The Role of a Cinematographer

You love movies (and who doesn’t), so you’ve decided you want to be a Cinematographer. Great! But what does a Cinematographer actually do? If you say shooting with a camera you’re only half right. There’s so much more that goes into it… and we have the scoop!

The main role of a Cinematographer is to communicate the script visually with the audience in mind. It’s visual storytelling at it’s best. From an operational side, the Cinematographer is the person who actually gets shoots the film, TV series or commercial. But there’s more to it than that. They are also the head of the lighting and camera departments which is a big deal. Still, that doesn’t really tell us what we need to know. The best Cinematographers work closely with the Director to help the director realize their creative vision, through composition, framing, lighting and camera movement.

The EFTI School of Photography in Madrid produced a very stylized version of the job a few years back.

The workflow of a Cinematographer comes down to the fundamentals phases of production: Pre-Production, Production and Post-Production. The project is essentially conceived three times and it’s the Cinematographer’s job to help shepherd the project through the first two phases and then provide input on the final one.

Pre-Production

In the world of filmmaking, cinematographers can be described in different ways. It all depends on how they interact with the camera. If they are operating the camera, they’re a Cinematographer. If they are instructing someone else to operate the camera and more focused on the overall look of the shot, they’re a Director of Photography (DP).

A Cinematographer’s work starts long before a frame of video is recorded. It’s here the Cinematographer has to make some crucial decisions about the look and feel: Questions such as whether to shoot on digital or film (which is rare these days)? What type of camera is the best choice to capture the Director’s vision? Should they shoot in color or black and white? If color is used, will the colors be saturated or faded? Are they going for a more realistic tone or an expressionistic one? What role will camera movement play in the shots? You’ll also assist in sourcing your crew and equipment to get those shots the Director wants.

As the Cinematographer and Director meet to answer all of these questions prior to shooting a bond is formed. Filmmaking is highly collaborative business so it’s critical to get along well with your Director and be on the same page. If things work out well, you’ll see the relationship continue which is why we commonly see the same Cinematographer/Director partnerships in movies.

Production

Cinematography is one of the most complex and challenging facets of filmmaking, especially during principal photography, when everything gets hectic. Not only does the Cinematographer have the biggest crew on set, but he also has to be in continuous communication with the Director and the Production Designer in order to make sure that everyone is on the same page with how the film will look.

For each scene, the Cinematographer decides on the best combination of cameras, filters and lenses, as well as where the cameras will be placed, what the lighting should be and when the scene will be shot. On large films, several cinematographers may oversee different camera set-ups. Others may serve as second-unit directors, shooting background or locations without the actors.

Post Production

Once everything is shot, the cinematographer’s work is largely done. You hand over all your footage to an Editor and let them work their magic. With the vast majority of projects captured in digital RAW formats, manipulating exposure and color is easier than ever before which reduces the involvement of the Cinematographer in post. While Editors and Colorists are masters of their trade, it’s still a good idea to stick around to make sure the film retains the look envisioned by you and the Director.

The Skills Needed

“A Cinematographer is a visual psychiatrist, moving an audience through a movie…making them think the way you want them to think, painting pictures in the dark.”

Cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather, Annie Hall)

Cinematographers are both technicians and artists. They are in charge of the camera, its angles, the exposure used, and production style all enhance the storytelling. But they also must deal with the strengths and limitations of the camera equipment. Even today’s advanced cameras can’t reproduce an image the same way our eyes do, so the Cinematographer must compensate for this inconsistency.

Understanding file formats of media is another consideration. ProRes is one of the most well-known and widely used video file formats. Raw video also exists, but is often cost-prohibitive.  It also adds significant increases in budget due to additional processing time and equipment requirements.

Perhaps the most important aspect of a Cinematographer’s job is their ability to work with others. They never work alone. And they constantly rely on others to help them achieve their goals. Any production requires collaboration. But a Cinematographer must be both committed to their work yet flexible in their approach.

Compromises always have to be made so a lot of the job is looking at the day and realizing what is vital to capture. The easiest way to communicate with the Grip and Electric teams is through making lighting plots and revising them as necessary. It’s the Cinematographer’s job to make sure every shot is usable and flag them when they’re not.

Anything can happen on a film set. So being able to adapt during production is a key trait of a successful Cinematographer.

Learning Cinematography

There are lots of great resources and associations out there to get more information. Here’s a few that we recommend:

The Role of the Cinematographer is part of our series that looks at various roles within film and television production. Also check out our description of the COVID Compliance Officer

Health and Safety Protocols during the Coronavirus Pandemic

For film and video production companies, the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) offers a lesson in the contagion risks facing workplaces that need close proximity and interaction to function. Social distancing is almost impossible when offloading equipment, setting up camera and sound gear, applying hair and make-up, or getting into a 12-passenger van to get to the next location. And careless sanitary conditions on set have long been one of the production industry’s dirtiest secrets.

The sad state of hygiene on set has largely been accepted as part of the job. But when productions started shutting down nationwide to slow the virus’ spread, a debate emerged on what a safe (and sanitary) set looked like. Until now, having hospital information on a call sheet and a Set Medic on bigger productions was often the only health and safety protocols in place. That’s not nearly enough.

At some point, production will ramp up again and when it does, COVID-19 protocols need to be put in place. Although extra preparation is required, establishing a hygienic working environment is both possible and easy to implement. Here are some basic protocols to follow.

