Digital Production Buzz
August 14, 2014
[Transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription]
Peter Hamilton, Founder and Editor, DocumentaryTelevision.com
Arie Stavchansky, PhD, Founder, DataClay
Stefanie Mullen, CFO, Web Designer, Rampant Design
Voiceover: The Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by Blackmagic Design, creators of the world’s highest quality solutions for the feature film, post production and television broadcast industries.
Voiceover: Live from Ralph’s Maytag Museum and Podcast Studio in beautiful downtown Burbank, it’s the Digital Production Buzz.
Voiceover: Production, post production, distribution.
Voiceover: What’s really happening now and in your digital future?
Voiceover: The Buzz is live now.
Larry Jordan: And a warm summer welcome to The Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for creative content producers covering media production, post production, marketing and distribution around the world. My name is Larry Jordan and joining us is our co-host, the very cool Mr. Mike Horton.
Mike Horton: Hello, everybody.
Larry Jordan: It’s good to see you back.
Mike Horton: Actually very warm.
Larry Jordan: Well, yes, but we’ve got the air conditioning on here at the studio and your class is…
Mike Horton: Which is actually the first time all summer that the air conditioning’s been on. Usually I come away from this show losing five pounds.
Larry Jordan: That’s intentional.
Mike Horton: Which is actually pretty good.
Larry Jordan: I was going to say, this is not a bad thing.
Mike Horton: The fact that I still show up says how much I love you.
Larry Jordan: Well, you know, that and the fact that you’ve got a chilled mint julep at your left wrist helps.
Mike Horton: And it helps a lot.
Larry Jordan: Tonight, we’re going to start with Peter Hamilton. Peter is a consultant specializing in media marketing and business development and we want to talk with him about the challenges of doing business in China, what do film makers need to know?
Larry Jordan: Next is Arie Stavchansky. He’s the founder of DataClay. DataClay specializes in creating tools for creative professionals and recently they released Templater for After Effects, which makes creating customized videos a lot easier and database driven.
Larry Jordan: Then we’ll wrap up with Stefanie Mullen. Stefanie is an artist with a business mind. She runs the business side of Rampant Design Tools, yet is an artist in her own right with an extensive portfolio of oil paintings. We talk with her about the challenges of artistic entrepreneurship.
Mike Horton: Now I understand why Rampant Design works so well.
Larry Jordan: And that is?
Mike Horton: Sean. Because we’ve had Sean on this show several times and, you know, Rampant Design makes some of the coolest stuff ever.
Larry Jordan: They do.
Mike Horton: And now I know why. Sean has nothing to do with it.
Larry Jordan: No, no, no, no, no. Sean has the creative…
Mike Horton: No, Sean has nothing to do with it. We’re talking to Stefanie, she has everything to do with it. She actually secretly makes…
Larry Jordan: Sean has the creative power…
Mike Horton: She makes everything in the background. Sean just uses his face.
Larry Jordan: He’s a front piece?
Mike Horton: Only kidding, Sean. He’s in the chat, by the way. If you want to join the chat…
Larry Jordan: Yes, I know, but…
Mike Horton: Talk to Sean.
Larry Jordan: …he is not going to talk to you any more.
Mike Horton: He isn’t?
Larry Jordan: He’s going to just say…
Mike Horton: He hasn’t said a thing.
Larry Jordan: …”Ah, Horton must be on, I’m going to ignore him.” Listen, you’ve got a big event coming up, I think.
Mike Horton: We do.
Larry Jordan: Are there any seats left?
Mike Horton: Yes there are. Why do you do this to me? By the way, early bird tickets, for all you listening in Europe, if you download this show and you’re listening, on the 15th of August, it ends at midnight, early bird tickets. Save five Euros – that’s a lot of money in American dollars – so buy your tickets now. That’s supermeet.com. It’s going to be an awesome show and it will be in Amsterdam and, let me tell you, it’s Amsterdam, for goodness’ sakes. It’s wonderful.
Larry Jordan: And have you announced the agenda?
Mike Horton: Well, not really. We don’t know…
Larry Jordan: How about the main speakers?
Mike Horton: The main speakers are the editors from the new Star Wars movie.
Larry Jordan: I know, that’s very cool.
Mike Horton: Yes. Star Wars Episode VII. That’s what they’re calling it right now.
Larry Jordan: That’s not out yet.
Mike Horton: It’s not out but they’re editing it right now as we speak at Pinewood Studios. Wouldn’t it be fun to work at Pinewood Studios?
Larry Jordan: They’re going to show what the new Star Wars looks like?
Mike Horton: No, they’re not.
Larry Jordan: Oh!
Mike Horton: Strict NDA. It’s a giant iron curtain around that.
Larry Jordan: I see.
Mike Horton: We’re going to talk to them about their wonderful career, because they’ve done some amazing movies.
Larry Jordan: That’s very cool.
Larry Jordan: Just a reminder, we are offering text transcripts for each show, courtesy of Take 1 Transcription. Now you can quickly scan or print the contents of each show, as well as listen to it. Transcripts are located on each show page. Learn more at take1.tv and thanks, Take 1, for making the transcripts possible.
Larry Jordan: Thinking of other cool stuff, remember to visit us Facebook, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. We’re also on Twitter, @DPBuZZ, and subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com for an inside look at both our show and the industry. We’ve got an interesting conversation on China and film making with Peter Hamilton, coming up right after this.
Mike Horton: Can’t wait.
