Death of the DVD Demo Reel? Looks Like It.

Is the DVD Demo Reel already dead?  Alan Shisko of Effektor has claimed so on his blog back in September.  He stopped by Digital Production Buzz to follow up on this idea in their latest weekly podcast.

So, to summarize Alan’s initial argument:  The internet has killed the DVD demo reel.  DVD reels are expensive to produce, if you’re out to make a good looking DVD – between the disc label design, quality cases, and mailing.  You might update it once or twice a year.

The internet, according to Alan’s argument, is less expensive and more dynamic.  You can update it anytime, and you can create customized reels for viewing on a variety of platforms – computers, iPhones, other smart phones, etc.

I think that Alan hits it squarely on the head.  I get my work seen by posting it on the net.  In several places.  At any given point, my show reel can be seen on my website, as well as on Vimeo, and massify.  I’d link to them here, but thats what the side bar is for.

So what makes a good demo reel?  Alan says the first thing to keep in mind is to be wary of putting in too much.  Keep it to your best stuff, even if its only 30 seconds.  It must grab and hold the viewers attention.  Don’t assume that people watch all the way through, so make sure that the first thing in your reel hits hard.  Put a quality piece at the end for those who do watch all the way through, but the priority seems to belong up front, since most viewers will make up their mind about your reel quickly.  Keep your name throughout the reel, so at any time someone can find you.  Alan uses a burn/watermark in the corner of his screen with his name and url.  A handy trick I’ll have to keep in mind as well.

And how to market yourself?  Lots of it is advice I take for granted, as someone who grew up using the internet.  Start or join a user group.  By this, Alan means a group that physically meets near you to discuss your field, and fields intimately connected to it.  You may meet some valuable contacts, and may gain some clients out of it.  Alan’s user group is based in his home of Toronto.  I’m hoping to join the Final Cut Pro user group in New York in the very near future.  Also, never underestimate the power of keeping a good blog.  I know you guys like to click on the links I give you.  And I know some of you have visited my site.  I do apologize for the layout.  Still looking for the right design, although I think this is an improvement over the last one.  Blogs make you known to a wider group of people, and can also lead to some interesting connections and discussions.

Also, be active in online groups and forums.  I know LinkedIn has many groups for media professionals.  I belong to most of them and vary my involvement in each depending on the topics in conversation at the moment.  I have met some wonderful people on LinkedIn through those groups. If you know of a group that is related to your discipline, see if you can’t perform a demonstration for them at a meeting.  It gives you a chance to showcase your skills and educate others, which is a powerful way to interact with colleagues.  When you are seen as knowledgeable, you will command far more respect that someone who simply there, for lack of a better word.

The final point that Alan makes is to always treat your clients and coworkers well.  Word of mouth can be a powerful thing, and its something you should never loose sight of.  By making sure you are pleasant to work with, you improve others’ opinion of you.  Although this may seem like an obvious piece of advice, you’d be surprised how often it isn’t followed.

To hear the entire interview with Alan (in which you’ll hear all this, but in his words), head over to Digital Production Buzz and download their podcast.  Alan is the first guest on the July 2nd episode.  All in all, I found the conversation to be enlightening, and the advice given to be valuable.  And I continue to be impressed with DPB, whose podcast I just started listening to last week.

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Students, Take Advantage of Your Resources

I stopped by my old undergrad. alma mater today to meet some of my friends there for lunch.  One of them happened to be my old boss, who was in the process of upgrading the video editing suites to some nice, new, dual-processing Mac Pros (instead of the old G5s).  What’s sad is that most of the students that use those machines are never even going to scratch the surface of what it can do.

Students, if you’re earning a degree in media, film, or communications, and you’re focusing on any kind of post-production, you need to understand something big:  YOU ARE THE ONE ULTIMATELY RESPONSIBLE FOR DEVELOPING YOUR SKILLS!

The Mac Pros down in the old editing suites I used to call home have Final Cut Studio equipped on them, and one will be running Avid Media Composer as well.  Most of the students who use those computers will never get beyond Final Cut Pro because that’s as far as the post-production class they sign up for takes them.  Take that path, and while you may be good at Final Cut, you’re going to find that you’re not equipped to handle what’s going to be asked of you in the field.  (Take it from me, I learned that the hard way.)  You should learn as much as you can about that software.  It will make life much easier in the future.

