Aaron Semmel, Executive Producer/CEO, BoomBoomBooya, LLC
Yvonne Russo, Producer/Director, Company
J.J. Kelley, Senior Producer and Correspondent, National Geographic
Tom Jennings, Executive Producer, 1895 Films
James DeRuvo, Editor-in-Chief, doddleNEWS
Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz, we talk with Producers about the current challenges that they face in our industry today. We start with Aaron Semmel, a Television and Feature Film Producer with more than 20 years of experience. Tonight, he shares his thoughts on what it takes to be a successful Producer.
Larry Jordan: Next, Yvonne Russo is an award-winning Producer, Director and Writer of Film, Television and Digital Media. Tonight, she discusses diversity, under-represented audiences and discovering untold stories.
Larry Jordan: Next, J.J. Kelley is a Senior Producer at Explorer, National Geographic’s flagship and a twice Emmy nominated Director and Correspondent. Tonight, he provides a global perspective on what the media industry looks like for Producers.
Larry Jordan: Next, Tom Jennings is an Emmy and Peabody award-winning Documentary Filmmaker and Journalist. Tonight, he gives us an inside look at the current state of executive producing in today’s media landscape.
Larry Jordan: All this plus the latest from James DeRuvo’s journal. 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 Producer Buzz; the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry; covering media production, post-production and marketing around the world. Hello, my name is Larry Jordan.
Larry Jordan: This month, we’re looking at our industry through a variety of lenses. Last week, we talked with post-production companies; this week, we’re chatting with producers. Next week, we look at cameras and, the week after, we examine technology itself. All with the goal of getting a better sense of the state of our industry. There’s a lot happening and I can’t wait to share it with you.
Larry Jordan: By the way, if you enjoy The Buzz, please give us a positive rating and review in the iTunes store. We appreciate your support, to help us grow our audience. Now it’s time for James DeRuvo’s journal. Hello James.
James DeRuvo: Happy Thursday Larry.
Larry Jordan: A wonderful Thursday to you. What’s the news this week?
James DeRuvo: We just, yesterday, had a DJI event, where they announced the DJI Osmo Action Camera. This is basically a GoPro killer that will shoot 4K 60 with HDR mode and slow-motion in HD and up to 240 frames per second. It also has, what they’re calling, rock steady image stabilization, that’s very similar to GoPro’s hyper smooth.
James DeRuvo: But the real feature that’s got everybody talking is this 1.4 inch, front facing touchscreen LCD, which lets all those action camera geeks frame those action selfie shots properly. That, all by itself, makes this a very exciting new camera from DJI.
Larry Jordan: Well, I can already guess, but what’s your opinion?
James DeRuvo: Well the new DJI Osmo Action is by no means an innovative design. It is a well-built camera packed with features, some of which action camera geeks have wanted for years. I mean, I can’t believe it’s taken this long to put a selfie screen on the very front; because every action camera video I’ve ever seen, half the footage is of the person doing whatever sport they’re doing. It’s as if DJI took a page from Apple’s playbook and stood on the shoulders of giants and refined the state of the art into something everyone can use.
James DeRuvo: But what’s really interesting for me is the price. The price is $349; about $50 cheaper to GoPro Hero 7, when it’s not on sale. It’s almost as if DJI is ignoring GoPro all together and just going up against the cheaper brands.
Larry Jordan: Alright, that’s DJI, what’s our second story?
James DeRuvo: Adobe is warning Creative Cloud users of legal action, should they use older versions of Premiere and other Creative Cloud apps. Users are getting emails advising they are no longer licensed to use older versions of Creative Cloud apps; including Adobe Premiere Pro, Photoshop, Media Director, Animate and even Lightroom Classic. Users should update to the Spring update right away.
James DeRuvo: Continuing to use anything but the most recent version may open up users to legal action from third parties and the third parties part of this warning may refer to Adobe’s ongoing legal dispute with Dolby over how many Creative Cloud users are using their software on a monthly basis.
James DeRuvo: Adobe isn’t telling and Dolby wants their fair share of royalties, according to the original agreement made before Creative Cloud was even launched.
Larry Jordan: Now I want to mention that this is a Creative Cloud issue. If you’re running Creative Suite, which is CS6, you’re not affected?
James DeRuvo: That would be true.
Larry Jordan: I can understand Adobe’s position, but this sure puts users in a tough place.
James DeRuvo: It does. It underscores the precarious nature of software licensing. When you buy software, or in this case subscribe to it, you don’t really own it; you’re paying for permission to use it and that permission can be revoked at any time. In this case, like you said, Adobe is telling users they can’t use older versions of Creative Cloud product, or they could be sued; not by Adobe, but by Dolby, or any other third party that they are having a legal dispute with.