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Larry Jordan: Peter Hamilton is a senior consultant who works with the non-fiction industry on marketing and business development. He’s a former CBS executive and his clients include the A&E networks, the BBC, National Geographic and many other media groups, governments and non-profits. Peter, it’s good to have you back.
Peter Hamilton: It’s great to be back.
Larry Jordan: We want to talk a lot about China, but before we move into that specific subject, give us a quick précis of your background.
Peter Hamilton: Well, I began my career as a journalist actually in Indo-China, during the Vietnam War. I became a teacher in Australia after that, evolved into educational publishing and film making, and made the leap over to the States, and crawled my way into the lower middle management at CBS and worked on international business development for CBS. Then started my own career as a consultant to apply those skills to clients, as we mentioned, like Discovery and so on.
Peter Hamilton: Finally, I’ve just recently committed myself to executive producing high end science and history documentaries, and my first project was about Jonah Salk and the development of the polio vaccine, which is on the Smithsonian Channel, and we got Bill Gates into the project and his foundation helped support it. I’m sorry for the long winded bio, but that’s the whole path.
Larry Jordan: Well, it’s not a long winded bio, it’s a fascinating bio and what I’m really curious about is: How did you decide to make the shift from being a journalist into business development? What was it that attracted you to that?
Peter Hamilton: A very good question. I arrived in the States at the beginning of the Reagan era with a very strong resume in educational publishing, television production, film making. And it was just at that moment that the Reagan administration came to power and was de-funding so many of those kinds of activities and just frankly I looked at a career as a temp in the face, you know, that was really what I had facing me, and I was already 29 or 30, I can’t remember. So I realized I had to make a shift into business because that was how I was going to be able to support myself in the States and I was very attracted to working here.
Larry Jordan: Let’s focus now on China, both as a market and from a film making point of view. Recently, you did a report on China. What was the basic conclusion?
Peter Hamilton: Well, I’ve tracked China extensively. At CBS, I was involved in the first syndication deal where CBS supplied the CBS evening news to China’s national television network, CCTV, and we sold the advertising to American multinationals – this is back in the mid-‘80s – we sold the advertising to American multinationals who wanted to build their brand exposure to this huge market at the dawn of its transformation.
Peter Hamilton: So I got in in the early days, and what was interesting about that particular model is that CBS controlled the revenue stream. They controlled the ad sales, they controlled the client relationships. They provided the program to CCTV and we split the net of the sales revenues with the Chinese. Since then, the Chinese market has exploded. It’s particularly exploded in the field of documentaries and so it’s a booming market. There are probably a dozen or 15 documentary and non-fiction channels out there.
Peter Hamilton: They’re strongly supported by the Chinese government as an alternative to trashy and what they see as the cultural pollution of reality shows, and finally the Chinese are very aspirational about serious content driven programs that teach China or have something to say about China and the world and learning. So for all these reasons we have a booming market. The big point of my coverage is that it’s very difficult for Western producers, particularly independents but even for major players, to actually profit from that market.
Peter Hamilton: The Chinese control the business relationships, they align the financial benefits of these co-production and other business relationships. They keep them very much to themselves, and it’s a Communist country with a head top down management and commercial contracts are barely enforceable. So it’s a very dangerous market for Westerners to get involved in and very, very few succeed.
Mike Horton: Being a Communist country, they can control the content too. They can edit your movies to fit whatever they want to be out in the public, correct?
Peter Hamilton: Yes. The networks have got fairly professional about respecting the editorial remit of the programming that’s supplied to them. The censorship prevails, as it does even in our own society, and I’m not comparing the two of them but just this particular circumstance. The censorship applies to the development and then the acquisition of programs.
Peter Hamilton: But just an interesting example of, shall we say, the anomalies of the market, a large regional broadcaster commissioned a program which was on a topic, let’s say it was about the weather, and they found a sponsor in this large province – which, by the way, has a population of hundreds of millions – who would sponsor the program. So the sponsor paid for the production of the program. It was for ten hours, it was a beautiful documentary on this topic, for example the weather. The national broadcaster saw the film, loved the film and said, “We want it. We want to put it on our national network. You can’t have it down there on your regional network,” and the sponsors therefore lost the market that they wanted to particularly target, which was this huge city and its regional area, and they lost all the benefits and they won’t be involved in future productions.
Peter Hamilton: It’s an emerging, complex, complicated environment and it’s definitely not one for the meek and for people who can’t afford a lot of risk.
Larry Jordan: I want to come back to that concept, but there’s a definition that you made in your report about the difference between a normal television show and a branded show. What’s the difference between those two?
Peter Hamilton: Actually, the report you’re referring to – because I wrote a lot about China – was a report I wrote that the Director of CCTV9, which is their documentary channel, was recently relieved of his post, and by Director, he would be the President or the Managing Director. He was relieved of his post after an audit that revealed, shall we say, questionable financial management. So I don’t know whether this is just an ugly political power play or whether he in fact was involved in illegal activities.
Peter Hamilton: The illegal activities applied to branded programs, allegedly. A branded program is a program which is funded by a major brand in which the interests of the brand and maybe the presentation of the brand are integrated into the program. An example would be a history of F1 racing sponsored by Porsche in which there would be promotional messages like we see on PBS at the beginning and the end of the program and maybe in another break, sponsored by Porsche. But also the content of the program would show off Porsche and the Porsche racing team in a way that appealed to aspirational car owners and drew them to the Porsche brand. So that would be an example of a branded program.
