Corporate Video East and West
By Stuart Sweetow of Audio Visual Consultants © 2002
Originally published in Camcorder & Computer Video Magazine
The migration from event videography to corporate videography is easier than many people think. Corporate events, such as retirement parties and awards banquets are remarkably similar to wedding receptions. Event videographers might even have an edge over died-in-the-wool corporate video producers, because they know how to shoot without a script and even develop a story as they shoot.
If you have camcorder with a mike input and wireless mikes, and you know how to tie into PA systems, you are well on your way to adding businesses to your client rosters. Not only can corporate video be lucrative, it won’t interfere with your weekend events. Weddings happen only once (we hope) in people’s lives. Companies use video time and time again to communicate their messages to employees and customers.
We spoke with videographers on both coasts to learn how they developed their corporate clientele and how they applied their event videography skills so they have weekday work, and repeat business.
At WEVA Expos you can take seminars on corporate video. One of those seminar leaders, Orlando, Florida’s Omni Productions owner Steve Martin, has developed a business with a staff of six employees plus freelancers. His company produces sales training videos and promotional videos for large and small corporations.
St. Augustine, Florida’s Dusty Young, through his company, Insight Video Productions, splits his videography 50-50 between weddings and corporate and says he enjoys the balance. He produces corporate training and marketing tapes for corporations and organizations.
Pleasantville, New York’s Richard DePaso owns The Creators and Aardvark Video and Media Productions. Soon to have an additional office in Las Vegas, the majority of his company’s work is for corporate clients. He specializes in producing videos for various organizations–training, commercials, sales aids and informational pieces. An early pioneer in new technology, in 1997 he gave a WEVA Expo seminar on CD authoring and the emergence of DVD technology.
Sacramento, California’s Lisa and Gib Randall own Dynasty Video. Active with both event and corporate video, one of Randall’s regular clients is WEVA International. She produces the promotional videos for upcoming WEVA Expos that you see on the WEVA website, and she produces the Wide World of Weddings talk-show format seminars at WEVA Expos that has expanded into live-streaming video events at the last two years.
Randy Stubbs of Silver Star Enterprises in San Diego won six Creative Excellence Awards at last years WEVA Expo. Dividing his time 50-50 between corporate and event videography, Stubbs says he feels proud to shoot family events. His finesse with using the camera to draw out emotion not only helped him earn his CEAs, but gave him an edge over the traditionally colder corporate producers in winning contracts to produce fundraising videos for nonprofit foundations.
The hospitals and health foundations for whom Stubbs produces videos, show them at fundraising dinners that honor the subjects of the videos. The honorees are people who had been through terrible medical tragedies in their lives, and the videos show how they coped. “People who do events are the perfect people to do fundraising-foundation videos,” says Stubbs.” There is no other producer better at pulling emotion out of a piece than a wedding videographer, because that’s what we do.”
In the process of securing a particular hospital foundation to be his client, Stubbs found himself competing with six large commercial production companies. According to Stubbs, these companies’ demo videos, “had no heart in it. It was perfectly exposed, perfectly lit, fakey looking crap. My stuff was a little more edgy, a little more like raw emotion. From doing weddings we know how to do that.” Stubbs says he was selected by that client and other foundation clients because they want viewers to become emotionally involved, to feel proud to be part of the organization that has helped individuals and to open their checkbooks.
One method Stubbs uses to elicit this emotion in these foundation videos is to interview the on-camera participants without letting them know the questions in advance. He wants to create a spontaneous, conversational interview and will ask a leading question such as, “how does that make you feel.” Rather than write a script that he says can result in a “canned” feel, Stubbs open questioning elicits the human, spontaneous responses.
In order to develop the appropriate interview questions, he will meet with his client to discuss the main points and select people to interview. The interviewees could be nurses, doctors, customers, employees and upper management. He weaves these interviews in a way to lead to the climax of the videos–powerful testimonials from the patients themselves. These recovering patients, whose lives have been changed through intensive medical care, are the heroes of these storie.
Stubbs’ shooting style results in a lot of footage. He then has it transcribed, with time code numbers, by students at a local court reporters school. Stubbs asks three reps from his client’s foundation to read the transcripts and highlight the quotes they most like. He finds the common “killer quotes” that all three selected. Then he goes to the tape using the time code numbers and captures those into the computer. It is only after the quotes are selected that Stubbs goes out to shoot his B-roll. While the clients think they will use the video only for their fundraising dinner, Stubbs sees the videos also used internally to boost employee morale.
