the "sad" state of our industry
I guess this is for old timers.
Today, with free editing software, quality cameras built into our CEL phones and iPads, free streaming software, free color grading software, free data transmission software, countless free cloud sites (you can accumulate multiple cloud sites, and get a lot of space for zero money) - if you have a computer and some knowledge of how to use this software, none of the companies can make a living doing this anymore. It's not fully obvious yet, but it's becoming obvious very quickly.
So as the "leveling the playing field" is actually finally happening, and countless people can do what we do, it's really becoming all up to your talent and knowledge of how to use these products. I guess exciting for a 20 year old, but not so much for someone that has been doing this for a long time. I try to embrace these "free" products, as that is the only assured way that I can continue to make a living. When the products are all free, all you have to sell is yourself.
Rescue 1, Inc.
I beg to differ Bob. Just because people have phones that can shoot video, and software that can edit video that doesn't make them able to do what we do.
In the old days everyone thought that just because they had a PC on their desk with Word Perfect, that somehow they were a writer. That wasn't the case. Just because you own a scissors and a comb, you're still not a hairdresser. Just because you own a gourmet oven, does not make you a gourmet chef. The list goes on.
All this means is that we need to convince clients of the value and quality we offer over someone without experience.
Is it harder to sell our services? Yes. But it can be done.
So don't give up just yet.
Greg Ball, President
Ball Media Innovations, Inc.
Not sure what you mean. What part of your business is affected by young free kids doing DIY? Need clarification.
And that old old adage comes to mind. Just because you have Microsoft Word, doesn't mean you can write. Just because you have access to a pen and paper, doesn't mean you can write. I mean, ANYONE can write, but only those with talent can write well. ANYONE can make a video, but only those with talent can do it well, and earn a living. Look at YouTube for examples. Or Vimeo. LOTS of videos, but not all are good.
The president of a company can say "My kid has FCX and an iPhone, so he will make our commercial and corporate video." But then he does, and it might be good, or it might be crap. If it's good, the kid has talent and is going places. If it's crap, they either live with it, or hire someone with talent to "fix it" or do it over. I will say that there are plenty of times that people just live with it. Lordy, some of the local ads on TV and on the web have gotten worse. Before they'd hire some local crew to do it, and act in it themselves or write it themselves, and it would look half decent. But lately, most are doing it all by themselves and boy, does it show.
Anyone willing to aim so low that they want it VERY cheap or free isn't worth working for. Yes, there is all sorts of new markets for video. But not all of them pay well, if at all. The high end players are still there, and yes, they try to save a buck by hiring youngsters with a DSLR, FCX and a dream. But I can say that I have been called to fix more than a few videos done in this manner.
Little Frog Post
Read my blog, Little Frog in High Def
Well put. I have a former client who, after several rounds of attempted knock downs in my pricing, decided to go the "cub scout" rout. Instead of hiring me to do custom motion graphics work, he hires a young guy for half my price - the funny thing about it is that the young guy is using AE templates that he buys for 10 to 15 bucks on various online sites, marks them way up for my former client, who then passes it off to his client as custom work!
I only know this because I asked my former client if I could see the "concept" he was buying. He showed it to me, and I quickly found it online for about 10 bucks. I told him this, and he immediately asked me whether he could buy the template and do it himself, thus cutting out the "cub scout". At that point, I told him I wasn't interesting in joining a race to the bottom, and that he could figure it out on his own. I haven't heard from him since, but I do notice that he goes from client to client, basically doing one job, then getting dropped. Luckily for him he has a big market to bottom fish in.
As the owner of a 22-year old production/post-production facility, I have found a way to survive in these disruptive times by diversifying.
What I mean is, I still provide production and post-production at my standard rates but I also provide other services such as e-learning development (instructional design and content development), live-streaming (yes, this is becoming a commodity too now), website design, hosting and support and print design.
This gives me some flexibility when one side of the house is slow.
It does take some time to understand and budget the e-learning side of things but I approached a trusted client of mine to give me a shot and he did. e-learning is now about 20% of yearly revenue.
