Our Need

Shared Storage Review Small Tree TZ5We are a video production company located in Dallas and Fort Worth.  We have clients who want us on site to video capture their events– conferences and seminars in many different cities.  Often, we need to edit onsite and deliver videos throughout the conference.  One client has an annual event that we do with a crew of 8– with three dedicated editors and graphic people.  In previous years, we all worked on individual harddrives, constantly swapping.  That wouldn’t do any more.  Especially in light of the fast turnarounds we needed to do.

The Shared Storage Search

I looked around at several companies.  At first, my idea was to take some existing large drives (I have several Promise Pegasus Raid arrays), and just do a ad hoc network.  But I am not a networking IT guy and with one of my editors bringing a PC to the party, I knew things could get hairy.  I searched the internet and found several products, and requested and received bids.  The TZ5 from Small Tree came in with the lowest cost, and it was made to be portable– coming inside a box with a handle (as opposed to the rack mounted solutions from others).

The Titanium Z5

What We Bought

Small Tree TZ5With the box, you get several options– first of all how much storage.  Small Tree’s storage was significantly cheaper than the other two companies I took bids from.  You get five drives and I chose 4TB drives for a total of 20TB.  Because I was estimating between 10 and 12TB of data at the biggest conference we shoot, this gave me plenty of room for Raid 5 protocol.
The second choice is the card to add ethernet ports.  You get two on the box, and then whatever you add with the one card.  I could get 2 more 10 Gigabit ports, for a total of four ports, which covered what I needed.  The other ports are 1 gigabit ethernet ports.  So 10GB ports versus 1GB ethernet ports for video editing?  For our HD shooting (mainly Sony FS7 cameras), I never noticed a speed problem with the 1GB.


My biggest concern going in was how easy it would be to get all the computers into this network in a box.  I don’t have a IT person I can lean on and it was going to be us editors connecting it and turning it on.  The people at Small Tree made it extremely easy.  They scheduled a time after the box arrived for us to do phone support and it was all done in under an hour.  Later at the event, we had to get the PC working, but again, less than an hour.  So I give Technical Support five stars.  We ended up connecting two iMac’s, a MacBookPro (the new one) and a custom built PC running windows.

How the TZ5 Performed

Overall, I was extremely pleased with the performance of the TZ5.  We never had lags.  We never had drops.  I ran the box on a UPS just to make sure.  During the eight days, it never failed.  And being able to access shared footage was an incredible time saver at the event.


I highly recommend the Small Tree portable shared solution.  The price was lower than the competition and because of that I was a little worried. But the TZ5 was an incredible value.  I can’t wait for the next event or conference we have to cover.

corporate video dallas with DJI Osmo

DJI Osmo Review – Great for Corporate Video

By | Corporate Video Production, Info, Reviews, Tips/Techniques | No Comments

Handheld gimbals are not new anymore, and the release of the DJI Osmo moves the handheld gimbal into the next generation.  Ever since we grabbed our small phantom drone, turned it on, and held on to it, moving around the location to get that “steadicam” effect, it was clear a new market (or call it a new tool for the videographer) was opening up.

Several years ago, we here at SFilms in Dallas purchased a relatively cheap powered gimbal (sold by a US distributor, but clearly made in China).  It required a GoPro, but we used the device constantly in our corporate videos.  It was taken on road tours for a corporate retail client of ours, for internal communications, and we used it on construction sites and other places as well.  And it fell apart.  We had to take screws from one side, to fill in ones lost on the other.  But using the GoPro gave us some flexibility.

Now DJI, maker of the phantom line of drones, has taken the gimbal and camera used on their Inspire drone, and stuck it on a stick.  Although I’ve had a history of disappointment with DJI (five times, their drones have simply fallen from the sky), there’s no where for this handheld gimbal to fall.  So here’s my rundown:

Receiving the DJO OsmoDJI Osmo in packaging

First, I ordered it, and it came with a few senseless accessories.  A selfie stick?  You can’t use that with the gimbal.  A cool pouch… but the gimbal already comes with a form fitting “miniature guitar” case.  So the pouch was unnecessary.  What I quickly learned is that a battery or two would have been an ideal accessory.

After unboxing, I connected it up.  For someone new to DJI’s app, it will be fairly confusing at first.  But I’ve had some experience, so I was able to get it working quickly.  The construction of the gimbal is pretty solid and well made.  The holder for the iphone or whatever you want to use as a monitor is very well designed and thought out.  I use a lot of ipads and iphones etc and I drop them a bunch so I use hard core cases.  That makes it difficult to mount onto things, but this holder is flexible enough to hold the iphone with the Lifeproof case.

The First Gig– Corporate Video Event in Ballroom


Then came the first big gig to use it on.  Here’s where I learned a lot.  The gimbal’s battery is a pretty quick burn.  Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to charge, but I jumped online and ordered some backup batteriesDJI Osmo at a corporate video event.  I also ordered an ipod touch.  Using my phone works well, but I was in the middle of text conversations with clients on my phone and using it for the gimbal became problematic.  A cheap ipod will fix that.

The gig was a corporate event inside a ballroom.  I quickly changed settings via my iphone.  The image was slightly better than my GoPro Hero 4.  But, as expected, not as good as the Canon C100 Mark II we were using as well.  I experimented with the slow motion settings as well as the 2.7k and 4k resolutions.


