So You Want to Make a Video?

Video production as a way to promote and market a company’s products and services has become mainstream in today’s rapidly changing business sector. Companies are no longer thinking of video production as an option to promote their business in conjunction with or as an add-on to a print or digital marketing campaign. Video is now a must for any organization wanting to successfully promote and sell their products and services to both their current customers and to new markets. The affordability and access to better, less expensive video technology is allowing smaller companies to create high quality and engaging content that is creative and effective in getting their message to the market. However while the market pressures and opportunities to produce video are increasing, many companies are not taking the time to understand how video can be used most effectively for their particular product or service. 

Below we have outlined four key factors you should think about when you decide to take the leap of producing a video. 

1. What is the goal of your video? 

This is the very first question you should ask yourself when producing your video. You need to have a goal and know what you want to achieve in the video to ensure that when it’s completed you are happy with the results. Making a video for the sole purpose of creating content with no specific objective is probably not the best way to start your project. You should make sure that you know what exactly you want to say, who you want to target and what demographic you want to reach. Think about your final audience – ask yourself who is going to be viewing this video and how the goal you have set for making this video can be achieved with this audience. Your answers to these questions will generate many creative ideas that are relevant to your audience and give you a clearer direction about how to proceed.

2. Know your idea from the start and stick to it. 

We cannot stress this enough. So many times we have spoken with people who wanted to make a video for their business or product who do not have a clear idea of what they want to do going into the process. When you produce a video you should have a clear idea of what you want to do to achieve your video goal. This does not mean that you can't adapt once you start or not know exactly what shots you will need to get during a shoot day. If you covering an event, for example, you should always be open to things that might happen at that event that you couldn't predict. Things such as a great speech, people dancing, etc. shouldn't be ignored because they weren’t what you thought you would film originally, but the idea behind the video should always stay the same. Once you have shot the video you can seldom backtrack and decide that you want to promote someone else or another product. Sometimes that is not possible, and if it is, your video can start to get very expensive and time consuming with cost overruns and production delays. Our best projects are those where clients know exactly what they want and we are able to give them that product. 

What is your budget?

Budget is a huge concern for both the people who are producing the video and those they hire to create their idea. Basically any production company can cater to a specific budget but it is up to the production company to let the client know that not every idea is possible for the particular budget range they may have. As a client, it is always good to go to a production company with your idea and a range of what you are willing to pay so that the production company can help create your video as close to as your original idea as possible within your budget. It is also good for you as the client to go into every project willing to compromise on your idea if it cannot be fully achieved with the budget you have available. With enough money a production company can produce anything, but if you are expecting a video with a ten thousand dollar budget to look like video with a hundred thousand dollar budget you will disappointed with the final result. If you are wondering why your idea isn't possible for the amount of money you have don't be afraid to ask. Any good production company can cross reference your examples and break down all of your costs in their quote. As long as you know this going in, you and the production company will be happy with your results.   

4. What format should I shoot it in? 

We touched on this topic briefly in one of our earlier blog posts. With the access to new technology we are hearing a growing number of buzzwords going around the consumer and client landscape. Words such as 4K or UHD (Ultra HD) are now becoming standard in commercial video industry and we certainly don't recommend not shooting in this format. The footage you produce is absolutely beautiful and you have access to a much wider dynamic range of lighting and colour grading but sometimes its not needed. Think about where your video is going to live. Is this video for the web? What is the subject matter of this video? If you are shooting something that is going no farther than someone watching it on a mobile phone then 4K and UHD quality might not be necessary and the image quality you get out of a camera like a Canon 5D Mark III or 7D Mark II might be all that you need. Also another thing, especially for smaller production companies to keep in mind, is that with your higher formats you are going to need more processing speed to be able to edit this footage. You don't want to get into a situation where you shoot a large amount of footage and then can't edit it based on your company’s current editing set up.   

These are four simple questions that every client company should ask before they choose video production as the way to promote their product or service. As long as you take these points into consideration your experience of making a video should be a smooth one.   

Check out the Gallery Below to see some of our Behind the Scenes shots on some of our recent shoots. 

The PEN: Arthur Mola - Photographer

I met Arthur last year through a mutual friend where we were both working on the same job. I could tell almost immediately that we were going to get along. Arthur seemed professional, smart and easy to interact with. As it turns out I was right and the entire shoot went very smoothly. Over this past year we have remained in contact and I have seen just how talented his work is. I know that Arthur will continue to be an incredible success as a photographer, and I look forward to continuously working with him over the coming years. Enjoy. 

I became very interested in photography when I was 16. I mean, I always loved looking at pictures but growing up my family never owned a camera (aside from the disposable ones or the super-touristy fully automatic film point-and-shoots that were big in the ‘90s) so making photos – at least the way that I wanted to make them – wasn’t really an option at the time. It wasn’t until I was 16 that my passion for it exploded and went from just enjoying looking at photography to really wanting to be a photographer. It was at that age when there was a turning point where I decided I wanted to give it a shot (pardon the pun) so my parents bought me my first DSLR.

