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Brand X Builds a Video Studio with Shanna Ferris and Benjamin Grimes

Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Summary

I, Daniel Jester, in my position as Chief Moneybags of Brand X, have retained Shanna Ferris and Benjamin Grimes to consult with me and my company in order to build video capabilities to compliment our stills production studio. Benjamin Grimes brings his insight as General Manager of Samy's Camera CinemaWorks and Pro Sales, while Shanna Ferris shares her wealth of knowledge from her experience as a video operations specialist.

Key Takeaways

  • Space is a significant consideration for video. Everything from ambient light to ambient sound to power to temperature control all needs to be considered when identifying space for video production at scale.
  • Building or renovating a space from the ground up gives you the most ability to get the right amount of power, the right lighting, and the right controls to set your studio up for success.
  • Architectural lighting (overhead light fixtures) can be built to be used for video, using full spectrum video ready light fixtures.
  • Consider not only video space, but storage space, workshop space for set building, space for storage of data, and video editor space requirements.
  • Building infrastructure for remote art direction (and other work) up front can help mitigate business interruptions, but also more strategic decision making in your content. Emerging tech makes this more doable than ever.
  • Your first hire should probably be a hands on leader with video experience. Some stills staff can be used, but you need that person whose hands on and has experience to initially lead the team. Something like a video creative director.
  • As always, evaluating current processes is a great way to build a new process, including with hiring a new core team for video.
  • Much of your equipment purchases are going to be similar to your still production. Lighting is the area where you want to be thoughtful. Changes have come so quickly in LED tech, it makes sense to learn about what could be coming.
  • LED lights have effectively no measurable shelf life. The consideration really becomes output and modifiers.
  • Camera movement is a huge unexpected cost. Moving the camera consistently over and over again gets expensive.
  • The key to scalability of video production is using a data driven studio. Understanding what you've accomplished so far, and where you need to go in the context of business goals.
  • Pulling still images from video footage is being tested and may be close to reality, as a way to integrate video and stills capture.
  • Hollywood film and TV production often informs video production for e-commerce, which could mean technology like rendered backgrounds could come to the e-comm studio.

Links & Resources

Glossary

There were a ton of technical terms in this episode about video, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the information. Here's a handful of definitions to help, but you really don't need to be an expert in terms, hire the experts instead!

  • Video Codec: software or hardware that compresses and decompresses digital video. Used to manage file size of video content or live streams. There are many different types of codecs for different use cases.
  • Solid State Media: In the context of this podcast, a memory card.
  • Full Spectrum Lighting: Light fixtures or bulbs that contain more than the typical light spectrum. Generally better color rendering and capabilities for creative production.

Full episode transcript

Daniel Jester:
From Creative Force, I'm Daniel Jester, and this is the E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. In this episode of the E-commerce Content Creation Podcast, I will play the role of Chief Moneybags of Brand X. We need to build video capability into our content production. And I've brought on board Benjamin Grimes, who's the general manager of Samy's Camera CinemaWorks, and Shanna Ferris of Creative Force to help me. You may remember Shanna from episode 14 of this podcast, where we also discussed video production. In this episode, we get deep into the weeds of how to make it happen, from space, to people, to equipment.

Shanna Ferris:
That's a great opportunity for when you're going to be scaling, right? So if you think about as you were starting to create content and you're continuing to increase your output, there's going to be specialists that you're going to want to bring in, not just specialist as executor's, but then also specialists to be able to lead your functional groups.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
We can work kind of lower levels of light and still have, I think, quality that's going to meet most guidelines for e-commerce, but with cameras that are more sensitive, we come back to lighting control.

Daniel Jester:
This is a long episode, and we cover a lot of ground in this episode. So I'm going to have us jump right in without much further ado. So with that, let's just take a listen. This is the E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. I'm your host, Daniel Jester, coming to you from my little tiny studio here in Southern California. And joining me on the episode today...

Daniel Jester:
Actually, before I introduced to my guests, I want to give you the listener a little bit of a premise. So this episode, as you may, I don't know what we've titled this episode yet, but it's probably going to have the word video in the title. And you may already know that one of our guests is returning to have this conversation, but we're doing something a little bit different than we've done for past episodes.

Daniel Jester:
We did an episode with Shanna Ferris where we talked about video production and how to incorporate it into your studio. I have invited Shanna back on the podcast. Shanna, go ahead and say hi.

Shanna Ferris:
Hello. Thank you so much for having me again.

Daniel Jester:
For this episode, we're going to say that I am a brand who's decided that we want to set up video. We have made the decision. 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. And so, a special treat for our listeners today, we have a second guest, which is not something that we do very often. My second guest for this episode, who's going to help Shanna help me set up video for my fictitious brand, is Benjamin Grimes, general manager at Samy's CinemaWorks and Pro sales Benjamin, how are you doing?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Hey. Doing great. Good morning.

Daniel Jester:
So that's basically it, guys. I've decided I'm a brand, Daniel brand, whatever we want to call it. We can think of a snappy name later. But, organizationally, we've decided that we want to do video. And let's set some ground rules first and then you guys are going to help me figure out where to start and what we need to be thinking about.

Daniel Jester:
So we're a brand. We've been around for a while. We've got a little bit of money, not like astronomical capital to invest in this, but we have money, we've made this decision. And we have a still space currently that is basically at capacity. So like we've got a little bit of room that we could juggle some things around, but we do have a still studio today.

Daniel Jester:
We want to do video, but we don't know anything about it. We have nobody on our team who has expertise in video. And we've brought Shanna, you, and Benjamin, you, in to kind of help us figure this out. So that's it, guys. Where do we start? We're sitting around the round table in the boardroom of my office building.