Common Sense Hygiene

Although there’s lots of information circulating about the virus, it’s best to follow what the health authorities are reporting. The CDC and numerous state authorities have issued recommendations to help prevent the spread of any respiratory disease. The nature of the production industry suggests additional guidelines, including:

  • Determine is anyone can effectively work from home during prep, shoot or wrap.

  • Keep workspaces clean. Disinfect them daily. The CDC recommends using diluted household bleach solutions or alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol.

  • Limit specific areas of the set to essential crew and personnel.

  • Require frequent and thorough hand washing by all crew, without exception.

  • Maintain social distancing of no less than 6 feet whenever possible on set. Have crew wear masks when that’s not possible.

  • Respect 12-hour turn arounds for all departments so people can get enough sleep.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has an excellent fact sheet on coronavirus that’s clear and concise. Attach it to call sheets and post on set.

On Set

Once on set, COVID-19 should be one of the first things talked about at your Safety Briefing. Stick to the facts, don’t offer opinion or spread rumors. Distribute a Health and Safety Protocol sheet to crew and place signs around the set explaining not to shake hands and to let the Producer know if you are feeling ill. Some commonsense measures include:

  • Have payroll, waivers and talent/location releases all done electronically with no paperwork exchanging hands on set.

  • Limit specific areas of the set to essential crew and personnel. Create policy of no Visitors on set.

  • Allow one department at a time to “step in, step out” of a set up, before the next department.

  • Provide masks, gloves, sanitizing wipes, tissues, and hand sanitizer in production spaces.

  • Place signage around restrooms and food services to wash hands and be clean.

  • Self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and report to your department head if you are sick or experiencing signs. Stay home when you are sick.

Set Medic

The Set Medic is often the medical provider hired on larger productions and works as the first aid department head. They are an excellent resource to research protocols for safe filming and can also help in creating a Health and Safety protocol sheet for the production. Every state is a little different, but there are health and safety bulletins used throughout the industry.

Schedule a time at the Preproduction Meeting (or sooner) to have your Set Medic fully explain all health and safety protocols to cast and crew.  Then empower them, and the Assistant Director, to enforce all rules (firmly but gently) on shoot days.

Wardrobe, Make Up and Hair

Taking certain precautions when applying makeup can keep everyone involved safe. Disinfect and sanitize any tools (tweezers, scissors, brushes, etc.) or products to make sure they are hygienic. Other tips:

  • Keep the number of people in makeup room/area to a bare minimum.

  • Work stations need to be cleaned between each user and distanced a minimum of 6 feet apart. Make-up chair and its handles should also be sanitized.

  • Before and after hair and make-up session, both talent and make-up artist are required to wash or sanitize their hands.

  • Applicators are not permitted to be reused on different people. This includes mascara and lipstick.

  • Ensure only wardrobe department touches clothing until it’s decided what the actor will actually try on.

  • Disinfect jewelry, glasses and accessories with sanitizer that will not cause damage.

  • All background extras, should wear their own clothes and dress from home. If that’s not possible, production should provide dressing facilities that allow for social distancing measures.

Craft Services and Catering

The area where your crew congregates also needs special attention. Get everyone to wash and sanitize their hands prior to eating any meal. As with production spaces, wipe everything down any time someone not on the crew touches it. Use paper towels to clean surfaces instead of repeat-use towels. Other to-dos include:

  • Buffets are not permitted. Meals and drinks must be served as single serving portions. Individually boxed meals are ideal but realize some may prefer to bring their own food.

  • Stagger meal times to decrease number of people getting food and seating simultaneously. Have food served to crew, as opposed to allowing self-serve.

  • Sanitize your hands before touching craft service equipment, including inside ice chests, the handles of serving utensils or other commonly shared surface.

  • Use suitable utensils, spatulas, tongs, deli paper, dispensing equipment, or gloves for food.

  • Communal ready-to-eat foods (chips, nuts, candy, cookies, etc.) are not permitted. Remove any bowls or canisters of snacks that crew could reach into. Provide snacks in individual, prepackaged portions or put them in plastic bags or Dixie cups for people to take away.

  • Reduce and streamline the variety of beverages. Offer the capability to refill an individual’s reusable water bottle without contact between refill source and bottle.

Fighting COVID-19 on set cannot be taken lightly. It requires a paradigm shift. Although the specifics will depend heavily on the type of production, new procedures and protocols rooted in safeguarding health need to be adopted. By creating cleanliness standards, we can reduce the risk of exposure on set.

If you’d like a copy of the in-depth Health and Safety Protocol sheet we distribute to our crews, please email us at info@moviemogul.tv

Keeping Your Business Afloat During Lockdown

Like many of you, we saw our work dry up fast when Coronavirus (COVID-19) spread across the nation. As the weeks tick by it’s easy to become frustrated, waiting for stay at home orders to end and the country to get back to work. But with an uncertain future, it’s important to find ways to take advantage of the present. We’ve used the term “creatives” to describe ourselves… it’s time to earn that moniker in a whole new way. Here’s how!

Shift Your Vision 

A canceled shoot doesn’t mean the content can’t be created, it means it must be created in a different way. Focus on project prep so you’re ready to roll when things open up. Turn your dialogue scene into an animation, and your in-person testimonial into an infographic. Ask your editor, “How can we visually present this project in a different way?” Motion graphics artists, graphic designers, and animators build their careers on solving such challenges.

Remember, you don’t have to halt all jobs in process. Problem solve. Find creative solutions to offer your clients and salvage your projects (and the all-important income) the best you can.

