Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reader Asks: SD or HD?

This is a HOT topic for a lot of people in, or entering, the video business. I shared my understanding, experience and opinions based on that criteria in responding to this reader's questions. Your mileage, and opinions, may vary. There are a thousand ways of looking at it, and even more ways to make money - either way, standard definition, or high definition video production. Portions of the reader's letter follows:

Hi Earl,

You obviously really know your stuff. And you seem to enjoy helping people, so I was hoping I could possibly come to you for a bit of advice.

First of all, I'm not a complete novice. I worked in news, from working in the studio as production, into print reporting, then back into news as a photographer. All that took about six years. When I moved to NYC I found myself an office job and have slowly been going insane.

I want to make the dive into freelance production: Weddings, birthdays, corporate stuff, depositions, whatever, anything to get out of the office! I really enjoyed your articles regarding money-making strategies. And am currently in search of equipment.

Although there are some great 3ccd cameras now available for CHEAP, It seems that to invest in anything other than (high definition) would be to deny the future and some lucrative money making opportunities.

I was strongly considering the HVX-200a, and started pricing them. At around $6K it seems to fit into my price range. I was planning on taking out out a small business loan for about $15,000.

Then I saw them listed for under $3K on (some) websites, maybe even cheaper. That got me thinking maybe I could actually afford a shoulder mounted HD camera, which led me to JVC. The new GY-HM700 looks sweet and GY-HD110U seems to fit the bill nicely as a backup camera - which seems a necessity if I'm going to be doing weddings and such.

Thing is, I want to bring in the most amount of money for the least investment. If I don't have to spend $7K on a camera then I'd rather not, but at the same time I want to be taken seriously. Do you think buying a couple of 110s will do me fine? They seem to have everything I want at a very reasonable price tag. And I love that they look like news cams, which I'm used to working with. Am I missing something?

Any advice you can give would be GREATLY appreciated!

(Used with permission from L.) My reply follows:

Glad to hear you're headed into the independent ozone layer. It can certainly beat working at a desk, though you'll likely spend a lot of time in front of an editing system. Been there (desk jobs), done that, for years as a newspaper journalist, editor, and owner. The news, however, can get you out of the office a lot. You mention places in Texas where I have lived and worked - very few of them non-journalistic or news positions. I have worked for newspapers in Houston, Abilene, Sweetwater and several other Texas cities. Small world, huh?

There are certainly a number of ways, IMHO, to approach your new direction, equipment and perception (the client's) being not the least of your concerns. In spite of my absolute knowledge that it should not be, appearance or the impression that your equipment is top drawer and professional does play a major role in how you are perceived/received by those using you. But...

...you can also market yourself, and your demo reel without most clients ever asking about your equipment, so long as you deliver a quality/compatibility they require. Using quality equipment that does not necessarily meet the visual standards some clients have (often based on what they hear, read or see, rather than what they know), can make you plenty of money and get you plenty of business. And, without having to impress upon your potential market the "professional" level of your acquisition equipment.

There are a wide range of smaller units that can and do beat the socks off many of the lesser-priced shoulder-mount units. And, the habit of using sticks or a monopod for increased stability (not always the norm) of your shooting will do you well. That being said...

...having read some, or all, of my blog articles and posts on various forums - www.videomaker.com www.dvprofessionals.com www.wedvidpro.com www.videouniversity.com to name a few...you certainly must see how pretty much any day, with pretty much any decent quality system can make you money.

So, you wonder, how much do I HAVE to spend to be a professional in the full range of potential business - ENG to wedding, to school event, private events, etc.? I have been making money doing practically all the above, and more, using my standard definition Canon XL1 and GL2 cameras, Mac G4 and Final Cut Pro, even a LOT of editing performed on my old trusty Casablanca Classic. In fact, I am STILL using this system setup and bringing in a decent annual income. No, I still have not become rich. :-)

I do realize that high def is the direction things are taking, and that a number of my clients are equipped for and will soon be asking (if not demanding) that I provide them with wide screen HD. A mass delivery system using Bluray hasn't yet manifested itself, but sooner or later an affordable, less protection/rights hassle, formula for delivery of HD on disk will prevail. Until then there are numerous workarounds and acceptable levels of HD delivery out there - though requiring a degree of research and investment of time and money to determine what delivery system might work best for any individual in his/her respective market.

