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The Millennial Video Producer: 6 Things To Know About My Generation

This week, I've seen maybe a dozen articles about "Millennials". What do they want? Why aren't they buying houses? What brands do they like? Why don't they vote? What's their favorite color? They're mostly all written by people from the Baby Boomer generation, and they're mostly filled with generalizations and assumptions like "all Millennials care about is texting each other." Seriously, that was a comment. Not even a clever burn. Like offensively non-clever.

First, a definition: Millennials are people born between 1983 and 2003, give or take some years depending on who you ask. To define a generation does sound a little generalize-y on the surface, but people born during this span of time do have a lot of things in common: they're typically more open-minded about social issues, they marry and have children much later (if at all), they're less likely to be religious, they have more student loan debt than any generation before, and they're described as liberal do-gooders by some and self-entitled narcissists by others. Again, speaking in terms of statistics based on this twenty year time span. 

And people are desperately seeking to understand them. To market to them, campaign to them, sell to them...basically, to communicate with them.

I feel like this is a topic worth exploring for the video industry because the Millennial generation is clearly dealing with a lot of factors that Baby Boomers and Gen X did not, just as those generations were affected in ways that their parents were not. Millennials go to the previous generation for life and career advice (which is great, the best way to learn) but there’s a disconnect when it comes to applicable advice.

Some facts evergreen: work hard, keep learning, understand the theory. But a lot of specific advice can’t be handed down like in other careers because the industry has changed so much, and it seems like older people mistake this disconnect for arrogance. All of our jobs as we know them didn't even exist thirty years ago, and Millennials came of age in the digital video world. As the era of the hundred thousand dollar Avid suite was winding down, I was creating videos at home on a consumer Dell computer. This inherently gives me a different perspective on the industry, and it's hard to wade through knowing what's "right" instinctively and being told what's "right" historically or cynically.

In an effort to help mitigate the generational divide, here are some things about the Millennial Video Producer (or shooter or editor or whatever) that I know to be true more often than not.

1. We're more interested in happiness than financial stability -- at least, so far. In a Millennial Branding report, 45% of respondents chose job flexibility over pay and 72% want a job where they have an impact. Millennials are highly entrepreneurial and generally like to see themselves making some kind of change. There's some conflicting information about just how civic-minded Millennials actually are, but it's definitely easy to see the social patterns reflected in the kinds of businesses they align themselves with.

A statistic like this really seems to make Baby Boomers’ heads spin, spitting words like “selfish” and self-entitled” despite the fact these young people are saying they want to make change happen. There’s a generational shift away from prioritizing family first: in ONE way. One could easily argue that by pursuing the things that make a person happy, they are doing more for their family life than they ever would being utterly miserable but financially stable. 

2. We're generally under-employed and kind of resent it, especially since we're very educated. A lot of Millennials (the most educated age group after the economic downturn according to the Department of Labor) started their careers (or tried to) at the downturn of the economy in 2008, graduating from college to find job postings that contained such comedy as "entry-level editor: 5 years experience required." Pair that with the fact they have the highest amount of student loan debt any generation has seen (nearly 40% of debt for people in their 20s according to a recent analysis by TransUnion) and it's no wonder they're being a little more careful about buying homes or moving out of their parents' place altogether. Which sucks, considering most Millennials spent their childhoods being told that a degree was the key to a career. 

After the worst of the recession had passed, employers remained cautious about the job market, not hiring and not paying pre-2008 wages, either because they hadn't recovered or didn't want to take any risks, or maybe just because they could get away with it. A note of personal experience here: when I started college at Indiana University, I was told that no student left the program without three or four job offers on the table. When I was in my last couple months of school four years later and hadn't gotten so much as a rejection from any potential employers, I asked my advisor what I should do. He laughed and said "gosh, I don't know. Maybe go to grad school to wait out the economy." No doubt a temporary solution that too many people in my generation took advantage of and are paying dearly for, literally. For a lot of them, it was probably worthwhile. For this industry? Not so much unless you wanted to pursue a teaching career.

3. We're likely to freelance. A recent survey by Elance found that 83% of Millennials say working independently or freelancing is a part of their career strategy. Coming from a blue-collar family heavily involved in the automotive industry, I can’t imagine any of my previous generations talking about freelancing as a major part of their long term career goals. That's completely bananas. Maybe it’s a result of increased self-reliance, being conditioned to poor economic times, or just a decreased willingness to work for The Man since he's not paying you anyway (and often not giving you insurance or other benefits), but more of this generation is looking to make it on their own and work for multiple clients at once.

And it's definitely possible, especially with healthcare reform providing (sometimes arguably) affordable ways for sole proprietors to manage their own health insurance. From subscription based software and workstations that are within financial reach, a lower cost of doing independent business all around hasn't been great for brick and mortar video production, but freelancers in many parts of the country are thriving, especially if they're as connected as Millennials. In a few years, 50% of the workforce will be Millennials, and many are predicting a cultural shift from the 9 to 5. 

4.To finish the point of the last bullet, we're unlikely to settle in and spend twenty years with an employer. Millennials have been cited as the job-hopping generation, looking to get lots of different kinds of experiences instead of settling in to one employer for the entirety of our careers. We're used to an uncertain job market, so we value exploration over making our way up the ranks in one company that may not even exist in ten years from our perspective. According to a 2012 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median time spent at a job for someone 25-34 years old was about three years. Most people I know have already had three or four jobs, if they took full-time work at all. 

