Author: Sean Witzke

Day 69: Finding Your Hourly Rate

If you’re reading this blog then I can assume you’re interested in entrepreneurship, whether it’d be a lot or a little. In my sphere, I know a few people who are extremely talented in a few areas, but have yet to make the change from hobbiest, to professional; a change which is actually not that hard to do. They’re either scared of risking the time for no reward, or the other, more prominent circumstance, they don’t know what to charge if they would start freelancing. What am I worth? What would my friends pay? Would this price scare people away? are all questions that venture through the mind of an aspiring entrepreneur, and I’m here to ease your soul.

Find Your Hourly Rate

Finding your hourly rate is a great step to moving forward in a freelancing career. But how do you find your rate, Sean? Well, here are a few tips to help you get started.

Read more

Day 66: When Stress Is Ok

There’s a consistent theme that’s been running through my posts this past week; doing things for the first time. Considering the intent of this blog was to document my journey of becoming self-employed, it’s only natural to move from a phase of watching tutorials, learning, and upgrading my gear, into a new phase. A phase of action. A phase of first times.

Stressful First Times

So far I’ve been booked for two weddings, and in the mean time have acquired two more couples interested in me shooting their wedding. With all of this new unchartered territory comes a lot of first times. Planning a wedding shoot. Acquiring the needed gear. Writing up quotes and receipts. Organizing gear rentals. Communicating with sound technicians from the venues. And so on. With so many new things on my plate, there’s one thing that is inevitable. Stress. But, when is stress ok? Everything in our society tells us that stress is bad, to have as little as possible, and if we do, our life will be better off both physically and mentally. But that’s only a half truth, and it’s a half truth that’s killing the chance for people to do anything truly noteworthy.

Stress Isn’t Bad

While I was attending University, during my Organizational Behaviour class we were taught specifically that not all conflict is bad, and the same goes for stress. A certain amount of conflict is what actually helps bring an organization closer together, especially when the conflict is resolved in a group effort. So it goes with stress. The way you approach a situation changes when someone has hired you to do some sort of work for a cost, in my case, wedding videos. You suddenly go from someone who makes a really good product to… someone who’s product is worth so and so amount of dollars. The first one actually never has a cap for your potential, but it also doesn’t have a minimum. As a hobbiest, you can make something really good… or really bad. It’s all up to you, and no one is going to call you out on it. When you do something for a price you’ve actually set a minimum for what it is that you need to achieve, and it changes the way you look at everything; from production, to gear, to deciding that you need to rent gear, or needing more people to film, etc. These are things you don’t naturally examine when you do things for free.

Stress Has Made Me Better

All of these decisions, pressures, and responsibilities each add a little bit of corresponding stress, but I believe it’s a good thing and something to be sought after, because I know for a personal fact that it has made me a better videographer (even though I haven’t even hit the record button yet). Everything through my planning, my gear, training those to shoot with me, and my overall professionalism with clients has dramatically increased, because of the one fact that my product has to be worth the value it’s being sold for. Why? Otherwise no one will buy it for that set price. And why does that matter? Because I need to work, and eat. In an interview with Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, an audience member asks Warren Buffet what he does for daily work. Warren Buffet answers saying his job is trying to get his co-workers up at 6am to work the same way they did when they had no money. How do you get someone to work just as hard when they have all the money in the world? There’s truth to this statement. The truth that stress, pressure, and friction are inherently some of the key factors to accomplishing anything bigger then yourself. To be pulled and stretched into something you once weren’t.

Are You Ready?

If you believe that a stress free life is something to be sought after, you might find it, but you certainly won’t do anything great with your life, and I guess that’s the real question. Do you want to do something that’s bigger then yourself a week from now, a month from now, a year from now? It’s the perseverance through stress that makes you into something that you once were not. Are you ready to be stressed?

You can check out the Q&A with Warren Buffet and Bill Gates below.

