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COW Blogs : Mike Cohen's Blog : creativity
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Creative Inspiration



Weeks are for work. Weekends are for personal enrichment. Maybe that enrichment is biking, skiing, cooking, cleaning (really?!), hiking, reading, going to the movies or theater, or whatever floats your boat. For me, it is keeping a collection of inspiring activities at the ready so when the moment strikes, I have no shortage of ways to stimulate my mind.

This particular weekend is supposed to be icy cold - nothing out of the ordinary in New England, but with a lot of travel coming up I think I'll lay low, watch some inspiring media and exercise the parts of my brain that are dormant during the conference calls, spreadsheets and HR tasks during the week (more on all of these important subjects in another entry!).

Here's a still life of my options - in high school art class we would have had to paint this, but that's because we didn't have digital cameras in 1988!:



I won't go through every item, as some of these books I have not read yet. Over the past year as I spent countless hours waiting for connections at such hubs of international travel as Charlotte, Nashville, Midway and Denver airports, I found myself in one bookstore after another. They all have displays of self-help and business books. I have gotten into the habit of snapping a picture with my phone of any book I'd like to read, then looking online for a better price. Airports are about the most expensive place to buy anything. Well looking at reviews often convinces me that what is on display isn't always worth the paper it is printed on, but through blogs and podcasts I discover other resources.

One interesting choice is "642 Things to Draw." This book simply has blank pages with descriptions of pictures I can draw. Sure I could have a sketchbook but it is sometimes ok to have a little nudge to move the brain where it might not normally go. And no cheating - if you don't know what an antelope or a violin looks like you have to guess. You should see the chainsaw I drew!


Clay Shirky's book has gotten a lot of press and one I am looking forward to. Not shown is "The Accidental Creative" which I have read a few times and passed along to another person in need of some work/life balance.

"The Writer's Journey. was recommended by a screenplay seminar instructor I met here in CT, and is a good review of the hero's journey as used by countless writers of both books and movies. Once you read it you say to yourself, "aha, George Lucas thinks he's clever doesn't he!" But in reality, as I formulate stories for half-written screenplays it is a handy reference.

In the lower right, speaking of King George, is "Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution." This is one of my all time favorite reads.


The book starts with a concise but useful story of Lucas, Copolla and the breakout from Hollywood of these two filmmakers, the creation of ILM, eventually of Pixar and early digital animation, nonlinear editing up to more recent advances in CGI, and how Lucas was driving a lot of the innovation. Yeah we all know this right? But this book is full of anecdotes and a look back at how some of our favorite films were made. On my recent trip to San Francisco I went looking for the warehouse that housed the original American Zoetrope studios, only to find a high-rise condominium tower. So much for historical preservation!

Here are a couple snapshots of the interior:

That's Ben Burtt doing sound effects editing on Star Wars in the basement of George Lucas' original home studio.

And here are some pioneers of the first CG animation:


And speaking of our favorite directors, while I don't subscribe, this anniversary edition of DGA quarterly has some great brief interviews with a host of directors:


Since Spielberg doesn't do DVD commentaries, this visual description of the Private Ryan opening sequence is a fascinating read:


The movies shown are three of my favorites for their technical mastery as well as their longevity. Each from a different era in filmmaking, each was innovative and a challenge to the filmmakers. How fitting that the current issue of Creative COW has Douglas Trumbull on the cover - a living legend of filmmaking innovation. http://newsletters.creativecow.net/newsletters/2011/11-29/index.html



So why the food products? Digestive biscuits, tomato bisque and porridge are three comfort foods perfect for a cold wintry weekend spent feeding my mind - might as well feed my stomach too!

Well, thanks for reading...I've got some reading of my own to do!

Mike Cohen

PS - at least one other member of my household is interested in my copy of Creative COW magazine - get your own!




Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jan 13, 2012 at 6:51:51 pmComments (3) creativity, filmmaking
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MBA? We don't need no stinkin' MBA.

As soon as I get a GANTT chart as an e-mail attachment, that is a sure sign there is an MBA degree holder on the other end. Now don't get me wrong, an MBA is a great accomplishment, and those who use their knowledge to start successful businesses are to be commended.

But for those of us in business, who got here in a roundabout way, such as by starting in a creative job...well we learn as we go. What are some examples of learning business knowledge from creative efforts?

Example 1 - Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth (ok, that's a cooking example too)

You are working on a script for a video. The writer met her deadline and you like what she's done. So you send it off to your client for review. The next day you get it back with some Track Changes revisions. Nothing too bad. So before getting the green light for the shoot, it has to be run up the chain of command - your client's bosses. Suddenly, you find yourself sitting at a long conference table, accompanied by 6 people you have never met, your client and the worst pot of coffee you've ever tasted. You spend the next 4 hours copiously taking notes as the committee analyzes every word, apostrophe and colon. And speaking of colons, this coffee is racing through your system a bit too quickly. When the script review is finished, instead of being told to make the changes, you have to sit through 30 more minutes being scolded for not following your original orders. In other words, the client decided, via a laborious process, that what they asked for is not what they wanted. But it's your fault of course.

What's this got to do with business? Everything. Managing expectations is one of your key roles in business. You are happy to take the client's money, but are you prepared to help the client know what they want and expect what they are getting? Sometimes the only way to learn this is to drink that bad coffee.