Peter Hamilton: Because license fees are very small in China, they don’t have anywhere like the resources that we have here where PBS will pay 200, 300, 400 thousand dollars and really a lot more. They don’t have those resources. Ambitious producers and ambitious networks look to these kinds of partnerships to fund the high end programming that they need to attract viewers.
Larry Jordan: I want to come back to a comment you made earlier, which is marketing films into China is not for the faint of heart. Is the only way that we could get a film into China to partner with a distributor and move in? Is there a way for independent film makers to take advantage of this market?
Peter Hamilton: I think we’ve got to distinguish between the theatrical business and my core specialty, which is non-fiction television. I’m not an expert in advising the creators of scripted television or movies on how to approach the Chinese market. If I was an independent producer and I had an ambitious quality documentary that was, let’s say, China friendly, let’s say it was about recent research breakthroughs on pandas, I would approach NatGeo or one of the major players and work with them to approach a Chinese broadcaster.
Peter Hamilton: I would not go directly to the broadcaster. The Chinese market really is drawn to big brands like, as I said, NatGeo, PBS, BBC, Discovery and so on. With respect to the theatrical films, it’s actually a booming market in China now and what’s really interesting is that it’s the fastest growing giant screen slash IMAX market, with screens being built all over China in cities, and science centers and museums. There is a lot of activity there and I would say that if you wanted to approach that market, you’d need to do a fair bit of research. There’s no simple solution but there’s definitely opportunity there.
Mike Horton: What kind of films or American documentaries do well in China? Say, ‘The Invisible War’ compared to ‘Twenty Feet From Stardom’. Is there one that would be better received over there than the other?
Peter Hamilton: Yes. I would say that the genre of the author driven, socially conscious, disturbing, socially critical documentary, strong point of view. That kind of market is fairly scarce in China right now. What’s much more likely to be of interest is a classic blue chip natural history or history program on the life of the panda or the archaeology of the Sung Empire, but told in a really compelling, entertaining way.
Peter Hamilton: I mean, the quality of the programs has become really, really high, particularly with their partnerships and even the local programs at the high end. Their technical resources are amazing, they’re learning a lot, but they want content driven, more classic informational, educational docs rather than the edgy docs that we see on TOV or on HBO Docs or at a Sundance Film Festival.
Larry Jordan: One of the things that you mentioned is that when you were a journalist you covered not just China, but other Asian countries. Are there other markets besides China that film makers could consider that are, say, easier to work with? And I use film makers to mean documentarians, by the way, because I want to lead into your strength.
Peter Hamilton: Yes, my strength is definitely non-fiction programs. It’s a really good question. Branded entertainment is much stronger everywhere else in Asia than it is in the States, although it’s definitely growing on the internet here. So therefore relationships with a strong brand, to work with a Swiss watchmaker on a lifestyle program that showed how European young trendies lived, you know, that would be a program that you could sell across Asia.
Peter Hamilton: But none of the other Asian markets have the scale. China is massive and CCTV9 reports that their average prime time viewing last year was 60 million. The wealthy markets in Asia, like Singapore is, what, six or eight million, I’m not sure; Malaysia, 30 million – much, much smaller markets – they’re wealthy and sophisticated and it is possible to develop partnerships with producers there and I’m talking about a project about the planet Pluto, which will be crossed by NASA’s New Horizons vehicle next year.
Peter Hamilton: We’re trying to explore an Asian angle to a Pluto live program. So there are possibilities there but I think they’re very scarce. The opportunities are steered more towards local producers who are supported by tax breaks and governments. I think it’s harder for Westerners, Americans, but they do exist and they can be part of a global strategy.
Larry Jordan: Peter, one of the people in our live chat, Caesar, is asking: What about India? Is that a market for American documentarians?
Peter Hamilton: We’ve had a lot of discussion about this in the last few days, China or India, and India is not a top down Communist country. It has a tradition of British rule of law. Contracts are more likely to be enforceable, but the TV industry is still very nascent with respect to developing and acquiring original documentaries or buying off the shelf completed docs.
Peter Hamilton: The seeds are very small but definitely a market to watch and to study and it seems to be maturing very fast. Even year to year I notice changes, which by the way I notice in China. Year to year, six months to six months, so many things change. But definitely India is worth watching, but doesn’t have a central buyer like CCTV that is producing million dollar projects with co-production partners in Europe and the States. It’s definitely a harder one to crack but probably long term more promising.
Larry Jordan: Thinking of that, in the little bit of time we’ve got left, what are the future trends that you’re watching in Asia? What’s catching your eye?
Peter Hamilton: I think giant screen in China is really, really interesting right now, so I’m tracking that. I think the crossover between popular reality shows and documentaries which are shown theatrically are really interesting and I wrote up a case study in my newsletter, that’s documentarytelevision.com, about a documentary that was made about the stars of a reality elimination singing competition and this film raised, I think, six or seven hundred thousand dollars from the Chinese kickstarter.
Peter Hamilton: It did enormous business in the cinemas. So it was this weird hybrid crossover between a spin-off from a very popular prime time elimination competition and a documentary; and so what do I look for in Asia, in China? Hybrids, these really weird hybrids, and I think there are people that are really smart marketers who can perhaps get a piece of this.
Larry Jordan: Interesting.
Mike Horton: Well, China’s buying up a lot of theater screens here in America, so why not reciprocate and find a common ground?