If your school has a suite of programs like Final Cut Studio, knowing 1 of the 5 key programs isn’t good enough.  If you had to learn two more, I’d say they should be Soundtrack Pro and DVD Studio Pro, so you can edit your picture and sound well, and get it out onto a well designed DVD.  (Because that killer demo. reel you make has to be on DVD for those who ask for it!)  You’re school doesn’t offer classes in those programs?  Use any tutorials that the program might have come with (like Motion), or invest the $35-$50 in your skill set and buy a training book in the program.  Load up the media to your external drive and book some time in the suite to really put the program through it’s paces.  (Just be sure that the programs you’re using are the same generation as the files that are with your book.  If the files are newer than the program, they won’t work.)

That’s why I developed this summer of intensive self-directed study.  I know that I’m a great Final Cut Pro editor, but my audio editing skills left a good deal to be desired.  So I’m going to fix that.  I’m going to diversify myself and learn a new editing platform.  I’ve gotten better at still manipulation by practicing in Photoshop.  I’m going to emerge from this summer as a force to be reckoned with in post-production.

Know why?  Because it’s a buyer’s market right now in the employment world.  And the buyer’s (those that would hire you) are using that as an opportunity to truly seek out the best talent they can.  So prove to them that you can really meet their needs.  They’re not going to hire a separate person for video and audio editing in a market like this.  They’re going to hire someone who’s good at both.

So make sure that you’re not just coasting through your degree program.  Work hard, and push yourself even harder than your professors push you.  It should be your goal to be that shining star in your department.  Make sure that you have the skills employers are looking for.  And make sure that you’re taking advantage of the wide range of resources that are at your disposal.

A $59 Alternative to Photoshop for Mac Users

I spent a nice walk through town thinking of what kind of tip I would give to you guys today.  I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a productive walk.  And just know, it hit me.  A great resource for any video editor or also needs to make some kick-ass stills for a project.  Only catch, it’s for Macs only.

The program in question is Pixelmator.  It’s billed as “Image editing for the rest of us,” by it’s creators, and from my experience, I must say that they’re right.  I found out about Pixelmator by participating in the annual celebration of mystery, intrigue, and  indie Mac programers, MacHeist.  Pixelmator retails for $59 (US), and can be directly downloaded from the website.  It’s been some time since I used it, but I find it to be highly comparable to Adobe’s CS3 Photoshop.  The maker offer’s a free 30-day trial of the software, so go download it and give it a few laps around the track.

What I like most about Pixelmator is that it combines what I regard to be the best of both worlds from Photoshop and Mac.  All the tools you’d exepct to find in Photoshop are present, while some of the sliders and settings are more reminiscent of the shadow boxes used in native Apple software such as iPhoto and Aperture.  And some of the features built in, such as the ability to import from a Mac’s built-in camera and integration with Automator, I haven’t found a parallel for in Photoshop.

In terms of filters, Pixelmator supports both Core Image and Quartz Composer.  It’s also capable of utilizing your video card and graphics card VRAM to take stress off of your processor.

The Pixelmator team makes a large amount of training material available at their site, as well as on their training blog, which can be accessed through a link in the training section, or their training Twitter account.  If you’re already familiar with Photoshop, you should have an easy time adapting to this guy.  I’m convinced that my own rapid acclimation to Photoshop was in part directly caused by my experience with Pixelmator.

That’s about wraps up the basic overview of Pixelmator.  For a more in-depth idea of what the program is capable of, head on over to it’s website and take advantage of that 30 day trial.  If your budget is tight and you need a good, solid, image editor, I don’t think you can go wrong with Pixelmator.  It’s also a great option if you’re just expanding into image editing and aren’t sure if it’s something you want to stick with.  For $59, you really can’t ask for a better image editor.