This happened when I discovered the work of a Los Angeles photographer named Chris Weeks. At the time I was really into photo manipulation and I had been doing heavy Photoshop work as a hobby since I was 12 or 13 years old. I enjoyed doing things like pixel art and graphic design but my primary joy came from doing what was referred to as “photo manips.” I would use a variety of stock photos – things like faces, textures, industrial looking things that people had in their garage, etc. – and blend all those different images together digitally to create a new, finished image. A lot of my work back then was on the darker side, as were most “photo manips” because that was the style. I was making album covers for American metal bands who found my work online when I was 13 or 14. I was kind of a strange kid in that sense. But that was one of the things I loved to do in my spare time.

So how does this come back to photography? Well, I was a member of an online art community called deviantART where I posted my photo manips. This is also where I found Chris’s work. I don’t remember exactly how I came across him since I was mostly browsing the photography categories to look for stock images. Anyways, he was a photographer that was the real deal – shooting all the big stars and rep’d by an agency – but he also shared a lot of his photography on this community – both personal and commercial – and wrote blogs about the industry, his experiences, gear, etc., and I was totally hooked from the day I stumbled on his page. I was literally reading his blogs and looking at his photos every day and that’s really what made me look at photography in a different light. It made me see it not only as something I really wanted to do out of passion and love for what type of images you can make but also as something that a person can make a living with. At the time I never would have thought it was possible to make money off of something like photography. Chris really opened my eyes to a lot of things and in turn opened a lot of doors for me. I’m always grateful for finding his work there and I consider him my most significant mentor. We actually became friends and he has constantly given me advice and support. It really amazes me when I think back to it. The Internet can be a very useful tool for photographers if used properly.

So once I discovered Chris’s work and decided I wanted to work towards becoming an entertainment photographer like him, my first goal was to shoot my favorite band at the time, Korn. They were playing a show at the Ricoh Coliseum exactly two weeks after my parents bought me my first camera and my dad thought I should apply to get a photo pass. The only concert photography experience I had at this point was a battle of the bands that my friend played at his high school, which I brought my camera to so I could practice for Korn. I was a total purist (again, from Chris’s influence) and was adamant about learning how to really shoot so it was manual everything from day one. How I got credentialed to shoot Korn as a 16-year-old kid who owned a camera for two weeks is a story in and of itself but I managed to get approved an hour before the show and my dad and I raced down to the Ricoh Coliseum so I could have my first “big” shoot. The Korn concert actually happened to go very well and I realized that this was something I could actually pursue for two reasons: I absolutely loved every second of it and I actually walked away with good photos in a challenging situation: a dark nu-metal concert with fast-moving and head-banging subjects. The Korn show was a bit of a “test” for myself. I figured if I could walk away from that show with good photos after owning a camera for two weeks and having shot one concert beforehand … I could probably get good enough to be a photographer with some real practice.

At this point I was also wrapping up the year in grade 11 so University applications were on the horizon. Initially I wanted to study business or psychology but now all I could think about was shooting and becoming a photographer. I was always a very business oriented guy but I also loved the study of the mind and human behavior … and now I had a third option to consider.

After thinking about it, I decided I would enroll in photo school even though I really disliked the idea. I had the mentality that you can’t teach someone how to shoot and that, generally speaking, people who go to photo school are hacks who can’t learn to shoot on their own. In hindsight I was a little closed minded but that was how I thought at the time. Regardless, the reason why I decided to enroll was because I figured that if I really tried to make it as a photographer and had to miss class to work and build my career, my photography profs would be more lenient and understanding than my business or psychology profs who would probably tell me to stop messing around and put down the camera to focus on school. What’s funny is I was totally wrong about that. I got accepted into both OCAD and Ryerson, which was actually a surprise to me because I really didn’t think I would get into OCAD seeing as I showed up with a portfolio of concert photography (of people like Sean Paul, Shakira, The Who, etc.) and all the other hopeful students had things like sculptures and all sorts of varied artistic creations in their portfolios. Needless to say, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I chose Ryerson because it seemed like the more photo-oriented school out of the two and starting in first year, I would frequently skip school a week or two at a time to shoot things like Toronto Fashion Week and the Toronto International Film Festival. Even though I let my profs know where I was and what I was doing I still got threats of being failed (Ryerson had a rule where if you miss 3 or more classes per semester your professor has the right to choose whether or not they fail you regardless of your grades) and was told to drop out if work was taking up too much of my time. I was totally baffled by this but kept grinding it out for the duration of the four-year program since I wanted to finish what I started. My friends kept telling me to just drop out because I didn’t need school to be successful as a photographer – which I knew – but I didn’t want to waste the money and time I spent on it already – and I was kind of enjoying it. Even though the paper wasn’t going to mean much in my field, if anything at all, in the end, I still wanted to get it for some reason. I also looked at it as something to fall back on to pursue a different career – like teaching – if photography crashed and burned for some reason.

