Category: Videography

Self Employed In 90 Days

Hello,

I’m Sean Witzke, and I’m a music producer, videographer, photography, and all around media enthusiast. 90 days ago I cancelled my Netflix subscription, and set out on a journey to upgrade my personal skill set, become self employed, and in the end foster a lifestyle of learning and creativity versus consumption and laziness. In turn, I exchanged my Netflix subscription for a Lynda.com subscription; a website which develops university level online tutorial videos (photography, videography, music production, photoshop, autocad etc.). This website gave me the platform to help achieve my goals, and in the end, I achieved them.

What started off as a personal experiment, trying to teach myself how to program, turned into a full on lifestyle change through pursuing business opportunities, learning new skills, and overall being more prone to take risks and adventure out into the world. I can say that I’ve accomplished more than I ever have within 90 days. I went on multiple road trips across the coast of Oregon, and British Columbia; both endowed with amazing scenery and photographic inspiration… upgraded my video production arsenal far beyond what I thought I would personally own at this point in my life… founded my own video production company which currently specializes in wedding videography, Small City Film… and built a hefty portfolio in both videography and photography.

A Change In Direction

I look back now, and it’s interesting to see where this journey has led me. My original intent was to learn different programming languages, and see where that would take me in the world of technology, but after multiple nights on Lynda.com, I began watching tutorials on video production; more then I planned. I started growing more in my confidence as a videographer, throwing myself into new opportunities, and taking on projects I thought were once out of my reach. Overtime, I started filming more and more, and eventually landed multiple wedding video gigs over the summer. My goal at becoming self employed grew far closer then it ever did with programming, and so the switch was made.

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Day 87: How To Be Different

Over the past month I’ve been struggling with the idea of how to be different. Any freelance job is usually successfully backed by word of mouth leads. That being said, differentiating yourself from the competitor i.e. everyone else who owns a video camera, and creating original content is usually how these leads are formed. People only talk when they’ve been wowed. But how do you keep over delivering standardized product, while still adding a sense of uniqueness that will wow them in the end?

I’ve seen it over and over. Videographers (or audio engineers etc.) pass around their work with one another looking for critique. They come to a conclusion that this one piece of work wasn’t their best, they release it, and it actually resonates with a bunch of people very deeply. More then they ever thought it would. But we tend to do that because we look at things from a different perspective. A professional perspective. And so it is… the best thing to ask yourself at a shoot is…

How Would I Be Wowed?

If we can send out what we think is mediocre work, but still have people find joy, meaning, and beauty in it, then we can for the most part agree that if you can wow yourself, your audience will most likely be REALLY wowed. Just think about the first time Steve Job’s got on stage to introduce the iPhone. He said that he wanted Apple to make a product that he himself would love using. You could see it in him. He was excited. And so it was with the greater population as well.

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Day 85: When Failure Happens

It’s ironic. My last post was about being ok with failure, but this last wedding shoot I encountered just that. Failure.

The Gear

The day before filming this past wedding on Friday, I decided to rent a few things from my local music store. Mainly some audio equipment. I borrowed my friend’s H4N portable audio recorder, and rented a wireless Sennheiser G3 wireless lavaliere microphone. Little did I know what I was to expect.

On the day of the wedding I was setting up a few tripods with my second shooters for the ceremony. I finally whipped out the lav, and mic’d the pastor who was marrying the couple. As he went off to mingle for a bit before the ceremony I checked the audio on my H4N. It was all good. Nothing to worry about.

The Problem

The ceremony starts, and my minds in the game. We were shooting for the next 40 minutes, and that’s all there was to think about. The ceremony went well, until I got back to my H4N and reviewed the audio. As soon as the pastor started walking towards the alter to begin the ceremony, the mic cut out. The wire was broken. This was something I didn’t see coming. I tested the signal, but I never tested how resilient the wire was. It turns out, I’m never renting a lavalliere mic again. Now I know what my next investment will be…

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Day 80: Small City Film

The point of this project was to become self-employed within 90 days, and by the looks of it, Christmas might be coming sooner than I expected. Yesterday marked the first day of Small City Film, my newly launched wedding film production company.

Time Not Wasted

After a week and a half escapade of filming and editing, I finally finished my first wedding highlight reel for my friends Kevin & Justine Chiang. The process took an immense amount of effort, but the reverberation from social media, and the amount of leads I’ve received for filming more weddings shows that my time was not wasted.

Depending on how it all turns out, I could be up and running for the next two months with an increased amount of capital for expanding my team, gear, and overall online presence.

Booking More Time

While I was up in Kelowna, I met with the media coordinator at a camp that has deep roots within my family. My grandfather was apart of a group of German immigrants who actually founded the camp. All around, there’s a great story to be told, which is what led me to meet with media coordinator. I’m planning to film a short documentary on the camp, the people, and the overall story. That, and the month of August could potentially be loaded with more wedding shoots.

Time To Keep Learning

Today, I met with a friend to discuss the possibility of creating a full photography/videography wedding production partnership. We’ll see how this turns out in the coming month.

I’ve also been making the switch from Final Cut Pro X to Adobe Premiere, and to the overall creative cloud. Last night was mostly me raging at my computer, getting re-acquainted with new hotkeys, and experiencing an overall new workflow that at the time slowed me down a lot. It’s frustrating to know what you want, and not being able to get there as quickly as you once could. This lead me to start a whole new Lynda.com tutorial series on Adobe Premiere CC. I’m excited, I’ve already learned a lot, and I’m now starting to see why Adobe Premiere is a standard for video production.

