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Where is the business going?

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Ty FordWhere is the business going?
by on Jul 21, 2010 at 12:53:04 pm

After viewing this provocative video...

I'm trying to figure out if this all too true example is a function of a bad economy (short term) or if it is the new reality (long term).

At present, I'm thinking it's a little of both. I know shooters who have quit the business because of just this sort of thing. They just can't make a living anymore. It happened in audio when the price of acceptable technology for recording gear dropped. The mid-tier studios dried up and blew away just as the type and print industries did when desk top publishing became affordable at a consumer level.

In these tough times, the more affordable technology has allowed me to transit from being just an audio person to being an audio and video person. I'm not alone. Many barriers have been shattered. I and others like me are the new mid-tier. Everything is in flow. Wedding videographers are now doing more and more corporate industrial and commercial work here, either because the bad economy has dipped the wedding videography trade or because lower-cost, higher quality consumer gear operated by consumers is "good enough." Or both.

Yes, absolutely, although you may be proficient in a number of departments, on a shoot, one person can not handle all departments properly. When I have audio, video and lighting chores, it takes time to stop thinking about audio and begin thinking about lighting or exposure and framing. It's not an efficient use of time, but sometimes it is what it is.

In this "supply and demand" world, (I think) we need to repopulate the mid-tier. Readers of this who consider themselves in the upper-tier may stay where where they are or slide off the lagging edge and join us. Bottom line: If these changes have put you in a situation in which you can no longer feel a passion for your work, maybe it's time to do something else. Go find your joy. I'm well into my third reinvention.


Ty Ford

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Craig SeemanRe: Where is the business going?
by on Jul 21, 2010 at 1:56:52 pm

In short, I agree with you on both your observations and response. I spent over 20 years working and big and boutique facilities. Every one of them is gone. A big part has to do with technology and its impact on the industry. This has been exacerbated by the economy.

These days ROI on gear purchases MUST BE SHORT. Equipment needs to be replaced much more frequently. People who were used to doing one job now must do many due to budget constraints.

The key is to revise one's business model to fit the climate. It's this rigidity that results in failure. It's a false assumption to believe that lower gear costs means lower profits IMHO. It will be if one doesn't change the model though. One can lower overhead may mean price revisions but it doesn't necessarily mean serious net profit revisions . . . if one changes one's model.

I spent most of my career as an editor, then an engineer, added compression, shooting, lighting. Each skill was an outgrowth of my knowledge from the other. Not disparate but connected. I love the toys and love learning the new ones. It keeps me young despite how much my back and knees tell me otherwise. Heck, the new toys get smaller and lighter just in time ;->

If a business is having a tough time in this economy (and this technology), it's time to change the business model. If one doesn't like the model it's time to change the career.

I've gone from working in places where a multi story building was the facility to working from a home office. I love the change in the commute. The overtime doesn't stop me from eating a home cooked meal. I can take a break to take a walk or watch a favorite TV show. I even love being able to break out the lights, camera, wall length green screen when the client discover the "one more shot" they need during the edit. And, the money I make isn't that much different except that I won't be victim of someone else's bad business decisions. I also wont be victim to this economy.

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John DavidsonRe: Where is the business going?
by on Jul 21, 2010 at 10:40:34 pm

I love it. We're all being forced to get smarter, leaner and meaner. For me, the change came when we switched to Final Cut Pro. Suddenly, instead of paying $1000 per day for symphony that was SD only, we could do it all in my home office on a system that cost about 2 weeks of edit in an Avid room. Did the creative suffer? Did my spots look 'home produced?" Nope. Our creative got better, we funneled more focus into 3D, got bigger clients, and because we weren't being charged hourly, we could devote time to ideas that were riskier. Know what we learned? The riskier ideas got the bigger acclaim and rewards.

It's a trend that does not bode well to unions and union shops, that's for sure.

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Chris BlairRe: Where is the business going?
by on Jul 22, 2010 at 2:39:36 am

But even if you change your business model and get "leaner and meaner" as you say, we've found that the quality of work doesn't necessarily improve. Why? Because instead of focusing on directing or editing or shooting, people are having to do all three. I remember when post houses actually employed graphic artists and compositors. Now, in most small to mid-size shops, the editor IS the graphic artist and compositor.

I'm fairly accomplished in both After Effects and Digital Fusion, but it's hard to become REALLY good when you only work in each application a few times a month. I find that each time I sit down to composite, even if I have detailed sketches, photoshop keyframes or storyboards, it still takes me twice as long as it should to complete the project because I can't remember how to do a certain effect or where to find a particular dialogue box or filter. Same goes with designing graphics. I'm also pretty good at that, but I don't work doing design everyday so there's no way I can be as fast or resourceful as a full-time designer.

