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The Gadget Bag
Posted Jun 1, 2007 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Now that NAB has ended and we have been introduced to all of those new cutting-edge products, I think that we should take a long hard look at our businesses and our bottom lines. You have probably heard before that it is not technology but creativity that makes a videographer successful. True enough, but we all rely on the technology to get our jobs done, and there have been a number of products introduced recently that offer a quick ROI (return on investment) and can do things for us that creativity can’t. These products can actually help save us money and time, which pays us back for the money spent on the original purchase. And it’s shows like NAB, with their dazzling arrays of new product exhibits, that remind us of how technology- and product-driven our work can be.

Calculating ROI
I’m thinking specifically of products like NewTek’s SpeedEDIT, various direct-to-hard drive recording devices, and others that are designed to reduce time spent in our daily jobs. Then on the other end of the money scale are the “toys”—the products that have a tremendous “wow” factor but may take years to justify our investment, such as going to HD just because everyone else is.

Everyone should use a formula to determine purchases and avoid impulse buying (that’s one thing we’re all guilty of sometimes). The factors that should tell you if you should make a particular purchase include: initial cost, interest during payback (if paying with credit), time to actually pay the product off, time savings accrued by using the product, and determining if there is enough of a market (customer base) to support the purchase.

I am not saying that you should never buy things that take years to pay for—just that you should think about a product’s real value in addition to its “wow” factor when justifying its purchase. There’s nothing worse than spending a ton of money on something that is obsolete two years before it is paid for!

Get Insured!
Another extremely important issue that applies to anything you buy (and becomes more important with every purchase that increases your investment in equipment) is having equipment insurance (inland marine is essential for event work). Almost everyone (I hope) has liability insurance—it’s a requirement in most states—but surprisingly, many people assume that homeowner’s insurance automatically covers their video equipment in the event of fire, flood, or theft. This is a risky assumption to make.

Recently, a very good friend of mine, Rudy Childs of Spero’s Video (profiled in May’s Field of Vision), had a house fire and lost everything. (Fortunately, there were no injuries, most possessions and equipment can be replaced, and his home and business were well-insured.) Plus we can’t forget the Katrina disaster, where dozens of videographers lost thousands of dollars worth of equipment. These bits of reality are what prompted me to bring this to your attention.

If you don’t have insurance specifically for your equipment (all of it), start looking into it. Check with your homeowners insurance company (whether or not your business is home-based); they may be able to add an addendum and save you money rather than creating a separate policy. If not, some national organizations have discounted insurance available as a membership benefit. Those of us in the “silver” age bracket can look into AARP for coverage. A bit of shopping can get you a deal and peace of mind.

Battery Packing
Of course, there’s also much to be said for protecting your equipment in everyday use. If you’re like me, you are always looking for a safe and convenient way to keep and transport batteries. A plastic travel soap case nicely holds a half dozen 9 V batteries and will set you back a lot less than a single battery!

Speaking of batteries, I recently found a reliable source of inexpensive batteries: my local chain pharmacy. Most larger chains have their own brand of batteries that are manufactured by one of the major battery makers but sold at a significant discount, and can be found in 4- or 6-packs for additional savings. CVS, Walgreens, and others even have sales on their battery brands. My last trip to the neighborhood pharmacy scored me a four-pack of 9 V for less than $1.49 per battery. And they last as long as the name brands.

On that same trip, I noticed that they also stock a number of emergency items like RCA cables, MiniDV tape, and headphones. You may pay a bit more, but these stores are on almost every street corner and can save the day.

Stage Directions
’Tis the season. No, not that season. Dance recital and graduation season. And I have some tips to help you produce better videos for the dancers and grads.

Looking to spice up the typical graduation video? Grab your handheld camera and work the crowd. After most graduations, there is usually the mass gathering of hugs, high-fives, and tears. Grab the emotion. Short clips of these tender moments will sell more videos than the actual ceremony.

In order to grab as many moments as possible, don’t shut the camera off—just keep it rolling. Keep moving, keep looking. There is so much happening so fast and in a relatively short time that it is easy to miss some pretty touching stuff. Use your skills capturing the emotion. Close-up shots are great, but keep it varied. Mix wide shots, dutch angles, close-ups, pans, and so on. Encourage camera interaction (get the grads to talk to the camera). Allow for seven to 10 minutes of this type of footage for a graduating class of 100.

During the ceremony, you need clean audio to hear all of the speeches and names of the grads, but you can’t always get a feed from the sound system (sometimes you don’t want to, either). Running your own mics is always a good idea, even if you have that tap. But how? No room to place your handheld on the podium? Or are you being told, “You can’t put that there?” Break out your wireless lav and tape or clip it to the existing mic or on the gooseneck, wrap the wire down the support, and try to hide the transmitter (if they can’t see it, they can’t complain about it). If you can get your lav near the head of the podium mic, you will get some ultra-clean, echo-free audio without the headaches of dealing with ground loops and inept sound people.

Get a last-minute request to capture tap sounds during a dance recital? A wireless lav microphone will provide that audio adequately if you set it up correctly. Simply place the mic element as close to the dance surface as possible, but not directly on the floor, as it could bounce and clip from contact bounce. Make a pad of a couple of layers of gaffers tape, place it between the mic and the floor, then tape the lav element down to secure it from movement. Why this works is that the floor acts as a guide to direct the high frequency of the taps along the surface, allowing the mic to capture the audio without much ambient sound. This can be enhanced by cutting the low end if you’re live-mixing or in post if it’s on a separate channel.

As with graduations, getting “backstage” shots also enhances the dance-recital video. They are actually easier to shoot than the grads (not as fast-paced), but since most dance-recital participants are girls, male videographers need to get clearance before entering the prep area. Plan ahead and let the owner/teacher know your intentions and get a contact person to announce your entrance. Then just have everyone act normal (that may be the tough part). Get shots of the dancers stretching and applying makeup, mothers with the younger dancers, the racks of costumes. Every dance school has its own way of doing things, so it’s best to check and plan beforehand. Many of my clients/schools go right to the backstage portion of the tape before watching the dance numbers. It’s that important.

And you don’t have to spend a lot of time editing all of this. Just plan the shots, keep them mixed and interesting, and lay down a bed of upbeat music. Depending on what you get for ambient audio, you may choose to kill it completely or mute it to be background. The length of one song or up to five minutes of incidental music is a good time limit for this, depending on the number of participants. And don’t forget the wide-angle lens—it makes the job easier.

Rapid-Fire Tips
Looking for a new computer? Some of the best bargains are available right now, especially the leftover PCs that still have the XP operating system installed.

Thinking about changing wireless phone providers? Some are offering 30-day trials of their systems with no strings attached. But be sure to try it before you buy it.

On the Web
GasBuddy.com Lists neighborhood gas prices nationwide
SalesCircular.com Lists the best of weekly sales flyers
eCost.com Everything electronics at bargain prices

Ed Wardyga, owner of Keepsake Video and KVI Media in Rhode Island, has been producing event video since 1989, specializing in stage productions. He runs the GadgetBag website and is the recipient of the WEVA Walter Bennett Services to the Industry Award.

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