Wednesday, November 22, 2017

How to Stay Tactical in the Video Production World

First Pillar Studios in the Jungles of South America? 
Amazing, exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time! Having feet on the ground in South America, although exciting, it’s incredibly dangerous in regards to the safety of our equipment and crew. Last year we had invested in Pelican waterproof cases. The cases are strong and sealed with a waterproof "O" ring . We have field tested them in five states across North America and find them to be incredible. 

Rain, dust and general dropping are no match for the-225/55r-19 series case. Although we haven’t landed contract work for South America as of yet, we are currently bidding on an exotic adventure and cinematic challenges near and abroad. As Director of Operations, prepping for a job can be daunting. Weather, light and safety are always an issue. Packing the right tools for the job is a team effort; planning for the approach is trickier than one could imagine. 

When planning our shoot we normally start with the camera (4k being standard on most shoots it’s normally our "Go to camera".) We study location and terrain, weather, indoors and/or outdoors weather conditions for that time of year all play a part in the clothes and gear required. Once our camera and general gear are chosen, we storyboard and create our shot list. The Shot List tells us what to pack or rent  for the job. Sliders, jibs, tracks, stabilizers, drones, and lights can all be customized for the job. This process can 
improve shoots.

Brendon Paredes is the Director of Operations and co-owner of First Pillar Studios and has worked in the creative video and audio production industry since 2000. Contact Brendon at or visit 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

10 Secrets About Video Production That No Company Will Tell You - Part 2

This is Part 2 of First Pillar's Ultimate Guide to Video Production, if you haven't read part one then head on over to it here.

"We goin' on vacation y'all!"
My absolutely favorite part of this job is travel. Why? You get to see the different places and things while also working for the monies! Well that, and I have a weird affinity for hotel rooms - I don't know what it is but something about relaxing in a small room that gets magically cleaned everyday does it for me. Travel can be one of the best parts of working in video production but it can also be one of the most expensive parts. Not every job has the budget to fly a 5 person crew across the country with tons of gear and suitcases. When we budget for travel we ask ourselves 3 questions: Is it necessary? Can we drive instead of flying? How many people and how much gear has to travel? The last question analyzes whether we can hire local crew and rent local equipment or if it requiresf our whole crew and all of our equipment to travel. Once you have the specifics down you can then look at your budget and see if it's feasible. Sometimes it doesn't work and you have to be creative. Say you have a crew of 4, each with 2 suitcases and then add on about 10 pieces of gear... even with little knowledge of how airlines work in 2017 you can do the math and see how expensive this can get!

"It's the Little Things that kill"
This one is not as apparent as the rest but I feel it is important to mention. Sometimes in the thick of planing out a production you forget to plan in time for the little things such as where to meet up or where will the restroom be, or how about weather?! Little details like this are easy to overlook but can be just as important as the big things. We like to make a checklist when we get closer to our shoot day that goes over all of these little details. Some things to consider: flight/driving times, gas, rentals, important phone numbers, return times, contact info for everyone, food, restrooms, weather, charging batteries, electric, time zones, special needs of anyone involved, setup time, breakdown time, travel time between locations, release forms, contracts, language barriers, maps...the list can literally be endless. My advice... your going to forget something no matter what, try to learn from your mistakes and make a detailed list that you go over for every production.

"Don't ask me a question until you've looked at the schedule!" Your schedule is everything, it is the glue that keeps everyone together and the show moving... but your schedule will change. The production schedule is the most contradictory piece of information you will have. It's one of those things that just doesn't make sense. You need to have it, you need to make it, but inevitably it will change. Accept it. Don't let that stop you from meticulously planning out every moment of your production. This is your show and dammit, your gonna run it smoothly! The key here is to know all of the moving parts. Everything we have talked about so far is a part of a greater whole, the schedule helps you to control all of these pieces and make them work together. Try to keep in mind ahead of time what can possibly go wrong with each thing, this will help you plan for the unknown. But there is only so much planning you can do and at some point, the machine starts moving and your job is to be able to adjust accordingly. The more you work on productions, the better you get at rolling with the punches and coming up with creative solutions to problems... or you start to go crazy. One or the other.