Daniel Jester:
Benjamin, we're going to throw it to you. We're going to let you kick it off. What's the first thing that we should be thinking about? We've we've got some buy-in. We've got a little bit of budget. What are we thinking about first?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Well, on the equipment side, this is exactly what I do for a living. Actually, brands come to Samy's. They talk to our pro sales team or CinemaWorks team. And they give us this goal, we want to in-house a studio, or we want to convert a photography studio. And what do we need equipment-wise to get there? And really, there's a lot of things that we want to look at with the client.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Normally starts with a location visit to sort of assess if this is going to be doable. Challenges that you run into when we want to move kind of from a still capture space to motion space to meet our chiefly lighting control. A lot of the spaces that we can have excellent commercial photography and have really less than perfect architectural and ambient lighting. And we typically need to take total control of that lighting scenario.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Other factors as well, we like to talk to clients about power consumption, needs of different equipment that they might be interested in using and if they actually have a facility that can support that type of thing. We kind of start there.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
The other thing that I like to talk about is the guidelines of their brand, what they want their imagery to look like. I love speaking visually, first and foremost, staying in that creative space if they have other brands that they think are doing a great job looking at that. And with kind of our industry insight, what we do at Samy's, working backwards from that imagery to decide what type of equipment they might need to bring to the table and if their space can accommodate that.

Daniel Jester:
I was thinking going into this, that space might be one of the places that we would want to look at first. And he brought up some great points in there. As I mentioned my brand, we have a studio space. Right now, it's pretty full of sets and we've got a corner that's just like slammed full of excess equipment and all of these things. But you bring up a great point on lighting control. There's going to be a lot going on. Like we're using strobe in our still studio right now, which means there's going to be pops of light everywhere. And that probably is going to impact video.

Daniel Jester:
Shanna, from a space perspective, let's talk a little bit about considerations for a space. Let's say repurposing our current space if we want to do that versus standing up a new video space, what are some things we should be thinking about from a process perspective from your side of the table?

Shanna Ferris:
So when I think about space, I really think about how people work and what their core functions are, and what's going to be the best physical space to allow them to work the most effectively, right? So I'm totally aligned at home with a lot of things that you were saying, Benjamin, where you're kind of looking at it from the production lens or your sets, what's going on with your lighting. I think, Daniel, you just mentioned a bit about strobes and how that might affect video capture as well.

Shanna Ferris:
There's also some funny other things where, like, if you happen to be by a really like large vibrating air conditioning unit, right? That could actually like shake your camera. And when you're doing still, it's fine, because you're just capturing a frame, right? But if it's video, then you really have a different situation over there. But for things that I also think about when it comes to space, it's maybe not necessarily always just onset and production-focused, but also the different types of roles that funnel into your whole video pipeline as well, right?

Shanna Ferris:
So we're talking about also post-production, where if post is going to be enabled to work pretty successfully, then they would need more of a dimly lit room. They would need to be able to have color-corrected monitors. They need space to be able to collaborate, but also be able to kind of have their own space to work.

Shanna Ferris:
Same thing with art and fabrication. If you have different art direction that you need to be able to facilitate on site, if you're working on different sets for lifestyle, potentially, there's kind of all those different needs of how do your different functional groups work best, what are their different needs, and also physical space needed to do those tasks, but then also creating kind of like the ambience with that lighting situation or maybe even like a closed_in room, for example, thinking about things like sound stages or an audio recording booth. Lots of different kinds of components depending on what your creative is going to look like and what your needs are there.

Daniel Jester:
Holy smokes, guys. I have a hundred million questions and we haven't even gotten out of space yet.

Shanna Ferris:
We got you.

Daniel Jester:
Okay. Let me unpack this a little bit. So I want to jump to hold... Oh, my gosh, where do I even go with this? Okay. I'm going to, I guess, work backwards through everything that you just said. Shanna, you made a great point. And I also didn't specify this upfront, that we as a brand have decided that we want to incorporate video for some categories of product for PDP pages that will live on our site with other product, stills as well. Only for certain categories. We don't think that there's going to be a lot of movement on some categories, but some apparel categories, we do want to shoot some video for.

Daniel Jester:
That being said, we're doubling down on social, we want to have some sets. We want to have some ambience. We're not envisioning building living room sets in our video production area, but we do want to have some nice on-trend things that work for our brand. So that being said, I hadn't thought about this, and I came into this thinking I was pretty prepared that I had thought about some stuff. I think about things for a living at my brand. That's what I do here.

Daniel Jester:
A workshop. It's one thing to have a still studio that's shooting product where your sets are mostly just either a white psych wall or white paper or whatever you're using, but if we were going to get into video and we wanted to have the ability to build some flacks, do some set design, do some art direction, workshops space is something we absolutely need.

Shanna Ferris:
Definitely.

Daniel Jester:
The other thing you mentioned, Benjamin, about power, I feel like... Shanna, you mentioned air conditioning and HPAC. Benjamin, you mentioned power. So let's talk a little bit about that. What are we thinking we need in terms of power. And Benjamin, I'm going to throw it to you. I know this is a little bit of an equipment conversation as well, but space-wise, what should we be looking at for power, assuming we want to stand-up video today for PDP and social mostly, but we want to have room... That's the other thing I should say. We want to have room to grow. We want to have room to scale. If we're going to be investing money today, we want to think about where we need to be in five years in 10 years. So let's talk a little bit about power and also about temperature control for the space. What should we be considering here?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
We need to think about what we're imaging here. What are the size of our sets depending on what we're having to encompass in the frame. And if we're talking close on figure, head to toe with lots of negative space around a frame, that's a lot of light. Cameras are incredibly sensitive now, but we're still going need a level of output continuously. That's very different from strobe lighting. Strobe lighting, we ave potential energy stored that's released when not actually pulling that much continuous electricity.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
My rule of thumb would be if we're doing close on figure or something where we have a larger frame like that, I would want to see at least 50 amps per set. Really, I think a hundred amps is sort of the industry standard in most studios that do filmmaking continuously. 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.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
And as we move away from hot lights, we're going to require less electricity. We're going to generate less heat. So we won't need quite the same requirements. However, a lot of our clients, we go in, they have eight or nine different photography bays. And they might have 200 amp service for their entire studio. So it's something we always like to make mention of, make sure that you're ready to accommodate this level of continuous strobe for your lighting equipment.

