Maxim Jago, Director, MaximJago.com
Sarah Meister, Hardware, Design and Technology Outreach Manager, Indiegogo
Martin Simmons, Owner, Apprise Video Productions & Photography
David Ciccarelli, CEO and Founder, Voices.com
Greg Fornero, Vice President of Distribution, Postworks New York
James DeRuvo, Senior Writer, DoddleNEWS
Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz, we look at the business behind the business; producing, funding, management and distribution. We start with Producer Maxim Jago, who describes what it takes to be a successful film producer and what he looks for in picking a project. Next, Sarah Meister is the Outreach Manager for Hardware, Design and Technology for Indiegogo. Tonight, she explains why producers should consider crowd funding their next project.
Larry Jordan: Next, Martin Simmons is the owner of Apprise Video Productions. Tonight, we talk with him about running a company of one; the challenges of getting business and, more importantly, getting paid for the business. Next, David Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and CEO of voices.com. They are an online marketplace for producers and voice actors. Tonight, we discuss the challenges of starting a new business.
Larry Jordan: Next, Greg Fornero is the Vice-President of Distribution for Postworks Digital. They specialize in creating DCP packages for filmmakers releasing their films into theaters. Tonight, Greg explains what DCP packages are and common mistakes producers make, when it comes time to create them. All this, plus James DeRuvo with our weekly doddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.
Male Voiceover: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking. Authoritative: One show serves a worldwide network of media professionals. Current: Uniting industry experts. Production: Filmmakers. Post-production: And content creators around the planet. Distribution: From the media capital of the world, in Los Angeles, California, the Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to the Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry. Covering media production, post-production and marketing around the world. Hi, my name is Larry Jordan. Tonight, we decided to go behind the scenes, to look at the business of running a creative business. This idea came to us as we were covering all the new products introduced or released at IBC. We realized that, unless a business is successful as a business, all the creativity in the world is not going to allow them to buy new gear, or even survive in the future.
Larry Jordan: So tonight, we look at the entire workflow, from getting an idea for a project; through funding; managing the business and finally; releasing our project into distribution. By the way, I want to invite you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Every issue, every week, provides quick links to all the different segments on the show; plus articles of interest to filmmakers. Best of all, every issue is free and comes out on Saturday.
Larry Jordan: Now it’s time for our doddleNEWS update with James DeRuvo. Hello James.
James DeRuvo: Hello Larry, I’m rested and tanned and back from San Francisco.
Larry Jordan: You know, that was an exciting GoPro event last week, I’m really curious to see especially how the Karma drone does.
James DeRuvo: It was really a great event, we got to see what the Fusion can do now; it’s evolved into over capture being the main tool for the camera. The brand new Hero Six has some remarkable HDR features, a brand new GP1 processor and, with the firmware update for the GoPro Karma, you have a brand new drone that’s smarter, does more. It was a great event.
Larry Jordan: But James, that was last week’s news.
James DeRuvo: That was last week’s news.
Larry Jordan: Forget that, what have we got this week?
James DeRuvo: Well, 8K may be closer than we think. Even though you can record in 8K, using a Red Weapon and several emerging new cameras, this year at CES may be the first time we get a widespread showing off of 8K TVs, as manufacturers seek to lure us back to the showroom. Problems though are that there’s a lack of 8K content; we’re barely getting 4K content now and that’s not going to change any time soon. Plus, most people honestly won’t see a difference.
Larry Jordan: See, that’s my big point, does 8K really make sense from a viewer’s perspective?
James DeRuvo: You know, not really. The simple fact is, Larry, that we’re running into limits; not of the technology, mind you; that seems to operate on a sky’s the limit philosophy. But the limits are of our own biology. Most people simply can’t see the difference when sitting at the average viewing distance. It was also the same issues that we experienced making the transition from 1080p to 4K. Users will either have to have TVs that are larger than 70 inches and, I mean, 100 inches; or sit so close to the TV that it’s a danger to their vision. I’m just of the mind that 8K will be a source of archival format for the next several years.
Larry Jordan: Yes, personally I don’t see the benefit to 8K. We’re right on the edge of being able to see the benefit of 4K.
James DeRuvo: Yes. The problem that they had with 4K TV sales at the very beginning was, most people, including myself, I still have a 1080p TV, because it’s good enough. I mean, I love my 1080p TV. It’s got rich blacks; it’s a great TV. Yes, 8K not going to happen.
Larry Jordan: Alright, so that’s 8K. What’s next.
James DeRuvo: Intel today announced their brand new Coffee Lake processors; a core i7-8700K, i7-8700, i5-8600K, i5-8400 and then a couple of models that are i3 capable. But these are completely different core i7, i5 and i3s from previous generations; brand new processors. The i7s run with up to six cores and 12 threads, the i5s will run up to six cores and six threads; unfortunately, if you buy an i3 which, let’s face it, you and I both know that nobody listening to this show’s buying an i3, they’re running out of fixed clock speed and can’t jump up into turbo.
Larry Jordan: So, do you think this is Intel’s response to the highly reviewed AMD CPUs?
James DeRuvo: Oh it’s definitely a response to the AMD rise in processors; which were AMD’s attempt to respond to Intel’s news i9 shipped set. So it looks like we’re knee deep in another processor war Larry and we’re the benefactors. One downside though is that the Intel processors are not backwards compatible and, as such, users will also have to upgrade their motherboards and if you’re a Windows 10 user, you know that that means a brand new copy of Windows, that you’ll have to buy with the new entitlement scheme Larry.