Leverage Remote Work

One unaffected area of business is digital postproduction. While everyone is working remotely, editors, colorists and animators are still fully capable of accomplishing any project. All color grading, digital retouching, photo compositing, animations, and video editing can still move forward. Think ‘outside the box’ by:

  • Compositing assets into new designs and ads

  • Creating animations out of video projects

  • Re-cutting previous video shoots into new promos

  • Using archival or stock footage in new ways

Prepare for the Future

At some point (hopefully sooner than later), production will resume. With that in mind, there’s no reason you cannot plan for future shoots. Although we don’t recommend asking to hold dates for shoots at this point with the possibility of moving them, there’s plenty that can be done in preproduction. Items to work on include:

  • Estimates and budgets

  • Storyboards and mood boards

  • Script drafts and initial shot lists

  • Talent searches

  • Virtual location scouting

Many shoots have already been postponed which means our calendar for late April, May, and June is starting to fill up. Please reach out to schedule your shoot or discuss a future project.

Learn Something New

When working remotely, what seems like an eternity of free downtime can easily get taken up by the most menial of tasks. Reading emails, doing laundry, organizing (and reorganizing) your desk. While those things need to be done it’s also an opportunity to sharpen our skills in new areas we know that we need.

While we hesitate to recommend YouTube tutorials because they’re often full of bad information, there’s still a lot that can be learned there. It’s an easy way to get introductory material on a subject. And while most software applications have a free trial period, many learning platforms (Lynda, Pluralsight, Master Class, Sundance Institute) also offer free trials. If you get something good out of them consider staying on once the trial is over.

Give Back

Production companies have always played a role in times of crisis. Although we all love to shoot spots that look beautiful, right now content is king. Offer practical help to brands and not for profits. What are they working on right now? What messaging are they trying to communicate? Would creating a user generated content approach provide the raw materials for that message?

With our free time, we worked on a coronavirus PSA campaign, called The Cure is US, creating over 90 video messages in four weeks. The work won’t make us rich but making a difference trumps the almighty dollar in these times.

Bottom Line 

It’s going to be a tough few months for the production industry and none of us really knows what the future holds. But film and television production thrives on Murphy’s Law – we are always ready for things to go wrong at any time. That resourcefulness is going to be an asset as we try to figure out what comes next.

No one understands working through problems better than us. No one. Together, we can get through this.

Going Remote in the Face of Coronavirus

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc, the pandemic has accelerated the deployment of remote-working options to such an extent that many clients and production companies may never look back.

In the past, production companies lost out on projects because either the client didn’t want (or was unable to) fly out for the shoot. But what if they can see what’s happening on-set from their office? Streaming the live camera feed from the shoot directly to clients might be the best solution to keep productions moving forward.

While the concept of streaming video has been around for quite awhile, it seems particularly relevant now for film and television productions. Clients don’t have time want to wait for months to have health concerns resolve themselves. They’re on a tight delivery schedule. And travel expenses are always an issue in any production budget. With the right streaming technology, clients can get their projects shot on their timeframe and save money in the process.

The first step is determining what the client wants to view. Do they need to see the camera feed or just dailies throughout the day? The choice will affect the amount of remote workflow involved. In either case making your Video Assist the point person is a must. While the main role of the Video Assist is to provide playback to Video Village, they are ideally positioned to get your video footage to remote clients.

With the abundance of streaming technologies in the market, there are many different options to choose from. Let’s talk about three of the most common solutions.

Video Conferencing

Many services provide video conferencing, including SkypeZoomGo-to-Meeting, and BlueJeans. These services generally have fees associated with them, so research carefully and make the client aware that they will be responsible for this additional expense. Note that the on-set bandwidth of the wireless network plays a major role in video quality. Recorded video looks much better than streaming video on these services and can affect the way the client responds to the work.

Also note, many wrap-up insurance policies do not cover transmission failure. Given that, you should identify this activity in the special risks exhibit of the wrap-up insurance addendum, and/or have the agency indemnify you for costs and delays related to transmission.

Video Streaming

Live video streaming from set is a popular choice but like video conferencing, it requires a steady and reliable internet connection on location. Most streaming options offer the ability for client, agency and other team members to join and watch video shoots in real time. The difference comes in whether the solution is hardware-based, app-based or a combination of the two.

At the low-end, the elgato Cam Link 4k is effective and simple. It has an HDMI port on one side and a USB port on the other. When you plug the camera into the HDMI port and the USB into the computer, your camera will show up as a webcam. Stability is an issue, however, as this system requires occasional restarts for no apparent reason.

For a more substantial solution, Blackmagic Web Presenter is a hardware-based solution that gives you multiple input options that you can switch between. Similar to the elgato Cam Link, you need to plug in the HDMI in and connect the USB into a Mac on set, running FaceTime. The Web Presenter then becomes the “WebCam” for almost any popular streaming software (YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Twitch, Skype… even FaceTime). Any number of viewers using their phone, tablet or laptop can call in and watch the video. It also has USB interface for audio equipment, so you can hook your mic into it.