James DeRuvo: While Adobe customers are caught in the middle, Adobe is coming off as being heavy-handed in this; even though they’re just advising to protect their client base and it’s a PR disaster.
Larry Jordan: Alright, that’s Adobe, what’s our third story?
James DeRuvo: Well Nikon is listening to users and opening up the Wi-Fi standard for their DSLR cameras. Through an upcoming firmware update, users of the Nikon D850, D500, D7500 and D5600 will now be able to use any Wi-Fi standard they choose; bypassing Nikon’s proprietary hybrid SnapBridge protocol. Unfortunately, Nikon D5 users aren’t included in this update at the moment.
Larry Jordan: What’s the importance of this?
James DeRuvo: Users have been complaining about the propriety SnapBridge protocol; it’s very limited, it’s got a limited distance and range and they just don’t like it. With the Z series camera, Nikon has offered users the choice of either an open Wi-Fi connection, or connecting through SnapBridge and so they’re just lining all the other cameras up with that open protocol. It’s really good news, because now users are free to use whatever they want.
Larry Jordan: Well we’ve talked about DJI and Adobe and Nikon, what other stories are you following this week?
James DeRuvo: Other stories we’re following include, Intel may have another security breach issue affecting their CPUs. A filmmaker adds a DIY flip-up touchscreen to his Blackmagic Pocket Cinema camera and are Macs really slowing down with new versions of Mac OS? That’s what we’re looking at.
Larry Jordan: Where can we go on the web for industry news and reviews?
Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the Editor-in-Chief of doddleNEWS and joins us every week. We’ll see you next Thursday.
James DeRuvo: Have a good weekend.
Larry Jordan: I want to introduce you to a new website, thalo.com. Thalo is an artist community and networking site, for creative people to connect, be inspired and showcase their creativity. Thalo.com features content from around the world, with a global perspective on all things creative. Thalo is the place for creative folks to learn, collaborate, market and sell their works.
Larry Jordan: Thalo is a part of Thalo Arts, 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. Visit thalo.com and discover how their community can help you connect, learn and succeed. That’s thalo.com.
Larry Jordan: Aaron Semmel is a Television and Feature Film Producer with more than 20 years of experience in producing all forms of TV; from unscripted reality shows, to scripted episodic, to long-form mini-series. Hello Aaron, welcome back.
Aaron Semmel: Hello Larry, how are you?
Larry Jordan: I’m talking to you. It’s always fun to have you back. Tonight we’re looking at the current state of producing in media. Before we step back to look back at the industry, how would you describe the projects that you enjoy producing?
Aaron Semmel: Well, I always way, I’m a storyteller at heart; so what I always look for is a good story. That’s always my starting point. It always comes down to, is this story relevant and is there an audience that is out there looking for this story? At the core of it all, I guess I look for great characters and engaging plot points and things like that. I feel like, if you have those, everything else kind of falls into place.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like that’s leaning more towards scripted stories than unscripted reality. Is that true?
Aaron Semmel: No, story is just as important in your unscripted as it is in scripted. In fact, it leads to a whole department that doesn’t even exist in the scripted realm. In scripted, you know, I always say, you know where the glass is sitting on the table six months before you can start rolling cameras; so you’ve got your story figured out before you start. You’ve already talked to your Editor and you’ve already worked with your Director and they’ve got ideas of how they’re shooting things and angling things to get what they need.
Aaron Semmel: In unscripted, your story’s just as important and you go out with a vague idea, almost an outline of what you want to do; you shoot a bunch of footage and then you come back. There’s a whole department that exists in unscripted called the Story Producing Department. These are primarily Editor based Producers; people who understand story and understand the editing process. What they do is, they string together story points out of all this footage and they help shape your story.
Aaron Semmel: But, once again, you notice how many times I said story in that sense; that’s how important it is. You know, you’re not going to be involved in a reality TV show if there’s no story. When you watch the Olympics, let’s say it’s a track and field event and the guy’s running the 100 meter dash. That’s over in 30 seconds; so how do they make that important to us? Most of the time they show the background story of the athlete, or they give you a video package that explains where this person came from and who they are; so that, now you’re more invested. Now you have the story that makes the 30 seconds that much more impactful.
Larry Jordan: Alright, let’s take a step back and look at producing in general. As you look at the industry, clearly we’re in a time of intense change at multiple levels. From your perspective as a Producer, how do you see what’s happening in the industry?
Aaron Semmel: You know, I feel like we’re at an odd time in the industry; an odd time, but a good time. I always say, in chaos there’s opportunity and definitely in the chaotic part of the industry.
Aaron Semmel: One big thing that I see happening in the producorial side is what I like to call the end of the 30 second spot. We’re starting to see advertisers and marketing change in the way they have to deal with what they do. Because the 30 second spot television add is changing; it’s not as effective, it’s not working as well.
