The 515 Video Production Blog

Off the grid.

One more Iditarod is in the books. This marks my 10th trip down the trail, my second as part of the “trail team” or group of four that travels all 1,000 miles on snowmachine (or snowmobile, sled, snogo, etc). It is a daunting task that involves very little sleep and lots of cold extremities. Usually when I am about three quarters of the way through and right about the time frostbite starts settling in, I find myself asking why I keep subjecting my body to trips like this. Sitting in the darkness of night….or morning for that matter, waiting for a musher to come by so we can document their journey down the trail can become something that slowly chews at the back of your mind “I have a warm, soft bed at home”, “I miss my family”, “Sleep sounds nice”, “wait, where am I right now?”. All of these thoughts start swirling around in your head and begin playing tricks on you. But then we reach the final checkpoint before the finish line, Safety Alaska. 22 miles remaining in the race.  A sense of accomplishment replaces all the other thoughts that tried to convince you that it was a better idea to just pack it in and go home. All the aches and pains in your body that come from miles upon miles of abuse that the trail dishes out fade away as you begin to see your first hint of civilization.

Let me stop here for a second and set the stage a bit. This race is unique. 73 mushers all going through a vastly similar experience to ours, but with one exception (well, several, but who’s counting). They have a camera team chasing them down the trail not letting them get any peace or quiet. Can you imagine just trying to finish your race. You are tired, you need a nap. You are taking a break at three in the morning, it’s pitch black, It’s just you and your dogs. Then you hear it. The first hint of an engine in the distance. You know what’s coming. Next thing you know a bright light is put in your face and there I am asking questions about your strategy for the race, how your dogs are doing. How are YOU doing…..1,000 miles of this. You can see how tension might become a major factor as the days go by. It is a dance that is played every day. The mushers know that without the camera team documenting the race, the fans all across the nation can’t see what’s going on. And of those fans, sponsors emerge. Maintaining a constant stream of videos being posted online up is essential to keeping the Iditarod a relevant and exciting adventure that people love to follow. But at the same time, wouldn’t it be amazing to get a little sleep without a camera guy watching from a distance?!

As the race gets closer to the finish, the leader becomes clear. And our efforts begin to focus more on capturing his or her push to the Burled Arch (the finish line in Nome, AK). This adds to the already tense situation. You are trying to win this thing, and what you thought was annoying before is now just plain irritating. Obviously fatigue has a lot to do with a lot of the tension on the trail. All of these mushers are insanely nice people. But when you add sleep deprivation, dehydration, frost bite, delirium,  it can make even the cheeriest of people extremely grumpy. There are a rare few that maintain a chipper attitude towards the camera teams all the way up to the finish line, and to them, I say thank you for making my job easy. For the grumpy ones, I say, I get it. I wouldn’t like it either.

So here we are. 22 miles out from nome. The leader this year is Mitch Seavy, he has put up with us all the way here. As we knock down the miles, we re-double our efforts to show his approach to the finish line. And within 20 yards coming off the sea ice and reaching main street, his final 200 yards to the finish line….we stop him. That’s right. we literally STOP the race to put a GoPro on his sled to capture a first person view of his team crossing the finish line. With all the graciousness of a world class musher, the man obliges. As my guide is attaching the GoPro he congratulates him, and adds an apology for being a constant point of stress on the trail. Mitch nods, and says its not a problem. “It’s OK” he says “we did it. we made it”.

It’s that moment right there that keeps me wanting more. as much as this is a solo race, it is a team race. With hundreds of volunteers all taking their personal vacation time to help these mushers accomplish what so few could do, it is a truly amazing thing to witness. And he is right. Every year we make it. As a team we did it.

It’s always a pleasure working with the Iditarod Insiders. A dedicated group of people who love telling the stories of these mushers as they journey down the trail. To them I tip my hat. Till next year!

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“Simple Good”

 

We live in an era that is full of new gadgets and tools that are not only good, but easily affordable for almost every person and company. It all started with the Canon 5D. It’s an affordable camera that captured shallow depth-of-field and, to be honest, to the naked eye, looked better than a lot of more expensive cameras. Professionals knew it was not an ideal choice due to the lack of audio inputs and time code, as well as the CMOS sensor which hated any sort of fast movement. The list goes on. But while those professionals all turned up their noses at it, two things happened:  young talent with a lot of passion started cropping up everywhere. They were finally able to afford a somewhat professional tool that could capture their image quickly and efficiently. And, as a result, the market got flooded with people who thought that just buying this camera made them instant artists who should start a production company.