With all that said, even though I am “formally trained” as a photographer, I still consider myself self taught because I learned everything about shooting and worked on developing my visual signature as a result of skipping school. In fact, most of my school projects that were actual photo assignments where you had to submit pictures – as opposed to essays – were pictures I had taken while skipping school. My thesis project was a large-format coffee table book of all the entertainment work I shot at fashion week, TIFF, concerts, etc., called “During the Times I Skipped School.” It’s one of the things I’m most proud of. The idea and execution was perfect in my opinion. The first page when you opened the book was an email exchange between one of my profs and I of him telling me how if I missed anymore school to shoot TIFF or Fashion Week he would fail me and that if work was taking up my time I should drop out. That was printed on a see-through vellum paper and peeking out behind it all was a black and white photo of Angus Young from AC/DC doing the devil horns gesture in his famous schoolboy costume. What a way to finish my University career and be able to show my professors what I was doing when my seat in their class was empty. I wasn’t sure how they would receive it since I could see how it could be perceived as snarky but they actually loved it and were moved by it. It was the perfect finale to an interesting four-year chapter of my life.

However, I can’t ignore the merits of photo school nor do I regret my decision to keep at it and graduate, in fact, I’m very happy I did. I think, at the time, there was a lot of tension between the two world’s I was a part of – the “real world” of photography where I was shooting these big entertainment events and working with a big agency and the “academic world” of photography where I would sit in a classroom and learn about art history – but in hindsight I think photo school taught me a lot of valuable things about the history of photography, the conceptual thinking behind photography and how you approach a photo project and I had great learning experiences with 4x5 cameras, the darkroom, etc., all of which I am very grateful for. I don’t think photo school was necessary to learn how to be a photographer in the practical sense but it was definitely a valuable fountain of knowledge that made me appreciate what I was doing more and with a greater understanding of where it all came from and it made me think more critically about what I was taking pictures of whenever I would put my camera up to my eye. I think these aspects enrich a person so in a sense and can take their work to another level so I think I had the best combination of experiences that equated to a very beneficial education overall. 

in terms of my style, I definitely notice a difference from when I first started shooting to where I am now. Some things have stayed the same, of course, but as I experimented with different focal lengths, different compositions, shooting/post-production techniques, etc., I found the style and visual signature that I like for myself and what I’m doing – at least for now. I think that’s very important to play around with as an artist and I also think that that’s constantly changing – not necessarily in leaps and bounds once you’ve “found your groove” but in smaller steps.

I think I saw a noticeable change in my style when I realized that I enjoy working with primes as opposed to zoom lenses. I like being “in the mix” with my subjects and physically moving my body to go along with what’s happening rather than zooming a lens. As a fly-on-the-wall shooter, I prefer not being noticed when I shoot most of the time but I like to get right in there. Most would think that for someone who doesn’t want to get noticed a long zoom is ideal but I don’t like the look that gives me or the approach/feeling of being removed from what I’m shooting. I’m a big fan of street photography and love doing it on my own time, which has that sort of mentality/approach. A legendary photographer named Robert Capa has a famous quote that goes something like, “if your photos aren’t good enough, it’s because you’re not close enough.” I think that sums it up perfectly most of the time. When you’re starting out you might be shy to get up close and personal with your subjects but the more you do it the less of a big deal it is. And when I realized that my photos were looking how I wanted them to, that’s really all that mattered to me. Getting close and being uncomfortable for a few seconds while getting the shot is one thing … but having an amazing photo that you can have forever as a result of it makes it all worth it in the end. I always ask myself, would I be more disappointed if I were put in an uncomfortable situation for a short amount of time but got the photos I wanted (or my client wanted) or if I were more comfortable for a short amount of time but had to live with the fact that I walked away without the best images I could have made. 10 out of 10 times that works for me and gets me right where I need to be. Don’t get me wrong … I’m not a Bruce Gilden style shooter where I’ll stick my camera in people’s face from a foot away. I don’t invade people’s personal space like that … but … I like to be close enough to get what I need the way I saw it in my mind. I’m a fan of Bruce Gilden’s work, by the way, and saw one of his lectures at Ryerson. It’s just not my personal style.

In terms of the future of my career I’d like to have the kind of access at film festivals, concerts, etc., where I can carry out my vision in this style. I’d love to be a tour photographer for one of my favorite artists and shoot their backstage reportage … or be a roaming fly-on-the-wall on the red carpet at a film festival like Cannes or an award show like the Oscars and not have to be so concerned about getting the more “cookie cutter” style photos of celebrities that I know will get published. In the future I’d like to see my work and name get to the point where I can have that kind of access to these events and celebrities. I think the results would be beautiful. I’d also like to be doing more high-end portraiture. Big sets. Lots of lights. It’s something that I absolutely love and I totally see myself doing much more of it in the future. 

Whether it’s a premiere at the Sundance Film Festival or a fancy event for one of the biggest brands in the world, a Madonna concert or a corporate event with some of the most accomplished CEO’s, at the end of the day my job is to do a fantastic job at documenting something. I’m framing visual elements in a rectangle and building a story around what it is I’m choosing to record out of the “big picture” that makes up the entire event. I think my style of shooting lends itself well to all of these things but the major difference between them is the pace. A red carpet or concert will be a lot more fast-paced than a corporate event. What that means is you have a smaller window of time to get what you need. But aside from that, if you are comfortable with being dropped in any situation and being able to build a visual story out of what you see, you should have no problem. Great photography is great photography regardless of the event.