Aaron Semmel: They’re trying to come up with new ways to integrate brands and have advertising and marketing happen. This leads to various different opportunities on the producorial side, because, you know, as much as I just preached about being a storyteller, we are in show business and there’s a business side of it.
Aaron Semmel: As a Producer, that’s your job a lot of the time. The way these advertisers and marketers are working nowadays and what they’re looking for, there’s a lot of opportunity for new business models for Producers to have a chance to do things financially that they wouldn’t have been able to do before because, again, you’re now getting integrated with new, what I would call, experimental marketing funds. The brands are trying to figure out ways to integrate their product.
Larry Jordan: Thinking about that further, funding has always been a challenge for the independent filmmaker. It sounds like funding is even more challenging because, the traditional approaches don’t work. Is that true?
Aaron Semmel: Yes. I mean, it’s funny when you say the traditional approaches because, what is a traditional approach? In the old sense you would think, oh I have a movie and I’m just going to sell it to a studio and they’re going to make my movie. Only, that traditional sense is very skewed these days; so it does exist, but it’s not like the old days, where you could be standing outside the studio and get discovered.
Aaron Semmel: These studio deals now are reserved for the upper, upper echelon and the top tier of Hollywood; because they’re only making these giant […]. As a Writer, you know, the traditional model of, oh I’m going to go to Hollywood and a studio’s going to make my movie, in this independent sense, it’s very difficult. That doesn’t exist anymore, it’s very hard. But it does exist in the sense that, studios are still making movies; that model still exists. But what is happening is a rise in independent producing for vehicles like Netflix and Amazon Prime, which are streamed.
Aaron Semmel: As the studios stopped making independent movies and were focusing on these tent-poles, independent Producers started having a really hard time creative business models, so that they could fund their production. But as we now have evolved and moved into the streaming realm, it’s opened up a whole new business model and, like, I said, out of chaos comes opportunity.
Aaron Semmel: This has led to a whole new genre of independent filmmaking for streaming purposes, for the audience that is at home; the audience that would like to sit down and watch a well-crafted, character-driven drama. That audience doesn’t necessarily go to movie theaters anymore but they are at home watching it and they do want that content; therefore, it’s now created this market for it and independent Producers are finding new ways to raise funding through that vehicle.
Larry Jordan: It’s not only very interesting, but it’s a different environment. We’re not looking at films on the large screen anymore, we’re looking at films on the small screen. Does that change the way that you either shoot or produce a film?
Aaron Semmel: Me personally, again it goes back to story where it’s like, the artist in me would like to say I will never compromise my artistic integrity. But at the same time, yes, you think about these things. I mean, look at Jeffrey Katzenberg right now, he launched an entire company which I believe is called Quibi; which is creating content for the small-screen. When I say small-screen, I mean tablets and iPhones. You know, content that is created specifically for short-form, two to five minutes. Do they want to see big massive Game of Thrones, dragging, burning cities? No, they want to see a different kind of content.
Aaron Semmel: Another interesting thing on that note and I talk about it a lot with people is, in our business, we make these scissor reels a lot; to go sell our concept. As a Producer, I’ll have an idea for a TV show, let’s say I’ll make a TV show about Mary interviewing people. I’m going to make a scissor reel and a video and the video is going to show how that show would look and work and the types of people that Mary would interview.
Aaron Semmel: When I make this scissor reel, I have been telling more and more people to look at YouTube; watch how they make short-form content and how people are making content on YouTube that is designed to be short, engaging and visual. There is a big thing in infographics right now where it’s like, put your words on the screen because, on the small-screen, people aren’t listening.
Aaron Semmel: I’ve read statistics that say, most people who watch an Instagram video aren’t listening to it; they’re just watching it, they have no volume. Therefore, if you have something important to say, put words on the screen, because they’re not listening to it. Sometimes it does affect how you create your content, but for the most part, like I said, story is very important. I’m going to make a story about millennials and the way they community; so yes, I’ll create a very thematic aspect to the show that is in some ways visually representative of texting, or snapchatting, or whatever these kids do these days.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like it’s producing for the ADD generation.
Aaron Semmel: I think that every generation before has said that about the next generation.
Larry Jordan: Aaron, for people that want to hire you for their next gig, or give an idea to you, what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Aaron Semmel: Oh I always say, you could just email me direct. In the producorial game, you get right to the source. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Larry Jordan: It is always fun to talk to you. Aaron Semmel is the Executive Producer and CEO of BoomBoomBooya and a Producer in his own right of many shows. Thanks for joining us, we’ll talk to you soon.
Aaron Semmel: Thank you Larry.
