Letting Go

This past weekend our film, Opening Our Eyes, Kathmandu, Nepalhad its premiere in New York City. We have been in dozens of film festivals and events all over the world but for whatever insignificant reasons, we had never screened in New York.  I think of NYC as my “hometown”, even though I have never lived inside “the city”. It’s where many of our friends, clients and colleagues are and it has been our “home base” for over 35 years.

Despite the fact that the temperatures were in the single digits and there had been a major snowstorm the night before, so many of our oldest and dearest friends, along with some new ones, showed up. Even Nisha, a young Nepalese girl who is in the movie – came out on that cold night. I have been in front of many audiences over the years and have enjoyed it immensely, but I can honestly say that this was the most meaningful experience I’ve ever had. To be able to share my film – a body of work that I put a lot of hard work, heart and soul into – with my peers and people I’ve known since my beginnings, was pure joy.

In a way, the night brought things full circle in regards to the film.  A lot of filmmakers “open” or premiere in their hometowns.  Once again, I did things a little backwards, by “closing” in my home turf, as this may be the film’s last festival screening. I don’t have plans to pursue more festivals – but I never know what’s lies ahead, in the way of opportunities, and am open to possibilities.  This project and this journey have rewarded me in hundreds of ways and no doubt will continue to enrich my life. The film will still be available for screenings at educational venues and community events.  It’s also available on DVD and streaming.  My daughter, Erin and I made this film to inspire and motivate others to create positive change in our world, and we hope that message continues to spread globally.

A young filmmaker I met at one of the festivals I attended told me, “a filmmaker never finishes a film – he(she) just knows when to let go.”  I am able to “let go”,  because I know that this experience has set the stage for the next events in my life.

“Everyone has Oceans to fly, if they have the Heart to do it. Is it reckless? Maybe. But what do dreams know of boundaries?”
 
– Amelia Earhart

The Biggest Mistake Photographers Make in Video Post-Production

English: High end linear editing suite, 1999.
English: High end linear editing suite, 1999. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll make it simple and provide a quick answer to the title statement  – “What is the biggest mistake photographers make in the post production process, when they are just starting out?  They think they need to do it all them selves.

Photographers are independent creatures by nature. Most are solo entrepreneurs who create visual content for a living. But when they enter into the business of video production, unless they have decided to work solely as a hired camera operator, they will have to deal with a lot of other creative needs and variables – producing, lighting, shooting, sound, editing, music, motion effects, sound mixing, and color grading to name a few.  Unless you are pursuing a career as a backpack journalist, which I have the utmost respect for; you can’t possibly do it all.  If you try, you will either go broke, or you will put limits on the quality of your product.

I know how to edit – meaning I know the editing software.  But that doesn’t make me an editor.  I realized early on, how the craft that a good editor brings to a project could greatly raise the bar on what I produce.  Generally, I try to look at all my shot footage and do a very rough first edit.  This not only familiarizes me with my material, it helps me keep costs down. I did that on my film, and with 150 hours of footage, it was a long and tedious process.  But it also made me intimate with what I had shot so I was helpful to my editor and it made the collaborative process very creative and focused on the story.

Too many photographers stop them selves from getting into video because they think they have to learn how to edit and that it would be another huge software program to learn.  Don’t let that be a stumbling block.  You can delegate that task to someone who already knows how. More than likely you won’t be composing music for your videos or creating complex motion graphics. You don’t need to learn and do everything and in fact, working with an editor frees you up to start working on another job.  It’s a more profitable use of your time, especially when you are invoicing the post-production costs as part of the job.

There are times when I love to work in a solo style or with a very small crew.  I love the intimacy it brings to the production.  But when it comes to post-production, working in a collaborative way with other professionals is one of the things I love most about video production.  It has been a very powerful and creative force in my life and has challenged me in wonderful ways.

