Wednesday, December 31, 2008

This Blog - The Past Five Years

EC Come, EC Go is five years old. It started out being a totally off-the-wall compilation of blather based primarily on my original career skill set - writing. Having been a journalist, freelance writer of magazine articles, graphics designer, layout and publications designer, photojournalist, publisher and owner of newspapers for over 30 years, I figured writing was somewhere "in there."

But the blog was quickly becoming hodgepodge with no sense of direction to it, and I wanted it to be more than that. So, I started writing marketing articles - initially thinking I'd get as many, if not more, clients (brides) seeking affirmation/reason or justification for hiring a video producer, as I would video producers following my articles.

I underwent another change in focus, setting up a blog for publication and sharing of a very seriously screwed up project gone awry when I published a series of critiques from a volunteer group of "fellow" video producers (a total slaughter actually - all of them drawing blood). I included their comments, my responses, answers or rebuttals and the whole shebang was simply too HOT to handle - so I dumped it all.

The same thing for when I perceived that a blog focusing on critiques on the web sites of people in the independent professional video services provider business (by request or not) would be viable, helpful and informative. I called upon my publication graphic design experience, marketing experience and editing experience to help others proof their copy, reduce the redundancy, enhance the impact and focus on the effective. That one pretty much "burned down the barn" with people in the industry - many of them fiercely independent, selfish and headstrong. Many of them unwilling to accept that they might be able to benefit, lashing out instead in overwhelmingly defensive posts and responses on a few video related forums in which I participated.

And now, I write articles about ideas, approaches and rehashed possibilities for business in the video marketing arena, hoping I am helping somebody somewhere. Judging by responses on two forum sites that seem for the most part to have a more well-rounded, less self-centered and egotistical, less abusively aggressive membership all more willing to share than slice and dice their fellow members. Those forums?

Check out and - you might also go to the bottom of this blog and become a "follower" joining the impressive TWO that I now appreciate having aboard. Check out their sites as well. Jay is especially focused on quality information, resources and input in this business of video.

I have participated in facebook and Twitter, using those sites to post when I have fresh material on EC Come, EC Go. And, of course, I post notices on the above two forums as well. I don't know about the overall effectiveness of fb and T, but time will tell. For now these are mostly social/viral marketing experiments that seem to not have much sway.

EC Come, EC GO will eventually (this year perhaps) find its way back to my original intention - promotion of my fiction and non-fiction writing, writing in general and trying to develop a marketing environment for the sales of upcoming books I intend to get published.

I will not abandon my focus on marketing concepts, and ways to make money, sharing mine, and others, experiences in video production with the community-at-large in an effort to spread the word about the commercial viability of video production at the independent producer level. It will simply be under another name with links and re-directs, announcements, etc. regarding the same when all that comes to pass.

Meanwhile, I have a number of marketing web sites that are in serious need of revision, updating and streamlining - this is a must do for 2009. I will keep those of you who are interested posted regarding the changes, and my progress on the above plans, as well as new and improved web sites - if, in fact, anyone is interested and (anymore) has the time to check things out.

My next article coming sometime early January, 2009 (I hope) will offer a review of the many articles contained in this blog's current iteration, and the areas I plan to focus in the coming months. I will also, as has been strongly suggested by Jay - one of my TWO followers - be creating a book with support materials and samples on disk, as well as resources and marketing letters, forms, etc. that can be revised to meet the reader's needs. I will be adding visual content to the blog, more links to other definitive or interesting sites and resources that might prove helpful in the business of video production.

I write LONG, and people in general dislike reading, so my way of communicating is probably going the way of 8-track, audio cassette, VHS tape and even MiniDV tape and standard CD - sooner, rather than later. Until then...
...I will write. READ if you want, or not, but I have to tell you that reading will remain the number one avenue for self-education for a long time to come.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Make Money with Video Vignettes

Video vignettes are brief, live recordings of individuals reading from short personal bios/notes, or bios/notes of someone whose special story/memory they wish to preserve. The vast majority of video vignettes I have produced have averaged 20 minutes to a half-hour in length. Some have been as brief as 15 minutes, and others as long as an hour. Occasionally, but rarely, longer.