Keep in mind, too, that with the plentiful and affordable supply of up-rez capable playback systems, many people are either unaware of the difference while watching SD, or totally satisfied to do so. That is, perhaps, why a lot of our otherwise HD oriented, wide-screen using clients are not bugging us about how we deliver their product.

Even knowing what I know now, if I had it all to do over again, I'd like to start off with the best I could for the most money I could afford right off the bat - money/budget being no object. That isn't and wasn't the case with me, (money being no object) and it apparently isn't with you. We have to find an acceptable mid-point between investment, ROI (return on investment), and the ability to jump in NOW with marketing, production and making money (profit?)

That doesn't always mandate having the latest, best or even current level, to the degree rapid advances in technology will let us, of leading edge, front-running equipment. It is impossible, IMHO, to a great degree to "futurize" our investment in equipment much beyond a year-at-a-time. Things move, like I said, too fast, and it would cost you/me a fortune just trying to keep up.

I am in the process of "upgrading" if that is a true term of what I am going to do, to high def production using the current iteration of Mac Pro 8 core with the current iteration of FCP, along with two new HD model cameras, either the Panasonic AG-HMC150, or JVP GY-HM100, both shooting on SDHC cards instead of tape or portable hard disk drives. My total re-investment will be in the area of $12K.

Can I afford it? Not really. Do I HAVE to? Not really. But it is time, market-wise, for me to do some catching up, especially in light of the type of clients I have and want to retain in the foreseeable future. But I also have NO DOUBT that I will continue producing a boatload of SD project, editing and delivering on non-HD DVDs, or electronically. The irony here, also, is that I don't perceive being able to charge more for what I do, or making any serious upswings in my level clientele, or their production budgets - not in the areas of video I prefer to work.

Research and determine for yourself what area you will concentrate the most in pursuing independent video production. Base your equipment needs on THAT level of need, then when you CAN and WANT TO, move to a higher level of equipment in pursuit of a more demanding client base.

Do you HAVE to go in debt for $15,000 to get started? I really don't think so. I know you want to have the look, perception and potential of professional, visually, and with a bunch of the accompanying add-ons you think will convey that - expensive offices/studios, multi-line business phones, Mercedes or Jaguar transportation or, if you want to flaunt it in the faces of the eco-friendlies, a Hummer - gotta have a way to move that equipment, right?, high-end laptop, or portable studio system, etc. All that is well and good. He/She with the most toys...
...well, sad to say, doesn't ALWAYS win.

The first big mistake of my career in newspaper publishing was thinking I needed the office, the phones, and a bunch of other stuff that conveyed the image, but put a serious cost load on my business. I spent most of my time fighting to stay afloat and maintaining the image, instead of doing the stuff I think I am good at, like marketing, pressing the flesh, and producing news that set me apart from my competitor and former boss. Oops.

Subsequent independent business efforts became better, more productive, dare I say "profitable" as I learned that appearances can be expensive to maintain, and up until today when I realize that the most effective "appearance" I can work for is developing a quality product for a reasonable price that appeals to a broad spectrum of potential clients. For me, for now, and for several years to come, if I decided to do so, that would be exactly what I am producing on NOW - standard def with my Canons and Mac G4-FCP/Casablanca systems.

Ironically, that particular setup would put a person in a very lucrative position to start making money instantly using the various and many marketing concepts I have blogged about, selling "Video for All Celebrations of Life!" (© Earl Chessher, 1990-2009), and saving money for the full-blown, decadent high dollar equipment and setup when you want to, or because your client base demands it.