Day 64: Bootstrapping & Passionate People

This Friday I’ll be shooting my first wedding both in general, and of the summer. The past week has involved multiple trips all over the city to gather the gear needed for the shoot and I have to say, it’s incredible what you can borrow when you find people just as passionate as you are about a certain thing; in this case filmmaking.

My Gear List

  • One Ball Head Tripod
  • 55mm Takumar f/1.8 prime, 50mm Yashinon f/1.9 prime, and 24-105 f/4 Canon L Lens
  • Canon 6D DSLR
  • H4N Zoom Recorder
  • 2 Sennheiser G2 Lavaliere Microphones
  • 3 Piece Lighting Kit
  • Canon T3i DSLR
  • Canon T2i DSLR
  • Glidecam HD 2000
  • Manfrotto Video Tripod

People Who Care

This is a pretty standard list for a lot of basic weddings (I didn’t include memory cards or batteries in the list just because it would take up a lot of mundane space, but I have many as well). The gear in bold is my personal gear. The rest has been borrowed from multiple people, of which I am truly grateful for. Gear like this usually isn’t being used every day, so most of my friends where willing to lend out their gadgets to help me shoot my wedding, and get started.

Read more

Day 59: Production Choices

Yesterday, I had a film shoot for a special project I’m working on with some people. I arrived at the location. We set up the lights; the scene; the shot. And it came time to finally shoot a test run. The shot was elaborate, choreographed, and most of all, long. I hit the record button, and we started.

The test run was mainly desired by myself, so I could check my lighting, and composition in the midst of the choreographed segment. When we finished our run, I dumped my SD card, did a few edits, and we watched the take there and then; getting a feel for what we were trying to do, and whether it was being communicated properly.

The First Take

We watched, and we were mesmerized. The test run worked well, and there were moments in the take that were unplanned for, but still blew us away. There was only one problem. All of the thoughts in my head on what we could do better; the focus was soft, the shot wasn’t wide enough, the lighting could be better.

After we finished reviewing the take, most of the team was ready to call it there and then, but I proposed we do it again, and that we could really nail it this time. Everyone looked at me as if I was crazy. Not only was everyone tired after a long day of setup for this shoot, but no one thought we needed to do it again.

The Second Take

I thought they were crazy. You aren’t seeing what I’m seeing! It was late at night, and I had to pull the teams arm quite a bit. Eventually, we agreed to redo one last take, and so we did. We reset the scene, I changed up the lighting and lens, and off we went.

By the end, everyone was beat and went to bed; no one was in the headspace to stick around for a full take review. So, I got comfortable, and examined both. Watching. Comparing. I saw the changes I made. I liked them. But there was one thing that I didn’t like. The moments.

The Moments

One take clearly had better moments, and it wasn’t the one that had the seemingly better production choices; it was the first take. Something in me got really tense at that moment. Knowing that I clearly knew which take was prettier, more captivating, and less abrasive, at the expense of the better production choices in the other take through me for a loop in my head.

Going back and forth between my choices, I found myself in a hard place. I’m one for production, excellence, and perfection. But, I am one for moments, art, and spontaneity. There was battle going on, as I thought the two were in utter conflict. Until something crossed my mind the next day while I was sitting at a coffee shop.

Could picking the take with better moments, in its self, be a better production choice.

Production Choices

I remembered a conversation I had with a member of the team, and I said “It’ll all be worth it when this art starts changing people’s lives.” And that’s the point. It’s about the art. And production is only a tool. No one will be talking about how amazing the quality, composition, or lighting was in 50-100 years. (They might not even talk about it at all). But what people will talk about, if there’s any chance they will, it’ll be about the moments.

Why do you think some retro video games have the replay value that some game makers are still trying to achieve? Why do some people still gather for movie nights to watch their favourite old film? Or why do extremely lo-fi records that were recorded with experimental ideas and techniques years ago still make it onto our top 100 playlists? It’s because everyone remembers the moments.

Sometimes we can get too caught up in the production, that we actually start treating the production as king, instead of the art that we’re trying to capture. Not everyone will remember what lens you used to make that video. But everyone will remember the way that video made them feel.

