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One reason why I love my job: “The Flamethrower”

Flameflowers are part of what makes me love my job.

I love my job. How can you not get excited, when one of your client calls you and wants to shoot a flamethrower torching his own product? 

At this point that's pretty much all I have to go on. Other than the fact that I need to create a video that will play at a trade show, explaining harsh environments that these could withstand. 

Let me tell you the back story first. A commercial manufacture contacted me to photograph some images for the packaging of his lights. He was updating the look of the boxes that were going to be sold in a national home improvement company in the US. 

A few weeks later the owner calls back to ask if I can come up with a concept for a video. The video will show the specifications of his lights at a trade show. Sure, I love creating interesting ways of telling stories about products. That's kind of what I do.

"Oh," he said, "the only requirement I have, is that we use a flame thrower in the video."
 

Say no more - this sounds like a project that's right up my alley. A few phone calls and meetings later I have the list of specs that I need to talk about in the video:

  1. energy efficiency
  2. weatherproofing
  3. color accuracy
  4. illumination area
  5. heat resistance

The last one is where the flame thrower comes in. The only problem is I can't talk about these specs, I need to show them.

Fast forward to how I create a project from the first phone call or email all the way to the finished video. No peeking I promise you'll see it at the end of this post.

Any project I create breaks down into these four stages:

1) The concept stage:

After the client gives me the parameters I have to come up with how to tell the story.

How do I grab the attention of someone passing a booth selling a light fixture at a home improvement trade show?

Trade shows are typically  noisy environments. Hundreds of vendors compete for the attendees' limited attention. I have to think through the limitations that the viewing environment will dictate.

A trade show floor is not anything like the hushed, darkened atmosphere of a movie theatre. That means my video has to grab your attention. In this case without spoken words. Remember audio is half of what makes a video great. Produce one without relying on sound has its own set of problems.


(I solved the same problem differently for a company that couldn't use sound to deliver its message in a loud sport arena either in a different way).

https://pbd.li/the-briefcase


In addition to this, the visuals must catch the attention of the person who walks by the booth. Cue the flame thrower. Everything we show has to be over the top and make people stop in their tracks. Funny enough a flame thrower will do just that.

2) The approval stage: 

First I figure out how to take one of these specs and show them in a way that will work in the environment that the audience is watching the video in. Then I have to get the idea approved by the client. 

Let's take "weatherproofing" as an example:

I want to show the light working while being drenched. I am also looking for a visual that will make some one stop dead in their tracks. I can't just show the light mounted on the outside wall of a house in a rain storm. That's boring and everyone else does it that way. In fact I just saw a video on YouTube today advertising a new outdoor plug and yes they showed it mounted on a wall in the rain. LOL.

No. We're going bigger - much bigger. My idea is to put his engineer on the stern a fishing yacht cutting through the water. The light he is holding in his hand is drenched in the massive spray the boat kicks up at full speed.

There's only two problems with this.

  1. First I have to convince the client that this idea convinces his audience that this light is water-resistant enough to handle the deluge of saltwater I want to put in through; 
  2. Secondly, I have to find a fishing yacht that I can film on; 
  3. Thirdly, I also have to make sure that the guy  is safe and doesn't get electrocuted while holding the light in a flood of powerful saltwater on the back of a speeding boat;
  4. In addition to that I have to figure out where to put the camera showing this light holding up to the specs, but this second set of problems really only need to be solved in the next phase - I usually jot down a note that I have to figure out how to fix this potential problem. 

Ok. Fine. That's more than 2 problems, you got me there. Once my client has signed of on my idea I'm ready to start on the next step of creating this video.


PRO TIP: don't suggest anything you can't pull off.

If you can't make the yacht work, don't suggest it. 

3) The planning or production stage

This third stage is just a problem-solving stage.

  • Finding a boat means a couple of calls to people I know that would let me hire their boat. 
  • Not injuring the guy holding the light means conferring with my electrician and the people on my safety team on how to insulate the light properly, so that nothing shorts out.
  • Camera placement for this shot is obviously a drone, so I need to hire my drone pilot to get this section of the video done.

This stage is a lot of fun. It's thinking outside of the box while I make sure my ideas can  translate into the budget that the client gives me to work with in real life. It's really no good in coming up with a great idea that will cost $1,000,000 to include in the video if the budget doesn't have a million dollars to make the shot happen. Hey if it does, knock yourself out and go for it. 

Some of the problems that need to be solved are easy, some are not - like how do you power a 110V light while it's mounted on an airboat, as it speeds through the everglades in the dark (and no you shouldn't run a generator on an airboat).

Just for the record: we didn't.

This stage also includes some of the most mundane tasks in the production, pulling permits, securing insurance, and scheduling crew, locations, and talent. Sometimes really tedious work but it must be done.