HD will open some market areas for you that SD will not, but not many. Not really, not when a lot of HD producing people are bumping their final delivery back down to SD because of various HD delivery issues. However, if broadcast, entertainment, major commercial/corporate and similar markets, (read, heavy competition here) are not your immediate focus, and can wait for establishment of yourself and your work as viable and desirable (or affordable), a future upgrade easily made because you are profitable and have been setting aside money for it, then there's a LOT to be made by using SD production.

You're right about some "great" equipment being available "for cheap" - for example, I am probably going to let my G4/FCP, ScreenPlay editing box backup, a Glidecam V8 full support system, Canon XL1 and Canon GL2 go for somewhere in the neighborhood of $6K, give or take. That equipment has done well by me, and will offer somebody looking for entry level ability a lot of bang for the buck - cheap! This is about half of what my upgrade costs will be, and less than half of your small business loan target.

I highly recommend too, that you work in a small office, home office SOHO environment, use your cell phone for communications and forget, for now, the "looks" and go for the bucks. No, I am not actually trying to sell you my equipment, though I would if you wanted. I believe advice I'm giving either way.

Yes, you actually can afford a shoulder-mounted HD cam. THE JVC IS sweet, but I agree with you that you could certainly get where you want by using two "matched" (a loosely applied term for two of the same model) JVC HD110U models. Two HD110s will do you fine, and if you are missing something, so am I. There will ALWAYS be trade-offs between models and makes, and somebody somewhere might pipe in and say we are both all wet in our understanding of this model as opposed to other options. Opinions are like dreams, everybody has one - and the other, more familiar asset that everybody also has.

I have written a lot here. Some of it might be what you want to hear, some of it not, but all of it is my best attempt to give you information, ideas and opinions that I hope might be useful in your decisions. Keep me posted.

Word to the wise. Be wary of places offering equipment for pricing that is well below what you have noted as the norm. I'd suggest B&H Photo Video, not exclusively, but certainly, if you can get past that initial N.Y. "attitudeness" a great company in which to place your trust. There are others, but start there. They have pricing that is often a bit better than usual, but usually more than the jerks trying to rip you off. I'd be cautious about really low price postings, also with on-line bidding purchases. Trust is a hard thing to share, or confirm though there are a LOT of good, honest people with high levels of integrity "out there."

Final food for thought: wedding video production is probably the MOST hours of work for the LEAST return of any other potential market for the independent professional video service provider.

Good luck, and my regards.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bad News is Good News!

good news is bad news, generally speaking, if you want to break into the life of a news stringer.* (See Nation Master) Essentially you are working "on spec"* (doing work for free, hoping to get paid) with the thought that something you videotaped, photographed, wrote or reported got past the local broadcast television, cable, or web news channels, or newspaper, news magazine desks and staff.

And, that your information (news) is unique, hopefully a "scoop", "first in", or "exclusive"* (you are the ONLY person on the planet who has it; you are the FIRST person on the planet to report it; or, you have something HOT that you are offering ONLY to one news outlet - the "badder" the better!)

While personality profiles, human interest, interviews (unless you have an exclusive on-camera interview, and signed release, with, say, President B.O. regarding a 12-year-old affair with a waitress at Denny's), are solid "filler"* (in print, the articles filling the space remaining after the ads; on television/web video, the audio/video/print elements giving the station/site content and substance) material for most news outlets. These are routinely planned content assigned to staff, and based on the news outlet's general political position, philosophy and approach.

This leaves you with a few decisions to make regarding your efforts to establish yourself as a reliable, valuable, professional news resource who works outside normal channels,* (See TruTV) and maintains a high level of accuracy and integrity. I know, I know, doesn't sound much like many of the news people you know about. On the other hand, this would still be the direction I suggest you take to get yourself inside most news rooms. Initially.

• Do I purchase a powerful mobile and home scanner with all the bands necessary to chase ambulances, fire engines and police cars?
• Or, do I simply run the roads, prowl the neighborhoods and case the capitalists, looking for that event, situation or happening based on being in the right place at the right time?
• Or, do I focus on a specific area - hang out on Hollywood Boulevard, California, for example; or the state capitol, provided I live in the right city?
• Or, do I roam the bad areas of East L.A. at night, my camera my only concealed weapon, confident that I can handle myself in life-threatening situations and get another side of the story - whatever "the story" may be?
• Or, do I focus on area industry, keeping constant vigil on the local brewery, manufacturing plant, or strip mall odd-ball, looking for an EPA violation, or unethical business operation?