Using video assist hardware like QTAKE is another popular option. QTAKE has been used for years to stream video playback on sets where camera location and Video Village are separated from one another. Numerous vendors push the QTAKE video output to the cloud so clients in other locations can view the footage with a web browser. By installing a steady and reliable Satellite Internet connection on location, we’d be able to set up a VTR, switcher and encoding service such as LiveU or AWS Elemental to upload a feed to any streaming platform available

Turning to web services, Virtual Village provides an internet-based portal that securely delivers video to any internet connected viewing device. Stream to your phone, tablet, laptop or set up your own village in a client’s office. Virtual Village even offers concierge service! Although only currently available in popular filming destinations like Los Angeles and New York City, and countries like Mexico, Brazil, New Zealand and Spain, they say that their system can be implemented wherever you need it.

On the software side, OpenReel is an app that enables producers to remotely capture and live direct video anywhere. The technology allows footage to be recorded locally on your device, ensuring that the full quality is recorded and then is sent directly to the cloud. It works on both Apple and Web-based platforms, allowing you to remotely pair with another phone or tablet. Quality control, video and media teams control capture, and you can drop into editing right from the app.

Immediate Dailies

Dailies have been part of filmmaking since the dawn of the industry. Digital technology has impacted the way dailies are processed, making them downloadable and streamable. Now companies like Moxion provide software to share your dailies with all crew – on and off set, across multiple units – instantly. Using QTAKE, clients can review footage from set instantly on any device or even via their Apple TV app.

As an added benefit, editors can start editing seconds after the camera has stopped recording, allowing them to quickly share assemble edits back to the Director on set. That aids the creative process and dramatically reduces the cost of pickups later in production.

Remote Postproduction

Remote postproduction is fast becoming a viable (and sometimes preferable) workflow for many teams these days, according to Frame.io. For editing, platforms such as Frame.io, Vimeo, Filestage.io, Wipster and others provide tools for version control, change requests, tracking status and approvals. This can make it easier to communicate with clients, complete revisions faster, and have higher-quality content out the door quickly.

Remote post also works well for VFX studios. For smaller VFX teams, they can upload assets to an off-premises destination, where artists can easily download what they need to their home computer and upload their final shots or elements. Larger studios may have their teams access a VPN to connect remotely to their on-premises workstations and use a remote desktop solution like Teradici.

Take a cue from people who have already implemented remote workflows. Flourishing communities for post professionals to network and join projects already exist, from Blue Collar Post Collective to the Editors Subreddit.

Costs Involved

As far as cost is concerned, there’s a wide range of available pricing. Depending on what you’re looking for, you can find streaming options for anywhere from $250 to $10,000. With such varying price tags, it’s important you know exactly what you’re getting. As you talk to vendors, be sure to ask these questions:

  • What’s included in the quoted price?

  • Additional costs for increased viewership or storage?

  • Additional costs for extra features?

  • Startup costs such as cameras and equipment or one-time fees?

Film and video production has been behind the curve in using remote working technology compared to other industries but that might change in the post-virus world. Workflows that free staff and crews to focus on higher-impact creative tasks will allow production companies to leverage the best talent – wherever they are in the world.

Production Incentives Update: Where We’re Going in 2020

Whether they are a financial godsend or a revenue burden to states, all agree that film and television production is booming due to film incentives and tax credits. The challenge for any producer is to stay up to date as incentives are in a constant state of flux… or disappear entirely. Here’s the latest on some of the notable state film and television incentives.

California: 3.0, Here We Come

California is about to have a slew of new changes to its production incentive offerings, with the Film & TV Tax Credit Program 2.0 ending in June 2020 and Program 3.0 launching in July. The Golden State will get $330 million to go into their incentives pot. Finally, independent projects with budgets under $10 million will have their own basket of credits to pull from. This is a major development, as the current program has large and small independents competing for the same film incentive funds, sometimes to the detriment of the smaller ones.

California will also roll out a new career-based training program as well as having a new requirements showing efforts to hire more women and minorities on productions. Production must also sign a pledge condemning any sexual harassment on the job.

The state will additionally have a brand-new incentives bonus for areas outside Los Angeles. This has become a trend happening in more and more states. It helps spread production through a state and create good faith for legislators whose districts lie outside a production area. Look for The Golden State to see an increase in independent production next year, due to these filming incentives enhancements.

Georgia: Winds of Change

Georgia’s generous tax credits have sparked a billion-dollar production boom but there are signs that might change. State Republicans are looking at reducing film production credits — the largest pot of tax incentives offered by the state — as a way of avoiding some of the serious cuts to a $27 billion state budget ordered by Governor Brian Kemp.

While Georgia’s incentive program is not the richest in the land, their tax credit system has no cap and is easy to apply for. All you have to do is slap on the peach logo! If that were to change, Georgia’s status as a film hub would be in doubt. Keep an eye on the upcoming legislative fight over incentives.

Illinois: On ‘Chicago Fire’

In an effort to attract more film industry jobs and spending, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed legislation last year extending film tax credits through 2026. The incentives, which give companies 30% tax credits on production costs and salaries, were set to expire in 2021. It’s good news for a state that needs good news after so much bad publicity. Studios look at every dollar spent and as Dick Wolf, creator of Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med had told the governor earlier this year that “if the tax credit goes, we have to go.”

Louisiana: Blue Bayou

Louisiana continues to be a tempting destination for film and TV producers and the state’s 25% – 40% tax credit, which is partially refundable, usually seals the deal. However, much like Georgia incentives are getting a push back in certain circles. A study last year shows that taxpayers are losing roughly two-thirds of the money they put into the state’s film tax credit program. With repeated budget shortfalls and cut spending in areas like health care and education, the Louisiana legislature could turn its attention to “Hollywood on the Bayou” for answers.

