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Studio Help

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Jeff KelleyStudio Help
by on Feb 9, 2010 at 12:35:25 pm

Hi all,

So, my company has put me in charge of coming up with a small video production studio and I need help. While I'm not putting a formal proposal together, I need to present some ideas and an idea of cost.

Here is what I am looking for.

I need to have a basic set up to shoot educational toys, primarily for the web. but I wouldn't limit it to just web. It needs to be simple but good enough to look professional

What I was thinking is a couple of cameras, Final Cut Pro, a sound mixing board, mics, lights, and whatever else you can think of. I need idea's, recommendations, and more. I don't have a budget yet but I need to keep the cost down.

I know this is not a lot to go by but I am desperate.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 9, 2010 at 2:58:02 pm

The first thing I would suggest is, in this economy, you can get fabulous deals using other people's studios. So ask yourself and the boss: is there a compelling reason to invest in all this in-house stuff, when it is a customer's market right now for renting studio time?" You only pay for it when you need it, you don't have to worry about amortization and other costs. If cost is the major factor, give this a lot of consideration. The studio also comes with talent you can rent as you need it.

Usually you take things in-house for reasons of
fast turn-around time
reliable and near-daily use
ability to instantly respond to a sudden wild-hair need
Special expertise in shooting a niche product

Now, if you're doing a web video every two days, maybe it makes sense to build a studio on site, in-house. If you only do it once a week, maybe... not so much.

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Jeff KelleyRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 9, 2010 at 3:49:32 pm

Thanks Mark,

You bring up some very good points and I will include that in my presentation, however I am still going to need to write up some idea of cost.

Any camera & microphone recommendations? I just need to come up with a simple, basic set up.

Any good site to help me understand basic set ups?

Thanks much

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Mark SuszkoRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 9, 2010 at 6:30:37 pm


Jeff, it would help if you could describe, in detail, what EXACTLY you are wanting to shoot in this notional studio. What your end product will be. If all you are going to do are screen movies like COW tutorials, you won't need much more than the computer and a good vocal mic.

I can't give you solid numbers because a "simple" studio, based on how it is set up, and what it's used for, could cost between five grand and five hundred grand.

Are you going to shoot green screen stuff? Training or how-to videos for customers trying to assemble product? Internal sales training aids? Are you going to shoot lectures or panel discussions? Live webcasts, or only edited stuff? Location footage or just in the studio? High def or not? Do you have a room with sufficient ceiling height for a light grid, with good soundproofing, good, quiet HVAC, stable and clean electrical power? You mention product shots, well, like what? Tabletop sized things or larger? If you have good photos or 3d cgi models of the product, again, you may not need any kind of studio to make videos about them. You might do it all in virtual space, as animation.

I can't gauge your experience level from your post, but since your questions are so basic, I have to guess you're not yet at a level to work professionally with this gear if you DID get it. That's not a knock on you. I don't know you. I'm just saying that companies are always getting into trouble when they go outside their core competencies on a whim. To those that feel driven to create an internal video enterprise from scratch, just on the strength of the need for doing one project, I usually ask:

Do you have a sales force? If yes, do you buy them flying lessons and rent each one a Cessna, so they can fly themselves around on business trips, or do you let the salesmen be salesmen, what you're paying them to be, and just hire a travel agent to book cheap tickets and hotels and plan the best routes?

It could be that the most efficient video operation for your outfit is to have one guy or gal as an office "production coordinator", and just sub out ALL the other video work, as and when needed, to a cadre of experienced pros in the area, each already properly equipped and most already having a professional studio space ready to use, cheap. You could maybe do just the editing in-house on a PC or mac that's already there for some other job, or outfit a humble but capable editing system for a few grand. The editing/authoring/encoding is what takes the most time in production, not the shooting, so editing is the first thing you bring "in-house" as a way to save expensive time. But under current economic conditions, you have fire-sale bargains going on just outside your door; seems foolish not to take advantage of them.

This way, your accounting dept. will love that you're not costing the company anything on this when there is down time, and you only pay for actual productivity. No hardware to depreciate. No rented floor space going unused most of the week. No staff increases or changes in job assignments because George from Accounting is bored with spreadsheets and wants to become a Producer now.

Just calling it like I see it.

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Bill DavisRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 10, 2010 at 4:32:08 am

I'll make it even more simple and clear.

You work at a business. Your business leaders understand how much it costs to make their product and to distribute it and the RETURN they require on their capital in order to stay in business.

Same with video production.

Run the numbers like any business would.

Let's say they budget $60,000 for their video production studio. And they want it to pay for itself over the next 5 years so that it doesn't become a drag on the companies bottom line.