While murder, rape, armed robbery, multiple alarm fires, major accidents with death, cop/suspect beatings, as well as airplane crashes ending in death for all certainly crowd the prime time airspace for broadcast, cable and often web news video, as well as the front pages and covers of printed news, there are certainly elements of good news that can make you a dollar - first video footage of a plane landing safely in the Hudson River, for example. (See Stringer)

would want to research your potential area news outlets. A good place to start might be HERE and do a local search for WHAT? news televisions, WHERE? your city, state, but a simple Google search should get you more than enough lists/resources to approach, even offering other articles related to this area of work. You will have options, or not, depending on the size of your coverage area and the dominance/size of stations available to you. Some larger stations have a special department or agency that fields stringer inquiries/offerings. (Check out Know It All Video. and Kick Apps)

You will also need equipment that meets your news outlet's quality requirements. While a Second Coming headliner might make your footage valuable (remember the Zapruder film?) no matter what format you shot it on, the lighting or audio quality, or lack thereof, you will want to get something that proves generally acceptable, quality-wise. Ask the stations for whom you wish to work what their minimum requirements are.

The more "depth" your report has: getting releases where possible, getting officials/eye-witnesses to state their name and spell it before doing interviews (yes, interviews with clear audio, where possible can enhance the "sell-ability" of your news. Make notes regarding time, location, circumstances, etc. Be accurate and when you contact your preferred news outlet tell your contact what you have without blowing it up out of proportion. Experienced news persons will have a high sense of perception, or can often judge the BS level, for what you are telling them.

primarily hours outside regular daytime shifts. Evenings, all "nighters", weekends and often holidays are your best bet for running into something the news people have not covered. If you are a night owl, workaholic, freaky zealous news hound, aggressive, bold and determined, your efforts will pay off over the long haul.

It isn't going to work for you if you attempt to compete with the regulars, or even alienate yourself with them by stepping on their toes during a major news event. While you can work these events it is not very likely you will get something they missed, especially if you were not first at the scene. Get in and get out, unless you do establish some contacts with the local officials or first-on-the-scene witnesses, people willing to talk on camera and where possible, sign a standard release. I know it's news, but still you want to get all the CYA backup you can, even to the extent of getting a verbal release on camera during the process of getting their names and proper spelling. And, for goodness sake, if you were successful in getting an official to contribute, get the official's job position - officer, sergeant, fire chief, city commissioner...

occasionally, lose to somebody first on the scene, come in second and waste your time, and on exceptional days even get something that will bring you a few thousand dollars. The range of payment is from zero to several thousand, but a significant portion of your checks will be well under $100 as a rule.

It all depends on your business acumen, your production savvy, your boldness and determination, your competitiveness and the quality, consistency and accuracy of your work. I am repeating myself but, in time your attention to these qualities will begin to pay off. You could even, if you wish, wind up being offered a full time position with your favorite news station, news publisher or working for a salary with a web news group.

Generally, stringing for television, radio, publication or web doesn't pay much. But the opportunities for stringers are better now that many news outlets are also experiencing budgetary/income difficulties, even laying off regular staff. If these organizations want to survive they will need to develop news gathering resources somewhere. This is where independent professional capable and consistent you, the stringer, comea in. Stringers, while even detested by some, whether or not the "big guys" like it, are essential to today's social craving for instant news.

by realizing you are likely new to this arena. Just as it is suggested that you read and lurk a bit on various forums before joining in and offering your two-cents, do the same when approaching news event coverage opportunities.

There is, of course, room for belligerent, aggressive, obstinate and physically/mentally dominating individuals who are willing to step on any and everybody to get there first, steal the scoop or demean the competition - but room only because they are professionally challenged. You will be resented, black-balled and even aggressively put into your place by other experienced alpha-types if you elect to go this route.

