What are your thoughts and advice on office space for running your business? I'm semi-seriously shopping for a space in the area with a couple other videographers, hoping to split the space and rent. The current plan is to find a place with some usable studio space with the room to install a greenscreen, hang lights, or build a small set if necessary. Maybe use it as a screening room for clients.
What do all of you have for space? What are specifics that we should be aware of and look for, particularly to make clients feel comfortable? Any stories, examples, or recommendations?
We got pretty lucky with our space (although I keep making noise about moving, since we have sort of outgrown it)...
We moved into our current facility (from smaller digs) about seven years ago. It's a freestanding commercial building that fortunately was new, so there were no previous occupants creating problems that we had to repair.
I looked at lots and lots of properties, but the biggest problem I found was layout... no buildings had a floorplan that was very useful. We finally landed on the building we have (two stories, a modest but very workable 3600 square feet), that for some reason was designed with a fair number of mid-sized offices. These proved to work very well for edit suites.
Although I wish we had a bit more room in it, we got a bit lucky for studio space in that one entire end of the building was constructed as a garage. It has a smooth concrete floor and high ceilings. We turned this into a soundstage by soundproofing, white epoxy floor, and hanging a black cyc around two walls (a big "L") and making our own pipe grid for lighting. The stage very conveniently has a large roll up door that opens out on to a loading dock, and there's also a ramp if you wish to a drive a vehicle straight in. Within the studio space is our audio booth for voiceover work.
All total our "roomage" includes the stage, lobby, GM's office, kitchen, three edit suites, conference room, makeup/wardrobe/greenroom, and a couple of bathrooms. Like in just about every building I've seen there is never enough storage space... we have to rent storage space near by off site (one of those store-it-yourself places) where mostly zillions of props and bigger set pieces live.
I did spend a fair bit of work running cables through walls, ceilings, and floors. The building already had all the proper phone and networking wiring, but I did have to run audio and video cables from the stage into the three edit suites. Fortunately most of the cable runs were fairly short... my own suite is adjacent to the stage, and although the two other suites are upstairs they are pretty much directly over mine so I was able to keep things fairly close. About half the building (most of the ground floor) has a typical "suspended ceiling" so that made things easier in places, but we did have to make a lot of cable cuts in walls and floors, especially upstairs. Believe it or not most of the cabling in our building is hidden and fairly invisible (I HATE seeing cables... boy am I in the wrong business).
The only real layout problem is that the stage is accessible ONLY through our lobby... to go from any other part of the building into the studio you must first walk though the lobby. I COULD cut another door for it, but the door would open directly into my personal edit suite... sometimes that would be an advantage, but mostly not.
Adjacent building are a lawyer's office and the March of Dimes... we are all in indentical buildings and share the same common parking lot.
Like in all real estate, the three important words are LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION. We needed a place convenient for clients, and also for TV stations to do pickups since we churn out bunches of television commercials (that's most of what we do). So a central location was the only option for us, which is why we landed smack downtown. Unfortunately with convenience comes price, so our location is probably a LOT more expensive than if we picked something outside of the main business disctict... but in our case it makes sense. The biggest location problem that we DO have is that railroad tracks run within half a mile of our place... even with soundproofing you can hear the whistles blowing in the studio. Fortunately they only come by four or five times a day... but have been known to bust shoots.
Ah... the other problem is neighbors. Out our back door is a small restaurant, catering to the Junior League and blue-haired "ladys who lunch" crowd... and they don't have nearly enough parking. Their customers are forever parking at our loading dock, once even right up on the ramp blocking the stage door. "No Parking" signs and threats to tow them have helped some, but not compltely.
Anywho, that's what we do... far from perfect, but it's workable enough for us.
Hope this helps,
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Ease of pickup of physical items for TV stations may be important today, but less so in the future as more and more distribution is handled by direct FTP transfers over the net.
We had a discussion on the COW maybe a year ago, a guy had his post business at his home, which up to that time was a great deal for him, and one client turned out to be literally a crazy person who physically assaulted him in his house/suite. When something like that happens, you have no place safe to go. And if your clients make a lot of stress, you have no escape and less privacy. So I think there is something to be said for having your production boutique close to home but not necessarily co-located in your home. Maybe better if the boutique is also zoned for you to have an apartment there, where you can crash for occasional overnights, separate from the actual home.
A boutique or communal space can be great. But commonly I think the basic issues that arise involve not enough rules from the start and a blurred line about who pays for what and who owns and has access to what. Like roomates in off-campus college housing, it doesn't take much to turn a harmonious crash pad into a drama den of cross-accusations and backstabbing over responsibilities and behaviors, etc.
