Frost Bites

February 4, 2018

I have been working on a small video for the Grove Nature Center in Glenview and have been using it as a laboratory for my new Sony FS7 camera.  I decided it would be fun to complete a montage for all 4 seasons at the nature preserve.  I started late last spring and it has been going great. This winter has been more of a challenge. First, there hasn’t been much snow and there have been prolonged periods of below zero temperatures.  Now, I am an outdoor kind of person. I love winter camping, but there is a problem when you try to shoot video in the cold.  At some point you have to have your hands exposed to the cold…and the equipment itself becomes cold.  I have been experimenting with various layers of clothing and I think I have it down to a snow suit, boots, dual layer pants and a nice hoodie.  My hands, however, are a mess.  My goal has been to outlast the camera’s battery and so far, I have been successful, but today the battery beat me.  I do wear two layers of gloves, a big mitt and a small, form fitting fingered glove. Still, there are too many times when you have to put your cold hands on that cold lens or tripod to shoot.  There is a reason they call it frost bite!  After a while, that is exactly what it feels like. You can go a long time outside before you realize that your hands are really cold.  For me, I realize I hit the pain threshold on the long ride home with my hands tucked under my arm pits as I try to normalize the circulation.  Not to give up, I do have a few more tricks to try, like surgical gloves to create a vapor layer, and maybe even hand warmers. Makes you wonder how people ever worked with small hand tools, like pliers or screw drivers outside during the winter? It has been a fun challenge. The footage, more importantly looks terrific.  Just wish I could shoot from inside a warm building sometimes.  I have no picture to add to this story since it has been too cold to lure anyone else along!  I need along selfie stick!

Ring in the New Year!

January 2018

Ushering in a new year always comes with the promise of new relationship and new opportunities.  2017 was a fabulous year for us…lots of U.S. travel.  We chose to go to many of our locations by car to avoid the rigors of air travel.  Of course, you can’t always take the slow road, but it sure helps if you want to see the country and enjoy the people along the way.  We have been working mostly in the Midwest, but we did one long driving trip to New Jersey.  It allowed us to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Waters,” the home he built for the Kaufman’s. What a spectacular place.  It is hard not to feel elevated to a different level.  You are protected from nature but part of it.  Really a special place that I am glad is now a sanctuary for many to enjoy.

2017 was a year of major renewal for us here.  Had to upgrade much of our production and editing equipment. The pace of technological change imposes some very strict measures on keeping up with the times.  One could spend every waking second learning new software or breaking in yet another camera, which is exactly how a good part of 2017 was spent!  We continue to be a Premiere Pro shop.  We now have two complete edit suites and have added to our camera collection with the Sony FS7 and some additional lenses.  I still have the same old car, however!  The Toyota Sienna only has 164,000 miles.  I heard of another Sienna that had 500,000 miles on it, so I might get have a few more years out of it yet, unless the rust destroys it.

This winter has been brutal.  I had to do some outdoor camerawork in the middle of December when the thermometer read -4, but the wind chill was much lower. The camera battery died before the operator quit, but the price I paid for chilled hands taught a real lesson in how to really prepare for that kind of shooting environment (and can you really prepare? At some point, you just grit your teeth and bite down). 

Expect to see more of the same extremes in 2018 and I look forward to continuing to create great stories for our clients.


4K Here I come

I have been working with 4K video for a couple of years but it was always with other people’s gear.

Today, I took the plunge into the 4K universe, even though the world is not demanding 4K video product.  In fact, there are very few televisions equipped to handle 4K in consumer’s homes.  No doubt it will come.  Just need a couple of good Super Bowl television selling seasons.  From an acquisition point of view, shooting on 4K make total sense.  Even when producing videos that end up only the Internet, the difference in quality is discernible, especially since you also need to step up the image quality with better lenses.  Of course, there are all sorts of advertised consumer 4K cameras out there, including cell phones, so how does that work?  The world is changing and this technology is becoming much more accessible.  Allow me to digress.

Just as I made my move into this 4K arena, I was standing in line at the local grocery market talking to the young man behind the deli counter. We got talking about work and he asked what I did. I told him I make videos…and he said, “Oh, really?!  So do I!  I love making short videos!”  OK. Then my 12 year old granddaughter comes home and wants to use my editing equipment to fix a video she shot on her cell phone!  She did a great job with iMovie, a program I have never figured out how to use!  Finally, I am on a location in a small town, doing a complicated green screen shot, and the janitor comes in and looks at my gear.  He knew the camera! Turns out he is a weekend video producer.  OK.  I totally get it.  Life looks pretty rosy from the other side.  I have been successfully making film video productions for clients like major corporations, television networks and not-for-profits for many, many years.  Folks, this is work…and yes it can be fun work and incredibly rewarding.  It is still work.  I mention this now because I have to find more work to pay for the expensive camera I have just purchased!