I believe this new way of working handcuffs a lot of companies and makes it extremely difficult to improve the quality of their work. I find myself constantly going back to existing designs and layouts because the project I'm working on has an extremely tight deadline or a modest budget. Projects, effects, graphics all tend to start looking similar.

They're all still highly professional, but they often don't "rise above the crowd" so to speak. And this isn't for lack of trying on our part...we're constantly trying to get clients to try new ideas and new techniques, but there's resistance there as well because many producers and marketing managers are people reassigned from other positions like Human Resources, Customer Service, Training etc. They're not comfortable taking chances because they're not even comfortable managing advertising and marketing projects, especially video projects.

Anyway...I agree that to survive and thrive you must adapt, but I also believe there's a price to that, and in our neck of the woods, it comes at the hands of creativity and innovation.

Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
Read our blog

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John DavidsonRe: Where is the business going?
by on Jul 22, 2010 at 3:20:53 am

It's not for everybody, that's for sure. I know lots of producers who refuse to even try to learn how to edit, even though it could double or triple their incomes. I had lunch with one this weekend and told her that, and she stared at me with a blank expression that appeared to be a combination of laziness and fear. Everybody wants to play it safe when we should all be so much riskier.

To quote a show I once worked on: "Chance favors the bold".

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Craig SeemanRe: Where is the business going?
by on Jul 22, 2010 at 3:29:20 pm

[John Davidson] "I know lots of producers who refuse to even try to learn how to edit, even though it could double or triple their incomes."

These days, for many, it's not about doubling income. It's about remaining employed, having clients or, otherwise, having NO income.

Years back, when I was hired as a facility engineer after having been an editor for nearly 20 years, the first thing they asked was that I train their producers how to edit. The unsaid ultimatum was that they learn or they're fired . . . and they knew that. Some learned well and others were quite upfront that I would be a crutch for them. Luckily for them that it was a facility and had someone to call on.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Where is the business going?
by on Jul 22, 2010 at 4:17:04 am

Well, I have always considered myself to be somewhat of a "Renaissance Man" generalist, and I celebrate being able to be more than *just* an Editor. While realizing that the top editors of the world can and should just concentrate on the optimization of their singular talent, because it is of such a high grade, I'm of the opinion that compositing, color grading, and graphics should have always been a part of Editing anyway, they would have been all along, but for the lagging technology to enable that.

I like being able to wear all those hats at once, because I'm talking to my other "selves" during each point of the production: me as the cameraman is already simpatico with me as the editor, and those selves both already know exactly what the approach is from the perspective of me the Director/Producer/Auteur. I believe what makes Scorsese as good a director as he is, is that he's also an Editor, and like me, his two halves dialogue with each other thruout the process, instead of taking sequential turns at the work.

"Hey, Director Me: I know we need more coverage for that part, and I know you can skimp on the reverse-angle for that part, because we're going to use that other shot to bridge the scene later, can you picture that? Yes, Editor-Me, I can, you're awesome, and btw, Producer-Me wants you to know you just got us back on time for meal break with that move, kudos."

I had a friend who for the most part really concentrates just on one aspect of production, and he was continually surprised by how I was able to direct on the fly on location or in a control room, juggling director and editor in my head, and work out in real time how a future edit was going to fix a problem, as it cropped up. The crew would freak out about some bobble or dropped shot during the live record, and I'd say something like "no sweat; we've already got a cut-away from earlier in the show that I know can patch that hole just fine- simply change your next shot coming back to so-and-so, and it will cut together perfectly later". And it always did, but often it took me longer to explain and convince them how, than to just show them. Eventually the crew conceded and my friend just said: "I don't know how you're going to make that work in post, but I'm convinced you've already worked it out in your head somehow."

Like Tom Hulce's Mozart in Amadeus, "it's in my noodle", I'd reply.

This is a more fulfilling way for me personally to work, doing these multiple functions, probably because I have a very mild case of ADD that went undiagnosed in childhood, I just learned to manage around it, and that probably influenced my choice of careers. As I get bored with one aspect of the edit, I turn to another that needs attention. In the middle of setting up a text graphic, something in the audio guide track catches my attention, and I break off to tweak that waveform with a little rubber-banding or EQ, then I jump back into the CG build, and, while checking to see if CG levels are legal, hey, this clip could use some overall color-correction anyhow, since we're right here, let's do it... This can be an annoying way to work with a live client sitting in, I guess; often, they don't know that one element is unfinished but that I'm coming right back to it in a minute, and they want to move on to the next step. Some sit-in clients are very linear, and they want to plod thru the edit in frame order from the beginning, so as not to "miss" anything. When the last frame in the sequence has been reached, they think it's "done". Like an assembly line. But I'm not an assembly line; I work in-the-round, so to speak.

