Friday, May 01, 2009

Montage Work Can Be Profitable

Somebody who likes doing photo montages and wants to develop this enjoyment into a business asked a few questions recently. Primarily, he wants to create "good" montages. He wants "advice" for creating them. And, he wants to create productions that cannot be reproduced. My response follows:

First of all with today's technology and the boatload of computer wizards "out there" it is highly unlikely that you can afford the really good copy protection services for the level of distribution montage work is going to generate. Notwithstanding the fact that even the really good copy protection stuff can be broken. Anything less, even the current level of DVD duplicators that offer some type of copy protection scheme, can easily be broken by even amateur hacks. So, get what value you can for your montage creations and don't sweat the copy protection - not worth the time, money or mental stress.

I produce an average of 300 or more montages a year. They are reasonably priced, and at a level where I usually get orders for up to 10 or 20 copies, depending on the event. In my case, mostly memorial montages for favored family pets as well as humans.

There are, IMHO, two ways to generate montages. Well, maybe three.

If you are pursuing this work as a creative labor of love, to enjoy and experience as an outlet for your inner artist, the "story teller" in you, to heck with the time it takes, and profit is of no interest or consequence, then by all means tell a story, use specific select transitions and none of "those crazy transitions" and put in hour-upon-hour of amazing editing skills and creative talent for something a few will appreciate, none would be willing to pay the actual costs of, and that will become obsolete as soon as the next upload to YouTube.

If you are seeking to establish branding for your productions, using special creative designs, massive Ken Burns style movements, ebb and flow story telling techniques that BUILD your production beyond standard production levels, even utilizing 3D elements with heavy Photoshop influence. If you eventually hope for this branding to establish you as the "go to" montage artist for high end, high dollar creations, and want nothing to do with the day-to-day needs of millions of people out there...

...well, that is certainly a commendable direction to take, and there are some who have successfully pursued that level, although the few of whom I am aware are still trying to figure out how to get paid for the time and effort required to create these productions. I personally am aware of ONE creative and highly skilled producer who puts up to 3 months of intensive labor - his and people he hires - to create outstanding song/topic based 3D visually magnificent montage productions and says he cannot hope to recoup the thousands of dollars invested in time, software (mostly the time) and people power to achieve this level of production quality. Almost the same as the paragraph above, huh?

If, as I have, you want to pursue this as a valid and viable money-making (dare I say profit generating?) business, a specialty if you will, then you need to find the blend of time invested, software needed, and production quality desired to get your production expenses to a level where you can establish prices that are affordable for the millions of people who might be willing to go to you for their montage work. There are a bunch of options out there, including the two web sites I mentioned in my previous response, for generating GREAT looking, entertaining and quality montage productions without having to invest into the rather esoteric, lofty approach as mentioned by numerous others (no offense intended those who differ). There is nothing inherently wrong with taking the high road, but there are certainly many starving artists over the years who discovered that the high road doesn't put beans on the table, a car in the garage, or a chicken in every pot.

My success with montage creation, marketing and sales is largely due to a VERY low (I would call it reasonable) price, with affordable copies, and packaged with high quality complimentary graphics for the DVD surface AND the full-color library case inserts.

I have honed my production time to a level where I can generate up to four of them in an 8-hour day, running anywhere from 8 minutes to 15 minutes (sometimes even longer for special personal productions for a family - converting a family heirloom album of old and antique images from family roots in Germany, England, etc.) The family heirloom, "storied" productions however, DO require much more work, bring in much more money, and call for things from special musical segments for certain groupings, to a LOT of Photoshop image touch up, enhancement or even repairs. That is a whole different creation than the day-to-day montages that keep my cash flow at a comfortable level. Back to the basic 4, perhaps as many as six, in an 8-hour day.

These are simple and straightforward, using photos that for the most part FILL the screen (it is the picture they want to see, enjoy and remember NOT the moving backgrounds, postage-stamp-sized images or flash past images that hardly stay on long enough to register in the mind of the viewer). I average up to 50 images per song. I average three songs per production. I offer an opening, and closing (same title) title. And I use virtually EVERY transition in the book, some I have created on my own and many others that are not as "crazy" to the client, as they might seem to be to the artistic video production purist.

