Friday, 15 February 2013

On Set: Bringing the Swagger to KIPP Houston

Last week we had a two-day shoot at the KIPP Academy here in Houston, Texas. We are working on a video for their annual gala this coming April and got the opportunity to film at the SHINE Prep elementary school, KIPP Academy middle school and KIPP Houston high school, all on the same beautiful campus.

The People [Filming] Under the Stairs. We're not weird at all...
We were covering a lot of ground, both physically and in the amount of footage we needed, so it was helpful having three cameras always at the ready.

Lunch time! Who wants a juice box?
We had one featured actress, 2nd grader Madison Padilla, who was a tremendous help to the project and a real professional! Smart as a whip, she took some time out of her busy day of learning about fractions (which we’re pretty sure we learned waaaaay later than 2nd grade) to lend her smile and acting skills to the video. Thanks, Madison!

This project also gave us a chance to try out our new fancy schmancy motorized slider, which allowed us to get some really nice timelapse footage of the students in their natural habitat.

Crew in his natural habitat.
 And now to the cutting room we go, off to complete one of our first projects using the Adobe Creative suite! (To read about why we made the switch from Final Cut Pro to Adobe and what we think of it so far, check out our previous blog post.)

Things we learned on this shoot:
1. KIPP students are very friendly and helpful!
2. Flying robot cameras are not super easy to use.
3. The chocolate lava cake from Domino's may look sad but it tastes DELICIOUS. 

It was a very educational shoot.
Big thanks to Tracie for making us at home during the shoot, and thank you to the whole KIPP family of faculty, staff and students for welcoming us into your world for a couple of fun days on set.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Changing the way Swagger Post Does Business

Recently at Swagger Post, we completely overhauled our post production pipeline by making the switch from Final Cut Pro 7 to Adobe’s Creative Suite. We made this decision due to a number of reasons, and I was excited to see how the change would affect the way we do things in the post world here at Swagger. It’s been about a month since we’ve transitioned to Adobe and, as is often the case with such changes, there have been some growing pains. Let me break down a few of my findings:

Top Reasons I’m Glad We Switched

1. User Interface

The UI in Adobe’s suite is much easier on the eyes and adds elements that are familiar to both native Final Cut users and Avid buffs. I personally like the feel of Adobe’s UI and the ease of round-tripping from one application to the next.

2. Keyboard Shortcuts

The ability to easily change the keyboard shortcuts to Final Cut shortcuts is a breeze. Most of the commands are exactly the same with the exception of a few. This functionality made us feel right at home in a completely different software.

3. RAM

Most professional users of FCP know that it was limited to using 4GB of RAM across the board. Adobe allows all of its application to run in 64 Bit and natively use as much RAM as you can throw at it. This greatly affects render speeds.... In a good way.

However... (There is always a however...)

Tops Reasons Why I Miss FCP

1. Old Dogs

Those like me who have learned non-linear editing on Final Cut miss the general feel of the software and may even be experiencing separation anxiety. That old saying about teaching an old dog new tricks could not be more true. FCP was our lifeblood for a very long time and it was a tough decision to ponder with regards to migrating our Post pipeline.

2. Baselight

Baselight was our high-end, big-budget color grading software and it is only available for FCP and Avid-based systems. It is similar to DaVinci’s Resolve grading software but is more budget friendly for those who cannot afford a $10,000 grading suite. I will miss it, but with that being said I am very impressed with Adobe’s Speedgrade, an application included in their Post Pipeline Suite.

3.  Native Codec
No NLE is going to be perfect. Not even Final Cut Pro X.... Sorry I couldn’t get through writing this without at least dogging it once. With that being said, FCP has some wonderful options when it comes to Codecs. While we are still in the testing phase of Adobe’s suite, I believe that there is a very strong possibility that we will continue to use Apple’s ProRes codecs. The quality derived from the compressed information in the footage when transcoding to ProRes is only matched in my opinion by that of Avid’s DNX codecs.