Zadi Diaz on Advertisers and New Media

Just a quick one today guys.  I’ve been pretty busy and haven’t had the time to really sit and think out a good post today.  Didn’t want to leave you with nothing to read though, so I suggest heading over to Zadi Diaz’s blog to see her take on Advertisers and New Media.  She made this post while in Cannes for the Cannes Lions Festival, and I think she hits each point dead on.

As someone who has spent a good deal of time in new media, I can say that advertisers are still trying to figure out what to do with the medium.  Zadi offers up some excellent advice.

I also recommend you check out Zadi’s show, Epic Fu.  It’s a wonderful look at the web and new media, and how many fantastic things you can find there.

Well, that’s it for me right now.  Off to a late-night training session for the day job.  I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon with more editing news!

Own It: We Work Hard, We Should Say So

As I’m working on my website revisions (which have kept me busy for the last two days), and as a result, my electronic résumé, I’ve come to the conclusion that my old résumé was pretty shitty.  Yes, it showed that I had done a lot.  But I didn’t own it.  I presented what I did, but not what I had accomplished.

I think it’s a mistake that we all make.  When we’re under the gun and we need to update that résumé, the first things that come to mind are the tasks.  “Produced rough and final edits of all episodes,”  “Worked on set and in studio to provide rough edits and dailies.”  It’s accurate, but it’s not very inspiring.  You know you worked your ass off on that project.  Anyone reading your résumé should to.  You need to put some more thought into how to write it, but once you put that thought into it and switch from presenting tasks to accomplishments, the résumé reads much more impressively.

Rather than, “Produced rough and final edits of all episodes,”, I can say “Provided full video editing services to an independent production in need of promotional videos, trailers, and episodes.”  That more fully encompasses my role in Issues, and reads more impressively.

The next one is even better.  I kept an account of how much time I worked on each episode of the show.  That didn’t count capturing footage (which I did on set in an automated process while I worked on other things), or soundtrack scoring, which wasn’t handled by me.  The time it took me to get one episode of Issues from camera raw to fully finished was about 24 hours per episode.  That counted rendering time, since my editing system was dedicated wholly to that episode during rendering time.

So “Worked on set and in studio to provide rough edits and dailies,” became “24 hour (non-consecutive) turnaround time for editing an episode from camera raw to finished episode (not including scoring).”  Reads much more forcefully, and gives a better idea of exactly how I edited.  Typically, editing an episode of Issues took place in 3 8-hour sessions.  Much of that was spent on audio, which required major adjustments in each episode due to only having one microphone to record with.  Which led to a third point.  I was learning Soundtrack Pro as I was editing Issues.  I didn’t want to make the show a guinea pig, since I was under tight deadlines.  So, point 3 is “Diligently adjusted all vocal levels by hand until software was acquired that semi-automated the process.”

(I’m happy to report that since then, I’ve become much more comfortable with Soundtrack Pro, and will be using it in all future projects when appropriate.)

Three hard hitting bullets.  They may still be tweaked, but it’s a start.  I’ve worked extremely hard on that show, and I want to portray that to anyone else thinking of hiring me.

So that’s my challenge for all you editors out there.  Don’t tell people what you did.  Tell them what you accomplished instead.  We all work hard at our jobs.  It takes hard work to put together a good finished product.  Let everyone know about it.

Filmmaker IQ: One-Stop Shopping for Education and Training

By now, you’ve probably noticed that most of what I tend to write about relates to training.  Given that this is the summer in which I’m beginning the process of completely revamping my skills set, it’s what I can speak about most effectively right now.

Today, I’m presenting a site that I’ve used frequently myself, and that the Issues team uses even more frequently in our work with the show.  It’s usefully for all stages of a project, from sitting down to right, to executing that distribution plan I know you made before you started actually taping (right?).  The site is called Filmmaker IQ, and it is heaven for anyone working in independent moving pictures (be it film, video, or pure digital).  The featured articles on their homepage at the moment are: 155 Screenplay Formatting Tutorials, 404 Avid Tutorials, 505 Behind the Scenes Videos, 111 Free Filmmaking Tools, and 588 Free Film Contracts and Forms.  And those are just the 5 most recent before hitting the scroll down button.

