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Realistic Optimism

28 Dec

By: Larry Roy

Realistic OptimismAs 2010 winds down, I can’t help but reflect on the year’s events, both good and bad. As a business owner, this year has certainly presented its share of challenges. It’s also brought about opportunities. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two. My experience is that it’s purely a matter of perspective. There are always cycles in business, as in life, and those cycles are mostly out of our control. What we can control is how we deal with them.

Flash back to 1987. Our business had been booming for several years and of course we expected that it would continue that way. Silly us. The economy changed and, like many other businesses at the time, ours started to tank. As the saying goes, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” We had grown to 2 locations and more than 50 employees. It became clear that our revenue streams were drying up, and something had to give. We continued forward with blind optimism for a short time, leaning on our reserves and hoping to weather the storm. But that wasn’t going to fly any longer. So we had to make some hard choices—the hardest being to lay off fifteen people just before the holidays.

There is nothing more difficult in business than having to let people go for reasons other than their own bad behavior. This economic downturn wasn’t their fault, but they were the victims.  I remember thinking at the time that this just isn’t fair! But as my father so eloquently pointed out, if we didn’t take these steps, we were going to find ourselves selling pencils on the street corner. That didn’t sound like fun. Pencils weren’t in great demand at the time.

So we did what we had to, and survived the crisis. That wasn’t any fun either, but it was a huge learning period for me. Crisis management is truly a test of one’s character and resolve. We ultimately found new opportunities, new ways to generate revenue, and better ways to manage what we had. Through it all, we found a way to maintain our sense of humor, keep our focus and trust that we could find our way back to the “promise land.”

I know that for many, 2010 has been tremendously difficult year, and I feel for them. However, what I admire most is the optimism I hear in the voices of other business owners. Yes, times are tough, but they are committed to fighting through it and getting back to the business of doing business. To me it’s not blind optimism, it’s about accepting the things we can’t control, having the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Yes, there’s a prayer in there somewhere.

So I for one will enter 2011 with a renewed conviction to grow and prosper; to seize opportunities, to face whatever challenges come our way, and to remember to find joy through it all.  Otherwise, what’s the point? Pencil anyone?

Original Thinking in a Template-Driven World

3 Dec

By: Larry Roy

Improving Your Brand Template #4What happens when you hire a company to help you improve your brand, or increase the flow of traffic to your website or your business? What’s their process? Do they go in the back room and grab “Improving Your Brand Template #4” off the shelf, rename it and say, “Here you go?” I hope not.

We can’t tell any company exactly what should be done to accomplish their goals through marketing and advertising until we thoroughly understand a few things. Let’s start with who they are–meaning who they think they are, who they want to be, how they are really perceived by the public, and do any of those match. It takes some significant probing and prodding to get a sense of this, but our clients appreciate it. They get what we’re after.

There is much more we need to learn before we can devise a real plan of attack and the necessary weapons to employ, but let’s skip that for now and jump to the process of brainstorming. What a cool word—raining on the brain or, I guess, from the brain. In any case, it’s fun and challenging at the same time. In our group, we tend to take the information we’ve extracted from our clients’ heads, then sift through it independently. Allowing individual thinking first, without the influence of others, pushes our team to think for themselves. That’s a good thing.

When we do come together in a brainstorming session, it’s a free-for-all by design. I don’t want us hung up on the how-to or the inherent silliness of an idea, at least not at first. If we’re not laughing hysterically at some point during a brainstorming session, then we’re probably not unearthing the best ideas. When you let diverse minds interact with a singularity of purpose, but with total freedom to dream up anything they want, it’s amazing what comes out of it! Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” and I listen to what he says.

So after the frivolity of a brainstorming session or two, we switch sides of the brain to zero in on the best, most feasible ideas for a client. Then we fine-tune them, and organize them in terms of priority. Next step, present to the client.

“You think we ought to do what?” It’s not an unusual first comment from a client when we sit down to review our ideas. That’s okay. If we don’t surprise them with something they haven’t considered before, then we haven’t earned our keep. That’s not to say that our sole objective is to shock the client with some crazy idea, but they’re paying us to think differently than they do. They ought to get their money’s worth. Besides, there’s always a method to our madness, a strategic logic behind our crazy ideas, and typically some precedent of prior success.

This is phase one of the process we follow with our clients. Phase two is defining budgets and timelines for implementation; more on that in the next installment. In the meantime, my advice to those seeking brand enhancement or advertising help is to look for a company that isn’t afraid to ask you hard questions, and then tell you what they think. It helps if they’re a little off their rocker, too! Just a little.

Stock Footage, Editing, and Music with Larry Roy

14 Sep

By: Taylor Vick

The editing process is something that has always amazed me. It takes such skill, attention to detail and focus to edit footage. Larry Roy was available to answer some questions about editing from a producer’s viewpoint, and how he manages all of that content.