Larry Jordan: Okay, so that’s Intel’s latest CPU chips, what else have you got?
James DeRuvo: Well, Adobe has announced an update to their Adobe Premier elements and their Adobe Photoshop element software and they’ll be on an annual update cycle from now on. That means that Adobe Premier elements will be known as Premier Elements 2018 and Photoshop elements will be Photoshop Elements 2018. With new features that include the ability to insert eyes into still subjects who close their eyes in a picture. You know you have that great picture of everybody in the group and one person’s got their eyes closed? You can now take the eyes out of another photo and insert them into the picture and it looks unbelievably natural; it’s a really great feature.
James DeRuvo: Then, on top of that, there’s going to be Candid Moments, where you’ll be able to punch out a still image from a 4K video and fisheye removal for your GoPro cameras and Smart Trim, which will be able to take the best moments out of clips; even the bad clips that you have no intention of using and assemble them into a quick edit for outputting and sharing with family and friends.
Larry Jordan: Who do you see as the market for this software?
James DeRuvo: Well, granted, Adobe Elements software isn’t for the first timer and the average consumer; but frankly, I think the YouTube set will like it, because it has a basic need for assemble editing and photo retouching; you get 80% of Creative Cloud; so you don’t need a subscription and I rather like it better than Creative Cloud for most quick and dirty projects, like my son’s band videos that I output every week of their performances. So I really do think that the Elements line is really good for the basic YouTube crowd Larry.
Larry Jordan: James, what other stories are you following this week?
James DeRuvo: Well, Apple seems to be having problems with their APFS update and iOS 11 is draining your battery like nobody’s business; so we’ll be following that over the next couple of days, to see how quickly they put out fixes.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to keep track of these and other stories on the web, where can they go?
James DeRuvo: All these stories and more can be found at doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the Senior Writer for doddleNEWS and joins us every week with our doddleNEWS update. James, thank you so very much.
James DeRuvo: Okay Larry, have a good weekend and thanks.
Larry Jordan: Here’s another website I want to introduce you to, doddlenews.com. doddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries. It’s a leading online resource, presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry. doddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platform, specifically designed for production.
Larry Jordan: These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings provide in-depth organizational tools for busy production professionals. doddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo Arts community, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers. From photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts and everything in between, Thalo is filled with the resources you need to succeed.
Larry Jordan: Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals, or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go, doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: Maxim Jago is a Film Director, a Screenwriter and an Author, who splits his time between filmmaking and speaking as a futurist; especially at events celebrating creativity. Hello Maxim, welcome.
Maxim Jago: Hello Larry, it’s great to be speaking with you again.
Larry Jordan: Today we’re talking about the business of being a business and I want to have you wear your producer hat. What makes for a successful producer; aside from a great script?
Maxim Jago: Wow, you know, for years I used to joke that it comes down to capacity to say no. As a director, I spend quite some time testing new potential producers, by asking them, first of all, could I have a 40 foot crane and the correct answer is no. Followed by, why do you need it? You know, you need to have some creative collaboration. The second question was, do you know what risk assessments are? Because, if they don’t shudder at the prospect of having to do another risk assessment, then they haven’t done enough risk assessments.
Maxim Jago: Ultimately, it comes down to realism; I’m an optimistic realist. I think good things happen, but I think you have to be totally realistic and if you’re planning a production, you’re looking at the costs, you’re looking at the budget that’s realistic for a project; when someone brings a project to you, sometimes it just doesn’t feel realistic. You know, we’re not going to have Close Encounters of the Third Kind, we’re not going to have spaceships blowing up on the horizon and all of that for a small indie budget, for example.
Maxim Jago: The people working in VFX will tell you, if we can imagine it we can do it and that is true; but you have that wholly unbreakable trinity of three things that you want; you know, you want it high quality, you want it quickly and you want it low cost and you can only have two. I think, when you’re looking at a project and, in fact, also when you’re looking at people to work with, you need to know where they fit into that.
Maxim Jago: David Lynch famously made his first really successful film, Eraserhead, over a period of about ten years, because the lead actor apparently didn’t have anything to do for ten years and every time they shot a bit more of the film, they would get him another haircut.
Maxim Jago: I think that realism about what you can achieve in a time, with the budget available and working on a project that’s worth making, is really how you break it down. You need to look at whether this is something you can achieve and whether it’s worth achieving.
Larry Jordan: Well let’s focus on that phrase worth making. How much should we view filmmaking as a profitmaking enterprise and how much of it is creative, which may or may not make a profit and, if our goal is to stay in business, how do we decide which to pick?
Maxim Jago: Wow, that’s a great question. I think that, there are two reasons why people make films; one is because we want to change people; we’re the bards of the modern age, using storytelling to make people feel, or understand things differently, and the other aspect of it is that we want to get paid.
Maxim Jago: Historically, you know, if you go to film school, you go to any of the lectures on filmmaking, the numbers are really, really big; but I’ve always felt that, actually, the measure is not whether you can become a millionaire, the measure is whether you can earn more than you would earn working in a post office, or a bank. If you can earn enough money from filmmaking to sustain yourself, then that is this concept of sustainable filmmaking. As long as you can earn enough to pay you and pay everybody else and prep for the next one and the next one and the next one and the next one, you’ve got a business; you know, that’s you surviving as a filmmaker.