6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Take a DSLR Video Workshop

So many photographers think that buying a DSLR capable of shooting video and taking a workshop on how to use it, is all they’ll need to do in order to get into the business of video production.   They couldn’t be more wrong.  It’s kind of like someone buying a really “good” camera, and thinking that’s all they need to be able to shoot a professional photography assignment.  And yet, so many of my professional photographer colleagues continue to think that it’s about the camera, instead of the skill set.

For starters, most of the professional video productions I do,I wouldn’t be able to shoot with a DSLR camera.  Don’t get me wrong, a DSLR can produce stunning video, but those cameras  fall short on certain tasks.  More importantly, they won’t necessarily meet the expectations that many high-end advertising art directors require. red cameraYou’ll look like a fool if you show up with your DSLR kit when they expected a lot more in the way of gear.

I get quite annoyed when I see the proliferation of DSLR video and filmmaking workshops that mislead photographers that this “tool” or camera will be sufficient for any and all video assignments – because it won’t.  It may be fine for a wedding shoot and I even made a feature length film with a DSLR, but for a lot of corporate jobs I shoot – it just doesn’t cut it.

My advice to photographers who want to learn video:

  • Learn how to think and shoot video.  It’s not just about the camera. When I shoot motion, I’m thinking and shooting much differently than I do for stills.
  • Pick the right camera for the job.  That means you’ll have to know how to use a traditional video camera or a more sophisticated camera like a RED or hire someone who does.
  • If you contain your video experience and knowledge to the DSLR, realize that your competition will be fierce.  The buy in price is low – so you won’t be the only one who thinks they can buy a relatively inexpensive camera and go after video jobs.
  • Stay away from DSLR workshops.  They are way too limited and limiting.  Plus, they are based on technology that changes way too fast.  It may be tempting – but you’ll place yourself in the lower end crowd and will most likely be competing on price.  How low are you prepared to go – or can you go and stay in business.
  • Learn video and/or filmmaking the right way.  Don’t make it dependent on a particular camera.  Learn the cinematic language and how to translate the message in a motion medium.
  • The business of video is much different than that of still photography.  If the workshop you are thinking about taking doesn’t address sound business practices – move on. You can lose your shirt on a video production if you don’t know how to price and/or structure your shoots.

Think about it.  If you were just starting out and learning photography – would you take a workshop that was about a particular camera?  Obviously not, so why would you approach learning video that way?

For more information about video production check out Gail’s guide  The Craft and Commerce of Video and Motion

5 Tips for Filmmakers (and other artists) for Building an Audience

The good news for Indie filmmakers, musicians, photographers and new media artists is that technology enables us to take control and distribute our own work to the masses or a more targeted niche audience.  The bad news is that even though we are able to reach a global audience without giving the lion’s share of our profits to an agent or distributor – it’s a lot of hard work.

When I completed final production on my first feature documentary, Opening Our Eyes, I knew I was hardly finished with this film, not if I wanted people to see it. theater interioeIMG_0150Since most filmmakers make their movies to be seen, they need to decide how they want their movies distributed and marketed.  As a filmmaker, do you want to delegate this task to a distribution company or do it yourself?  Will you be one of the lucky 1% of filmmakers who get their films picked up for distribution?  If not, do you have a plan on how to do that?

1. Identify and build audience – Regardless if you decide to sign with a distributor or distribute your work yourself, the most important part of marketing and distributing a film is to identify and build your audience – and you should start building your audience before the film is finished.  As soon as I made a commitment to make a film, I started blogging about it.  I created a blog specifically about the film where my daughter and I talked about preparing for and taking a 99-day journey around the world. I also wrote about the making of the film on this blog where I talked about gearing up for it as well as the post-production process.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was building our niche audience.

2. Have a social media plan:

  • Decide on platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, YouTube, Vimeo
  • Carve out the time to engage
  • Decide where the content will come from – behind the scenes photos or footage, blogs, podcasts?
  • Who and where is your audience? Find other Facebook groups or pages and followers who are interested in the same topic as yours.  Collaborate. Build your Twitter followers same way.