New York: Start Spreading the News

New York recently had some welcome news for branded content specialists as in 2020, they will allow for online commercials to qualify for the New York Commercial production incentive. This forward-thinking expansion will broaden the New York incentive outside the traditional broadcast commercials they currently cover. New York also made a slight change for tax credit programs which affects the overall credit allocation. Any New York credits dispersed in 2020 will have a .025% reduction applied to them that will in turn cover diversity job training in the state.

Montana: Incentives Are Back in Big Sky Country

Montana’s production incentive came roaring back earlier this year. The state resurrected a transferable film tax credit that provides a tax credit for 20% of production costs for projects shot in Montana. A trifecta of bonuses can bring that film credit up to 30% and even higher. They have a low minimum spend of only $50,000 and $5 million in the incentives tank, ready to go for productions in the area.

Mississippi: Re-Incentivizes Non-Resident Labor for Productions

Mississippi had become one of the forgotten states for production in the last two years since their production incentives program stopped qualifying non-residents working in the state. However, in April of 2019, they brought that element of the incentive program back, allowing non-resident payroll to be considered as part of base investment and eligible for a 25% rebate. Expect production to increase in the state as a result.

New Mexico: BACK ON TOP with Latest Incentives

As one of the first states in the U.S. to offer production tax incentives, New Mexico continues to lead by example. As it stands now, New Mexico offers 25% in a refundable credit on any qualified-spend items purchased through New Mexico vendors, as well as any New Mexico resident wages.

The 25% tax incentive is also applicable to nonresident talent, given certain criteria are met. Best of all, New Mexico does not have a minimum spend, which makes it even more attractive to independent productions. The funding cap also doubled, from $55 million to $110 million.

The new version of the tax incentive retains the 5% TV bonus. So as long as a show has at least six episodes and spends $50,000 per episode in the state, producers can realize a combined return of 30% in refundable tax credits. Veteran shows like Better Call Saul and Longmire continue to take advantage of this offering. Pilots may be able to capitalize on the TV bonus incentive as well.

OTHER STATE Film Incentives Get Fund Increases

Pennsylvania received $5 million increase to their already impressive $65 million funding pool. Hawaii managed a massive 43% increase to their $35 million cap, ending at $50 million and with hopes for more next year. Rhode Island also received a $5 million bump to their $15 million pot. Illinois has extended their program to 2026, Arkansas extends theirs to 2029, and Ohio continues to fund its program.

Colorado’s production incentive recently received a much-needed boost to its film funding program, adding $1.25 million to the pot. They now have a $2 million dollar funding cap on a solid rebate program. Applicants can still get 20% on all labor and spending incurred in the state. They hope the bump will bring some new shows to the area and give rise to an even larger increase in funding next year.

Making Their Way Back

North Carolina and Florida are working hard currently to bring work back to their filming communities with help from their production incentives. We look forward to tracking their progress in 2020 and beyond.

How California’s AB-5 Law Affects Filmmakers

Everyone has been wondering how the new bill enacted to classify Uber and Lyft drivers as employees would affect California’s gig economy. It turns out ripples produced by the law will be felt throughout the entertainment industry as well. Effective as of January 1, 2020, AB-5 (Assembly Bill 5), will restrict the hiring of employees on 1099. Rather than making a law targeting specific companies, legislators in Sacramento basically outlawed all independent contractors with few exceptions.

AB-5 will have jurisdiction over California residents as well as any employees required to perform significant services in California, regardless of their home state. Additionally, even companies that conduct the majority of their business outside of California would still be subject to AB-5 for any worker performing services in California.

The new law will likely have some effect on every film and television production. While major studios should be able to move forward unscathed, smaller production companies and indie filmmakers will feel the brunt of the law. By forcing these individuals to designate everyone they hire as an employee, it will increase costs by up to 30 percent. That’s quite hit for profit margins!

Who’s a Contractor Under AB-5?

AB-5 places a bigger burden on employers to prove that their short term workers are not employees. But just because the law will make it harder for independent contractors to be classified doesn’t mean project based work will cease. AB-5 is merely changing the labor test used by the state of California.

Prior to the law, California adopted the Borello test to determine whether workers were employees or contractors. The new bar to cross will be The ABC Test. Already used by U.S. Department of Labor, the ABC Test assumes a worker is an employee unless the employer can prove there is an absence of control, the worker’s business is unusual compared to the employer’s, and the worker is customarily engaged in a similar trade with many other business entities. Employers who mis-classify their employees as contractors can expect fines for doing so.

How Does it Affect Union Productions?

Most work for major studios and production companies is covered under collective bargaining agreements, with workers being classified as payroll employees. For this reason, entertainment industry unions don’t see the legislation effecting their members.

In a joint statement by SAG-AFTRA, WGA West, IATSE, Hollywood Teamsters 399, and Studio Utility Employees Local 724, the unions made it clear that they do not think AB-5 will affect the industry:

“We have carefully monitored this legislation as it was drafted and moved through the California Legislature… During that time, we conducted due diligence within our own guilds and unions, with outside tax attorneys, CPAs, and entertainment lawyers knowledgeable about our business and loan-out companies, and with legislative staff in Sacramento. These conversations were all undertaken to ensure that AB5 would not undermine the rights secured by our collective bargaining agreements, including the right to form and utilize loan-out companies.”

How Does it Affect Non-Union Productions?