The following video is Kevin & Justine Chiang’s Highlight Reel. I hope you enjoy it. Feel free to email me at sean@fromnextflixtolynda.com if you want to give me a shout.

 

Day 73: Why Is Workflow So Important?

It’s a lovely sunny afternoon in Kelowna, BC as I edit over 10 hours of wedding footage. Sunday night I decided to head out with some friends for a spontaneous vacation up here in Kelowna Albeit, I do have some work cut out for me as I have to assess the footage from this past weekend.

However high pressure a wedding shoot might be, I must say, I do enjoy the layover that comes after. Editing is a task that can really be done anywhere as long as you have a computer, possibly a mouse, and a healthy supply of caffeinated beverages. If not for the portability, I probably wouldn’t be enjoying the Okanagan sun right now.

Workflow Helps Bring Rest

Considering I have a lot to do, this is one of the first times the idea of a healthy workflow has come to mind. Many creatives tend to just get right to it. You sit down, start cranking out some photos or videos, and call it a day. But you just can’t do that with 10 hours of footage. Getting up from an editing session, leaving it for the night, and then get back to it in the morning leaves no room for undecided decisions, or vaguely new approaches. You need a consistent system in which you can put your mind at ease once you leave your work to rest, along with being able to pick it up right where you left off, however long the break may have been.

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Day 71: Filming Two Weddings & Learning For The First Time

Last Friday I filmed my first paid wedding, and it was an amazing experience. From the groom seeing the bride for the first time, to the ceremony, and the speeches and dances, it was an all around party. Not to mention, I was also in the wedding party celebrating my best friend who was just married (I had a second shooter for the ceremony). The whole day went until around 12:00am, and then came takedown. Seeing as I was also a groomsmen, it was my responsibility to help fully end the wedding day. I stayed longer then a videographer normally would because of this. There was also a breakfast the next day for the wedding party, and along with that, I also had another wedding I was to attend for another best friend the next day. Talk about on the run.

As I went home that Friday night, I hit the preverbal hay as quickly as I could. I needed the sleep ASAP, as the next day would most likely run just as long. After attending the breakfast in the morning, I had to run a few errands and drop off a few rentals, and then I was off to another wedding. This one however, I was not planning to shoot. My close friend who was being married that Saturday asked me to not film so I could enjoy the day, but something in my wanted to still make him a great film, and I knew inwardly that I’d still enjoy the day (especially for the fact that the film would be his wedding gift).

Spontaneous Shooting

So, showing up as a normal onlooker, about 5 minutes before hand, I ran from my car with only one camera I happened to bring that day, and my lower grade tripod, and lavaliere. I found the pastor, mic’d him up, and took a place on the side to grab as many dynamic shots as I could. I only had one camera, my 6D’s battery was dead. I forgot to charge it when I got home the night before, along with the batteries in the T2i I was shooting with.

I had half a battery left for the whole ceremony, but I didn’t let that discourage me or stop me, I wasn’t being paid for this wedding, but that doesn’t mean you should cheap out on a gift. My last 16gig SD card was in the camera, with no hacked firmware on it (magic lantern; a firmware I never shoot without), and in the back of my mind I was wondering if the T2i would randomly activate it’s auto gain control while the lavaliere was being recorded. But I kept moving, and I kept filming.

Things Get Worse

It was almost over. They signed their license. They got blessed by there pastor. “I know pronounce you hu—“ and then the battery dies. I missed their first kiss as husband and wife! The worst! My friend Bryan, who was in the wedding party that day, and who was also my second shooter for the day before, saw me suddenly turn my camera down and run away. He was so confused. Why did I not film their kiss? I later told him why, and he bursted out laughing. He told me he placed a GoPro in the tree above which should entail a pretty nice overhead shot of them kissing, and I also found my friend’s dad who happened to get a nice closeup of the kiss on his Canon.

Enjoy The Day

I ended up going home in-between the ceremony and reception, charging my cameras, dumping my cards from the night before, and in essence, doing all the things I should have done when I got home last night. You really never know as a videographer when your next shoot is going to be. It could be planned, and paid for, or it could be spontaneous. Either way, you always need to be prepared, and this is something that no video, tutorial, or teaching, will ever teach you. The past two days of filming has made me that much more confident in the field of videographer, and especially wedding videography. There were problems I encountered that I never expected, and I have to say, I’m glad that I filmed my both of my friends weddings, even though they were both hesitant on me filming as they wanted me to enjoy the day. Valid argument, but I’m glad that I took the chance, and soon giving both couples the ability to relive their wedding for years to come, and that made the day extremely enjoyable.

Learn While Doing

I have another paid wedding at the end of the month. One that will be much more elaborate, and that’s exciting. But I’ve been duped into thinking that they best way to plan for a wedding, is to plan for a wedding. Wrong. The best way to plan for a wedding is to shoot a lot of weddings. The truth is you will never get better at any skill or trade if all you do is plan, and never test out your assumptions and techniques. Test them, refine them, and build some confidence in knowing that…

  1. You’re choosing to be someone who constantly learns… and…
  2. You’re choosing to be someone who takes action, even though they don’t know all the pieces yet.

If you take these two things to heart, you will exceedingly surprise yourself at what can be accomplished, because the best time to learn something is when you’re doing it for the first time.

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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.

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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.

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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.