Larry Jordan: Peter, for people who want to keep track of what you’re thinking and writing about, where can they go on the web to learn more?
Peter Hamilton: Thanks very much for having me. My newsletter is documentarytelevision.com and we provide analysis and context of the reality TV, the unscripted TV and the documentary sector. Documentarytelevision.com.
Larry Jordan: Documentarytelevision.com. Peter Hamilton is the founder and, Peter, thanks for joining us today.
Peter Hamilton: Oh, I love being on your show.
Larry Jordan: Take care.
Mike Horton: Thanks, Peter.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Dr Arie Stavchansky is the founder of DataClay. A company focused on creatively integrating big data with production workflows. Prior to DataClay, he worked as a visual effects artist, developed mobile and cloud based applications and taught in the radio, television and film department at the University of Texas in Austin, which is where he received a PhD in Digital Media Studies. Arie, welcome and thanks for joining us.
Arie Stavchansky: Thank you, Larry. Glad to be here. Thank you.
Larry Jordan: I’m really curious how you got to where you are. What got you focused on visual effects in the first place?
Arie Stavchansky: Great question. I love magic, so I think it started there. I was just a big fan of how things were done to create spectacle and I really got into it and I studied some computer science and I was in film classes and I’ve always wanted to merge the two together. So that’s how I got started, and I realized, though, that I also have kind of a design edge. So I worked as a designer for a little bit at Digital Kitchen in Chicago, and then I got into video game development for a short while at Sony Online Entertainment, and I realized that my heart has always been in visual effects and post, and those processes to create media and so that’s how I got started.
Larry Jordan: So why did you start DataClay?
Arie Stavchansky: I started DataClay because I wanted to see a world where big data could create personalized content for people and I want content to be more relevant for viewers. I also want to see the magic that all these visual effects artists and motionographers create. I want to see that being used with big data and I think that’s essentially why I created it.
Arie Stavchansky: There are other reasons why, but I feel like content these days is just not really meant for you and me and it’s not personalized enough. There’s no easy way currently to set up production processes to create batches of content that are personal and targeted.
Larry Jordan: Ok, wait, wait. Let’s just hold up a second because there’s a couple of things I need to have you define because I’m confused. What does the term big data mean to you? And secondly, what does personalized content mean?
Arie Stavchansky: Big data to me means feeds that are coming from all types of sources like social media, data that’s coming in from analytic engines, places that are capturing data for whatever reason and it’s data that’s not necessarily structured but has meaning.
Larry Jordan: Wait, wait, wait, stop. Give me an example.
Arie Stavchansky: I think all the data that is coming out of the fire hose of Twitter, I would classify that as big data. There’s a lot of analysis that people can do on that data and make conclusions about things and I think that there’s opportunity to not just look at it from an analytical standpoint, but to use it as the material for design processes and production processes.
Larry Jordan: Ok, so then let’s define the second term. What does personalized content mean to you?
Arie Stavchansky: Personalized content is content that really allows the viewer to identify strongly with the messages in that content. Instead of watching an advertisement that’s intended for the entire nation or even a small zip code of a particular market. For example, personalized content would target you in particular, and the message would look like it was crafted and produced for you. I think that that could help people enjoy the content that they’re consuming and I think that it’s definitely powerful when it comes across, doing that.
Larry Jordan: Ok, so we’ve got this ocean of data which is flowing from Twitter or other large databases or social entities, and we’re trying to create personalized content to get Mike Horton to slow down enough to watch television. Where does DataClay fit into this?
Arie Stavchansky: We don’t think that there’s any solution right now that allows producers and people who are actually working with visual production tools, there’s nothing out there that really gives them a conceptual model of how to set up content so that it can actually consume this data.
Arie Stavchansky: There’s no real technique quite yet for rigging up a video template to harness data that’s just out there, and DataClay’s objective is to provide the community of users – the community of producers and artists and designers – we want to give them a technique and start getting them to think about how to set up their project so that it’s ready for the data that’s just flowing out there, and that their projects can be dynamic enough so that the value of what they’re doing, the intellectual property that they’re building, can be enhanced.
Larry Jordan: Ok. Again, let’s come back to an example. Give me an example of where this could be applied.
Arie Stavchansky: You’re tasked, for example, with creating an advertisement for a client and an agency might have a creative brief and they go to a production company and say, “We need this,” and then they say, “We actually need this for 100 different purposes.” At the moment, the production company is kind of stuck, they have to do this arduous task of taking their work that they created for this one project and then go through their project and customize certain things.
Arie Stavchansky: That’s the reality of how it’s operating right now. We want to remove those pain points of the actual process of customization. So that when the agency comes to the production studio and they say, “We need 100 different iterations of this thing for different markets,” it’s as simple as pressing a button. That’s what DataClay is solving.
Larry Jordan: For instance, I could create a single ad and have it access a database that says the local store or the local phone number and have it create iterative versions of this master ad based on a template?
Arie Stavchansky: Absolutely, and one of the key innovations that we’ve brought to the table is this idea of an intelligent designer wear layout engine. Because big data’s kind of dirty and I don’t mean that in a negative way or with negative connotations. What I mean is that as designers, we like to have control over how things look in our productions and we just don’t know what certain things are.
Arie Stavchansky: We don’t know how long certain words are. We don’t know how big source images are sometimes. We don’t know what kind of audio we might want for a particular market and our product takes in the data and, through user based rules that users can set up, the data will conform to what the producer expects it should look like so that the designer left intact.