And especially for a video producer of some sort, the allure of freelancing usually includes a more diverse portfolio and more chances to learn new techniques — something that we’ve been told time and time again is very important if we want to make it in this industry.

5. We value individualism and that doesn't make us (all) narcissists. Yeah, we share our lives online like an open book and take selfies and spend hours a day looking at screens. But one thing our parents seemed to do for us is give us a good sense of self-esteem. Or maybe they drove us so crazy, we collectively rebelled. Either way, this individualism plays into the freelancing spirit and career exploration, but it also means that Millennials are marrying and reproducing later and less often (with a Pew study reporting that 25% of Millennials don't wish to ever get married.). And that's not good or bad, it's just a generational fact that home life in our 20s is very different than home life in your 20s might have been.

6. We like you but we kind of hope you can retire soon. Look, we know that the retirement age is going up. Boomers don't want to retire, either because they can't or they just don't feel like it's time. That's cool. Yay, people are healthy and living longer. But dang, nobody wants to be a 40 year old junior editor, probably. The post-recession job postings asking for a million years of advice for newbie pay are still pretty common, and those jobs are being filled by you guys, which sucks just as much for you as it does for us. I see a lot of people say they're getting beat for work by young people, but plenty of young people are being passed over for older people who can't leave the industry yet.

Which is likely a major reason so many Millennials are going solo with their careers pretty early. May as well control your own fate, right? But whether it's a staff gig or freelance work, we hope the economy works itself out so you can retire and we can take your jobs. In the mean time, you can't blame us for being aggressive.

So what I'm trying to say here is that the Millennials are coming and they want to learn from your experiences, but there's always going to be a gap. The gap isn't arrogance or self-entitlement, but rather a pile of a whole mess of other kinds of experiences that shaped us, each with their own benefits and challenges. There's an assumption that things are so much easier now for young people, with the low cost of of entry and the wide availability of tools. But while we're not fighting through the analog to digital transition or spending life savings on computers, there are a lot of challenges: a highly saturated market that includes the original experienced pros, an economy less willing to put money into video production, and a culture that requires instant gratification for work. So we thank you for what you did to get us to this point and we want to learn from you, but just don't mistake our generational differences for something more malicious.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Oct 12, 2014 at 1:23:47 pmComments (2) video production, millennials

How Are You Doing? Let's Talk: Mental Illness & Creativity in the Film & Video Industry

Let's talk. No tech questions, no debates, no critique. Let's talk about you. How are you? No really, how are you?

When's the last time someone really asked you that? When's the last time you answered truthfully?

Post-production is hard. Like, really hard. It's the kind of industry where it's rare to have a routine and normal to work overtime. It requires you to constantly stay updated on software and skills and outlooks. Constantly look for work. Call people. Email people. Check Twitter. Call more people. And oh yeah, actually edit things. And oh, YEAH..have a personal life. Maybe. It's demanding. It's often thankless. You spend a lot more time being told you're wrong than right at some stages of a project. You can't leave your work at the office each day.

We had a good discussion about parenthood in post production last year, and more recently about being a good human to others. But what about you? You're the one that has to worry about all this. You have to, in no particular order: be a really good editor, pay your rent on time, deal with critical clients, juggle your personal life without dissing your friends to the point of abandonment, and accept more rejections than compliments. It's a rough industry. Your creative work is a direct reflection of yourself. The highs are really high, the lows are really low, and the drastic changes in work-related mood may mask deeper problems. And especially at this time of the year, when it's dark and dreary (at least in my hemisphere), it's something worth talking about.

A number of studies have pieced together some kind of relationship between mental illness and creativity. For example, a recent Swedish study showed that people in creative fields were 8% more likely to have bipolar disorder. Writers in particular were 50% more likely to commit suicide. You can probably name a number of famously ill artists, many of which took their own lives: Hunter S. Thompson, Virginia Woolf, Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway...a seemingly endless list. Whether there is a quantifiable link between creativity and mental illness or not, you can see why a creative industry can become associated with mental illnesses. Creative individuals are more likely to be self-introspective more often, are often extremely detail oriented, and spend a lot of time feeling closely associated with self-expression -- a strong desire to create, and often a strong desire to be better, sometimes to the point of self-destruction. (Not that other professions don't have their own draws and challenges that attract, nurture and tear down individuals prone to mental illnesses, but we're artists here so I'm talking about artists.)
I think everyone reading this knows someone who suffers from some degree of mental illness. Maybe you suffer from it yourself, or suspect you might. Yet there remains in our world a tremendous stigma toward mental illnesses of all kinds. People don't talk to each other about this. Our society's support system for the mentally ill is embarrassing. Healthcare is a joke even in the face of the Affordable Care Act. From the highest regarded artists in history to the overwhelmed recent college graduate, mental health is one challenge we all have in common. So why are we hiding it, and why don't we give each other the benefit of the doubt?
Among the most common mental illness in the United States is depression -- something like one in ten adults report occasional to major depression. And even then, it's vastly underreported because many people still associate depression and anxiety with weakness. "I'll deal with this myself, I'm just being dumb." "She sleeps until noon because she's lazy." "He doesn't want to go out again, he must be stuck up." Rarely is the first response to abnormal behavior to simply ask a person how they're doing. On the other side, for the person experiencing the depression: "I'm too strong-willed to be depressed." "I can overcome this by myself." "I must be ungrateful for what I have."