Practice deference as well, and respect the emergency rescue, fire fighters and law enforcement officials present who are there to do a job. Even if you perceive they are NOT doing their jobs, or are unnecessarily restricting your access to the event, there are ways to work around this without chest- (or head-) butting with them. You will absolutely, positively get nowhere fast otherwise.

How you approach major news events such as multiple-alarm fires, airport bomb-threats, major vehicular accidents, train wrecks, hostage situations and more will mean the difference not only in becoming a productive and successful stringer. It also will affect your life, health, personal safety and legal risks. Keep safety and common sense right up there with determination and professionalism when working this kind of opportunity.

regarding development of a successful stringer career is huge, and well beyond the scope of this blog article. In my humble opinion the single, most effective learning resource in preparation for pursuing a career as a stringer is to watch, read and listen to every news source you can, every available minute you can; research every resource you can find through the web search engines regarding news stringer jobs/positions; and prepare yourself mentally for a potentially dangerous, exciting and rewarding gig.

Other information links include this site, and ehow. Also, while at local dot com, do filter searches there for cable TV Companies, Television (TV) broadcasting companies & stations, satellite television, etc. You can also go to Writer's Market, if you prefer to check out news publication markets for submitting written news articles. There's a bounty of other options, check out Sell My Video for starters.

Monday, February 16, 2009

DVD "Letters" for Cash Flow

If you're not afraid to work, market and try something low-budget that will keep you busy, generate exposure and referrals, and bring on some cash flow, take a shot at offering DVD Video Letters. If you haven't been living in a cave, and your friends and associates list isn't totally blank, and there's actually someone in your family who still loves you, you should have enough resources to get something going with this simple service.

Over the years I have generated personal DVD letters, most recently sharing them once a week with my Dad. Mom left this world on the morning of January 27, 2009. Dad, having been married to Mom for 62 years, 65 years including their courtship, is having a really tough time of it. While most of the family is near enough to visit, I am more than 1,800 miles away. Phone calls are nice, so are letters, but I've been sending Dad DVD video letters of 15 to 30 minutes in length, the first one an hour, sharing our mutual memories, grieving, smiles, inside jokes, laughter and tears up close and personal. Dad, and the rest of the family, loves receiving them, their intimacy.

It's nothing new, nor that difficult, but most people, even amateurs/consumers, do not take the time to do this. It is either too much trouble, technically challenging, or they simply cannot focus on developing content, setting up the equipment, packaging it nicely, then getting it off in the mail. Like written letters that more often than not wind up becoming wads of paper tossed into the trash, or otherwise never mailed. Cards, postcards are simpler, short, sweet and to the point.

But, if you really want to "reach" someone you care about, or propose to them, or generate something warm, personal and special, a "card" that will likely never see the trashcan, will be watched time and again, generate anticipation for more to come - send a DVD Video Letter. These "letters" offer another value, they represent serious historical archiving for the years ahead and generations to come.

Being a professional independent video services provider, you know how to do this simple and quick. Camera, tripod, natural lighting, on-camera mic (or other more direct recording if you are comfortable with it), a nice, quiet location and less than an hour of time for you and your client. There are a number of ways to deliver - to tape then bumping over to DVD, direct to hard drive then bumping over, direct to DVD recorder. If you have one of those affordable Video-to-DVD transfer boxes, set up the connections and you can record directly to DVD and hand it over at the end of the session.

Price it any way you want, but I find that by making these relatively affordable, quick and simple productions, I can expect to do as many a month as I desire - or none at all if I get busy with something bigger. The availability of this service is always there, and there will be people receptive to paying you for doing this if you market to them. I charge $50, up to $75, for one hour, plus two copies of the resulting DVD. I have charged as little as $35 for a half-hour straight shoot, handing over the tape/DVD. Your mileage may vary.

