Our Thoughts…

Seven things beginner photographers and videographers should stop thinking.

Share on Facebook+1Share on TwitterShare via email

Even an iPhone can produce incredible quality videos or photos.

Just got a camera? Been put in charge of media for your company and have no idea where to start? Wanting to pursue a new hobby? Either way — awesome. We love video! But we wanted to offer some advice for beginner photographers and videographers who might be a little green or feel in over their head. Here are seven things YOU NEED TO STOP BELIEVING. Right now.

1. You can’t grow or improve if you have cheap equipment.

It’s often said, “The best camera is the one you have on you.” We think that’s a really polite way of saying that the nicest camera in the world means nothing if you can’t use it properly. There’s a whole culture of iPhoneographers (phone companies are putting out phones with 13MP front cameras for nicer selfies.) out there who achieve beautiful videos and photos with the tiny rectangle they keep in their pocket — you can learn far more through trial and error on a crappy piece of equipment that forces you to make the most of what you have to work with than you can through just picking up an expensive DSLR and thinking that makes you the next big thing.

2.A good shot will make crappy content better.

There are plenty of amazing pieces of work out there shot on low-end cameras and edited with inexpensive equipment. On the contrary, there are visually stunning things that, quite frankly, start and stop there. That’s why Tree of Life wasn’t nominated Best Picture. Whatever you’re doing, make sure you’re capturing something worthwhile, something people will care about and the project actually makes sense.

3. You don’t need a tripod.

Tripods are one of the few things you should actually spend a couple bucks on off the bat (and seriously, a couple bucks). Why? Because no matter who you are, your hands are not as steady as you think they are. And tiny little shakes (which look way worse up close) are the easiest way to totally take away from the quality of your project. There’s simply no substitute for a tripod that can easily handle the weight of your gear and give you ultra-smooth movements.

4. Throwing a filter on will help.

Hey, you know what would make that crappy photo look better? Throwing some faux film grain on top of it, amirite? Thanks, Instagram, for teaching a generation of shutterbugs that sepia makes something high quality. Learn to use Photoshop, and back away from the Filter menu and instead turn your attention the Adjustments menu. The only way to learn these things is to play around (and YouTube tutorials of course).

5. DIY is cheesy.

Your high school art teacher might have shown you how to use flashlights and papers to bounce flash or even how to make your own green screen, but that stuff’s child’s play, right? Yeah, no. You can actually achieve real quality through these DIY methods if you just learn how to do it right. There’s nothing laughable about a low budget.

6. When in doubt, auto-focus.

Once you actually plunk down the dough on that high-end camera, it’s tempting to give into intimidation and just auto-focus everything. First of all, that’s basically your camera giving you a fish instead of teaching you how to fish — you know, that whole thing. Learning is an important part of the process, and if you start off depending on auto-focus, it will be a harder habit to break. Secondly, like all technology, it’s not perfect. Once you develop instincts for focusing, you’ll find it looks far better than auto-focus ever could. Nothing like that “human touch!”

7. Software is everything (aka “Fix it in post!”)

You can take thousands of photos in a night and shoot hours of footage and make it look pretty decent with the help of software. But it will make the post-production process so much easier if you just pay more attention to what you’re actually shooting. If you have more forethought in the shooting process, it will make editing far more efficient.

What kind of brand image should a video company have?

Share on Facebook+1Share on TwitterShare via email

Brand image is a part of everything sold — even animals.

“Brand image” is thrown around so often in marketing that it’s becoming cliché to talk about. But clichés aside, it is still an important thing to think about. If you’re hiring a video company, this is one company that should definitely be projecting a clear and strong brand image — after all, they need to help you communicat your image. But what’s the right kind of image to have? Fun and eclectic? Buttoned-down and corporate? Somewhere in the middle? Here are some things to consider.

What does ‘brand image’ really mean?

Simply put, brand image is the balance between how a company wants to project itself and what people actually think of it. And sometimes, these two elements can be worlds apart.

In essence, it’s how the company communicates their mission to the public, how they convey who they are and what they want you to know about their experience. It should show what they’re proud of, what they’re best at, and what working with them is like. Ultimately, it’s about what a company stands for — what they’re for, what they’re against, and what stand they take.

It’s all about the choices that they make in how they portray themselves, and it can be a huge indication of how they work.

Why is you’re video company’s brand image important?

It’s simple, really — they’re responsible for your image, so they should know a thing or two about their own.

If you work with a company that has little to no understanding of what their own image is, or doesn’t work hard enough to establish an image, how can they possibly care about yours?

You also have to remember that you’ll be showing up on their web site and portfolio if you work with them — so you should assure yourself that they’re someone you’d want to associate with.