Another reason Stubbs likes producing foundation videos is because most foundations have fundraising dinners annually and call the videographer back year after year. He will re-use some B-roll from a previous shoot, and, according to Stubbs, by the second or third one he doesn’t have to seek as many approvals and has more creative control over the videos.
The videos’ run times are usually 15-20 minutes and are shown on a big screen. Stubbs says that his videos get shown in a room of the richest people in town. He says it is like showing a commercial of yourself to a tight circle of donors who pass the word on to their friends.
The budget for these videos range from $12-20,000. “It’s probably four times what you make in a wedding and half the work,” adds Stubbs. Asked if he bills by the hour or just charges a flat rate for the entire production, Stubbs said that he usually shows the client a video he previously made and when the subject of budget comes up, he tells the client what the budget was for that video. If the client doesn’t want to spend that much money, he will discuss ways he can trim down their video production.
Stubbs says that on some occasions when he wanted to maintain high production values, and the client couldn’t afford what he wanted to produce, he would tell a client that the production he is giving them really costs $10,000. However, after the production is complete, if the client pays him the $10,000 he will write a check as a donation to the foundation for $3000. Stubbs says that if he started out saying he would produce the video at a discount, the client would forget about that and think they are getting only a $7000 video. This way, they see that it is a $10,000 product. Stubbs gets a tax write-off for the donation and he gets his name listed among the generous donors in the printed program.
Stubbs said that sometimes his foundation clients have even higher budgets than those for demo video he shows them. They are used to working with the big production houses that have to support high overheads. “A lot of us one-man-bands in the wedding video business can now compete with them because of our experience level and because of the equipment,” says Stubbs. “And a lot of that is, thankfully, due to WEVA for fighting for us to get equipment in our hands that we can use that’s affordable. We can charge less and deliver a better product.” Stubbs adds that some clients prefer to deal with the one-man-band video producer rather than a large production company, because they know that he will be the one responsible during the entire production process.
Stubbs says that many of these foundations are run by older women who don’t know about newer technology. Some are still using slide shows. “It’s ripe for the picking,” says Stubbs. “In every city they do these. Every weekend there’s a foundation having some big black tie party they are showing videos at, and we should be the ones that should be doing them.”
Getting Paid–Flat Rate or Time and Materials
“I learned from a carpenter friend. I watch how he handled his business,” says St. Augustine, Florida’s Dusty Young. “Since I never get handed a treatment or a script, I try to charge by the hour whenever possible. This way they get what they paid for, and I get paid for what I do.” He likes to be paid for the shooting at the end of the session and then be paid for editing on delivery. However, Young is happy to work on a flat rate for the non-profit institutions.
His largest ongoing client is a non-profit charity called the Pace Center for Girls. It’s a statewide school system for “girls at risk” that teaches not only academics but also interpersonal and social skills. For several years, Young has made successful training videos and live presentations for Pace.
He is currently producing a PSA (Public Service Announcement) funded by the Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation called “Time to Be a Girl.” The PSA about teenage sexuality is designated to be aired on local PBS affiliates throughout the state. Pace has referred Young to other organizations including the DuPont Fund.
Videotaping PowerPoint Presentations
Corporate training usually includes PowerPoint slides, and Young shoots these presentations with two camcorders–a Sony VX-2000 for the presenter and a stationary Sony TR-900 aimed at the screen. Back at the studio he uses his Applied Magic ScreenPlay to edit out pauses and irrelevant material such as when the speaker goes on a tangent. Since he sometimes edits these videos as many as three weeks later than the presentation, when Young shoots, he follows along in the printed handout and jots down time code numbers when the slides change. When presenters use overhead transparencies, Young borrows the transparencies and shoots them in his studio.
Yellow Pages Works
While some event videographers don’t do to well with Yellow Pages’ ads, many corporate videographers report good results. Young says he even gets at least one good corporate job a year from his small Yellow Pages listing. They are usually live presentations to be used later as training videos. Young reports that “they pay well but sometimes may be a little dry,” such as the time Young spent three days shooting a video teaching nursing homes how to fill out Medicaid forms.
Sacramento, California’s Lisa Randall gets most of her new business from the Yellow Pages. She says that when companies call her from her ad. “They like talking with us because we spend the time.” She said that she doesn’t get CEOs calling her to say they heard of her. Rather, it is secretaries calling because they are going through the phone book.
The way Lisa and Gib Randall divide up their company’s work is that Gib does the shooting and the bookkeeping and Lisa does the editing and everything else. They regularly get help from a cadre of freelance camera operators and editors. They own three Betacam camcorders and have three editing bays with Mac-based Media-100 systems. The Randalls use a PC computer for CD authoring.