As I have written before, great ideas don't work unless you do. It is easy to "poof" at something that actually calls for a bit of effort, like marketing and producing DVD Letters, but there's a lot to be said for the small things - even pennies add up. If "lazy" isn't your problem, try this simple service that is easy to market and can generate instant cash flow.

OK, the economy is down, phone doesn't ring much anymore, you are tired of investing in and working bridal fairs for no immediate returns, and have revised your web site(s) and worked every strategy you know to get Google's, or other search engine's attention. Wedding referrals still come, but have slowed down and you've even caught up with last year's editing backlog. To make things even tougher cash flow has dried up, or slowed to a trickle.

Elton John sang, "time on my hands could be time spent with you," but that isn't paying the bills, or making you feel all that worthwhile, and your marketing drive has shriveled to a raisin, from what was once a prune - I know, plums make prunes, grapes make raisins, but you get my drift.

One thing you have of value that you might not be using to full potential is that list of clients you've delivered product to over the years. Or, maybe you haven't been in business long enough to have such a list. Or, you have names and addresses, even e-mails, but business has been so slow for so long that your client contact list is probably not the most accurate ruler of your success.

If you don't have a good list to market to, there are ways to generate one. Take a trip around the block, check out the area market bulletin boards, collect names and addresses anywhere you can, white pages listings? Just about everybody has an e-mail list. While I'm not particularly fond of marketing via e-mail because I have found it relatively ineffective, and I don't want to be perceived as a spammer or blast mailer, I do use this method to contact people in my inner circle.

As much as I have tried to discourage my family and friends from sending me forwarded e-mail consisting of pyramid schemes, dried up jokes, weird web site listings, etc., they continue to do so. Initially I just trashed them. If you are willing to take the risk, however, you'll notice a huge e-mail list of all the people your family member or friend included in that frustrating e-mail to you. A few you will know, a lot of them you will not. But you can name drop the sender, and open some doors without coming off as a total spammer. A lot of them will read your offer because they know somebody you know. Some will respond - positively, not with an all capital letters attack.

Friday, February 13, 2009

School Spring Events Kick Off

You can find some great marketing pointers by checking out marketeer Steve Yankee's "12 Ways to Market When the Economy Sucks" - this music/band lover's ongoing blog Marketing Mojo is worth visiting from time-to-time.

Jay Michael's In the Viewfinder will keep you informed, entertained and aware of "things video" from marketing and resources, to what Jay is currently focused on in his own video production efforts.

But, before you go off checking those links, take a moment to continue reading and kick off your marketing efforts with spring school events that are scheduled, planned and kicking off as well. The time to get in touch is RIGHT NOW!

Design a colorful postcard or develop a one-page marketing letter and let the schools in your service area know you are ready to do business making affordable video DVDs of their spring productions available.

Tell them that YOUR COMPANY is the "go to" producer in their area for professionally videotaped, edited and packaged quality DVDs of their spring events in dance, drama, band concert and choral. Spring is also when flag teams, drill teams and other groups hold competition as well, opening up a whole range of business possibilities.

In my last post I noted that working on spec isn't necessarily a bad thing, and this approach could open a lot of doors in the spring school events kickoff. Another approach is to establish the minimum sales you can live with and offer to produce at no cost to the organization or school, instead offering direct sales to individuals at a reasonable price per copy.

What is a "reasonable" price? Well, if you've read any of my articles you'll know that I am content to produce video of events two hours, or less, in length, for a minimum of 20 copies at $25. Your mileage may vary, and you might have to go the "spec" route at first, but the business is certainly out there and just waiting for you to let them know you exist, and that you want their business.

Check if the school has a web site. If so the school will likely post an events calendar, and you will be able to find out who your contact person(s) is/are. It is always better, in my humble opinion, to get the promotion materials into the right hands - band director/instructor, choral director, dance director, glee club or parent support group president, school activities director, etc.

Find out their names and use them. Believe me, it can make all the difference.

What if the school does not have a web site? Make the call. The young lady, usually, who works the front desk will often gladly take the time to provide you the information you need, or mail you a directory, or even forward you to the right person for that information.