Larry Jordan: Talk to you later. Take care, bye-bye.
Larry Jordan: Yvonne Russo is an award-winning Producer, Director and Writer for Film, Television and Digital. She’s currently producing with Warner Brothers and Bad Robot on a television series which is in development and executive producing, with HandMade Films, a comedy series for television. Hello Yvonne, welcome back.
Yvonne Russo: Hello, thank you.
Larry Jordan: Yvonne, tonight we’re looking at the current state of producing and, before we look at the industry, how would you describe the projects that you enjoy producing?
Yvonne Russo: The projects that I enjoy producing are projects that have a meaningful and exciting social value to them. I really find myself gravitating towards somewhat historical pieces; pieces that reframe the narrative from an indigenous perspective. The other is pure comedy.
Larry Jordan: What is it about history that appeals to you?
Yvonne Russo: I just feel that, the American epic hasn’t been told. You know, we live in a false reality sometimes. I think that there is just a number of stories that need to be told from all different perspectives; especially groups of people that have not had the opportunity to tell their stories.
Yvonne Russo: When you look at history, everything was based on western civilization and the westward expansion, leaving a number of indigenous voices out; leaving African-American voices out. A number of all these other subgroups within our nation have a portal of stories to tell. I think that, now we’re at a time where we are ready to open up and hear the truth of different stories from all different races and backgrounds. I have a real passion for history, because I think all the gems are there.
Larry Jordan: Let’s shift gears from the programs you’re working on, to your role as a Producer. As you look at producing in today’s environment, what do you see happening in the industry?
Yvonne Russo: From my perspective as an independent Producer, I have been developing projects over the course of the last four years actually and I finally feel that we’re at a place in entertainment in general. Because of all the various streaming platforms, we have an opportunity to actually get our projects produced, much more than say the way it was ten years ago, or even five years ago. That’s due to all of the different streaming services that are out there.
Yvonne Russo: In the past, it was always extremely difficult because you had to have an agent and you had to have connections within the industry, to come in and pitch your stories. Now, I think that the industry is opening up and wanting to hear from voices that they haven’t heard; under-represented voices and talent that isn’t necessarily with agents, or represented by agents. I think that the industry is just much more open to a variety of voices in general.
Yvonne Russo: As a Producer and from somebody of indigenous background, it provides more opportunities for myself, at least, in terms of pitching our story; so it’s a good time.
Larry Jordan: I hearing that distribution has exploded, but is getting funding any easier today than it was a while back?
Yvonne Russo: Not in my perspective. Right now, I’ve been working mostly in development for television; so that’s very different than producing features. It still is about attaching a name talent; even though some companies, or others will argue that that’s not the case. But when we are packaging our own movies, you know, usually, we can’t go in without having a Director attached, or without having at least a celebrity that could be driving the material and then everything else is cast around that.
Yvonne Russo: I don’t know exactly how numbers are quantified, but I think, you know, with international sales agents, apparently, celebrities still drive the foreign territories. In that sense, funding for films is still traditional in that realm.
Yvonne Russo: Then there’s other ways to fund films as well and that’s even through social impact campaigns and foundations and non-project organizations that are starting to fund towards the development of feature films. These are small pockets of money, but it’s enough for a Producer to eventually cultivate the project, get it to that next stage of development; possibly attach a Director and then, eventually, being able to present it to a studio, network, or other production company. Either way, I will say, it is a challenge.
Yvonne Russo: It’s all about perseverance; you really have to persevere and you have to believe in a project so much that, whatever it takes, you’re going to get the project funded and completed. You just have to stay dedicated.
Larry Jordan: You’ve been producing during the rise of the Me Too movement. Have you seen any change there?
Yvonne Russo: Well, I mean, women are definitely coming together in ways that we have not in the past. We sort of have our own code of conduct between ourselves; that way we know that, if someone’s crossing a line that we all have decided to stand up and take responsibility for that. I think that it’s helped us, that way, we’re stronger together and united; which is nice. I think that, because of the Me Too movement, women are really being more vocal, in terms of how they feel about things and don’t feel like their voices are suppressed, or that they’re afraid anymore.
Larry Jordan: Your work is all about finding the right story; especially from groups that haven’t been able to tell their stories before. But media is also about technology. Are there any technologies that you’re watching and, if so, what makes them interesting to you?
Yvonne Russo: I’m really interested in more of the mobile technology and how that’s going to evolve and how content is eventually going to shape for that smaller snack-sized screen. To me, as we progress into the future, more and more people are just watching content on their phones and their phones are getting larger and people are just consuming that way. That interests me the most.
Larry Jordan: You’ve mentioned that funding remains an ongoing challenging, requiring perseverance. If we exclude funding, what are the biggest challenges you have in producing?
