Friday, March 10, 2017

A Picture Equals 1,00 Words? Than a Moving Picture Equals 1,000 Times That

Just started a contract shooting video blogs for a marketing company. For a client, there's not a lot of cons to doing this.

First off, in case you don't know, a video blog is a blog done on video. Not a big surprise right? Instead of writing, you're talking. It can be directly into your computer, using some video recording app, or you could hire someone like me to come out and make it look good (sorry if that sounds like bragging, but I'm honest enough to acknowledge what I can do).

Why do it? Same rreasons as regular blogging, with one chief difference - people like watching videos more than they like reading words, Sorry, written word, but that's a fact these days. A picture is worth 1,000 words, and a moving picture is worth 1,000 times that. Not only do you establish yourself as an authority in your field, but you're doing a better job introducing yourself to people - your personality, your mannerisms, your unique sense of of humor, verbal quirks... In other every thing that makes you you, and what keeps the memory of meeting you alive in people's minds.

Then of course, there's the inherent advantages to web video itself: much higher conversion rates, the fact that web videos are much likely to go viral than other posts, and the fact that search-engine algorithyms (like Google's) simply add greater weight to video, so your page is that much more likely to land on the coveted first page of results for a given search term.

The perceived downsides to video blogging include the hassle of recording a new Vblog (as video blogs are called) each week - or month, or day, or what-have-you - people's nataural disinclinaion to appear on camera, the perceived cost of it, etc.

There are respones to each of these onjections.

As to the time and hassle involved, you just have to remember that, unless your content is extremely time-sensitive, you don't have to record, say, a weekly blog every week. What I'm doing for this particular marketing company I just signed a contract with is taking one day a month to shoot all four of that month's video blogs. Just upload them once a week. I've done that for real estate agents, financial planners - anyone with some advice to impart, and who want to use video blogs as a chance to give potential clients a taste of that advice and the professional it's coming from. Just block out two hours a month. Not hard, right?

You don't like being on camera? Hire a spokesperson to do the V-blogging for you. Now, if you're trying to sell yourself as a brand, this is obviously not going to be a helpful approach. But if your brand is not necessarily yourself - maybe it's your company, your product, your expertise - why not get a poised, well-spoken pro be the face of the company? You can still set up a YouTube channel for all your videos, and you can key in your logo behind the spokesperson. The only difference is that you yourself are not there. Believe me, there are plenty of non-union actors out there who would jump at the chance of getting the regular exporsure and the regular work.

Which brings us to the third objection: cost. You're talking about hiring a preditor like myself for a day or a half-day's shoot and getting this person to provide four minimally edited original videos a month. Believe me, you can get a pro to do this for $500 or less. Get a professional spokesperson, you can expect to add maybe another $100 to that figure.

The benefit? The eternal benefit of exposure for your brand (whether that be yourself or your company), the immeasurable benefit of being regarded as an expert in your field, and the very quantifiable benefits of web videos in terms of conversions and SEO.

Look at it that way, and it's really a no-brainer.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Dream is a Plan

It's been a while since I wrote anything, so I figured it's time. What will it be about? I hope I'll know by the time I finish it. That's the way I roll.

I did an interesting shoot this week for a kid in the Far Northeast who was offering mobile sound recording services, plus producing, post-production, marketing, social media - the whole thing in one package. He was only about 20, but the fact that he was willing to shell out  $400-or-so a month for a Yelp ad featuring a video says a lot about his confidence in himself.

His set-up was small: a microphone (which he says he surrounds with some sound baffling) attached to his laptop. And that was it. Wonderful. I mean that without a trace of sarcasm at all. We now live in an age where one kid with a laptop can pretty much do everything a record label used to.

Now, of course, that's oversimplification: no matter how mcuh power your laptop gives you, there's only so many hours in the day, and so many of you (just one, in case you were wondering). Kids with big ideas frequently find that the number-one roadblock to their success is themselves. Their ability to set agendas, establish priorities, find enough time in the day and energy in their bodies to make their dreams a reality.