I have also produced video vignettes of clients speaking extemporaneously, as well as working from a script and a scrolling prompting system using an old Amiga computer and some rather antiquated software, poster board prompts, even sheets of typing paper with key words. Depending on the length of time spent, such productions can generate a couple hundred dollars income, sometimes but rarely thousands - it all depends on your fees, the complexity of the productions, and client budget, of course. The trick is to minimize your editing requirements.

How do you go about getting this kind of production work? Work, by the way, that offers a lot of scheduling flexibility, and provides income generating opportunities virtually any hour of any given day. This is an excellent way to get in some production time during those off days and slow weeks, adding to your bottom line. The preservation of personal memories and stories with professional quality production work can be especially lucrative during economic hard times. People tend to focus more on such things, and the family unit rather than expensive dinners, new cars or boats, or major trips.

Set up is quick and easy, videotaping and audio acquisition is (or can be) down and dirty still with excellent results, and virtually no editing. Planned properly, and with the right client, you can almost edit in-camera and hand it over at the end of the session. But, you probably wouldn’t want to. Why?

A little touch of added production quality: titles, brief opening/closing music score, closing credits and packaged in a nice DVD case with graphics printed on the disk as well as custom color inserts makes all the difference in the world. It takes very little time to spice up the production this way. Making the effort often results in additional sales of copies, referrals to others in the client’s social circles, and can generate even better paying gigs of interesting and varied commercial value. It’s (almost) all in the presentation and delivery.


As with a lot of things you can do with video to make money, you need something to show. You will need to give a little to get a lot, and it doesn’t take much effort. Notwithstanding the family and friends you have around you (known, and excellent resources for practice or developing samples) there are also other avenues to pursue.

I started marketing this production service at retirement centers, convalescent centers, community senior and citizen centers, and most recently picked up a couple from a holiday party gig we booked Christmas week. Two clients there, encouraged by the telling of an old war story by the company owner’s 85-year-old father, have scheduled their own video vignettes for the end of January 2009.

Give a little to get a lot? Well, my first adventure was in a retirement community. I personally visited the facility director and offered to spend a day on location at one of the clubhouses. I proposed to set up a small interview area with 3-point lighting, camera on a tripod and wired mic. (I now use the Zoom H2 standalone digital recorder for virtually all such audio acquisition). I wore a suit and tie, had professional quality business cards and a brief 10-minute video of my Dad sharing one of his many “stories from the past” just to give an idea of what I was proposing.

I told the facility, and also the activities, directors if they had residents who were physically independent, could communicate and were active and interested in having a story or two of themselves on video that they could share with family, friends and others in their social circles, I would be willing to record their brief stories and make a quality production for each of them - no charge.

I explained that I would need them to distribute fliers giving the date, time and clubhouse/activities room location, advertising that the video interviews and one copy for each participant would be free of charge. I asked for permission to provide cookies and punch (if you feed them, they will come) and asked them to encourage family members to attend if they were curious or concerned. I handed out releases to be signed, noting that I would be using the resulting productions for further marketing.

The fliers were distributed and I videotaped and interviewed 18 individuals during an eight-hour day. Some brought hand-written notes on a tablet or notebook, one brought a laptop computer, and others had various and assorted note cards. A couple brought a friend or family member to interact with, telling them “the story” while I recorded. Those came off so natural and relaxed. A few brought photo albums or a representative photo of the story they wanted to record. The excitement level was high and there was a friendly, almost party atmosphere.

I did what I promised, and I sold several copies to most of the participants. Over time I received many other orders, and contact from friends and family members to provide similar services for them. The first year I did this I had all the bookings I could handle, and the scheduling was very flexible for most of them. Only a few had some kind of serious time line they wanted to meet - a reunion, milestone birthday or anniversary coming up.