I teach these young "bucks" at a local college and try to make them understand how a real business works and I know some of them will be my competitors...that's fine...as long as they remember the ethics component of my class.
Some of these "cheap" folks do not understand or ignore copyright laws for using video from films and music. They are the ones who make it hard for me to compete on a level playing field since I properly license music.
So, Bob, I agree that the business is hard these days but not impossible. If one can keep expenses under control and use freelancers on properly budgeted projects, one can keep the facility FTE headcount down to a minimum.
I look forward to coming to work every Monday morning!
Big Bad Wolf Creative Group
Fort Worth, Texas
This will explain everything:
Your cheese got moved. In fact, everyone old in the biz has had their cheese constantly moved since the advent of digital, DSLR and all this free DIY stuff. Got to find some new cheese. Every morning I wake up and look for where the new cheese is!
Why is that clip 16 minutes long? (I digress...)
Bob, I just spent the weekend facilitating the judging of our local video competition. The young "bucks" (in Wisconsin this is appropriate this time of year) are up and coming for sure. And I agree about tech in general.
I took one of these young bucks behind my racks and showed them my Black Magic routing system, all the AJA PCI cards and breakout boxes, miles of SDI cable routed all thru the building, the converter boxes sending HDMI to monitors, the aggregated dual cable Ethernet gigabit network we set up, our hot swappable esata external hard drive back up and archiving system and the myriad of hard drives and backups of those that I have amassed.
I heard a sigh. So much to know about so many systems and workflows....there must be an app for that!
There is not (at least not today).
That said, I am so impressed with my 16 year old son's aptitude for the new software and his understanding of pace and storytelling (from watching movies and great episodics like Mr. Robot). And my daughter's understanding of being always available for any task on a set as a PA.
This has been an interesting year for me as well. I am turning 54 and I wonder what the next 15 years will bring and how it will resemble the past 15. I had my best year last year. This year has been my worst. Hmmmm....that's interesting!
Everyone is innovating. But the kids in the industry have a lifetime of film making to use as a reference and to study. They study the classics, but they can also study why Die Hard (the original) was so well constructed, and why it's my favorite Christmas movie! I saw it 17 times in the theaters. I was not even an editor yet.
Bob, kids are editing on iMovie at age 12 and even younger. They understand good interface design and great app usability. Some go on to become content creators and others become the next great software developer. How old is Zuckerberg anyway? He could be your son!
Listening to my panel of talented and qualified judges critique the diverse range of entries this year (and I watched them all with them) it was an eye opener. Adapt or die. But what shall I adapt to? What is the next phase of this long time career I have built? Of all 80 entries, maybe 3 were shot in a studio. So what do I do with my 6000 square feet of studio space (which was great for judging) when the model of how we tell a story has changed so drastically?
Bob, this is a day when sitting down and having a beer with the amazing Bob Zelin would be well deserved and worth every ounce of insight that you would bring to the state of the industry.
Legends still rule, right? Well, you're one of them.
Cheers. To you, and all the legends.
Tilt Media Inc.
Video Production, Post, Studio Sound Stage
Bob's not here no more, get it? His post was he's leaving in disgust, otherwise he would have paid attention to his own thread, right?
Hi Ned -
I paid attention to the thread. today is Sept 26th - the date of your thread. I worked today. I built a new facility today - 4 rooms and shared storage - done all in ONE DAY - so one day labor -
one day labor for an entire facility ? So when a young buck edits a show, (and of course, he is better, and more talented then us, and has a better grasp of the new tools) - can he charge LOTS OF MONEY, or does he do it for 200 bucks, because after all, he did it on his laptop with his free copy of Resolve (and it was all h.264, so it fit on his laptop). Please tell me how Mr. Young Buck is going to pay for his medical insurance (what medical insurance) and his house payments (what house payments - he is sharing an apartment with 3 other guys).
But his video looks, great, and already has 75,000 hits !
Rescue 1, Inc.
Aha! I knew my post would get you to resurface. It's like whale watching, not knowing when you will resurface again...