Do I have an antidote to this? Not really. Spotting these tendencies in others is always encouraging, because it shows me I've found a smart, dedicated invidiual who is willing to roll up his sleeves and get to work. He knows his stuff; he just has to do it.

What I would say to this kid and others like him is this: work hard, but work smart. Have a main goal in mind, but break that goal down into more easily attainable steps towards the main goal. And break those down as well. Break it down until you have a step-by-step, day-by-day plan to get you where you want to be. 

And be clear on that goal. If you want to be a rock star, then work on that. Understand the work involved, and do it. Study your craft. Study your industry. Inventory your stengths and weaknesses. How do your strengths help you do the day-to-day work of being a rock star, and what's your plan for keeping your weaknesses from hindering you from that goal?

Easy, common-sense stuff, right? The problem is, a lot of people don't know what common sense is. A lot of people don't know what they want. Or they know, but they don't believe it can be attainable. Maybe it is, but maybe it isn't. You'll never know until you try. And keep trying.

And keep yourself free of distractions. Don't let 'I wnat to be a filmmaker' morph somehow into 'I want a job in the film industry,' or worse, 'I want a job in the "entertainment industry",' whatever that chimera might be. The very first step is having the strength of your convictions, and the very first step to that is knowing what those convictions truly are. 

Only then can you really say, 'Yes, I can.'

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The World Through A Lens

Seeing life through a viewfinder, as usual.
It's the end of a photography day, and I'm sitting with my laptop on my knees with the intention of sketching out how I eke a living from this particular endeavor. Tomorrow I have a video shoot scheduled; two for Friday.

Photography is always something I've enjoyed, although somehow I felt like it was a cheat as an art form. You just point the camera and snap - light and chemicals do the rest. That view gives very little credit to the critical role played by the consciousness that framed this particular slice of reality and found some sort of unity in it. Aesthetics is one of those airy, vaporous concepts that, like Quantum Mechanics, defies all efforts to pin it down.

Most of what I photograph is Real Estate, particularly residential. Could be anything from a city penthouse to a suburban McMansion - I've done them all. Today was a commercial property and a row house in west Philly whose residents didn't let the fact that a photographer was coming over stop them from throwing garbage and old clothes on the floor. The real estate agent seemed visibly embarassed.

Center City Urban Deluxe
It's actually a pleasure to shoot a nice property. Often - particularly in higher-end apartment and condo complexes - the model will have been quite fashionably staged, and shooting it can seem like shooting a magazine spread. My prefered method is to get a shot from each corner of the room. I use a 10 mm lens: extremely wide angle, but stopping just short of fisheye perspective.

This way, you not only get the widest view of the space, but you see everything at an angle, cutting sharply across the frame. These strong diagonals give undeniable energy to a frame, and are particularly useful devices for leading the eye from one region to another, from foreground to  background, of a composition.

Balance is another aesthetic principle I try to keep in mind. I imagine the frame divided into quadrants, and the task is to form some kind of symmetry between the opposite, diagonal quadrants. Say, for example, the lower right-hand corner of a shot is of a beach. Leaving the upper right-hand corner blamk sky would seem unbalanced.  How about putting some striking clouds there? Or a flock of birds? Or some structure in the foreground, like a boardwalk? Before long, you begin visualizing scenes not only as the scenes themselves, but as diagrammatic collections of shapes that must be held in balance with each other.

This is the easiest of the things I do to make a living, but also the least lucrative. Face it - it's just as easy for the agent to take shots of the property themselves. You have to convince them that you bring added value to the process taht's worth spending money on. Equipment helps - having a lens your average hobbyist wouldn't, for example. Or, of course, having a drone, which is becoming de rigeur for real estate photographers who want to stay competitive.

It's a tough, uncertain way to scratch out a living sometimes, but I am forming a goal to make it all seem worth it. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Amazon Aestheticians of Princeton

Yes - Amazon Aestheticians of Princeton: formidable women wielding as their weapon the mighty laser abraser. I did a video - actually two - for these ladies today.