Randall gets a lot of repeat business from such organizations as the American Lung Association and the Sierra Club. She made three marketing videos for an insurance company that involved renting a studio with a Teleprompter. Other clients include an advertising agency for whom she makes five videos per year and a local union for whom she produces 2-3 videos per year. Randall makes about four “day-in-the-life” videos for an attorney each year. These documentary-style videos show the attorney’s clients, accident victims, struggling to get through their days with their disabilities. “Most of our clients are repeat clients; they do two, three projects a year,” says Randall. “So if get enough of them, they you’re working every day.”
When Orlando, Florida’s Steve Martin needed to shoot a promotional video for a bank software company, he assembled a crew of ten and hired 15 actors for the 12-minute video. The $65,000 production incorporated animation and was distributed both on DVD and Video CD.
Martin says that videos produced for public distribution often require higher budgets so they can be polished to project an inviting company image. More frequently, Omni Productions produces videos for internal communication for companies that have new procedures or services they wish their employees to learn.
Dusty Young’s audience for a particular video included the Pope, who was presented with videotape Young produced for the local Catholic Diocese. It was a documentary about St. Kateri, an American Indian woman from 1600 who recently was in the process of being canonized the saint of ecology and peace. While he longs for a local association and interaction with his peers, he does benefit from living in a “destination location” for conferences and vacationers.
Videos for Destination Locations–The “Smiley, Happy Face”
St. Augustine is the oldest city in North America, and Young has shot presentations at the World Golf Village as well as a “Happy Face” corporate video. “A promoter put on a big bash at the last night of a convention,” said Young. “I covered it and did an edited version with fast cuts to music. The promoter then sent it to corporate headquarters and said. ‘look what a good job I did. Look how much fun your people were having because I did a good job.'”
In his video entitled “Searle’s Pirate Raid” Young re-enacted battles and pirate raids from the days long before the Revolutionary War. This video is used by the city to promote tourism, and he made several versions including one that was streamed on one of the city’s websites. Young trades with the local ISP; he provides them video and they host his website.
Young probably got some of his experience for filming pirate raids from the 200 depositions he videotaped in the early years of his business. Now his legal videos typically take the form of day-in-the-life documentaries–videos that show how difficult living is for accident victims who have filed a personal injury lawsuit. While the legal industry and wedding videography helped Young get his business established he says, “lawyers are usually worse than the mother of the bride.”
Randy Stubbs also serves the niche market of corporate events at destination locations. Many corporations offer incentive trips for their top sales staff. This could be a group of people, anywhere from 30-200, invited for a week in Hawaii, Jamaica or Cancun. He shoots on location with a crew of 3-4 and brings his Canopus Rex edit system along. “You shoot all day and edit all night.” On the final day of the trip he shows a 10-15 minute highlight montage of their event.
Stubbs produces about four of these a year with budgets of $12-20,000. He says he works 15-20 hours a day, but he likes having the entire production edited and complete at the end. Stubbs also enjoys the teamwork of producing with a crew, camaradere he doesn’t always get with wedding videos. “You are all this team working for a common goal. At the end you have this great product. They show it and everyone claps, and it feels good.”
He says most of the large corporations do this, especially pharmaceutical companies–yet another market ripe for entrepreneurial videographers. He says it is a win-win situation for everyone. The corporation gets to write off a vacation. The employees are inspired to sell more. Management uses the video to show to employees to inspire them to sell more.
Stubbs says that company departments have a budget for promotion. If they don’t use it they lose it. “Sometimes they want you to charge more, because if they pay less, next year they don’t get as large a budget.”
DVDs and a Tip from the Puerto Rico WEVA Town Meeting
Living in San Diego didn’t stop Randy Stubbs from flying to Puerto Rico to attend one of last year’s WEVA Town Meetings. There he saw Southern Californian, John Goolsby, walking around with a portable DVD player, showing fellow videographers how he uses it to get prospects to view his work. According to Stubbs, Goolsby would lend to prospects the portable DVD player with his demo disc.
When he came home, Stubbs bought a portable DVD player, made a demo disc of foundation videos and left it with a prospect at Sharp Memorial Hospital. “Instead of having the meeting in the boardroom,” says Stubbs, “where everyone comes in, and they try to put the tape in, and no one knows it’s supposed to be on Channel 3, and it looks great, but they don’t have audio, and all the crap they go through–this thing was being brought around from office to office. My tape was being shown to more people. They could be in their office and play it.” Stubbs explains that, “the coolness factor helps book a job.” If the prospect sees that a particular videographer is on the cutting edge where he is showing samples on a portable DVD player, that videographer could produce a similar product for them.