4) Creation stage

After everything is concepted, approved, planned and booked the days of the shoot finally arrive. Now it's all about dealing with the unforeseen problems that occur on the set of every shoot - the drone can't figure out where it is when started up from the boat - the aluminum hull is wreaking havoc with it's GPS.  

After a few days of filming, it's off to the edit bay to cut together the video. It's always fun to see what was only a storyboard a few weeks ago, become reality. It's about telling the story on film now, adding the right music and graphics, and wrapping it into a believable story of why this guy who is stocking shelves spends his weekends doing insane tests on lighting fixtures (that idea was another one of the ones I presented to the client in stage one).

Now it's all about delivering the client what I convinced him I could create for him in the timeframe that I had agreed on. 

The final product looks like this (and yes, the flame thrower is the first test). Check it out:

Let's recap how I approach the 4 stages in all of my productions:

The four stages of a video project

step 1

The concept stage

Review the requirements my client gives me in the initial brief or meeting. Then I get to imagine how I'd love to tell the story. Sometimes a brief is as simple as "I want to use a flame thrower in this video."

step 2

The approval stage

Separate what's possible, affordable and doable. I need to know my clients budget, to figure out how big I can dream. Then I need to sell the ideas to my client, always keeping their budget and time frame and my abilities in mind. 

step 3

The planning stage

Underpromise and overdeliver. I live by those words in every production. I love giving my clients bigger, better and more than we agreed on. Doing this the opposite way is the fastest way to loose clients. 

step 4

The creation stage

The rubber meets the road here. 25+ years of experience in creating photo and video shoots, a deep knowledge of locations, crew and contacts let me create scenes, where others would fail in delivering.

At the end of the day, many advertising agencies or production places can deliver one or more of these stages, but I have often created projects, like this one, in-house. Ideas are always out of the box, unique and I love coming up with a solution that makes the viewer stop and listen to the story you and I are telling them. 

What do you want to say in your next video? Let's talk and find out how I can make it a reality.

3 years ago

Are you making the same mistake 94% of all small business owners make?

The mistake 94% of small businesses make

94% of small business focus on the wrong priority. It’s a pretty big mistake to make if you want to take your business up to the next level, but the vast majority of small businesses are making it today. So was I.

I’ve been making this mistake for the past 25 years. At first, I felt pretty bad about that, but then I wanted to see if other small businesses are making the same mistake. So I created a poll on SurveyMonkey and asked other entrepreneurs to rate their business priorities. The pie chart on the right shows the answer over 200 small businesses. Surprisingly less than 10% got this right.

What’s the focus of your small business?

I’ve been thinking about the UX (User Experience) I create for my clients in 2017. And I really got challenged by Horst Schulze, when I was fortunate enough to film the former CEO of Ritz-Carlton at a keynote speech a few weeks ago.

(You can read a bit more about that talk on my blog post: What I learned about service from a wise hotelier).

4 priorities of an excellent company

Mr. Schulze talked about the four priorities that every successful company needs to have in the right order to excel. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Be efficient.
  • Keep current clients.
  • Make money.
  • Find new customers.

When I looked at my company’s priorities, I was surprised to learn that I’ve focused on the wrong priority for over 20+ years. Don’t get me wrong all four are vital to a company, but one is more essential than the other three.

Find out if you’re wrong too – take the poll!

You can take the poll “What’s the number One priority of your business” here and see how you stack up against other small businesses. Then let me know – are you in the 94% that get it wrong or in the 6% that are doing it right?

I for one intend to shift my company to focus on the one most important priority and that change will take place over the course of the next few months.

94% of small business make this mistake.

Take the poll to see how your business compares!

 


UPDATE: Strictly Business, the blog of the American Society of Media Photographers just reposted this article. I’m thrilled to see that their readers are selecting the most important priority of an excellent business by a 2 to 1 margin. 

3 years ago

What I learned about service from a wise hotelier

Horst Schulze speaks about Service

For the past 25 years, I’ve done it wrong. Thankfully I heard an expert talk about service and I’m going to course correct my small business focus starting today.

12 years ago, I started using a CRM (Customer Relationship Management system) to efficiently combine all client data in one place. Their contact info, calendar, tasks, documents and the process lives in the cloud and is easily accessible.

One of the aspects that I love about my job as a cinematographer and photographer is that I’m often in interesting places that are not accessible to everyone. I had the same honor last week, although I did not know that this video shoot would have such a profound impact on my business.

It started out simple enough, I got hired as a Director of Photography to oversee the filming of a leadership conference for a local medical company. It’s always fun to work with a group of skilled operators, and the company itself was fascinating, but it was the keynote that hit me between the eyes.