Daniel Jester:
So I was going to ask you this, Benjamin. Let's say that I am not in Los Angeles or New York. If I do decide that I want to build out a new space for video, it's not likely I'm going to be able to move into a space that has had this sort of production happening in it before. So 50 amps per set, this probably means engaging an electrician in the conversation when we start specking out spaces. I probably won't find this if I'm not in Los Angeles or New York City.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Well, commercial properties need high power. I mean, machinery and things like that will require high amperage. So it's not uncommon to encounter warehouse or commercial space that's going to have 400 amp service or more. That's really sort of, I think, a target if somebody were looking for a new space. And if we have that opportunity to talk ground up, I want to come back to this kind of conversion conversation because it's really a good one, but from ground up, even our architectural lighting can be filming grade lighting, it can be full spectrum light that won't create unwanted issues in our imagery.

Daniel Jester:
So you're saying that even if we were actually physically building a new space for this, like renovating a place where we were running all the electrical that we could incorporate into it, the lighting that we would need to just function as humans in the space, we could build lighting that would be effective for some video, depending on, obviously, art direction, but some of the things we'd want to do, we just build that into the lighting?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Overhead lighting, you could make sure that you're using film grade, full spectrum lighting that could help you, especially on cycle type sets or Cove type sets. They can be used in the place of what would typically be like a space light. A lot of studios when they're doing build-outs from the ground up with purpose-built spaces, they're able to do that.

Daniel Jester:
Shanna, you look like you've got something to say.

Shanna Ferris:
I think it's interesting when you were talking about sort of like a ground up framework or approach. Things that I also think about when you kind of have the opportunity to really start fresh or be able to understand what your needs are from the beginning is also to think about storage and what type of infrastructure you may need from a technical side, to be able to host your assets, to be able to collaborate with your assets. And that sometimes manifests in a physical way through like [ANAS 00:13:14] that would be on site, right?

Shanna Ferris:
So being able to have a server, potentially a server room, partnering with your IT team, if you have one, or being able to bring in specialists to be able to consult on that. There's lots of different physical considerations that actually come with, if you end up going that route with your file storage and management.

Daniel Jester:
So me as Chief Moneybags of this brand, I am not super clear on what data needs we're potentially talking about. I know roughly what we need to support the still studio that we are operating today. Are we talking exponentially more data movement and storage for video production at scale?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Yeah.

Daniel Jester:
Like how many times are we talking? 10 times more, a hundred times?

Shanna Ferris:
If you're doing video production at scale and you have sort of more of a loose retention policy, so you want to keep all of your assets on your, maybe not cleaning out your archive as frequently, you can very easily hit up to a couple hundred terabytes very quickly, depending on what your needs are. And when I say quickly, I'm talking about terms of like one to two years, right? That's something to really take into consideration.

Shanna Ferris:
I've been in instances where I'd love to be able to promote a culture of being able to have good file management and hygiene so that you don't run into that instance where you're like, oh no, I am right in the middle of 50 productions, I have really high volume going on, but my server or my IT partner-

Daniel Jester:
I have three things left.

Shanna Ferris:
Yeah, exactly. They're like throwing up the red flag and they're like, you have to figure this out. So trying to mitigate a good strategy for that before you actually get to that point and being able to get the right type of technology and infrastructure place to be able to support that, whether it's on-prem or it's more cloud-focused.

Daniel Jester:
Great point. And I want to use that as a segue. I'm going to make a statement. And then I want to use that as a segue to... I remembered a question I wanted to ask from earlier. That brings up a space consideration, too. Because even though data storage is quite cheap and easy to come by, physically, it still has to sit somewhere. And the other thing is we're moving so much data that we should probably hard-wire our studio for the movement of a lot of this data, right? Like Wi-Fi is fast and it's great, but it still doesn't hold a candle to hard-wiring and moving data around.

Daniel Jester:
But that brings up a question I wanted to ask you from earlier, Shanna. Do my video editors need to sit in the studio? Is this a matter of, they need to have access to the studio for some reason or is it just a matter of they need quick access to the data?

Shanna Ferris:
I think a lot of it hinges around a latter point. So like latency and real-time access to data is very important for them to be able to be successful. And it only continues to multiply when you think about editors that may be on an offline workflow. So they're working with lower resolution files, but then once you actually go into color correction, for example, you're working with source and hi-res files. So the needs will continue to expand as you start to specialize. And from the get-go, it may even be that your editor is doing all of those tasks at once, right? So they're going to need the access to hi-res files in real time.

Shanna Ferris:
So I would say that there's actually really exciting tech. We're able to do remote editing capabilities. I think that's kind of like an emerging sphere in the past several years. It's very exciting to be able to follow it and see really what we're able to do to promote decentralized working spaces for editors and different people in post production in combination with different cloud-based review and approval platforms and things like that.