If your company works on a net margin of say 10% on it's sales. Then they need to sell or save the equivalent of $600,000 in extra sales or "video driven cost savings" in order to pay the costs of the video operation over that period.

You'll probably also have to factor in the labor and management cost. Let's call that $400,000 again spread over 5 years.

If you can identify a way to either increment sales or reduce current expenses by $1,000,000 over 5 years BY BRINGING VIDEO PRODUCTION IN HOUSE, then it makes good business sense to expand the company's expertise and add video production to your company's core competencies.

If nobody in the organization can demonstrate how adding video production would do that - increase sales or limit costs by $1,000,000 over the next 5 years - then it's basically BUSINESS FOOLISH to do it.

It's a very "dumbed down" shorthand answer - but it's more accurate than just "guessing" what the financial impact would be.

Work with your companies CFO, or the accounting dept and put YOUR projected numbers where mine are - and you'll at least have a first round rough estimate of a "sink or swim" ROI for the project.

Good luck.

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Mike CohenRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 10, 2010 at 5:41:28 pm

your post is repeated every few months on this very forum. People get either enamored or excited with the idea of building a studio from scratch, without thinking of the big picture.
If you are a toy company, or whatever, without in-house media capabilities, and you are not a media guy, then you have an uphill climb.
If you are a media guy, then you should be able to spend the minimum amount to at least get the wheels rolling.

What is your 1-year goal? A video a day, a week, a month? Are these 1 minute you-tube style videos or proper product promos. Look at similar websites to see what you actually are going to try to make.

Then figure out how much it would cost to pay someone else to do the work, especially if you need to first learn how to do the work yourself.

Before you give your bosses a price estimate, I think you need more information - you both need to look at the big picture.

Another common question here is "I want to buy a camera and spend $X. What should I get? Is Camera X better than Camera Y?"

The correct question is "This is what I need to do, what should I buy or should I buy?"

Mike Cohen

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Jeff KelleyRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 10, 2010 at 6:57:32 pm

I knew this was going to be the problem and I 100% understand what you are saying. I am not asking you for costs or anything like that. Assuming I want to research the subject so at least I don't look totally stupid in front the high ups, I just needed to be pointed in the right direction.

I Understand you are all professionals and I am a fool, but it is not my choice. I was asked for some idea's of a simple studio. My guess is that, as I said, demos of educational toys, probably for the internet. You know, like kids playing with toys, or how-to type things. I would guess that mostly they would be for the internet for now, We would like it to look a little better than just a cheap hand held camera with bad lights and sound. My guess it that eventually they would like to expand this to more than the internet.

Keep in mind that we have workers children come in a play with the toys so we would need to be able to have something available in-house.

Let me put it this way. I've got 3 kids and they are going to play with a Mr Potato head (Not our product but for example). I want something that looks nice. I want to be able to edit. I want the sound to be good. Now, if you were going to do this, about what type of camera, lights and mics would you be looking at. Do you know of any website that might help? Maybe someone makes a basic set up?

Look, I REALLy appreciate all the comments and what you've said is a help but doesn't help me for the immediate problem.

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Matthew ChiumentoRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 10, 2010 at 7:14:45 pm

B&H video is the online standard and will be able to put some packages for you or at least some ideas. However, look local in case you run into any issues with your equipment or need help putting together your studio.

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Matthew ChiumentoRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 10, 2010 at 7:02:26 pm

Start small and build big...

In my experiences people forget that there has to be a 3-5 commitment.
I've seen it happen several times at several different organizations, someone goes and buys equipment and spends a ton of money. A year or 2 down the road, new software is needed, more hard drives are needed, the camera needs service, more man power is needed you get the picture.

I think asking someone how much time, money and effort your leadership wants to give to, is an appropriate question to ask.
Or compare how much a years worth of outsourcing would cost you as mentioned in an earlier post and multiply it for 5 years.

I have a local vendor I work with for my equipment, as many times as I've cried wolf, they are always delighted to lend hand and provide me with a quote.

Good luck, and keep us posted.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 10, 2010 at 10:03:50 pm

Jeff, there is no one universal basic setup. You could shoot these kids with a flip cam and put it online. You chould shoot them in high def with a multicam live switched setup. Because you've described a very open-ended operation that may need to expand, if I list you some modest starter gear you'll be back in a year needing to throw it all out and upgrade. If I list you the parts of a "swiss army knife" type package, the budget will curl your boss' hair, you may not use half of the capabilities, and you'll not likely have mastered everything in the package before it too becomes obsolete. Meanwhile, your work product does not automatically look good just because you laid out dollars. So you need to budget for training and time to practice.

But I'm killing time waiting for a client approval, so what the heck, against my better judgement, let's play.