Taylor Vick: Stock footage versus original footage?

Larry Roy: Stock is more cost efficient when the style or quality of footage you need is way beyond what the commercial budget will allow. Footage from a certain era, for example. It’s obviously easier you use stock WWII footage, than to attempt to re-create it, unless you have the scene calls for something very specific, and you have the budget. Or maybe you need footage of sharks – not something you would typically go out and film even if you have the budge, since there is great shark footage available.

If you need to portray a specific location or event, or a very particular style of footage, then original footage is best. It localizes the message and adds credibility. We prefer to shoot footage whenever possible, but again, it’s gaging what is more important–the quality or the specificity of the shot? If you can afford both, shoot original footage in most cases. Since stock footage is of course available to anyone, we often add a treatment or filter, or vary the speed, to give it a unique flair.

TV: Do you have any editing tips?

LR: Editing is really where a story gets told, whether it’s a commercial or it’s a short video or a feature film. It’s where you piece together the sequence, timing and flow.

Beyond timing and flow, editing is a lot of decision-making about what to use and what to leave out. On most projects, we overshoot to give us options in post. (It’s no fun to produce a 3-minute video with only 2 minutes of good footage!) Editing can and should involve trial and error, because the timing and feel is so important.

In commercial advertising, we typically edit video to audio. In other words, you have a recorded script or on camera talent, or music–something that marks a beginning and end. Audio and video of course have to work together in some logical or aesthetic fashion. So if you lay down your base audio track, driven by words, sounds and/or music, then you’ve got something from which you can tell the visual story. Audio is generally enhanced, or “sweetened” at the end of a project, but in its rough form, it typically starts the editing process.

In short, my advice is to be prepared, have a vision for the project, but allow for creative ideas to flow once you sit down to edit.

TV: How do keep track of all the different edits/shots?

LR: On set, we use verbal remarks, slates, shoot logs, and good script supervisors! Often the audio remarks a director makes on set while the camera’s rolling guide the producer and editors in post. And even in this day and age, a good paper log to refer to when in post-production helps. Digital production makes shot management much easier now, as opposed to tape and time code, since each take of a scene can be captured as a separate clip.

Also, we tend to shoot to edit. Because I’ve done a lot of producing, I understand what an editor has to go through, and try to think ahead when shooting so as not to make the editor’s job a nightmare. Yes, we’ll overshoot, but mainly to give us options where we expect to need them. When shooting B-roll for some long-form product, our shots are pretty planned, but we improvise on the fly as well to capture different angles or elements or scenery, just for variety. There is a “must have” list of shots, then there’s everything else.

TV: How do you go about selecting music to go in the commercials?

LR: To me, the mood that you want to create with the commercial should drive the music selection. If it’s intended to be light-hearted and fun, then the music needs to follow suit. If the tone is more somber and serious, then the music needs to match that. Some of the best post-scoring to me in commercials is what’s NOT there–a strategic break in all sound to accentuate a point. We often use a straight percussion, or a recurring sustained note to create a unique feel or sound.

Production: Proper Prior Planning

9 Sep

PlanningOne of the most important parts of production is the planning. Here, Larry Roy talks about the planning and preparation process and how to overcome on-site challenges!

Taylor Vick: Are there any on-site challenges that you have to overcome on the day of the shoot?

Larry Roy: Yes – all kinds of things! Despite the fact that we place a huge emphasis on planning and preparation, something unexpected almost always occurs, and you have to fix or adapt to on the fly. When shooting outdoors, weather is always a factor, and not just severe weather. Direct sunlight is not your friend either, but you plan for that. Shooting at dawn or dusk takes precise timing in order to capture just the right light. We’ve dealt with everything from stray dogs, to construction crews, to random onlookers who want to “participate” in the shoot.

If you’re shooting indoors there could be technical issues, lighting challenges, wardrobe and set design issues can pop up. Last minute client changes are always fun, too! That’s why the planning is so important: You assemble the people, equipment and resources you need well in advance, you scout your locations, you allow flexibility in your shooting schedule for the unexpected, and then hope it doesn’t happen!

TV: What do you do if there is unexpected noise at the shoot? How do you fix it?

LR: Well if you’ve planned well, then you are at a location where that isn’t a concern. However, sometimes things just happen–like planes, trains and automobiles! If it’s a man-made noise and can be temporarily halted, then you negotiate with whomever you can to make that happen. If not, you either wait it out if it will go away, or somehow find a way to cover it or muffle it on site. Another option is an editor’s nightmare, which is to say, “We’ll just fix it in post!” (post-production). This may require “looping” the original audio, or covering it with music or other sound design.

TV: Have you ever had any challenges with crews in Nashville?

LR: Yes, but rarely. Maybe we’re short a microphone, or missing a needed camera lens, or a battery or light just dies on the set. But as for crew, Nashville has plenty of great people who know what they are doing–and love doing it.