Day 57: Tough Mudder Highlight Reel

Over the past week I’ve been working on a highlight reel of my trip to Whistler, BC for Tough Mudder. Working with a new camera, new lenses, and all around new potential has been fun and challenging. The video I put together is more of a keepsake then a professional video, and you’re welcome to check it out.

Some Things I Learned

A few issues I ran into while up in Whistler was the insane amount of light sensitivity this new sensor has, especially while outdoors when the sun is out. I had to crank the shutter and aperture down quite a bit, and concluded that I’ll probably need to invest a few dollars into a Neutral Density Filter so I can shoot with a slower shutter and wider aperture. Not that this is a bad thing. It just proves how sensitive the sensor is!

While my team was running the race, I handed off my camera to my friend’s Dad, who ended up taking some great photos of us while running the race. I’ve heard around the internet that the Canon 6D isn’t the greatest sports photography camera due to it’s slower auto focusing system. From what I found however, when you’re using the viewfinder’s focus assist beam while in manual focus, you can get great, sharp, and snappy photos. I mainly shoot on manual focus anyways, so this was a plus.

I also forgot to install the CineStyle colour profile to my camera before leaving from Vancouver. I ended up adding it while up in Whistler (connecting my camera to my MacBook through wifi of course), so the colour grading in the video is inconsistent at points. However, while editing, I was reminded once again why people use the CineStyle profile over the Neutral profile built into the camera. The amount of detail I saved, recovered, and was able to work with in comparison to the shots I shot in Neutral was astounding. No buyers remorse here.

Tough Mudder Highlight Reel from Sean Witzke on Vimeo.

Day 54: Analysis Paralysis & Why You’re Going No Where

While you’re out with someone, have you ever tried to figure out where you should go eat? You end up bickering for awhile; you both try to be modest; but in the end, neither of you really knows where you want eat. You just end up picking the first thing you drive past, and then your night proceeds. The worst place to be at as a beginner or a professional is at a point when you have to many choices to choose from that you end up making no choice at all; analysis paralysis.

This paralysis can hit us in any field of work at anytime, as long as we let it. A lot of us are still flipping the coin, or bickering with others over mundane things that are actually keeping us from making more important or creative decisions. Instead of arguing about what camera to buy, just pick one, and learn how to use it. The key is to move forward, and analysis paralysis effectively keeps us stagnant, allowing no room for growth or exploration.

Camera Paralysis

So now I had a choice to make. I have two friends who are both professional videographers; one of them suggests a GH4, and the other suggests a Canon 6D; my luck. It’s super easy when everyone’s saying the same thing, but when the people you trust start saying contrary things to one another, it can get difficult, and mentally taxing. Analysis paralysis.

I started to research. The new Panasonic GH4 has a lot of hype built around it (4k, raw video, higher frame rates etc.), but it’s a crop sensor, so the low light performance isn’t amazing. The full frame Canon 6D only shoots 1080p, has limited frame rates, and is all around bigger and bulkier (including the lenses). However, the Canon 6D beats out the GH4 in low light performance. Both shoot amazing video, but for what I need I’d rather have the ability to shoot in more dimly lit places for events, weddings, and night photography, then the ability to shoot 4k. If you’re someone that might be shooting a lot of interviews and appreciates the crop-ability of 4k, then your choice might have been different than mine. So I made my decision. I’m happy with the decision I made, and more importantly I’m happy that I made a decision.

Making A Choice

Now you’re probably wondering how do you choose? Is it as simple as just making a choice? It is as simple as making a choice, but forced choices are usually only made under pressure. Before I left for Whistler on the weekend, I really wanted to have my new camera along with me. That left me with a day and a half to figure out what I wanted, and how I was going to pay for it. If I hadn’t gone up to Whistler, I highly doubt I’d have my new camera right now, along with all my affairs in order so I could actually pay for it.

