Monday, 23 December 2013

A Filmmaker's Wish List

 ‘Tis the season for wish lists! Being a lover of all things filmmaking, I have been dreaming about all of the gadgets I long to have as my own, and now I've put them all down as my holiday wish list - you know, if anyone wants to get me anything that's less than a thousand dollars. Wink wink.

This holiday wish list is based on my personal tastes and needs, so while it’s heavily biased, you might agree with one or two items, or you might disagree… and who knows, you might learn something new! Without further ado, here is my top pick of items I dream of having under my Christmas tree. Heck, just thinking about them makes me giddy!


Whether you want a smooth rack focus in your shot, or simply an effective follow focus, the Focus Shifter is a useful little gadget that makes my wish list with no question. It even comes with a marker board that gives you the ability to mark your focus points, allowing for a quick and easy transition between foci. It’s versatile and works on pretty much any lens, from the 50 mm f/1.8 to the 70-200mm f/4. It’s also helpful for photographers, too – it improves manual focus speed and accuracy, and is especially useful for lenses with shallow depths of field that need fine-tuning.

I love the ‘steadicam’ look that allows a shot to be fluid, but still freely moving, which is why the Glidecam HD-2000 is next on my holiday wish list.  A cheaper option than the Steadicam, the Glidecam HD-2000 is a great stabilizer for smaller cameras like DSLR’s and my Canon 600D. It helps to balance the camera movement for more dynamic and smooth shots.

For an added bonus, the Glidecam Body-Pod attaches to your waist and shoulders, allowing you more comfort while you shoot with the Glidecam. You can even become a mobile tripod, and easily switch back and forth between stagnant and moving shots.
Look how happy this guy is. Clearly no buyer’s remorse.

I’ve recently become interested in the art of foley. In general, I think that a film’s ambience is greatly underestimated- probably because when it’s done right, it’s barely noticeable. I would love to toss out every single canned sound effect and come up with all of my own- and that’s why I have added to my holiday wish list the Mitra 3d Mic. 

After hearing the sound from this guy, you may begin to question life itself.
This beauty takes the average microphone setup and kicks it up a ridiculous amount of notches. The output connections are perfect for connecting to a Zoom or whatever other portable recording device you may have, so it’s an easy setup. The result? Amazingly realistic 360 degree audio. If your goal is to delve into foley, field recording, or sound design, this is the mic for you...keep the shotgun mic at home.

 Not sure what 3D sound actually sounds like? Check out the awesome sound test here

The last item on my list is the revolutionary Sigma 18-35 mm f/1.8 Zoom Lens. Released by Sigma earlier this year, it’s the first wide-angle to standard zoom lens to achieve such a large aperture of 1.8. FREAKIN’. AMAZING.
I just want to be that hand.
I’ve wanted a 35mm lens for some time now, since it’s got to be the single most versatile focal length ever. The 35mm lens is the closest to the focal composition of the human eye, giving a realistic point of view. Add to that the fact that the Sigma lens provides a zoom while still maintaining a shallow depth of field?  It should be in my camera bag. Right now.

What are some film gadgets that you simply must have? Do you have any reviews of the above mentioned items?  Let us know in the comments below or send us a tweet to us at @swagger_media. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Friday, 20 December 2013

A New Year's Gift from Swagger Media

The New Year is almost here and for many of us that means a wild night on the town with friends that lasts until the dawn breaks! For the rest of us with children however, it often means kids who want to stay up waaaaay past their bedtime when all you want to do is enjoy a glass of champagne around 8pm and then hit the hay. Swagger founder, Jarred King, has two little girls of his own. He gets it.

They're cute, but they're not so great at the sleep thing yet.
That's why we here at Swagger Media have created a special New Year's gift to all those exhausted parents out there - a video countdown to the New Year that you can enjoy with your child at whatever time you please!

(Just make sure you show it to them in a spot where there aren't any visible clocks...) Just press play, count down with your little ones, call it a day, and you can start 2014 with well-rested children (a gift any parent can appreciate).

Download the video for free by clicking this link:
So enjoy, download, and share with anyone else you know who's looking to get a good night's sleep this December 31st and best wishes to you and your family for the New Year from Swagger Media!

Monday, 16 December 2013

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Future

This guy.
The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus said that the only constant is change (and, no, I did not know that source prior to looking it up on Wikipedia approximately seven seconds ago). The world keeps on spinning. The dice are always rolling. On the outset, one might very well think, “Well, duh.”