The best part of that initial experience was being called back not once, but several times over the next two years by the facility to do it again, this time for “paid” gigs. I was also contacted by associated facilities, as well as people who worked with veterans, retired and active senior groups, with interesting stories they wanted to have recorded. They’d heard about, or watched one of the productions and were enthusiastic about doing the same thing.

Another way to get these gigs is to get addresses for community centers and senior/retirement facilities, even churches, in your service area. Develop a single-page letter with the basic information, and create a five-to-ten minute DVD demo to include. It doesn’t always generate interest or immediate response as well, however, as a personal face-to-face.


This is fairly basic production work. Pretty much any kind of light source(s) will work. I have an NRG 3-point lighting system that I found reasonably affordable many years ago, but there are any number of ways to generate soft, pleasant lighting. Also, depending on the time of day, you can utilize available lighting resources as well - just be sure to white balance your camera for optimum results. Avoid harsh shadows. Soft, indirect lighting sources are best for a pleasing and flattering image quality. I also keep a box of tissues handy for blotting oily or shiny faces.

I have found that most community centers and activity rooms have pleasant, soft non-directional lighting, as well as comfortable chairs, and artificial plants, or a side table and lamp, to help in the prop department.

I do a sound check, of course, asking the participant to speak in their normal, conversational voice.

To get the best, most natural shoots, and to help (sometimes) prevent overloaded nerves, after setting up the camera on a tripod for either side, direct, or over-the-interviewer’s-shoulder perspective, checking the lighting on my monitor, I remove the headphones, abandon the camera (leaving it running - if you cannot turn off the blinking red light, put a piece of tape over it) and seat myself in a position that allows the subject to focus on me, telling me their story, rather than worrying about what the camera (or the person behind the camera) is doing.

I ask the subject a few general questions in a light, interested, conversational tone just to get him/her into it. When I see them relax a bit I encourage them to start reading, or telling me their story. This sounds like a long process, but it only takes a few minutes most of the time. Of course I adjust my approach when they have their own props, or have brought a friend to participate in the story-telling process. Be flexible. Don’t let yourself come off anxious or everyone around you will tighten up, making for some seriously tense footage, or even re-takes.

Before the subject leaves, check your footage and your audio to make sure, then call out “next!” Don’t make the mistake of allowing them to see or review the footage. If you are on a production time line, this will seriously screw up your ability to keep on schedule. I usually tell them (if it is so) “looks good, sounds good, you’re gonna love it. I will let you know as soon as your production is ready to delivery.”

They already know an estimated time line for delivery, and have usually given me a photo of themselves, or the story subject, along with their information sheet. So, “next!”

Pricing, of course, is whatever you want it to be, and what your particular market will bear. Set your own values, but first I’ll tell you what I started out charging, and what I charge now, and some variables that sometimes occur.

That first experiment was entirely on spec - meaning, of course, I was willing to shoot and deliver a product for free. I charged $20 per copy and averaged five copies per subject. Some bought 20, others a couple, one took the free copy and “bye-bye.”

Today, I charge $100 per hour and spend, on average, two hours with most clients, including setup and break down. I require a two-hour minimum, unless the client is only going to read from five pages, or less, of copy usually taking about 10 minutes. I’ve done many one-hour gigs, including setup/tear down, but have almost always wound up with copy sales of a dozen or more offsetting the minimum fee.

The hours can add up when a video vignette client winds up being a documentary client or a “This is Your Life” subject with multiple interviews, additional resources and visual materials, extra locations, audio enhancement, etc. This is a whole other subject, and I try to keep my focus when promoting video vignettes as opposed to full scale documentary production work. It is, however, all in the hours and, of course, the amount of editing you wind up having to perform. I currently charge $100 (two-hour minimum) to shoot, and $75 an hour for editing for serious documentary work. I advise that editing can run about one hour per finished minute. Keeps everything in perspective - sometimes.

Video vignettes need to be simple and straightforward with little, if any, editing. Get your clean ins and clean outs, make sure your white balance and audio levels are proper going in, then whip that project out and collect your money. “Next!”

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Money Maker: Day in the Life Videos!