If you’re at the point where you can’t make a decision but you want to make a decision, it’s probably because you’re not actually in a place where you need to make a decision. Wanting to make one, and needing to make one are two different things. If you truly want to move forward in an area of your life then I’d consider placing yourself into a situation where you have to make a decision. For me, it was taking on some new work in wedding videography. What could you commit yourself to, so as to move from a place of paralysis into action?

Day 52: Sell Yourself Not Your Gear

So, what if you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of money, and wants to break into a new trade or profession? You want to move from hobbiest to professional, but you don’t have the money to take the plunge. Well, that’s what this post is about.

Last Friday I was able to finally upgrade my DSLR from a Canon T3i, to a full frame Canon 6D, and the upgrade has been stunning thus far. While I was in Whistler over the weekend, I was stunned at how much of an improvement this camera was with low light shooting and sharpness, in comparison to my old one.

Investing In The Future

Sure, not everyone needs a full frame prosumer camera, but I figured it’d be wise to equip and orient myself with more professional gear. Especially, before this summer’s wedding season starts. Like I said in my previous post…

After paying it off within the month, I’ll have a higher quality portfolio filled with content my old gear couldn’t achieve, along with a nice arsenal of professional equipment. – Saving For The Future vs. Investing In The Future 

The Rule Of Deposits

So, how was I able to make all of this happen? I did it through using the rule of deposits. Whether you’re signing on for a programming contract, recording an album for a client, or booking dates to film someone’s wedding, the rule of the thumb is 50% up front. Remember that. The rule of thumb is 50% up front.

  1. This helps decipher whether or not your client is truly serious about working with you.
  2. It lets you have some cash up front to put towards things like new equipment, rentals, and/or hiring out extra workers before the gig actually happens. 

But Sean, how do I get these gigs without already having pro-gear? Good question, but it’s as simple as finding someone who has pro-gear, working along side them, and creating a small demo reel to showcase your ability, not your gear.

Sell Yourself Not Your Gear

This is where I see most people fail, and it’s because every magazine, television ad, and website, has sold us the message that it’s the gear that makes us great, and not our own ability. Sure, the gear is a huge tool in creating great work, but it’s just a tool. New gear comes and goes. Things go from standard definition, to high definition, to 4k, but what stays consistent is You! If you can make a demo reel with someone else’s gear, that’s just as good as making it with your own, or with some gear that you rented.

In all honesty, people just don’t care about how you did it. In wedding videography, this couldn’t be overstated enough. People aren’t looking at your gear, they’re looking at you as a person, and what you can accomplish. For instance, most music producers don’t even have their own home studio setup (I’m the odd one out). So, they literally have to sell themselves to the client, hoping they’ll believe that if they walked into a fully equipped studio they’ll know how to use it, just by saying “Here. Look. Check out my portfolio. Trust me. I know what I’m doing.” That’s some serious pressure!

If you’re someone who can make great content, and is able to build trust with your potential clients, then you’re in the same position as me. Go out there and find someone with pro-gear; make a demo reel, book some gigs, and get some deposits. Now you’re on a roll.

Day 50: Keep Moving Forward

This past weekend I was on an adventure in Whistler, BC, taking on the Tough Mudder challenge with a group of friends. Tough Mudder is a hybrid marathon/obstacle course challenge that was designed to test your limits, and in the end, raise awareness for those who serve in high risk areas. i.e. firefighters, military, police, and the like. The course consisted of 20 kilometres (12 miles) worth of running, and 10+ physically intensive obstacles to overcome along the way.

An Obstacle In My Way

The obstacle “arctic enema”, one of the first obstacles within the course, contained a vat of ice water with boards that you needed to dive under in order to reach the other side, and climb out. While jumping in, and embracing the ice water, I reached the board, took a breath, and dove underneath. Considering the temperature of the ice water, once you dunk your head, the first thing you want to do is scream, and the second is to get out of there as fast as you can. Little did I know that there was a second board underwater; one I was not anticipating. While underneath, I threw my head forward to get to the other side, and hit my head on the second board, and the thoughts in my head were no longer pertaining to screaming, and moving forward, but a split second of panic while trying to get lower; and this is what I learned.