For me it’s about a balance. I enjoy shooting a variety of things because they balance each other out. I like different experiences and I like meeting different people. I soak it all in. And I’m lucky because I get to make pretty photos of all these experiences and people I encounter. I absolutely love it. I think my style is reflected in all the different things I shoot. I try for it to be at least. And I believe that’s why my clients keep calling me back. I’ve been told that they enjoy my visual signature – as well, they trust me, etc. – and that’s why I keep getting calls for more work. I think if my work lacked that visual signature … or if it was inconsistent from job to job … I’m not sure I would keep getting called back. I think that’s what differentiates a professional from a hobbyist, by the way. A professional can deliver consistent results in inconsistent situations. Every time. An amateur or a hobbyist may be able to make a good photo from time to time but lacks the consistency regardless of what situation they’re thrown in.

Picking my favourite shoot so far is a tough choice. I’m honestly not sure I can choose just one. I try to approach every shoot I take on with passion and interest. On one hand, my favourite shoots are the ones I’ve had with the bands/actors that I love like Jennifer Aniston or Jay-Z. On another hand, my favourite shoots are the ones where I felt an amazing connection with whoever it was I was photographing. And in some ways my favourite shoots are the ones where the assignment may not have been the most exciting to begin with but the images just turned out to be extraordinary or possessed some rare special quality to them that was unexpected from a seemingly mundane assignment. There’s so many ways to pick a favorite that it’s really hard to choose and every shoot means something to me in their own way. I think that’s a great problem to have when you’ve had so many shoots that you’ve loved or that have had a lasting impression on you that you can’t pick just one. I’m very fortunate to have this dilemma. 

Technology seems to be changing quickly and two of the biggest technological changes I’ve seen since I started shooting is the advent of DSLR video and the high ISO capabilities of camera bodies. I remember I was shooting the Foo Fighters at the Air Canada Centre a few years ago. I was still shooting with my first camera, which was a Nikon D70s since I was still just starting out at the time. I remember one of the newspaper guys bragging about how he was able to capture Dave Grohl mid-head bang because he could shoot a clean image at 1600 ISO with the new Canon that came out. We were all floored at the result because at that time with 99% of the cameras available you couldn’t really go above 800 ISO and even that was starting to get noisy. Now I can shoot 4000 ISO … sometimes 6400 ISO in some situations … and get clean files. It’s incredible. I remember thinking “what would all the original film shooters think of this?” On one hand it’s a nice luxury to have but on the other hand it’s also changing the style and aesthetic of photography. People were able to make photos in the dark with 400 ISO film back in the day. Yes, there might have been motion blur … or a bit of “movement” in the images. But did that matter? I’m not sure how I feel about this debate yet because I have mixed opinions. I know I definitely use high ISO’s for certain situations and I’m very grateful for this technological advance but we seem to exist in a tack-sharp-everything digital world and I’m not sure I like the look of that for everything. I think different aesthetics have a place in different contexts but sometimes I like to keep it on 400 ISO as if I had a roll of Tri-X loaded just for the fun of it. I remember handholding 1/5s at times at fashion week when I was starting out because it was dark where I was shooting. Now I can shoot 1/30s or 1/15s in the same situation. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very helpful in some situations but I also like the look of how things were shot back when it was all film. However, I think the most valuable thing that high ISO capability gives photographers is a chance to choose. Now I can choose whether I want to use motion blur or a slow shutter speed when shooting in the dark or not. Before high ISO’s and in the film days they/we didn’t have the option. And I think it’s always good to have choices when it comes to aesthetics. Speaking of which, I used to shoot a lot of film until a few months ago. I had a Zeiss Ikon rangefinder that I was using for all of my personal photography. It was the camera that I carried around with me everywhere. I just recently decided to upgrade to a digital Leica M(240) – and I absolutely love it – but only because film was becoming too much of a hassle to shoot in a sense that I didn’t have access to a darkroom anymore and didn’t like losing that control of developing my own film. But I still very much behave like a “film shooter” even though I’m almost entirely digital now. I think I was lucky to start shooting with one foot in each of the two worlds; film and digital.  

The second biggest technological change that I noticed was when DSLR camera bodies were able to shoot 1080p HD video. When Canon first came out with the 5D Mark II I remember thinking that it was somewhat gimmicky but after I saw the results from guys like Vincent Laforet who were shooting incredible footage with it, I was blown away. I think it’s an amazing opportunity for stills guys to get into motion with the gear they know and love and be able to get incredible results.

I’m more of a new adapter. I think that in our industry we have to be flexible and open minded to change, otherwise we’ll drown. You either sink or swim. I’ve gotten some video assignments as a result of the DSLR video capabilities and it’s opened up a new market segment that didn’t exist for me before. Of course I had to invest money into new gear (microphones, shoulder rigs, HDMI monitors, etc.) but you make that money back when you get jobs. I think it’s important to step out of your comfort zone and try new things as a photographer or videographer or any type of creative for that matter. It’s nice to get butterflies sometimes … to think on your toes. Feeling like a beginner again is the best way to learn new things and improve your skillsets.  