The overall verdict? Adobe’s Creative Suite was the right choice for us, because ultimately it made our pipeline faster and all the applications from ingestion to mastering are neatly packaged in one suite. However, if there ever comes a time when I determine that the workflow is not saving us time and money and furthermore helping us deliver a better product to the customer, then I reserve the right to change my mind!

What do you think about FCP7 versus Adobe Premiere? Let us know in the comments, and stay tuned to our blog for tips and tutorials on Adobe’s Suite and other video production/post-production topics.

Stay tuned for my next topic of discussion about Maxon’s Cinema 4D. This thing is a game changer and you won’t want to miss what we have found!


Ali G

Monday, 4 February 2013

Defining Yourself in a Multitasking World

Defining yourself in a crowded marketplace is always challenging.  Not so long ago, a young tradesman/tradeswoman may have asked him/herself, “Am I a cobbler, or a shoemaker, or simply a farmer who dabbles in both?”  In today’s marketing space it’s a little bit tougher to not only find a suitable moniker for you and your company, but to discover one that will suitably and expertly distinguish you from every other like-minded tradesman out there.

At Swagger, in addition to making films (filmmakers) we produce and direct commercials (commercial directors) and corporate videos (videographers).  We’re not shooting anything on actual film stock, so “filmmaker” is, in the literal sense, incorrect.  That’s fine.  We used to shoot onto video tape, so videographer is appropriate, however the majority of our work is shot on the RED Camera, or on a Canon 5D/7D.  Both of those systems bypass tape and film all together and are digitized on a built-in hard drive or memory card.  So are we also Digitizers?  Hard Driveographers?  How much weight should the equipment hold when it comes to defining yourself to a stranger at a cocktail party or potential clients?  (“Well I’m a commercial director and filmmaker, but I also shoot videos and online content…”)  You can see their eyes glaze over immediately.  If you’re a banker, lawyer, plumber, pirate or even gambler, you know what you’re dealing with and all have immediate recognition value.  However, the myriad services of a creative agency defy succinct explanation.  Either that, or as creative folks we are just naturally long-winded and self-indulgent. 

In addition to filmmaking, commercial directing and videography, we also edit, animate, and provide marketing strategy.  How do those skills get rolled on to a business card title or LinkedIn profile?  The image of Groundskeeper Willie singing “Maniac” with his kick drum/harmonica/one-man band immediately come to mind.  Cue the clip…

Ultimately, the best way to define your company is by the work that you do.  Whether you are a one-man band or small company in growth mode, it doesn’t have to be about the work that you SELL, or the work that you MARKET, but the work that you DO, day in and day out.  How do you get that work done and what’s the larger goal behind what you’re trying to accomplish?

There’s a great book by Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit.  In one chapter, he details the work Tony Dungy did with the Indianapolis Colts and how he turned the team from basement dweller to perennial Super Bowl contender in just a few seasons.  Dungy preached the err.. power of habit.  If you practice sound techniques over and over and over, it will pay off.  Granted the work won’t always be GREAT, and that’s okay; it’s a process.  It took Dungy 5 straight seasons of missed opportunities with the Colts to finally hoist the Lombardi Trophy in 2007. Ultimately, Dungy wasn’t “just” a football coach, but a disciple of positive habit formation who used that philosophy to inform the task he had before him, a skill he could’ve applied to any job, no matter the product. In a similar sense, we at Swagger also believe in consistently applying sound techniques in order to tell compelling stories in everything we do, whether it’s as filmmakers, videographers, social media marketers, or any of the other services we provide. This is a common thread in all that we do that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily as a traditional job title, but gets to the heart of what we do so much more accurately.

I welcome any readers to comment as to how they define themselves and how that can lead to their own personal and professional success.   For now, we will continue to capture the movies/stories/commercials/videos that inspire us to create on whatever medium suits the project best.