But this is something that I think a lot about, particularly in the field of communication technology and its applications. Like all technological evolution, the progress of communication methods increases in speed and variety as time goes on.  It took humans in our (likely) present form somewhere around 200,000 years to develop the written language, then another 6000 or so years to develop the most basic forms of woodblock printing, and then another 1300 to arrive at the printing press. However, in the last 500 years, things have kicked into high gear, particularly in the last century. In the last hundred years we’ve seen the birth of radio, cinema, the telephone, computers, the internet, and within the last ten years we’ve arrived at a place where virtually all the information in the history of the world is instantly available to us on a handheld device anytime we want. That’s pretty cool.

(I saw this app in person for the first time last year. Absolutely blew my mind.)

However, a person does wonder just how exactly do we know what’s coming next? (Especially if that person is in a place where their profession relies on such knowledge…)

My iPod Nano is more likely to perform space travel.
I always find it interesting how in movies set in the future, predictions concerning communication are almost always laughably behind the times. Consider the sluggish analog displays in Alien, aboard a ship flown by blue-collar workers across galaxies no less. Or how in Heavy Metal we have flying cars and relations with extraterrestrials, but somehow the most effective means of relaying information is by way of a floating TV that delivers video messages for a fee of a quarter apiece. Or, considering the technology present in the original Star Wars, why did Luke have to use such a bulky headset? The future, it seems, moves even faster than our imagination.

Recent technological advancements have also radically altered the way we interact with media. Over the course of a decade, online businesses like Netflix and Hulu (admittedly with the help of Redbox) completely annihilated the traditional video rental system, and it’s reasonable to think that within the next ten to fifteen years television programming as we know it might become a thing of the past. What’s the point of it when we have so much content and control at our disposal?

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have both made predictions about how going to see movies in the theater may soon be the equivalent to seeing a big Broadway production (ticket prices certainly support this notion). That means bigger shows that will be guaranteed to make big bucks, entertaining effects-laden extravaganzas that will, unfortunately, not be likely to push any artistic boundaries. The reason for this is economical, of course, and is the same as the idea of traditional TV going the way of the Dodo. If online resources provide access to smaller independent films, why would you pay to see it them in a theater? The good of this lies in the fact that newly affordable hardware and software allows anyone dedicated enough to make their own films. The downside is that the overwhelming majority of these filmmakers will be lost in a sea of infinite content and will be hard pressed to make a living with their creative work, which will of course limit what they’re able to put out.
The point is that the times we live in are becoming ever more interesting and challenging. In order to stay afloat and succeed, it seems to me that it’s increasingly imperative to be willing to keep up to date with new technologies and practices and adapt accordingly. The times, they are a-changin'. Same as it ever was. 

What to YOU think? What big changes will most affect the way we communicate with each other in the coming years? What about digital arts and entertainment? Will going to the movies be the rarest of treats or die out completely? What’s the next big thing? Share your thoughts with us below or tweet to us @swagger_media.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Our Work: Grand Old Grizzly "Tallahassee" Official Music Video

Grand Old Grizzly is a Houston-based Americana band which melds folk, country, indie and rock. They have garnered favorable comparisons to Old 97s, Tom Petty, and Neil Young,  and most recently the band was nominated for the Houston Press "Best New Act" and "Best Folk/Americana" awards.

We had an amazing time getting to produce GOG's first official music video for "Tallahassee", a favorite from their self-titled debut album. Enjoy!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Advertising and Marketing in the Digital Age

"The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself."
- Peter Drucker

Advertising and marketing are terms that are often used interchangeably and frequently incorrectly. The best definition I've found is by Laura Lake in an article for entitled, "Marketing vs. Advertising: What's the Difference?"

"The best way to distinguish between advertising and marketing is to think of marketing as a pie, inside that pie you have slices of advertising, market research, media planning, public relatinos, product pricing, distribution, customer support, sales strategy, and community involvement. Advertising only equals one piece of the pie in the strategy."

None of those "slices" are nearly as sexy as the advertising serving, which is why Mad Men is a hit and Sales Strategy Dynasty will languish in development purgatory.

QUIET! We're "strategizing"....
Marketing is hard. It's a slow drip on a rock with the expectation that your Grand Canyon will be formed EOD. ASAP. You're combining efforts made in research, strategy, design, messaging, focus groups, expertise, and intuition with the hopes that your target customer will bite and provide your client with a clear return on their investment. 