Shanna Ferris:
So yeah, there's some things around innovation in that sphere, but in a more traditional sense, if you're like, hey, I do not have the technical operation support to be able to dive into that realm right out the gate, then you definitely would want to have a centralized location for all of your assets, able to hit it at real time, potentially through like a fiber connection or something like that with all of your editors and posts onsite. So kind of a couple of different ways you can approach.

Daniel Jester:
So, Benjamin, along the lines of that question to you, I'm pretty convinced after talking to Shanna that we should have space for our video editors, either directly adjacent to the studio, allowed and clear that they need their own room, they need a quiet working area. That I very much understand from the still side of the business that the re-touchers work in different environments from where the production is happening, but they should be geographically close. That makes sense to me.

Daniel Jester:
Benjamin, ITs got some old computers in the cabinet. So I can probably just grab those out for the video editors, right? We can build them a nice space and bring in some of these old Mac Pros that we have in the cabinet for them.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Sure. It's just going to cost you. Anything we're doing with video and coding, we're going to be at the absolute limit of almost any computer you can buy. So we're talking about drastically different, just sitting, waiting times, bringing in modernized computing equipment versus using something that's even two years old.So that's a huge cost savings to invest in upgrade just the computing power of what you're going to have onsite.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Another thing, just thinking about how some of the photography studios that we work with have been able to really sort of optimize their workflow is they don't have to have an art director on every set. You go through, and as you move by bay to bay, there's actually one central location where somebody is actually able to kind of look at assets as they're generated. And I think that conversation, we want to have that same sort of ability in a filmmaking space. However, we do have such large files.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
But especially with COVID and a lot of people needing to bring fewer people onto their productions, we have so much technology that really has been pushed in the entertainment space to have remote kind of streaming from actual cameras on location. There are what we call encoder boxes. Companies like Teradek that we normally associate with wireless video transmission are making boxes where we can quickly take raw video signals and create each H.265, and more kind of streaming-friendly codecs that we can have network access to. And they even provide services where you can log in and look, almost in real-time, a few frames behind with even things like 10, 15 megabyte per second upload speed, which is not that much, especially in any decent city.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
So we do now have this capability for one person to kind of look in at what's happening. It's not as difficult as it once was. That's another thing you might look at.

Daniel Jester:
So right now, I know in our stills studio that we've got an art director who does exactly what you said. They will go move from bay to bay. They don't review every image that comes off set, but they will spot check and they will try to catch things here and there. But you're saying that we could, in theory, build out a space, either here in our office building or somewhere near the studio or as part of the studio. I was picturing, when you were saying that, like the behind-the-scenes shot of the people who are shooting a live sporting event where they've got a bank of monitors and they can see from set to set. Is that kind of what you're talking about?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Sure.

Daniel Jester:
Like one spot that could sit there and they could just see everything that's going on in the studio?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
I think that would be beautiful. The sort of man who fell to earth type zone, but really, it could just be a web browser and them jumping from encoder to encoder to kind of put eyes on what's happening on that set. And also, beyond that, having remote cameras that are in there so they can even look at styling. What are we flowing into that set next? Maybe having some comments on a chat. We've had a lot of digital technicians that are our customers that have created calm systems for individual sets where you can have a remote art director, a brand manager actually, talk to people on the set, give advice and they can manage multiple sets at once. It's a beautiful tHing.

Shanna Ferris:
That's the kind of an interesting point, too, about being able to promote real-time communication and collaboration throughout the shoot, during real-time throughout the shoot, and then also throughout the entire process. I think that that's sometimes a risk that happens as you to build out either new parts of your workflow or attempt to new content, maybe certain silos start to come up, but being able to really focus on how are you actually able to still promote a realm of communication and collaboration where it makes sense throughout your whole workflow. And if that means trying to figure that out in a remote environment, what are the capabilities that we have today and beyond to be able to facilitate that?

Daniel Jester:
This is a very exciting idea to me, because one of the things that I think would be kind of cool as we're getting ready to stand-up video, is we would like to kind of bring sort of celebrity art directors in for short-term projects. So this would mean that we could engage somebody from anywhere around the world to art direct some social content for us without needing to necessarily bring them to Kalamazoo, which is where my brand is. I don't know. I was saying we weren't in LA or New York or random place.

Daniel Jester:
My point is that since we're building this essentially from the ground up, we could build in the capabilities to allow for much more remote work, which will not only benefit us in the case of an extreme business disruption, but also just expand our capacity to engage talent that we want to use, right?

Daniel Jester:
Speaking of talent, I want to shift and talk a little bit about people for our space. So I've got the two of you sitting here and we're talking about where we're going to kind of start on this and how we're going to approach everything. And I know that what worked really well for us, we've got a pretty big stills team now. But early on, we had a very small crew and we engaged a lot of freelance talent. It makes sense to me to use that same strategy on the video side.

Daniel Jester:
So we're not necessarily going to run out and hire people to shoot video. We have some of the stylists that we use on the still side. I think we'll be able to style on the video side as well. But my question to you is, what kind of core team should I look at building here full-time employees who are here to oversee our video production?

Daniel Jester:
Shanna, I'm going to kick it to you first. And then, Benjamin, whenever you've got an opportunity, you can jump in.

Shanna Ferris:
I think when you're thinking about people, especially as you're starting to approach new type of content that you want to create, is to be able to create, essentially a unit that is going to be successful and moves in lockstep together. Right? So you're continuing to have someone that's going to be able to lead your strategy, which I know you guys have predefined in your studio, which is amazing.

Daniel Jester:
Because we listened to your episode. That's why.

Shanna Ferris:
Yes.

Daniel Jester:
We listened to your last podcast episode. We knew we couldn't just start shooting video. We needed to have a reason and the strategy. But carry it on.