Maxim Jago: I think, now that the distribution landscape is so directly accessible to people, not for the big budget tent-pole movies; those are always going to be dominated by the organizations big enough to manage them; that has to be dominated by an organization that owns the screens, that it has access to the talent and the marketing budget and all of that and they do it amazingly well. You’re not going to compete with them. But what you can do is produce content that lots of people want to see, that you can make available to them and you can really answer that call that Kevin Spacey talked about some time ago, that you give people what they want; in good quality; at a price that’s reasonable and they will pay for it. Now we’re seeing more and more people producing web series this way.
Maxim Jago: But I do think that there’s demand for distribution of short films and feature films and certainly working at filmdoo.com, we’ve got about 600 feature films that we distribute; but we’re also taking shorts now and we’re seeing greater and greater demand; interestingly, not for individual shorts, which is a huge marketing exercise, but for curated batches of shorts. There’s demand for those. As I think we’ve discussed before, curation is key and, ultimately, curation for your paying audience is about marketing. How can you find them and let them know your content exists.
Larry Jordan: Just talking about marketing opens up a huge new kettle of fish that we’ll talk about for another time. But one last question while you’re wearing your producer hat. What do you look for when you take on a project?
Maxim Jago: I think, like a lot of people working in the media, I’m rather unrealistic and idealistic and romantic. You know, it’s like looking at a great landscape, or an amazing painting, or a fantastic dancer, something inside of you reacts and it’s not rational, it’s not logical. You know, I’m not in the business of making millions through managing multiple media and multiple demographics, I’m in the business of telling stories that excite me. I think that you begin with that excitement and then, having felt something, you have to trust that other people will feel something too. Once you’ve got hold of that, the rest of it is the logistics, the planning, the negotiations, the contract law, the copyright; all that yada yada that we have to do. That’s the work, that’s the craft. But the craft is in the service of the art, you have to feel that it’s something that excites you.
Maxim Jago: We’re working on a project at the moment that’s a short film. Beautiful. Everybody who reads the script just says, oh my God, you know, I want to work on this. None of us are going to make any money out of it, but we feel that we’re going to make a difference with it. Again, I think you have to be realistic about the kind of project you’re working on and what your goals are for it and once you’ve identified it, just go for it. You know, there’s that beautiful quote, when people tell you what you’re doing is impossible; don’t waste your energy correcting them, just show them and I think you have to do that with media production.
Larry Jordan: It’s impossible until it’s done.
Maxim Jago: Exactly. I think Einstein said something like that.
Larry Jordan: Maxim, for people that want to keep track of you and your projects, where can they go on the web?
Maxim Jago: Maximjago.com is a good place to start at.
Larry Jordan: Maxim Jago himself is the voice you’ve been listening to, and Maxim, thanks for joining us today.
Maxim Jago: Thank you very much.
Larry Jordan: Sarah Meister is the Manager of Hardware, Technology and Design at Indiegogo. She’s been working in crowd funding for several years and, before that, her experience includes work in post-production and live TV, freelance public relations, ecommerce, social media and marketing. Hello Sarah, welcome.
Sarah Meister: Hi, happy to be here.
Larry Jordan: Sarah, tonight we’re looking at the business of filmmaking. I mean, once we pick a project, we need to get it funded. How can Indiegogo help us fund our next film?
Sarah Meister: There are so many places to start there. You know, Indiegogo works with people, entrepreneurs, filmmakers across all different protocols and the same rules apply to everybody; no matter what you’re crowd funding, you’re really needing to kind of emphasize the crowd before you take any action. Who are the people that are the main audience for your film; where do they go to sign up for newsletters, to find out about information?
Sarah Meister: Just starting with the crowd from the very get go and really kind of imbuing every step that you take in preparation to a crowd funding campaign, with the crowd kind of at the center, is the best, most successful measure I think a campaigner can take. Especially with film, because, from past experience, films can kind of, on the surface, seem to have an audience there; but sometimes audiences will really surprise you and the more you go investigating into the nooks and crannies of where to find people, they might even help you end up making creative decisions about your project; to enhance it, or make it that much more special for viewers that don’t find out about a campaign in the long run.
Larry Jordan: Well does crowd funding actually work; or is it really just for really, really, really, really low budget projects?
Sarah Meister: Crowd funding actually works. You know, we have million dollar campaigns on the site now, there have been films that have raised millions of dollars. I myself personally worked on the Joan Didion documentary that was just bought by Netflix and is premiering in New York, I believe, next week. You know, I think crowd funding is something that is extraordinary for filmmaking.
Sarah Meister: The second Super Troopers movie was made possible through Indiegogo; it’s going to really have an insane splash when it goes into the theaters, also very soon. It’s a little bit more public process than I think a lot of filmmakers that are seasoned are familiar with and it’s created a new separate rulebook for people.
Sarah Meister: While someone might have a group of investor friends that can invest in their film, if crowd funding is done correctly, people can kind of keep more of the reins of the creative control and steer the project to the places where they really want to see it go. I know that really appeals to a lot of artists.
Larry Jordan: I want to talk about the process of crowd funding in a moment; but before I do, what’s your role with Indiegogo?
