Why Your Next Gig will be in Web Video

Sometime last month Jason Fried (@jasonfried), co-Founder and President of the web industry standard-bearer 37Signals, decided to break new ground and hire a full-time filmmaker. This is nothing new for a company that has prided itself on always jumping on trends before others: It’s flagship project BasecampHQ was one of the earliest mainstream web-based applications. Not only that, the code Basecamp is built on has become an internet juggernaut forming the backbone for sites like Twitter, Soundcloud and Hulu.

Needless to say, there are plenty of reasons why new-hire Shaun Hildner with a camera at the ready will add much to 37Signals’ brand and following. According to Jason in his Inc. Magazine article, “Video is a great way to show off a company’s personality, people, culture, and customers. It helps humanize a business.” And he’s right; it’s super affordable to shoot, produce and edit micro documentaries nowadays thanks to the HDSLR movement. While a website, twitter account and even podcast appearances can do much to project a company’s “essence” it can be argued that a 4 minute web doc can do all that and more.

Why should this matter to you? Well, more than likely this is the beginning of a trend for regional urban filmmakers. First, companies are more image conscious than ever. The business transparency movement is gaining steam so thousands of startups and media savvy companies may look to hire similarly – or at least short-term contract work. Secondly, as the mobile smartphone revolution continues, a splash video for any website, social media account and business that lays out: Who we are, What we do, How we do it – in a concise, professional video will be essential.

This promo video for the Evernote app is a great example.

But that won’t be the only gig goldmine. With the news from The Daily Beast that Google is finally spending real money on original content, we are entering an age in which web video will finally be taken seriously for media consumption. Big rumors remain that Netflix may follow. In the Tech TV world, there are already shows with a great following on web network Revision3, notably Tekzilla and including Film Riot. As freelancers, you’ve probably already worked on plenty of web promos, ads and testimonials. Soon are the days where you will be working on full-fledged web series, online indie film premieres, and subscription webstreams. The best thing you can do is position yourself to get these gigs and learn or buy the technology necessary to stay ahead of your competitors.

My advice? Dive into the web television culture any way you can. The desktop Boxee app is free and syncs with a lot of the content. A Roku is very affordable and allows you to stream content to your regular television. And of course, you can pore over popular YouTube series as well. My personal favorites being the thought provoking “TED Talks”, indie music art of “La Blogotheque”, and comedy puppet show “Glove and Boots”.

How about my readers: Any web trends you’re noticing? What are your favorite web shows?

Cool Find: An Open Letter to Canon

Thank you Doug Bayne!
‎”I had dreams of making cinematic masterpieces, for less than the price of a new dog”. Haha

All jokes aside I think that’s the major misconception from many people who go out and buy a real nice HDSLR and expect it to spew out pure effortless gorgeousness. Now, in fairness, these cameras make it MUCH, MUCH easier to create professional visuals. But, like any thing that is worthwhile and artistic, it is still a craft.

I can’t take a crash course in carpentry via Mahalo or YouTube and expect to be able to build a well-crafted treehouse though I wish it was possible.

Passion will take you really far, but nothing will ever overtake talent, experience, knowledge, and lots and lots of lessons learned mistakes and failure.

Do you agree with Doug??

Step Up to the Rate

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-Hat tip to visual artist N.C. Winters (@ncwinters). Be sure to check out his entire comic series “Freelance Freedom”. Trust me, you’ll laugh and you’ll relate.

About a month ago, DP & Director Philip Bloom posted on Twitter a screengrab from someone’s online ad offering a Sony F3 Package with Shooter for an unheard of rate of 200 Euro per day – roughly $284 American-. We’re talking an entire kit of gear as well including: a Zeiss Lens set, an LCD Monitor, a Rode Shotgun mic, and 2 Sennheiser Lavs. Philip had this to say: “…if I were to take them up on that offer, I would give the cameraman a chair to sit on and ask him to get me a coffee every now and then whilst I used his gear!”

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-Insane visual proof

This got a lot of people talking on Twitter about freelancer rates and what to charge, especially so as to not undercut the competition – usually your fellow colleagues. So since the topic has been breached, and will remain a hot topic amongst freelancers for quite some time, I will begin by talking about one of the first things you will encounter, “What are your rates?”

Now, the first thing everyone will tell you is that rates are always a challenge. Not only do you account for the regional cost of living, but also: market saturation, competitive rates, cost of overhead or gear, experience, talent, and your own availability. The first thing you should really do in this situation is to take a look at your competition. Some people post their rates online but a majority will smartly list them as: negotiable. On a sidenote: a lot of people will say posting a rate will help weed out cheap clientele. I have always believed that the quality of work on your website and client list should speak to what potential rate you will be charging. Plus, there are the rare gigs that have a far better tradeoff of exposure, a client relationship, or a barter of services.

If you are without a professional network, then you most likely will end up cold-calling or emailing area filmmakers and TV industry professionals.  You can even use this as a networking opportunity. Make sure to ask how many years of experience they have on the job. This research will allow you to create a baseline for yourself. You can also call local Production companies and Post-Houses and see what they pay their freelancers.

In Bloom’s article about rates he had a good point about someone just starting out. He lays out a path in which a shooter does around 3 jobs pro-bono of differing styles, for example: music video, commercial, and video podcast. Once those gigs are under your belt they become a marketing tool to acquire paying projects. Obviously at an early stage in the game, you are in a weakened position. My advice, is to choose the 3 clients you would like to offer pro-bono work to, as opposed to answering online ads. The people actively looking to give someone “experience” are probably just looking to exploit a young pro.