3. Finding true fans – Since most filmmakers will most likely NOT have a mega hit with huge profits, the best thing a filmmaker can do is build their “true fan” base.  First you should ask yourself how many “true fans” would you need to sustain yourself as a filmmaker? And by true fan, I mean people who are willing to buy whatever you are selling, be it a book, a DVD, a music download or a t-shirt.  The key to growing your core “true fans” is to engage them by sharing interesting content as opposed to just selling something.

4. Be consistent and stick with it – Like anything else, building an audience takes time.  Be prepared to constantly interact and engage your audience by sharing relevant and interesting content with them.  You’re building a tribe or a community.

5. Find likely partners – Making films is a collaborative effort.  Similarly, for filmmakers to be successful in marketing their films they need to find their core niche.  One great way to find your niche audience is to identify like minded groups and share links.  The non-profit my daughter works for partnered with us and we frequently share each other’s news with our followers.

How Video Has Helped My Still Photography Business

After a slow spell, which I can’t say I ever get used to after 30 plus years of freelancing, the phone started ringing.  The calls were all in regards to still photography assignments.  Having been a still photographer for most of my life, that wasn’t unusual, but what was interesting was that I beat out my competition – other still photographers – because I knew video.

Times have sure changed. When I started exploring the medium of video, over 15 years ago, I didn’t abandon my still photography10Ft.WaveI simply added another skill set.  Most of my clients over the years have hired me to shoot one or the other, and sometimes both.  But what I see happening now is that as print moves to electronic delivery, my still photographic clients are also looking for a “photographer” that can shoot video components on a still photography assignment.  They need multimedia content for mobile devices and online platforms that cry out for movement and sound.

I don’t think of myself as a “still photographer” or a “videographer”.  First of all, I absolutely hate the word videographer because it smacks of a dated notion of what video used to be.  I think of myself as an “imaging professional” or sometimes a “new media producer” or sometimes just a “storyteller” because that’s what I do – I tell a client’s story, or deliver their message to their targeting audience.  I don’t define myself by the tool I use.

With convergence happening not only in the cameras we shoot with but in the media we create, I will opt for the “tool” or camera(s) that enable me to tell the story I need to tell, in the best way possible.  I’ve been thinking that way since I first forayed into video.  It’s nice to know that now my clients are thinking that way too.

Moving Into Motion – What is Your Why?

Over the last couple of years, in addition to maintaining my video production company and making a feature film, I have been teaching seminars and consulting still photographers who are thinking of getting into “motion”.  Many times I start out by asking participants why they want to get into motion.  The most common answer I get is “because it seems like that is where everyone is headed”.  That is perhaps the worst answer and reason a photographer – or anyone else, can give.

I suppose I could just do a show and tell and demonstrate the cool gear I have and how to use it, and I do talk about gear, but I would be remiss if I didn’t stress the “why” question.  Video is a medium that is all about story telling.  While a still photograph can also tell a story, video, by it’s very nature of incorporating visuals and sound, has the power to deliver a message or story in a very emotional way.  This is why many non-profits use video in their fund raising efforts – they have found that when they deliver their message with video – people give more money.

I got a call recently from someone who had just lost a close relative and they wanted their personal affects photographed.  My first question of course was why.  The obvious answer would be that they wanted these “things” archived.  But what they really wanted or the why in this case was that, these items evoked memories and memories are attached to feelings and it is those feelings that people want to archive when someone close to them dies. So, I felt my job was to capture and preserve those feelings for the ones who are left behind.  I knew if I didn’t approach the job like that, I would end up with images of just “things” and that would be more like a catalog of objects.

I was trying to unravel the “why” because that is what I’m best at.  My cameras and other tools of my trade – don’t do that for me – my heart and mind play a major role in that process and I believe that many times, this is what sets me apart from my competition. Photographers who don’t question the why, end up with images or video that may be beautifully executed but don’t emote or tell the story in a meaningful way.

I thought that perhaps the best way to approach this “job” would be to add a voice to it.  Even though the deceased can’t tell their story – their family and friends – can.  I also knew that I didn’t want to confuse the issue with video interviews because it could be a distraction, rather than add to the overall piece.  The decision was made to approach the job as a multimedia piece, using still images and sound recordings from relatives.