Sarah Meister: My role is I’m the Outreach Manager of Hardware, Technology and Design; so I work with hardware campaigners that are creating new and innovative products, that are hitting the market and somewhat disrupting maybe sleep technology or, you know, fitness technology; you name it. I love working with people that have cool and interesting new devices for the kitchen, to cook a perfect egg. The way I got to this point was by working across all verticals, as the second in command at a small agency for a few years, prior to joining Indiegogo, where I’ve been about a year now.
Larry Jordan: Let’s say that we’re a filmmaker; just because that’s where we’re focused today; but let’s say we’re a filmmaker that wants to get their next film funded. Is there a review process that Indiegogo uses, or do you just post everything that comes in?
Sarah Meister: People can launch a campaign without a review from Indiegogo. Indiegogo is almost about ten years old and with launching with companies like Google, with an emphasis in openness and transparency and letting people kind of post what they want to post, without there being regulation or control from the platform. In terms of like the history of Silicon Valley’s influence in tech and development, you know, Indiegogo has a really special place.
Sarah Meister: Some of our competing platforms are focused predominantly in a review process; you know, you have to have a full campaign page review, before you can hit publish. However, Indiegogo, they do recommend trying to get in touch with someone who specifies in the specific area that you’re launching in; so for films, we’ve got an amazing Head of Films, his name’s Marc Hofstatter; he’s an amazing person to reach out to, to see, hey, what could I be doing a little bit differently with my campaign? What should I know? What are the dos and don’ts. Or, hey, I have a budget and I want to market this campaign really smartly, who should I talk to and what are the things that have been successful for people in the past; like the Super Troopers?
Sarah Meister: Everyone on the Outreach team at Indiegogo, across verticals, is really specialized in knowing how to advise people in exactly how to execute a campaign. We also have an education center on Indiegogo, in the entrepreneur kind of section of site and that is the best piece of advice I could give; just going and immersing yourself in all of the resources that our team have put together, over the course of, you know, watching just thousands and hundreds of thousands of campaigns launch on the platform.
Sarah Meister: Indiegogo has raised over a billion dollars since it came, you know, ten years ago and it has over 12,000 campaigns launching every single month; so it’s really, really vital that campaigners are going and immersing themselves in the resources and learning as much about how to differentiate themselves from others on the site before launching. The only kind of review process that exists is one that I heavily encourage, send your campaign to your friends, your loved ones and ideally send it to someone at Indiegogo, to see if you can get a review before going live; just in terms of feedback.
Sarah Meister: Otherwise, you’re good to go, there’s a green light, you can post whatever you want. It’s sometimes not a good thing, but you can post.
Larry Jordan: Well that gets to, I think, a huge issue, the online community itself is grappling with the whole issue of fake news. How do we know that something that’s on Indiegogo was legitimate?
Sarah Meister: I think that they have the means to actually ask the campaigner themselves and to kind of dig a little bit. We have a very open policy; but that doesn’t mean that we can’t take a campaign down if it seems to cross a line for the community. We’ve actually found that the community is extremely helpful in ways that a website or a platform can’t really fully be on two legs. We’ll have people point out to us when they think a project is not feasible at all; or that the person hasn’t delivered a perk; or it’s been two years since they’ve even communicated with anyone.
Sarah Meister: That’s actually stuff we love to know, because, it means that the community is really involved and the community’s happiness and their trust in the platform is the most important thing to us. We want to make sure everyone’s having a really good experience. Our team has actually gotten very good at identifying those campaigners, when they’re live, before the campaign ends and they actually shut campaigns like that down and refund everyone, as soon as a red flag is raised and they can prove it.
Larry Jordan: This is a philosophical question. How do you balance Silicon Valley for open speech, with the increasing interest of people in abusing that? I’m thinking Facebook’s challenges with trying to figure out how to keep Facebook open and yet shut down fake news and defamatory remarks.
Sarah Meister: I think that the really important question and that’s kind of the generation that we’re in right now and it’s happening with Google too. Their partners and sponsors are incredibly disappointed sometimes when an ad goes up with a video that they don’t agree with themselves or, you know, their client doesn’t agree with; so, you know, it is a delicate balance. I think that, in this era of transparency and this era of openness, a lot of the ideals need to be given a deeper look and I think regulation is out there to protect people. As you’ve seen, Facebook and Google and other sites in Silicon Valley are absolutely embracing the fact that they have a responsibility to that.
Sarah Meister: I’m constantly impressed with the team that we have, you know, we have a very, very impressive group that is really cracking down on people that see crowd funding as an opportunity to take money from others. We’re really doing a reverse Robin Hood, you know; making sure that people don’t have money taken from them; especially in an era where every dollar counts to the average family and, you know, we really value that.
Larry Jordan: Why should someone consider Indiegogo and not Kickstarter?
Sarah Meister: That’s a great question. Indiegogo is not the all or nothing model; so, if a campaigner has a $20,000 goal and they raise $17,000, they will get to keep that $17,000 and they can raise an additional 3,000 through friends and family. Another reason is that, Indiegogo is an incredibly human platform; that means we have people across all verticals that are more than willing to talk and work with the campaigner along the process and make sure that they have their questions asked and questions answered.
Sarah Meister: The constant feedback I get about platforms, other than Indiegogo, is that that type of customer service doesn’t really exist beyond us. If you think that raising $20,000 is something that you might want to do, or maybe even raising $1,000,000, think about how important it would be to have someone that you can reach out to, who will actually answer your questions. Then I think the platform choice is extremely clear.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to learn more about Indiegogo, where can they go on the web?
