Friday, June 27, 2014

What Can Murphy Teach Us?

In video production, as in life, Murphy's law rules. For the uninitiated, Murphy's law states that "if something can go wrong, it will." Really it is just the statement of the obvious, that life is full of the unexpected, and often times, that doesn't always mean something good.

Since video production involves recording life as it happens, the not-so-good-unexpected always enters into our work.  As a metaphor for life, video is great! Because when the unexpected does happen, it's not the specific twist of fate that matters so much, it is how you handle it that counts.

There is not one single video shoot that I have gone on that hasn't had Murphy's law ready to play out somehow or other on the set. To name a few: the monitor suddenly doesn't want to power up; the mic cable has a hum in it or is picking up the local radio station; the interview subject shows up in a tight herringbone outfit that is virtually buzzing on the screen; a meeting got scheduled in the room that you planned on using as the on-location studio; a band starts playing right outside the window of the interview location you have selected and spent long hours setting up; in the middle of the long and soul-felt answer from your interview subject, the camera battery warning comes on; the interview subject that was going to be "so great" is as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. It's ALWAYS something.

If your interview subject is nervous then you need to slow it even more empathic and more encouraging. Let them know that  you would be nervous too with a camera sticking in your face.  Connect to them as a fellow human being. The cable has a hum in it? I learned long ago that being prepared means bringing not one spare of everything, but two or three. Your battery is running low in the middle of someone spilling their guts? Let your interview subject know what's happening. Stopping them with your awkward dilemma, though slightly embarrassing,  is much better than telling them that the long, heartfelt speech they just gave wasn't recorded at all. Be honest and never be afraid to speak up. Because, after all,  we're all human, we all screw up sometimes, and Murphy's Law applies across the board to every single one of us.

As aggravating and unnerving as these glitches can be at the time - and I'd be lying if I told you that I always keep my cool - in the end I feel really lucky that I stumbled into a profession that has so much to teach me about life; to name a few - be kind, be patient, be forgiving, be prepared, and go with the flow so you can enjoy the work.  After all, life is short and even if you record it, you only get to live it once.

Here is one of our latest video creations. Only those who were there on set will ever know how Murphy's Law played out that day...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

To Facebook or not to...?

Facebook has it's fans and it's detractors. I am both. My personal Facebook page is not my favorite place to hang out because I actually prefer face to face interactions  and activities - gasp!

The same goes for my business life. It's part of why I love doing video - I get to meet great people and go to interesting places.Yes, good old fashioned reality that isn't a TV show - going places, doing things, experiencing life in 3D (no glasses necessary.)

However, in business, as in life,  Facebook has it's place and can be a great way to connect to other people, businesses, and organizations. Here is  our Facebook page still in infancy (feel free to connect!)

Now, by organizations I mean places like non-profits, those amazing entities whose only mission is to do good things - for motives other than making a profit - WOW! I confess that these are some of my personal favorite clients and collaborators and I find non-stop motivation and excitement when creating a video project with a committed and generous bunch of folks like that. Below is an example. 

Working for the Maine Philanthropy Center,  I was asked to take an amazing written piece and bring it to life. It was written and performed by Mark Swann, Executive Director of Preble Street in Portland, Maine. What does his organization do? They "create solutions for homelessness, hunger, and poverty." Now that is work worth crowing about - on Facebook or anywhere else for that matter.

What I do for a living may not be as impressive as all that, and I do try to run my business for-profit. However, I am quite proud of this one and get enormous satisfaction in knowing that in some small way I have contributed to such a lofty mission. Here is the video we created together. I hope in some way it helps people and I also hope it finds a way to connect me to other dedicated folks, working to create good in the world. And yes - I also posted it on Facebook!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Matter of Perspective

As I was currently shopping around for some new lighting gear, I was reminded that it takes a lot of research and work to decide what equipment to buy and what to pass on. Video production is a complicated beast. Is it best to be on the cutting edge? The bleeding edge? These are all questions one has to ask repeatedly in the production business. Each new tool requires hours of research and thought and then one has to learn to use it correctly and to best advantage. Repeat after me: reading manuals is fun!

I always try to keep it simple, though. All the equipment complexities still come down to one essential thing, does it look good? Production is certainly a complicated business. However, to keep things in perspective, a common saying you'll hear on sets everywhere is "it's not brain surgery." True, rarely does a life depend on camera placement or good audio, and during a technical crisis this saying is a grounding reminder that helps to calm people down and keep it simple.

However, I have always wondered what the brain surgeon says during a tricky procedure when the unexpected happens and things get dicey; perhaps she'll pause and turn to her colleagues and say "let's not make a big production of this."

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Future is Upon Us

Just in case you haven't heard, video on the web is exploding! Having video content for you website is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Here are some articles I've been reading that might convince you that the world is changing and having someone to create a video for your website, business or non-profit, is more important than ever. Video Production Services has been making video for the web for years now, if you'd like to get on board, let's talk. We are assembling web packages for our clients to choose from, or we can customize something to your special needs.