Some of you in the video business are not particularly comfortable in direct marketing calls/contact, but believe me a friendly, unassuming voice (smile when you are talking, it works) saying something like, "I have some information about my services that you will find interesting and compelling. I would like to send it to you directly, or send you an e-mail today. I know you might have choices in video service providers but you will find my approach can result in a high quality production with significant savings. It never hurts to check out your options, right?"

Postcards can be simple, affordable, easy and quick. Use an actual photo depicting the event you are targeting - choral group singing, dancers dancing, bands playing, or an instrument, or even a picture of a school, or a modernistic illustration compiling stylized images of these events, even an abstract. The desire here is to make the front of that card colorful and simple - eye catching. Use few words.

"Professional Video Production at NO Cost to Your School!" or, if you want to go the "spec" route, "Get to know us - professional event video! NO cost to You!"

A short paragraph on the back, followed by CALL NOW TO BOOK, and your contact information. Simple and quick, and unless a video company has been doing a slam-bang job for this group for years at giveaway prices, you will get a shot. They will inquire.

Virtually any video, photography or trade publication - MacWorld magazine, Website Magazine, Videography magazine, for examples - will have a number of ads, usually on the back pages, of print companies vying for your business. I have had a good experience with a number of them. America's Printer is one; also PrintRunner. If time is too short for designing, printing and mailing postcards this season, use a one-page letter.

Obviously you should have professional looking letterhead with your company name and contact information. But if you are simply an independent individual, then take a shot at setting something up on your computer/word processor with a nice, clean font for your name/contact information.

I might send body copy that says:
"Dear (activity director's name)
I specialize in affordable professional video production services and want to produce your (Spring Fling, Spring Concert, etc.) this year at absolutely no cost to your group, organization or school. How?

I realize you may have choices in a professional video services provider. As an opportunity to get to know me, my company and the quality of our productions, I will videotape, edit, produce and package video DVDs of your (event name) in a professional manner and quality.

I provide copies of performances of two hours or less for $25 each. If even one person, parent or student purchases a copy, I will not only deliver theirs, but will also provide you with a complimentary copy at no charge.

Call me today to arrange for this unique, one-time "get acquainted" special offer, and place your event on our production calendar.

Direct sales to parents helps defray production costs, and I will provide the order forms for advance sales.

Simply distribute the forms and accept cash/check payment for a minimum of 20 DVDs at $25 each, and (company name) will provide complete professional video production services at no additional costs.

You may, if you wish, deposit order payments and issue one check to (company name), or we will gladly accept direct checks/cash payments and provide you with a list of each person who orders, the number ordered and total receipts.

We will deliver all orders received, prior to and following, (event name) within 4-6 weeks, direct to you for distribution. Other delivery arrangements are available subject to additional costs.

Call today to schedule (event name) on our production calendar. I (we) look forward to hearing from you soon.

If you have any further questions or concerns do not hesitate to call or e-mail. We would LOVE to work with you!

Name and signature

Keep it simple.

I believe in event video production we sometimes go overboard with production efforts that might result in a high-end style production with lots of camera angles, moves and booms, cranes, stabilizer, multiple mic placement and some seriously complex editing.

These productions might include complex graphics, composite sequences and special effects, plush graphic inserts, library cases and more.

It is my professional opinion that while such productions are certainly (or can be) awe inspiring, get us (maybe) into the big time, whatever that is, and make us very proud of our capabilities - all those people watching us work this complex production magic during the event. Oops, they're watching US, and not the event? That's fine, they'll get to see it when they purchase a copy at $55, $65 or $75.

I hope these producers DO get that kind of money, and a significant number of sales, because all the trouble they've gone to is certainly worth the purchase price. But, in the real world, especially these tight economic times, they are over producing with no hope of recouping production costs, much less making a profit.

It is my experience that people want quality imaging and audio with a minimum of whizbang POVs, special effects and creative embellishment - meat and potatoes. And, they want it at a reasonable price. I have found the meaning of "reasonable" to be somewhere between $18 and $25, depending on a number of factors such as length of performance or total numbers ordered, guaranteed high sales volume (100 or more), etc.

