Thursday, 31 July 2014

Our Work: SETMA Cares - Runner Commercial

Client: SETMA, a multi-speciality clinic located in Southeast Texas.

Goal: To produce a :60 segment for broadcast that highlights the qualities that make SETMA unique.

Spot: SETMA Cares - Runner Commercial

Here's an exclusive behind the scenes look at the making of this commercial. 

Monday, 28 July 2014

I Wrote a Blog Post about Writing a Blog Post

Clever title, huh? I came up with it myself.

Lately I've been delving more and more into the blog writing business, much to my personal delight. Writing is something I've always enjoyed, so when I was tasked with managing the blogs of some SWAGGER MEDIA clients and creating content for them, I was ecstatic.

Since I started writing for these blogs, I've come up with 5 tricks that have helped me improve the content of my posts and engage my audience better, and now I'm going to share them with you.

1. Know What You're Writing About 

This may sound obvious, but in my experience, writing about subjects on which you are well-informed is always more enjoyable for both you and your readers than writing about what you don't know or care about. However, there's usually only a limited amount of subjects that fall into the former category. In addition, if you are like me, you might be writing for a highly specialized blog on subjects you've never even heard of. So my advice is: research, research, research.

Remember to add at least an hour or so for research as part of the time you allot to writing each blog post. You don't need to get your PHD on the subject, but you do need to know enough to at least answer teh following questions: What is my subject? How is it defined? Why is it important for my audience to know about this? If I didn't know anything about the subject, would this piece enlighten or confuse me?

2 .Write Passionately

Perhaps you've heard people say that you should write about what you know, what you're passionate about. That's good advice, but, as I mentioned before, it's not always feasible. So here's a better one: write passionately. Write as if your life revolved around the subject at hand, as if you've just spent decades studying the very thing you are now writing a blog post about, as if you couldn't wait to tell the world about... I don't know... dog dander, for example.

You get the point.

3. Come Up with Content Ideas Beforehand

A good way to make sure you have enough time to research your subject and write a great-looking article is to have a list of content ideas written down beforehand. This way you won't find yourself scrambling for topic ideas the day you're supposed to write and publish the blog post.

Also remember to cater to your audience. Say you are in charge of posting content on a blog that specializes on pet care and you really really like snakes, so your first instinct is to write a series of posts about caring for pet snakes. While snakes might be interesting to you, your audience might actually be more interested in dogs and cats. One way to find out what your target audience is actually interested in is through Google Analytics. If you have analytics set up for your website, you can actually get your hands on tons of information about the people who visit your site (age, gender, main interests, etc.) as well as which search terms they've been using to get to your site. This way you can take those search terms and use them as topics for blog posts.

4. Optimize for SEO

If you are writing a blog post there is no reason not to try to make it as SEO-friendly as possible. We could get WAY more in-depth with this conversation, but we'll keep this simple. Three quick ways to do this are:
  1. Include pictures
  2. Include internal links to your website and external links to another blog or website
  3. Include the main keywords on your title and URL
5. Use Pictures, Videos, and GIFs

Folks like to look at pretty pictures. Admit it: you might not have gotten through this entire post if it wasn't for the GIFs. 

What other steps do you take as part of your blog writing process? What are the essential keys for your audience? Let me know by commenting below or by tweeting @swagger_media!

Monday, 21 July 2014

The 5 Worst/Best Michael Bay "Films"

Theres been a lot of chatter around the office lately about Michael Bay. Some of my co-workers can get down with a Michael Bay film and some despise him. I personally dont mind him. He is often criticized for his films lack of story, lack of character development and numerous explosions. But, somehow the studios keep giving him money to make films, which somehow still gross TONS of money (especially internationally).

I will be honest, I agree with the critics; very seldom does a Michael Bay film move me. I never walk away from the theater feeling a deep connection with his depiction of Optimus Prime. I do walk away seeing some of the best pyrotechnics in film Ive ever seen.  Come on, you must admit that no one does an explosion like Michael Bay. For that matter, no one does a highway car chase like Michael Bay. Michaels found his niche, what works for him, and who can blame the guy for capitalizing on it?