Don't just take my word for it...New York TimesVideo Industry News , Video Industry News II

"A video result is 53 times more likely to produce a first page ranking on Google than using traditional SEO techniques"  
 -Forrester Research

MaineGeneral Medical Center Nurse Challenge from Linda Allen on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's All Right to Cast Pearls Before Swine

Ok, so that's a pithy name for a post that's really about planning A.K.A. pre-production for video - no, wait, don't go - it gets interesting, really.

For a recent project about agriculture practices, I took some time to head out to the farm before the upcoming shoot and it reminded me of the paramount importance of pre-production. Even though the farm project was on a limited budget, I took one of our precious budgeted hours to scout the location. I brought along the DSLR camera to grab some stills and quick video shots while the farmer showed me around.

This simple act accomplished two things: first, I had some beautiful stills and some cover shots in case they were needed later, second it helped me to pre-visualize for the day of the actual shoot which would involve not one, but two farms, and countless shot set-ups.

The above pig shot isn't very inspiring, nor did it make the final cut of the project, but it helps me to demonstrate an important point; planning is everything. Although a lot of great imagery can come spontaneously from being in the right place at the right time, no good film or video ever came out of a lack of planning. Let's face it, no amount of planning ever ruined an otherwise perfectly good project whereas the lack of planning has ruined the execution of countless great ideas. To say that pre-production is more important than actually shooting video is not really an overstatement.

That one hour I spent on-location before our appointed shooting day saved my crew, my client and the talent TIME on the day of the shoot. Since we charge by the hour, time really is money. My client may not even know it, but this was a key part of how I got their project done within their tight budget and tight timeline.

Another fantastic bonus was that it spared everyone a lot of stress. Because I knew the lay of the land (and the pigs) as well as the desired content ahead of time, problems that would otherwise arise on the day of shooting and have to be resolved on the spot and under the gun (with everyone staring at me for an answer NOW) could be pondered and solved beforehand.

On the day of the shoot I could be more relaxed instead of more rushed and that would rub off on the client and on the talent. Imagine this...on the day of the production we all actually enjoyed ourselves! We had time to be creative and get all the content needed to make the project a success. THAT is what pre-production is all about.

Doing your video production right means doing your pre-production right, and that means that you will always produce high quality that point, whom you cast it before hardly matters.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The 900 Thousand Dollar Video

If you have any doubts that a video can help you in your fundraising efforts, this story should lay those doubts to rest.

A few months ago we created a video for MaineGeneral Health to use in support of their internal employee fundraising campaign. We produced for them a 2 minute testimonial montage, not too big a budget, nothing too fancy. We gave them just what they wanted, something simple, a brief video that they could have on their website and show at meetings to voice the heart and soul of the campaign. At the end of the project we both went away happy and a few months passed. Recently I received an email from Buffy Higgins, Director of the MaineGeneral Fund. She had the following to say:
"Carol, I just wanted you to know that we raised over $900,000 in our employee campaign this year. Now, it was a special year, fundraising for the new hospital but even compared to the year we raised money for the Cancer Center, we blew those numbers away!"

Well, I was thrilled to hear of our client's success, so I made a call to congratulate Buffy. While we were talking here's what she said to me:
"I think our success was definitely due to having the multimedia approach with the video you made for us...the interviews you did were fantastic. It was quick and direct. The video said all the right was our most successful campaign to date!"
From my perspective, it is immensely gratifying to know that by producing a reasonably priced video for our client, we played a part in helping to raise funds for the New Regional Hospital in Augusta. Imagine what you could achieve using video! Here it is...the 900 thousand dollar video:

2011 Employee Combined Campaign from Linda Allen on Vimeo.

Our Success is Your Success!

When we create a video for a client, the aim is always to communicate what THEY want to communicate.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Whistle While You Work...Ode to Autumn

Over a couple of days, on the way to work and play, I couldn't resist capturing some of the Maine foliage before it fades. This time lapse captures the mundane and the sublime of what you see when you travel around Maine. I like to think of this as my version of whistling while I work. Take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the colors and the feeling of a Maine Autumn.

Monday, September 26, 2011

...time crunching

Once you getting started doing time lapse videos, it's hard to stop. Here is another look into the construction of Colby College's Biomass Plant in Waterville, Maine. Again, my thanks go out to the folks at Pizzagalli Construction and Cote Crane for being so accomodating while I ran around with a video camera and the still camera. I was there on two separate days to cover this move, total time spent: roughly 3.5 hrs. The process was a two-stage move of the boiler into it's final position, so compressing the time makes it much more fun to watch, and in HD no less. And really, is there anything better than watching other people work while you sit back and relax? Enjoy!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Everyone loves a parade and...

...a time-lapse video! At least in my experience, people seem utterly drawn to watching time on fast forward. There is nothing cooler than seeing something big and time consuming happen really quickly!