Avid happens to be the most recent post-production tool they’ve compiled a mind-numbingly large list of tutorials and resources for.  Scrolling down the full set of featured articles, similar lists can be found for Final Cut Pro, Blender, Premier Pro, Maya, AfterEffects, and Veags.  There’s also an equally impressive lists of plug-ins for AfterEffects in there.  And to reiterate, those are just the featured articles, mostly filtered by me to present results for post-production.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this site yet, and I’ve visited it several times.  All the resources they present are free to use, so it’s valuable to anyone.  I strongly recommend taking a look over there whether you’re ready to dive into a new piece of software, or if you’ve been banging your head against a wall trying to figure out how to create a light-saber effect in Vegas.  An absolutely amazing resource for everyone, for free.

I can’t even begin to think of a way to thank the people over at that site for all the help they’ve provided to me and everyone else I know who has used their site.  Be sure to check them out.

Three Important Non-Tech Skills for an Editor

In a change up from the technical elements that I’ve written about in the last couple posts, this time I’m going to talk about three skills that I think any editor needs if he or she aspires to eventually lead a whole team of editors – which is my goal.  Those three skills are public speaking, leadership, and project management.

Whether your speaking to 5 people or 500, you need to be able to have a commanding presence when you talk to people.  This is especially true if you are advocating for yourself or your team.  If you know how to present yourself and your arguments/thoughts in a professional and engaging manner, you’re more likely to be taken seriously.  I count the two main reasons for my heavy involvement in Issues as my personal relationship with the director (an undergraduate colleague) and my ability to make professional, logical, and convincing points when we discuss the show.  And I don’t even count myself as an amazing public speaker.  It’s one of many skills I’m working to improve.

Leadership should be obvious for anyone seeking any kind of managerial work.  If you can’t lead a team,  you’re not management material.  Right now I consider my leadership skills marginal.  My skills of empathizing and listening are top notch, which helps build good relationships with people I work with.  However, I’m not good at translating that into leadership capital.  This skills is probably even more important to me than public speaking.  After all, as a former public school teacher, I’ve had to do a great deal of public speaking.  It just wasn’t ideal circumstances, and I need to broaden my options.  Part of why I am no longer a teacher is because I substantially lack leadership skills at this point in time, which is a nightmare when attempting to manage a class of 20-25 high school students who would rather be anywhere but in your class.  (History teachers aren’t popular, what can I say?)

Finally, project management.  I’ll admit that right now project management is a nebulous concept to me.  To be clear, I’m not talking about project management as a profession in and of itself.  There are people who do make that their profession, and they excel at it.  But if you’re going to be anything more than an assistant editor, you’re going to have to navigate your team through projects.  And on an independent production like Issues, if you’re on the set, you may well be managing much more than just your area.  Over the course of our first season, I managed editing, the website, scheduling, and wardrobe.  It was quite an experience, and as such, I’ve discovered that I like doing a blend of pre- and post-production.  It makes me much more conscious of the needs of the project as a whole.  But as someone who seeks to be  a team leader, I need to have some definite project management skills.

So, as usually I’ll share some tips with you.  I’m hoping to evaluate my local Toastmasters branch to get a feeling for their communication and leadership programs.  It’s extremely cost effective ($20 new member fee and $27 in dues every 6 months) and very local – thus very easy to get to.  It also presents an opportunity to get to know people in my town.  To give you an idea of how isolating living in one town, working in a second, and attending school in a third is, the only person in town that I know is my next door neighbor.  That’s compared to the one-stop shop of undergraduate life, where I easily had a network of over 50 1st degree contacts, and hundreds of 2nd and 3rd degree contacts.

Project Management is a bit trickier.  It’s much harder to find training in it without talking to people who do it as a profession.  I’m currently looking at budgeting for some courses from the Project Management Institute, although I don’t know that I’d pursue a formal accreditation in it at this point in time.  It’s certainly a handy skills set to have in any field, so I consider it work at least thinking about.

What are your thoughts?  Are these important skills for an editor?  Any other skills that aren’t directly editing-related that you think an editor today should have?  Feel free to leave a comment and we’ll get a conversation going on this!

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