The major key to all of this that baseline to go off of. Not only are you not underbidding yourself, but also your area colleagues. Situations like the above with the Sony F3 and shooter will only dilute the rates for the true Pros who have bills and a family. And once you set a bar with a new client so low, it’s hard to get a legitimate rate out of them in the future. Keep that in mind.

It all comes down to knowing your worth. Your skill level, your enthusiasm and creativity all matter in this math you are attaching to yourself. Also realize that freelancing is like your social world. You’re going to have your blind dates, acquaintances, best friends, and long-term relationships. You can tailor your rates higher for a one day gig and a little lower if it’s a 3 week one.

How about my readers: How do you/did you go about defining your rates?

Do just as the big dogs do, Never as they tell you to, For though they hate you when you’re tall, When short, they like you not at all. – The Titanium Rule by Elaine Lee

How to Create a FCP7 Field Editor’s Toolbox

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Many Film/TV Editors, when out in the field have experienced this: A client on the fly asks you to use their machine (laptop or desktop) to quickly change the opening cut of a piece using their Final Cut Express and quickly re-export and post a Windows Media File (wmv) on the web. OR, you are brought into an edit in which the company’s Macs aren’t up to date with all the proper codecs and tools to do what the job asks for.

One such event occurred for me when I was on a gig. My boss asked me to rip footage from a promo DVD, add some graphics and alter the cut and re-export. Then burn to a new DVD to play in a loop during a Live Event. I felt as if I had my pants down, but luckily the venue had wireless internet. This, however is not always the case so it helps to be prepared. Not just because of a lack of HIGH SPEED internet, but the time necessary to download when you could have it all on a trusty USB flash drive. It’s very common that on-site everybody ends up sharing a WiFi network and in these situations your web speeds can severely suffer.

USB Flash Drives are sturdy, durable, and rarely corrupt the data that you place on it. And, data sizes go up to 128gb currently (possibly more) and will continue to rise in the future. Obviously one thing to keep in mind is the higher the file size, the longer the transfer will take as opposed to a Thunderbolt or Firewire External Hard Drive. But, as a backup they rock!

Things to dedicate to your Field Editor’s Toolbox:
1. Program Backups
2. Quicktime Codecs & Final Cut Plugins
3. Project File Backups (Final Cut Pro, AfterEffects, Photoshop, etc.)
4. Stock Video, Images & SFX Libraries
…can all fit based on your needs, drive size, and organization.

PROGRAMS: Here is what programs I currently keep in my flash drive (as a .dmg) and I believe you should too. You could be a lifesaver on a project no matter what your role is.

1. Quicktime 7 Pro – $29.99

2. Perian – “the swiss-army knife of Quicktime Components” – FREE

Perian enables QuickTime application support for additional media:

* File formats: AVI, DIVX, FLV, MKV, GVI, VP6, and VFW
* Video types: MS-MPEG4 v1 & v2, DivX, 3ivx, H.264, Sorenson H.263, FLV/Sorenson Spark, FSV1, VP6, H263i, VP3, HuffYUV, FFVHuff, MPEG1 & MPEG2 Video, Fraps, Snow, NuppelVideo, Techsmith Screen Capture, DosBox Capture
* Audio types: Windows Media Audio v1 & v2, Flash ADPCM, Xiph Vorbis (in Matroska), and MPEG Layer I & II Audio, True Audio, DTS Coherent Acoustics, Nellymoser ASAO
* AVI support for: AAC, AC3 Audio, H.264, MPEG4, and VBR MP3

3. MPEG Streamclip – FREE
Outside of Perian, easily one of the most valuable tools a Media “head” can have. It’s an extremely fast and versatile video player, clip editor, capture tool, and file converter. It has a PC brother too. It will allow you to rip footage from a non-copyright protected DVD as well.

4. HandBrake – FREE
HandBrake is a tool similar to MPEG Streamclip. What sets it apart is it allows you to rip DVD content across the board for digital archiving. It also has some really easy to use pre-sets to take Video Files and export them for mobile devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, PSP, Blackberry, etc.).
Popular blog Lifehacker released some of their own HandBrake presets that are better optimized for current devices.

“To import our presets, choose go to Presets -> Import in the Handbrake menu and select the preset files you just downloaded and unzipped. That’s all you have to do. They should appear in the Handbrake presets panel, available for use.” via Lifehacker blogpost.

5. Flip4Mac Studio – Costs $49
…But is cashflow well spent. As much as we creatives work alot on Macs, a majority of your clients own a PC and a majority of them DON’T have Quicktime Player (especially an up to date version) installed. This basically allows you to export and play WMVs.

6. DivX for Mac – FREE
This is just a good DivX and .AVI codec to have. Not essential for editing, but for playback.

Apple.com has a great list of others you may want or need and they are all here. Alot of these are open source as well. Make sure to search “Video” at the MacApp Store.

CAMERA SPECIFIC CLIP BROWSERS, FILE CONVERTERS/IMPORTERS:

Per each shoot, each camera you will encounter may have a proprietary software associated with it. Be it RED One, Sony XDCam Series, Arri Alexa, various HDSLRs and many more. Make sure to know ahead of time what camera you will be working with and update or download any relevant software. Some video gear companies have gotten wise and there are some amazing solutions that convert any signal directly to Apple ProRes 422 or record it natively. These include: AJA KiPro & KiPro Mini, Sound Devices Pix 220 & 240, or Atomos Ninja & Samurai.

PLUG-INS

1. FilmImpact.net Transitions Bundle – FREE

One last thing I keep in my mind is the FREE online file conversion tool (no need for software) website called Zamzar.
Types of Conversions:
* Document formats
* Image formats
* Music formats
* Video formats
* E-Book formats
* Compressed formats
* CAD formats

Good Luck. Hope you heed my advice!