Seven lessons that we learned in 2013 that will make us a better video production company in 2014

Seven lessons that we learned in 2013 that will make us a better video production company in 2014

By David Collier (Founder / DP / Director), Jane Selle Morgan (Producer / Director) and Aaron Barry (Creative Director)

IMG_1189We took a poll among the creatives at Studio B Films.  We asked, “Thinking back on lessons learned from 2013, what are some things you might do differently, better, or more of in 2014? How have you improved as a filmmaker and storyteller because of lessons learned?” This blog is a synthesis of peoples answers.

1) Good Casting makes all of the difference. Of course this is something we already knew, but this year we had a couple of production where the scripts warranted an all Union cast.  It was for sure more expensive to go all union, but it completely paid off when the actors delivered performances that to our minds, made the video. Oh and were super fun to work with. Here are two actor driven shows we produced in 2013. Adobe Echosign + Pure Storage.

2) Composed music is worth the extra money. Here is another thing we knew because we have been working with composers for years, but in 2013 we reached out to new composers and made a conscious decision to have more music composed as opposed to using licensed music. There is some decent “needle drop” (licensed) music out there, but having music composed makes a marked difference as the score to the track and bring texture and synch to the piece.  Two new companies that we enjoyed collaborating with this year were WaxLab and Alex of Spoken Bird.

3) Short is better, especially for web videos.  We are almost always consulting our client to keep video for the web short and sweet.  Ideally under three minutes and often even shorter. Lately we’ve been pushing it to even shorter, 1 minute to :90 seconds. If a client really needs to have 20-minutes of content on the web, for say a training video, then we recommend chapterization for the material so that it is a series of shorter videos.

4) The joy of good project management software.  We tried out a few but finally landed on 37 Signals BaseCamp. They are a more popular solution out there, and for a good reason. We responded to the clean design of their UI and the ways we can customize our experience. The trick was to get everyone to buy in. Our EP is a bonafide Basecamp cheerleader and is constantly pushing the production discussions back to Basecamp. It’s been a lifesaver when we have a dozen projects at once in various stages.

5) How we love the Dana Dolly.  We have enjoyed other dollies in the past, and have been a big fan of the portable jib arm for years, but in 2013 we had a full-on love affair with the dana dolly. What we love about the dana dolly is that it is fast to set up, highly portable and can add a ton of production with just a little effort.  Don’t get us wrong we love a big Western or Chapman dolly when it’s really needed, but these big dollies require a big grip truck just to get to the location, and then four hunky grips to lug it around.  The dana on the other hand fits gracefully in a mini van and you can pull off dozens of beautiful shots in a day.

6) Raw 4K post isn’t always better. We want our projects to be the best that they can be in every respect (of course). And now we have several cameras that are capable of shooting RAW 4K. So, we often just default to shooting that way. It gives us a ton of flexibility, both in color space and composition, which is good, right? Mostly. The problem is that when you have anything over three minutes and it’s a quick turnaround then the benefits don’t necessarily outweigh the costs. While render times are getting better with Premiere, there are still some hiccups when using Sony F5 or RED Raw that make it a slow process. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the potential of 4K and just want to work directly with that but we’ve found it much more efficient (and equally beautiful) to either transcode straight to HD or work with the SXS HD files straight out of the F5. If you do need to recompose a shot (scale it) then you can just grab the one clip and modify in REDCINE and output as 1080.

7) Know the right way to color and when. These days there are many ways to grade your finished product. Lots of DIY options with Premiere, Colorista, AE, and Da Vinci give really nice results. We certainly employ many of those techniques here. But, this does take up resources (space and time) that might be needed for other things (editing and designing). So, we’ve learned to know when to send something out to a finishing house so that the heavy lifting happens off-site and you end up with a killer end result. And we are fortunate enough to have Colorflow right down the street from us.