The broad scope of AB-5 should be a warning for all non-union projects in California. Under the ABC Test, the majority of the cast and crew of a production will be viewed as employees considered to be under the company’s control.

Having a call time could be constitute “control.” Working as an actor could be construed as usual to the business of a production company. Collaborating with the same people often could demonstrate that you are dependent on that one job, and therefore, an employee.

The broadness of AB-5 is problematic and should signal to employers that they consider updating the classification of their workers to employees.

Does it Affect Me if I’m not in California?

You might think this isn’t relevant to you because you don’t produce films or videos in California. While that is true for the present, you should still pay close attention because historically, wherever California goes, other states often follow. Here are a couple of examples:

  • In 2004, California was the first state to mandate paid family leave at work. Many other states were quick to follow including Rhode Island, Washington, New Jersey, and New York.

  • In 2016, California was the first state to pass a $15 minimum wage bill. More than a dozen states have since done so too.

So, while other states have not yet passed an official law similar to AB-5, it is predicted that many states will follow.

Going Forward

Although there are many way to address AB-5, from fighting it in court to making all your contractors become LLCs, I believe taking these three simple steps is the best approach.

Modify your agreements. Adjust all independent contractor agreements currently being negotiated to include a clause regarding what may occur when AB-5 goes into effect. This clause would include language stating that all payment obligations still apply, that the employer still has a right to all content and services agreed to, and that terms shall only change as necessary to comply with AB-5.

Add a production fee. Add an additional 15-20% per new employee into your new quotes so your production doesn’t take a hit. If asked, “why?” explain that the government doesn’t see film teams as independent contractors any more so we have to pay them more. It’s not ideal, but it is simple.

Hire a payroll company. Although you could hire extra crew members to manage your payroll, entertainment payroll companies are better equipped to deal with AB-5. They can onboard workers as short term employees easily and serve as their employer of record, saving you the hassle of dealing with the changes.

Final Thought

As with any legislation, the effects can never be truly known until after a law is applied. But even if changes to the law come quickly, AB-5 will be law for at least a full year before any new exemptions are carved out. Companies must be ready to comply on January 1.

Location Scouting 101

Location, location, location. You hear it all the time in real estate but it’s just as important in film and video production. Whether you’re looking for the perfect place to shoot an interview or somewhere beautiful for a key scene in your script, picking your location is one of the most important decisions you make.

Before scouting, always read a the script. From the script, you should be able to put together a comprehensive list of all needed locations. Add in the shot list or the mood board and you will have everything you need. Once I’ve read the script, there are six questions I consider when selecting a location.

Does It Work With The Script?

Finding a match with the script is the priority in location scouting. If the ask is for open space and rolling hills a 7-acre ranch in the middle of town isn’t going to work. Stick to the specs of the script but feel free to offer some creative alternatives that just might work.

When debating between several choices, always lean towards the eye-catching locations; they add so much to the quality and composition of the video. I look for interesting neighborhoods in a city. Cityscapes that have beautiful backdrops. Wide open spaces with beautiful skies. Unique elements like textures, patterns, backgrounds and shapes that would add something special to the shot.

When’s The Shoot?

So many times clients have a great location in mind only to realize that the time of day makes it impossible to shoot there. A downtown street might look great at 9am on a Saturday but go there at rush hour on a Monday and suddenly there’s all sorts of problems. It’s critical to scout locations at the time the shoot is scheduled.

Time of day matters not only for crowds, noise and traffic but for sun position as well. Pay attention to whether a given spot is in full sun, partial sun or full shade. Bright sun can be harsh on people’s faces, and light-colored surfaces can blow out in full sunlight. Sun-tracking apps are a good investment and let you see the arc of the sun throughout the day.

Is It Accessible?

The most beautiful location will become a liability if you can’t get your cast, crew and equipment to and from it. How far up a mountain do you need to hike to get the shot? How long will low tide last before your beach location is underwater? Doing a cost vs. benefit analysis is always important in deciding where to shoot.

Once you’ve got your gear in the location, is there a place to stage it so that it is easy to access, but not in the way? Will you have enough power for everything you need? Are there bathrooms nearby? All of these must be checked off before committing to any location.

Is It Quiet?

Location audio can make or break a shoot. When scouting a location, determine if you will actually be able to capture clean, high quality audio. The last thing you want to hear every other take is “Hold for sound!” just because you missed something important when scouting the location.

Take a moment to listen to the background noise. Do you hear HVAC, refrigerator or equipment noises in an office? Traffic noise or planes overhead outdoors? Can the noise be removed or controlled? I generally ask the person I am doing the scout with whether or not these elements can be turned off. In most situations (outside of traffic or planes) they can be accommodating.

How Much Will It Cost?

The truth is that some places are cheaper to work in than others. Look for locations that encourage film production and offer financial/tax incentives. If you’re tied to a certain city or state, tap into local resources in the area like film commissions and tourism boards. They always have lots of ideas on where to shoot.

To save money or get access to a popular spot, consider reducing the amount of time that you need the space, shooting at off peak hours or limiting the number of people you bring on location. The less you are asking for the easier it will be to secure a location.

Who’s in Charge?

Make sure you find the person with the authority to actually grant you access to the space and sign a location agreement. If the space is privately owned, it could be as simple as approaching the property owner. However, if it is owned by a business, nonprofit, or other organization you will probably need to start with the property manager and then seek final approval from their leadership or board. A similar process will probably apply if you are trying to film on public property, except you may need to seek additional permits or insurance beyond a standard location agreement.