Some people are capable of crawling back out from behind occasional bouts of depression. Others only sink further, not seeking help out of pride, fear or anger. A recent graduate might say "if only I could get a job, then I'll feel better." A seasoned camera operator thinks "once this gig is done, I know I'll be able to relax." But then it happens - the job comes up, the gig ends - and nothing changes inside.

I asked a friend in the industry with severe depression and anxiety to describe how it felt, how he differentiated it from loss or sadness or stress. He told me he felt like the main difference for him was his inability to ever experience joy, for months on end. It doesn't get better. It feels stupid, especially in the face of an otherwise decent lifestyle, to not be able to function correctly with simple tasks. Keeping up with household tasks or finding inspiration for your work becomes harder, and the difficulty brings anxiety. Medications help to level the feeling and make it less acute, but they don't generate positive feelings. People have tried to tell him "look at what you have, you've got what you need, things could be much worse, why are you such a downer." He could win the lottery and buy a zoo and he'd still feel exactly the same way because that's what his brain and mind have come up with for him. His perception of the world (and himself) is skewed by this as he struggles to accept his differences not as deficiencies and find a way to function with them - a lifelong struggle often lost.

But if you saw his work, you'd never guess he wasn't at the top of his game.
Mental illness is pretty damn common, especially in our industry. People are good at hiding it, and our professions make it easy to mask. We're in an industry where all-nighters are normal, obsession can be called passion, and the momentum just keeps going forward so fast nobody can stop for a minute to realize that something real is actually wrong.

But these illnesses are like any other disease. They need time and support to heal, possibly under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Some of them need medication to manage, and that's as okay as taking medication to manage high blood pressure or diabetes. There is no shame in asking for help, just as there's no shame in going to a general practitioner with migraines or a podiatrist with foot pain. If you feel you need help, try to ask someone. If you know someone that needs help, offer to help. Or simply offer friendship and support without judgement. For some people, that can make all the difference in taking whatever next steps need to be taken.
Mental illness is often mistaken as a personality flaw, especially by the very person suffering from it: moody, short-tempered, weak, lazy. And that makes sense in our profession, where we're harder on ourselves than any of the critique we face every day. Just hear this: just like it's okay to post a question in a COW forum or tweet soliciting opinions, it's okay to ask for help in managing your mental wellness, and it's okay to encourage a culture where we can all be a little more open about these things.

So hey, how are you?

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Feb 2, 2014 at 8:41:38 pm video production, mental illness

The Truth About Unpaid Internships

At the end of my college career, I took on my third and last internship. It was a loosely structured gig for a local alternative magazine that included such tasks as shooting video at events, interviewing attendees, editing highlights videos, and driving a rainbow colored jeep through a minefield of drunk people in a park downtown. 

The position was unpaid like all my other internships, and the technicolored vehicle was actually not the worst part of the deal.

When I was accepted as an intern, I was told that I wouldn't have regular hours to come into the office. Instead, I'd pick a local event or two each week, show up with a camera, edit a quick piece within the week, and post it to the magazine's website with a brief write-up of the event. I'd work with a producer on staff to make sure my pieces were up to par with their standards, and I'd have an "awesome" time getting into whatever events interested me the most for free. 

Surprisingly enough, it was my third internship where I realized I hadn't asked enough questions upfront.

After a month at this gig, a few things became clear. The "producer" I was working with wasn't really interacting with me other than to say "good" when I'd send a piece to him. It didn't matter if it was good, or even watchable. Showing up alone at crowded bars and outdoor festivals with my own camera and editing on my own system (for free) wasn't as great as it sounded. There was also an aspect of the internship that was downplayed to me when I was hired: being the face and presence of the magazine while covering the event. This meant setting up a tent, handing out random free advertising stuff to the crowd, and generally acting like a booth babe while also trying to be credible enough to conduct an interview.

I started to think that this was quite a strange internship situation I found myself in when I was driving the jeep through the minefield of overheated drunk people during Indy's Wine Fest. I wasn't on a rampage, we were always supposed to park the jeep next to our tent. This time the tent happened to be surrounded by hundreds of winos laying in tall grass on a humid June afternoon.

That's when I asked a question every intern should ask themselves: is this wasting my time?

Last week, a judge ruled that 20th Century FOX should have paid a couple of interns on Black Swan because they were essentially acting as employees. Their internship wasn't structured as an educational experience, and the company was getting benefits from them without offering anything in return. As a result, internships have been a hot topic this week, at least on my social media. Some people think this sets a precedent to eliminate unpaid internships from the entertainment industry. I don't think that's possible or likely, but then again, what do I know about law and junk.

All I know is what I've experienced, and I've been on both sides of it. I had two internships that I felt were mutually beneficial. Then I had a third where I was pushing unchecked content onto the web as quickly as possible as to maintain a (well known) magazine's web presence. 

The beneficial ones -- one at a production house, the other at a museum -- had me doing silly tasks occasionally, of course. I'd fetch lunch and answer phones, or scour the Internet for mundane information. I had to deal with being treated like an intern, if you know what I mean. But respectfully so. And I'd also sit in front of an Avid, get feedback from experienced producers, and get hands on with equipment my school didn't offer to me. The companies were always aware that I was unpaid, and they always made an attempt to check in with me to assure I felt the arrangement was mutual. Except for the magazine, anyway.