With a multitude of data at our fingertips, marketers have a million ways to try and quantify, crunch, and compute that one sweet spot demo that will make your efforts pay off. Or they don't. Crickets. No calls in from the radio ad. No clicks on your finely tuned Google Ad. Your client is getting justifiably impation. You're dusting off the MBA applications. And then it happens. Customers flock to your client. Your strategy is working! You're a hero! Gardens and parks will bear your name and Twitter handle for millennia!

All of the above can happen in a matter of hours with the expectation in a digital age that results need to be immediate, quantifiable, and reportable. Unfortunately, advertisers and marketers don't always have the benefit of peeking inside the consumers' brains and finding out what made their internal needle move towards your client's goods and/or services. Most of the time, we don't even know what's directing our own needles.

What we do have is a lot of information to factor into decisions that should lead ultimately to one simple question: Is your message clear?

Marketing teams can spend countless hours and dollars chasing trendy or dated strategies that will fail if they aren't coherent to your end user. Your client won't always pump the brakes either. THey have invested in your vision and are willing to take a leap of faith on that killer idea involving carrier pigeons tattooed with QR codes. But is the message clear?

Advertising agencies can produce the most interactive multi-media plaform ever with a web-cam functioning as a peephole into the jungles of Borneo with your client's product softly blanketing the rich flora. But is the message clear?

Here are my tips for making sure your message is clear, concise, and sticky:

1. Define your audience. This is obvious, sure. But if you aren't really putting yourself into the mind of your target consumer/customer, they you're running the risk of making broad assumptions that will backfire. A campaign takes time and money to turn around. Use data, research, and simple conversations with a group of people in your demographic to make sure your coordinates are true when you leave the dock.

Sleep on it. And have some lasagna while you're at it.
2. Sleep on it. Got a killer tagline and art layout? Don't rush it to the client or send it to print without at least sleeping on it and letting your team and some trust colleagues review it from a blind survey perspective. It's easy to connect the dots in a message when you created the idea. Let someone unfamiliar with the concept and campaign digest it. You'll get invaluable insight and could identify problems you can't correct once it's plastered on a 40 ft. billboard. 

3. Don't just listen to your client, but hear your client. There's a great quote in White Man Can't Jump that I use exhaustingly- "You can listen to Jimi [Hendrix] but you can't hear him. There's a difference, man. Just because you're listening to him doesn't mean you're hearing him." It's easy to hit the ground running after that killer pitch is approved, but pay attention to your client and what their suggestions are. They know their audience better than you do, despite the reams of data and market research you have to support your concept. It may only be a kernel of information, but it could be a difference-maker in the campaign while providing your client with a voice in the process.

The bottom line is this - Despite the bevy of data and digital smoke and mirrors at our fingertips, the onus continues to be on the marketers and advertisers to come up with a messaging that is clear. If you can't sell your concept in one sentence, then you need to go back and refine it further. Clear doesn't mean simple, or devoid of wit. In fact, the greatest advertising slogan of all time (in my book) was created by Morton's Salt in 1914 and resonates today: "When it Rains It Pours." The background and power of this slogan is enough for a future blog, so stay tuned!

At the end of the day, Swagger Media is comprised of film lovers and visual storytellers at heart, so a great way to see messaging in action is in my favorite scene from Mad Men:


Thursday, 5 December 2013

Our Work: Neighbors Emergency Center: "Choices" Behind the Scenes!

We had a lot of fun behind the scenes of Neighbors Emergency Center's TV spot "Choices", which we produced earlier this year! (We learned some new things too...find out what  Angela learned on set with NEC!)

Neighbors Emergency Center is a network of 24/7 emergency care centers staffed by board-certified physicians located in Baytown, Bellaire, Pearland, Pasadena and Kingwood. If you have an emergency, the best Neighbors ever will be happy to help you!

Monday, 2 December 2013

How Google's Hummingbird Algorithm Increases the Importance of Video & Other Interactive Content

Search engine optimization is a key phase of post-production for any website that is launched. Specifically for business owners who thrive on reaching their clients through social media and search engines, search engine optimization becomes more than just an investment; it becomes a necessity. Traditionally, to rank on the top search engines such as: Google, Yahoo, Bing, and MSN, your site has to have three elements: keywords, rich content, and functionality. Previously, Google was known to use such algorithms as "Panda" and "Penguin" to rank websites, and recently has implemented a new "Hummingbird" search algorithm, which is meant to be "faster, more precise and better." Generally, this algorithm has placed a greater emphasis on having a responsive solution to your video, images, and text content on your website.