Larry Jordan: This could save a huge amount of time in customizing, because not only do you change the text, but you change the look and the sound of the commercial or the video at the same time.
Arie Stavchansky: Absolutely. We actually have a few tweets already about people saving hours and hours of work. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me feel. It really does. The idea of saving people’s valuable time is something that is a core tendon of what we’re doing at DataClay.
Larry Jordan: Now, the name of the product that you’ve created is called what?
Arie Stavchansky: Templater.
Larry Jordan: And what’s the retail price?
Arie Stavchansky: The retail price is $119.99 and it’s on sale right now through September 15th for $89.99.
Larry Jordan: And what software does Templater work in?
Arie Stavchansky: It works in Adobe After Effects.
Larry Jordan: Ok, so basically you’re creating your ad in After Effects and then you can use Templater as a plug-in to be able to access external databases and customize not just the text, but the look, the feel, the animation of the movie itself, correct?
Arie Stavchansky: Yes, that’s right and just to clarify, at the moment Templater’s supporting, the database is Google Spreadsheets. We are the only tool on the market right now that is harnessing Google’s web APIs for a different use. We think that’s extremely innovative. Setting up a database for something as simple as exploring somebody’s first name, last name and email address, let’s say, is quite complicated. So we’ve kind of used an open database, if you will, and that database is simply a spreadsheet and it’s easy to start up, it’s easy to insert data, it’s easy to edit data.
Arie Stavchansky: What’s nice also is that the database exists in the cloud. So you can have a production company who’s just reading a spreadsheet that is edited by an ad agency or a marketer in a different part of the world.
Larry Jordan: Hmm. Arie, where can people go on the web to learn more about this software?
Arie Stavchansky: They can go to dataclay.io and we’ve got a really nice one minute overview video about why this was made, what’s the purpose, who it’s for, that kind of stuff.
Larry Jordan: And Arie Stavchansky is the founder of DataClay. The website is dataclay.io. Arie, thanks for joining us today.
Arie Stavchansky: Thank you, Larry. Pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Larry Jordan: Our pleasure. Take care. Bye bye.
Arie Stavchansky: Thank you. Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Stefanie Mullen is an artist with a wide portfolio of paintings and a wide variety of media. She also runs the business side of Rampant Design Tools, which is about as far from oil painting as you can get. Hello Stefanie, welcome.
Stefanie Mullen: Hi Larry, hi Mike, it’s nice to be here.
Mike Horton: Hi Stefanie.
Larry Jordan: We are delighted to meet the power behind the throne, as Mike likes to say, of the person that runs Rampant Design Tools. It’s good to have you with us.
Stefanie Mullen: Oh, it’s great to be here. It really is.
Mike Horton: You run a good company.
Stefanie Mullen: Oh, thank you.
Larry Jordan: I just want to know, what is an artist like you doing in a software company like that?
Stefanie Mullen: Well, it’s sort of a long story. I started out getting my degree in art and actually I have a degree in biology as well and…
Mike Horton: Wow.
Stefanie Mullen: It’s a very strange combination.
Mike Horton: Yes, that’s where you tell your parents, “Oh yes, biology and art.”
Stefanie Mullen: Yes. I think they were scratching their heads on that one for a little while, but it seemed to work out and then I met Sean and he’s big time into the video world. So he started Rampant and I was teaching at the time – teaching art and biology both at the same time – and I was noticing little things like he was getting overwhelmed, because he was working a full time job as well when we first started, and I started seeing little places that I could fit in. So I started listening to him on his customer service calls and was like, “Ah, maybe I should take over doing that.”
Stefanie Mullen: So that’s sort of how it started and then from customer service I sort of went into learning how to do web coding and website design, because I found that I really liked it, and then started adding accounting and then product development. It evolved into this place for me in the company, so it’s kind of been an interesting journey.
Larry Jordan: He’s not doing anything, then, is he?
Mike Horton: Yes, Sean doesn’t do anything.
Stefanie Mullen: No, he works very, very, very hard. I’m sort of the ying to his yang. I do the other half of the business side and he does all the creative stuff, so it’s a great partnership that we have.
Larry Jordan: I can believe that. I want to come back to Rampant in a minute, but I want to first talk about the art that sort of got you started. What kind of art do you like?
Stefanie Mullen: I really like Impressionism. It’s probably my favorite genre of art. The only difference is that I don’t paint like that. I’m very meticulous when it comes to painting and I try to get freer and, as my art career has progressed, it hasn’t really worked out so well. I get too concerned about little details and the little things that you paint and stuff, but I really like Impressionism and one day I hope to get there with my painting.
Larry Jordan: When did you start painting?
Stefanie Mullen: I have actually done art since I can remember. I haven’t ever start/stopped, pretty much. I got really into painting in college, because you have to pick a specialty that you like to do and that got me going and I was like, “Oh, I really like this oil painting,” and I tried acrylic and watercolor and stuff but I really like oils because they don’t dry fast. So then my meticulous side comes out where I can put washes, and different colors together and bung them together on the canvas and it works out.
Mike Horton: Did your interest in biology at all influence your art? Or was it just something that you decided, “Oh, I’d better do this in case the art thing doesn’t work out”?
Stefanie Mullen: Actually, it did. I thought about going into textbook design at one time and doing illustrations for textbooks. I love science and I was going to go be a doctor and that just didn’t work out for me.