Sarah Meister: They can head to indiegogo.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s indiegogo.com and Sarah Meister is the Outreach Manager of Hardware, Technology and Design for Indiegogo and, Sarah, thanks for joining us today.
Sarah Meister: Yes, that sounds great.
Larry Jordan: Martin Simmons is the owner of Apprise Video Productions and Photography, located near Pensacola, Florida. They are a full service video production house and a one man shop. Hello Martin, welcome.
Martin Simmons: Hello, greetings from LA, Lower Alabama.
Larry Jordan: A very good greeting from Los Angeles to you as well. Tell us about Apprise Video Productions, what do you guys do?
Martin Simmons: Well we started in 1989, I was doing freelance and I just kind of organized it into a company. Apprise means, to cause to know, to inform. Pensacola Mobile television market, Mobile Alabama combined, is a very small television market. Out of the 210 television markets, we’re 247th, very small, which means around here you do everything. I do everything but weddings; that’s the one thing we don’t do. Occasionally I shoot for Discovery Channel; not often enough. From that to video depositions.
Martin Simmons: In fact, today I had to be in three places at one time and, Larry, I can only be in two places comfortably at one time; I’ve got my regular guys that I call, that have their own gear. I had to do a video deposition and I had to be in a warehouse videoing a piece of an industrial video. It’s amazing how it’ll come all at the same time and then you’ll go days with nothing and that’s when you edit.
Larry Jordan: Tonight we’re focusing on running a creative business. What are the biggest challenges that you face, because you’re not in the world’s largest market?
Martin Simmons: It’s, like, I said, small. Getting business is somewhat of a challenge, not as much as you would think; because I’ve been out there long enough and my quality reputation is out there and I’m really involved in the Chamber of Commerce, really involved in politics; I get a lot of political business and just out there. I’m from here originally; I was in Nashville for a decade, but I’m from here originally; so that helps. Getting business isn’t a challenge, but getting paid and getting business that pays enough is probably the biggest challenge. It always comes down to money, it seems like.
Larry Jordan: Let’s focus on that for a second. One of the challenges for many small businesses is getting paid; so how do you make sure that you do get paid for your work?
Martin Simmons: You just have to keep asking and go back and keep sending invoices. Years ago I was reading a trade magazine and it said, we creative people would rather clip the dog’s toenails than to send out invoices and so, you know, just sometimes it’s just hard to get that business side going; but you have to, to survive. I could be creative all day and love it and never charge anybody anything and be happy as a lark; but the reality of the world is not that way.
Martin Simmons: Money, of course, is the exchange in the natural world, the medium of exchange. You just have to keep billing them. Larry, it’s very hard to leave a price on what I do in this market, because people call me from out of the market and the prices are so much higher in real cities, I don’t count Pensacola as a real city, and they’re so low here for locals; so it’s very difficult. Plus, people calling from out of town want specific gear, which I try to have; over the years I’ve tried to get that gear; but then people around here don’t even know what that gear is and they certainly don’t want to pay, you know, for that 40 foot crane like the earlier guy was talking about.
Larry Jordan: Many of his producers don’t want to pay for it either, so I understand what you mean. In brief, what advice would you give to other small shops, who are struggling right now? What can you do to reassure them that there’s hope and light at the end of the tunnel?
Martin Simmons: Well, if they’re in this market, they need to get into another profession and not compete with me. No, honestly, 15 years ago, when the Yellow Pages came out, there were 27 video production companies from the Pensacola Yellow Pages and that’s just bizarre. The next year there was five of us. The advice I would give is, with us quality is job one. I think we … 4K earlier, with the quality of video being, I used to love, I thought Betacam SP was the best it could possibly be. The last time I was in Atlanta, I saw high definition for the first time and I said, okay, Betacam SP is not the best.
Martin Simmons: Quality is job one; keep your quality up there and hopefully your customers will recognize it. Some of them don’t care about quality and that’s one of the biggest struggles I have is, the customers that don’t care about quality and I’ve invested, I don’t want to know how much money I’ve invested in equipment over the years for high quality; so I just let quality be the number one thing that they have. Because we’re competing with the companies that are producing video in Atlanta, in New Orleans and Orlando. We are in direct competition and although it’s a small market, if people call and want a certain camera that costs $100,000, that you have out in LA and I’ve seen them at NAB and lusted after them and that’s all I can do. We really can’t have that level of equipment, but what we can have is the quality as is possible within the budgets we have.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to hire you for their next gig, where can they go on the web?
Martin Simmons: Apprisevideo.com, or Martin @ Apprise video.
Larry Jordan: Apprisevideo.com and Martin Simmons is the owner of Apprise Video. Martin, thanks for joining us today, I enjoyed the chat.
Martin Simmons: Thank you Larry.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye-bye.
Larry Jordan: David Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and CEO of voices.com, which is the world’s largest website devoted to connecting producers with voice actors. Hello David, welcome.
David Ciccarelli: Hey Larry, thanks for having me on the show today.
Larry Jordan: How would you describe the company?
David Ciccarelli: Well exactly that, it’s what we call an online marketplace. We are predominantly connecting creative producers, ad agency creative directors and corporate executives in marketing departments. Anyone that needs that human voice to tell that story, we connect them with those professional voice actors. I’ve been doing so for the last good number of years, almost 12 years and having a lot of fun doing that; helping brands tell their story through the power of the human voice.
