Our Thoughts…

10 easy ways to make the holidays nice and uncomfortable

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Mark, making it weird.

As 2015 rears its head, that can only mean one thing for us: we’re almost ready to stop talking about the holidays. But not quite yet. Because we love our families. We love our friends. We love food. What other times to those all come together so nicely?

Of course, it’s not always perfect. Everyone has their own holiday horror stories, and some can be downright cringe-worthy. And we provided a handy-dandy guide on how to make a holiday gathering as awkward as possible. You know… so you know what not to do.

10. Take work home with you. Shamelessly bury your nose in your phone or even tablet during dinner.

9. When someone wishes you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah or any other specific holiday, respond with a still-faced, “Happy holidays.”

8. Remember that alcoholic drinks are best enjoyed in large quantities and as quickly as possible.

7. Do not tell anyone about your dietary restrictions until the time has come for serving. Ask politely if the host has anything raw vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, low-fructose, ethically harvested and low in sodium. No? Okay, white meat is fine…

6. Insist upon the celebration of Festivus. Bring a Festivus pole. Use this as an excuse to tell your family members how each of them have wronged you throughout the year. Commence the feats of strength.

5. As everyone around you opens their gifts, loudly estimate the monetary value of each of them. And the return policy.

4. Participating in a gift exchange? You should definitely buy someone a gift from a store you have to be 18 or older to enter.

3. Every once in awhile, ask everyone to stop talking and turn the music down to check if Grandma’s still breathing.

2. Man, that turkey was so good. You might need to undo your belt after that. And to unbutton your pants. And the bottom four buttons of your shirt. Also, remove your socks. Just for good measure.

1. Discuss politics, social justice and religion. Use the phrases, “Just to play the Devil’s Advocate…” and “slippery slope” frequently. Remember, the best gift you can give someone this season is your opinion.

Throwback Thursday: 749 Nintendo Games in 15 Minutes

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Super Mario, undoubtedly the biggest success to come out of Nintendo.

Kids these days with their face books and their apps and their floppy birds! Why, back in our day, we had to walk through the deep snow, uphill in soaking poor excuses for boots just to wait outside the video rental place to come home with a big, bulky cartridge full of wonderment.

We’re a very mixed bunch here at Phanta in terms of demographics. Some of us came of age in the time of Atari and others (not naming any names) consider the 90s to be “retro.” But for some reason, the original Nintendo Entertainment System unites us all. And this video perfectly summarizes exactly why the NES was so ubiquitous, so lauded by kids and kids-at-heart alike.

This 15-minute smash-cut goes through nearly 800 game titles on the original Nintendo that saw many of us mashing buttons for hours or waiting patiently for our older siblings to hand over the controller (remember the dark ages of only two controllers at a time?). Word of advice: Play with closed captioning, so you can actually see the titles of the games. Some of these might not ring a bell right away.

Amazing how a fraction-of-a-second clip of an old 8-bit game can trigger such heartwarming memories. We loved it all. Excite Bike, Empire Strikes Back, Adventure Island, Dr. Mario, Fun House, Slalom, the wonderfully bizarre Burger Time, and of course, Duck Hunt.

And one thing this video also does is remind us of where franchises that have grown to epic proportions got their humble beginnings — like Final Fantasy, the Legend of Zelda, and of course Donkey Kong — the best bad guy redemption of all time.

One thing we might have preferred was if the games were ordered in chronological order of release and not alphabetical order, but we understand that that might have been a ton of work. Plus, it’s hilarious to see just how many baseball games there were released for the NES.

We also have to applaud NESGuide.com, the creators of the video, for accompanying the game with such a bumpin’ soundtrack. It’s that kind of hyperactive, slightly cheesy, synth-infused instrumental that perfectly captures what it felt like to be totally “in the moment” playing these games.

Just try to watch this without a smile on your face thinking about how awesome those games were (even if you only remember a handful of them — it’s probably a pretty great handful). You didn’t even have to be a kid at the time to enjoy these. You might have been sneakily playing your younger sibling’s or even your kid’s games. Or maybe you weren’t even born yet. We’re not judging.

It’s a long watch, but it’s still an effective smash cut — it’s straightforward and just uses clip after clip to get its point across. And that point is that NES was (and still is) awesome.

What drives you? Google and company culture

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Google's company culture is consistent internally and externally.