Yvonne Russo: If we exclude funding, then it means I have to get another job. What would I be? What would I do? I don’t know.
Larry Jordan: Let me ask my question differently. If funding was assured, what would be your biggest challenge in producing? Is it finding the talent? Is it finding the story? Is it that schedules need to be longer?
Yvonne Russo: I think that that’s a really good point because, even when you do have funding, that is the next step. That next step is finding that Director that’s on your wish list and will that Director accept the project? Is it the right Director? Is it somebody that you feel is a good collaborator with the rest of your producing team? The actors that we approach, are they available and what’s their window? Can we afford them? Yes, I mean, I think scheduling is actually a really big challenge.
Larry Jordan: As you look to the future, what gets you the most excited?
Yvonne Russo: What gets me excited is learning and learning from all the different voices that are out there; all the different sub-cultures, voices from parts of the world that we haven’t heard. You know, I love learning through story; so, for me, I just want to hear more stories from people that we haven’t heard from before.
Larry Jordan: Yvonne, for people that want to keep track of the projects you’re creating, where can they go on the web?
Yvonne Russo: You can go visit my website, at yvonnerusso.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s yvonnerusso.com and Yvonne is an award-winning Producer, Director and Writer. Yvonne, it is always fun to talk with you. Thank you for sharing your time.
Yvonne Russo: Thank you so much Larry. Have a great day.
Larry Jordan: Tom Jennings is an Emmy and Peabody award-winning Documentary Filmmaker and Journalist. He has written, produced and directed more than 400 hours of programming; for such networks as CBS, Discovery, National Geographic and many more. Hello Tom, welcome back.
Tom Jennings: Hello Larry, thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: Tom, tonight we’re looking at the current state of producing and, before we look at the industry, how would you describe the projects that you enjoy producing?
Tom Jennings: You know, I came out of a print journalism background, so I’m kind of a generalist. I love finding great stories and I think the stories that I like to tell best are ones where people think they know the story, but actually, there’s a lot more there.
Tom Jennings: A really good example from about ten years ago, something that I tried to produce forever, was the Manhunt for John Wilkes Booth; the person that killed Abraham Lincoln. Most people know the story that Booth shot Lincoln in Ford’s Theater and sometime thereafter he was killed. But there’s these 12 days that he was on the run. I tried to sell that show for years because I had a passion for it.
Tom Jennings: What I found out about the story was this amazing slice of American history that most people don’t know anything about; all the characters that Booth and his accomplice came across, how they were hidden, how they tried to cross the Potomac River. It was this amazing slice of history that I didn’t know and I thought I knew history pretty well. I kept pushing it, pushing it and pushing it and finally I did it and I sold it to the History Channel and then they said, gee you’re a genius; this is a great story.
Tom Jennings: It’s that kind of thing where you think you know it, but there are so many more layers there and it makes it fun and it’s a great yarn. That’s the kind of stuff I like to do.
Larry Jordan: Let’s take a step back and up. Aaron Semmel just described our industry as being in a state of chaos. What’s your perspective as a Producer?
Tom Jennings: Well I think I’d agree with Aaron Semmel about that. A state of chaos is correct in that, you know, it’s the delivery systems that are putting us in a state of chaos and that’s kind of always been the case. One of my favorite eras is the newsreel era, which was killed by television; you don’t have newsreels in movie theaters anymore. But now it just seems this splintering of the networks into the 500 channel universe and then laying in all of the streaming services; you know, everybody’s got a streaming service.
Tom Jennings: I think what’s happening is, you know, we’re losing that kind of national campfire. 30 or 40 years ago, people would sit around and watch M.A.S.H, or All in the Family, or something and most of your friends would know about what had happened the previous night on television. That doesn’t exist anymore. It gives us lots of choices and there’s lot of places for Producers to go, to sell those choices.
But what’s happening more and more is, with the splintering comes the driving down of budgets, the need for a voluminous amount of content to put out there and some of it’s very, very good and then some of it, you can just tell that it’s been thrown together.
Tom Jennings: I don’t know about Aaron Semmel, but I feel like a Dervish sometimes; it’s like I’m spinning. How about this story? How about that? What genre’s selling over here? He’s right, it’s like the Wild West; but the Wild West seems a bit tame compared to what we’re going through right now.
Larry Jordan: Your focus is documentaries, clearly. But, as you look at it, what documentary subjects, or show trends seem hot right now?
Tom Jennings: To be fair, we do mostly documentary television, versus what people might consider a documentary feature; which would be more of a movie theater; like an […], or Michael Moore. We do documentary television. I can answer this very specifically for you, they want something no-one has ever seen, no-one has ever heard before. We’re kind of burning out.