Mission and purpose is also a big part of a brand image, so those should be communicated outright on their company web site. This means more than just “we make videos and we do it well.” What they stand for should be out there and clear: maybe it’s that they like a pleasant shooting experience, maybe they’re all about speed, maybe their mission is supreme quality. Whatever it is, it should be on their sleeve.

The vibe that a company portrays publicly might be totally different than how they are when it comes down to putting their heads down and actually working. But you don’t know that. And why would you want to put that much risk into a video project?

What is the “right” image for a video company to have?

It’s a little subjective because some factors do ultimately come down to personal taste. But we have a few things you should keep in mind.

The “fun guys” may seem like they’ve got a handle on the whole creativity thing. But remember that there’s a time and place to be “in your face.” On the other hand, if you go too far the other way into stuffy, you might get a company that doesn’t read as creative.

You want a company that knows not just how to be bold, but when to be bold. Do they talk big game about what their artistic values are, but they are suddenly silent when it comes to talking about staying on budget and on schedule? Do they have a mile-long client list but no bios (or experience) listed on their staff? A company that brags isn’t a bad thing — they just have to brag about the right things. And the right things are what’s important to you and your project.

The most ideal brand image to look for in a video company is one which puts their skills, accomplishments and values at the forefront without apology, one that shows a clear understanding of not just video but business, and of course, one that’s visually stylish.

You only get one first impression, so go with a company that grabs you on the first impression.

If your rebranding isn’t amazing, don’t bother.

Share on Facebook+1Share on TwitterShare via email

Smart Set had a failed attempt at rebranding before closing.

If “branding” became too much of a buzzword three years ago, “rebranding” is on the same track.

“Rebranding” has become a tool of the desperate, the down-and-out and the exhausted. For many, it’s the last plea before the fate of a brand is sealed.

There have been successful rebranding efforts — but there have been many that were downright disastrous. The problem with re-brands is that rarely do the “big” re-brands ever really result in significant forward momentum. Of course, everyone loves to cite Apple’s introduction of the iPad as the year that the brand not only became relevant once again, but became a dominant cultural phenomenon. But for every Apple or Old Spice, there’s a JCPenny, Ernst & Young, Pepsi and the 2012 Olympic logo.

This week, Rietman’s announced that it would be permanently closing 31 of their Smart Set stores and refocusing the remaining 76 locations into their other brands, which include RW&Co, Thyme Maternity, Penningtons and Additon Elle. Smart Set’s fiscal failures come off the heels of — you guessed it — a failed re-branding. Rietman’s tried to focus the brand to attract a more serious and career-focused woman when it had previously focused on a younger, more fun style. And the rest is history.

So if it can be done, why are so many companies screwing it up? Why are so many rebranding efforts so mediocre? There’s a lesson to be learned here: do it right or don’t do it at all. And here’s how you do it right:

Own up to the real problems

The first step in fixing a problem is admitting that you have it. So maybe what these products really need is a good therapist to sit down with them and talk about what their problems actually are.

For example, Smart Set avoided their real problem (they were losing the young demographic to more affordable but lower-quality chains such as H&M) by simply choosing to go after a totally different demographic, which they later admitted “confused” their customer base.

But this lesson is a take-away for anyone. If you’re trying to give your company a new voice, look or style because things aren’t going well, you have to fully understand why things aren’t going well. This can be hard to do because admitting that you screwed something up is never easy. But it’s necessary in marketing.

Why did your last commercial not result in increased sales? No, really — why didn’t it? Did you come off as too desperate? Too vague? Were you sloppy? These things might hurt to admit, but if you’re not fully aware of why you’re taking things in a new direction, you’re not going to go in the right direction.

They don’t think enough about the audience

When companies are in dire straits, they often have to take a very self-centred approach — get their own heads above water, get themselves to dry land, build themselves up. There’s no time to think about everybody else.

Unfortunately, when you’re a company that serves, you know, people, you have to actually think about, well, people. That has to be reflected in your operations as well as your marketing.

When JCPenny felt its ship sinking in 2013, they released a video advertisement practically pleading shoppers to come back, which came off as desperate and seemed transparently self-centred — “We need you. We’re desperate. Please, come spend your money here.”

If you’ve messed up and you want to make it right, focus on addressing specific matters related to client and consumer experience — that shows that you don’t think of your customers as dollar signs.

The approaches are shallow

Visual re-brands are one of the simplest things that have a surprisingly high impact. Maybe it’s Apple’s all-white stores and rounded-corner influence, but tons of brands seem to be going for more minimalistic logos, sans serif fonts, a real less-is-more approach.

Beyond logos, there have also been changes to store layouts, the way ads and videos are produced and even brand practices and policies.

A lot of it screams, “Look at us! We’re current!”

There’s a real push to be “current,” but many ignore that sometimes “current” just doesn’t work with your brand. Look at Coca-Cola — a brand that has (in a hilarious contrast to Pepsi) barely changed their logo or brand image over the past century, and is hailed for its “classic” approach. Even as they adapt to the Instagram generation, Coca-Cola has never tried hard to be seen as a “current” company — they have enough faith in their own brand identity to not rely on that.