So heres my list of the top 5 most quintessential Michael Bay films, ranked from worst to best. Everyone seems to have an opinion on Mr. Bay's work so I'm sure you do too; Let me know what you think in the comments section below. Even better: rank your Top 5 Michael Bay films from worst to best. I look forward to seeing how it compares.

1.     The Island

I have to be honest; I have a huge place in my heart for Futuristic/Sci-Fi/Action/Thriller movies. Starring the beautiful Scarlett Johansen and Ewan McGregor, this film follows the character Lincoln Six Echo who lives in a Utopian facility. Lincoln vies for a transfer to The Island, the last uncontaminated spot on the planet, only to discover that its all a lie. What was Michael Bays inspiration for the destructive care chase scene? A flatbed truck carrying train wheels he spotted on the Palmdale. What an artist. This film never really comes full circle and we are left with tons of questions, the major one being how a place even existed without anyone knowing?

2.     Transformers

Transformers was one of my favorite childhood cartoons. I loved Optimus Prime. Like everyone else, I was super stoked to see this movie brought to life.  I wont give a description here, we all KNOW Transformers, and if you dont, watch the series on Netflix. I will be honest; Michael Bay didnt do a good job telling the story, no surprise. The loud explosions and fiery car chases kept my ears ringing and my bottom on the edge of my seat. This gets number 2 for better story and action than The Island.

3.     Pearl Harbor

Not your typical Michael Bay film, this story depicts the epic events surrounding - you guessed it- Pearl Harbor, told through the eyes of two young men, Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh Hartnett). As always, the film left tons of plot holes. As a history buff, I was hoping for more and I hope to see a better remake in the future. Ive selected this for #3 because this is the only film of Michael Bay's that has somewhat of a story to follow, characters that the audience can relate to emotionally, and the basic story of the event is enough to move an audience. It gets a 3 because it could have been more. It climbed the cliff, but it didnt jump off.

4.     Bad Boys

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence play two cops who are partners in this crazy, action-packed cop drama, in which both men are trying to protect a witness while solving a heroin case. Michael Bays best car scenes are in this film. Will and Martin make you laugh and the explosions keep you on the edge of your seat. You cant help but fall in love with Mike Lowry (Will Smith's character). This is probably one of the best Michael Bay films, but because I prefer Bruce Willis, Sci-Fi, and Aerosmith, I had to make this number 4.

5.     Armageddon

Essentially, the world is getting ready to be hit by a major meteor that only roughneck oil workers can destroy. This sums it up. This movie has very little depth, but its fun to watch the explosions and stare at young Ben Affleck. This is the only movie ever to make me shed a tear. Yes, you read it right the ONLY MOVIE EVER! Bruce Willis choosing to save the world by sacrificing his life mixed with Aerosmiths I Dont Want to Miss a Thing makes for a total cry fest for me.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Our Work: Uptown Park - Top Drawer

Client: Lewis & Partners, a marketing solution agency representing Houston's premiere shopping center, Uptown Park.

Goal: To create a :60 video that demonstrates the unique shopping experience offered at Top Drawer in Uptown Park. 

Spot: Uptown Park: Top Drawer

Monday, 14 July 2014

Steve McQueen and Sean Dunne: Two Directors You May Be Missing Out On

Movies have always been such an incredible source of awe and wonder for me. They can tell stories in a visual way that, arguably, books cannot, or show us worlds that simply don’t exist or cannot be created physically. Even back in 1902 Georges Méliès was showing the world the magic possible through cinema with A Trip to the Moon. Today with CGI and special effects the scope of movies is beyond imagining, but some of the most powerful features still wow us simply by telling a truly compelling story. It’s a rare thing today to find a film that is untouched by overzealous CGI, almost as if some directors have forgotten the primary objective of a film is to tell a story.