Day in the Life video productions - so simple anybody can do them, but they don’t. And, neither do friends, parents and grandparents who have and use one of the millions of camcorders sold each year.

You can market these special productions, offering client families the opportunity to not only simply enjoy the event, but also get a professionally videotaped, edited, titled, produced and packaged DVD they can enjoy watching and sharing over the years. I know this from personal and professional experience. Many of our Day in the Life clients tell us their children watch these special productions over, and over again.

What child wouldn’t? After all these productions feature them doing something they enjoy, playing music they like, often featuring them as the sole focus in an active, colorful and enjoyable movie. Kids love to watch themselves doing stuff, especially if it looks like they’re having fun doing it! Moms and dads, grandparents and friends get a pretty good kick out of these productions as well.

Back in the VHS/VHS-C days I spent a long weekend with some out-of-state friends. They have four daughters, ranging in ages from two to ten at the time. This is where I realized the marketing potential for what became “Day in the Life” videos featuring children doing something “fun”.

Being a child at heart myself, and often mistaken for a grownup-sized toy for the children I chance to be around, me and the four girls started playing hide-and-seek, hiding and scaring, room chasing and bed bouncing throughout the family residence. We went through a couple hours of S-VHS-C tape while driving the parents nuts with our noise and antics. By the time we were threatened with being forced outside in the middle of a winter day by the folks, I had worked myself into a glorious sweat. The girls, however, were nowhere near ready to calm down.

Fast forward to a couple of months later. I had some time so I went through all the footage and captured the “good stuff” created special titles for each of the girls and generally made quite a production of it. The final video wound up being about a half-hour, give or take. I packaged it up with custom graphics and sent a copy to the girls. The immediate response was overwhelming.

Mainly, the parents offered to “buy” a backup copy for themselves, and one for each of the girls because they were fighting over who owned the original. So, I produced another general video, and four with graphics featuring the girls individually, naming a video for each of them, and sent them off.

A couple of years ago, while talking with my friends, the video came up. I was asked if I still had the original and could I convert it to a DVD for them. “No,” Mom said, “make it five.” Even though the oldest had finished college and the next-oldest was in college, mom said the girls “still” talked about that video. She knew even now they each would want a DVD of their own. Talk about an extended shelf life. I was told the girls had literally worn out the original tapes, watching them so much.

I have honed this process down, and do not necessarily spend that kind of time with client children, but still. I have produced montages with special music featuring digital shots I’ve taken during a couple of hours at the local playground. I have produced live programs featuring a child and her cute antics at a playground, saying the cute things kids are prone to say, making cute (sometimes ugly) faces while mugging for the camera man.

On average I have spent about two hours accumulating video/photo resources, depending on what the client parents hire me for, the type of event, or scenario - most wind up being a few hours at the local park, playground, a petting zoo, the local pier or duck pond, Chucky Cheese, or even a McDonalds play area.

Overall success, of course, depends on how outgoing the child is. I am fortunate in that I seem to have retained the “adult-sized kid’s toy” element and can often develop some good interaction even with kids who have only known me for a short while.

The challenges exist, and it will be up to you to get what you need to make your Day in the Life productions work. I have also had to reschedule due to some situations where the best I could get out of a particularly unhappy child was two hours of crying and screaming. These usually, eventually, work out. Bad takes happen.

Why would people pay someone to produce something they can? Because it is easier, and if you balance what you do for how much you charge, and still give them something unique and professional looking (to a greater or lesser degree - depending on your fees) many people simply do not have the incentive to personally move beyond the “home video” look with their own footage.

The vast majority of home video enthusiasts simply aim and shoot for the duration of the media their camcorder uses. They talk over, shoot down instead of on a kid’s level, zoom-zoom, cut heads off, chop off audio in mid-sentence, swish pan thoughtlessly, jerk into and out of focus, never worry about back light issues, framing, stability, clean ins and outs, POVs (point of view). They record an event or special moments, watch the video once, maybe, fast forwarding through the rough stuff, think about getting some home editing equipment, or having their footage "professionally edited" yikes!