Shanna Ferris:
Beautiful. Yeah. Yeah. No, that's perfect. So depending on those parameters, that's really going to continue to inform what you focus on first. But I think 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, right? So it's like you have your goal, and then you're going to want to make sure that you have a creative director that understands and has the experience with video.

Shanna Ferris:
So it's a really exciting thing to be able to add video to your studio, but 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 that you're going to be creating at scale later. So that is huge.

Daniel Jester:
This is a video creative director?

Shanna Ferris:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel Jester:
Is there a title that you can point me to? And what type of background am I looking for in this person? But you did specify that they should be creative and they should be high-level, right? This is the person who's going to essentially lead the studio.

Shanna Ferris:
Yeah. I think that there's probably a delineation of rules there. So someone that's a lead for management and that you probably already have for your studio, which is amazing. And then being able to probably find someone that meshes well with your photo, the current creative director that you have, right?

Shanna Ferris:
For who is leading your photo studio, being able to find a creative director that has specific video experience. So I would say just kind of like a creative director is just the normal title, but with that video experience, that's going to be able to, not only collaborate with your existing campaign and brand direction as executed by the photo team already, but then also figuring out what video is going to look like for probably crossover projects and probably cross-functional campaigns and things like that. So really starting to build out what that looks like, how are you providing value to the customer and what is that going to visualize and to materialize as.

Daniel Jester:
You made a great point that I made a note here as we're getting ready to hire this role, because I remember from your last episode, Shanna, that we don't want to build any silos. We don't want video to exist, especially if we're considering which you made a pretty compelling case for us to go out and find a new space to house our video production. Both of you made a great case for that, but I want to be careful that video doesn't become its own siloed and insular part of the business and that it's working in collaboration with stills because this is all part of the brand, right?

Daniel Jester:
So I made a note here to include some of my leadership from the stills studio in the hiring process to make sure that we are finding the right talent that can work well with that team. Benjamin, from your perspective, what are your thoughts on this? What does our core team look like?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Normally, who I interfaced with when this project comes under play is actually a lead photographer or a photography studio manager. And they've sort of been tasked with, how do we bring motion into our workspace? Initially, I think you can get pretty far with that. But I think this person that has this role, I meet a lot of these people that are in this role. And they use oftentimes names like digital technician, but it's not the traditional digital technician role.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
It's a DigiTech who's also an art director who is able to kind of go set the set and make sure that we're both hitting the qualifiers for the actual 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 sort of this technical expertise to guide their studio through things like moving large amounts of data, networking, things like that.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
So I would say it's somebody that has kind of this DigiTech background that can also work in the same kind of professional language with like a professional gaffer, or somebody that really knows lighting at an expert level, or they have an expert level of sort of lighting expertise.

Daniel Jester:
Great points on the core team, guys. I've heard that loud and clear. One question I want to ask about on the team side. It stands to reason for me that video editing is going to be a pretty different beast than stills retouching. So should I also be looking for maybe a full-time core team member whose job it is to manage the video post production side of things?

Shanna Ferris:
I think that's a great opportunity for when you're going to be scaling, right? So if you think about, as you were starting to create content and you're continuing to increase your output, there's going to be specialists that you're going to want to bring in, not just specialists as executors, but then also specialists to be able to lead your functional groups and make sure that you're creating consistency across not only that specific functional group, like post-production for example, but then also across video posts and photo posts.

Shanna Ferris:
Sometimes when you're trying to start and just continue to learn and iterate, that may be you're centralizing rules and making kind of like a jack of all trades in a bit, in a single head count, right? But then as you continue to be able to figure out what your creative looks like, you're locking in your template, you're starting to actually increase your output. That's when, okay, now we really can't have someone who's bandwidth is extremely stressed and trying to project manage post production, and also execute, and also talk to a photo.

Shanna Ferris:
So I think there's a sweet spot in there where you don't quite get to that burnout bandwidth points, and I would love for studios not to get there, where you can really keep an eye on how things are going. And that's really where, honestly, your operations manager is going to come into play. If you have someone that's making sure that they're evaluating your process, continuing to see where you have bottlenecks and opportunities to optimize, then they're going to be able to identify what head count you're going to need to project, forecast out, and then be able to make sure that you're going to hit your target.

Daniel Jester:
So crawl, walk, run then is what you're saying?

Shanna Ferris:
Oh, yes.

Daniel Jester:
Let's start off small on that side and then learn some lessons and figure out what we need. Let's shift the conversation a little bit to equipment. We've touched on some equipment items as we talked about the space and even talked about people and video post-production and things like that.

Daniel Jester:
Benjamin, I want to talk about hardware. I know from talking to my studio manager that it makes sense to invest money in lenses because lens technology tends to move a little bit slower than camera body technology. And so buying a really nice lens, you can usually like get a lot of lifetime out of that.

Shanna Ferris:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel Jester:
Is there similar conventional wisdom on the video side? Where should we be investing our money for longevity and where should we be investing our money for setting this up quickly?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
A lot of the core items you're purchasing equipment wise are the same, I mean, grip equipment, power distribution equipment, and a lot of the lighting controls that you're going to be using, butterfly frames, fabric diffusion bounces. These are all equally applicable from your former photo set into your motion set. But really, lighting right now, we do have kind of a moving target with lighting technology. 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, likely, it would have had a component of hot lighting.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
So I think the time is now to make sure that you're waiting your equipment acquisitions and LED lighting. It has too many benefits to be ignored as far as the heat that it's not going to generate into your space. So the HVAC. You're not going to have to bolster your team that's going to be happier and safer, not having to handle extremely hot equipment and be exposed to kind of lamps that randomly explode in glass cracks, and hence they burned.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
It's really, I think, a time in this sort of mid-level studio space to make sure that we're looking at those technologies when we're planning. And they have really no measurable shelf life. These LED arrays will last a lifetime, technically. We will see better capabilities and way of output in the future. And that's really one thing we want to talk about, is what are we waiting on technology-wise. And it's definitely these 5K, and 10K, and brighter LED arrays that can give us a point-light source at that super high output level.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
There's not a lot in that space, and it's really something we're looking forward to potentially even make studios where still photography and filmmaking can be done in the exact same way at these output levels. So we just don't have an LED widely yet.