Larry Jordan: One of the things tonight’s show is focusing on is the challenges of running a creative business. What challenges did you face when you started your own company?
David Ciccarelli: Well, when we started, it was just Stephanie and I. Most entrepreneurs have either a sole proprietorship; meaning kind of a solo act, or they partner up with someone and so Stephanie is my Wife and we’re Co-Founders in the company as well.
David Ciccarelli: We faced a number of challenges, first and foremost being perceived as a husband and wife, kind of small mom and pop shop; when really we aspire to running a global marketplace, a website that really catered to the needs of the entire industry. That has some immediate consequences, which made things like funding and financing the company in its earliest days, which I’m sure resonates with everyone, that was a challenge.
David Ciccarelli: Lastly was just the name itself. We actually began called interactivevoices.com; it’s a bit of a mouthful. We felt Interactive just kind of pigeonholed us into doing new media, when voiceover is so much more broad than that. We went on a quest to change the name and were successful in acquiring the domain name voices.com and really kind of reaped the rewards of that; of having an online property that not only serves as a destination, but summarizes what we do, in a single word.
David Ciccarelli: I would encourage those people who are in business or thinking of starting one, with enough persistence and fortitude, you can certainly overcome those challenges as well.
Larry Jordan: You’ve been in business 12 years now. If you could go back to yourself knowing what you know now and giving him advice, what would you say at the start?
David Ciccarelli: I don’t know if regret maybe is too strong of a term, but I always think about, boy, I wish we acquired more customers early on. You know, this was the advent of Google’s Adwords platform, you know, the keyword based advertising. I wish we did that when the costs per click for an advertiser was something like ten cents and 25 cents on some of the most important keywords to us; now they’re like two, three, four, five dollars; just to get a single click; a single visitor to our website. I wish that we could have done more of that type of advertising earlier on, to bring people into our sphere of influence.
David Ciccarelli: Everything else you’ve got to view as, it’s a learning experience and kind of like being married and having kids and running a business, there’s no instruction manual, because every one of those relationships is so different. You can learn from someone else’s experiences, but, truthfully, you’ve got to have your own experience and be able to take a unique approach that works for you and your personality and your resources that you have available.
Larry Jordan: Next is a two part question. I did an online search for voices.com and turned up a number of extremely hostile reviews, especially in 2015-2016; how have those been resolved? The second part of the question is, how do you deal with such bad press?
David Ciccarelli: You know, it’s funny, every business is going to go through these phases. Sometimes, the industry that you moved into, there is some disruption along the way and I think that’s something that we’ve experienced firsthand that, in our earliest days, freelance voice actors were getting work and they were tremendously successful early on with us. As more people joined the platform, they really weren’t as successful as they once were.
David Ciccarelli: I think there’s a lot of concern around that, that this has become an industry that’s perceived as kind of too easy to get into and so we’ve had to recognize that, our position isn’t to set the rates of what the actors charge, or some of these other kind of policies, if you will. You know, we view ourselves as first and foremost a technology platform; our role is to connect the buyer and seller, in this case, the service that’s being provided is that of the voiceover; but, being true to us being a technology platform, I think, has really helped out.
David Ciccarelli: I would encourage businesses that maybe do face a negative experience of a customer or maybe in a group of customers, to try to engage in conversation; know where you stand on a number of issues, or whatever that kind of hot topic issue is. But it’s your responsibility to extend that olive branch out to another firm, or another organization, or industry association; which for us has actually been the Screen Actors Guild. We’ve actually had a number of phone calls, in person meetings in New York twice now and, you know, we were saying the other day, I’m like, isn’t that strange that one of our best relationships that we feel that we have right now is with the Screen Actors Guild; which is in some ways is the organizing body for the industry that has seen so much change since the advent of the internet.
David Ciccarelli: I think, again, this isn’t a one and done, we always say to the team here, you’re in it for the long haul. The way that the industry may have operated 20-30 years ago, versus how it is done digitally online now, I think that’s just reality and I think, you know, the internet presents more opportunities than threats. If you take that long view to your relationships, I do think that opinions can be changed over time; as long as you live out what you say you’re going to do.
Larry Jordan: For people that want more information about voices.com, where can they go on the web?
David Ciccarelli: Pretty straightforward. If you would like to post a job, looking for a voice actor, you can do so on voices.com. You can create an account for free and even post a job for free and then the talent bid on the work and quote on it and you can hire them through the platform and even receive those broadcast quality audio recording files. I would encourage you to do so.
Larry Jordan: That website is voices.com and David Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and CEO of voices.com. David, thanks for joining us today.
David Ciccarelli: Okay, thanks so much Larry.
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Larry Jordan: Greg Fornero is the Vice-President of Distribution at Postworks Digital; which is a New York based post house. Greg has been involved in digital theater, specifically creating DCP packages for filmmakers for more than ten years. Hello Greg, welcome.
Greg Fornero: Hello Larry.
Larry Jordan: Tonight we’re looking at the business of movie making and, in your case, I want to talk about distribution. The whole point of creating a movie is to show it to an audience, so to start, what advice can you give on getting a project released theatrically? What does a producer need to do?
Greg Fornero: I think that they would probably want to make sure that they know what mediums they’re aiming at, before they go about making all the content. Specifically for theaters, they want to make sure that they understand requirements the DCP has. One of the common mistakes that comes up is, people will record things in frame rates that aren’t easily transferable to the DCP frame rate of 24.0.