Photography is more than just picking up a camera and shooting but I think that’s probably the most important factor. Experimenting with different ways of shooting. Different aesthetics. Trying to shoot a variety of things to see what style of photography gets you the most excited. I think for a beginner these are all very important things to do in order to learn about themselves. For some it comes very naturally and seems obvious … for others it takes some searching. But practice and patience is everything when you’re starting out.

If someone is considering pursuing photography professionally, I would say the best thing to learn (after knowing how to shoot at a high level, of course) is how to value your work. I went to a photo school for four years and I kid you not, the business of photography and how value is added for clients was never once brought up. I was even in a “Business of Photography” course yet we never discussed rates or anything like that. I think the #1 problem with beginners is they undervalue themselves and therefore undercut their own work and as a result the entire market. It’s very important to understand what you bring to the table as a photographer or as a creative and know how to value it properly. Do some research. But be wary of where you look and who you trust. Talk to professionals. Assist. Learn. But understand the business behind what it is you’re getting into. And always remember to enjoy what you’re doing. 

You can also follow him here http://arthurmola.com/ and here twitter.com/arthurmolaphoto or instagram: arthurmola

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The PEN: Brad Dworkin - Director

I met Brad a couple years ago at an Oscar party through a mutual friend of ours. We weren’t able to speak too much at that time but what I could tell instantly was Brad’s passion for film and his love of the industry. Since then Brad has become a good friend and I have seen him take that passion and apply to a successful directing career. HIs attention detail, hard work and general love of what he does makes it easy to see why he is so successful. I know Brad is just in the beginning part of his career and you will see much more work by him over many years to come. Enjoy. 

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to start an article by quoting a movie. Now that we’ve sorted that, let’s talk about what I do and how it happened. I’m a director and I work mostly in commercials in Toronto. My wife is a teacher, so I sometimes tell people that she shapes young minds while I try to sell them stuff they don’t need. I figure between the two of us, we break even. Net zero gain. My path to directing was through post-production, something I’d recommend to anyone.

First of all, I did graduate from film school and it introduced me to some great and talented people that I continue to work with today. But I’ve never been in a position where anyone has asked about my degree. What film school did offer was a chance to make bad films in a consequence-free environment. You can put that terrible student film in a box and no one in the industry ever has to know it existed. These were mistakes I needed to make to get to where I am today, but I didn’t have to worry about it sullying my reputation. More important than any education is your reel. Get your reel together and keep it updated. And don’t ever lie and include work you haven’t done. The industry is small and most of us, when we’re not making ads, are watching them online (It’s fun to put Youtube on a timesheet).

After film school I worked as a freelancer on a few shows. (Including one that aired in Pizza Pizza restaurants exclusively #humblebrag) until I landed my first full time gig at an advertising agency, as an in-house editor. This is a great job for any director because suddenly you can watch all the raw footage of the top commercial directors in North America. You see what they did right and more importantly, what they did wrong. You learn which directors shoot for the edit and which ones just roll off the entire card with 30 minute takes and then find the concept in post.

While working at my second agency editing job, I started to get requests to shoot extra content for the agency when they didn’t have the budget to hire someone externally. I jumped at the chance and ended up producing a lot of content for national brands. My big break was a spot for Boston Pizza. It was intended to be a web spot only but did so well, it ended up airing in broadcast as a 60 second spot during the US Open (the golf one). This rounded out my demo reel nicely and led me to where I am now. Last year I signed with a commercial production company called Frank Content. They represent me for commercial work across Canada. I’m in my first year of full-time commercial directing, but because of my past experiences I didn’t have to start from scratch to cultivate new creative relationships.I already know a lot of people in the industry through my time working in-house.

The best thing about working full time as a director is that my time can be very flexible. Sometimes I’m in the edit suite every night or in pre-pro meetings all day long. Then sometimes I have time to myself to work on personal development, my own short film projects, or just binge watch House of Cards. The trick is careful financial planning to make sure you’re still good during those times when work is slow.  It’s a balancing act, especially in that first year, but so far I’ve been making it work.

There’s a lot of advice given to young filmmakers and a lot of it is contradictory. There isn’t one piece of advice I can offer that will be the sure path. The best thing I can say is this. Don’t be precious. If you are waiting until your reel is absolutely perfect before putting yourself out there, you never will. There is never a time that there isn’t a risk in going after your dreams. Just send your work out and see what the universe sends back.

Brad Dworkin is represented for commercial work in Canada by Frank Content.http://www.frankcontent.com/

You can also follow him here www.BradDworkin.com and here twitter.com/braddworkin

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The PEN: Sean Wainsteim - Writer/Director

When the topic of talented writers/directors comes up, Sean’s name is always mentioned. I have worked with Sean in the past, and his leadership, dedication, and calmness on set inspires and influences his crew to produce great work. When people work with Sean, they know that the end result will be something they will be proud to showcase. His amicable personality means he is a pleasure to work with, and I cannot recommend him more not only as a writer/director, but also as a good person. Look out for more of Sean’s work in the future and check out what he has to say about the film/commercial industry below. Enjoy.  Sean is represented in Canada by OPC / Family Style.

