Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Video Production Evolution

It seems like video is everywhere these days. As the Internet evolves, bandwidth speeds increase, more and more companies, organizations, bands, and individuals opt to integrate video into their web presence. For someone like me, where my day job is freelance video production (while I passionately chase my long terms goals as a filmmaker), this is good news. So I was little surprised when a friend sent me a link to an article titled: "Video Postproduction is 'Dying Industry.'" My friend, also a video production professional, wondered what I made of this article. Here's a link to the article, if you're curious:

Here's essentially my reaction ...

I had to read the very end to finally get what the article was saying. And even then, I think I was helped out by some critical thinking skills from college, as the article was not exactly clear. What this article is actually saying is that places that offer strictly post-production facility and services (editing suites and editors and motion graphics animators) are in decline because people like me who are filmmakers and videographer own shooting AND editing gear. In other words, we can do everything without having to go to such a facility.

That is actually ... ANCIENT news. That's been happening for several years now. The very high end places that offer years of professional expertise and expensive editing gear small outfits can't afford, will likely stay alive as long as they evolve with the needs of their clients. But they have already seen declines as far as the kinds of clients they used to draw in as more and more smaller video production companies or individuals have moved to having everything they need for post-production in house. It is just more cost effective. It isn't until you being to deal with large amounts of data-heavy workflows for uncompressed HD, 2K, 4K, or 5K for feature films and TV shows that a large specialized post-production facility starts making sense. 

But the truth is, video post-production is alive and well! The article is short and convoluted and really does a lousy job of making its point. Fact is, more people than ever are having videos created for their companies, websites, and organizations. But again, they're going to people like my friend and I who have the gear and experience to do it all from pre-producing, shooting, through editing and delivery.

My friend joked he was having a crises after reading that article. I laughed and went on to explain the this ...

2010 was a record year for me as far as freelance video production work. And the vast majority of the work I did was editing! But here's the thing, I was generally the one shooting or producing what I was then brining into my Final Cut Studio 3 system. So yes, I wasn't going to a big post-production house. I never have, in fact. It just isn't cost effective for the type of video production I tend to do. It makes more sense for me to own my own iMac and Final Cut Studio 3. In fact, I would not make any money if I had to got to a post-production facility. And for the my freelance HD workflows, my iMac cranks along beautifully.

The trends I see from experience and interaction with people is that as more businesses, organizations, bands, non-profit entities, and other such places continue to expand their Internet presence, there is and only will be MORE NEED for video creation. Especially when it comes to professionals that can see a project from start to finish. People are into this one-stop-shop approach, which works great most of the time. It only becomes a problem when some clients ask freelancers to do the job of three people: "Oh, can you shoot, and monitor audio recording, and boom, and do DIT work, and make sure lights are set up at the second locations in advance so we can get there and start shooting right away?" Generally, this is born out of inexperience or lack awareness of what actually goes into professional video production. One person with lots of experience can do quite a bit, but at there are definite limits. At some point, quality is sacrificed in the name of trying to keep things to a one-person crew, which for some projects is not realistic. 

On top if this, we also have the DIY phenomena. More people than ever fancy themselves capable of creating professional level videos. Sure, the technology is cheaper now, and if someone really wants to do a weekly video podcast, they can go buy a camera and get iMovie, or Final Cut Express, or Adobe Premiere Elements, or Windows Movie Maker and do that themselves. In fact, I have recommended this exact approach to at least two people who asked me about creating a regular video podcast for them.

Why did I do that? I'm a professional. Video production is what I do. I have to make my day rate or its not worth booking the project because it takes up precious time I can be working on my film career long term goals or doing another gig that will pay me my day rate. On top of that, if such people were to pay me to do their weekly podcast, they would spend a lot of money hiring me to do that week after week. Plus, it's a little video podcast, you don't need a pro to make that. Just learn some basic principles of camera positioning, audio recording, and lighting, and you can create something that's adequate. After all, the quality expectations for video podcasts are pretty low, and the people who were approaching me about doing this didn't have the budgets for hiring pros to create their weekly podcast. Had they been large corporations, it might have been a different story (and potentially worth it for them depending on their marketing approach).

But, what most people are doing is getting sleek and polished, well shot, well edited short videos created for their websites, in house use, or for TV commercials and so forth. These are a totally different ball game that the above mentioned video podcasts. These videos HAVE to be done by pros with experience. That hasn't changed at all. 

Of course, some more naive folks out there think they can pick up a camera from BestBuy, shoot something that will be seen as good because they're using an HD camera, edit it on iMovie, and that it's going to be on par with professionally produced videos. That will happen. Eventually, however, most such people realize, "Oh, there's so much more to this professional video creation thing than having an HD camera and an iMac." So yes, digital video gear has come down in price and become more accessible. But that can't replace professional experience, artistic sensibilities, and business savvy required to pre-produce, light, shoot, and edit something that is polished and effective.

Now the area where I do see some change, which is no surprise I should add, is that some organizations that utilize video a lot are making that a department in their structure. That only makes sense from a business perspective, because they can save money that way. But a lot of times, they are only able to get entry level people who do those jobs for entry level pay in order to gain experience. Such people often move on in a few years. So when they need a creative and very professional touch ... they often turn to freelancers with impressive reels and client lists.

Often time, even with companies that might have their own video post-production department, the still need professional videographers with appropriate gear to actually go out and do the shooting for them. I do a good bit of work like this for a few different companies where I pack up my car with my lighting, audio, and camera gear and head out to location where I shoot carefully prepared and lit interviews or live events and then hand off the footage. The company that hired me takes it from there. And this works for everyone concerned. I get my day rate for shooting for them and the next day I'm right back in my office working on either other projects or the feature film I am currently developing. They get a professional with years of experience to shoot good quality footage for them, and then they can save some money by having their in-house editor take it from there. Frankly, I see this as a win-win.

And of course, there as are still plenty of projects and clients that need the complete package from planning through editing. So fellow videographers out there, do not disappear, and do not sell off your editing systems. Yes, I would say the landscape is changing, but I would also say that the article that inspired this whole blog post in the first place does a terrible job of addressing what is actually going on n the video production market these days. After all, the landscape in the world of business and technology is always changing. But as I look into the future, I only see more need for high-impact and expertly produced video content by creative professionals who know how to take the new tools available and put them to great use (sometimes even pushing the limits of what such gear was originally designed to do such has been the case with the HDSLR revolution).

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