I admit I am faster working alone, where I can ping-pong off the project non-linearly, back to front, middle to back, etc. because I see the project as a whole, the various sections all interacting. Like piloting a small sailing dinghy, ( a new skill I'm slowly learning this summer) every new control input of the rudder necessitates updating numerous other inter-related things like the way the sails are set, or how deep the centerboard is set, or where on the boat you shift your own body weight. The edit itself, like steering the boat, is a kind of performance.

It wasn't driven by market forces, but my way of multitasking like this happens to be a way of working that fits well in the current economic landscape of "Doing More with Less". I'm not as fast as three separate guys working on one program file thru a SAN. But I'm as capable, for a third of the cost. That's not something that just became popular this year for a post facility. That's an eternal universal.

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Bill DavisRe: Where is the business going?
by on Jul 22, 2010 at 5:59:10 am

Our jobs can break down comfortably into 5 general areas.

Camera Work
Post Production.

I'll go along with the contention that you can think about and even accomplish PRE - all by your own self (except for the client, of course.)

And you can even think about and even accomplish POST all by your own self if you''ve learned how to edit.

But if you're shooting anything more complex than a talking head single person public speaking gig or a pre-defined story like a well-defined wedding or event ceremony - anyone who undertakes to do the three in the middle ALONE is a fool or is hack. You can't direct, shoot, and monitor sound in real-time competently unless that represents ONE stream of idea content. Period. End of story.

If your shoot involves story - multiple characters - multiple cameras - or any complexity where decision making and choices are required in real-time - the production process gets too complex for a single brain.

So, yeah, there's still "single shooter" stuff to do out there. But there's only so much of that work available.

What we're facing is that there will be many more "single shooters" in competition with their new DSLRs and FCP systems.

But the moment you add a second character or camera, or anything else complex enough to require coordination between production people in real time - the lowball guys will try their best - but they will inevitably fail. Not for lack or trying. Or from lack of talent. But from lack of experience. And fewer and fewer people are getting any experience in organizational video creation these days.

To me THAT is what's fallen away in institutional video creation. They've gutted the middle ranks in the name of saving salary bucks in the short term.

The companies will TRY to go with an in-house shooter for a while. But they'll rapidly find out that having GUT the middle management to save money for a while has left them with nobody with institutional wisdom available to check content or help craft tight scripts.

And those companies are flailing around like headless chickens. Just watch the posts here from newbies given the keys to the in-house production facility when the more expensive guy or gal has been shuffled out (likely precisely because their salary represented their actual experience!!)

But in the end, it will go back to the way it's always been.

Because once again, the primary truth is that equipment doesn't make effective videos - people do.

And believe me, the complexity of the message that needs to be communicated in this increasingly compelx world is NOT getting any simpler.

Patience is one of the most difficult of virtues to learn. And without a lot of cash in the bank, the most difficult to live without. But there it is.

My 2 cent's worth, anyway.

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Mick HaenslerRe: Where is the business going?
by on Jul 22, 2010 at 12:12:11 pm

I think we all tend to forget that our only job is to make the client happy and get paid for it. If the client is happy with a mediocre production with mediocre sound and mediocre lighting, than so be it. Make them happy, get paid, move on. While this might not be as satisfying as creating a killer spot with a big budget, it's reality if you want to stay afloat.

I just got a contract to create the content for and manage a 12 screen DS network. Most of it will be Mograph stuff and I will be creating new content and updating old content on a regular basis. The pay isn't that great, BUT, I am in no way shape or form a Mograph artist. They don't have the budget for one. So I get paid to learn and practice an aspect of the business that will allow me to get much higher paying work in the future. Here's the kicker....they think I'm a creative and technical genius and I'm certainly not going to correct them on that fallacy.

Mick Haensler
Higher Ground Media

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Craig SeemanRe: Where is the business going?
by on Jul 22, 2010 at 3:44:05 pm

[Mick Haensler] "I think we all tend to forget that our only job is to make the client happy and get paid for it. If the client is happy with a mediocre production with mediocre sound and mediocre lighting, than so be it. Make them happy, get paid, move on."

Yes, and it's why I've brought up McDonald's as a successful business model. Not that that's right for everyone. I know many business that went for "killer" and went under. They either were more expensive or they went beyond the client's needs to the point where it cost them.

We all love to be artists but if it kills your business you'll be the "starving artist" and you may not even afford the toys you'd like to create with.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Where is the business going?
by on Jul 22, 2010 at 2:34:37 pm

Sound is tough enough that I always want a dedicated person on that during recording. I would agree that trying to manage sound plus the visuals is.... unwise.

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Craig SeemanRe: Where is the business going?
by on Jul 22, 2010 at 3:58:01 pm

[Mark Suszko] "Sound is tough enough that I always want a dedicated person on that during recording. I would agree that trying to manage sound plus the visuals is.... unwise."