The truth about internships is that they do really suck. I spent between 10 and 20 hours a week working unpaid at these three organizations while also working nearly full time and going to school full time. As a result, I felt that none of these things ever really had my full attention. That's true for a lot of people, and it's become a fact of getting into the industry. A lot of people can't find the time to pursue an internship because of financial reasons. If I had chosen to go to a much better school that was further away, I couldn't have afforded the time off from a job to work for free in the city an hour away. No freakin' way. And if you can't make internships and finances work, your chances in the industry diminish greatly. It sucks that a doorway into the industry is dependent on your ability to pay for it because a large group of (probably talented) people are instantly eliminated.

Maybe what sucks the most is the attitude surrounding internships by people who are now successful. "If you want it, you'll make it work." The competition for a job where you'll work your ass off for no money becomes fierce because you have to want it more than anyone else, and they want it more than you. What, you don't want to live in a cardboard box and eat out of dented cans? Well screw you, you're not worth of this industry.
There's also the matter of giving a company 10-20 (or more) hours of your TIME for FREE for MONTHS. It seems insane to think about how much time you have to give to a company just to prove you're dedicated and trustworthy. Not just once, but multiple times.

Yet for a completely inexperienced editor or videographer, I'm not sure how else this could work. You volunteer your time, they understand that you are not yet entry-level, and everybody wins. 

But only if the feeling is mutual. And often it is not.

After a quick calculation, I figured out that I worked about 550 hours for companies for free during college. A lot of people work more. And a lot of people working more aren't asking if they're getting anything out of the internship because they're just grateful for the opportunity to be in the building or put that company on their resume. They wouldn't quit an internship even if they never learned a single useful thing because they're taught that quitting is a terrible, unforgivable act that leaves you on the industry blacklist in an instant. I saw it happen to friends who were stuck in iffy places. My SCHOOL even told these people, after being presented with the facts, that they shouldn't quit under any circumstances. 

Just like a regular paid job, there are some internships you can and SHOULD walk away from. If a company isn't treating its interns well, it probably doesn't have much weight in the industry anyway. 

Ask a lot of questions and set your expectations. Don't like what you hear? Leave.

I had two good experiences where I was asked what I wanted out of the internship. I had one bad experience where I was essentially used as an unpaid freelancer using her own equipment to produce content for search optimization. Guess which one was shortest.

It's a necessary evil, and legislation probably isn't going to leave you with any new regulations. As an intern, you're almost certainly on your own and you have to stick up for yourself. It's intimidating to be at your first (or second, or third) internship, the lowest person on the ladder. But once you start giving your time away for free with no reciprocity, you're only screwing yourself and all those who come after you. You aren't being paid. That doesn't mean you can't have demands. In fact, your needs should become even more important. Driving a clown car that looks like someone threw up a bunch of gummi bears? Probably not relevant to your career, but you can make that call for yourself.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jul 1, 2013 at 7:07:56 pmComments (2) internships, video production

Cautionary Tale in Data Management

I have 50 gigabytes of x-rated material on my external drive, including photos of a girl wearing my prom dress.

Wait, that may have been the wrong way to start this story. It wasn't my prom dress.

Last year, I was brought in as an editor to a large project rather late in the planning process. It was so quick that I didn't get any input on data management. I found out later the first assistant camera guy would be wrangling data and delivering it to me on a USB 2.0 drive. Goodie!

I got my footage (nearly 2TB) and we parted ways. I finished the project and that was the end of that.

Last week, I was archiving things and consolidating down old files to my external drives. I did a Spotlight search for "Lightroom" to make a backup of my catalog. Suddenly, dozens of professional nude portraits popped up in my Finder window. After wondering for a moment if I had forgotten about shooting an intense burlesque studio session, I opened the enclosing folder.

I discovered that it was in a sort of temporary recycling bin directory that had been written to my drive. I never noticed it before because it had previously been hidden. I recently ran a Terminal command to show all my hidden files for a reason I can't recall, so when this particular folder did appear I thought nothing of it. It's just a funky looking folder with a random string of letters and numbers.

At first I thought my drive had come to me with this material, which included hundreds of mundane personal files and hundreds more very personal photos. Another directory was even more alarming: a huge stash of adult entertainment, some of it with very graphic names. Trying to figure out if I had somehow gotten a used hard drive or if I crossed paths with this person somehow (despite the fact my hard drive has never left my editing room), I clicked on an image with a safe looking thumbnail.

It was the girl whose iTunes library and portraits had popped up in my Finder. Wearing the same prom dress as me. Um, what?

I went to sleep puzzled about how this got on my hard drive, wondering if the manufacturer had pulled a fast one, and totally weirded out at the prom dress. Seriously, that thing was the only one like it for miles in my area. And the way these files were organized, it seemed like they might have come from separate systems.

The next morning I decided to take a couple screen shots in case I determined I needed to ask the manufacturer "WTF MAN" and jumped into the uh, restricted directory for maximum impact. I noticed a file called "me.jpg" and clicked on it thinking I could at least know if this massive library of restricted material was prom dress girl's, or if my hard drive somehow had multiple people writing stuff to it before it arrived at my house.

No, wasn't her. It was a guy in a very colorful pose, showing parts of himself that I didn't really want to see bright and early in the morning. Or at all.