"Did you get my email?"
Should I say it? Communication is key. It is. No secrets here really. Everyone has a different preferred method of communication and different ways of interpreting information. Keep it simple, clear and stay on top of it. You might have to be a bully here and that is ok. Maybe you have some people who prefer texting, some like phone calls, or some like emails... don't try to cater to everyone. Come up with the best communication solution for you and usually everyone else will get on board. If you find yourself in charge of a whole production crew, a slew of actors and having to communicate with the client, make sure you group your communication properly. A CEO of a major client does not need the same information as your Director of Photography - try to keep your communication appropriate for your audience. And the biggest tip I can give you is to stay ahead of things. Don't let the production days creep closer without having your shit together. If people start to wonder what the gameplan is before you have a gameplan that is usually not a good sign. You want to know whats going on way before anyone is even thinking about it. Once you have that information, get it out there in a clear way. People always appreciate advaced notice and keeping everyone happy keeps you happy. 

"Just then the Director yells: Action!"
It's time to do this thing. You have done all of the planning you possibly can and now it's the day of production. The actors are in place, the crew is ready to go, the gear is working perfect! Be proud of yourself. Pulling a production off for a big client, with a limited or even regular budget, on time, and making it high quality - is a small miracle. If it is your first one, don't worry, like everything else it gets easier with time. Also remember something will most likely go wrong. Stay calm and keep moving. Most likely your client wont even notice but that all depends on you! Good luck out there.

Mike Ramsdell is the Creative Director and co-owner of First Pillar Studios and has worked in the creative video production industry since 2008. Contact Mike at or visit 

10 Secrets About Video Production That No Company Will Tell You - Part 1

Many times people ask me what the process for planning out video shoots is. And many times I tell them, "It's a lot of planning..." which is true! The process we have in place is tailored specifically to our usual workflow as a small business but  for the most part it can apply to all video shoots. In this two part blog I will layout the basic steps that are involved in planning and running a successful video shoot. Disclaimer: Most of our experience comes from commercial, corporate and government video production - not all of these tips apply to every kind of video production shoot. 
So here it is...

First Pillar's Ultimate Guide to Video Production: Part 1

"...and they all lived happily ever after." 
It all starts with the pen and paper. Or the keyboard. Whichever you prefer. I'm not going to get into how to write a script. What really matters is that you have one, it's been approved by both you and your client. (maybe even get it double approved) and you are ready to plan your shoot. This is your base layer, your cement block for the giant video production tower we will be building. What's important here is you have to look at the script objectively. Forget about all the fun creative stuff and look at the facts. Is it an action video with an opening chase scene in an abandoned office building? Is it good? Doesn't matter anymore. What you need to figure out is where is the building, who's playing the actors, what equipment will you need and how big is the crew? Oh and you have to do all this within a very specific tight budget. Yikes! Remember what is important here is to get all of the info out of the script. Some larger productions might even have a detailed document that comes with the script outlining a lot of these details already. If not, don't panic. Once you practice doing this it become second nature to scan over a scene and see what the needs and requirements might be. Once you have created your own outline, make sure to run it past everyone involved. Sometimes there may be things that are not present in the script and outside feedback can be invaluable. One last tip - when initially pulling out information, don't worry about the budget yet, try to be very objective and if there needs to be a change later - address it then. 

"Location, location location!" Now that you have your script and you have a general idea of your needed locations it is time to figure out where those locations might exist in the real world! As always some scripts will be easier than others to figure out. There are plenty of office buildings around... but you need a deserted office building. But that office building also has to be safe enough for people to be inside so maybe you need a working office building and then will turn it into a deserted office building. Is that feasable with your budget? Maybe. Maybe not. What I find most important here is to figure out which locations I know will be easy to secure and which ones will be tricky. Some things to think about here are permits and safety. Say you want to film in an old historic downtown neighborhood. Well you would most likely have to get a permit from the state and the city and maybe even special permission from the historical society. Also if an area has traffic, it will have to be rerouted and that requires hiring the police and other city workers. But finding locations isn't all bad. Remember that scouting out locations is also a very important step. This can save you headaches during production and can also be fun to explore different areas. Remember to budget in additional days for scouts. 

"How expensive is that camera?!"
Back in the day when me and my cousins used to make horror movies in our garage our gear consisted of Dad's video camera, a blank tape and a good idea. If only that was all you needed  for a professional shoot. Every shoot is different and requires the right tools for the job. The 3 key things to consider here are lighting, sound and video. If you have a DP for the project it is important to talk to them about what there thoughts are for specific requirements. If your doing the shoot yourself then it is up to you! What do you feel this production needs? Consider the locations and the scenes. Will you need different types of lenses for the camera? How is the lighting at your chosen locations?  What kinds of lights do you need? What about audio? Are there speaking roles? Do you need to record natural sound? There are many things to consider when deciding what to use on your shoot- maybe you don't have all of the equipment you need and therefore would have to rent some of it. Renting gear isn't unusual for larger productions as most video production companies dont have the ability to keep the wide variety of production equipment needed on hand. Another tip... Don't forget about the little things. Duct tape, extra bulbs, extension cords, batteries...having these on hand can make you the superhero of the production. 