Room: needs to be quiet if you expect to use ambient audio. Listen to the room with eyes closed, listen for air handler, plumbing, and machine noise as well as human foot traffic noises. You need thick carpet on the floor and possibly halfway up the walls. Furniture needs to not be shiny or too reflective, and all the colors of the room need to harmonize well and read well on camera without being too close to the colors of your products, or else the product will tend to "disappear". So your first trip is not to B&H but to Home Depot or a professional decorator.

How to mic 3 kids playing with a Mr. Potato Head type toy: on the floor? Or at a table? Will they sit in one spot or move around the room? If they will sit in one spot, you can hang a shotgun mic from the ceiling, aimed at the play area. The rest of the room could be covered using boundary mics on the ceiling and/or walls. The more mics you have, the more you need to feed them to an audio mixer, pick one with one or more channels than you have sources.

Lighting? You want a room without windows, or very good blinds/curtains. The ceiling lights in the room are not going to be flattering to the product or the kids. You can start by replacing them with kinoflo or videssence fluorescent tubes with the right color temperature, but will likely need supplemental lighting on the same side of the room as the camera, to further chase shadows. A couple of Lowel Rifa lights is my go-to for lighting a zone with soft, wrap-around light. Or you might get a couple of Arri's and bounce them off white walls of the room to fill. Think about safety: a room where kids will play may not be suitable for hot halogen type lighting and stands and etc that can be run into and tipped over. You may need to hang everything from a pipe on the ceiling. Especially if you might shoot in a 360-degree fashion, as the kids move around on the floor or around the table.

Camera: Pick out any of the cameras in the B&H catalog that are over four grand; your criteria will revolve around getting one with the widest possible lens. Zoom ability in the room is not as important as being able to get good wide shots up close, and to work in a low light level, so the lens needs to be fast. If the lens is not built onto the camera, expect to spend as much for the lens as you did on the camcorder body, and almost that much for a quality tripod. I'm going to assume single-camera for your project to start, though for these kinds of vids, it is often useful to have a second camera shooting wide/cover shots. You can try live-mixing the two cams with a video switcher in real time (about $4k and up) or doing it in post production. As to camera format, well, you didn't bother to say if it was standard def or high def, high def is going to cost a bit more, especially for the video switcher. You haven't picked a format, you could shoot to a tape-based or disk-based or solid state based recording format. Working with kids takes patience and you need a format that gives long recording duration between re-loads so as not to miss a critical scene that only happens once/spontaneously, so I think if you're HD that leaves out flash media recording or P2 recording in favor of a hard-disk-based recording format.

Post production: you have many choices here, from Sony Vegas and Final Cut Express and Adobe Premiere (and others) on a laptop, to a tower computer setup with full suite versions of those apps. Budget for RAID storage for the video, as you don't usually edit video on the computer's "c" drive, but rather on a dedicated media array.

Depending on the bundle of apps in your production suite, you can compress and encode for DVD and the web from there. You might be able to put all that together for around fifteen grand, if you clip coupons. That's in SD without the switcher, mind. Divide that into how many videos the boss might want done in a year and tell me what that computes to. Then ask a local pro what he charges to do a three hour shoot and two days of editing. I'm betting you can get a terrific web video made for you by a pro for the cost of any one item in the list of stuff I bolded above.

I really don't want you to do ANY of this; I feel like I'm watching a kitten trying to cross Lake Shore Drive at 4:45 on a Friday. I can't bear to look.

And if I sound cruel or condescending, you haven't heard from Zelin yet, remember that.

I do wish you well and wish you luck, but past this point, I can't in good conscience help enable a bad decision. This will not end well.

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Kevin RossiterRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 12, 2010 at 5:08:52 pm

I'm veering towards Jeff's side here.

Borrow a camcorder, shoot a couple of 1 minute interviews with colleagues answering product FAQ, then get a friend to tidy the 3 clips up on $40 Vegas package.

Then send it to Marketing to post on the company blog.

Why take this approach?

Companies dither for ever over what to buy, and when, and how much, ie, nothing will happen, or ever will :) :) :)

It's better to offer leadership and go and do something first, and see if it's liked.

Rossiter & Co Video Multimedia Web for Business

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Jeff KelleyRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 12, 2010 at 5:47:50 pm

Ok, I do understand everything that was said. Here is what I did.

I told my boss (and his boss) that the cost of such as set up could vary anywhere from $2000 to $200,000 depending on what we have to do. If we just want to shoot web stuff, a hi end consumer camcorder would be enough. What was needed it a definite plan, goals, a solid idea of what we hope to do and accomplish and than figure out w budget to accomplish these goals.

So, after some serious talk, we have decided that for the time being, the web is what the company is most interested. So what I recommended was a nice camcorder and Adobe Premiere. Start there and see were that takes us.