Wait, he looks familiar.

Oh. Yep. It's the first assistant camera operator from that shoot last year. But wait, there's more. More self-portraits and videos.

Yep, just gonna close that and go think about my life.

So here's what I think happened. Dude had an external drive of his own for the shoot. It also had his big ol' stash of personal files on it. He put all the stuff on there from the shoot, deleted the personal stuff, and cloned it to the USB 2 drive. Oops, it cloned the deleted files too. Then I cloned that drive to one that has FireWire 800 and eSata so I could actually work with the stuff. Ta da, a lovely surprise.

So what did we learn here, kids? Two major takeaways, really.

First, don't store your entire personal library of quiet reflective time entertainment on the same drive you'll be storing footage from a job, especially if you'll be sharing that drive. Ain't nothing wrong with some personal entertainment, don't think I'm judging anyone here. But keep it separate if you're going to keep it. Personal files of any nature shouldn't cross paths with work stuff.

And second, nothing is really deleted when you just hit that delete key. If you delete something you really don't want anyone else seeing without your permission (writings, credit card information, pictures of your wang), it can easily be recovered. So easily that I did it accidentally. Look at the different levels of erasure available when you reformat a hard drive. There are apps you can use to securely delete files -- to an extent. If it's really important, perhaps the best (and most satisfying) way is smashing the drive with a hammer. Most erasures can be cracked by someone, though lower levels of erasure are probably fine when the person isn't expecting to find any bonus materials anyway.

So that's why I have 50 gigabytes of restricted material on my hard drive. Maybe what amuses me the most is the additional time this person took to copy an unnecessary 50 gigs over USB 2. 

That and the prom dress thing. The prom dress girl is still a bit of a mystery. I'm guessing it's from the same guy and that he stored her files when they were dating or something. Unfortunate for her that she trusted someone with her stuff that is clearly not great at data management. On the plus side, she was excellent taste in formalwear.

(Here's the dress. I'm not posting hers, obviously.)

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jun 8, 2013 at 2:39:40 pmComments (1) data management, video production

A Stream of Consciousness Recap of B&H in NYC

Disclaimer: This has almost nothing to do with anything. It's a stream of consciousness of my brief pilgrimage to B&H in New York City. I'm not really sure because I wrote this sentence before I wrote the thing, but it could very possibly become over the top.

Honking. Wind. Buzz. Orange camouf-what! Oh. I jump sideways to dodge a bike messenger.

Orange camo? Doesn't that defeat the purpose?

I look up from my phone, realizing I probably shouldn't stand right in the middle of the sidewalk while I check my map. Maybe if I were an actual New Yorker. My pink (yes, pink) backpack and I are alone in New York, and we have an agenda. Technically, the agenda is AFI's Directing Workshop for Women. But that's tomorrow. Tonight? Twitter Taco Tweet-up. But today? Today it's me and the city. Checklist item number one? B&H.

Yes, B&H. The largest non-chain photo and video equipment store in the US. It's mere blocks from me at this moment. I think, anyway.

The city and I are getting acquainted near 7th Avenue in the Flatiron District. I told the cab driver a random intersection in the neighborhood to make things a bit more interesting for me. I can't remember the exact cross-streets anymore because I ended up walking miles through Manhattan that weekend. I do know I could see the Empire State Building from where I stood, so I figure that's a good place to start. And let me say right now if my geography seems off, it probably is because I'm freezing cold. Just go with it.

I try to avoid looking too much like a tourist since I'm alone. I fail at this at the base of the Empire State Building. You see it in movies forever, but when you're at the base staring up and unable to see the top, you understand what humans are capable of, but in the good way.

I'm only walking for an hour before my face completely freezes. A nor'easter is brewing and it's not letting anyone forget.

As I pick a new direction, I end up passing by Penn Station and the Flatiron building, among a few other things where I say "OH HEY THAT'S THAT THING" and then quickly stick my hands back in my pockets and keep walking in the direction of B&H. I swear I'm downwind of that new electronics smell. It's like a siren call leading me forward in the blustery wind.

As I'm crossing a road I look aside to check for cars (because apparently no one waits for the walk sign in New York) and I see the Freedom Tower. Over the course of the weekend I realize you can see it from almost everywhere even though it's not yet complete. I remember what humans are capable of, but in a bad way.

Finally, like a mirage in the desert, a green awning appears in the distance. A green awning displaying that oh-so-familiar logo. The logo on the massive multitude of magazines that hit my mailbox on a quarterly basis.

B&H Photo Video at 9th Avenue between 33rd and 34th.

Like all the best places in New York, it's in sort of a nondescript looking brick building. I go inside and pass the bag check. A bearded man greets me. Then I'm suddenly inside the world's greatest candy store. I half expect Willy Wonka to somersault down the carpet at me.

The store seems to take advantage of every square inch of space available in the building -- all 70,000 square feet of it across two floors. That's like almost two football fields. (Non-America readers can do the conversion to soccer field for me.) Display cases with audio mixers shine brightly like jewels. An entire aisle of cables hang carefully and conspicuously not tangled. Cameras, lenses, every type of storage media conceivable by man. Anything you could ever want or need or want is in this store.

After I wander the perimeter, checking out some things I was ogling in the magazine recently and trying to remember that most of it won't fit in the single backpack I have, I stand near an employee talking to a curious shopper.