How It Works
The "Hummingbird" algorithm is meant to be an even better solution for businesses looking to market online! It tailors to responsive content, mobile usability, and also keyword semantics. That is to say that "Hummingbird" provides better results for what the keyword means rather than what the keyword says. With Hummingbird, voice searches are now optimized as Hummingbird will understand better when a person asks "how to fix my car when it doesn't start" rather than having to say "fix car not start." On the responsive side, Hummingbird ushers in completely responsive design to the Internet world. If it was recommended to have a responsive site in the past, with Hummingbird it is a necessity. Mobile content delivery has been in heavy demand with the rise of smartphones and tablets. Statistics show that mobile-only searches account for about 46% of Google's searches. This makes it imperative to have a mobile website that delivers rich content and also has great functionality. Because video content is more user-friendly, this means a boost for website owners who implement video content that is useful to their audience.

How it Affects Businesses
Businesses will now have to take it a step further to market their products in a full multimedia spectrum. In the past a business would choose one of these realms to invest in, such as photos, videos, audio, website, blog, mobile site, mobile app, etc. Businesses are now needing to invest overall in these services to have enough rich content to deliver on their website that will keep them ranked above their competition; also, with the mobile age rising more and more, they need to be able to deliver their content across the board.

How Business Can Take Advantage
Businesses can take advantage by properly delivering their goods and services through their media. Making it a point to create the best videos, audio, photos, the richest content only makes for better interactivity from their clients. Having such content on board also makes it easier for businesses to present themselves, display their works, and show their goals. This can help market the business at all times, make it easier to create training videos and workshops, and become a more efficient method of presentation.

Overall, the new algorithm "Hummingbird" is a push in the right direction. Now site owners are forced to crack down and make their sites interactive and functional, as well as responsive. This just means a better experience for everyone in the end.

Still confused about what "Hummingbird" means for your business? Send us an email at and we'll be happy to walk you through it!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Our Work: KIPP 2013 Gala Video

Client: KIPP Houston, a network of charter schools which develops in underserved students the academic skills, intellectual habits, and qualities of character necessary to succeed at all levels of pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, college, and the competitive world beyond.

Goal: Produce a video to be shown at KIPP's annual fundraising gala, which highlights and exemplifies each of KIPP's core character strengths, as well as featuring the success stories of KIPP alumni. Footage was shot on location at KIPP SHINE prep, KIPP Houston High School, and KIPP Academy Middle School and featured second grader, Madison Padilla.

Spot: KIPP: 2013 Gala Video

Monday, 25 November 2013

The 3 Best Un-Holiday Holiday Movies

Wow. It's finally here. The Holiday Season has arrived. As we all know, the best thing about the holiday season isn't the music (you're already sick of that and we haven't quite made it to Thanksgiving yet), the food (which is totally a love/hate relationship; you love to eat it, but hate how it makes you feel afterwards), or the presents (well... presents rule). It is, however, THE FILMS.

The thing is, some of the best holiday films are not technically holiday films at all. In fact, in my three favorite [un-holiday] holiday films, the holidays are just the backdrop of more prominent themes like drugs, murder, and poverty. So if you're looking to get away from the traditional dysfunctional family (Home Alone, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation), Good vs. Evil (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Christmas Carol), and the Hero-Saves-The-Day holiday films, check these out. I promise you'll be in for a treat.

3. L.A. Confidential

Nominated for 9 Academy Awards, L.A. Confidential is the perfect homage to the film-noir style of film. This film reminds us of a tragedy that occurred on Christmas Day when 6 prisoners were attacked by 50 or so police officers. This real event (Bloody Christmas, Christmas Day 1951) is beautifully brought to life by a brilliant ensemble cast including Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, Danny Devito and James Cromwell. Note: L.A. Confidential is one to watch once the kids have gone to bed.

2. The French Connection

Holding the honor of being the first R-rated movie to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, The French Connection stars the great Gene Hackman and Roy Schneider as NYPD detectives who made a simple drug bust that led them to the largest heroine smuggling syndicate in the world. Power-backed with a chase scene and Gene Hackman in a Santa suit, this thriller is sure to keep you glued to the screen.

3. Brazil

Set during the Christmas season, this masterly-crafted film vividly depicts a story about the power of imagination as it battles the pwoer of oppression and hopelessness. I love this film, because it really make me thinka bout our society, the government, technology, human behavior, love and how they all impact our every day lives. The characters and themes are so complex it's hard to take it all in after one viewing. Don't believe me? Check out this itneresting, weird, yet amazing scene from the film.

Writing this paragraph made me realize two things about this film- it's hard to summarize, and it's so awesome I can't just pinpoint one reason why. So if you're looking to give your brain an exercise after spending hours mindlessly gift wrapping, watch this film. A must-see for any time of the year.