Someone said 4K will be the limit because it is already beyond what the human eye can discern. That didn’t stop one of the major networks from announcing that they were going to 8K!  What’s a few K’s between friends?  Personally, I wanted to do some different visual things with 4K that I cannot achieve with regular HD, so I am eager to explore.  I bought a real video camera, a Sony, as I continue to be frustrated by the state of the video SLR market.  Those are indeed amazing cameras that can delivery superb visuals, but they are still cameras, designed for taking still images, and are very difficult to use in video for anything but set up shots, unless you also buy a zillion optional tools to help you handle the still camera like a video camera. 

In the end, it still boils down to just telling stories well. That is the ultimate skill here. So here’s to 4K and beyond!!

A Reflection

I have been an avid follower of Krista Tippets “On Being” podcasts and web musings for a number of years now and through that experience I have discovered Seth Godin’s wisdom.  He publishes a popular blog and a Twitter feed that are both worth sharing.  Here is a quote from one of Seth’s Blogs that has captured my imagination:


“Giving the people what they want isn’t nearly as powerful as teaching people what they need. There’s always a shortcut available, a way to be a little more ironic, cheaper, more instantly understandable. There’s the chance to play into our desire to be entertained and distracted regardless of the cost. Most of all, there’s the temptation to encourage people to be selfish, afraid, and angry. Or you can dig in, take your time, and invest in a process that helps people see what they truly need. When we change our culture in this direction, we’re doing work that’s worth sharing. But it’s slow-going. If it were easy, it would have happened already. It’s easy to start a riot, difficult to create a story that keeps people from rioting. Don’t say, ‘I wish people wanted this.’ Sure, it’s great if the market already wants what you make. Instead, imagine what would happen if you could teach them why they should.”


We are in the services business.  We produce videos that clients request and that equation has served us well for the many years we have been in business.  It still does. We pride ourselves on being the vehicle to help our client’s tell their stories. Today, in this most acrimonious political climate, we must all stretch ourselves more. 


Education is vital to being an engaged human, an informed citizen, even an enlightened consumer.  We strive to make products that teach, raise awareness and help us grow. Not just in select markets but for all of our projects. Video is a tool that can touch others better than almost any other media.  “Teach our children well!"


A Note of Thanks

At the start of the 2016, I had great intentions of keeping a year-long Blog. I will attempt to do the same in 2017, but what happened?  Well, it became an incredibly busy year! I would like to take the time to thank all of our clients in 2016 for helping to make this another successful year.

Many changes continue to characterize the video production business.  While we continue to do work for corporate clients direct, to help them with their internal and external communication messaging, our strength continues to be telling short stories that celebrate people, ideas and successes. We also continue to work with not-for-profits (schools, church groups) and various causes (Hands of Peace, Northfield Pantry and others).   This year was filled with several interesting technically challenging projects. We did a couple of Virtual Reality experimental videos…always a fascinating new mode.  We did a 360 degree rear projection screen project for a client that offered some rather interesting problems to solve.  Yes, without the right screen material, you can see through the screen to the other side!  We did our first White Board animation for a client that proved to be a very successful message delivery method.  No drone videos! Amazing. Came close however, but in the end, turned out the client's facility was too close to an airport!  And of course, we did our usual work of just telling stories.

For 2017, we are going to be seeking out new delivery and distribution outlets.  Amazingly, when we first got into the field, bigger was better…the penultimate project was to create an Imax video. Who would ever imagine that the lion share of media today is presented on a cellphone!  We expect that trend will continue, with all of the ensuing challenges.  

So, whatever your project, whatever your scale, whatever your message, we will be here to help design, shoot and complete your project.




slow video movement

Various unsubstantiated Internet reports claim that Facebook uploads 177 million hours of video to their site everyday! If true, that is a serious amount of video!  Facebook will not verify the numbers, but it has been suggested that they have almost 3 billion video viewings every day.  I have also seen statistics that suggest that Facebooks’s video load has more than doubled in the past 3 years.  I would suggest that most of that increase is not necessarily personal communications but ads.  I mean many, many ads.  How else can you explain the explosive revenue growth of Facebook?  It seems that every other post has an ad.  OK. I get it. Google and its YouTube product have done the same thing for years.  It is one of my least endearing attributes…in that you never know who your video might be placed against:  a competitor, an anarchist, some off- the-wall association that counters your own best efforts (and taste).  Welcome to social media, 21st Century style.  The point is this: video on the web has  become a viable way to reach an audience.


This got us thinking not only about the power of the medium, but where does a video production company fit into this world?  Most of the personal videos on Facebook,  I would suggest, are just photo streams.  They are often a single shot of a baby or game or significant moment.  No editing. There is power in this strategy.  No doubt.  Plenty of folks upload these moments every day.  It is fast food for the brain.