Having samples sells Day in the Life video productions. Samples show potential clients the difference between shooting everything and never editing, and a production that is videotaped and edited using at least some degree of the same professional techniques you would use during any commercial gig.

Decide what you are willing to do for how much and include your shooting time, factor your editing time, and production length into a flat fee. For me a flat fee sells a bit easier than an hourly charge.

Do a couple of samples, say one of only photos for a music montage with titles and special graphics, the other with live footage. Maybe a third featuring narrative from parents/grandparents/family/friends, live shots and photos. The only thing is, if this production is intended to please the child, the closer you come to doing a documentary style video the more you’re going to lose the child’s interest in the final production.

Feature the children heavily, with appropriate music they know and love, antics they enjoy pulling, and you will not only win the day, make the money and set up a whole new service focus, but you could wind up with a seriously renewable business. Don’t be surprised when you get calls for christening, first communion, talent show, elementary, middle and high school graduation, senior montage, milestone birthday parties, and even mom and dad or the grandparents for their parties and celebrations.

Direct mail works well for this. Keep every good address you acquire and use it as your initial direct mail marketing strategy for sending out a one-page cover letter and your Day in the Life sample DVD. Hand them out to folks at community events, around the neighborhood, or along with your samples of special childrens performances at day care, private and public schools.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Make Money Videotaping AND Entertaining!

Take a walk on the wild side and get into the act while making money with what my company calls "Paparazzi Parties!"

See A Sample...
Click on the title to this article and go to our web site page where you will find a link to a QuickTime “Paparazzi Parties!” clip that gives you an idea of what I am talking about. Yeah, that's me in the ball cap, striped shirt and (unlighted) cigar. You will have to wait a few for the clip to play, but it could be worth your time. Also, if you like some of what you read here you can click on "follow this blog" by scrolling to the bottom and be an ec reader.

Pumping You Up!
Like the requirements of some of my previous articles, this is not for the faint of heart, shy or bashful Independent Professional Video Services Providers who prefer to hide and shoot. You will need to have a personality that compels you to perform. But I have to say if you are an outgoing, gregarious, former school/family clown, or just love to have some fun, you are going to enjoy doing your own version of Paparazzi Parties!

Develop your character (or characters) and costume(s) and get into it! Video can and often should be entertaining. While there are certainly serious/educational focus requirements for video productions, entertainment is the key word for our Paparazzi Parties! With this service listed in your marketing materials, and development of a couple of short skits or concepts you do not have to remain always behind the camera, or hidden away in your cave while editing to make entertaining video.

Don’t always be like the frog in that cartoon where he sits and croaks, only talking, singing and even dancing when nobody is watching. Or, in your case, in the shower where (hopefully) nobody is watching or listening.

Those of you who yearn for a chance to be in front of the lens and have a go at letting your entertainment talents take front stage can not only release your alter egos, but make money doing it. And, you don’t even need to be a SAG member.

Make Some Money!
Get paid for 15-to-20 minutes of work (not counting your travel time, or the time you spend “getting into character” and dressing for the part). Put in an hour, or so, of work doing some clean-up editing, putting about 20 digital images on a disk, mail the package and get ready for a stream of referrals throughout the year!

The 2008 holiday season, and current bookings of my Paparazzi Parties! for a few parties in November and December, brought to mind that I should write this article now. I have to say, however, that when we kicked off Paparazzi Parties! several years ago, I used the holiday season to promote it, but we now get bookings spread out over the year. The first few were daunting, even for me/us, but after that? Piece of cake.

What I now hear when answering an inquiry is: "Do you guys still do that paparazzi thing? I hope so! We were at one you did for our friends and loved it! My husband’s birthday is April...” They don’t ask "how much does it cost?” They say, “I want to book you!” Yeah, OK, then they ask how much it costs.

How much does it cost? Our prices “start” at $350 for about 15 minutes of entertainment. The client gets on site entertainment that usually works very well (They want their guests, and the celebrant to have fun, right?), a 10-to-15 minute DVD video, and about two-dozen digital “snaps” of the interaction on a photo jpeg CD.