TV Commercials, Talent and Directors with Larry Roy

3 Sep

by: Taylor Vick

Point 3 Media Green Screen

Point 3 Media Green Screen

I got to sit down with Larry last week to interview him about TV Commercials after his great blog about 5 Ways to Improve Your TV Commercials. It was the first interview I had ever conducted since Elementary School when we had to interview one of our heroes. (Mine was Ann Richards – Governor of Texas from 1991-1995 – and she even wrote me back)! Anyway, TV Commercials can be so challenging to get right, and just about anything can go wrong. From scripting to casting to lighting to editing, the process is time consuming and can be expensive. Here, Larry gives some advice about how to overcome the challenges of producing and directing a TV Commercial.

What are the elements of a good TV Commercial?

Always start with the concept, or the idea. What do you want to communicate? That’s the message. How do you want to communicate it? That’s the concept.

Okay, so you’ve got concept and message. Now you need a script. Sometimes a commercial may not have any words at all, but there is a visual script – a story board – that tells the story, but most commercials have some written word that is spoken. The importance of a good script is that it has flow and is concise. When you’re dealing with commercials, you have less time and therefore every word counts. Oftentimes less is more. The tendency of a lot of advertisers is to cram so much information in 30 or 15 seconds that it’s not heard at all. You get to the end of a commercial, and it’s just a blur. So, I always stick with writing as little as possible. You don’t have to fill every second with spoken word. Whatever has to absolutely be gotten across needs to be in the script.

Other elements to a good commercial beyond concept, message, and script are talent and production values. Nothing can save a director more than good talent. If you cast people who are qualified and good actors, then they make whatever you have to work with better. Production values – obviously budget dictates what those can be – but the basics of good lighting, good directing, good editing, good timing are crucial.

Have you ever disagreed with a client who chooses talent that you don’t think is right for the part? And if so, how do you handle a talent that isn’t up to your standards?

The most challenging talent is usually if the client is the talent. That decision is made for obvious reasons. Sometimes it’s about ego, but other times it’s about feeling that that person needs to be the face of the company or the product. So, our first task generally is to recommend against it, unless that person happens to have some experience or is naturally comfortable in front of the camera. If they’ve done a lot of interviews, or press appearances on shows then they’re going to have a certain comfort level. If they’re very shy, quiet, and feel awkward speaking towards the camera, then it creates more of a challenge.

If you can’t propose that professional talent be used – you first of all plan to spend more time with the talent, and slowly take it in small bites to get the absolute best delivery you can for short scenes. We often will employee instances where the talent is done more interview style where they’re not looking at the camera and they’re talking to someone off camera who is interviewing them. The reason for that is because it’s much easier if you don’t do this professionally to have a conversation with someone, than to have a conversation with a lens and a red dot in front of you. Those are techniques that can be used to get a more natural, more comfortable delivery.

One of the worst things in a commercial is if the talent is very stiff, stilted, or unprofessional, because you question their creditability. Even if they’re sincere, if they can’t put across a message succinctly and comfortably to the camera, then their creditability is at risk.

What happens if your client is the talent, and he also decides he wants to direct? How do you handle that?

I’ve had that occurrence often. It’s not only with the clients themselves, but sometimes it’s with their ad agency, or their marketing director, or something of that nature. There’s some politicking that goes on. On the shoot side of things, one of the most important things to stress is – when you’re dealing with the talent – that there’s one director. That’s just something you have to strike a hard line with the client, and say this is the director. He/She will talk to the talent. If you have a thought or an opinion, please voice it to the director or the AD [assistant director] and let them communicate with the talent. When you’ve got someone on the spot, in the lights, and trying to act, multiple bosses is not a good thing.

On the backside in post-production, if the client wants to be in the production, you obviously encourage them to allow you to do a first cut and present that to them first. Then if they want to be involved after that, fine. It is just practicality. If I’m talking to the President of an insurance company, I’m not going to try and tell him what kind of life-and-casualty or term insurance to buy. That’s not my area. That’s not what I do.

By the same token, this is not what they do. Production is not – it’s a learned skill. It’s a trade just like anything else. The challenge in that is people – creativity is subjective. Everyone can have an opinion on what they think is “good” or creative. But the process of creating a finished product such as a commercial is as much science as it is art. There are steps and details in the process just like anything else. So we try and lead the client to understand and trust us that we know what we’re doing. We’re trained to do this. This is what we do every day and allow us to do it.

Oftentimes when we have a client that we’re working with that doesn’t know us, and they feel the need to be a part of the production. Almost inevitably when they’re on set with us or on location with us shooting, they realize what preparation has gone into it and how we operate in that environment. Then they tend to back away. They see that we know what we’re doing. That it’s been well thought out and well prepared and there’s an excellent crew of people there doing what they are trained to do. So 9 times out of 10, they say “I don’t need to be around any longer.” That’s usually what happens.