Greg Fornero: They’ll also want to make sure that the source material that they create is something that can easily be used to create a DCP; or, can easily be transferred to something to create a DCP; usually … or, if you have a little bit more of a budget, DPX files that can be easily be converted to TIFs; that can be converted to DCPs from there; that kind of a thing.
Larry Jordan: Is DCP actually an image sequence?
Greg Fornero: Yes, it’s a series of images wrapped together in what’s called an MXF wrapper and they each play frame by frame; there’s no transitionary data, the way you would have like with MPEG. Each frame is its own image all the way through. For a DCP they use a JPEG 2000 is the format for the image.
Larry Jordan: You made an interesting comment. You say, before we even start production, we need to know what we’re delivering for distribution. Is that what you meant?
Greg Fornero: Correct. When you’re making decisions about how you’re going to make the movie, it helps to know how you’re going to have to hand it off to the various groups that need to take it and run with it. As an example, if you’re planning to localize a movie and distribute internationally, one of the things that you’re going to want to keep in mind is, if you’re going to make your movie in reels, at least from a theatrical perspective, everything stays in reels throughout the entire process; because, you want to maintain that consistency; so that when you have to deliver media to a subtitle vendor, that media matches what the end product DCP will be like.
Greg Fornero: For example, a long play subtitle reference file, you think they’re going to give you the subtitles that you want, if your movie’s in reels? You want to make sure that, if you’re planning on subtitling it in Latin American Spanish, or any other language, you maintain the structural, I guess, integrity, consistency of the feature throughout the process; that way, you don’t run into technical problems later, where you have to dice it up.
Greg Fornero: One of the common things that we’ve run into recently is, depending on the type of movie you’re making, you can run into issues where the reels get too long; which can easily happen with a long play movie and the subtitles won’t fire properly. So you may have to go back in, hard cut reels into the DCP; which can complicate things. It saves you that headache of having to go back and redo various things; because, by the time you usually get to the stuff that I’m doing, you’ll usually have a week or two to get your movie made, to get it distributed, get it where it needs to go; so that people can start watching it and people can start hitting play. That isn’t the time that people like to hear, hold on, you’ve got another week’s worth of work that you need to do, because of a choice you made six months ago.
Greg Fornero: Just trying to get more awareness; you don’t necessarily have to make every possible decision, but if you know what’s coming, you can keep in mind what needs to be done in the future. Just to make your life easier.
Larry Jordan: Well we’re creating files digitally, we’re not using film; why are we working with reels at all?
Greg Fornero: I think that’s a good question. In the beginning of digital cinema, back in 2005, when the first DCP actually got put together, back then the movies were made for film and DCPs were just sort of an add on and so all the source material that DCPs used was everything that film used. At this point, I don’t want to say the majority, because I’m not 100% sure that’s true, but at least a fair chunk of distribution is all done digitally and, in theory, you could go all the way through digitally and make whatever cuts that you need to make. But I think the problem is, closed caption systems have problems running closed captions that are longer than 20 minutes.
Greg Fornero: If you plan on localizing your movie in the US, playing it at big chains, they’re going to want you to make sure you have the accessibility files; which are the closed captions, open captions and hearing impaired and visually impaired audio. You run into issues in distribution if you’re trying to play long play, because, now the closed caption systems, some of them won’t work and, in digital cinema, when some things don’t work, generally speaking, the industry shifts to a place where everything will work. So, instead of distributing closed caption files that will work most places but not in some, what the post houses will generally require is that you modify your DCPs so that you’re under that limit that closed caption systems have; to make sure that it will play everywhere. They want to make sure everything plays everywhere.
Larry Jordan: Can we release a film theatrically without it being a DCP package?
Greg Fornero: You probably can on a very limited scale, to small art house theatres; but anything to scale and outside of probably the major cities, you’re going to be really hard to do. The other problem you’d have is, actually acquiring film stock can be expensive and challenging, compared to what it was, you know, 15 years ago, when this all started.
Larry Jordan: Thinking of DCP packages, do they provide encryption; is encryption expensive; and is encryption actually necessary?
Greg Fornero: Encryption, generally speaking, doesn’t cost extra to add at the time that you make the DCP. What encryption is there for is to protect the intellectual property of the film creator. What encryption allows us to do via the key management systems that the industry’s adopted, it allows you to know who can hit play on your movie, where they’re going to hit play on your movie. Also, you know that they’re not playing it outside that window. It also protects your movie in transit.
Greg Fornero: Generally speaking, there are two methods of delivery when it comes to digital cinema, satellite or copy the file to a hard drive and physically distribute it. Satellite transmissions themselves can carry encryption, so you’re not super worried about somebody, you know, catching your satellite signal and downloading it. But physical delivery of the drive is essentially a file on a hard drive that anybody could copy, if they have the appropriate equipment to read the hard drive. That’s a super high resolution version of your movie and you don’t necessarily want something like that to exist, because piracy is a very big concern.
Greg Fornero: The files on the drive itself being encrypted prevent any monkey business from taking place, while it’s in transit to the theaters; while it’s at the theaters, if they have a janitor who is cleaning the room and decides that he wants a high resolution version of whatever your movie might be, he’s not going to be able to do anything with it, because again those files are still encrypted. So it’s protecting the intellectual properties, but it also allows, from a distribution perspective, a little bit of control and the ability to enforce your, this is when you can play my movie and you’ve agreed to play it in house one, here’s the key for house one and I’m not going to give you keys for any other house; you have to play it there. That kind of thing.