I’m Sean and I’m a filmmaker (“Hi, Sean”). I love film. I love watching film and I’m absolutely the happiest and most confident when I’m on a film set. Unless I’m making an omelette. I make a damn good omelette. 

A bit about me. My grandparents fled from Eastern Europe before, during and after the war. My father was born in Brazil. My mother was born in France. They met in Israel. I was born in Canada. My biggest fear as a boy in 1980s suburban Toronto was Nazi stormtroopers. I went to art school to make interactive robot art that chased people around galleries. By the time I graduated art school I was making films. A few years later I founded an award-winning boutique design and animation studio. Years later I left my company while it was a rising success. I survived an airplane crash in New Zealand. I filmed my airplane crash. I missed filming elephants at a market in India because the cameras were three hours late. I lost a Juno to Drake. I’ve done many things though it often feels as if I haven’t achieved anything at all. Everything in my life has made me the filmmaker I am today. I’m only beginning to understand that.

It’s really difficult to narrow down advice for aspiring filmmakers. A filmmaker’s job description is very broad job and can include a psychologist’s insight, a poet’s heart, a technical scientist’s mind, the calm patience of a monk, the humour of a Bill Murray™, the quick response of an athlete and the clarity of a traffic signal. Conversely, a filmmaker can encompass none of those things and still be a success. I know filmmakers from all backgrounds and temperament. Every filmmaker took a different path to get where they are. Every filmmaker feels like they’re still on their journey. This is empowering. Anyone can be a filmmaker. Being a good and true filmmaker is the hard part.

Let’s assume you want to be a filmmaker who tells stories or communicatessomething. Here are four simple things to keep in mind. These are things you already know. If you practice these ideas fully, you’ll attract like minded collaborators. Collaborating with individuals who are all after the same goal is invaluable. It’s the fucking best.

BE HONEST. 

It’s probably the easiest thing to say and the hardest to do. Being honest with yourself is difficult enough. Being honest in your work exposes you to the world. It’s a brave move but it’s the most important thing there is. Understanding deeply and truly what it is you want to say, to whom and why is not easy. Knowing your strengths & weaknesses and likes & dislikes is key. Sometimes making a film is the process towards discovering and revealing that honesty. Try to do work from an honest place. That’s not to say that every film should be a personal story. Die Hard is as honest a film as Barton Fink. It’s about communicating something from a truthful place within (to others and yourself). You should have a reason for doing every project and honestly connect with that reason. That reason could be that you’re trying to recreate a feeling you had when you were six, that you really want to shoot with a crane because it’s a totally new shot or you really need the money to pay rent. As long as you recognize the honest reason and acknowledge it, that’s a great place to start.

GIVE A SHIT

If you’re starting from an honest place, it’s easier to give a shit. Care about each project you work on. Care about each shot you work on. Care about every part of every shot. The framing. The wardrobe. The lighting. The acting. How it fits into the whole. Care about it all. If you’re starting from an honest place there’s always a way in to caring.

WORK HARD

Being honest and giving a shit means you’ll want to work hard. The harder you work, the better your work will be. Do the time. Rewrite that script. Do it again. Prep as much as possible. But…!

One of the best pieces of advice I got was from my friend Jean. Years ago she said “Sean, you always work hard, but you don’t always work smart”. She was right. It’s important to step back from your hard work. To see the forest AND the trees. Perhaps you’ll realize that you’re not in a forest at all. Work hard but don’t get so caught up in what you’re doing that you neglect to look at the project from multiple angles and from fresh perspectives. Lift your head up and look around every now and then. 

MAKE STUFF

Make stuff. Make stuff that matters. Make stuff that doesn’t. Care about all of it. Talk and planning are good but we learn by doing. We get better through practice. It’s part of the hard work. We often forget how easy it is to borrow a camera and ask friends to help make something. Technology is accessible and people are interested in helping people who are honest, give a shit and work hard. Making stuff means that you get to see results, good and bad. Learn from success and failure. Then go make more stuff.

These are basic goals, but they are a good place to start and great things to remind yourself of often. Of course you should also watch films, read, eat, look at art, listen to music, listen to people, fall in love, get angry and see new places. But that’s another column for another blog. In that one I’ll write about storytelling and making eggs. Now get outta here and go work hard as you make honest stuff that you give a shit about.

You can follow Sean on his website http://www.seanwainsteim.com/

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The PEN: Misty Fox - Make Up Artist/It Girl

When it comes to Make Up artists in Toronto, no one is better than Misty Fox. Misty has worked in her field for several years and has done make up for famous bands such as Teagan and Sara, Chad Kroegar, Metric and Alice Cooper. She is also  Emily Haines personal make up artist, and has worked with stars such as Alison Brie (Mad Men and Community) Jane Eastwood, and Colin Hanks. However, what makes Misty so special is not who she has worked with, but her attitude and strong work ethic. She is driven, friendly and exceptional at what she does. I have had the pleasure of working with her for a number of spots through Big Pig and others throughout the years. I could not think of a better person who deserves her success. We are fortunate enough to hear some of her thoughts below on her career and what it takes to be successful in the industry. Enjoy. 