Tom Jennings: I have a background in investigative reporting and it’s like, sometimes, you know, it may have been seen once before, but there’s so much more to this story. But, if you walk into a Network Executive’s Office, or send them an email and say, I just found this and no-one’s ever heard of it and it’s going to change the way we think about this major moment, either currently in our zeitgeist, or in history, they’ll pay attention. You know, we used to say, we have to think like Network Executives, if we want to sell our shows to the network.
Tom Jennings: I’m taking that a step further now and I’m saying, we have to think like a Marketing Executive. You know, we want to do good work; they use the term, we have to cut through the noise. What that means is, they need something that’s going to grab a viewer right away and then hold them because it’s good.
Larry Jordan: One of the thoughts that Aaron and Yvonne both mentioned and it’s tied into the whole question of technology is, one of the challenges we have now is that people are watching less, perhaps, on the large screen and more on the small-screen; like tablets and cell phones. Does that change how you produce your shows?
Tom Jennings: I don’t know if it changes it in the big picture. You know, one of my favorite movies from days gone by is Lawrence of Arabia. There’s that very famous show of Lawrence coming over the horizon and David Lean must have held on the thing for two minutes. He’s riding out of the desert, slowly towards the camera. On a big screen, this is breathtaking art; but if you’re looking at it on your phone, on the subway, it’s just not going to read.
Tom Jennings: The reason I mention it is, for me as a Producer, or if I’m directing something, there’s no point in us going to all that trouble, if someone’s going to watch that on their phone; because it’s just not going to be impactful. I need to keep the eyeballs connected to whatever device they’re on, so things need to be a little bit closer in, you know, the story has to be moving quickly.
Tom Jennings: It might have been Aaron saying, you know, when he does scissor reels now, he puts the words on screen sometimes; thinking what you would see on Facebook, when these little videos come up. I thought that was a good idea for a scissor reel; I made a note of that one.
Tom Jennings: But you have to remember that, people are being pulled in dozens of different directions all day long and you want them to park on what you’re doing; so, in terms of the content delivery on a small device, I think it is important to remember that. However, I wouldn’t keep it in the forefront. If I had some grand artistic shot that I thought was going to be so beautiful, but it was going to burn three days’ budget for two minutes of film, then I wouldn’t do it anymore.
Larry Jordan: As you look to the future, what do you think are both our biggest challenges and what gets you the most excited?
Tom Jennings: Well it’s exciting in that there are a lot of opportunities, there are a lot of places to take your ideas. You know, I have a lot of ideas that I’m very passionate about, but, just because I’m passionate about them, doesn’t mean that a network will be; or, my Network Executive might be very passionate about it, but their marketing team will say, that just don’t fit with what we’re doing.
Tom Jennings: They’re all going after branding, but the opportunities are there to do a lot of different things; which is great. Getting funding to do that, being able to follow through; taking your idea all the way to a screen whatever size that can be tricky. The exciting thing is that, you know, it’s the Wild West but you get to choose the horse that you want to ride on.
Tom Jennings: Conversely, you do have to remember that you’re trying to tailor to various audiences, you know, different networks want to appeal to different age groups and you want to keep people entertained and, you know, in documentary, you want to keep them informed. You want to tell a story where they’re going to draw something out of it, but you need to keep them entertained at the same time. That has always been the same; that’s existed from the beginning.
Tom Jennings: It’s just convincing a viewer that, what you’re about to watch is not going to be boring, it’s going to be something visually that’s going to appeal to you and, if you learn something along the way, all the better.
Larry Jordan: For people who want to learn what they haven’t heard, or learned before, where can they go on the web?
Tom Jennings: We have a company website, it’s 1895 Films.
Larry Jordan: That’s the numbers 1895films.com and Tom Jennings is the Executive Producer for 1895 Films. Tom, thanks for joining us today.
Tom Jennings: Larry, it’s so good to talk to you, thank you.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye-bye.
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. These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings, provide in-depth organizational tools for busy production professionals.
Larry Jordan: 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. 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: J.J. Kelley is a twice Emmy nominated Director and Correspondent. He’s also a Senior Producer at Explorer, which is National Geographic’s flagship documentary series, whose work has taken him to all seven continents. He’s currently hosting an adventure series for the Travel Channel. J.J. welcome back.
J.J. Kelley: Hello Larry, great to talk to you again.
Larry Jordan: I understand, we’re catching you in mid airport; so clearly the travelling does not stop in the middle of the week?
J.J. Kelley: Yes, it’s been a little bit crazy. From the start of the year, I found myself up in the Bering Sea in Alaska; I just got back from Tokyo and Seoul and I’ve been to many places in between. Right now, I’m watching the sunset over the beautiful Kansas landscape.