The video was for a new client of StudioNow's, who over the years have sent me a considerable amount of work. I'm always exceptionally excited to get a StudioNow job, because the pay is inevitably better, even if the video is essentially the same as a Yelp video.

This new client provides marketing and website-building services to doctors - sort of like iMatrix, except it pays a bit more. The job today was to shoot two videos for the same doctor, a plastic surgeon in Princeton, one for each of her offices. My friend Josh Staab came along to run sound and provide general assistance, a role he's been filling for about a year-and-a-half.

Now, not all the women were Amazons - just the office manager: a six-foot, dark-complexioned siren with a thick Serbian accent. A "real woman," as Josh said. The shoot was built around an interview of the doctor plus B Roll of the practice's machinery in use. There were more lasers there than you'd find in any two installments of either the Star Wars or Star Trek franchises combined. Plus, the office staff stripped down and took their places on the treatment table as stand-ins for patients while we shot the different procedures being performed on them. So basically, these ladies spent the workday primping and pampering each other while I filmed it. Not bad work if you can get it.

The day's shoot acted as a bit of a tonic to the bad news I reecived late last week: Destination America passed on the paranormal pitch that I made to them a week earlier. That was a bit of a surprise. When I spoke by phone to the manager of development at The Discovery Channel (which owns Destination America) a week or so ago, she seemed very enthusiastic about the concept. It fit right into their "space," she said, which is high praise indeed. Yet, in the end, they had a "limited number of time slots" to fill, and had to be "very selective" about the content they choose to take to the next stage of development. Yadda, yadda, yadda...

No matter. Jesper, my partner in Reel Stuff Entertainment, is adamant about going forward with a 10-15 minute pilot we shoot and distribute ourselves online. We demonstrate that there's an audience for this show, then go back to The Discovery Channel (or someone else) to see if they'll reconsider. Vince seconds this idea, and even suggests it might work as a Rabbit Bandini production. As they say - when Fate closes a door, she opens a window. Now the task is planning and preparing that pilot, which will probably start with a sit-down, on-camera interview with the "main character" of the paranormal show, just to get some video on him.

Stay tuned. This is one thread of the unfolding story of my life as a preditor, and we'll see how it develops.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hello again....

Jame Franco in The Long Home
So I was abducted by aliens, taken on a trip around the universe and, thanks to the dilation of the spacetime continuum as a result of my superluminal speeds, six years have passed since my last post.

Think that'll work as an excuse? No?

Okay then, the real reason I've been away from blogging is that I have no reason. I want to correct that and get back to blogging at least once a week. Hopefully more.

But I've been working. Prediting away, as it were. Doing the videos for Yelp, Zillow and the others, but I have to admit: that's been feeling more and more like a "day job" to pay the bills. The perks are still there - if I do a Yelp video for a restaurant, for example, the client will still likely as not feed me, as any good host would. There's no great ceremony involved: if we shoot a restaurant, the restaurant will want to promote its chief asset - namely, its food - which means that they'll make up some menu items for me to film. Then, after the filming is done, they'll feed the dish to me rather than simply throw it away. Not always, though. From time to time, they'll just whisk the food back into the kitchen after the shoot is done. Bastards....

Anyway, it has started to feel like a day job. How can it not? You do something for 12 years, it's bound to start feeling old. So I've been exploring other avenues of endeavor. Making films and videos for other outlets, for example. And, of course, writing. 

The big news has to be THE LONG HOME, a feature-film adaptation of a novel of the same name by William Gay which I co-wrote with my good friend Vince Jolivette. The film starred and was directed by James Franco, who is Vince's partner in Rabbit Bandini productions. Vince has produced a number of James' films, including SPRING BREAKERS, and was the screenwriter for CHILD OF GOD. I'm sure I've talked about him in earlier posts.

The way this all came about was this: Vince called me up one day out of the blue (which is how many of my stories involving Vince start out) to say he had this project he wanted to work on with me. Who am I to turn down a writing gig for James friggin' Franco, so of curse I jumped on it. Vince made the trip here to Philadelphia in late 2014 to outline the script and then, after he returned to Los Angeles, we wrote the script itself over the Internet, with Vince writing the first act, me writing the second act, and us tag-teaming the final act. 