Every Wednesday as part of our new blog series, Phanta Media will be highlighting a company that we think epitomizes being driven by a single value. Whether it’s research and development, marketing or company culture, we wanted to show what you can learn from companies whose singular focus propelled them to the top of their game.

Company culture superstar: Google

Google is ubiquitous. True luddites aside, it plays a part in everyone’s everyday life (yes, even iPhone users). And as company culture plays a more prominent role in how we look at large companies, Google has come forward as a company almost defined by its culture. Sure, they’re an innovative company (but they almost always seem one step behind their main competitor of Apple) but they’ve never had the emphasis on research and development or marketing of their products in order to put them over the edge. Instead, Google is all about how they see the world, how they treat people.

Yes, it laid it on a little thick in The Internship, but Google really does believe that the key to its success is happy and healthy employees and a strong message put out by the company. And it’s done them some pretty big favours so far.

What company culture is to Google

Google focuses on company culture in two capacities: the company culture within the context of day-to-day operations and how they treat their employees, and the message it sends to the world through its public mission statements.

In Silicone Valley, companies aren’t just viciously competitive in who makes the best product; there’s crazy competition for who is the best company to work for — which is why so many employees seemingly float between the big companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. Retention rate at these kinds of companies is naturally on the lower side because of the way young and brilliant minds tend to get snatched up by others, so Google takes company culture seriously so that their own turnover can remain relatively low. They are, as a result of their practices, consistently ranked among one of the top companies to work for.

In the broader context of company culture, Google uses its “don’t be evil” culture as a public persona to help set itself apart from other tech companies without literally pretending to not be driven by profits.

How Google became anti-corporate (inside)

The “Googleplex,” as Google HQ is referred to, really looks more like a grown-up playground than an office in a lot of senses. Massages. Ping-pong tables. Arcade games. Nap pods. Sounds pretty cool, and it’s no wonder that tech start-ups and even larger companies strive to emulate the vibe.

But it’s beyond the superficial, the beanbag chairs and the table tennis. Just look at the term they use for what most of us call “Human Resources” — “People Operations.” They treat their employees like people. Of course, anyone can use that buzz-phrase. But here’s how Google does that: they recognize needs.

That means that health and wellness go beyond benefits. Free breakfast, lunch and dinner, chef-prepared and organic. Beyond health care, the haircuts, gyms and dry cleaning are free. While this seems like a really neat perk, it’s also going to result in productivity on Google’s part.

Because happy workers are good workers, right? More than that. When employees are not leaving to go to lunch, you have them for that much longer. When they don’t have to book time off to get a haircut, you have them that much longer. When they are not late (or leaving early) to get to the gym, you have them for that much longer. And when employees are actually going to the gym because they feel like they have the time and don’t have to worry about memberships or payments, you have them that much closer.

Their approach to such policies is simply based on practicality and evidence. When they found that women were leaving their company far more frequently than men, they increased paid maternity leave time. The result? More retention of women.

Google also, however, knows when to tone down its quirkier practices. After years of being semi-infamous for throwing crazy brain teasers at their interviewees such as “How many golf balls can fit on an airplane?” and crossing their fingers that prospective employees will give them back any answer other an “I don’t know,” Bock announced in early 2013 that these were a waist of time and only served to make the interviewer feel smarter. Their interviews are now far more conventional, which goes to prove that being different doesn’t work if it’s just for the sake of being different.

And how it became anti-corporate (outside)

Google’s formal corporate motto of “Don’t be evil” first appeared in early 2000 when they existed solely as a search engine company. It’s pretty straightforward and can mean infinite things, but in this original context it meant to avoid conflicts of interest and separate searches from ads.

The irony of this is that it is currently a legal requirement to differentiate search results from ads, so some critics have said Google should do away with the phrase since it’s really just adhering to a legal requirement at this point.

But Google has continued to embody “don’t be evil” in other senses. Another mission statement published early on was Google’s “10 things we know to be true,” which toted, among other things, “You can make money without doing evil.” They’re straightforward — they don’t pretend that Google isn’t making money. They identify Google’s users as both their advertisers and those merely using Google’s services.

This helps the company because, like their internal culture, it shows that they’re people-focused without reeking of PR-created phony baloney.

Lastly, a vital part of Google’s image and culture is that what is important to their users is more important than what’s important to them. Their culture is our culture, and they celebrate that through acts such as their year-end round-up videos.