Larry Jordan: Well, I would begin to say that I feel sorry for you, but actually, it sounds like a really great life from my distance; as opposed to having delivered.
J.J. Kelley: I like it, I’m having fun.
Larry Jordan: Tonight, we’re looking at the current state of producing media; but before we look at the industry, how would you describe the projects that you enjoy producing?
J.J. Kelley: I work in documentary television, for the most part and dialing into that genre a little bit more, I focus on exploration, adventure, you know, off the beaten path locations; Antarctica, the Congo. The places that nobody else really wants to go to are the places that I love.
Larry Jordan: Let’s take a step back and view the industry more as an industry and a business, rather than the specific shows that you’ve done. From your perspective as a Producer, what do you see happening in the industry?
Larry Jordan: We talked with Yvonne Russo and Aaron Semmel, Tom Jennings and they all describe it as an industry which is enmeshed in chaos. What would you think?
J.J. Kelley: I think that that’s not a completely horrible description; I think that that’s actually pretty spot on. It’s changing a lot. I remember when I was a kid and I would turn on the television and, if the President of the United States was talking, you’d flick through your four or five channels and the President was on every channel.
J.J. Kelley: Then we saw this theme with cable television networks and then streaming services, where there were all these different companies and anybody who had an idea could come up with their own network and content. You had all these tailor-made productions that were available on all these different platforms.
J.J. Kelley: We still have a lot of those platforms, but they’re being consolidated. You have Netflix, this juggernaut, who was just eclipsed by Disney as the largest media company in the world; so you’re getting back to this place where you just have a handful of companies running everything.
J.J. Kelley: It is a big chaotic and, within that battle, we’re still seeing traditional broadcast and cable getting a lot of the advertising dollars but, at the same time, everybody’s talking about digital and what it means to be in the digital space and everybody wants some of that.
J.J. Kelley: How I’ve aligned myself in this nebulous landscape is to diversify myself with any good portfolio; to make branded content at the same time that I’m working on a traditional cable series. I look at those as my stock, the more risky investments and then kind of my bond, the safer investment is education videos; because education doesn’t change on the whims of an Executive who decides they want to can a show and go a different direction. Generally, those are built a little bit further out and they pay just as much, a lot of times, as your broadcast programs and they’re stable.
J.J. Kelley: Yes, I think the landscape is chaotic and I think one of the keys is just diversifying and knowing how to make the traditional broadcast. Also, not just dabbling, but finding success in digital content and then kind of having your bread and butter that, no matter what happens, you can still depend on those as a source of income.
Larry Jordan: We’re seeing that people are consuming media in ways that are different than years past. It used to be, we’d watch on television, or go to the theater and watch on the big screen; but now the small-screen, tablets and cell phones have a dominant presence in a lot of the industry. Does that change the type of programs you create?
J.J. Kelley: Yes, I think it changes the type of programs that you create. You know, I was listening to the show and I agree that content has changed. You still have a good idea it’s going to find viewers, but the delivery platform changes, the length changes and even, what you put on the screen needs to change depending on the device that it’s being viewed.
J.J. Kelley: Right now, I’m working on a series with a major US airline, where we’re going out into the world and we’re looking at a sport and the kind of changing face of that sport; so it’s branded content and this branded content is going to be viewed and available on Facebook. It’s original content, just like I would make for National Geographic, or a documentary network; but it’s going out through a new medium and that is social media.
Larry Jordan: Aaron made a comment that a lot of videos, people are watching, but they’re not listening to them. It’s the social media video where you see video with text and the audio is irrelevant. Is this a threat, or is this a splinter? What’s your thought?
J.J. Kelley: I think that that’s a great observation and it’s spot on. I mentioned the series that I’m doing for Instagram and Facebook and we used to have to deliver this […] CAP file a closed caption file, for viewers that were hard of hearing. You’ve seen this before, you’re able to toggle between no closed caption and closed captioning. But now, it’s a new format where, basically, if the viewer does not have the audio on, they’re going to automatically see text on screen. I think that that is the new approach moving forward.
J.J. Kelley: I live in New York City and I took the subway a fair amount this week and I would always peer over at people. They’re watching videos on YouTube and Instagram and Facebook, but they have text on screen and this is text which is offered to them. I’m not exactly sure how much of it they’re reading, but that is a delivery method. You definitely need to be able to communicate, not only with traditional text on screen that you would add as a chyron in the video, but also this layer that’s put into the video that can be toggled on and off.
Larry Jordan: A lot of what you focus on is content, because you create documentaries. But is there a technology that you’re paying attention to, or is there new emerging technology that’s caught your eye?
J.J. Kelley: I think that there is a lot of value in coming up with a story and a program that has a traditional outlet; but piping that outlet and promoting it through platforms like social media. You can do a lot with Instagram Live and Facebook Live and Instagram Video to really point to your video as it comes up.