Mike Horton: Oh, really? Wow.
Stefanie Mullen: Yes, so I was on that path and then realized, well, no, I think I want do to this. Yes, that’s how my mind works. It’s a little crazy sometimes.
Mike Horton: You are a Renaissance woman. You’re just interested in everything.
Stefanie Mullen: I like a lot of stuff, yes.
Mike Horton: That’s cool. That’s great. That’s awesome.
Larry Jordan: Have you ever been able to exhibit any of your work? Have others been able to see it?
Stefanie Mullen: I haven’t. I don’t know if this sounds weird, but I’m a little scared to. I’ve never got the courage up to really put myself out there with my paintings, so my gallery is in my house and that’s where it’s stayed. I would love to get enough works up and have the courage to exhibit somewhere, but I just am not there yet. Hopefully one day.
Mike Horton: Are you hard on yourself? Is there anything in your house that is hanging on the walls now that you say, “This is really good”?
Stefanie Mullen: Not really. Everything I look at in the house I say, “I could do better. I could do that again and make it better.”
Mike Horton: Yes, ok. All right, yes.
Larry Jordan: Every artist I’ve ever met says they could make it better.
Mike Horton: Yes, sure. Sure.
Larry Jordan: That’s true of editors, it’s true, I suspect…
Mike Horton: I’ve never met anybody who said, “This is really good. This is just the best. I’m never going to part with it, I’m never going to sell it. This is genius.” No, I’ve never met any of those people.
Stefanie Mullen: Yes.
Larry Jordan: Mike and I, before the show starts, talk about acting from time to time and I ask Mike, “Has there ever been a chance you could make a performance better?” and he looks at me like I’m from another planet.
Mike Horton: Are you kidding?
Larry Jordan: Stefanie, you’re doing the creativity of art but you’re down in the nuts and bolts of getting a business to run. What does it take to make a creative business like Rampant Design Tools work?
Stefanie Mullen: I think the most important thing that we have is dedication and finding out that you have to be willing to sacrifice something that, well, that’s not what the customer wants so maybe I think something different but the customer wants this, so that’s the way I should make it. It’s just, I don’t know, a system of balances where you have to kind of figure out how things should work, I guess.
Larry Jordan: But Steve Jobs had a very interesting quote a few years ago where he said, “Customers don’t know what they want if you ask them until you show them what it is.” At what point do you follow what customers want versus give customers what they need?
Stefanie Mullen: That’s a very good point and actually Sean and I have had many conversations about that point exactly, about his quote, and it’s a very difficult line to lock. We have a beta team and we love to listen to them, but when it comes down to it, it’s still our decision and we have to do what’s best for the company and it gets very difficult. I handle the customer service side, so I actually get the emails of people saying, “Well, why did you do that?” or “Why did you have that many clips?” or “Why don’t you have enough clips?”
Stefanie Mullen: There’s always something somebody has to say but at the end of the day it’s us, it’s Sean and I, and we have to make the tough decisions. So I guess I kind of agree with Steve Jobs. You have to be the one to say, “This is how it is, take it or leave it.”
Mike Horton: Yes, I agree. People need to be shown, not necessarily led but…
Stefanie Mullen: Yes.
Mike Horton: …and that’s up to you and, of course, that’s what Sean does, at least as far as I know. I see his stuff and it’s just absolutely brilliant and I’m a big fan of his. So your customer relationships must be pretty good because you guys do good work.
Stefanie Mullen: Well, thank you. Yes, it’s fun. We listen to our customers and we love their input and we like to give people who are on the frontline who need a certain product or a certain effect. We like to hear that because then Sean can say, “Hmm, well let me figure out how I can see what I can do with that and help that customer out,” and then it turns out to be one of our biggest products.
Mike Horton: Cool. That’s awesome.
Larry Jordan: Also, you and Sean are both artists, each in your own way. How do you resolve creative differences?
Stefanie Mullen: It’s tough sometimes, but most of the time we talk it out to each other and we sort of see both sides and then we come to a middle ground as far as what it should be. But I trust him 100 percent when it comes to video because I don’t really have that extensive knowledge in the video world and the video background world. He’ll ask me, “Does this newsletter look good?” or “Does this advertisement look good?” and I can help with the artistic stuff of that, but he has a great artistic mind, like you said, and he doesn’t need a lot of help for that. So everything that he gives me, I’m usually like, “That’s fantastic,” and he’s like, “No, it needs more work,” and I’m like, “No, it looks great.”
Larry Jordan: I was just reflecting, art is taking a step back and trying to represent reality in new ways and running a business is very mechanical. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, but the two of them require an entirely different mindset. Does your background in art help in running a business or does it get in the way?
Stefanie Mullen: It doesn’t necessarily get in the way. It doesn’t necessarily help either for what I do. The only thing that I can say that helps me is from being a teacher and my teacher background. That helps me talk to people. When I talk to my customers, I understand where they’re coming from and dealing with high school kids, you get a lot of that understanding, you learn that really fast.
Stefanie Mullen: Besides that, my art background, for what I do with accounting and sometimes web design it comes out, but most of the time it is very technical. I’m an analytical thinker, so I kind of think that works and that’s the only reason why it works. If I was strictly a painter and not anything else, I think that it would be really difficult for me especially.
Larry Jordan: So is it the analytical thinking that you find the most helpful? Or what personal skills do you have that you find most helpful in running the business?