I suppose it's worth noting that B&H is owned and operated by observant Satmar Hasidic Jews with hundreds of Orthodox Jews on staff. To me, a staff of people in traditional Orthodox garb is both welcoming and intimidating and I can't really tell you why. It's like the authority of uniform to another level. But I can tell you that all the salesmen are so completely friendly and knowledgeable, there's no way you'd leave the store without talking to someone, if only to say hello.

Of course, in the few moments I eavesdrop on the sales guy talking to the customer, I realize the guys can talk circles around me because they actually know their s--t and I blank out on any questions I may have ever had. I don't think they want to talk to me about the meaning of life, they have things to sell.

I make my way upstairs and find the stuff that I really like to window shop -- lenses and hard drives. I love a good hard drive. The air in the store is perfectly balanced with equal parts fresh electronics and old New York building. They should bottle it. Eau de Camera.

As I'm walking around, I noticed bowls of also-nondescript candy placed at the end of aisles. It looks like the kind of candy I usually avoid, so I don't try it. Later I kick myself when I bring up the candy to post nerd New Yorkers and find it's phenomenal. If you're going, try the candy. Let me know what you think.

Skipping over the parts where I oooh and aaah over stuff I either can't afford or can't fit in my backpack, I make my way downstairs again and admire the engineering happening above my head. Either taking advantage of the space or simply working with the space they have, the building has been set up with an elaborate conveyer belt system in the ceiling. What seems to happen is that you decide to make a purchase after talking to one of the sales guys, then you go to the maze of cashiers near the exit and get in line. While you do this, your item is sent from storage, into the conveyer belt, and magically flies into the room of cashiers so they can give it to you as you pay and depart.

I'm pretty sure that's what happens. It's thrilling to me. I like conveyer belts. The store is like a living organism that feeds on curiosity and converts it to happy.

Realizing I should get out before I make any bad (good) decisions, I carefully navigate the cashier maze at the exit. With a friendly salutation from the door watching man, I'm back out on the street wondering what just happened.

For a moment I consider going back in for another ride. But instead, my main checklist item fulfilled, I wander back to Penn Station to see what other trouble I can find.

The new electronics smell fades into the heavy subway stank and the gentle whirr of B&H blends into back the cityscape.

Of course, I end up getting stuck in New York two extra days thanks to Nemo (and a day in DC, but in the airport) so I could have spent the whole EVENING people-watching and equipment-ogling at B&H. Next time maybe I won't be traveling so light and I can afford the space for a new lens cloth or twenty foot cable. What cable? I don't even care. I'll find a use for it.

(Saturday morning in Brooklyn after the storm, for good measure. It was kind of cold.)

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Mar 22, 2013 at 9:16:30 amComments (2) b&h, video production

Setting Goals for the New Year

I hate New Year's resolutions. They're the worst. I think the year flipping from 2012 to 2013 is entirely arbitrary and should have no bearing on what I do with myself, mostly because nearly all resolutions are forgotten by Valentine's Day anyway. However, it seems as good a time as any to set overall year-long goals and check in on how you're doing, right? But not resolutions. If you call 'em that, you're going to bail and you know it. Plus, you can always add to them throughout the year if you feel the need.

For the last several years, I've set a list of goals at the end of December and evaluated how I did with the previous year. It's sort of a public accountability thing even though no one really holds me to it because really, who would remember? Twelve months on the Internet is basically a century. Still, actually writing things down in a sorta-permanent way makes them slightly more legit....even though I could edit this post and pretend I met all of my goals because I am infallibly amazing. But no, I would never do that.

Or have I already?

I'm sure I've mentioned repeatedly in my blogs how much of a goal-oriented list-checker-offer psychopath I am, so literally writing down words that describe the things I want to fulfill so I can actually check them off a list makes me giddy. If it doesn't make you giddy right now, I recommend doing it anyway. Maybe by 2014, you can share my giddy sickness.

Either way, I think it's important to set and achieve goals as a video editor even when you've reached a point where you feel comfortable with your skills and surroundings -- because things change way too fast to ever be complacent, ya'll.

If you want some motivation in considering your focus for the new year, here are my goals for 2012, and how I did with them. I thought about including them in this post, but they border on braggy at times if they're outside the context of my personal blog so they can just sit over there. If you're on my page, anything goes without apology. Overall, I did pretty well with the main ones. A couple slipped by. And a couple just became less important to me as the year went on.

And that's one thing I think is most important about goal-setting and ultimately my point. Goals are always in flux, and you can re-evaluate them at any point in the year, not just when the human construct of time dictates a tally mark in the year column.

And a goal is better than a resolution. A goal is something to achieve. A resolution feels like something that is wrong with you that needs to change. It feels like it's set in stone forever and if you don't do it, oh well, trash it. Goals and resolutions can be the same thing, but the word "goal" is much more positive. In my opinion, anyway.

So, 2013? I have some goals. In the interest of practicing what I preach, here are a couple. I expect you, dear Internet, to hold me to this.

1. Read more books.

I have a Kindle and I should use it. I'm also filing "read more scripts" under this category. Reading scripts for films you've seen or will see teaches you a lot, so I'm going to do more of it.

2. Watch more films.

I've always felt like I consumed a lot of media, but compared to others, I kind of don't. I go to the movies a lot, but I have a lot of catching up to do with classic films.