 

I began my career with the equal amounts of love, fear and commitment. When I was 27 I enrolled in make up school. At that time I had a two and a half year old daughter who was more than ready to socialize with the other youngsters at what was set to be her new daycare for the next 8 months while I took an intensive course at the School Of Make Up Art in Yorkville.

I decided to do the whole course, not just beauty and fashion subjects, but also special effects, make up for film and T.V, prosthetics and wig making. I believe whatever career you pursue in the film business, you must have a fierce conviction to your craft, this can only come from learning everything you can to begin with while also knowing you will never stop learning on the job.

My marks were great, 90’s-100 % in most subjects. The comments on my report cards, beside the more tedious tasks, were the same throughout primary school and high school reports, frustrated teachers wrote ‘Misty is very easily distracted’ It is important to know what you need to work on, and work just as hard at fixing that, as you do in fine tuning your make-up skills.

Being a make-up artist is more than doing a good make-up application. Of course you are required to apply make-up in professional and timely manner, but you are also a skincare expert, matching the right products to skin and keeping skin calm and healthy on set requires you to know how to treat and prepare your clients skin so your make-up looks the best it can.

You are also a therapist, a hype girl, a friend, a confidant, a nurse at times, you need to be there for the person you are putting make-up on, in every way. You need to be there with understanding, water, Advil  encouragement, blister blockers, pasties, everything.

That person is the most important person in your life while they are in your chair. An ego will get you nowhere in this business, and it could get you fired. You could go from running the whole make-up department on set, to assisting someone the next day so never get too big for your britches. Your duties could go from being the boss, to washing the boss’s brushes, so it is important to keep your ego in check. 

Jobs vary, the amount of jobs that are around will change from month to month, and the kind of jobs you do will be different every time, sometimes you will have a bunch of ‘bread and butter jobs’ at other times you will be so excited by the wild creativity of a project, sometimes you will see it as a job you do to pay the bills. Speaking of bills, you should probably pre-pay your bills in the summer so that during the colder months where bookings are few and far between, you are not stressed about money. I do this every year and it helps my sanity. 

You have to run your business, every day. If you don’t have a smart phone, get one, or they will give the job to the make-up artist who answers his/her emails faster than you. When a producer is crewing up for a shoot he wants to confirm people, fast. Try not to be afraid to talk about money, I found this very hard at the start. Even though you should expect to start on low-to-no-budget jobs, you should keep in mind that your training and skill is worth something to the team and set yourself a moderate day rate and ask for it. As your experience increases, so will your day rate. 

If you want to fast track it in this industry, be the best, be open to learning, be the cleanest, the tidiest, the most organized, gossip free, make-up artist. Wear nice tidy clothes and don’t be in anyone’s face, be who you are, but on your best behaviour. A film set is like a big machine, if you aren’t making the part you are in charge of work, it could cascade in to a bigger problem for other departments. Keep your eyes on set, your mind on the job and your jokes clean. 

Be someone people want around, and will book again. Someone once said to me, ‘loads of people can do a decent make-up job, we hire the people we want to be around’  A set, especially a film set, is a little family. Sometimes you will see the crew more than your own friends and family. This is what is great about this industry. For me, having no family here in Canada, I relish in this environment. I kid you not, you will feel real love the people you spent 30 days with, standing in the rain next to some dilapidated prison while making movie magic. 

This is one of the most fun, stimulating, ever changing careers, you can pick your hours and your holidays, you get to be creative and business minded at the same time. 

I recommend this job, and I recommend taking it very seriously.

Photograph courtesy of Shannon Echlin, http://www.shannonechlin.com/

You can follow Misty on twitter @mistyfoxforever, Instagram/mistyfox, Facebook www.facebook.com/mistyfox or on her website www.mistyfox.ca

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The Current Production Process: What Can You Do to be More Productive?

Getting started in media production can be a daunting process. Often, the rules and etiquette are unspoken, and a good producer has to rely on a healthy sense of tact and organization to navigate a shoot.

When it comes to the production process, a producers organization habits can determine the difference between a fun successful shoot or a chaotic nightmare shoot. Solid organization habits allow more time to prepare a schedule, get call sheets and paperwork out to the crew, while leaving a larger window to anticipate last minute changes. Overall, an organized producer is an informed producer, who knows the shoot implicitly, able to answer any questions related to any aspect of the production.

Manners and mannerisms are still an essential skill in the producers tool belt. As a producer, it’s important to remember that you’re the leader, and that the crew is always looking in your direction when they have a question – even if it’s a technical question out of your field. A good producer needs to find that sweet spot between being relaxed and easy-going, but firm and serious about deadlines. I have worked with a Rolodex of disorganized, stressed out and unpleasant producers, and their poor attitude affected the morale of the set every time, and ultimately the final product. Your energy and attitude is as important as work ethic – you’ll see it reflected in your crew.

A good producer should leave their ego at the door. Listen to suggestions your crew may propose. Often, members of the crew work in a variety of other creative trades, so use their valuable experience towards your own project. Your crew will respect you for considering their input, and will create a harmonious set where everyone is working towards a singular goal. You are an authority on the set. Act like it. Be confident, organized and accept suggestions.

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Productivity and Price: How do you Measure Your Time and Value?