Daniel Jester:
Can we bridge the gap on LED output today with camera sensitivity?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Yep.

Daniel Jester:
So cameras that are getting better and better at higher ISOs. This is again because I'm Chief Moneybags and don't know a lot about this. I know this for my studio manager, that you can shoot at higher ISOs than you could five years ago with little to no noise. Can we bridge the gap on output with LED with the cameras that we choose to use in our studio?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Absolutely. Most cinema cameras dedicated motion capture cameras. If you're new to this space, they're native recording ISO where they're most clean signal-to-noise ratio comes out as like 640, 800. Oftentimes cameras have a dual ISO structure where they can go up to 20,000 and noise drops down again. So we can work with kind of lower levels of light and still have, I think, quality that's going to meet most guidelines for e-commerce.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
But with cameras that are more sensitive, we come back to lighting control. Typically, the first thing I'm doing, if we have a photography studio that wants to bring in motion capture, is talk about light control. So do we need to rearrange your architectural lighting to make sure that they can absolutely turn off any unwanted source? Oftentimes we go to textile and lighting control vendors that make custom overhead frames and large duvetynes and solids that we can essentially build cubes of duvetynes on frames around a space where motion capture needs to take place so that strokes aren't spilling into the area.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
And that's something that we do at Samy's as well. We work with all these motion picture vendors. We can get any type of custom dimension frame fabric made to encapsulate an area in an existing studio to control light. We're not taking care of sound issues, but we can actually make a totally controlled atmosphere for them to not mix their lighting with their windows architectural and neighboring sets.

Daniel Jester:
Great point. And I do want to mention, I'm not going to touch audio at all because my head is already spinning. That presents an entirely new dynamic and a new dimension of complications to this. This has been a very productive conversation. And I think our team is leaning towards building us a new state-of-the-art studio. Whether we build it from the ground up or we find a space nearby that we can renovate. Either way, That seems like the right way to go, because we're invested in video for the long haul. However, we've got a TikTok campaign that needs to go live next week. Benjamin, how do we make that happen?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
I think one thing we can do today, let's take a lighting line like Profoto, for example. All of their modifiers fit onto a hundred millimeter diameter fixture, and we can either swap out speed rings and adapters on the back of those same modifiers, light banks, softboxes, snoots grids for an LED array that we can insert into the exact same modifier. So take out the strobes, put in continuous roll. That's something we can talk about.

Daniel Jester:
So we can leverage some of the equipment we have in our still studio today to try to get started on video?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
True.

Daniel Jester:
And if my memory serves, we're shooting Canon 5D Mark IVs in our still studio, what are we talking video capability-wise on that?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
TikTok 5D Mark IVs?

Daniel Jester:
Yeah.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
For what we would probably need for that type of delivery that's probably a good choice. You can actually use the same camera. I like what you mentioned earlier, Shanna, about camera's stability. It's super important. This is one of the most sort of unexpected costs when I'm talking to a new studio camera movement. It costs time. It costs money. It's almost impossible to recreate the same camera movement without buying motion control equipment or expensive, large DALI systems.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
It's a place where we might say it's actually time to think about a $25,000 or $30,000 broadcast lens that can zoom from 25 to 250, just because it's going to save you that camera movement multiple times a day on that set. And I can talk to some of the biggest brands with largest e-commerce studios. That's their solution. Don't move the camera, move the lens. Automate that lens movement, things like that.

Shanna Ferris:
And do it on pause.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Yep.

Daniel Jester:
I think that sounds like a good plan, Benjamin. We've got some resources that we can leverage today. You guys mentioned light control, so we'd need to figure out a way to segregate one of our stills base and create sort of a video booth for that. With LED, We're not super concerned about it getting crazy hot in there. But like I said, we are interested in growth and scaling. We want to invest in this process for ourselves. video doesn't seem like it's going anywhere. I'm assuming that we already got 4K on most of our devices. It's not long before we're going to be serving up 4K on most of our devices.

Daniel Jester:
So let's talk a little bit about growth and scaling. From a process standpoint, Shanna, what is the key to scalability for our video production?

Shanna Ferris:
I think there are so, so many keys to scalability, right? But I'm going to give you an example just to make sure that we can get moving. So with this, I would say using a data-driven practice to inform, not only how you're doing today, but also what you'll be able to accomplish given future projections, right? So as you're building out your core team, what you've been able to accomplish this for, you're really looking to make sure that 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. So if you really want to be able to scale successfully, you are likely not operating in a silo as a studio entity, right? You're part of a larger company that has lots of other different departments that have capabilities and their own goals as well.

Shanna Ferris:
So being able to create a culture and build relationships that you can foster over time as your studio needs go and continue to grow with, say IT, your merchandising team, your other marketing partners, where can you really establish that foundation and core team across departments that's really going to provide that support network for when you say, hey, we're actually going to try and shoot 8K, because this is what we're trying to accomplish for the business. This is where we're going. We're moving into actual video in this projection. And really having the understanding and the relationships there to be able to have the support from your other different parts of your business to be able to do that successfully.