Remember we are sales people and/or business managers or at least stewards of our on ship.

I'm always careful about how the use of our languages invades the way we think. What is unwise is that we have not convinced (sold) the client to budget for it. Given that maybe it is the client who, for various reasons, is unwilling to pay for it, we, as business people need to make a decision.

The client sees not having the sound person as a savings. You need to present it as a cost and risk. Explain the addition budget needed to fix in post or the risk that it may be unsalvageable.

An analogy, Imagine if the pilot of a passenger jet had to leave the cockpit to serve meals or otherwise take care of passengers, auto-pilot might be just fine but what happens when it doesn't. Crash? What's the value of that risk? The airline has to decide to either hire stewards or maybe cut dinner. So the airline (your client) decides to cut dinner.

While they may not be hiring the sound person at least you've made the decision their's so the responsibility and any risk is shifted to them. In other words if you can't manage doing all the tasks they've had to decide to simplify the task rather than you trying to do what you can't handle.

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Craig SeemanRe: Where is the business going?
by on Jul 22, 2010 at 3:35:21 pm

[Chris Blair] "Anyway...I agree that to survive and thrive you must adapt, but I also believe there's a price to that, and in our neck of the woods, it comes at the hands of creativity and innovation."

And I think that's a fundamental issue many of us have. We want to be "creatives" but we must be business people. First and foremost we must survive and, without that, there can be no creative time. There are others who hit the "grow" point in their businesses whether they may even have to decide to be creative hands or become the managers of other's creativity. It's also why some of us choose to keep our businesses small because we'd rather play with the toys.

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grinner hesterRe: Where is the business going?
by on Jul 22, 2010 at 9:01:31 pm

While companies and networks scaled back due to economy and had a great push from the writer's strike to go reality-vibe, they'll have no reason to go back to huge crews and over spending when the depression lifts... and that won't be for quite some time yet.
They way we approach business has changed. The amount of video in demand has only grown though. It's a matter of releasing old school mentailties and looking forward. We all have multiple skills in multiple areas. Ultilizing them all is importent today. We could couild all rest easy specializing in one role 5 years ago. If your specialty isn't making a finished product today, you aint gonna be making many products.

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Ty FordRe: Where is the business going?
by on Jul 24, 2010 at 4:13:37 pm

Mark and Grinner are on the same page as I am.

Mark, for your audio this may help:

I'm currently working on a new postproduction audio book about what to do with audio once you get it into the system.

It's been proven that multi-tasking really isn't better and more productive. I take that pretty seriously. I also really enjoy learning new things and "being creative." As an audio person who now shoots and edits, I know exactly what you mean. On shoots where I am on sound, a camera and consulting with composition and exposure, I can feel my concentration being pulled into those different areas and away from my "old" audio center (growing pains). Were it not for the technology shift and my curiosity, I'd be out of business as just an audio/sound guy.

I had a conversation with a friend a few years back about the audio studio business. We were talking about the loss of all the mid-tier audio facilities. I offered, as has been offered in this thread, that WE ARE THE NEW MID-TIER. The new playing field is no longer restricted to players who must know as much about the purely technical side of production and/or editing. The gates are open.

I'm making new clients, one at a time, with very small budgets and expectations that I can meet or exceed. Meaning no disrespect to the giants on whose shoulders I stand, I try to maintain a "lemonade stand" business model. And, yes, as someone else mentioned, it's about how you relate to your clients. That really hasn't changed. Anyone who remains a technical curmudgeon or elitist is pretty much cooked. (and, btw, if that's you, read "How to Win Friends And Influence People" and get OVER yourself.)

For me the growth has come from shooter/editors who recognize that (in addition to humping gear) I can make meaningful contributions to composition, lighting, exposure, set design, and, oh yeah, keep the audio from sucking. I do feel sorry for my soundie friends in LA who talk about 12 hour days with six wireless, a mixer and a recorder strapped to their backs for $350. That's just brutal and they will pay for it with chiropractor bills and premature knee surgery, but they took the job.

Yes, it's bad for unions now, but at some point when the absorbed abuse crosses a line, coming together and saying, "Hey, let's not let ourselves be abused like this (whatever "this" is). Let's all just say, "No." I KNOW, it's a communist thought! No one is a bigger fan of the free market than I am. But I'm still looking for the sweet spot between the oppositional forces of "Every Man For Himself" and "All For One And One For All." Every time I lean to the latter I wonder if I just like the big hats with the feathers and the pantaloons (although I don't own any), but I do appreciate a sense of connection.

Maybe that why the Cow works so well. Most of us are in different places and not competing for the same job in the same city. The competitional borders don't exist, or, at least, are a lot lower. That a great thing.

Thanks for all of your thoughts on this.


Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide

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