Steve McQueen and Sean Dunne are two directors that haven’t forgotten what this means. They use compelling shots and interesting characters to pull the viewer into a story that’s a part of a world beyond imagining. What else is cinema for if not that very purpose?

It was only a few months ago that I saw 12 Years a Slave, director Steve McQueen’s third feature length film. You may be familiar with this film which chronicles the twelve years that Solomon Northup spent in captivity on southern plantations, but I would bet you have not yet seen Hunger or Shame, McQueen’s first two feature length films. Both are equally as stunning and powerful as 12 Years a Slave, characterized by uncomfortably long shots courtesy of cinematographer Sean Bobbitt [The Place Behind the Pines (2012), Oldboy (2013)]. Each film takes you on a journey you might not have signed up for as you began to feel what the characters feel: pain, shame, hunger, etc. There’s a reason his first two films are named after feelings; it’s truly impossible to sit through them without empathizing with characters that are struggling to make it from day to day with burdens most of us are blessed not to have.

What I find so mesmerizing about Steve McQueen films is his ability as a director and writer to take me out of my comfort zone and force me to experience what his protagonists are going through. Every shot, every piece of dialogue, and every character has a specific purpose that adds to the overall structure of the movie. You won’t find any meaningless car chases, gunfights or explosions in these films. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a good action movie, but those types of scenes really only serve to put you on the edge of your seat. They don’t advance the story or develop characters; it’s all shock value. McQueen films are just pure, unadulterated visual storytelling. I should also add that Michael Fassbender [300 (2007), X-Men: First Class (2011), Prometheus (2012)] stars in all three films, so if you’re a fan, you’re in for a treat.

Another recent discovery for me is director Sean Dunne, a documentary filmmaker who focuses on telling the gritty stories of people who are often stigmatized by society. I first discovered his short documentary American Juggalo only last week. Since then I’ve binge-watched several other short documentaries and his full length documentary Oxyana, which tells the story of the small town of Oceana in West Virginia that has been plagued by the illegal oxycontin drug trade. In an interview with Carson Daly, Dunne described what he is trying to accomplish with his films:

“I think what I’m trying to do is make films that people can find a little bit of themselves in, find something relatable in there, and, if you can watch Rocky hustle people in bowling, or watch this guy with the world largest record collection, or a traveling country musician, or an oxycontin pill head; if you can empathize with these people and relate with them then I feel like I’ve done my job.”

Documentaries are to cinema what biographies are to writing: some are dressed up and really only focus on the bright and shiny side of something, but some show you the ugly underbelly of the world we live in, exposing our flaws and forcing us to reflect inward on who we really are. Dunne makes gritty documentaries that don’t pull punches; you’re going to intimately get to know the subject and relate to them on a level you might not have thought possible. There really is something special about a documentary that makes you realize that people you might have looked down on are still human beings, most with families, friends, jobs, bills, and all the other responsibilities we all have. In other words, we’re simply all people divided by differences that are mostly superficial. These short documentaries will strip all that bias away and show you that some of the strangest characters out there really aren’t all that different from you.

I hope I’ve inspired you to seek out directors and filmmakers who do more than spend 70% of their budget on CGI. Don’t get me wrong, I love a terrible Michael Bay film as much as the next guy, but I don’t want storytelling to fall to the wayside in the wake of the digital era, especially when there’s so much that can be accomplished with great actors and a good script.

Who are some directors you feel might be undervalued today? What films do you think do a great job with visual storytelling? Let us know with a comment below or share with us on twitter @swagger_media.

Monday, 7 July 2014

5 Tips to Become an Efficient Editor

Video editing is not a task you can fast-forward through. If you rush yourself through it, you will probably end up spending more time fixing those little mistakes you didn’t foresee because of the stress of turnaround time. I know deadlines can be tough, so we have to do the best we can to accomplish them and survive along the way.

Do not fear my friends! I have found just the cure for all of you, hard-working editors out there, who are looking for time-management and efficiency tips that could help you edit your projects without loosing your sanity.

*Note: This short guide is “scientifically proven” by the Swagger team!