Us old farts rode the Golden Wave. I don't see how these young guns will make a good living like we did. In fact, for my DP work, many of my young competitors have roommates. It's so hard in production to make a steady living, I see so many young DPs come from money (at lunch I ask them what their parents do). Who else could make a living at this now?
To me it's all a matter of pivoting, as in my above post about finding where your cheese went. You must figure out how to find clients who appreciate your experience. I'm sure you're super competent in what you do but you must be a great salesman when estimating to get them to pay more. Or maybe your specialty is getting stale and more of a commodity? I don't know. I only really know production, I don't know your end of the biz.
Here's what I do to avoid competing with the kids, hobbyists, in-house tech geeks, competitors from wealthy families and DPs who married well, I do the following:
• Grey Hair Marketing: I combat ageism and me being a higher fee vendor than the kids by hammering home: “I have done this many times before. Don’t Worry”. This works when it’s higher stakes and live events. IBM had a sales tactic called F.U.D. which stood for Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt. Google it. I may not be the best cameraman or video producer in the world but I tell them I am 100% reliable. For example, in the fall in Chicago it's Conference Season, lots of companies wanting me to film their seminars, take shows, symposiums, etc. I ask them a couple of dozen more questions than a 25 year old. With me, you have no fear of a screw up.
• B2B: I figured out that B2C worships youth, adores social media and is addicted to mobile so…I market ONLY to B2B. That’s where the adults are, they respect experience. Also, B2C tends to rely on their agencies for much of their creative and marketing needs, thus cutting us out or taking a big cut when they hire us.
• The Marketing Folks: I ONLY market to the marketing department, although if I am close to the point of dumpster diving I may hit up HR, Corp Comm, Safety, PR, etc. but I have figured out the marketing people are the folks with crush deadlines and throw money at the problem. Also, they have to spend down their annual budget by the end of their FY to be awarded at least the same amount for their next FY. They tend to be the partiers of the corporation and are easier to get along with and get money out of.
• Growing Industries: For the third time I shot yesterday at the IMTS Show (International Machine Tool). This is what we used to call automation but now it’s more accurate to say Robots. Few people know that robotics manufacturing is an extremely hot biz since hiring a human is now frowned upon plus it’s the only way for us to compete against China. In sum, I ONLY market to 4 growing industries which LOVE video and are marketing driven: Healthcare, Financial Services, Software & Robotics Manufacturing. Just those 4, except I am doing a side line of litigation support (for my extreme old age).
So cheer up! It’s all a matter of proper marketing. Stay away from those areas that lend themselves to DIY.
It always amazes me when people who spend a lot of money branding their businesses, fitting out their offices so they look professional, sign writing their vehicles etc etc are then content to have a video online representing their business that looks completely unprofessional. Kind of like spending a fortune building a great office and hanging a sign out front that is written in texta pen, it's crazy. I tell clients that it's better to have no video representing your business than one that undermines your credibility with poor production values.
[ryan early] "It always amazes me when people who spend a lot of money branding their businesses... then have a video online representing their business that looks completely unprofessional. "
And among the worst offenders of that? Vendors of production equipment.
You'll see it time and time again, companies that sell grip, lighting, or camera support equipment... who have promo or demo videos that are just positively awful. Of course there are some like Zacuto, DJI, Edelkrone, etc., that do have very good and polished videos, but many many of them do not.
You'd think that people in our industry would have killer videos. They should. The fact that they often don't I used to sort of attribute to the "cobbler with shabby shoes" theory, that they just didn't have time or energy to promote themselves right... but more and more I think that's not the case, that they simply don't know any better. One case... a rep for a very cool and innovative (and very expensive) piece of lighting gear stopped by our studio a few years ago, to demo their new product. I enjoyed the demo, and knowing that their own website was populated with videos that looked like a drunk and nearsighted toddler wagging around a 1992 handycam (except not quite that good), I suggested that we buy one of their pieces of gear at a bargain price, and we'd give them a short super-polished demo. The rep (who was also a partner in the company) looked at me fairly glassy-eyed and finally said "Huh? We have videos. A bunch of them. Ummm... something wrong with them?"