3. Fluency in Avid.

This doesn't really need to be on this list since I'm continuing to cut Impersonators and have another film lined up. But part of fluency (to me) is actively pursuing additional training to add to the knowledge I gain from hands on experience (including considering the C word).

4. Go outside.

Probably the most difficult goal when you're busy trying to watch more, read me, and learn more stuff. Plus the sun, it burns us, precious. But physical activity is important, unfortunately. Blergh.

There ya go. Four perfectly attainable yet challenging goals. I think it's best to have a good mix of measurable and abstract. And while it's not a bad thing to have goals that are really reaching, I always try to limit those because I know I'd just get overwhelmed and give up before I start. Maybe really-really-hard-to-reach goals are what motivate you. In that case, you should definitely put some awesome stuff on your list and tell me about it.

So, Internets, what are your goals for the Earth's next trip around the sun?

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Dec 17, 2012 at 10:02:10 amComments (2) video production, goals

Using the iPad as a Teleprompter - [Review]

We may not have flying cars or a Mars colony, but dammit, we live in the future and we have iPads. And all of us in media production have used iPads in our workflow at this point, whether it's previewing something or used as a slate, or just a game device during renders. How about a teleprompter? It's actually pretty nifty.

Last year, the company I work for researched and purchased a teleprompter setup built for an iPad from Prompter People. Basically, it's the reflective bit and iPad holder that fits on a camera and tripod. It can accommodate our smaller JVC ProHD camera, or a larger ENG camera. You can also purchase it from the company with an iPad, but we already had one so we didn't. It arrived in a couple of boxes pretty quickly, and was simple to assemble. It's very similar to a regular teleprompter, though I found it lighter and simpler, which is good because it was marketed as such. It's not so light that it's not properly balanced on the tripod though. Basically, it's pretty much what you would expect from any other teleprompter. When we bought it, it was about $600.

The iPad slides in snugly and is reflected onto the screen. We did find two minor downsides to this: the screen got dusty a lot from the black material that fits over the lens, and the iPad really needs to be plugged in if you're using it at any length. But these were very minor and easily fixable with the right amount of lens cleaner and duct tape.

So the actual teleprompter device with an iPad is great, but the thing that really makes or breaks it at this point is the teleprompter app you choose. The Teleprompter People device didn't come with one at the time, so we had to go in the app store and figure out what we wanted. Apparently it now comes with their app iCue which doesn't have very good reviews at the moment, but if it comes with it I'd definitely try it out anyway.

The app we chose is Teleprompt+. Overall, I think it's a great app, and over the several shoots we have used it on, we've had no issues with talent adjusting to it. In fact, our last talent told us there was absolutely no difference to her between this iPad setup and a full-on teleprompter. This app is currently $14.99. Gasp, paying for an app? Yea, do it. Sheesh.

It has basically everything you'd want to be able to adjust - font changes, size, color, speed. It has a mirror on or off function, so you could simply use the iPad itself without a a teleprompter setup if you're running your own thing - prop it up by a camera and let it run. It also has a voice recording feature so you can practice your speeches, which is kind of cool.

In theory, you can control the teleprompter speed and position with another device paired to the iPad, like an iPhone. We found that this never really worked as expected, so the camera operator or an assistant needed to stand next to it and adjust as needed. We found that using a stylus really helps a lot. I'd say a stylus is necessary, comparing the ease of use between shoots.

For editing scripts on the fly, you can do that on the iPad itself. It's pretty cumbersome to do so when it's all hooked into the teleprompter system, and you can't really be taking it out of the area repeatedly without getting annoyed. However, if you have a wifi connection and an extra person with a laptop, you can have scripts upload from Google Docs. I'd upload all the scripts to Google Docs (letting Google conform it to their format.) Then go on the iPad and upload them. Whenever a change needs to be made, hop onto the Google Docs account and edit the script. When you go back to Google Docs within the app, it'll mark the scripts that have been updated and need to be re-uploaded. The only minor setback with this is the initial upload of scripts - there's no way to batch upload in the app, so if you have a lot of really short scripts, you have to upload them one by one. After that, it's pretty flawless. You can also upload from Dropbox, but I didn't have as smooth an experience and I'm not sure that you can make edits within Dropbox.

Overall, using an iPad + app + Prompter People system works really well for our setup. We typically have small shoots, often with just one talent speaking. We didn't have to drop thousands on a teleprompter system that we don't use more than 6-7 times a year usually, or pay a teleprompter operator day rate which is probably the same or more as the cost of this system minus the iPad. We already used the iPad for other stuff, so that wasn't really a part of the expense in my opinion.

If we were producing something with higher production value? Yea, we'd hire a specialized prompter operator. But for our small company and simple shoots, this works great.

Yeah for the future!

(Nobody gave me any money to write this. But I'd take some...)

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Aug 31, 2012 at 9:52:59 amComments (1) ipad teleprompter, video production

A Dream Job in Video Production - literally

In light of the Mars Curiosity landing successfully on the planet after an incredibly ingenious deployment technique, I've been thinking about my dream job. When asked, I know a lot of us editors probably have similar answers to the dream job question: to edit a TV show, to edit features, edit documentaries, edit a meaningful piece about humanity, edit national advertisements. But what's my dream job?