Although the Osmo is a great tool for BRoll, it does have some limitations– not great for a quick cold start.  Connecting the app can take crucial seconds when you rea

Osmo tilting

Image from the Osmo with the tilting going on making the image off level.

lly want to grab that handshake the CEO is giving the top sales writer.  You can just start shooting in the blind.  About one out of every five startups, my iphone does not recognize the Osmo’s wifi and I have to restart it.  And the camera lists to port.  I’m guessing this is because the iphone sits on the left side of the stick and so I think I start tilting left.  But reversing it sometimes doesn’t work.  So some of the footage is not level.  And double-clicking the trigger (which centers it) doesn’t have any effect on the level.

It was easy to get used to it because it operates similar to the cheap chinese one I’ve been using.  You rotate one way and the camera follows.  That’s how you drive it.  The thumb switch for manually moving the camera is not a great feature while shooting.  Factory setting is way to fast, so I slowed it down in the settings and use my wrist to turn the stick which will pan the camera smoother than the thumb switch.


In spite of the limitations, overall I really like it.  It will be a great tool in our arsenal for corporate video production here in Dallas.  If anyone has comments, I’d love to hear them.

Why I Struggle With DJI

By | Corporate Video Production, Reviews | No Comments
Testing the Octo with a GoPro before putting larger cameras on board.

Testing the Octo with a GoPro before putting larger cameras on board.

I use DJI products.  About 7 or 8 years ago, they saw the future and jumped.  Now they’re the Coca-cola of the consumer drone world.  Congrats.  So why am I hating on DJI?

It all started with an Octo.  This particular octocopter was a custom-build.  Of course 3-4 years and further back, everything big like that was a custom build.  For the custom builders, the best “brain” for running these builds, was the wookong, made by DJI.  This was the technology that told the drone what to do.  You inputted a command in the controller, it was received by the wookong and orders went out from it to the motors.

One beautiful twilight evening at a park in North Carolina, I was flying this octo with a $4,000 camera/lens on it.  I had just finished the run and was bringing it back to me in the parking lot.  About 90 feet up and 50 feet away from me, it suddenly flipped over, and flew into the pavement.  I don’t mean fell into the pavement.  The motors were accelerating.  This was the worst drone crash I’ve ever seen.  The only fortunate thing was that because of the flip, the expensive camera was on top, instead of on bottom.  It was the only thing to survive (though the lens was shattered).

The builder contacted DJI for me, and now, a year and a half later, I still have absolutely nothing.  I was promised a replacement wookong, so at least I could try and sell that to get a little of my investment back.  But the expensive gimbal?  Out of luck.  The FPV system?  Too bad.  The frame?  It stays a twisted pile of rubbish. The two $180/each batteries were toast as well.

I understand that 95% of the crashes are user driven.  This clearly wasn’t part of that 95%.  But that was just one thing.  And it’s not like the whole unit was DJI.  What if a component had interfered with the compass?  Who knows, so I can give a little break to DJI.

DJI Phantom 2

Flying the DJI Phantom 2.

So I have had several Phantom 2’s.  I’ve heard horror stories of fly-aways and such.  Here’s my experience (not urban legend).  I have many, many hours of flying.  For the most part, the DJI Phantom 2 has flow wonderfully.  On two different occasions, I have had flyways.  One time I was able to shut down and restart the controller and gain control back.  The other I didn’t and it crashed hard enough that that drone never flew again.  In that case, I had just taken off with new battery, when it just flew off to the right, gaining a little altitude until it crashed on a bridge.

The other problems I’ve had with the Phantom 2 have been unexplained behaviors.  Usually on a low battery, it starts with a slow blinking red light, then starts to blink faster.  Push it far enough and it will do an emergency descent.  All good.  I’ve had three occasions where the Phantom 2 just performed an emergency descent as soon as the battery blinked red for the first time.  Not good.  I did mark the battery the second time and the third time was same battery.  I pulled that one off the line, and it hasn’t happened since.

The last incident was the most troubling.  I was flying, three out of four bars on the battery, 70 feet up, when suddenly it fell to the ground, totaling the phantom and the gimbal.  On play back of the GoPro, it’s clear what happened– the engines totally stopped.  Even when problems occur, the engines will still spin.  This was a total engine fail.

I mention all this because DJI needs more stability in their computer-side of the drone activity.  People can get hurt if you’re flying and you get the drone equivalent of the microsoft blue screen of death.  I just purchased a R3D Solo and I’m hoping that the technology side is more dependable.

Maybe I’m totally off.  Maybe the vast majority have never had a hint of trouble from their DJI product.  One last thought I’ll leave with– WHy did DJI and GoPro have to fight?  Phantom 1 used the slot in the back of the GoPro for easy connection.  With Phantom 2, DJI refused to pay fee, so connecting is actually harder, and now with Phantom 3, you have to use their camera.  Bummer.

Slow Motion

Reviewing the Video Film Slider

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Video Production Benefits from Smaller Cameras and Cool Toys

With the smaller cameras, come cool toys and tools that can have a great impact on your production value.  As of late, there has been a huge boom in sliders.  I know I’ve been using them the last year or two– to the point where it goes out on every shoot.  Sliders are a simple basic replacement for dollies.  Now film and video productions can get great smooth right and left movement for a fraction of the cost and manpower.  You can even truck in and out with them and in some extreme cases, you can crane up and down.

At SFilms, we use a basic Glidetrack.  And recently, we bought a Slyderdolly from Digital Juice that has been pretty impressive.  It’s robust, strong, sturdy and comes with features and accessories that didn’t exist 18 months ago.

So here’s a practical show and tell about sliders– the problems, the solutions and how they can help.

Feel free to leave comments about your own Slider stories!  (Just remember we’re not talking little hamburgers).

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.