And I've had that exact scenario happen two following times. And probably will again.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Another kind of business where the signage is usually awful is the local tattoo parlor. When I want to put something permanent in my skin I'll have to look at every day of my life, it does not inspire confidence to see shabby signage.
But back to the central point of the thread: this is an ever-evolving game, and to stay with it, we have to evolve as well, leveraging the talent and skills we've gathered, while mastering new tools and techniques as they appear. Nobody promised it would be easy. And if that's too much work, or if you can't make a good living at it any more, well, it might be time to transition into something else.
Watching the political speeches in coal-mining country, I see both candidates afraid to tell their audiences:
"Hey, have you not been paying attention to the world? Pollution regulations and natural gas/oil fracking has made coal un-economical. It doesn't matter that you've dug coal for three generations: nobody's buying it any more, mines are closing, and you need to retire or get into a new line of work to survive. That may require you to go back to school, and to do things that are new and unfamiliar. But you're sitting in a burning building, and you need to get your family out of it. Anybody who promises that in exchange for your votes, your jobs are coming back, is not only lying to you - they're using your fear and nostalgia to hold you back from moving on, moving AHEAD into some other kind of business that your family can depend on for your futures." I think this parallels our industry to a point.
I agree the only way to stay in this business is to constantly learn and improve because things keep changing. Technology is changing for the better and when I look back twenty years I'd rather the technology of today than what I used back then. The reason many in this industry are finding it difficult however isn't because we aren't improving our skills it's because ideas about the value of those skills have changed. Learning more and improving your skills won't change the mindset of a client base that thinks all you need is an app. How we challenge those misconceptions and sell the value of talent experience and ability now that the technical barriers are gone is the real battle we face.
See the New York Times story today about how IBM Watson has automated the compilation of daily highlights from the U.S. Open tennis tournament. What used to take 80+ people now takes IBM Watson, and 2 people.
The computer "reads" crowd noise, player gestures, the score during which a shot occurs, and comes up with a list of highlights which tests very very well, compared to the old product.
Just thought I'd try to cheer everybody up.
You're giving me PTSD! I retired in March, or at least I tried to, I work perhaps two days a month to keep my tax write offs open. I unsubscribed to The Cow, DVXuser, and all the others. Trying to forget this business! I get lots of inquiries and turn them over to the young shooters who are OK with these low rates for the fee of upscale restaurant gift cards.
I heard another news story on Watson today, it will soon replace oncologists! Since Watson does Deep Learning it can advise a cancer patient as to what course of treatment and meds will have the best outcome, so who needs an old grey haired doctor who reads and remembers only some of the studies? Watson also now reads biopsy slides much better than humans, and AI is now used in Europe for slide reading and the pathologists are fighting it from coming here. Lots of big McMansions will be for sale soon in the suburbs I think.
So nice to not have to deal with this anymore. I have kept a couple of fun, fast paying clients but otherwise all my video work is for small charities.Never going 4K. Off the hamster wheel.
Good luck to all of you still here!
sorry - I was wrong about 80+ people - it was more like 40 people whom Watson replaced.
This is a fun thread... and one that could likely stay active for as long as CreativeCow exists. ☺
Bob started it as the state of "our industry", which is an umbrella for everyone's experiences. Mind you, he's a post-production systems integrator. I understand his experience, and that of others in this thread - my career path has included systems integration engineering, cinematography, and editing, among a few other niches. I saw up-close the demise of a system integration firm and a post house, rendered irrelevant by those market changes.
Rich, you mentioned the racks full of terminal gear. I agree with Bob on that - what racks? Who needs all that SDI anymore? (Let alone the audio and RS422 runs.) Bob runs some Ethernet, throws a 10GigE switch and a (carefully-chosen) NAS and calls it a day. And still half the clients balk at the cost so they make do with sneakernet and external drives. That's about 80% of Bob's CreativeCow threads right there. ☺
I remember hearing an accomplished, top-notch editor at a discussion panel saying "what we do [editing] is not really that hard". When I was in my teens and fell in love with video & filmmaking, there was still a significant technical barrier to entry: the equipment was expensive. I think we never realized the role this fact had in structuring the business. If the camera or editing room cost $150,000 you were gonna have less of them around, need a smaller cadre of operators (or artists); those people would be career professionals; and it'd make sense to compensate them proportionally. (That said, apparently we had fared better than regional airline pilots. Hmm.)