I really didn't expect things to move as quickly as they did after that. After we came up with an acceptable draft, an opening apeared in James' schedule and THE LONG HOME was rushed into production. It was shot near Vince's hometown of Hamilton, Ohio, in May of 2015. It's likely to be released theatrically sometime in 2017, Vince says.

Adapting a novel is quite a unique challenge for a screenwriter. I remember being told once that short stories are actually easier to adapt into films than novels, and this experience has taught me why. There's just so much material that has to be jettisoned. And Long Home isn't that long of a novel. I can just imagine what they had to do with something like War and Peace.

Probably the first and foremost challenge is fitting the story into the standard three-act structure of a film. These days, many novels are written - whether consciously or not - in that format, and I suspect that the reason (aside from making it easier to attract film producers and screenwriters to the material) is that novelists of this generation have been reared on movies as much as books. That three-act format is written into their DNA.

Not necessarily so with The Long Home. Gay, a devotee of Southern Gothic writers like Faulkner, follows a literary tradition that isn't bound by the rules of Hollywood. In fact, Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness style almost precludes manhandling it into that standardized format. William Gay (who died in 2012) isn't as un-cinematic as Faulkner, but seeing his words transliterated onto the screen doesn't appear to have been that big of a priority for him.

And what lovely words they are. Gay writes in a visually rich style that recalls a languid summer afternoon in the South. His prose is poetic and dense, which rewards patience. A novel like this is not just a quick beach-day read. So how does a screenwriter transfer that emphasis on language to the screen?

What I did was try to pay close attention to the imagery being conveyed by the language. Images are something that can be filmed, and so gaining an understanding of the metaphorical lexicon Gay was compiling with his images was key to adapting the novel into a film. The rolling lineament of a western Tennessee landscape, the thrilling portent of an approaching thunderstorm, the way each relates to the myth-like story Gay is telling, with words so evocative you can almost hear the southern drawl in them  - picture that in your mind's eye, get that picture on the page and, hey, it's a wrap.

Alright, well, there are a few more steps involved than that (like hoping the director sees the images in the words the way you do), but it's a start.

And it was a start. I've since been hired to write a follow-up Gay project called LITTLE SISTER DEATH, and I'm flying solo this time - no co-writer. Vince also flew me out to L.A. last summer to do some script-doctoring on a Mad Max-like opus called FUTUREWORLD, and Vince assures me that a couple spec scripts of mine are in the production pipeline at Rabbit Bandini.

So, as they say in the TV biz, stay tuned. I ain't goin' nowhere.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Face Time Is Golden Time

Just came back from shooting a web video for a financial adviser in Wilmington, DE. This is one of several videos we've done for Ameriprise, Inc.

I'm actually constantly astonished by how few professionals have videos on their websites, especially considering how much they can benefit from having them. Say someone is looking for a lawyer. A listing will give that person a firm's name and address. An ad might include a picture and some copy about what the firm does. A video takes the firm's marketing to a whole new level.

A web video allows a lawyer (for the purposes of our example; it could be any professional) to make the case for himself directly to potential clients. A video gives potential clients a taste of the lawyer's appearance, demeanor, personality - all important factors when considering which lawyer to put your trust in.

Furthermore, lawyers in particular are adept at making persuasive arguments. That's an essential part of what they do. Well, if you're a lawyer, why not show off what you can do best: argue a case. You can't do that with an ad or a website without video. And you certainly can't do that with a mere listing.

Of course, it's difficult to get any professional to devote his most precious resource - his time - to sit down and actually shoot the video. What many don't realize is that the shoot itself will be an hour - 90 minutes at most - and can be done right in the professional's office.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and a video is worth a thousand pictures. To get a picture of what a Reel Stuff professional video looks like, you need look no further than the following link, which will take you a previous video we produced for an Ameriprise financial adviser. Check it out:

What else can I say to sell you on a web video? How about a statistic? Online listings that are accompanied by a video get a whopping 70% more views than those that don't.

I can't say it any better than that.