Example 2 - Follow the Yellow Brick Road


In other words, follow the prescribed path to success with a client. In design, you often need to follow the client's corporate branding guidelines...to the letter. The client uses a font you don't have? Buy it. The client does their brochures in InDesign and you are a Quark house? Either learn it or hire someone who knows it. Think the corporate brochure templates are bland and all look the same? Don't forget that the work you are doing is a small piece of their million dollar campaign. Consistency is everything when marketing anything.

From a business point of view, little interpretation is needed. You may be a creative type who is now running or helping to run a business, but once you have provided the creative jolt your client needs, follow their rules for compliance with the corporate strategy.

Example 3 - Dance like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee

In other words, think on your feet and nail your client's need accurately and decisively when they need you to. A client calls and says "I like the DVD. Can I use this at my exhibit next week?"
Well you know, from a creative point of view, that you hit the PLAY button and the video plays once then goes back to the main menu. Not good for a trade show display. Your answer has to be "You could, but it would be better if it loops."
The client asks how soon they can get that version.

A good client asks how much it will cost. A good creative/business person will get them the goods and if they are a good client or a new client you do it gratis, because you are providing excellent customer service and that keeps 'em coming back for more. New clients and good clients (repeat clients) are the only clients you should have. New clients are not always good, but sometimes you don't know that until the job is finished. Until that time, treat every client the same - they are a good client, because they are a client, and you want to make them a good repeat client. So you do your job the only way you know how - well. Think on your feet to come up with solutions when they need you to.

More examples than I can think of

Don't just take my advice, check out the latest threads from the Creative COW Business and Marketing Forum:

http://forums.creativecow.net/businessmarketing

Read the forum. Better yet subscribe to the new posts. I guarantee you'll be smarter for reading. You'll get the benefit of many viewpoints from experts and novices alike from around the world. Who needs an MBA when you have a COW.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 5, 2009 at 3:57:12 pm business, marketing, creativity, ruminants
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Making Something Out of Nothing

You Can't Get There From Here, the expression goes.

Sometimes you find yourself in a seemingly untenable situation. You have 1 hour to get setup for an interview, in basically an empty blah room, Given a basic kit of gear that you take everywhere, lights, mics and stands, you need to be able to make something out of nothing - in other words, use your knowledge and creativity to get the job done.

**Thanks to my buddy Jake for this innovation!

I recall going to the home of retired general Bernard Trainor with a reporter back in the early 90's to interview him about the no-fly zone in Iraq post-Gulf War I. The shooter had his betacam, sticks and one Tota light. He made the general's living room look as nice as was possible, and the few sound bites that went on air looked pretty good indeed.

Hence, we find ourselves in cramped offices, hotel meeting rooms and occasionally plain white-walled board rooms, or just an empty supply closet. Indirect lighting, reflectors, gels, umbrellas and taking everything you ever learned about lighting and combining it with good old Yankee ingenuity - and you might just get a nice result.




Recently we picked up a low cost 19" LCD HD monitor to travel with. In an Anvil case originally purchased for an SGI Indy2, we can setup a client monitor or one for ourselves, to confirm that we are in focus and somewhat properly exposed. While the colors are not perfectly accurate, monitoring the V1U via HDMI is very nice indeed. Once can see a definite difference between the flip out LCD screen on the V1, the viewfinder and the LCD monitor. Presumably the true picture lies at the intersection of the other 3 views.

Sometimes happenstance is a good friend. A plant, a plexiglass award or some carefully stacked books on a table are just what you need to make blah into ahh. Wherever you find yourself, scope out the lobby or adjacent offices for plants, lamps, bookcases, framed landscapes - anything that you might be able to borrow to turn blech into ye(ch)s!

Thinking on your feet, often in a pinch, can be the key to getting something usable, versus just another plain background.

Speaking of backgrounds, it is also helpful to have some black muslin or other backdrop material (dubatine?) and a background stand (two light stands and a pvc pipe will do the job). With some nice folds and a slash of light with a gel, you can indeed create something out of nothing. It is of course important to have enough distance between the subject and the background, whatever it is, to put it out of focus. Modern full-auto video cameras try to make everything in focus. In a case like this, don't use auto-focus or auto-iris.

Check out the Whitehouse YouTube clips. Obama is making good use of the free video hosting on the web - saving us money presumably (?) - the interesting thing is the thumbnail keyframes are in some cases behind-the-scenes photos of the lighting setups - frames not present in the videos.

Some of my favorite shots on 60 Minutes or Dateline are when you see a cinema verite shot and you can see how they did what they did. It is always fascinating to see other peoples' setups. Sometimes simple can be best, and look anything but simple on camera.

In summary - you can have the best most expensive lighting kit and tons of flags and other gear. But your creativity and ability to think on your feet can make the difference in an on-camera interview situation. Whether you have 10 minutes or two hours to setup, the limitations of room size, decoration, distance between subject and background, power availability and available gear all come into play. But most important of all is your ability to make something out of nothing. Of course, if you have your wits about you, nothing is never really nothing - rather, nothing is the promise of something great.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Apr 17, 2009 at 9:43:39 pm lighting, improvisation, creativity
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I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my fluffy housecats.

Follow me on Twitter: videoeditormike

Hang out on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/videoeditingmike

LIKE my company (I do): http://www.facebook.com/pages/CineMed

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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