On that note, this video is one we made while covering Colby College's Biomass Project. Special thanks to the folks at Colby College, Pizzagalli Construction Company and Cote Crane Corporation for being so accommodating and also for making sure I didn't get crushed during filming! The item being lifted was somewhere around 37,000 pounds, I believe. So I thank you again guys for not sqaushing me, or more importantly, my cameras!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fundraising With Heart

Here's a look at a recent video we produced for MaineGeneral Health in support of their Employee Combined Campaign. The interview subjects were so sincere and really great to work with; they made the project a success...and it's always nice to be working for a good cause.

2011 Employee Combined Campaign from Linda Allen on Vimeo.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Celebrating Success

I am happy to announce that we have just won our fourth Telly Award. The winning project is a campaign video we created for Winchester Hospital in Winchester, Mass. As an independent production company we measure our success by the satisfaction of our clients; a happy client always makes me feel great. Once in a while, though, it's nice to get a nod from the world at large, so thank you to the Telly Awards for recognizing our work and helping us celebrate it with our clients! And the winning video...

Friday, March 18, 2011


Last week Frank and I took a trip down to Boston to check out the Arri Alexa camera at Talamas. You know you are a camera geek when listening to a list of camera options makes you really excited. Well this is truly a beautiful camera, and one can't help but get the gimmies for it. I have to remind myself that it isn't always just the tools you use, but what you do with them that makes or breaks a project. Let's face it, some terrible movies have been created with a cast and crew of hundreds and the best equipment in the world. One must get philosophical when one doesn't have handy the $80k required to buy this gorgeous camera.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Seeing Spring in the Snow

This week marks the beginning of Spring for me. It may not be true calendar-wise. It certainly doesn't look true when the flakes are piling up into larger and larger snowbanks every other day. But I am lucky enough to have a yearly reminder that Spring is near. My reminder takes the form a meeting with a new group of students at Colby College who have gathered for a Spring semester class on documentary film making. I have the distinct pleasure of giving them a crash course on production techniques and editing with Final Cut Pro.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tight Spaces

Recently we filmed with our friends at Woods End Laboratory in Mount Vernon, Maine. It's always interesting to set up all our gear in tight spaces. The soil lab is a great place to work though, because they keep us on our toes. Once we set up the camera and lighting there are plenty of soil test steps to get through.

In fact, every location shoot provides its own unique challenges and problems to solve, which is why I love what I do. It is never ever boring and I am always learning something new. This time I learned about CO2 respiration in soil and compost. Here are some stills from the day..and then the end result. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Art of Listening

It's all about communication, video, that is. Our clients hire us to communicate for them in a strong visual way, to tell their story for them. What I love about the work I do is telling that story, weaving it from start to finish, it is extremely satisfying.

However, what I am most proud of throughout the whole process of making a video, is when I master the lost art of listening. If I didn't pay close attention to listening to my clients and listening to the people I interview, I mean really listening, I could never effectively tell their stories. In video and in life, it is an art worth striving to master.

The effects of not listening can be disastrous. Businesses do it all the time. Just try NOT listening to a customer's concern and see what great things that does for your business. I have spent hours on the phone to customer service of one place or another, simply trying to get someone to really hear what I am saying. I can guarantee that anyone reading this has had that experience...why?

The Art of Listening can so easily become a lost art. It isn't always easy to stop our internal noise long enough to hear the world around us. Listening; it requires paying close attention in the moment and being conscious of stepping out of yourself long enough to hear someone else's point of view. We can't really ever experience life in another person's shoes, but we can stop long enough to listen and really hear that person's story. In life as in video, it can lead to great things.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


These are the kind of comments we love to get about our work. The following was said of a recent campaign video we produced:
"We just showed the video to our Foundation Board and their jaws dropped!"
"They were starstruck"
The only thing better than producing something you can be proud of, is having the praise of the client it was produced for. As soon as the campaign video is finalized, I'll post it here...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Constant Interest

True that the Academy Awards are right around the corner, and us video folks are nowhere in the vicinity, but the work we do is of constant interest. Last week, I videotaped readings from Toni Morrison's writings; the DVD I created from that was sent to Ms. Morrison as part of a celebration of her birthday. This week, Frank will be covering an event featuring author and civil rights activist Angela Davis. We aren't making any blockbusters yet, but our video work presents new and quite interesting opportunities at every turn.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cabin Fever? Nah...

Here in Maine, it is the height of cabin fever season. However, in the world of video, one gets to go out and about, thus staving off the claustrophobia of Winter. Here are some of the interesting outings taking place at Frank is hard at work with MPBN, covering camera for high school basketball. Tonight, I'm headed up to Colby college to film a celebration of author Toni Morrison's birthday through readings from her works. Other recent projects: a safety training video and a project with Maine General Health. Soon to be at work for the Maine State museum on an editing project. Cabin fever? Not as long as there are videos to be made.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Going Viral

Here is the video we made recently for Woods End Laboratory's YouTube page. The topic is Biochar, a hot topic right now for anyone interested in environmental issues. As predicted by soil scientist Will Brinton, the video is getting plenty of hits since it went live. Take a look!