J.J. Kelley: I remember when I started in TV just 12 years ago. When we went out on a shoot and we captured photos and Facebook was coming up, we signed documents and we would get yelled at. People would get fired if you posted any photos from that shoot before the show had been broadcast; any content that you captured couldn’t go out on social media until that episode aired and then you’d have to wake another week till the next episode aired and then you could talk about content from that shoot as well.
J.J. Kelley: Now it’s the complete opposite. As you’re out of your field, you’re live streaming what you’re capturing there. You’re creating an impression of this story idea, you’re creating content as you go along; so you’re able to sell ad sales that way, but then when the film comes out, you’re getting money that way as well. You’ve also built up this hype along the way, where people now know about your show and they’re more likely to watch.
Larry Jordan: As you look to the future, what has you the most excited and what has you the most concerned?
J.J. Kelley: I mean, I am excited because I do think that we live in this amazing era of video production. It’s changing so much that, I think that we couldn’t have foreseen where we are today. You know, remember Blockbuster video; remember how many stores there were? They’re gone. I don’t think that, 15 years ago, anybody would have thought that a company like Blockbuster would be gone. It can be incredible unstable.
J.J. Kelley: Just in the car that I’m riding in now, we were talking about Kodak and how that company went from a monster company to really, you know, this obscure, niche company and that happened in just a very short period of time. That is a little bit terrifying, but that’s also the same thing that brings me a lot of excitement because, with these changes, yes, some of the delivery methods have dried up; but, in their wake have been these amazing ways to tell stories in unique methods, going to interesting locations and not being reliant on just a handful of networks that we used to depend on.
J.J. Kelley: I think it’s very exciting because, if you can come up with a new idea, something that’s fresh, audiences and networks are going to want that. What’s really exciting is, if you have a new idea and a new delivery method and you’ve kind of got your fingertips on the pulse of what’s hot, then you’re going to succeed and, if it’s new and fresh and goes big, you can win big.
Larry Jordan: Exciting stuff. For people who want to keep track of where you are in the world, where can they go on the web?
J.J. Kelley: I’m at jjkelley.com and, from there, you can find me on Instagram and Facebook.
Larry Jordan: That’s jjkelley.com and J.J. Kelley is the Senior Producer for National Geographic and, J.J. thanks for joining us today.
J.J. Kelley: Thanks so much Larry.
Larry Jordan: Bye-bye.
Larry Jordan: You know, I was just thinking. I spent yesterday getting trained and certified in the Dante Audio Protocol. This is a well-established protocol invented by Audinate, for linking audio devices and sending audio over Ethernet, rather than traditional audio cables. We call this AOIP, Audio Over IP and Audinate and an industry leader in this area.
Larry Jordan: The class got me thinking about how technology expands our production horizons, for example and those of you doing live sound at concerts and events already know this, we can connect mikes and other audio sources directly to Ethernet using convertors; not just mixers, microphones. Then we can send that audio signal anywhere within the same network subnet. For example, using the routing built into Dante, we can send the same mike to the stage mixer, front of house mixer, live stream or broadcast mixer, all using Ethernet.
Larry Jordan: Using a gigabit Ethernet switch, Dante supports sending up to 512 different audio sources to up to 512 different audio destinations all using Ethernet; the flexibility of the system is truly impressive. No longer do we need to locate audio control rooms next to a studio; nor, for that matter, do we need to dedicate one control room per studio.
Larry Jordan: The new age of digital audio networks and protocols, like Dante, allow us to configure control rooms based upon the work they need to do, rather than the location they need to be in.
Larry Jordan: It was a fascinating day of learning for me; I’ve used Dante as part of our NAB coverage for the last two years on The Buzz but, at that time, the system was set up by others. Now, I better understand how to use it myself.
Larry Jordan: The training room yesterday was filled with 30 audio professionals, almost all of who were mixing, or recording audio on a daily basis for corporate events, churches, live streams and broadcast. It was fun to spend the day learning from them as well.
Larry Jordan: I’ve spent time on The Buzz raising concerns about technology, but yesterday was a day to celebrate how technology can enable us to do things we couldn’t do before, without costing anyone their job. Just something I’m thinking about.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests this week; Producers Aaron Semmel, Yvonne Russo, J.J. Kelley and Tom Jennings and, as always, James DeRuvo with doddlenews.com. 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 morning.
Larry Jordan: Talk with us on Twitter @DPBuZZ and Facebook, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Transcripts are provided by take1.tv. Our theme music is composed by Nathan Dugi-Turner, with additional music provided by smartsound.com. Our Producer is Paulina Borowski. My name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.