We shoot two-camera, two-operator, side-by-side (stereo, if you will). One camera follows with close up shots, medium shots. The other shoots primarily full stage, occasionally tightening up for small groups, or split-mic vocals, etc. The full shot is used as a base, with the follow camera shots inserted where needed, and/or where possible to enhance the production with a minimum of editing effort.

I usually use the live audio from our on-camera mics (they're relatively decent sound quality, and having the audio from both allows me options to build up, or enhance by sometimes doubling from both). I also usually distribute at least two, sometimes four Zoom H2 digital recorders where I think they will be most effective. I use this audio when and where needed for clarity, or to boost, or ambient sound, whatever. It is my personal preference, after many a sad experience and audio circuitry damage/repairs, to not utilize audio directly from any existing sound board/system.

So, just as you would include a call to action on your mailings (CALL NOW! CALL TODAY!) start planning, research, development and mailing NOW! TODAY! and get your share of this lucrative market while it is hot!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Working "On Spec" Not Necessarily a Bad Thing

If you don't mind gambling, and still believe in the inherent goodness of humankind, working a production "on spec" is not necessarily a bad thing. In my early days of video production, and even today, I have used this approach to open doors to new business.

Not once in more than 15 years have I failed to get the return I expected, and often more than I anticipated, by offering a group, organization or school this approach to getting to know me and my production company, opening doors for lucrative emergency business and future repeat clients.

Just for your information, I often have run into photographers, some of them members of a huge operation/company, whose only approach to business is to cover events on spec. If you aren't familiar with the term - on spec generally means you are willing to shoot, edit and produce a video product with no promise or guarantee of sales, payment or income. You are "speculating" that enough people will see you in action, and want a copy of what you are producing, or will visit your website for a taste of a clip sample and then want what you are producing, that the effort to do this will pay off in some way.

I have an introductory special for paid minimum sales gigs where I offer to shoot up to a two-hour performance, edit and produce DVDs for a minimum of 20 units at $25. I rarely ever have to offer on spec productions anymore, but it is a way to open doors if the economy has slowed things down in your area. It is also a way to develop long-lasting new business relationships where second season and beyond clients return for a more lucrative agreement, or the minimums I mentioned above.

Only one client out of many, many clients past and present has steadfastly stuck with the minimum 20 at $25 offer. Mostly because this client only has an average of 18 dance students in her class, and mostly does the whole thing for a hobby. She has often paid for the additional two to meet my minimums. Since her productions are almost always barely one hour in length, I am content to maintain this arrangement with her, rather than lose her as a renewable income resource.

Also, I have obtained other business, referrals and even a wedding or three from her, her associates, class members or parents. The exposure has more than paid for sticking with a loyal client who returns year-after-year, and can be counted on for receipt of payment when I show up to shoot. It is an easy $500 gig.

As for the rest of my event clients, I have always averaged 50 units, or more, in sales. Some top the 100 mark, and I collect $25 for each and every sale. I will often comp a copy to the owner/director/organizer when sales top 40 or more. I provide advance sales order forms, or a copy they can duplicate and distribute.

Back to shooting on spec. Rarely will any martial arts group, youth sports group, school performance group, church activity, car show club, or any other event you can imagine pass up on the opportunity to receive "professional" quality production if it isn't going to cost the group a dime. Individual sales set at a price point with which you can live carries the weight of production costs, and will virtually always result in making $500 or more for a gig of two hours in length, or less.

Shooting on spec is a great way to fill empty production calendars, to expose you and your company to more people, develop branding and company awareness, and even drive clients to your website(s) if you post sample clips and provide ordering convenience from your website. I personally haven't established a clips and on-line sales element, but within the next few months I will be totally revamping all my business websites, and offering this avenue for people to order on line.

Give it some thought. Decide what you are willing to take a chance on, then go out there and find events that appeal to the gambler in you. It will almost always give much better odds than Vegas. Really.