Why we can’t get enough

Even though Google fancies itself a do-gooder and a cool place to work, we like that Google doesn’t pretend to not be a corporation. They don’t fluff up their “don’t be evil” angle and act like they’re making the world a kinder, happier place. But they do own what they’re good at. They’ve developed a nature for anticipating needs of both their users and their employees, remedying them before it’s a problem.

We also love that their company culture is insistent both in and outside of Google’s HQ. They don’t claim to be one thing and then completely abandon that when it comes to how they treat their employees. They’ve understood the basic idea that happy employees are good employees, keeping turnover low is good for business and HR should be people-focused.

Five lessons young companies can learn from Google

  1. Don’t be different just for the sake of it.
  2. Create policies based on experience and proof, not because they “seem cool.”
  3. Be honest about the fact that you’re making money.
  4. If you see something becoming a problem in the future, don’t sit on it.
  5. Happy employees are good employees.

Video and drone laws: what you need to know.

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OK Go's drone camera worked becuase the scene was cleared just for the shoot.

In only a few years, our understanding of drone technology has gone from something out of science fiction that only the rich and powerful had access to, to a really cool piece of technology almost anyone can own and use as a hobby or a work tool. Now our understanding of drone laws needs to catch up.

It’s not uncommon to see drones used for aerial shots in videos — one of the most recent examples was OKGo’s newest music video, “I Won’t Let You Down,” which, in typical OKGo fashion, used the drone camera to capture a grandiose display of choreography. Of course, sometimes people just prefer to use drones for cool shots of nature, landscapes, cities, landmarks, etc.

The demand for these kinds of shots is higher and higher. So we think it’s important that people are aware of the laws and ethics surrounding drones. Did you know that much of the footage acquired by drones is acquired illegally?

While there are still a few moral grey areas around drones, Transport Canada has already drawn out some clear, enforceable laws around drones, such as how high you fly (no higher than 90 metres), how close you get to people or buildings (keep a buffer of 150 metres) and, most importantly, how close you are to an airport (9 km minimum from an airport, heliport or aerodrome). For a full list of rules, check out Transport Canada’s page of Do’s and Don’ts.

Beyond the aircraft-specific rules, all municipal, provincial, territorial and federal laws apply to your aircraft while it’s in flight.

Fines for breaking drone laws are serious, and if you’re flying an aircraft that requires a Special Flight Operations Certificate, you can be fined for up to $3,000 ($25,000 if it’s for a business)! The current regulations are also being reviewed by Transport Canada and could still change in the near future.

There have already been a number of arrests in Canada and the US for a failure to comply to these laws. Even realtors have been warned that using drones to take pictures of listings subjects them to the FAA’s regulations. The risk is real, but some people have chosen to ignore that.

So this brings us to ask: are drones worth the risk in corporate video?

It’s true that if you want to follow the rules (and yeah, we really do want to follow the rules), drones can be so limited that it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot you can do. But there are still circumstances under which drone cameras can make for a great enhancement to a video — one that is totally legal and risk-free.

A few things to keep in mind:

  1. Closed courses are your friends.
  2. Overhead shots of crowded streets — even if you’re “far away” — are never good. You’re still posing a risk to people out in public. (Okay, this one kind of made us laugh, but still).
  3. Even if it’s just to film a natural scene, just going off and winging it (pardon the pun) is not recommended because you can easily break some of Transport Canada’s rules without even knowing it. Plot your route carefully.

Technology and innovation continue to amaze and excite us. But it’s also important that we respect privacy and safety. It’s unreasonable to ask someone to circumvent rules and regulations just to get a “cool shot.”

#LifeAtPhanta: Our mantras for 2014

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Another year, more projects under our belt.

2014 has had its ups and downs — Canada impressed at the Olympics, the Raptors re-emerged as relevant figures in the sports world, the movie world saw the likes of Gone Girl and Interstellar, that “Happy” song came out and people dumped buckets of ice on their heads and we’re pretty sure they actually raised money by doing so. On the other hand, “Normcore” actually became a thing, Toronto politics went from kooky and strange to just plain dark, and Kim Kardashian tried (and failed) to break the Internet with her butt. So, it was kind of a mixed bag. Not unlike every other year.