"Hello, I am the Director, Writer, Producer, Videographer, VoiceOver Artist, and Editor...nice to meet you."
Sometimes your crew can be one of the most challenging aspects of production. Especially for a small team, adding on additional crew can lead to unwanted outcomes or surprises. Our goal is to see how much of the production we can split between a small crew and then if we have to subcontract for additional crew we always make sure they have been vetted with us before and we can trust them. You never want to be on a shoot with someone you don't know and have never worked with before. Unlike others jobs where subcontractors can fill in, a video shoot is slightly different. Video shoots are tiny bursts of finely tuned explosive action. They are machines that only work if everyone does their part for the whole team. If something goes wrong, not only can you lose time but also money and possibly even a good relationship with a client. Our tip...make a list of the positions that you need to fill. See how many you can fill in with your team, then reach out to trusted subcontractors to fill in the rest. 

"Hello darling..."
The glitz, the glam, the glory...well at least when the cameras are rolling. When we refer to talent we are referring to the people in front of the camera: the actors and actresses, the dancers, the singers, the performers, the artists, the professional, the entertainers, the interviewee. The first order of business is to figure out what kind of talent you will be working with. Are you hiring actors? Are you interviewing real people? Are you filming a documentary where your talent is naturally occurring? Next figure out if you need to be responsible for finding the talent or if it is something that is naturally built into the job. Most commercial productions require the production studio to find talent with the final casting calls made by the client or collectively. Whenever possible we look to our local community for options. You'd be surprised how many locals have acting talent!

Read Part 2 - First Pillar's Ultimate Guide To Video Production: Part 2

Mike Ramsdell is the co-owner of First Pillar Studios and has worked in the creative video production industry since 2008. Contact Mike at or visit 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

How Video Editors Are The New Multitaskers

 What is a video editor?  

Is it someone who carefully sifts through footage, finds the gems and polishes them off for the audience? Or is it someone who knows how to create amazing animated explainer videos with moving graphics and eye catching visuals... Is an editor someone who knows where to make a cut, time a musical score, build tension and create action?  Are they someone who can take a finished piece and manipulate an invisible color palette to create mood for an audience? Or is an editor simply someone with a good eye and natural ability for timing?

You can probably guess where this is going. In our insanely fast paced modern world, to call yourself a video editor you better be able to do all of these things and more. Or if you can't, you should be really good at some of them and learning the rest as you go. What I am really getting at here is the relationship between client expectations and the ability of a small post production house to handle it all. Of course there are many exceptions, but for the most part let's focus on a small video production studio much like us at First Pillar Studios.  

Our work flow usually begins with a client asking us to create ideas and concepts for a project. We come to an agreement on a creative outline and plan accordingly. Then we move into production and shooting, which depending on your budget can vary greatly 
( check out our production workflow blog ). Finally we move into post production. 

 Simple right? 

But if you break down even just the first step of the workflow, you can see how easily things can get out of hand.

Ideas and concepts are limited only to your ability to follow through on them. If your small team is limited by your own ability, then you will find yourself having to look elsewhere to finish a project. For example: let's say you have 2 actors walking into a movie theater, then they walk up to the screen and jump into it and begin dancing and then become animated versions of themselves and fly away. Whoa! That 20 second clip sounds simple but is extremely time consuming to pull off. The post production process on that would involves compositing multiple layers of shots, keying out background, rotoscoping and then on top of all of that - animating!  If you don't have a multitalented team to pull it off then you will have to subcontract out some of the work and therefore raise the budget. A higher budget might not get you the client...which means no job for anyone!

 The moral of the story? 

If your an editor, learn as much as possible. Even if your not starting your own business, knowing as much about your trade as you can comes in handy and may get you a well deserved promotion. If your a business owner, hiring an editor is a big decision. Make sure you get someone who knows their craft, who had a wide range of knowledge, and can handle different kinds of projects. If you can't find a jack of all editor, find someone who is open to continual education and willing to keep learning.

Mike Ramsdell is the owner of First Pillar Studios and has worked in the creative video production industry since 2008. Contact Mike at or visit 

How to Stay Tactical in the Video Production World

First Pillar Studios in the Jungles of South America?  Amazing, exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time!  Having feet on t...