Fast-forward five or six years and we have another interesting era in cinematography. I like to refer to it as the “Dog and Pony Show”. Since people can afford to buy all the products like gimbals, drones, GoPro’s, DSLR’s, sliders, etc., they feel the urge to bring them on every shoot they are booked for to make themselves look more professional and talented. The problem is that they fall into a very systematic approach of how they shoot. Get an aerial shot of a location, cut to a dolly shot of the location, then a gimbal shot following the talent into said location, pass that gimbal off and follow a new subject out of the location and back to the aerial shot. Add some lens flares and light leaks in post and just like that, you have a commercial. It’s like the housing development of video production– very cookie cutter, very cheap to produce and a good return on the production company’s investment. It is NOT, however, typically a good investment for the client. Because these production companies are doing this for one client, they are probably doing it for other clients, as well. Which means the commercial you, the client, are spending a fortune on now looks just like everyone else’s. I was talking to my good friend Dave Poyzer about this, and he says there needs to be more of what he calls “simple good” in our industry. It’s nothing complicated. Just simple and good.

So what does that look like? Take a minimal kit out into the field and produce a high quality spot that focuses more on the emotion of the piece, and less on making clients feel like they are getting their money’s worth. We took that idea to heart on our Olympics spot for Fareway. No fancy lighting setup. No drones, gimbals or sliders. Just a camera, some sound and talent willing to be in front of the camera. And it seems to have worked. We’ve received great feedback from viewers who’ve taken notice. Because it’s authentic. That’s something all the gear in the world can’t get you.

 

Next time, before your shoot. Take a step back and ask if what you are bringing to the shoot is there to actually help tell the story, or just to look cool. If it’s not actually benefiting your storyline, try a different approach. It will help lend some authenticity to your piece and ultimately help your client stand out.

Down time

FIshing

My favorite dance of the self employed is the ‘how busy are you?’ dance. We encounter it almost daily as we try and prove to all the other self employeds that our company is so damn successful we don’t have time to sleep. The pitfall to this is, there will ALWAYS be slow times. And that’s OK.

To most people, a slow period will feel like the end of the world, like it is time to scrape the bottom of the barrel for more work. But if you take a step back and look at it as the gift it truly is, you will learn to love the slow times as much as the busy ones.

You see, being slow gives you the chance to make a couple things happen. One, reconnect with yourself and your loved ones. This is important because pretty soon you won’t be slow anymore, and you will be wishing you had taken that extra moment to hang out with your kids, your wife, your girlfriend or boyfriend. These moments are critical in our world as they help maintain a strong relationship, and that in turn, keeps you sane when you are slammed at work.

It also gives you the time to hone your craft. One thing I see a lot of is people in my industry who have all the toys in the world and are just waiting for work, because after all, these aren’t toys for playing, they are toys for working. The toys collect dust, and their skills get rusty, and then next thing you know their creative drive is gone. They are now just in it to systematically pump out very cookie cutter videos. I think it should go the opposite way. You have the toys…USE them. Take the quite moments to do something stupid that you have always wanted to try, or learn a new technique that you have not quite mastered. I used to sit on the side of the road and practice my focus pulls on cars passing by, in order get better and pulling focus on fast moving objects. Shortly after that I was hired on to shoot an entire movie about motorcycles racing by me at 200mph. I’m not saying one is the reason for the other. But I am saying if I hadn’t taken the down time to work on a skill I felt I was falling behind in, I would have failed when my moment came.

This is also the time to sit back and dream of the project you have always wanted to do. So many people wait for the 48 hour film fest as their chance to do that. And then it becomes their one outlet a year. I say, if that is your passion, make a small film every time you find yourself slowing down. It doesn’t need to be a long project. Even just something as simple as a 30 second short. But at least you are doing something you love, and that keeps you inspired to do the best work every day when the pace starts picking back up.

I strongly believe that the slow times are not bad. They are the opportunities for you to take your product, and make it better. So I encourage everyone to embrace the slow. To fully acknowledge it’s presence and then use it for what it is. Just another tool on the belt.