Our work as producers of video content is somewhat different.  Our goal is to engage the brain, to tease the imagination to make the larger world smaller somehow. We do this through editing.  We tell stories that respect the time of the viewer by synthesizing the content into a digestible whole. While 90% of our work as a video production company is made for captive audiences, a huge shift has been occurring to the Internet.  Video use is increasing. You now face a world-wide audience and one you don’t know and can’t see.  One thing is certain, to compete against the streaming photo videos, videos with content need to be short.  How short?  Well, I had a client who watched a review copy of project we were working on while she was stopped at traffic light.  Hmmm. Is that the new gold stand for length?  Might be time to start a slow video movement (modeled after the slow food movement).  Bring the joy of  discovering a well told video story back into our lives. 

Crooks and Bums


I almost became the victim of a crime…and it started out innocently enough.


 I have worked my entire movie making career on the power of a man’s word and a handshake.  I trust people, perhaps to a fault.  I got an email request for a bid on video project. I noticed that it also went to out to three local competitors as well.  I wrote back immediately, but added, that I would like more information and asked if we could talk on the phone.  Three weeks later he wrote back and said he was recuperating in the hospital from ear surgery and could not talk. Texting had to do.  So we carried on for several weeks texting about the project and at some point he insisted that I invoice him for half right now.  I was in the middle of another project, and kind of preoccupied, so I didn’t mind accepting a down payment, although that is pretty rare these days.  In the course of this, I did do some initial due diligence and saw that he claimed to live in a neighboring suburb and his story seemed to make some sense.  That is when he dropped the bomb: he wanted me to pay cash to his meeting planner.


 Now, I have always tried to find solutions for my customers and, in an effort to be accommodating,  I said I would see what I could do (at this point I was more concerned that he wasn’t getting ripped off!!).  His credit card was processed and cleared.  But, before I would pay this other person, I requested an invoice from the “meeting planner” with contact numbers.  I was flying out the door for a trip to Florida and didn’t have time to sort out all of the details.  When I was in Florida, I started to do more homework and found all sorts of cracks. His stories were not adding up. The meeting planner did not work at the address he gave.  Her invoice suggested the event was in a hall that was not book for that date. His phone number and hers were both Google voice numbers…meaning there was no way to trace them. About this time, I started to ask the credit card processing company how to verify their card information.  Well, they told me this sounded like a scam. This was a common pattern…hearing loss, test messages only, hospitalizations all fit a known pattern. They use a stolen credit card, process a lot of money and then have you pay to another account cash. When the owner of the lost card disputes the charge, you are left to cover the expense. Nice deal.    I shut this operation down, returned the money and stopped answering his texts.


I am only slight embarrassed to report how close I came to being victimized. Fortunately, I did not send any money to anyone else and acted slowly. My research and some suspicion kept me from getting burned.  I am slightly wiser as a result…but I lament how these folks have used the system against us.  Talking to some other production companies around here, I have learned that this happened quite often in the last month or two. We have to fight back…and so I am writing this post to warn others to beware of such scams.  Know your customers.  Trust people, but keep both eyes and ears open.   



Reflections on Travel Adventures to Kenya

The image above is from a rather extreme adventure to the northern most part of Kenya to find the Turkana people for a little documentary we shot for the Orthodox Christian church.  To borrow from the movie title, "Trains, Planes and Automobiles," we used all modern means to reach our location, plus some good old fashioned hiking several miles.  The shelter above was our base camp.  We had to limit our gear to a few cases.  There was no electrical power, so we had to us the sun, of which there was an abundant amount.  We slept in modern tents inside a fenced compound made of local wood that was gathered for the purpose.  The fence only provided modest amount of security, otherwise, we were exposed to the elements.  In this part of the country, they have been experiencing severe droughts, so everything was baked by the hot sun and turned to dust.  Dust and cameras don't mix well.  At one point, I could not remove the data card from the video camera because a tiny grain of sand had wedged itself into the slot.  One of my clever local guides invented a pair of tweezers out of some scrap metal and he managed to pull the disc out!

While I did have an analog back-up camera, our modest, but durable Panasonic HMC 150 HD digital video camera was the main camera. At one point, we had to cross a swelling foot, carrying all of our equipment on our backs. One slip and we would have lost the camera and the chance to shoot the best scenes of the project.  While it was unnerving, we did made it safely across. Later, I reflected on the potential dangers that we might have faced at that crossing. Critters big and small.  Parasites that could leave you with crippling diseases, but at the time my "whatever it takes" valve kicked in and we got 'er done!

This trip demanded all of my camping, hiking, and production skills.  It was an incredible journey to visit a people that time had seemed to have forgotten! (When the British examined Kenya for exploration, they decided to ignore this northern region because it was so remote! Some things have not changed.