While Omni Productions does a brisk business in Video CDs, Martin has found that interactive DVDs are “a pretty tough sell for corporate video, simply because there are not enough DVD players in corporate board rooms or on employees’ desktops.” Most of the requests for DVDs are simply for copies of videotapes rather than authoring projects.
However, Martin and his staff have produced a few DVD authored programs, such as one for a client who sells geology educational products to schools. Omni Productions’ Scott Fishler made a DVD that included 30 minutes of video and about 300 slides. The $20,000 DVD featured a menu system with 400 numbered images. The instructor can play the video sequentially, or he can randomly access images using an on-screen number pad that Omni Productions developed.
Martin said, “this was an authoring challenge. We had to go into the DVD spec and actually create a number pad on the screen. It got into development, reading the DVD specs and figuring out how to do it. It took weeks. There was an enormous amount of head-scratching. There is no book that tells you how to make it. Scott just had to figure it out.”
Authored DVDs are rare for Dick DePaso’s corporate clients, too. He reports that currently his corporate clients do not want interactive DVDs with chapters, menus, still images and text. He says that they merely want a DVD copy because of its higher image quality and large-screen presentation capability. He expects interactive DVD use to increase, as more office computers are equipped with DVD drives.
One of DePaso’s DVD tools is a Panasonic DMR-T2020 standalone recorder to make straightforward DVD copies for clients. For his own marketing, DePaso uses the 2020 to group several different projects on one DVD. He says it is as simple as making a copy on a tape deck. With the Panasonic remote, he types in the title of each video. He then is able to demonstrate his videos to clients using a Panasonic LA-95 portable DVD player. It eliminates the need to transport bulky tape decks and monitors. For larger viewing environments, the unit can be attached to any display that has AV input jacks.
For clients who want authored DVDs, DePaso has a repertoire of encoding methods, including using the real-time capabilities of the 2020. He says that the DVD-RAM mode allows you to create one large file rather than several smaller 1GB files as with DVD-R. He records and then copies the MPEG-2 files to his hard drive where he demuxes the combined audio-video system stream into separate audio and video streams to comply with authoring software requirements.
The Panasonic DVD recorder records 120 minutes in SP and a higher-resolution 60 minutes in XP mode. DePaso told WEV that some DVDs recorded in the XP mode are incompatible with some DVD players. The XP mode records at 10 MBpS that sometimes results in skipping with some players. The SP mode records at 4MPpS, and while it has much greater compatibility, scenes with quick moves and transitions can sometimes appear with a slight loss of quality. Nevertheless, DePaso feels the 2020 is an “excellent real-time, easy-to-use hardware encoder.”
While few of his corporate clients want to use the interactive features of DVDs, DePaso says clients do take advantage of the interactive ability of Video CDs. For example, some corporate clients use Video CDs to show their catalogs and provide information on their products or services.
DePaso has used several methods to create MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 files using both real-time hardware and rendering software solutions. He told WEVA about his positive experience using both the VisionTek Xstacy card and the Canopus Storm Encoder daughter board as real-time encoders for CDs (MPEG-1) and DVDs (MPEG- 2). He said he liked the fact that these solutions allow flexible control of data rate when squeezing maximum quality into minimum space is a requirement.
Steve Martin says that, “delivery for corporate video is becoming more and more varied. Some people want it on VHS, some want it on CD-ROM, some people want it for the Web and some want it on DVD. We’ve done all of it. In the last couple of months we have had pretty much every flavor there is.” Some of Martin’s clients hire his company simply to shoot video clips that the client will incorporate into their own Macromedia Director-based CD-ROM.
When Omni Productions produces CD-ROMs they usually use Media Cleaner 5. When they have long files, they sometimes use a Terapin Video CD Recorder. While the Terapin saves them rendering time, they have to make modifications if the client plans to play the CD on Windows 98 Second Edition or newer, on a Mac or on a PC with an older version of Windows Media Player. They copy it onto a hard drive, rename the files and re-burn the disk.
On the other side of the continent, Lisa Randall reports that with her corporate clients, the choice of delivery format is no longer VHS videotape, but CD-ROM. She has a technology partner who helps her with the authoring. With a recent CD project, Randall used Media Chance’s Multimedia Builder software that sells for about $50. The end product was 1200 credit card-sized CDs made at Floppy Copy in Salt Lake City, UT.