Interviewing is an art and it’s also something that can either make a piece strong – or end up as a disaster.  Like a bad script, an interview can either strengthen a piece or just as easily, weaken it.  It really is dependent on the person who is doing the interview. When done well, interviews will bring a unique voice and point of view to a project and that cannot be copied.  For example, I could do an interview with someone and hit all the right marks that I’m going for, as far as tone, emotion and connection.  I could give someone else the same list of questions and ask them to interview the same subject and they would get entirely different results.  It all comes down to rapport and that is not a one size fits all type of thing. Interviewing skills are difficult to teach, because invariably people want more of a black and white list of do’s and don’ts of the process. A great interview is really about having a good conversation with someone – but you leave your part out of the piece, when you edit it.  It’s comes down to good listening skills and rapport.  Sounds easy, but people either have these skills or they don’t.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the years that I’ve been shooting video and I always start with the “why”.  Why is it that I am really good at interviewing my subjects?  I can’t really pinpoint the reason(s), other than to say that I’m really interested in what people are telling me – and they sense that.  That’s just me and it always has been.

I became a photographer because of my insatiable curiosity in peoples’ stories – not because I was interested in photography.  My camera is a means to that end, whether it is a video camera, a still camera or a camera that is capable of shooting both.  I always start with the “why” and pick the camera and medium that best answers that question.

I am currently working on my 3rd ePub.  It is about the business of motion/video with lots of great tips and advice that will help you stay in business as you cross over into other mediums.  Stay tuned and in the meantime – start defining your “why”. Check out Simon Sinek’s TED talk – it will inspire.

Vision vs Trends

I find that many creative (and not so creative) people confuse the meaning of the two words – vision and trends.  When someone has a vision, they see past the status quo, whereas by the time something becomes a trend – it is status quo.  Seems clear to me, and yet for the most part, the common perception of what a trend is – hot, successful, youthful, revolutionary – really isn’t visionary at all, because by the time it becomes a trend – everyone is doing it.

Case in point.  Four years ago, when I joined the board of ASMP, some may have seen me as a visionary because of my early foray into video.  Four years later, it seems like everybody is doing video.  Does that make me a visionary?  Perhaps.  But I need to make a very important point here, and that is when I started shooting video almost 15 years ago, it was not because I had a vision, that the future of photography would be video.  It was because I saw myself then – and still do – as a storyteller and one who delivers the visual message, with whatever creative tools do it best.

I get super frustrated with people who define me by the type of camera (tool) I choose to use.  Anyone who has heard me speak, knows my mantra is “it’s not about the tool”. So for anyone to narrowly define me by this one particular medium – video – instead of  understanding that I foresee the  “future of photography” in the broadest sense of the word “photography”,  – are only seeing me through their own “narrow” lens.

I’ve spent a lifetime, trying not to pigeonhole myself into one genre or medium and to stay true to myself and what my instincts are telling me, rather than to jump on the latest trend. I can tell you this – by the time something is trendy – there’s nothing gutsy or visionary about jumping on that bandwagon.

Being visionary is:

  • Taking a risk based on instincts instead of emulating the latest trend.
  • Being concerned about the substance of something – not just the packaging and the veneer. Thinking that way will make you outlive any trend.
  • Being afraid, yet still being brave enough to act on what your inner voice is telling you.
  • Managing to be bold enough to come forward with an idea that is not the popular opinion du jour.
  • Not getting in your own way by seeing yourself through only one narrow lens – In the early 1900’s, when the automobile hit the scene, the folks in the horse and buggy business who saw themselves in the transportation business survived – the ones who saw themselves as in the horse and buggy business………well we know what happened to them.

I won’t get into politics here, except to say that sadly these days, so many of our world “leaders” are not visionaries and we desperately need leaders who are. But that takes courage and going against the status quo.  It’s far easier to follow others, after they have paved the way.  That’s not only a lack of vision – that’s bad leadership.