A Choice To Be Made

I had three options while under that water; stop and do nothing, try and get my head back up above the water, or keep moving forward. Thankfully, I choose the latter, and made it out from the other side. Whether another made it out of the obstacle easily, or had a certain struggle they had to overcome is not the point. The point is what I learned while under that water; to keep moving forward, and to never go back.

If I had gone back I would have 1) had to do it again anyways and 2) failed to test my limits, in a time of adversity. The truth is that some of the most rewarding things are accomplished through pursuing goals while under pressure; and it’s through these circumstances that teach an individual how important it is to keep moving forward. To keep moving forward, and not quit just because it’s too hard, or you ‘never expected [blank] to happen’, is what makes the reward so good, and so special, because not many people have overcome the same adversity that you did.

Never Settle

The brutal reality is that in our society the apathetic spirit has taken over our schools, homes, and workplaces because we’d rather watch TV, or play some video game, and get a high score in a world that is non-existent, and keep living our lives as if we’re heroes. But what gave me hope today was running this course, and experiencing the exhaustion, and pain that some people experience on a daily basis, for the sake of protecting and providing for those around them, in time of adversity, whether your a civil servant, or a civilian in a civil war.

If you want to accomplish something great, meaningful, and impacting, then keep moving forward. Keeping taking on the challenges that are ahead of you, and never settle, because settling is just being ok with who you were yesterday, and knowing that you’ll be the same person tomorrow.

Tough Mudder Before and After

Day 47: The Case For The Visual Learner

In regards to getting a grasp on programming fundamentals, Objective-C has been a lot easier to learn then PHP. Not necessarily the programming language (all though it is more readable), but the fact that everyone who’s coding with Objective-C is using the same developing environment; Xcode. A developing environment is a piece of software that has all the capabilities for reading, writing, and compiling code built into it, along with a graphical user interface builder (and many other tools). To create any sort of program or application that will run on iOS or OS X, you’ll need to use Xcode. Some might say that’s very crippling for developers, but I think it’s the one reason that made the AppStore take off, and has made learning Objective-C a lot easier for me, then PHP.

Consistency While Learning

I tend to leap onto “industry standard” programs, just because I learn better on more widely adopted technology, because it’s a lot easier to learn when everyone is using the same technology/program, and platform. Inherently, widely adopted technology makes for easier learning when surfing the web. If I’m watching a tutorial on one day, and then watching another tutorial on YouTube the other day… when both tutorials are using the same platform i.e Xcode, or Pro Tools, or Premiere Pro… it makes it a lot easier to learn and build off of content from multiple areas on the web.

When I was just getting into audio engineering (around the age of 13), I had some entry level software to do all my mixing and editing on. I remember at the time, searching for tutorials and guides was brutal! There were a lot of videos out there on Pro Tools, and Logic, but watching them, and then looking at my software trying to translate what I was learning was hard and inefficient. While I was learning some core concepts of PHP, different tutorials would be using different code editors,  colours, fonts, and sometimes operating systems based off of the time they were recorded at. You might think these are all peripheral things, but when it comes down to it, visual learning works best when the visuals remain consistent.

“Free”dom For Programmers

So far, every tutorial I’ve watched on Objective-C has been coupled with Xcode, and that’s been extremely helpful when trying to remember the things I’ve watched. Now, opening up Xcode is a lot like replaying a tutorial I’ve watched in my mind, just because that was where I was first acquainted with it. Not everyone has this luxury, mainly because not all IDE’s are free like Xcode. You could be watching a great tutorial on C++ in Microsoft Visual Studio, but for someone who’s just learning to program, that might not be an initial product purchase you’d be willing to make. Then you’ll be in the same situation I was when I was 13; using some sort of entry level software, but watching tutorials on industry standard software. If you have a Mac, and a burning desire to learn some programming, then you have the ability to use a widely adopted language on a great platform for free; Objective-C and Xcode.