“When I was doing this I was looking for an auto-run program, said Randall. “I tried about four other software programs ranging from $50 to $500, and Multimedia Builder did the things that I needed it to do.” Randall said it is a simple authoring program for CD-ROMS that lets the producer work with multiple pages and set an auto-run command. She created a menu, and she made buttons including one that goes to the client’s website.
The credit card-sized CD has five minutes of video in 50 MB of space with QuickTime compression. In a later version of the CD, Randall had copies made on compact, 3-inch circular mini-CDs and it included the choice of QuickTime or Windows Media Player. She designed simple color graphics using Illustrator, and the dupe house did color screen printing right on the disc face.
Randall uses V-Mail to send video clips of edited scenes to select clients so they can discusses changes without having to meet in person. This is the method she uses for the WEVA Expo promo videos. From her California studio, Randall sends clips as email attachments to WEVA International Chairman, Roy Chapman in Florida. The two of them view the clips on their computers as they discuss by phone the changes needed. Randall adds that WEVA is a “good client; they pay fast.”
Before Randall removes a video from her hard drive, she compresses it into Real or QuickTime. She uses this for general backup and for clients’ websites.
When asked about software encoding, Dick DePaso said he is a beta tester for Canopus’ ProCoder encoding software that he now uses. He says that he experiences it as more stable, easier to use and faster than Cleaner 5. He is able to encode directly to MPEG-1, MPEG-2 or web streaming files from his Premiere timeline.
DePaso has several systems including three Canopus DV Storms, two Digisuites, an Avid DV Xpress and a NewTek Toaster-2 system. He set up one of his Storms as a transportable unit. In addition to the Storm editing card, the unit has an Osprey 100 card for real-time web encoding. Mounted in a mini-tower with a handle, DePaso can take it on site for editing and live streaming. With it’s installed Ethernet card he can send the signal to an IP address.
In addition to the real-time encoding possible with the Osprey, Dick Depaso uses Canopus ProCoder to encode video clips for his clients’ websites and for their review. Going directly from projects he is working on in Premiere, he can provide multi-bitrate files for clients with servers that allow the target computers to receive files at any bitrates they can accept, but he says that most customers’ servers need separate files. For those clients he makes one file at 384KB and another at 56KB. For most of his encoding jobs DePaso uses only Windows Media files.
Even though he has been at the frontline in developing new technology, DePaso says as a businessperson his primary goal is to satisfy the needs of his clients. That steers the marketing and the services he provides. He also mentioned that as he expands his operation he is looking for skilled people to work with him in the Las Vegas market.
Omni Productions does a lot of Web videos. “Most of the corporate projects we produce, in addition to giving it to them on VHS, a CD or DVD, almost always get encoded for the Web,” says Martin. He recommends that his clients modularize their longer videos, such as dividing them into Part 1 and Part 2, to keep individual files to 10-12 minutes each; in case someone loses their connection, it will avoid them having to start over.
If the company wants streaming for their intranet running on a LAN, Omni Productions encodes at 700-800 KB because they won’t have a problem pushing the signal. If the video will be streamed on the Web, they try to limit the encoding to 300-400 KB, depending on the client’s web hosting capabilities. Martin says, “Cleaner 5 is our tool of choice because we can set up a batch and encode several versions and formats such as Real, Windows Media and QuickTime in the same session.”
Since most corporations have high-speed Internet connections, Randy Stubbs uses V-mail to get client approvals for clips he edits. When editing a fundraising video for San Diego’s Sharp Memorial Hospital, Stubbs sent eight 4-minute clips of interviews to his client. Each clip took about ten minutes to render on his Canopus DV-Rex. Compressed to 2-4MB Windows Media files, Stubbs attaches the clips to emails to his clients. “I didn’t have to drive to the hospital and sit in a big boardroom as they ripped it apart,” says Stubbs. “It was just so efficient timewise.” The client sent an email indicating changes, and he sent them the revised clip. “Plus it was cool. In the coolness factor alone, they liked it because they hadn’t seen anything like that before.”
Stubbs reports that the low quality of the V-mailed video clips acts to his advantage, because when the clients see the actual high rez video, they like it even more. In one case, Stubbs’s client used a clip he emailed them to send to local television media to publicize an event where Stubbs’s video would be shown.
Stubbs feels it is ironic that wedding videographers say they want to “move up to corporate work.” He says that they will probably find that corporate work is easier than shooting a wedding. “You control the lighting, you control the sound. With a wedding you are out of control. I think people who only do corporate work will have a harder time moving into weddings. With weddings you have only one chance to get it; there is no ‘take two.'”