For example, if you look at your videos and their evolutions over the years, are they merely a reflection of a currently popular style, and do they seemingly change with the wind? There needs to be an underlying sense of self which allows you to be recognizable amidst your shifts — it’s part of integrity.

So should anyone bother rebranding?

Not if you don’t need it. If you’re bored by your own brand but things are working, why fix what isn’t broken? And if you do decide that a fix is in store, it’s better to take a measured and deliberate approach then to simply dive into an expensive facelift that doesn’t actually address any of the problems it was having. Will a new logo or a video with a totally dark edge really grab people, or do you need to change the lingo in your ads? Will your product a total facelift do the trick, or is it merely a matter of making a small move to specifically address a demographic you lost touch of?

It’s not an easy process, because there’s a lot of anxiety tied to it — your future could very well depend on it. But just know this: a new logo isn’t going to fix things.

Do you want a hands-on video production company?

Share on Facebook+1Share on TwitterShare via email

A hands-on video production company is hands-on in more than just the production itself.

How hands-on a video production company is usually isn’t the first factor in choosing a company. People or companies who take the first foray into video production consider these specific parts of the process, but understanding what you want during the experience — not just what you want out of the end result — is crucial to determining who you hire.

What does it mean to be hands-on?

You might think any firm is a hands-on video production company. After all, video is hands-on, right? The cameras and equipment doesn’t operate itself. But there’s so much leading up to that day (or days) of shooting that the production company can either have a say in or not — it depends on how involved you like them to be.

A hands-on approach means a more guided process. They will be someone you can bounce ideas for your visions off of and they can work with you in a collaborative way — where as a less (or not-at-all) hands-on video production company would simply put the trust in you to plan all of these things, might not come at you with working knowledge of your industry, and is merely there to do the actual production.

Why might you want a hands-on approach?

If you’re the type of person who suffers from creative block or aren’t used to coming up with something creative to begin with, it’s better to gravitate toward a more involved company. These types of companies tend to create a back-and-forth dialogue about vision and creative development.

But it’s about so much more than just the pretty, creative stuff. For one thing, they tend to have an investment in the project beyond the production and post-production — they can talk to you about reaching target audiences, creative development and distribution.

Most importantly, it’s about management. These uber-involved companies will probably be asking a lot of questions (so please, be patient) about your budget, schedule and the many, many factors out there which can affect those (seriously, there are dozens). Scope creep, budget overruns, missed deadlines — they’re conversations that you’re going to have.

Why might you not want it?

Hands-on production companies aren’t for everyone. In some cases, it’s a budget concern — often the cheaper companies are ones who become less involved and hands-on with a project because that does require more man-hours.

In other cases, it might simply be that you’re not comfortable seemingly feeling like another company is managing you so much. It can be an intimidating or annoying process for some, having a bunch of questions asked that you already know the answer to. Just make sure you’re not moving away from hands-on just because of this — the idea that they’ll breath down your neck or micromanage is a total misconception.

Before you decide

The most important thing to remember when choosing a production company is that the hands-on guys are trying to help, not stifle. And while getting “full control” with a more “cheap and cheerful” company might seem like a privilege, you also need to remember that they might not be there in a way that a more involved company would — so if you need help with casting, securing locations, risk management, scheduling, budget, etc., you might find yourself on your own.

A hands-on video production company may seem like something you don’t need, but be very careful when considering the options — don’t shy away from a seemingly more involved firm because the process seems too intense.

Marketing, kids, gender roles and the 21st century

Share on Facebook+1Share on TwitterShare via email

There has possibly never been a toy or even a single product as ubiquitously condemned by feminists as Mattel’s Barbie.

Whether lashing out at Barbie for her unrealistic proportions or criticizing her previously unambitious academic goals (see the “Math is hard!” controversy), Barbie has had a long way to climb in order to be taken seriously as an aspirational figure for young girls. And while Barbie has explored numerous career paths in the past couple decades (astronaut, veterinarian, race car driver, just to name a few), it just hasn’t been enough for some critics.

Barbie is still enough of her contentious figure that every now and then, an attempt at a “Barbie alternative” comes out and gains notoriety in the press (the most recent attempt being the Lammely Doll).

Recently, the book Barbie: I Can be a Computer Engineer danced across the Internet and garnered a lot of reaction, despite being released in 2010. Sounds like an awesome concept, right? STEM fields are known for being male-dominated, and with recent controversies such as GamerGate, it’s great to see Barbie breaking down gender stereotypes. Unfortunately, the book focused largely on Barbie’s ineptitude at the computer and her inability to complete a project (or save her computer from a virus) without the help of her male friends.