Be aware that you’ll need to secure permits and other legal permissions to shoot at certain locations. As you’re looking at a location, understand ahead of time if it is needed and ensure you leave enough lead time to secure any permits.

Once you’ve committed to a location, treat it like you would treat your home. Respect the site and leave it like you found it. Do a walk through with the owner and make sure everything is OK. There have been times when I have tried to secure a location only to be turned away because of a bad experience a location had with an irresponsible production company. Don’t be that guy. Always ensure that the experience is positive for everyone involved. You never know when you might be back.

Make Your Videos Unskippable

When was the last time you watched a video on Facebook? What about Instagram or Twitter? My guess it was in the last day.

The reason for my guess is that the appetite for social media video continues to amaze. Facebook video is now up to 8 billion views a day. YouTube has over a billion users, reaching more 18-49 year olds than ANY cable network in the U.S. Add in other social media platforms and you quickly realize that this is the ideal ad space for marketers.

There are many scenarios in which you might create a video. Although only a very small percentage of people actually click on ads and buy anything immediately, but your impressions can still have a real impact.

Telling Stories

People don’t like ads and want something else. Storytelling has emerged as a way to spark a conversation and get people to talk about your brand. As legendary marketer Seth Godin said, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.”

Learn to tell stories in a way that is accessible to the readers and users. Great storytellers do not complicate things unnecessarily; they just keep it simple.

Storytelling can be as simple as piquing curiosity and presenting content in an entertaining way. The first step is not “How do I talk about myself?” It’s “How can I delight my audience in the short time I have?” The true success of storytelling in social media is how your customer feels or what they do after consuming it. Focus on entertaining the viewer and piquing their curiosity. This commercial for Amazon Prime captures the viewer by showing two very different religious figures, a Priest and an Iman, and how they are able to connect over shared interests.

Relevant

People love themselves more than they love you, just the way it should be. If nothing else remember this, make your story and your content more about them than you. Put yourself in the eyes of your audience. What motivates them? What do they care about?

The right message, creative, and format are key to successfully grabbing a viewer’s attention. People expect videos to be made just for them, including showing experiences that are tailored to the location they’re in right now.

Sometimes customized content is the way to go. McDonald’s recently created 75 different six-second ads to drive relevancy for the Big Mac with millennials. They were targeted to its audience’s viewing interests, such as watching a movie trailer or live comedy clip. The customized ads earned more than double the ad recall of other ads in the campaign.

Aesthetically Pleasing

Finding the right aesthetic for your videos is challenging. But with the overwhelming amount of content to compete with, it’s critical that brands blend ad content into their videos naturally.

Shooting beautiful imagery in one of the best ways to inspire an audience. Gorgeous content makes people stop and want to know more about the location and who’s capturing this. Although it’s easy for anyone to pick up an iPhone and shoot a video, the time spent working with professionals who know how to compose, light and frame images shows itself in video analytics. Viewers love pretty pictures!

Enterprise uses video to promote its Enterprise Inspires campaign, which highlights various trips and beautiful spots around the country. Often involving nature, Enterprise’s videos stop the scroll with natural and beautiful videos that capture a viewers attention.

The visuals should tell the complete story. If it isn’t, that’s a problem. People are moving fast through their feeds when commuting, walking, and eating. Sound is often not viable for messaging – yet they still want to see what’s going on.

Cut to the Chase

With the viewer attention spans of a goldfish, videos need to be attention grabbing right from the start. Marketers have just 10 seconds to capture and engage an audience before they continue to scroll down or click away; and engagement drops off significantly beyond that. If you have not fully engaged your audience after the first 30 seconds, you’ve likely lost 33% of viewers; and after one minute, 45% of viewers have stopped watching.

Assume you need to cut to the chase in the first five seconds with your audience. Strip down your message and put the most crucial, attention-grabbing content into those first few seconds. Ideally, this open will encourage them to watch more, but even if it doesn’t, you’ve at least left them with a good impression of your brand.

Short and Sweet

One unmistakeable trend in social media is viewers like their videos to be short and sweet… and marketers have responded. Last year, 73% of all videos published were less than 2 minutes long. The days of long corporate videos are long gone.

Length is somewhat platform-dependent. Facebook’s auto-playback feature makes 30- to 45-second videos optimal; while Instagram and TikTok have fueled the demand for less-engineered, “micro-videos” that are 15 seconds or less. And tutorial videos on YouTube or gamer content on Twitch can be much longer… but those are very specific audiences.

Each platform has benefits and considerations, such as pre-roll ads or competing content, that play an important role in the need for a good user experience for your videos.

Make something worth watching – something that your customers will want to watch over and over again. Your goal should be more than to sell your product or service – you are creating a video that will be on the Internet for anyone to watch. It should be engaging and speak to your unique brand voice

Satisfying the Content Addiction

As entrepreneurs, we spend a lot of time connecting with people on social media. However, if we’re not constantly sharing content with our audience, our accounts can become boring pretty fast.

In the race to gain an audience, social media streams are crowded and competitive. Social media generates a staggering 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day. An incredible 5.3 trillion display ads are shown online each year. This relentless stream of content makes it harder than ever for your message to cut through the noise and get noticed.

While there’s no secret formula to creating content that gets shared, it isn’t random selection. The fact is people are visual creatures. This is part of the Law of Visual Hierarchy. Movement is more visually prominent than still images. And images are more prominent than text.