The speaker was former Ritz-Carlton President Horst Schulze, who is known for creating hotels with impeccable service and customer loyalty.  If you haven’t heard about Mr. Schulze and you run a service company (like I do), you need to check out what he’s accomplished at Ritz-Carlton and now is doing at the Capella Hotel Group.

Schulze says “Great companies do four things: They keep their current customers, they find new ones, hopefully through the recommendation of existing customers, they make as much money as they can, and they are efficient.

OK, granted it’s not rocket science, but this CEO is vehemently fixated on service. And that’s where I had my epiphany. I haphazardly focus on these 4 core principles as well:

  1. Find new clients
  2. Make money
  3. Be efficient
  4. Keep current clients

Did you catch the mistake I’m making? It’s subtle – read the two lists again and see if you can spot it. Don’t feel bad if you can’t – I’ve done it wrong for a quarter century.

Let me walk through the four things every great company does

1. Find new clients

I’m good at that. Number one on page one in the organic search on Google for years. Many of my new customers find me online. Others find me through the local creative community, events and workshops I put on, etc. (Here’s how I get clients).

2. Make money

Last year was my best year that my business ever had. This year is on that track as well. I keep my overhead low and run a tight ship when it comes to the business framework I need to produce visual content.

3. Be efficient

Check. From the integration of my website and my CRM to automation of my business processes, efficiency and productivity are the names of the game. Not wasting resources in the creation of the video and photography productions I work on, goes right back into #2.

For crying out loud, I’m the guy that takes a picture of a Post-It note and have it create a bunch of digital assets as if by magic.

4. Keep current clients

The majority of my client love the final product I create for them. The secret is simple: under promise and over deliver. Charge a fair price. Come in on budget and on time. And give something unexpected. Check out this video testimonial from Armpocket – a local company who found me online:


Here’s what I’m doing wrong with regards to service:

It’s so simple (actually that’s another quote from Horst Schulze) I have all the parts right.

  • New customers – I’m a marketing and branding machine. I spend most of my non-shooting time on this.
  • Money – can’t complain here.
  • Efficiency – people actually ask me to teach them about efficiency.
  • Current customers – they walk away really happy.

But I’ve gotten it backward and that’s where listening to Horst Schulze by accident, made all the difference in my world. Here’s the way he sees these priorities:

Current customers

He puts current costumers first (and probably second, third, fourth and fifth). Schulze is fanatic when it comes to serving his current customers. He says that service begins with the correct greeting, then it’s complying to your customer’s wishes and does not end until you say farewell. Where do I have my current clients? Dead last. Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t ignore my current clients, and I have many that do repeat business with me, but I can learn a lot from the gentleman who builds the most luxurious hotel brand in the world. I’m just often taking them for granted (If you’re one of my current clients, let me say this: “I’m sorry for not putting you first and I promise you that I will do better. Starting now.)

New customers

Then I’m focused on making money – granted an incredibly important part of any business, since without running a profitable company, you’re gonna be out of business. What Schulze’s second focus? New clients. More accurately making your current customers so fiercely loyal, that his current customers will recommend his hotels to new customers.

Making money

Money is Mr. Schulze’s third point, which makes sense since your clients are the people who are paying you for, your service. Naturally, they should come before the money portion. However, he takes it a (big) step further. The former CEO of Ritz-Carlton said:

Make as much money as you can. People see it as a contradiction between being a caring organization with integrity and making money. That’s ludicrous. Why should that be a contradiction? I wouldn’t be able to be that company that cares and has integrity if I wouldn’t make any profit. The two go together.

So often I see creative professionals and small business owners, who have no idea of what they need to charge to run a profitable shop, because they don’t know the cost of doing business.

Being efficient

Last but not least comes efficiency. That’s the framework you need to run a prosperous business. Efficiency is the ability to create a product or provide a service, without wasting your resources. Being the freelance that talks a lot about how he uses efficiency, I am currently revamping my business system.

The way I was serving my business

I have followed the workflow that my CRM has in place: people find me online (searchers), they find my website, like my work and contact me (leads). We start talking about the potential collaborations (opportunities), I get hired to do the job and deliver my videos and/or photos to my clients (deliverables). If you read my blog post on Post-It notes, you know that pink notes are leads, yellow notes are opportunities, green notes are jobs and blue notes are my deliverables.

Here’s where that system is going to shift to:

The way I will offer service to my customers starting today

Service - Horst Schulze tells us what makes a great companyMy primary focus will swing to serving my current clients, becoming the main focus of my business and pushing the current focus of generating new customers into second place. I love leads, really I get a kick out of the notifications I get on my phone, that let me know someone new has just filled out my contact form, but I need to realign my strategy with making my current clients the heroes of my company. Fortunately, Mr. Schulze spoke about the way to make your current clients fiercely loyal. He says it’s really easy, and if you do this one little thing, you own your industry.

All you have to do is to care a little more than the other guys.