Shanna Ferris:
So whether that means procuring new applications and software, whether that means being able to provide different metadata needs to your merchandising team for SEO and things like that. There's lots of different ways that all the different departments can come together to really support the different targets that they have on their own roadmap, but through the means of content and what that means for both video and photo, honestly. So being able to use all of your data that you're collecting from the get-go to be able to inform that in the end.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
I just want to talk about it from the equipment side. And I think versatility is something we always encourage our clients to look at. If you knew the exact lighting scenario your brand was going to want to use from here until the distant future, absolutely, there's cost savings. We can lock you into one look and trade versatility, and you can spend less on equipment. But I want to make sure, wherever possible, we have the broadest amount of functionality with all equipment that comes into the studio.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
So with lighting, what I really advise brands to look at is actually point lighting. So lights that come from a single source that's small, that are incredibly powerful, because we can always build those back to be the same sort of quality of light of panels, softboxes, light banks by modifying them. So I think we get the most versatility there.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
I want to see people buy the most powerful fixtures that they can reasonably kind of bring into their studio at one point in time, because it's going to give them the ability to create sets with deeper focus, larger sets in the future. I want to encourage you to look at cinema cameras, probably versus DSLR and mirrorless cameras, because they're going to have native sensitivity settings that are much higher, which they'll require less light. They're also going to give them the capabilities to have something more akin to a raw file from the photography side. Something that has logged gamma and has a flat contrast curve can go to the editing team and they can tune that to be one look this day, another look the next day.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
And we should talk about this. When your lighting is set for photography, oftentimes you go into a studio, and maybe they're using capture one or another raw editing process, and you turn off their curves adjustment and all the presets that they've kind of laid over their actual capture and it's a mess. They're correcting for using a much more economical lighting scenario through immediately manipulating the file. We can not get as far with motion capture. We have to have lighting that gets very, very close to our deliverable, much more so than we do is still capture.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
The reason being, because of this data size, maybe we're using a 10 bit camera in most e-commerce studios, it would be great if we could use 12 bit capture from something like an ARRI cinema camera, 16 bit capture from something like a Red camera. However, most cameras like Sony Broadcast equipment Canon cameras, you're probably going to record it in an eight bit or 10 bit codec. Your color sub-sampling is going to be 4:2:0, maybe 4:2:2. That file has to be set at an exposure that's more or less managed and close to our delivery because we can not change the brightness four or five stops and be happy with the contrast curve and resulting quality.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
So everything has to be taken care of there. So if we invest in an actual dedicated cinema capture device, and we're going to have a file that's going to go to posts with a lot more capability, less re-shoots, and just a lot more kind of longevity from that equipment. We're not going to be replacing it when 4K becomes the inevitable standard of some of these spaces.

Daniel Jester:
I'm a good Chief Moneybags. Let's put it that way. I understand the value of investment. I want to take care of my team and I want to give them the best possible equipment because it's not enough just to make money, I would like my company employees to be happy as well, but I also want to be able to protect the brand and do that as easily as possible. And to me, it makes sense that the best possible way to protect the brand in terms of creative assets is to consolidate all of these things and integrate them all together.

Daniel Jester:
So we talked a little bit about using photo sets to shoot video. So are we at the point today, and this is an open question for either one of you, are we at the point today that I can pull stills, if I buy the right camera and have the right lighting that I can pull stills for my video footage or some other way, incorporate that into my video production? Or do we need to wait? Is that a future state thing?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
A lot of people are testing. The quality is there through what we're looking at, in particular 12K cameras coming up from Blackmagic, Red is [crosstalk 00:41:54].

Daniel Jester:
Holy God, I didn't know that. I didn't know we're at 12K orders.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Oh yeah. Absolutely. We have... Obviously, you have-

Daniel Jester:
This not Chief Moneybags talking. This is Daniel talking. I just got a headache.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Yeah. Absolutely. Red Digital Cinema have had 6K and 8K cameras out for a long time now. And I have to talk about Red for a moment because I think that they're probably still the industry leader for this workflow for a capture device. The way that their cameras record I'm sort of grabbing every pixel at once, creating a file that's essentially a raw still image per frame and video. At 16 bit color, Red DSMC2 camera means digital still motion camera. And you can have an AK file that's essentially a 36 megapixel image per frame.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Really, I think the issues that we have to talk about there are how we set the camera up for beautiful, fluid, smooth motion is not how we set it up to make sure every single frame is a tech sharp. Still we can enlarge. We embrace a sense of motion blur, bridging frame to frame in our motion capture. It makes it look more natural, fluid, and cinematic, but that same concept makes softer still images where we're not going to see the detail on a textile or something that's really sharp enough for a website. So we might talk about kind of the list of compromises we're going to have to make for that, but it is there.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
The other thing is lighting output. We need to have a higher level of light that's more controlled. But I think LED lighting is that close. I'm expecting to see, in the next two years, 5K, 10K COB. So small LED lights that are full spectrum, daylight-corrected or tungsten-corrected, that are going to be able to kind of slot in in this type of environment.

Daniel Jester:
I know today, having my meetings with my studio manager, I visited the studio I understand that we're capturing images on set and we're feeding them directly into our pipeline, we've got great photo studio production management software and everything is visible and everything. It's easy to understand where everything is. My understanding in our initial conversations is that today, this is not possible with video, that someone's still going to have to probably run a memory card around somewhere or something like that.

Daniel Jester:
Shanna, let's start with you. Where are we at on moving the data from camera into our workflow? And then, Benjamin, jump in when you've got an opportunity, but I want to talk about what are we looking at today? What are we looking at future state?