So now, anyone who has any information that might help me in purchasing a camcorder, I'd appreciate that. I am NOT asking you to tell me which one to buy, but some idea of the type of things I should look for in a camera. I would also like it to be known that the more I can justify all this, the more toys I will have to play with, so I need to really talk it up.

Hey, thanks everyone.

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Nick GriffinRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 12, 2010 at 6:56:11 pm

I have to say that this plan for getting started with just a few components is much safer and more reasonable than what had previously been discussed. However I think you and your company are better served by starting with a camera which can do much of the professional stuff and won't need to be one of the first things replaced should this effort get more serious.

Others will, no doubt, have other opinions, but my advice is to start with a Canon XL-2. Reasons in its favor are the numerous pro features: Interchangeable lens, Balanced XLR audio inputs, real time code, time lapse, variable shutter speeds including clear scan and more. The XL-2 is a LOT of camera for the money and widely available so it's heavily discounted. To bring the price down further you might also look into this camera on the used market, ie.- eBay, used departments at B&H, Calumet, Adorama, etc. Just be sure to make low hours of usage a prime consideration.

Besides a camera and NLE software you will need / must have a tripod (again used is a good way to save money), one or more lights and an off-camera microphone. I recommend that one of the simplest and least expensive forms of lighting is a Lowell Tota-light that you can kick into the ceiling, thereby raising the light level of the entire room while still appearing like conventional lighting. A large sheet of white tagboard (available at any art supply store) can be used as an inexpensive reflector to open up shadow areas -- something which will be very important on close-ups.

The off-camera mic is needed for decent quality on anything except ambient/room sound. If your subjects (kids) will tolerate it a lav mic clipped 9 to 12" from their mouths will produce excellent sound quality. If there are multiple kids consider a handheld omni-directional mic either held over top of or placed within the scene.

Now come to think of it, you should try Mark's original suggestion of using an experienced pro, if only for the first few of these video projects. You could learn a whole bunch from observing and be more likely to have a better video product at both the beginning of the process and down the road.

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Mike CohenRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 13, 2010 at 1:54:53 am

...and don't forget that given a room full of kids and an adult with a video camera, expect the kids to look at the camera more than the Mr Potato Head. You want the play room to be as cozy as possible. Consider a child-height table, bean bag chairs, plush carpeting. A tripod will get you solid shots, but you might need to get down on the floor with the camera as wide as it will go and find camera angles that are compatible with a 3 year old playing with toys.

Soft light is best, you don't want a 650W arri pointing at a toddler - god forbid a lamp blows. Mommy won't be happy.

Speaking of Mommy, will she be there or are these kids being locked in an office?

Have you tested this theory of videotaping kids playing with toys in your office?

Technology is readily available and easy to get. The process is what you need to figure out.

Mike Cohen

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Jeff KelleyRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 16, 2010 at 2:26:38 pm

Thanks all. Let me explain a little.

We are an educational toy company so we do have places the resemble play rooms. Also, we have our photographer whom we have a very good relationship with that will help if we needs sets, such as classrooms and such.

Things like, hiring a professional and such is out of the question. We have a creative director who insists on doing everything himself and a CEO who is pushing to do everything in house. (He is even trying to get us to bring Photography in house for Packaging and catalogs, which is a story for another day).

I've already got the go ahead to purchase Adobe Premier and they are just waiting on my recommendation for the camera.

Sound is what I'm worried about the most. Poor sound on video ruins the whole thing.

PLEASE keep you advice and suggestions coming. You probably can tell I'm in a bad spot, the company spending a lot of money on my suggestion.

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Paul HudsonRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 16, 2010 at 3:33:16 pm


You are right to be concerned about audio. So many forget the importance of sound. The eye will almost always follow the ear. With the right sound, recorded on location, and in the post process, you can make someone believe almost any video effect.

Remember this comes from a DP of over 25 years so when I give this much credit to sound it is not lightly done.

As for cameras, I recommend the Panasonic line. Like the HVX 200, HMC 150 or the better HPX 500. The tapeless format it efficient and handy.

Compared to the price we paid for cameras only a few years ago these cameras are all inexpensive.

Paul Hudson
Phoenix Video Production

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Nick GriffinRe: Studio Help
by on Feb 16, 2010 at 4:13:05 pm

You've gotten several pieces of good advice from this thread so here's one that may also be helpful: DON'T BUY Premiere until you go to the Premiere forum and ask for specific advice on configuring a system to properly handle it.

All NLEs, not just Premiere, put extreme demands on the computer and its storage. Not having a CPU that's fast enough, not having enough RAM and utilizing disks which can't transfer at the speeds needed for video, along with other factors, can make your system useless. Get this stuff straight because there's a lot more to putting together a functional editing system than simply buying software.

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