Larry Jordan: What’s the most common problems you run into, with a first time producer bringing you their project to convert into a DCP?
Greg Fornero: What’s really common is, most people have a lot of background in other mediums and not necessarily DCPs and the world of DCP has a lot of very unique requirements. There isn’t really anything else, at least to my knowledge, that uses the frame rate that DCPs use; which is 24.0. Don’t think there’s anything else that uses the color space that DCPs use, which is XYZ and there’s just a lot of very specific technical things about DCPs that people don’t always know; because, until you deal with it, there’s no real reason for you to have learned it before, because it doesn’t basically exist anywhere else.
Greg Fornero: Once you get over those educational hurdles and you start dealing with getting whatever source material someone has, into a format that can be used to create a DCP, then the DCPs are made. DCP distribution is a bit different, because of the file sizes involved, generally speaking the security involved and the locations where they play in the extremely risk averse environment, inside theatrical distribution, because there’s a lot of money in play. So, helping people understand the technical side of DCPs enough to where they can give you what they need, so that you can make their DCP and then helping them along with the intricacies of DCP distribution.
Greg Fornero: This is an example most people that doesn’t really occur to most people, but if the movie opens on Friday, you want to make sure that the DCP delivers a day or two before that; which means, you want to make sure you ship it two or three days before that; which means that, if you’re going to master your DCP, you want to have that done probably at least a couple of days before you have to ship it; which means the source has to come in three or four days before that; because you’re dealing with really large file sizes and sometimes the weekend can get in the way, sometimes holidays can get in the way. If you want to have it in theaters and launch it on Friday, you really, really, really, really want to have the files and everything delivered to the place making the movie two weeks in advance if you can. You can speed things up if you have to, but that generally speaking is where costs go up, because as you accelerate the process, generally there are rush fees involved.
Greg Fornero: That kind of timeline generally catches people off guard, because, digital cinema, DCPs, they’re digital files, everything moves really fast and, compared to film, that’s very true. But you’re still dealing with distributing somewhere between 100 and 200 gigabyte files to multiple locations across the country/world and that can get very complicated. The more ahead of the game you are with the timeline, the easier it is to deal with any unexpected challenges that arise. Very similar to live television, your deadlines are completely immovable. Dealing with the implications of that is one of the things that seems to surprise people a little bit; especially when they’ve been working on the movie for, you know, six, 12, 18 months at that point. The last two weeks can be crunch time.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to learn more about creating DCPs or hire your company to do exactly the same thing, where can they go on the web?
Greg Fornero: Postworks.com.
Larry Jordan: That website is postworks.com and Greg Fornero is the Vice-President of Distribution for Postworks Digital and, Greg, thanks for joining us today.
Greg Fornero: Thank you.
Larry Jordan: You know, I was just thinking about an email I received earlier today. Clayton wrote “You have wisely been sounding the alarm of how content creation is shifting. Rapidly changing markets are altering revenue and business models. What will the new video professional look like and what will their tools be?” That’s really the theme of what we’ve been discussing tonight. Maxim told us that, when he picks a project, it has to be something that triggers a powerful emotional response; but, as David told us, when the internet gets involved, long-standing methods about how we work and how much we get paid get upended.
Larry Jordan: I’m deeply concerned about the increasing trend toward more automation and machine learning, not that I think these are bad; in fact, I think they could make a significant positive contribution to our society. What’s missing though, in this rush to automation, is a conversation about the human side of this conversion. What happens to those folks who are unable to work because their jobs no longer exist? We saw this up close as the industrial age morphed into the technology age; entire industries disappeared, but their now out of work employees still needed to eat.
Larry Jordan: Recently, Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna Insurance, stunned the industry by raising pay and benefits for all of their workers. At the time he remarked that the survival of capitalism depends upon creating well paid jobs. According to Fast Company, CEOs are beginning to realize that paying workers well helps to attract talent; especially millennials who want to work at a place in which all their colleagues, including those on the lowest rungs, enjoy a living wage and are treated with dignity. As Fast Company wrote, “Corporate America needs to move beyond its single-minded focus on maximizing shareholder value.”
Larry Jordan: This is the opposite of what’s happening in production today, where pressure continues to focus on doing more and getting paid less. It’s great to be creative but, as Maxim said, we still need to pay the rent. We only need to look at the collapse of the visual effects industry to realize that we can’t stay in business if we’re continuously losing money; at some point, we need to find a balance, so that all of us who work in this industry can continue to pay the rent. Just something I’m thinking about and, as always, I’m interested in your opinion.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank this week’s guests, filmmaker Maxim Jago, Sarah Meister from Indiegogo; Martin Simmons from Apprise Video Productions; David Ciccarelli from voices.com; Greg Fornero from Postworks Digital and James DeRuvo from doddleNEWS. There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews, all online and all available to you today. Remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter, that comes out every Saturday. Talk with us on Twitter @dpbuzz and Facebook @digitalproductionbuzz.com.
Larry Jordan: Our theme music is composed by Nathan Dugi-Turner, with additional music provided by smartsound.com. Text transcripts are provided by Take 1 Transcription. Visit take1.tv to learn how they can help you. Our Producer is Debbie Price, my name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to the Digital Production Buzz.
Larry Jordan: The Digital Production Buzz is copyright 2017 by Thalo LLC.