Stefanie Mullen: Yes, I would definitely say the analytical thinking is top of that because it allows me to process everything and get everything organized and ready for Sean to do some kind of big shoot. I organize everything else and big shows, trade shows that we do, I have to organize all of that stuff. So all of that analytical, getting everything in place really helps out and keeps us going forward and not going backward.
Larry Jordan: One of the challenges that a lot of artists have is trying to separate themselves from their art to running a business and a lot of folks have a hard time making that shift. What would you advise in that case?
Stefanie Mullen: I think if you have art and you’re running a business, you should combine them in some way. You have to love what you do and if you’re not loving what you do, then your business isn’t going to be successful. Sean, his creative mind blows me away most of the time. It’s crazy and he loves what he does, so that’s why we’re successful. If you don’t have the other half, like if you don’t have a ‘me’ in your corner doing the analytical stuff, find someone who can do that.
Stefanie Mullen: Find someone whose skill set is that so you don’t have to lose your creativity, because I don’t think that that’s a good thing. You should keep that and that’s going to make you be successful at what you do.
Mike Horton: Yes. You know creative people and you work with a lot of creative people and there’s a lot of creative people around our lives and we’re not that compromising. We don’t like to compromise. I mean, obviously there are people like you who can do that, or maybe fake it really well, I don’t know. People who are very good with customer relations, as you obviously are, is there a little bit of faking it going on?
Stefanie Mullen: Yes, there is.
Mike Horton: Sure, ok, good.
Stefanie Mullen: It’s like you’re acting. When you get off the phone, the words that you say after the phone call may not necessarily be the words that you said on the phone call.
Mike Horton: Ok, good. Good, I’m glad you’re normal.
Stefanie Mullen: Yes.
Larry Jordan: By the way, we have our live chat running and Harold on the live chat says that you, Stefanie, are being humble because you are great with your customers.
Mike Horton: I’m not. Well, I don’t have customers, I just have relationships. My usual reaction is, “Bite me.”
Larry Jordan: Thank you, Michael, you can be quiet now.
Mike Horton: Thank you. Go ahead, Larry.
Larry Jordan: You have a fan on the live chat.
Mike Horton: You’ve got the next question.
Larry Jordan: What do you find is the biggest challenge of running a small company?
Stefanie Mullen: That’s a tough question. I think finding the time to do it all is the hardest thing. I just think that there’s not enough hours in the day, and sleep is so important and it’s so difficult to get everything that you want to do to feel successful in that day. That’s the hardest thing, plus you’re doing it all by yourself, so you’re really in control of it all. If you fail, if you succeed, it’s on you, so I think that’s probably the hardest thing to keep going. It’s really difficult.
Larry Jordan: So how do you pick yourself up and give yourself the energy you need?
Stefanie Mullen: Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes a vacation is necessary to reboot and come back clean and fresh to get a new look and new perspective. But Sean and I try to keep each other up and we try to complement each other and keep everything going so that we can keep Rampant moving forward and that’s how we do it, but it’s very difficult. It’s a very difficult thing.
Mike Horton: Yes, it takes a lot of discipline because it is you. You’re not working for somebody else. There’s nobody hitting you with the whip, “Where’s that next pay check coming from?” It is you. It’s an enormous amount of discipline.
Larry Jordan: What are you looking forward to in the next 12 months? What goals have you set for yourself that you can share?
Stefanie Mullen: Well, basically for Rampant, we’re just trying to build Rampant. We’re still new, we’re only four years old and that’s still relatively new for the business world. So for us it’s just keep doing what we’re doing with our products, and keep pushing forward, and meeting people, meeting you, meeting Mike, and it’s just the relationships and branching out for people to know who we are.
Stefanie Mullen: I think we as Rampant, we look like a big corporation but we’re really just a husband and wife team trying to make it and doing what we love. In the next 12 months, I just hope we’re bigger than we are right now.
Larry Jordan: I can identify completely with that sentiment.
Mike Horton: Do we have time for this question here? ‘Cause this is a good one.
Larry Jordan: Absolutely.
Mike Horton: I know Sean is listening somewhere. This is from Caesar in our chat. How long does it take to start and complete a new animation? Let’s just take a typical one.
Stefanie Mullen: For a clip, like a clip for a product?
Larry Jordan: No, let’s say a title that you release.
Stefanie Mullen: So a whole product, right?
Larry Jordan: Yes.
Stefanie Mullen: For example, we’re coming out with a new toolkit – it’s going to be a distortion toolkit – and we’ve been working on that one for about three, four months. But we’ve previously released flares and that took us eight months to finalize.
Mike Horton: Oh, flares are brilliant. Oh, they’re amazing.
Stefanie Mullen: Oh, thank you. We have lenses from Germany and things that I’ve never, they look like spaceships to me when they’re on the camera. They’re crazy but we spent so much time on that. So I guess it just depends on what’s being done and that artist in both of us is like, “Well, it’s not quite finished yet. Let’s just do a little bit more.” But I think eight months has been our longest that we’ve created. Usually it’s between three and four months.
Mike Horton: That’s discipline.
Larry Jordan: Yes, and I can just say that the discussions, “You want to buy what to make this thing happen?”
Mike Horton: Yes, exactly.
Larry Jordan: “When did you need it by?” Oh, I can just imagine. How do you guys manage to talk to each other when you’re working and living together?
Mike Horton: Oh, I know.
Larry Jordan: You’ve got to be near killing each other by Saturday.