We all saw how producers lowered their labor budgets in tandem with falling equipment costs. Now, as others in the thread have said, we only have ourselves to market. People mentioned writers - no one (I hope) has gotten into writing, painting or acting expecting a stable career with solid pay. What us pre-millennial hacks didn't expect, is that same would come to apply to the craftsman and artisan roles of editing, camera operating, production tech support, etc.
In the grander scheme of things, this is part of a global trend of automation and ever-improving market efficiency. The supply side of the Western World's industries is cutting down labor costs at a rate that exceeds the consumers' ability to afford what those industries make. Many think we'll have to reconsider capitalism; one futurist suggested being compensated for profits corporations make from collecting and analyzing our personal data.
For now, all we can do in our own turf is adapt but also hold our ground. I hope that enough of us leave the industry if it can't afford us - in order to save the industry - and avoid this race to zero that oversupply creates. Personally, I set my own minimum rate which allows me to afford rent, health insurance etc. and if I can make a living in the industry, great. But I gave up DP'ing partly because of what Ned Miller said, and I do a larger share of online editing and tech support, because it's harder to fake the required expertise in those fields. And the top of the market still exists if you can get to it.
If Watson displaced 40 production jobs, become one of the 2 employees left, the robotic cameras operator, one of the engineers developing Watson, or one of the technicians maintaining its data centers. Or go work in construction, because I'm remodeling my kitchen and I'm repeatedly shocked by the supply/demand curve in that market. I have to sign off now, because my contractor messed up again and I've gotta go pay him more and beg him to please do his job. Hey, he was the best "talent" available.
I think all we have ever sold is ourselves. I instill into my students that it has nothing to do with the tools, but the artist. Fine art is still made with a chisel and stone.
Has my rate become a fraction of what it use to be? Sure but that is because I still like creating for others. When I create my own products, that is when I get to name my price. I have let my students know they are not going to have staff jobs in this industry... but can easily make six figures a year on youtube by the time they are 17.
This is a fantastic thread. thanks Bob for being the genesis of it.
Many valid points have been raised and on some levels it's quite troubling that the democratization of the business has the potential to eat away at it.
However, I'm very encouraged by this same democratization. When I began working in television in the early 1990's the only viable producers of content were well established production facilities with small armies of folks executive producing, producing, writing, directing, shooting, editing, color correcting, sound mixing, etc. etc.
The same business in 2017 now allows for an independent producer to create content for either a local television market or a national network on his or her own with no need for affiliation with a large production facility. I do all of my work out of a home office and my home edit system is equal to or perhaps even faster than many of the fully decked out edit suites that I used to work in back in the day.
I'm also encouraged by the fact that content has become king overall in the marketplace. If you can create compelling visual content with good storytelling you have a commodity that's worth something. I think that's what will differentiate folks in this very crowded field.
I watch a lot of online content partly because there's so much online content and the vast majority of the stuff I watch is not very engaging. Much of it follows a formulaic approach.
A good example of this formula approach is pretty much any video created for a startup to show how x app is going to revolutionize the world. These videos are almost always very slick in style and look with a "hip" music track and the employees are espousing the great things about the company and it's product while b-roll shows people working on their beautiful imacs in an open office setting or a group of employees sitting in a conference room "strategizing" and creating an even better app while the camera rolls.
I think the goal of these videos is to garner interest in the company by other investors as well as prospective employees but sadly the videos are just plain boring. Whether these companies truly want a more compelling video is the grey area.
But if the goal is grab eyeballs and hook an audience then those out there that can create compelling content are going to be more sought after. At least that's the hope.
I Hate Television. I Hate It As Much As Peanuts. But I Can’t Stop Eating Peanuts.
- Orson Welles