SIDE NOTE: What I find curious and interesting, also sometimes a bit entertaining, is the parroting of some basic rules of video production and creation that students or others have heard in a stilted classroom far removed from production and business/marketing reality, or read in tomes written by long-ago semi-famous producers, etc. who expound on the need for little if any transitions, the use entirely of cuts, dissolves and the occasional white flash, and the "enhancement" of production value by adding those moving backgrounds, diminishing the size of the image of interest, etc. For one thing, sir, it is a MONTAGE, not a movie with dialog, action, movement of actors, and such (not often that is at the consumer level - Ken Burns and others notwithstanding). The purists are FLAT WRONG, sorry to say, when they expound against using a BUNCH of diverse, interesting, even sometimes TACKY transitions in basic consumer montage production work for hire.

OK, back to the lesson based on many years of experience specializing in what I call, but my associate HATES to hear, "down and dirty" montage production for profit.

1.) The average photo-montage clients are primarily interested in seeing their photos, nothing more, nothing less, and will complain often and loudly if you reduce the image in favor of the background, or take away from their perusal of the photo in favor of the many moving elements that actually distract the eye from its desired focus.

2.) The average PM clients are NOT willing to pay the equivalency of an arm and leg for massive retouch, image enhancement, color correction or image repair. They have had many of these photos for many years and drag them out of the box or album occasionally to view- so much so that even the wrinkles, fades, tears, water damage and more have added to the personality, if you will, of the images, further enhancing each photo's particular "story." Rare is the client who is both willing to pay for such service, and has expectations of seeing a pristine, perfect rendition of their photo as opposed to the actual photo they included in their project.

3.) The average PM clients LIKE, if not LOVE, a multitude of transitions. Granted there are some that are way too wild and wacky, especially if used repeatedly, but for the most part, use of as many as 40 differing transitions is totally acceptable. I use a blend of perhaps 25 percent dissolves, 10 percent cuts, 5 percent page-turns, with the rest being unique and specific either to the rhythm of the music, or a comedic photo with high humor value, etc. I use slower, smoother transitions for slower, easier music, and quicker, faster, abrupt even transitions for music with a steady or occasional fast pace or beat. Follow the rhythm with your transitions and virtually any and all of them will work, be appropriate, and LOVED by the client.

4.) Paying attention to the pacing and rhythm, keeping the photos the dominant image, using some hand-adjusted Ken Burns style movements where it fits, or for bringing in, up or onto screen larger images that have to pretty much be moved up, down or side-to-side to view it all at a size worth viewing, and smoothly going into or out of each song selection are the primary "secrets" to successful and a high perceived production quality of montage videos.

5.) Remember the packaging. Complimentary or customized art for the DVD surface AND the DVD case insert are important. Very important if you want to develop a solid duplication business without people simply copying their own (and they can, and do, and will - all of them...unless). Unless you give them a quality of product AND a professional quality of packaging they can easily or readily duplicate. My clients will often make copies of their own, but I have significantly increased my sales of copies, and reduced the number of pirated duplications simply by offering them a completed production they cannot replicate easily. I will often get orders for as many as 20 copies of memorial montages, milestone birthday montages, milestone anniversary montages, first born, etc. - at $25 per copy, for a job that might have taken me three hours tops to produce beginning to end, is lucrative.

If you figure out a way to quickly and easily develop basic montage productions, get the word out, make them affordable because you didn't HAVE to invest a huge amount of time and effort into their creation, and don't give in to thinking you HAVE to make every image look perfect (unless, of course you are being compensated for this), and develop a reputation for being what the marketing community says is impossible - able to do this fast, affordable and good (even GREAT), you would likely have ALL the business you could handle for the rest of your business life. It is said that a consumer can only have two of the three - fast, affordable and good, but you are in a position to deliver on all three, believe me.

One last comment, I promise! There are arguments that with the wide availability of do-it-yourself software, usually included free or somewhat, over the internet or with the computer they purchase, montage work is not desired, not profitable and consumers will not pay for something they can do themselves. Well, yes, and no. Many do not have the skills you do, or will develop over time. Many do not have the time, or desire to learn the program, simple as some of them are. Many will become frustrated somewhere along the way, and are so technologically challenged that they cannot figure out how to get their creations onto a DVD that will play properly on their players. Many cannot get past a silver recordable DVD with black marker title on its surface in a cheap, scratched up, clear plastic CD case.

There's a difference (or should be) in what you do and deliver, even if it is "down and dirty" and what the average consumer is capable of doing. Go for it!

Remember: If You Market, You Will Make It! © Earl Chessher

1 comment:

image enhancement said...

Great stuff! Thanks.