But at Phanta, we can’t lie — it’s been mostly good. We saw the addition of some great new staff members, we’ve undertaken some incredible projects, and our work has once again taken us across the country (and beyond)!

Most importantly, we flexed our brains. We learned new lessons, called upon old ones and we kept fighting the good fight.

The team at Phanta put their heads together and decided to whittle it down to 14 important lessons that got us through 2014 — whether it was a new revelation that came to us on the job, or something we’ve always kept in our back pocket as a motivator to keep us going through that long night of editing, that crazy drive to a shoot or that important sales pitch. Try to make some of these your mantras in 2015, because they did the trick for us.

14. Food is truly the glue that binds relationships together.

13. Helping people is one of the most rewarding feelings you can ever feel.

12. Step aside whenever you can and let others shine — recognizing others’ talents helps everyone grow as creators.

11. Nothing good ever came from leaving a half-done job. You’ll sleep when you’re dead (or, like, on the weekend).

10. When a cashier at a restaurant starts to recognize you and your order, that may be a sign of a problem.

9. When a cashier at a restaurant starts to recognize you and your order over the phone, that is definitely a sign of a problem.

8. Never stop challenging yourself. Key learning happens outside of your comfort zone.

7. Be ready for change at a moment’s notice. Have your back-up plan ready yesterday. Keep calm. Carry on.

6. Always balance believing in yourself with humbling yourself — or else criticism will hit you like a ton of bricks.

5. The easiest way to ease your way into a new environment is to offer people food.

4. Try to listen more than you wait to talk.

3. Before you write, say or create anything, ask yourself, “So what?” If you don’t care, why should anyone else?

2. Take the job no one else wants to do and do it. Make yourself indispensable.

1. A good team always has your back. When you might not see the clear way out or the light at the end of the tunnel, you can trust that the team of people around you will provide the insight, time and resources to guarantee a positive outcome out of any situation.

What should you look for in a video company’s client list?

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A video company's client list is their pride and joy, so don't take it lightly.

When you’re researching production companies for your next project, a video company’s client list should be prominently on display in order for you to make clear decisions (please note “prominently on display” as key here — if it’s hard to find, it might as well not exist). But there are a few things you should be aware of when examining these lists. Don’t take them lightly; a client list is basically a video company’s resume. And the names on the list don’t’ tell the full story.

Is there a magic number?

Short answer: no.

Long answer: Longer is obviously preferred, but there are a few things to be mindful of. Does the company claim to work in all industries but they have a mile-long list of past clients who are all part of the same industry? (Of course, if this industry happens to be your industry, then that isn’t really a problem).

A lengthy list is nothing without diversity, and, most importantly, the ability to back up the company’s claims.

Testimonials are key

You might notice that someone’s client list has some pretty impressive and high-profile names close to the top. Awesome, right?

Of course it looks awesome. And they know it. But you still might not know how exactly the project went. Was it smooth? Would the client go back? There’s no way of knowing this from the list. This is where it’s on you — take the initiative to call up some of these companies and ask about their experience.

What’s most ideal is a video company that does that for you: they have testimonials readily available on their website. This shows that their clients are enthusiastic enough to want to share their experience with you.

You should also watch through the testimonials to ensure that they’re not only raving about the work produced, but about what kind of support, collaboration and trust the company offered throughout the process.

Not every client on their list needs to come with a testimonial, but the more there are, the better.

Beware of tricks

Sometimes, over-eager companies may misrepresent their work slightly. If a firm completes a project for a franchise unit of a restaurant, a local office for a corporation or any other small division not tied to the company as a whole, they may take that and run with it.

For example, “We’ve worked with Honda” when they really mean they worked for a Honda franchise is blatant misrepresentation that is way too easy to pull off. This is why you need to do a little digging, especially when the work for that appealing-looking client isn’t readily available online. Call up the main office’s marketing department, or put the video company themselves on the spot.

The point is, you have to be critical

The most important things to remember when looking at a video company’s client list are: diversity, having all claims backed up and repeat clients. But it’s also important to remember that you must be vigilant.

Client lists aren’t perfect for determining a company’s credentials. They can be full of tricks or have glaring omissions. But they are a good starting point. The key is that you should always be wary, trust your instincts and research things you find worrisome — that’s why we can’t put an exact number to how many clients should be in that portfolio.

A video company’s client list is a tough thing to sift through because it might require you to do some extra digging. But you’ll be glad you did.

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