Just Get It Done

As I pack for my 7th Iditarod I always end up in the same scenario: What gear should I bring, and what if it breaks. This ultimately leads to me chasing my tail as I pack, unpack, pack again, ditch some gear, add some gear, unpack and repack some more. The constant fear of having a piece of equipment fail, forgetting something crucial, or wishing I would have left something behind nags at me for weeks and it becomes a maddening cycle.

I know this cycle drives my wife crazy as I am constantly spreading my gear out across multiple rooms, running to a store to buy more equipment, then ultimately leaving that new piece of tech behind. I am repeatedly falling victim to the need for everything run smoothly, and all scenarios planned for.

When I get to this point (if I become suddenly self aware), I like to remind myself of a very simple truth: Not everything can be planned for, and sometimes the best results come when you just sit back and enjoy the ride.

I reached that point yesterday, and am now leaving my packing up to the gear gods. If I forget it, I forget it. I know I can get the job done with what I have, and that will just have to be enough. As I reached this ever so elusive pivotal moment in packing, it reminded me of a great story from a little while ago involving an elite group of climbers, a mission to document it with a RED, and everything going wrong (with the gear). Here is a great video about the process that evolved when a camera package is barely functioning.

Breaking Burma from Camp 4 Collective on Vimeo.

I watch that and realize if they can document a journey like that, with half functioning equipment, everything is going to be alright.

In 5 days I am off to Alaska for another journey of a lifetime, this time I am part of a small group that will travel the entire 1,000 mile trail on a Snow machine (snow mobile for the rest of you) and I will document the race as it unfolds over the course of 9 days. The infinite amount of possible scenarios that could unfold are mind boggling, but for me, it’s time to sit back, and enjoy the ride.

Friends and Neighbors

Our latest Fareway ad campaign hit the airwaves on Superbowl Sunday. It consists of two commercials that tell the story of the blossoming friendship between an elderly woman and her young neighbor. Our goal for the campaign was to reinforce Fareway’s motto– that our community is a family– and illustrate why it’s important to foster those relationships.

The ads star a legend of the Des Moines Playhouse, Ruthanne Silverstein. We were so honored to work with her. We hope you enjoy these ads as much as we enjoyed creating them.

Fareway — Neighbor from 515 Productions on Vimeo.

 

Fareway — Makeup from 515 Productions on Vimeo.

Our First Decade

We’ve reached an important milestone here at 515 Productions:  a decade in business. Ten years ago this month, Ian launched the business in the basement with his very first camera. It was exciting and scary and stressful. There were ups and downs. Days when we claimed victory and days when we were ready to declare defeat. But at the end of each year, the blood, sweat and tears added up to growth over the previous year. And we’re so grateful to our crew and clients for making that possible. We couldn’t have made it this far without you.

To celebrate, here’s one of Lynn’s all-time favorite 515 videos featuring BilT Guitars and music by Iowa’s own The Envy Corps. It’s an appropriate pick because BilT Guitars is also a small business based in Des Moines that has seen tremendous growth in recent years. The co-owner, Tim Thelen, is a good friend. And we want to congratulate BilT on its amazing success. Rock on.

 

BilT — kid gloves directors cut from 515 Productions on Vimeo.

Get Pumped

 

What are your New Year’s resolutions? If you’re like most Americans, losing weight/getting in shape is near the top of the list. Trying to get motivated to actually do it… well, that’s often another story. Here’s a little inspiration to help get you fired up to get ripped. Courtesy of Crossfit Des Moines coach Rian Moe.

 

Crossfit Des Moines from 515 Productions on Vimeo.

Another year flies by…

We’re celebrating the season with a throwback to 2014. Jack, then age 5, made his debut appearance in a 515 video. Can’t believe a year has already flown by. It’s a good reminder for us to stop and smell the roses once in a while. Life can get so hectic. What’s the point of working hard, if you don’t take time to enjoy moments with family and friends? Hope you’re able to do that in 2016. We’re making that our resolution for the new year.

Cheers!

Fareway Christmas 2015 from 515 Productions on Vimeo.

Badass

Overcoming adversity. Inspiring others. For one woman, it’s just normal life. She doesn’t want your sympathy. Instead, she wants to kick your butt in the gym. Specifically, the Crossfit Des Moines gym.

Katie Long was born without an arm. She hated going to the gym, because people stared. Her husband got her to try Crossfit. And now she doesn’t let anything stand in the way of doing what she wants to do.

Crossfit Des Moines: Katie Long from 515 Productions on Vimeo.

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