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What does it look like to build video capability into a content production studio here in the industry's modern climate? That's the exercise Daniel Jester, host of The Creative Operations Podcast, took up with two friends of the pod: Shanna Ferris, a senior product specialist, and Benjamin Grimes, a general manager at Samy's Camera.
In this grand thought experiment, Daniel takes the role of Chief Moneybags, leader of Brand X, eager to add video capabilities to his production studio. "We have made the decision," Daniel says of this scenario. "We have a strategy that we're happy with. We have our goals, KPIs, metrics, and everything. And now I need people to help me do this." That's where Shanna and Benjamin come in.
You'll want to hear how the game played out in this jam-packed, double-guest episode. Catch it on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website. But for just a tease from Daniel's chat with Shanna and Benjamin, read on.
Start With Space That Allows for Video at Scale
Launching a video program out of nowhere?
First, you'll need a somewhere. Determine the best space for shooting video so that your team can work effectively and with minimal interruptions and reshoots.
What's the phrase—"lights, camera, action"?
Well, before you worry about the camera, you'll need the lights. Benjamin recommends surveying potential space to make sure you can effectively light video projects.
"A lot of the spaces that can have excellent commercial photography have less than perfect architectural and ambient lighting," he says. "We typically need to take total control of that lighting scenario."
When he consults photography studios that are bringing in motion capture, Benjamin inspects for potential sources of light pollution.
"Do we need to rearrange your architectural lighting to make sure that they can absolutely turn off any unwanted source?" he asks. "Oftentimes we go to textile and lighting control vendors that make custom overhead frames and large duvetynes and solids. We can essentially build cubes of duvetynes on frames around a space where motion capture needs to take place, so that strobes aren't spilling into the area."
So consider your potential space's vulnerability to unwelcome light, but give attention also to potential noise pollution and objects that make it tougher to steady your cameras. "If you happen to be by a really large vibrating air conditioning unit, that could shake your camera," Shanna says. While it may not be enough to disrupt still photography, it may affect your video, she points out.
Daniel (speaking as himself, not as Chief Moneybags) mentions that it's not just set space that you need for video. There's workshop space needed too so that you're able to prepare your sets and storage space for set equipment.
Don't forget the post-production team, Shanna says. "If post is going to be enabled to work successfully, then they would need more of a dimly lit room," she says. "They would need to be able to have color-corrected monitors. They need space to be able to collaborate but also to be able to have their own space to work."
All of the additional equipment your studio now needs requires something more—power!
Benjamin recommends being able to supply at least 50 amps per set. "I think 100 amps is sort of the industry standard in most studios that do filmmaking continuously," he says. "However, with LED lighting, I think we're going to continually see that requirement drop more and more and more. LED is more efficient, just as HMI was more efficient when it sort of became the new industry standard."
So start your new video venture from the ground up, truly. Find a space that will allow you ample power and light, minimal distractions, and plenty of space for sets and bays.
Identify Lighting as the Primary Difference in Equipment
A lot of equipment you need to run video in your studio overlaps with your photo studio equipment list, Benjamin says, but with one glaring exception. "A lot of the core items you're purchasing equipment-wise are the same: grip equipment, power distribution equipment, a lot of lighting controls, butterfly frames, fabric diffusion bounces," he says. "These are all equally applicable from your former photo set into your motion set.
But there's one glaring exception to the crossover potential for your photo studio equipment.
"Lighting right now—we have a moving target with lighting technology," he says. "If we look at the last 10 years of continuous lighting output, we now have the opportunity to bring this type of studio we're discussing to continuous lighting. That's LED where, even five years ago, it likely would've had a component of hot lighting."
So for Chief Moneybags and Brand X, Benjamin recommends a forecasting view of the lighting market.
"It's time, in this sort of mid-level studio space, to make sure we're looking at technologies when we're planning," he says. "They have really no measurable shelf life. These LED arrays will last a lifetime, technically. We will see better capabilities and way more output in the future. And that's really one thing we want to talk about: what are we waiting on, technology-wise? It's definitely these 5K, 10K, and brighter LED arrays that give us a point-light source at that super high output level."
Assemble a Staff and Strategy for Effective Art Direction (Even Remotely)
Tools and tech, while crucial, will get you only so far in your video venture. You need the right people to guide your studio's motion capture work.
Begin by thinking of a creative director specific to video or with an emphasis in that area.
"I do think it's very important to be able to bring in a creative that does have specific video experience, just with all of the different nuances and moving parts that can really set your studio up for success down the line, when you're starting to ideate on the actual content you're going to be creating at scale later," Shanna says.
"At a high level, you're going to want to get your creative direction and how you're going to start to tactically create your assets based on that strategy," she says.
It's a role that may not always need to be in-studio, the group notes. Benjamin has seen digital technicians create systems for each set, allowing a remote art director or brand manager to assist the on-site team and manage several sets at once. Daniel sees this as an opportunity to incorporate freelance art directors for short-term gigs. "This would mean we could engage somebody from anywhere around the world to art-direct some social content for us," he says.
Along with taking on a video-keen creative director, your studio needs a digital technician with plenty of video familiarity, Benjamin notes.
"It's not the traditional digital technician role," he explains. "It's a digitech who's also an art director, who is able to kind of go set the set and make sure we're hitting qualifiers for video quality, exposure check, focus check—all these things that can be a little bit more complex when dealing with motion assets. However, they also have the technical expertise to guide their studio through things like moving large amounts of data, networking, things like that."
Starting your video program comes with some risk, so you want to have clear ways of monitoring your output and knowing what sort of return your company is getting on its investment into motion capture. That's why Shanna recommends taking a data-driven approach—"not only for how you're doing today but also what you'll be able to accomplish given future projections."
But of course, there needs to be someone to monitor the data. "So as you're building out your core team…you're really looking to make sure you have a dedicated operations manager to look at what your process is from the get-go, staying keyed into your targets and also understanding the evolving targets and capabilities of your business partners," Shanna says. An ideal person in this operations manager spot would have an acumen for the business side of video and the key indicators that measure studio productivity.
So as you start your video program like Chief Moneybags at Brand X, be sure you have expertise in leading roles. You can likely use other still photography staff in crossover roles, but allow them to flourish by putting them with sphere expertise in leading positions.
You know how to build it, light it, and staff it. But trust us when we say there's far more to Chief Moneybags' discussion with Shanna and Benjamin. So please stream the episode in full (including the group's digression about a pneumatic snack delivery system) on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website.