About Me

My photo
freelance writer, director, communicator and consultant; Showrunner on multiple national episodic television shows

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why I Decline (most) Offers to Create Video Content

   Do you recall this episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show where Rob and Laura hired this famous "colorful master painter" to paint the interior of their home?

The year was 1963 and The Dick Van Dyke Show was in it's second season.

Fast-forward to 1990. I am entering to my first season of being a freelance cameraman and director of photography.

Throughout the 90's, budgets were big in all things film and video. With those big budgets came ample time to do the work. If there was a pressing deadline, clients and production cos had no problem paying a premium. The bar was high; quality was not only expected, it was demanded. If you failed to meet deadline you were out. If your creativity wasn't fresh and better than the competition's, you were out.

Through times like this, you grow and expand. Skill sets evolve, different revenue streams develop; workflow adjusts and re-adjusts with the ever-changing dance of hardware/software improvements with creative tone and manner.

All of this began to change when desktop video workstations became affordable in conjunction with Sony releasing the DVCAM format in the late 1990s. It took a couple of years for the effect to be felt across the production board, but what happened is that because quality production hardware itself became more affordable, more people dove into it. With more people in it, the bar lowered, costs were in a downgrade.

This happened again with affordable high definition production coming onto the scene a few years later. A couple of years after that, DSLR HD video and affordable 3D hit the scene. That brings us to present where now, full-format digital 35mm video cameras (awesome images 4x the size of HD) are affordable and available at B&H Photo.

With each progression of technology, there tends to be a downward trend for a) cost; b) deadline and c) expectations. Because of this, labor is getting cheaper and younger (greener). Clients can now base quality on meeting the immediate deadline under their budgets. If the project happens to look great and make sense, that's icing on the proverbial cake. If the video runtime is under one minute, then well done faithful servant.

Recently, a colleague tweeted this which appropriately sums up the last three paragraphs:

Cheap gear has produced cheap labor, which has, in turn created cheap clients.

What does this have to do with that episode I mentioned in the first 'graph (written by Carl Reiner) aptly titled "Give Me Your Walls"?

Well, I'm not comparing myself to any master painter by any means. But I am saying that, like with anything else, quality does need a bit of time.

Vito Scotti as Vito Giotto in
Give Me Your Walls, 1963
That painter lived with the Petries for weeks. He was a craftsman that poured over every detail and was proud of his work (and he wanted a free place to live, another irony). Rob and Laura just wanted the walls painted.

Like a great painting, Story takes time to produce and unfold. Telling a great story with great connecting images takes time. Cramming all of that in a two minute YouTube clip for upload tonight takes talent and time (not to mention a stable broadband connection). Time is money; clients and agencies seem to have neither these days. So basically they settle with what they can get for their money: thrown-together content that may or may not make sense; content that may or may not look great; content that's all eye-candy and no protein. That's acceptable today and it's a travesty.

By the end of part two of Give Me Your Walls (yes, it was a two-parter), Rob Petrie told the guy to just hurry up and get out. And in the past three years, more often than not, digital media projects that come my way have one main criteria from the client: hurry up and get it online.

With labor rates well below what they were in the 90s and expectations well below that, I am fine with turning down immediate-delivery, run-of-the-mill projects in hopes that there is someone, anyone, any company, any agency out there that demands quality, honors story, is respectful of deadline and has a reasonable budget based on this criteria. If this is you, let's talk- I eagerly await.

on Hulu:

1 comment:

  1. What I didn't mention in all of this is TV news. I am a news junkie- I love shooting and cutting news. All of this I mention in this article is mutually exclusive of the TV news industry- sure, there's a lot of fluff on slow news days, but story is hashed out, journalists and photojournalists are compensated for OT and weird hours. Spot news has immediacy and time is of the essence- BECAUSE ITS NEWS. When a corporate/documentary client demands these same deadlines met under a lo/no budget (forgo story and finishing) because it's got to get on YouTube for exposure and (hopefully) monetary gain, THAT'S SILLINESS!