My previous interview was with director Johnny Blank. Today we pick the brain of Steven Trauger who’s the Founder and Creative Director of video production and motion graphic design company Seriously Total Video Productions.
1. What are the biggest challenges in creating a film, TV or web show?
Well, aside from the ever-changing technology landscape and the decisions knowledgeable crews are faced with there, the very first and often fundamental challenge every production faces lies in its initial idea or basic concept/story development. A director can have all the tools and talent in the world at his or her fingertips, but if they don’t know how to properly use them, their video or film will not be successful in its delivery. That’s because there is a language to follow in film. There is the 180 degree rule and the commonly practiced notion of introducing an audience to a location via an establishing shot prior to any close-up. It takes a beginner awhile to learn all of these, but whether a person works in the industry or not, everyone is exposed to them—audiences just don’t realize it while enjoying a motion picture. Now in education, deadlines and conceptualization seem to present significant challenges. Good location scouting/set design and proper lighting/audio can be real problematic for beginners taking their first stab at this kind of work. Trying to mold a young producer’s ideas into viable content so that those ideas successfully communicate a point or tell a story can consume considerable time and effort. However, as with any production, careful planning can lead to solid execution and a positive experience for all involved. Expectations should be clear and production tracking closely monitored—especially in the case of daily, weekly, or monthly television/web shows/series so that deadlines are met. In the professional world, a lot of the video content professionals are hired to produce revolves around the corporate world. Having a client fully communicate what it is they want producers to exactly create and why can sometimes yield just as big a challenge. And that’s okay because they’re not necessarily professional communicators, which is one reason they’ve hired you. Amazingly, many clients tend to hire video professionals with no idea what or exactly how they want their idea conveyed. It’s simply that—an idea. Therefore, content producers need to not only be fully aware of their client’s goals and target audience but also be able to craft that idea into a concise message that gets results or serves an acceptable purpose. Recent trends in online marketing have placed significant emphasis on the delivery of web-based video. More and more companies rely on the creation of digital shorts or webisodes to entertain or get their message out to the public. This is because the web has no time or creative restrictions but that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges with doing so. These short films can easily lock in an audience and generate buzz about an idea or product. The trick for producers wishing to tap into that sort of viral power is to exercise caution. Not all ideas can generate an instantaneous and far-reaching response. Nailing down the viewing audience and appropriate delivery style is key to developing a winning campaign or entertaining series that does get widespread attention, thus attracting lots of followers. It’s not easy to develop—especially when making comedy and so that is why I would say viral campaigns can be challenging in themselves. Audiences today are smarter, they react differently than they did a few years ago thanks to the availability and wide-spread content that’s out there. The trick is to make your video stand out.
2. Is collaboration between team members integral to the success of your production projects?
Absolutely! The essence of all project work is the synergy that the group members bring to the table. Any product is the sum of those efforts.
3. Is finding and putting together the right combination of talent hard to consistently do?
I don’t think so. Of course it helps to understand the skill set your particular project requires–so you know how to budget, where to look, and what to look for in an individual’s capabilities/reel. But I actually think it boils down to the issue of aligning schedules and geographic location—especially for those working in short films since a lot of this type of work is made on tight budgets and outside the normal scope of a typical 9-5 type of schedule. There’s actually plenty of talent out there in the world; you just have to know where to look and be smart about your recruiting. Regardless of computers, their capabilities for remote delivery, & online/phone discussion, what I have found is that the best collaboration typically comes from that which is face to face. I also see a lot of people who look to hire folks who can work on-site, at their offices in the freelance world—sometimes because of the data pipeline/project workflow and other times because they simply want that direct physical interaction with the employee or as I like to say, creative partner.
4. Is film school needed in 2010 to become a star in the video or film industries?
Let’s be honest, a great education will only get you so far in the entertainment industry. In order to be successful, one must possess some level of drive and motivation. I suggest students look at what kinds of educational partnerships/internships/co-ops various educational institutions offer and realize it is these locations where most of their knowledge from the classroom will be paired with further experiential learning. Watch the various entertainment mediums and concentrate on the styles/techniques used. You pick up so much just from simply watching the work of other pros. We’re in an age where it pays to be fiscally smart/responsible so when considering colleges, it’s helpful if incoming college students have a general idea what line of work they wish to pursue in the film/entertainment world. Of course that’s easier said than done. But that way students can do some research with their parents ahead of time regarding potential salaries they’re likely to see upon graduation and find a school that has the best offerings which fit their current financial situation. Unlike medical school, most filmmakers or production personnel won’t make enough in their first few years out of college to pay off enormous educational loans. In fact, the production industry relies more on experience and demo reels than it does degrees. Sure, there are some cases where a name on that degree will help, and having a degree in general is a good idea, but in most instances, many people from all different backgrounds will be competing for the same position and that same salary once you are finished. Is it in your best interest to pay more for that very opportunity? Look at the school—see what they offer and also realize that your experience and the knowledge you will gain there will be what you make of it. Finally, to make it truly big in the entertainment world there are 2 important questions one must ask: 1) who do you know and 2) how lucky are you. I am sure there are people of equal talent to that of a Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer but the real question is will they ever be discovered. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time and landing that opportunity which gets the ball rolling. Always having a positive attitude, remembering to network, and keeping up with current trends/issues will help ensure your future success in the entertainment business.
5. What will the video production landscape look like in 2015, and how will it evolve from its current state today?
Everything is moving towards data; film will only be taught in film school or used for specific reasons. The question is will 3D be a fad? My prediction is that you’ll see Hollywood move away from big-salary actors and return to strong stories. The summer box office of 2010 proved that star power doesn’t always mean everything. Will there be more technicians instead of artists? While technology is great, it should remain a tool. It already has taken away some of the awe audiences of the past have come to enjoy, advancing the quality of imagery depicted on the big screen over the years and allowing some filmmakers to simply make a film around such spectacle instead of storyline. Today, with new computer advances there is no limit for realistic-looking visual effects or stylized production designs directors can technologically achieve in their films. More courses in film schools will probably focus on how to act and manage content in the digital realm, for example DIY training, workflow/production server management, and acting for the green screen, etc.
I thank Steven for the interview, for his insights, and time. If you aren’t already, be sure to have our future interviews and posts delivered to your email inbox, or get them through your favorite RSS reader.