Remember awhile back when marketers realized that they needed more than text in their Facebook posts? They turned to images but even photos aren’t enough anymore. Now you need to add video and animations. Check out any of the top brands on social media and you’ll find they use all types of visual content, including videos, photos, animations, gifs, infographics and memes to tell their story.

So where do you start? There are several rules of thumb we follow in creating social content.

DOUBLE UP

For years, a video or photo shoot was seen as a one off. It might be for a commercial, a print ad, a corporate video, maybe content for a new web site… but that’s it. Time would pass and the next time a request came up, a new shoot would be planned. It was an ineffective and expensive process.

Done correctly, shooting all your brand content at the same time makes sense… and saves time and money. A photo shoot piggy-backing off of a video shoot doubles your content and provides all the imagery that you need. You need a plan to execute such a shoot correctly. Our process is to shoot video first and then let the photographer come in to shoot. You’ll need continuous lighting and the same setups to make save time and get as much footage as possible. Think of it in three steps:

  1. Plan out the shoot and create a shot list for video and photography each

  2. Capture your shots using the same location and lighting setup for both video and photography

  3. Move to the next setup and repeat

REPURPOSE

No one wants to spend time and resources creating new content only to have it fade in popularity and visibility over time. Experienced marketers know that repurposing high-performing content into other areas helps extend its lifespan. And by leveraging your content in multiple ways, you can reach a wider audience in a more interesting and persuasive manner.

Video and photo content provide great opportunities at repurposing. Videos can be pre-rolls or smaller, targeted videos by “lifting” an existing section. Interview sound bites are a great example of bite-size videos. Photos can be used as a collage, slideshow, or background for quotes and infographics.

Remember, the content you create is not a one-off… it’s a potential steady stream of posts to your social media accounts. With a little creativity and planning, the ways you can leverage your content is limited only by your imagination.

LESS IS MORE

Studies reveal that marketers have just 10 seconds to grab an audience and call them to action. After those 10 seconds, engagement drops off dramatically. Our goldfish-like attention span wanes and we continue to scroll down or click away. The key is to provide quick bite size chunks of eye candy that convey the brand and vital information.

Length will depend on which platform your audience is viewing. Brand marketers should consider customizing video length for each platform. Bite size content is the trend so staying under one minute is preferable. Facebook’s auto-playback feature makes 30- to 45-second videos optimal, while Instagram and Twitter have demand for “micro-videos” that are 15 seconds or less.

The number of images should be considered as well. Twitter allows four photos in a post while on Instagram you can add up to ten. Facebook mobile has a 30-photo limit while the creator of a Facebook album can add a maximum of 1,000 photos. Again, less is more.

The Colorado Department of Transportation wanted to communicate the dangers of drunk driving and importance of using breathalyzers in an ‘outside the box’ way… at a Beer Yoga class. Besides shooting photos, three short videos were created for different social platforms… at 15-seconds, 30-seconds and one-minute in length. Each was short but succinct in messaging. Beyond the colorful visuals, notice that captions are included throughout the video. Captions actually let viewers know what the video is about, giving them a reason to tap and turn on the sound and listen.

STORYTELLING

People connect with people, not brands. To connect with your audience, show your brand’s personal side… it’s story. Posts about company employees, their lifestyle, and the culture all connect your customers with your brand.

If you’ve got news, share it. Behind the scenes moments, show it. If your company helps the community, make it known. Remember, video and photos can tell a story better than any text. The old adage of “a picture being worth a thousand words” is a cliché because it’s true.

National Geographic has over 350 million followers due to their success with social media storytelling.

User generated content (UGC) is another way to tell your brand story. When you share UGC, you’re not only engaging with your audience, but you are making them feel seen and appreciated. Best of all, consumers find UGC more trustworthy. That’s because it’s created by people who just love your brand. These opinions are seen as unbiased and genuine.

AESTHETICS MATTER

Creating the perfect social media aesthetic for your brand’s feed is challenging. But coming up with the vibe or feeling your brand projects is crucial if you want to grow your audience.

Think of it in terms of walking into a store… The open layout, clean lines and crisp white surfaces of an Apple store give a very different feeling than walking into a bold blue and yellow, yet less grandiose, Best Buy. They have some similar products, but their overall vibes are totally different.

This same rule applies to your brand’s social media accounts. The style of the videos and photos you curate within your feed say a lot about the overall personality of your business.

Starbucks does a great job in their brand consistency with clean design that translates across all of their social media, especially on Pinterest.

Additionally, you don’t want the appearance of your social media accounts to be drastically different than all of the branded materials you already have out in the world, such as your website, logo, and marketing collateral. Corporate identity guidelines can help in this area. If you’re in the process of re-branding go through your videos and photos and delete the ones that no longer fit your brand image.

FINAL THOUGHT

Some things make so much sense, you can’t understand why you didn’t think of it sooner. Social platforms are meant to be about shared experiences. Video and photography communicate more in sight and feeling than words alone. That’s why people can’t get enough of it on social networks. If you’re trying to break through the clutter on social media, use visual content to take your accounts to the next level.

Drone Magic – Flying or on the Ground

After a blizzard grounded our drone, we thought the shoot was a bust. Turns out all was not lost. The gimbal in the drone meant we could use it just as a camera… and take super steady shots as good as with any stabilizer. From skiing shots to running footage, our Inspire 2 did a great job keeping the footage stable.

This kind of “outside the box thinking” is exactly what we’re all about. Just put your DP on skis and let the magic happen!