This is a question that always comes up for  freelancers and new business owners. There is a fine line between the temptation of charging a higher price for your services and making a profit, but not attracting many initial clients, and charging much less than you’re worth in order to build your client base. It’s a balance that’s difficult to achieve. I myself have struggled with this challenge and still do – on a daily basis.

Alienating yourself is a constant scare where new business is concerned, stunting your growth before you even have a chance to achieve any business at all is a frightening prospect. You need to be fair with yourself and with your clients. Chances are that they are small market businesses as well and might not be able to afford the full amount of what you would like to charge. It is at this stage when you should sit down with your client and work out a plan together that will allow them to get something they want that is both within their price range and within what you are comfortable providing in return. If you have this plan from the very beginning of the project, then neither yourself nor your client will feel taken advantage of. You will provide yourself with a much more relaxed and easy working relationship and environment.

When it comes down to it, trust your feelings and your skill level. If you feel that the expertise and the service you provide based on the type of equipment you own, the software that you have, or your years of experience are all worth a particular price, then you should charge that price. Just keep it relative to the particular situation at hand, with what your client’s budget might be.

Also, one key piece of information that I would pass on to people is how much value there is in the ability to say ‘no.’ You do want to attract new clients and be aware that they will probably get you to compromise your rates or time regularly as you are only starting out, but despite this, you do not want to waste your time. 

For example, doing something for free for a friend might benefit you in the future and therefore would be worth your time to do. But you don’t want to get stuck in the trap of doing everything as a favour. The best thing that I have found to do is to say that you would be more than willing to do a particular task,but state how much that task would have been worth had you been charging full price. And depending on the nature of your relationship, don’t be afraid to ask for something in return.Things such as bartering for equipment that someone else has might save you money on a shoot in the future and will then turn a profit for you, making up for the particular free service that you provided earlier. 

Usually your gut feeling will tell you if you are comfortable doing a project for a particular price or time period, and if you are not comfortable, simply don’t do it. Time is your biggest ally in film and production and you don’t want to waste it.

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The PEN: John McGovarin - Producer/Editor

John has done some editing and graphic work for us in the past here is his thoughts about how to he began in the industry as an editor and videographer. 

If I were to pass along anything, I’d say that the fun of doing video should easily trick you into doing any of the hard work. I only started editing when I started shooting and finally realized I had way too much footage without any real purpose. 

I had finally found a reason to buy a laptop and camcorder; a couple semesters abroad doing the backpacker and exchange thing. I filmed typical things you’d see while living in a new place; airports, street performers and any building or bit of nature that seemed unique. I found out about a music video contest for Matt Good, and that gave me an excuse to cut all my footage together. I decided to take video editing seriously when I found myself glued to the laptop to cut every clip together through weeks of multiple re-edits, exporting through the nights without a break for hours at a time. I thought, hey could be a career, since to some this was likely mind-numbing, and this must be how accountants feel (no disrespect meant towards accountants).

I started with a tape camcorder, a white Macbook and I edited on iMovie software it came with. I had to hide the poor quality of the camera, so I tried some tricks that hid the low budget I was working with. For one early project I went for a silhouette look with cardboard cutout figures and a backlit sheet; the simple and sharp colours would’ve fooled me. I added a Hot Chip song for the soundtrack, and it ended up getting posted on the band’s website and blogged about in a few languages on some music blogs. It didn’t get a crazy amount of hits, but the experience was pretty great.

The advice I took when I started was to make videos for myself and friends; bands, comedians, small business owners- anyone who could remotely use a video. Then just make more. Ideally after a while you can put a demo reel together, and then a couple years later this demo reel looks so boring or amateur to you that you can’t wait to make a new one. 

I had a nice winter break before most of my online stuff was made, and started learning Wordpress and Photoshop. It was pretty frustrating and over my head, and I wouldn’t have ben able to finish it without Woo themes. I’d recommend one of their templates if you don’t know how to built a site from scratch (wix.com is 400 babillion times easier). To design your own business cards I like moo.com. Customized visuals on a CV helps. I made mine match my cards, demo reel and website.

Finding new looks and techniques as they happen is a top priority. It’s pretty overwhelming when you take a look at what’s uploaded to Vimeo on a daily basis. Since it’s impossible to sort through every new amazing video, I rely on the A/V blog iso50 to curate what’s out there. It’s pretty easy now to get a start shooting decent footage.

Cheesycam.com vets all sorts of production equipment from China. Some of it breaks in two seconds, some of it is a good substitute for the pricey stuff you’d otherwise buy retail. If you started from scratch you could still spend $500 and shoot good things. A used 50mm lens on a T1i duct taped to a broom handle? It’s not a bad start.

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What is The PEN?

The PEN is a new weekly creative series where we will feature a small article written by someone Big Pig Co. has either have worked with in the past, would like to work with or admire. It is designed to give you a small glimpse into what exactly it takes for that person to do their job in the commercial, film, and television industry. 

When people ask me how did you get to where you are, I always find it interesting explaining it to them. The goal is to give people a first hand account as to how to do a particular job and what it took to get them to their particular place in their life. We hope you enjoy. 

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