If you start out with a very firm and comprehensive set of rules and policies in writing and people you trust to live by the rules, I think you can do very well in such a setup, where each member brings his or her own skills to the jobs and riffs off each other's creativity. How you share the jobs, access, bills, and the income can be hairy. Have rules on how to kick out or buy out a member's share BEFORE the thing is begun.
Wanting to make clients comfortable is something you mentioned and it is the most important. Basically nothing will happen until the point. The perception should be that once a client arrives for a meet, everything stops and the focus is on them. So its always good to have a separate room like a conference room, that is quiet, well designed with accomplishments (awards, etc) displayed. A well designed room conveys trust and confidence, which goes a long way to not only making the deal but keeping the client.
In my years as a creative director, I discovered that it was no accident that the better the meeting place, the better deals we'd land. Some boutiques have meetings "on the floor" which seems more hip but its more distracting.
You are of course focused on studio and lights and things, but really my best suggestion would be really putting a lot of thought into how and where you will interact with clients once they arrive for a meet. There is a whole art to it (from the initial greeting, offering a beverage, starting on time, outlining objective of meet, etc) and its worth really focusing on.
We are getting ready to renovate our offices, keeping in mind some of the things mentioned already. We'll have a smaller but better meeting room, with a small kitchen area, and we'll have bigger more private offices, especially for the editors, whose edit suites are also our offices.
One issue we have is a need for storage, so two big storage closets for camera gear, shipping supplies and inventory and tape library is important and keeps the rest of the office free of clutter.
I have been watching Mad Men, but I don't think we'll have an open bar any time soon!
As far as studio space, we usually use our conference room for any pickup shots, but we just rent a studio in Hartford if we need it.
I found a large overhead to feel much like a job. I didnt like it.
I now work out of the house. Much less hours, much less income but much less stress.
I'm glad I shut down the boutique. I'll never do that again.
Different strokes for different folks... it may work great for Grinner, but I will never work out of the house again, unless there are absolutely no other options.
In the first year of my company, when it was still a one-man gig, I worked out of the house. LOVED IT! At first. Then I began to realize that I was working all the time. I'd run into the suite just for "ten minutes, just to check something" before going to bed... and the next thing I knew the sun was coming up. And even when I wasn't working, I always felt like I was at work. I'm just one of those guys who needs the physical separation of space. That, and the FedEx guy got tired of seeing me in boxer shorts.
[Mike Cohen] "One issue we have is a need for storage"
Yep, that's always an issue... as I said earlier we have to rent off-site storage. Our facility has 9 rooms (excluding bathrooms, hallways, stairs, and open areas), so we have a fair bit of space... but exactly one closet. ONE. And it's small, under stairs. We installed lots and lots of deep heavy-duty equipment shelves in the big garage room that we turned into studio space, most of it hidden behind the black cyc that covers two walls, and there's a "complicated system of winches and pulleys" that raises the cyc up to access the stuff. Not nearly as convenient though as real storage space would be. We also force our greenroom/makeup room into triple duty as wardrobe storage; one end has long clothes poles running the length of the room for hanging things.
[Mike Cohen] "I have been watching Mad Men, but I don't think we'll have an open bar any time soon!"
Wouldn't that be great? If I had enough time/money/space/resources my space would look exactly like Sterling Cooper. We are part of the way there, virtually all of our furniture, artwork, and tchotchkies are from that era... but the Mad Men production designers really hit the nail on the head down to every detail. Beautiful.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
I hear ya.
For me, the added overhead simply added more hours to the day.
I easily turn it off now at 6pm which is not something I could do when I had to pay all that overhead. I can honestly say I truely dont care who that pisses off. That is not a luxury I could afford with a 7k a month overhead.
I now edit and shoot for folks I like to be around. Man, that rules.
I can't tell you how much I enjoy good company.
Now, I weed out all but the above.
if you feel you must venture into debt, man just fullfill where ay need to. They need a lounge? furnish one. They need wireless, get it.
they need a perfect master? for me it's easiest to just tell em when it'll be ready.
I like editing in my undies.
Thank you all so much for your advice! This has been insanely helpful.
[Toddy Terry] "We'll need to soundproof it, paint, and hang a cyc or two. Probably its primary use will be for shooting on a greescreen."
Your studio space sounds similar to one of the places we're considering. What advice do you have for inexpensively converting a space like this?
Actually, I was reading that thread a few days ago. That, and the need to keep a psychological separation between my work and my life is important. Or maybe not -- maybe I should be focusing all of my energy on developing my skills and business at this point?
[Franklin McMahon] "You are of course focused on studio and lights and things, but really my best suggestion would be really putting a lot of thought into how and where you will interact with clients once they arrive for a meet. There is a whole art to it (from the initial greeting, offering a beverage, starting on time, outlining objective of meet, etc) and its worth really focusing on."