Depending on the event, the length of time they want you to spend on site and in character, your travel time, preparation, you can adjust that “starts at” to whatever you want, and whatever your market area will bear. We try to hit surprising, shocking, hard - fast in and out. "Gone in Sixty Seconds" comes to mind, but this take a bit longer.

And, the great thing about our Paparazzi Parties! is that they are not always on the weekend. While a good number of inquiries are for Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays, we also get plenty of events happening during the week. It just depends. Like my marketing mantra: “Somebody somewhere celebrates something every day!”

Our Technique/Approach
I have a number of ideas for characters and approaches to "paparazzi-ing" the client, victim, celebrant. But being in the "old fart" category, I mostly opt for a character who wears a ball cap, chews on an unlighted cigar, wears a black-and-green Grinch Who Stole Christmas necktie, a brown checkered vest, blue striped shirt and baggy blue pants with a pair of roughed up, work out tennis shoes.

My character is acerbic, sarcastic, caustic, stares openly at the "babes" and occasionally (very occasionally) gives the guy celebrants a smack on the cheek (face) when he least expects it. I "tone it" up or down, depending on the occasion, but not much. People like raunchy and it can, believe me or not, be done tastefully. Maybe.

NOTE: When I book with the client I ask about the celebrant's personality, his or her likes/dislikes, phobias, and assorted idiosyncrasies or personal "quirks." This gives me things to focus on that often cause the guests to break out in riotous laughter.

One of my favorite skits is I have a bag full of rolls of film that are absolutely no good. After the initial shock and fun, or irritation, of our entry dissipates I then circle around, handing rolls of film to various guests, breaking into conversations, interrupting them between bites of food or drinks (hey, paparazzi are supposed to be irritating and obnoxious, right) and asking loudly and rudely for them to roll the film back up so I can "re-use" it. I do not sound educated, nor do I enunciate clearly or carefully when I am in character.

"I have this new recycling program going so's I can save money on film." I say. "Roll this up for me so's I can use it when I come back. You do know how, don'tcha?" Depending on the response/reactions (many of the guests really get into it with the interaction) I may or may not linger. I often show the "dimwit" how by grasping the nipple of the roll and cranking a few turns. Sometimes I will pull out the film from the canister, shocking the group. Whatever it takes. I may also ask for help in loading the film into my camera. Duh.

My associate is also in character. She videotapes the interaction, guests and celebrant's reactions, and occasionally yells out that someone looks just like (name the star, or beautiful people member, or politician, etc. here) making sure everybody hears it, and we both scramble to get in that person's face. She videotapes while I snap pictures, the flash going off in their faces, interact, then we move on. It's fast-paced and often a total shock. We try to leave before things get bogged down.

However, we have developed a bit of a "rep" around here, and some of our gigs call for us to be THE PROGRAM or THE ENTERTAINMENT and we remain for a couple of hours. Yeah, we make more for those. Our highest paying gig under Paparazzi Parties! has been $3K, and we were the greeters, attacking people as they arrived, interacted with guests during the social time, disrupted dancing, roasted the roasters during the main toasts, and took off after desperately departing guests, getting that last shot on my camera and/or the camcorder. The final production was under an hour and required no sophisticated editing techniques, simple cuts from one "moment" to another, opening/closing titles, and about a hundred jpeg images - all candids.

Marketing This Fun Service! is a great place to list with this. There are other web sites that focus on things other than weddings, offering DJs and more under entertainment. This is a whole new listing for you if all you have done previously is focus on being a wedding video producer.

I have a direct mail letter that pretty much regurgitates what is on the web site page, and I usually include a full version of the sample clip on DVD. I mail these periodically to every good address I have on file. (you've read my direct mail article, right) I distribute these at other events we book, and make sure to have plenty of cards for the parties we "disrupt."

Go ahead and "paparazzi" somebody. Act up! Have fun! Make money!