  1. Make a tasks list
Once you’re assigned with a project, break it down into a list of tasks as specific as possible. This will help you accomplish your deadline step by step, without feeling too overwhelmed.

Here at Swagger we love to use Asana to manage our tasks and keep our team up to speed with deadlines and projects statuses. There are also other similar task management tools you can check out for the same purpose, such as Trackolade, DropTask or Azendoo. Some of them are also available at the App store, so you can still manage your tasks on your cell phone or tablet.

  1. Set up daily editing goals
Once you’re all set with your tasks list, get even more specific and set up what I like to call daily editing goals. For example:

-Finish rough cut (no later than 2:00PM)
-Review rough cut with the team (3:00PM)
-Apply internal revisions (3:30PM)
-Export out low-res version for the animator (4:00 PM)

Trust me, it is all about organization. I’ve found that if I schedule my day ahead by listing my own small, achievable goals, I end up accomplishing more in less time, because I set up my mind to reach those before the day is over. 

  1. Use markers, labels and notes
I’m an Adobe Premiere lover, and a huge labeling fan. Add them together and you get an obsessed editor with colorful timelines and lots of markers (I swear they look like that for a reason. I swear).

Here at Swagger, one of the first things I learned as an editor is the popular phrase: project prep is key (along with a couple of other tips -you can visit one of my first blog posts to learn all about them). However, sometimes we seem to think that once we’re done prepping, we can stop worrying about organization. Well, let me tell you: No!

Keeping your project and timeline as neat and clean as possible at all times is ALSO key. This allows other editors to jump on your project and give you a hand without feeling lost or wasting time trying to figure out what you did, where the assets are located, which one is the current sequence, etc.

This is where markers, labels and notes come handy:
            -Use markers for editing annotations, graphics directions, etc.
            -Add notes & comments to your markers to explain even further details.
-Use and customize color labels to identify best takes from bad takes, graphics, b-roll or to split your video in different sections.

  1. Focus on the solution, not the problem
We know things can go wrong: your 30 min upload stopped, your export got corrupted, your editing software quit and you didn’t hit “save”. That’s all right. There’s ALWAYS a solution. Always. I know turn around times are an issue in this business, but there’s no point in getting overwhelmed because, guess what? Worrying and complaining takes time. And… time is exactly what you need.

So, to focus on the solution instead of the problem, you probably should:
-Stop and take a 3 min break: Stop for a second and take a deep breath. Stress and time pressure can blind us from the most obvious way to troubleshoot.
-Do some research: Instead of running in circles, you can go on the web and type in exactly what’s happening. There are lots of online forums where people discuss these issues and help each other figure out how to fix them. Believe me, it’s very unlikely that this has only happened to you.
-Delegate: I’m sure your team is there for you when you need them. Ask for help, split the work so you can all accomplish your deadline in time through a group effort. That’s how we do it here at Swagger!

  1. Pay attention to details, but don’t overthink it!
Before exporting out your video, I recommend you watch it at least 2-3 times to make sure everything is spot on. I also encourage you to get the opinion from one or a couple of your coworkers. Trust me, a second pair of eyes is always helpful, especially when you’ve been working on the same project for the past two weeks and have almost memorized every cut and transition.

Even when you’ve spent a lot of time on a project and already started “filling in the blanks”, you should always pay attention to details. Is every text graphic spelled correctly? Are your cuts beautifully timed to the music? Is your audio perfectly leveled? Is your color correction consistent? It’s all about a healthy balance between being careful and being confident enough to avoid overthinking. Because when we overthink, we can spend even more time than needed on making simple editing decisions, and we start seeing problems that weren’t there to begin with.

Well, I hope this small guide can help all the editors out there to be more efficient and overcome tough deadlines from now on. So tell me, what would you do to become an efficient editor? Is there something else we can add to this list? Have you tried any of the tips above? How has that helped you as an editor? We’d love to hear from you, so please leave your comments on the section below or share your thoughts on Twitter @swagger_media!

¡Hasta la próxima!