So what are your favorite un-holiday holiday themed movies? Let us know by commenting below or tell us on Twitter @swagger_media.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Our Work: mReminder

Client: mReminder, the world's first mobile-enabled family reminder and scheduling device.

Goal: Combining preexisting footage and stock, script and edit a brief Kickstarter video that explains mReminder's features and functionality.

Spot: mReminder Kickstarter Video

Monday, 18 November 2013

3 Hispanic Movies You MUST Watch

Being both Hispanic and a film lover, I always try to watch more than just the typical Hollywood or blockbuster productions. I have learned to root for and appreciate Hispanic movies because of their scripting, their directing, their actors, their raw concepts and their fabulous look. Some of them haven’t had much success outside of their main country, but a lot of them have been awarded and recognized worldwide.

Among the best and well-known Hispanic movies of this century, I picked 3 of my favorites, so you can start adding them to your watch list (if you haven’t already), and see if you can catch the Hispanic film fever (no, it’s not like Bieber fever. Sorry! I mean, you're welcome? Either way!). BEWARE! Here they come (ordered by date, not by choice):

    Amores Perros/Love’s a Bitch (Mexico, 2000)
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Producer: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Writer: Guillermo Arriaga
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Watch the trailer here!  

Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film (2001), winner of the Cannes Film Festival for Best Feature (2000), and recognized with other several awards, this movie is one of the best Mexican classics of all time. Starring Gael García Bernal (also known for “Y Tu Mamá También”), Goya Toledo and Emilio Echeverría, this film tells the story of a tragic car accident that connects the lives of three people in a magnificent, yet dark and violent way. It embraces themes like love, death, betrayal, hope, and of course, dogfighting, one of the cruel realities in Mexico.

My opinion: Latin American reality in 24 frames per second. Outstanding script and organic performances. It embraces “love” in all its ways and forms, even in the ugly ones. Also, Gael García Bernal is splendid here.

     Planta 4ta/4th Floor (Spain, 2003)
Director: Antonio Mercero
Producer: César Benitez and Emilio A. Pina
Writers: Antonio Mercero and Albert Espinosa (play)
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Watch the trailer here!  

Originally a play called “Los Pelones”/“The Baldies” and based on the true story of Albert Espinosa, this piece might not be as well known as the other two, but I think it was one of my first contacts with Spanish cinema. Winner of Best Director and People’s Choice Award in the Montreal World Film Festival (2003), among other European and Spanish recognitions and nominations, this film tells the story of a group of teenagers that share their hopes, dreams and fears inside of the cancer ward of a hospital. Starring Juan José Ballesta (Goya Award winner for “El Bola”), Luis Ángel Priego and Gorka Moreno, this movie perfectly balances comic and dramatic situations where the boys will have to learn how to deal with their fate while growing up inside of those white walls. It’s a truthful story about friendship and survival.

My opinion: Mercero does a splendid job on managing such a delicate and emotional subject through smart and refreshing comedy. Juan José Ballesta’s performance is as stunning as the one in “El Bola”; honest, playful and raw when it comes to hard and sad scenes. This movie will probably make you cry, but I can guarantee you will enjoy those tears afterwards.

El Secreto de Sus Ojos/The Secret in Their Eyes (Argentina, 2009)
Director: Juan José Campanella
Producer: Juan José Campanella
Writers: Eduardo Sacheri and Juan José Campanella
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Watch the trailer here

Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film (2010) and Goya Award winner for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film (2010), this movie has turned every filmmaker and cinephile’s attention into Argentinian cinema, especially after Campanella’s success with “The Son of The Bride”. Starring Ricardo Darín (also known for “Nueve Reinas”), Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino and Guillermo Francella, this film tells the story of Espósito, a retired lawyer who’s writing a novel about an unsolved murder that happened in 1974 and his search for the killer. Espósito fights his past choices, his doubts, and his secret feelings for his boss to finally find out the truth about the crime and its tragic consequences. It is a story about love, grief, corruption, perseverance, loyalty and blind commitment.

My opinion: Perfectly directed, beautiful shots and color temperature. The stadium scene is probably one of the greatest scenes ever written and made. Ricardo Darín does an incredible job, as always. It is definitely a film that makes me proud as a Latin American, and I’m not even Argentinian.

So tell me, have you watched some or all three of these Hispanic pieces? What do you think about them? Can you add other Hispanic films to this list? What makes them great? Please share your thoughts in the comments below or tweet @swagger_media!