Stefanie Mullen: Well, we actually aren’t. We really work well together. I’m sort of the grip for Sean. He just tells me what to do, because I don’t know a lot of the camerawork stuff, and he’s like, “Put this here, put this light here,” and it just works. I don’t know how it works.
Mike Horton: Well, you do all the tutorials, like the Final Cut Pro 10 tutorials and some of that on the site, right?
Stefanie Mullen: Yes I do.
Mike Horton: They’re excellent. They’re fun, they’re entertaining. They impart the stuff that you need to impart. You do a great job.
Stefanie Mullen: Oh, thank you very much. I enjoy doing those. I feel like that’s a little bit of my teaching coming out there.
Mike Horton: Well, you’re obviously very good at it and you’re also very good behind a microphone.
Larry Jordan: She just thinks about teaching grade school kids and that’s perfect for many of us, I think.
Mike Horton: You just need to have the Larry Jordan voice.
Larry Jordan: Yes, well, I think that’s going to be more tough.
Mike Horton: That’s what I’m working on. I’m working on the Larry Jordan voice.
Larry Jordan: What’s the next big project?
Stefanie Mullen: Right now, distortion toolkit and after that I’m not sure. I haven’t been clued in on what’s next in Sean’s great mind, so I’m sure that’ll be coming.
Mike Horton: Yes, well, I’m sure it’ll be something wonderful.
Stefanie Mullen: Yes, I’m sure it’ll be something great.
Larry Jordan: For people who want to learn more about Rampant Design Tools, where can they go on the web to learn what you guys have got to offer?
Stefanie Mullen: They can go to rampantdesigntools.com and they’ll find everything there, on the top link the tutorials and training and we have a bunch of free stuff as well.
Larry Jordan: That’s rampantdesigntools.com and, Stefanie, do you allow people to make suggestions on cool stuff they’d like to have you create?
Stefanie Mullen: Yes we do. You can send me an email. You can do it through the website and send me all your suggestions. I really do keep them, I really do listen and I tell Sean and we have a database of stuff that customers want and what we’d like to create.
Mike Horton: George in the chat – quickly, because we don’t have much time – but he is suggesting live training off your site, so consider that.
Stefanie Mullen: Ah, that is very interesting.
Mike Horton: Why not? You can do it better. Don’t worry about the competition, just do it better.
Stefanie Mullen: There you go.
Larry Jordan: Stefanie, thanks very much for joining us. Stefanie Mullen is the CFO, web designer and chief trainer of Rampant Design Tools. Stefanie, it’s been wonderful visiting. Thanks for joining us today.
Stefanie Mullen: Oh, thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure to be here.
Mike Horton: Thanks a lot.
Larry Jordan: Take care. Bye bye.
Stefanie Mullen: Bye.
Larry Jordan: You know, it’s got to be fun when you’ve got such incredibly gifted people and gifted things to work with that Stefanie’s got, to be able to market it, but it’s still a huge amount of work.
Mike Horton: Yes, I tend to get a little gushy over Rampant Design, but I love their stuff. So if I love their stuff, I’m going to tell everybody who is listening. They make really good stuff and I had no idea that Stefanie actually wrote and produced and did all the tutorials, but they’re really good. It’s not just the tools of Rampant Design, it’s a website you should go to if you want to learn particular products and their tutorials that Stefanie does are terrific.
Larry Jordan: Well, you know, I was also impressed with her comment that in order to make a small business succeed takes dedication and I just look at you, for instance…
Mike Horton: Well, look at you.
Larry Jordan: …with all the stuff that you do.
Mike Horton: Yes, me. No, look at you. My God.
Larry Jordan: It’s either dedication or stupidity, Michael, in terms of putting all the stuff you put together on.
Mike Horton: Yes, let’s interview each other one day and talk about what it takes to run a business.
Larry Jordan: I’m not sure anybody else would be interested.
Mike Horton: Yes, I subscribe to the Larry Jordan school of business. This is why you and I live in each other’s house. But you’ve got more content.
Larry Jordan: Yes, well, I think there’s a certain level of foolhardiness involved in starting your own business.
Mike Horton: Yes, but gosh, Larry, you and I are just so happy.
Larry Jordan: Most of the time, every so often, once in a while I think that’s absolutely true.
Mike Horton: We’re just married to very, very good women.
Larry Jordan: Very forgiving, that’s for sure.
Mike Horton: We trust their judgment.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests for today. We started with Peter Hamilton, a marketing and business development consultant working…
Mike Horton: Oh, we’ve got to have him back on. I want to talk to him much more.
Larry Jordan: He does a great job. He’s been on before, he’ll be on again.
Mike Horton: Ok.
Larry Jordan: Dr Arie Stavchansky, the founder of DataClay, talking about Templater; and Stefanie Mullen, the COO, CFO and chief trainer of Rampant Design Tools.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot happening at The Buzz between shows and it’s all posted to our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com. You can visit with us on Twitter, @DPBuZZ, and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Music on The Buzz is provided by SmartSound; The Buzz is streamed by wehostmax.com. Text transcripts are provided by Take 1 Transcription. You can email us at email@example.com.
Larry Jordan: Our producer, Cirina Catania, our engineer Adrian Price. On behalf of the ever-handsome and affable Mr. Mike Horton…
Mike Horton: And wine by Jane.
Larry Jordan: …my name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.
Mike Horton: Goodbye, everybody.
Larry Jordan: Take care.
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