Shanna Ferris:
A lot of this type of conversation is definitely largely hinging on equipment, definitely. I know that that's a route that other companies like Frame.io, for example, have partnered with hardware to be able to do some camera-to-cloud transfer. I think that this is just a huge gap in the market, at least from my understanding. And I really honestly am very curious, Benjamin, what you have to say about this, because I am always curious to know, how are we going to solve for this?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
We have to create this bundle of many different files for one video deliverable. Starting with camera capture, we probably have multiple cameras on most sets so that we can create some sort of exciting dynamic by cutting between angles. So, okay, we've got two memory cards in our hand. We need to make sure that, frame-by-frame, we can merge these together for our editing team in a way that's organized. If we have audio, we're at least going to have probably a third and a fourth sort of audio clip that we also need to kind of bundle with this.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Today, it's done in kind of what we call a daily deliverable. Everything is tie-dyed by the digital technician onto a hard drive. And that goes to the editing team or it's uploaded onto the network, even in super high level, super smart studios, I still see carts with red gaff tape on one side and green gaff tape on another. And video teams are stepping over and flowing those cards to be copied over.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
We need to have software that's giving us a record, a ledger, checks them, that's letting us know that every single media card has been copied. At the end of that day, we want to publish that ledger and accompany our daily deliverables to our editing team with that. So if an asset does go missing, we can backtrack and find, in this kind of slew of data that we've created, at what point we've lost it. These are things that are definitely going to want to be considered.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
We do have this capability... I can't let you get away with that, Daniel. We do have the capability to capture directly to drives. Lots of cameras can do this now, but we know that we run into issues when multiple things want to talk to one source at one time. So really today, it's probably best practice to go from one device to the next device, but a lot of cameras can record directly to hard disk versus their own solid state media that they require.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
There are captured devices by companies like AJA and Blackmagic that you can input any video signal into. And they can record relatively robust codecs for 2:2:10 bit, ultra high Defcodex, pretty good quality, not camera raw quality. Not the file that's going to have the most editing capability and most dynamic range, but one that's probably good enough for most website deliverables.

Daniel Jester:
So we could, in theory though, use that for our day-to-day deliverable and still back up raw video footage so that we have it if we need it, depending on what our timeframe and speed to where it needs to be? Let me ask it to you this way, guys, in terms of how far away from something resembling more of a stills pipeline that we're looking at. If I'm building my new state-of-the-art studio, is it worth it to me to put in some of those vacuum tubes that they used to have at the bank where the guy has one down on his set and he can throw his memory charters drive in there and shoot it off to the editor so that they can do their thing? Or do I just wait a couple of years to get to the point where I can do it the right way?

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
I hope so. I hope we can do that. Sounds good for snacks.

Daniel Jester:
Hmm. Great point. Yeah. Actually, a pneumatic snack delivery system. Maybe I do it anyway. That's pretty good.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
I do want to mention one other thing just on technologies we're looking forward to. At Samy's, at CinemaWorks, one thing that's really cool about my job. One thing I love is my customers are both incredibly large e-commerce studios that are imaging their product for online sale. And they're also some of the most talented directors of photography that make Hollywood movies.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Here in Los Angeles, those two industries cross inform one another so much because they're pushing technology so far from making movies that we get to use because they have more efficiency and better capabilities in this e-commerce studios. One thing I'm looking at today on the forefront of movie-making, if you look at a show like Mandalorian and a lot of other television shows and movies shot this last year, they're using LED arrays for their backgrounds behind their main content. So-

Daniel Jester:
Yeah. Unreal engine to time... Sorry if I stole your thunder, Benjamin, but it's very exciting technology today. Using video game technology basically to render backgrounds in real-time is really fucking cool. By the way, we can curse on this podcast.

Benjamin Carter Grimes:
Absolutely unreal engine. What these guys are doing, a lot of it right now, they're sort of proprietary technologies in these different movie studios, but there are a lot of new tech companies that are essentially trying to build turnkey solutions, a box you buy that has its own GPU, its own motion tracking technology that looks at the lensing on the camera to report metadata and takes care of a lot of the issues with this. But I think in the e-commerce space, a small set with something like a 10-foot led video wall that we can swap out over and over and over behind talent or a product would make all the sense in the world. So I'm kind of looking forward to that.

Daniel Jester:
Yeah. We almost have that, in a sense, with the StyleShoots. Some of the StyleShoots has a number of products that they have on the market. But I know one in particular, you could actually upload an image and project that image on the screen background. Which is a long way from the Mandalorian quality, but it does exist today and it's quite interesting. That is very, very exciting. And I think that that's really interesting insight, Benjamin, to share that there's no reason that that wouldn't come to the e-commerce space and be able to do some really incredible things.

Daniel Jester:
I'm envisioning now a future where my brand, Brand X where I'm Chief Moneybags, just to kind of say that again, where we're shooting our own super bowl commercials because we've already got all this capability and everything that we need to be able to do it without having to necessarily engage external partners to do that.

Daniel Jester:
Guys, this has been an incredibly insightful conversation. I as Chief Moneybags of Brand X thanks you very much for your insight and your help. We're going to tackle both things. We're going to build a state-of-the-art studio while we also stand up some capability in our still studio in the interim. And we're going to do it right. We're going to be data-driven. We're going to care about metadata. We're going to care about workflow. And we're going to care about where the technology is going to be in five years.

About the host

Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Daniel Jester is an experienced creative production professional who has managed production teams, built and launched new studios, and produced large-scale projects. He's currently the Chief Evangelist at Creative Force but has a breadth of experience in a variety of studio environments - working in-house at brands like Amazon, Nordstrom, and Farfetch as well as commercial studios like CONVYR. Creative-minded, while able to effectively plan for and manage a complex project, he bridges the gap between spreadsheets and creative talent.