It’s generated a lot of criticism (including this particularly raging blog post, be warned for language). So much that’s prompted Mattel to issue a retroactive apology for the content of the book, saying it doesn’t fit with their current “vision” for Barbie.” One of the best replies to the apology was a remixed version of the book, available for download, which shows Barbie kicking total coding butt without the help of her two bros. There’s also the trending “Feminist Hacker Barbie” hash tag.

But the book and the weird, delayed controversy has prompted a healthy conversation: do toy companies have to be more conscious of gender roles? And how can they adapt to the 21st century’s various social changes?

It’s not just about girls

So-called “girl toys” have been the target of criticism for their reinforcement of stereotypes for decades. But there’s another side to that coin. Male-directed toy commercials tend to promote a more aggressive, powerful, even at times violent form of fun.

Even in commercials not directed toward children which happen to feature children often portray boys as more rambunctious than girls. There’s still little done to address the fact that boys can be sensitive, quiet and artistic.

Boys and girls should be written and portrayed in a way that reflects just how different they can be. Not every girl is a softspoken princess, and not every boy is a rambunctious hellraiser.

It’s not about pushing anyone toward one particular role

While it’s good to let boys and girls know that they can be anything they choose, that’s not to say that girls can’t be princesses and moms, and boys can’t be soldiers and scientists. There’s nothing wrong about subscribing to traditional gender roles.

It’s simply about presenting options and making those options limitless.

That means that toy companies need to try a lot harder. They need to stop using the same old tricks, writing the same old lines and using the same music and style. It’s about variety, not about one set way.

And that means Barbie needs to pursue some new hobbies, and more importantly, have a different approach. If Mattel makes an engineer Barbie but she still has her perky, “I can’t do it alone!” attitude, is there much of a point?

How can you help it (or hurt it)?

Kids are sponges. They soak up everything around them. And they notice when the way kids are portrayed on screen (even for things that aren’t directed toward them) is the same across the board. It causes a lot of them to think they have to fit into a particular mould.

Realizing the role that you play in that development is vital. If you write or produce media with children in it, you play a role — there are no questions about it. As a creator, you must understand that you are what shapes kids’ ideas of how the world is and how the world should be (FYI, kids generally don’t know the difference between what’s showing the world as it is and the world as it should be).

And it’s not just people who market toys — it’s anyone who chooses to put a child in a commercial and give them lines, give them directions, create an identity.

We often think it’s difficult to take on a “socially responsible” role as marketers — which is why people were shocked when JCPenny portrayed a same-gender couple in their ads. Not everything has to be as obvious as The Body Shop’s “Meet Alex” ad. We can, in fact, empower girls and boys to be who they want without turning it into a big educational campaign.

The simplest way is to simply look at kids around you — real kids, not those on TV — and notice how different they all are, and how many traits they have which aren’t dictated by their gender. There are girls who climb rocks and boys who like drawing and girls who love tea parties and boys who love soccer, girls who yell and boys who are scared easily, and everything in between. When you write for a kid, think, “Am I writing this the way I think boys/girls should act? Or am I writing this the way I think children should act?”

We end on a note from comedian Sarah Silverman, who offered some oddly inspiring words in her 2013 special, “We Are Miracles.” “Stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. I think it’s a mistake. Not because they can’t, but because it would have never occurred to them that they couldn’t.”

20 things you should never say to a video company.

Share on Facebook+1Share on TwitterShare via email

So you want to make a video. You’ve realized you can’t do it yourself. You hit Google and you find yourself a video production company. No matter who they are, you can guarantee they’ve seen and heard it all — so they’re used to dealing with some crazy requests. But there are some things you should just rethink before you say.

1. “You can just fix it in post, right?”

2. “Whatever you want is fine.”

3. “I have this Bitmap image, can you blow it up?”

4. “We need to film our CEO… but they don’t want to be on camera.”

5. “What can you do for $500 that is amazing?”

6. “What is your hourly fee to shoot?”

7. “My boss just asked me to get a quick quote to shoot a corporate video. Can you send that to me today?”

8. “I have an old VHS. How much to convert it to HD?”

9. “We just need you to film it. We’ll have one of our students edit it for us.”

10. “I don’t understand, it’s a five-minute video. How can it take a whole day?”

11. “How much to make us look like our competitor?”

12. “Come back to me with your pitch.”

13. “Can’t you just show up and see what happens?”

14. “It’s totally cool, I have a friend who knows somebody there and they won’t mind us filming.”

15. “The cops are totally cool with you filming there.”

16. “Can you just climb up that little scaffolding thing there and grab a quick shot of this?”

17. “So I just found out we have this amazing opportunity to capture footage for our project. The thing is tomorrow night. In Sudbury.”

18. “Do you do weddings?”

19. “I’m just not feeling it.”

20. “The imagery doesn’t have the right essence.”

1 2 3 16  Scroll to top