That's one of my primary reasons for finding some office space -- making my clients more comfortable and helping them trust me and my abilities. What else do you think helps make clients comfortable and relaxed? Fridge with sodas? Sofas or office chairs? Artwork? Liquor cabinet? :-)
Grin -- when you meet with clients, do you meet in your home, or do you meet somewhere else (restaurant, coffee shop, bar, etc)?
Thank you all so much for your wise advice!
I try to not meet with anyone.
Part of the drag for me, really. I'd much rather just send in a master after an email.
[grinner hester] "I try to not meet with anyone.
Part of the drag for me, really. I'd much rather just send in a master after an email."
LOL –The editing hermit! That's my personality too, but I try not to let it take over...
Video production... with style!
[Ryan Mast] "What advice do you have for inexpensively converting a space like this?"
Just some basic stuff...
Obviously, the room needs to be completely dark... either permanently or semi-permanently cover all windows, if there are any.
For the floor (assuming you are starting with a concrete deck), there are a number of "floor systems" made for garage floors that are tough multi-part epoxy coatings. They work well, can stand up to studio wheels on dollys. Choose white or neutral gray.
Although I didn't do this, I would suggest painting all the walls (and ceiling, if possible) matte black. If you have a drop ceiling, you can replace the tiles with black ones. This is not a completely necessary step, but somewhat helpful.
Make SURE you have plenty of power. There is no such thing as too many outlets. And make sure they are spaced well, and not more than a couple on each 20 amp breaker.
You can make your own lighting grid fairly easily out of pipe or large conduit and bunches of U-bolts. You will want to run power to the grid as well, with lots of plugs (either regular Edison plugs or stage pins for larger instruments) and dedicated breakers.
Sound proof as much as you can. Sit in the room quietly and just listen... see how much outside ambient noise is bleeding in and that will let you know how much you need to be concerned with soundproofing. That can be as easy as installing the usual black soundstage acoustic insulation on all the walls. If you want to get more complicated, you can build an extra layer of "false walls" around the perimeter of the room and fill the space between the joists with sand. This is pretty inexpensive, materials-wise (2x4s for the joists, sheetrock, and dirt-cheap sand) but requires a fair bit of labor and at least some minimal carpentry expertise.
[Ryan Mast] "What else do you think helps make clients comfortable and relaxed? Fridge with sodas? Sofas or office chairs? Artwork? Liquor cabinet? :-)"
Yes. Yes. Yes. I wish.
Outside of the stage space itself, we tried to come up with a "theme" for our place as a whole, to give our clients a fun place to visit. Originally our theme was all vintage atomic-age/mid-century modern... sort of as if clients were coming to visit Darrin Stephens at McMahon and Tate. We try to make our space for clients comfortable, inviting, and interesting (although hopefully not to distraction). Our general manager has a big desk and client chairs straight out of Larry Tate's office. In our three edit suites each is set up a bit differently. My personal one has some cool Eames chairs for clients. Another has a big comfy vintage sofa straight out of "I Love Lucy" (we actually bought it at a thrift shop for almost nothing to use as a set piece... and after the shoot was over we liked it so much we put it in one of the suites). Another has art deco real theatre sets that were rescued out of a Hollywood movie palace. All the suites have some minimal but cool artwork (lots of vintage B/W photographs), one has a cool Jere wall sculpture. There's lots of cool indirect lighting in most of our spaces. The client area in each suite is on a slightly elevated "stage" (just a carpeted platform built out of plywood on 2x6 joists) with the editor/computers/monitors down below... with a little table/telephone/workspace for clients. Two of the three suites have 42" monitors suspended over the workstation to give the clients a good view... in the smallest suite they are stuck with a smaller CRT. Each of the suites has it's own semi-funky paint scheme... although of course the wall directly behind the monitors is always neutral gray.
When we produce commercials we try to give clients a huge bang for a not-so-huge buck... and tried to do the same when outfitting our facility. By shopping around and doing creative things we were able to outfit a facility that looks pretty slick and expensive, but it really wasn't at all. It's all in how you use it.
Clients really like our place because it is cool and interesting, and ergo it's a fun place for them to come and work. Most of them are used to being in stuffy offices, so aside from getting good work out of us, the fact that they are just in an interesting and creative environment makes it fun for them... and helps keep them coming back.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
I stumbled into a commercially-zoned house and it was absolutly perfect. The livin room was the edit suite with fancy furniture and a phat plasma as the client monitor. The bedrooms were offices, had a kitchen, stocked fridge, bathroom and the basement was a perfect little studio for table top shots and green screen talkin' heads. Also had a cool lounge down there so the clinet and I could whoop up on each other playin Halo.
heres a lil video tour:
I did this for three years but as I mentioned earlier, man it became a have to job. For me, the overhead just wasn't worth it.