If I were to create a job out of thin air (that may or may not exist, I'm not even sure), I think I'd have to go with Space Videographer/Editor. I would work for NASA or SpaceX or whatever other space exploration firm is out there, producing all their video for broadcast, the web, and whatever else.

My duties as a space video producer? Well, obviously I'd have to go to space every once in a while to do some shooting. That's a given. I don't care if robots and astronauts can do it, I need to go up there and get some shots of my own. The job would be maybe 10-20% "travel" (to space, duh) and the other percentage would be spent on Earth, either documenting the exploration process or in the edit, putting it all together. And these aren't cheesy or dry videos - they're fun, engaging, or inspiring. Did you watch the 7 Minutes of Terror video that was released? They'd be more like that than NASA TV's 4:3 feed of their control room. Powerful, inspiring, and relateable video about SPACE!

Another aspect of my dream job duties would be the ongoing curation of an educational video series for kids to inspire them to pursue learning about space exploration. I love the idea of designing videos that actually engage young minds and deliver the knowledge of the universe. It's also my contribution to erasing the effects of Jersey Shore and the like.

Basically, I would sit down and watch the greatest minds in the world explore space, and figure out how to take the information they give me and produce it in a way that's understandable for the masses, but not in a watered down way. Oh, and also go to space. How great would that be?

Alas, I don't think my dream job exists, so I might have to settle for editing a TV show about space someday. Some edit bays are as cold as the vacuum of space, so I could get pretty close to a simulation.

If you could make up a job out of thin air, even if it's not remotely feasible, what would it be?

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Aug 15, 2012 at 9:52:46 amComments (5) video production, nasa

Wedding Video: Thoughts, Advice, and Crowd Sourcing a Wedding Day

This past weekend, I was in the wedding of one of my favorite couples. We met in college when we all worked at the Zoo together (they actually started dating there) and stayed friends beyond into the real world. During my bridesmaid stint, I was thinking a lot about wedding videography. As a video producer/editor, I'm always (painfully) aware of the video being produced during a wedding, especially if I'm attending a wedding for someone I really care about. I want their videos to look amazing, almost at times jumping up and grabbing a camera or source material to edit it myself.

I guess you can call it half caring and half control freak.

Wedding video is not as widespread as wedding photography. Even as a video person myself, I don't consider wedding videography to be a priority. If you're working with a budget, I would always suggest putting more into still photography than video. In my opinion, weddings are more effectively captured one frame at a time. There's a romanticism you can only get in a single still frame that you can finesse and process to bring out the good qualities and hide the bad, and then over time, that's what you remember that moment as - perfection. With video, you have to have some great talent behind the camera to achieve that same feeling.

There are some amazing wedding video producers out there today, you just have to be prepared to toss a bit of money their way. And for what you get, it's a fantastic purchase. Wedding cinematography is gorgeous when it's done right, and provides you a keepsake that you'll probably actually go back and watch a few times.

The thing is…if you hire a wedding video company and pay like $500 for your video, it's probably not going to be this fantastic, romantic and flawless product. Great wedding videography is hard, and it's expensive.

Which leads me to my next thought - a wedding video company called Wedit. My friends chose this company to document their wedding day. The basic concept is that you are given 5 Flip cameras to distribute throughout your wedding. Your bridal party, you, and your guests are charged with documenting the entire wedding day or weekend. The cameras have little tags on them to remind people what kinds of shots they need to get. Then after the wedding is over, you mail the 5 cameras back to the company, they edit a wedding video from your footage, and post it along with all the raw files for download.

Now, I'm not really sure what I think about this. On one hand, it's a cool concept because your guests may know you better than a videographer, so you'll get more natural reactions and everyone is more comfortable around the camera. It's also really interesting to potentially have 5 angles from different and unique POVs at any given moment. If a regular wedding videographer shot everything on Flip cameras, handheld, you would slap them in the face. But because you set the expectation that these are all shot by guests and bridal party members, there is a level of acceptance for flaws in the video. It's closer to a documentary than a cinematic experience, which works because you aren't expecting any more from it. It's also relatively cheap - probably about as cheap as hiring a bad videographer.

But again, the expectations make it work better.

One downside is having 5 cameras to track and distribute. But the biggest downside, in my opinion, is putting the burden of recording the major moments onto your guests and bridal party. For our group, it wasn't a big deal because I always have a camera anyway. But I noticed during some of the reception events, there were people up and standing around, recording things instead of enjoying them. When you have a wedding reception, you sort of want your guests and everyone to relax and have fun, and this adds a burden of responsibility on them.

Another downside is making sure the big moments get proper coverage. With 5 cameras floating around, one person might want to actually enjoy a moment instead of capture it, thinking "oh, one of those other people is recording." Then nobody records it and you have no video of your first dance.

The biggest thing to remember is: with a service like Wedit, the success of your video is determined by the enthusiasm of those involved in your wedding. The video can only be as good as the footage captured.

I kept a camera with me the whole weekend and documented everything the way I'd want it if I were editing the video. I got loads of coverage - transitionary shots, establishing shots, closeups, reactions, nat sound, everything. And shots that are held long enough to actually use! I also got a ton of great pre-ceremony footage - the little nervous sighs, the mascara being applied, the gentle light in the readying room, the sparkle of the dress. I tend to think a lot of people that shoot these wouldn't get this stuff because they aren't used to telling a story with visuals, and that makes me wonder how these videos usually turn out. The very best moments of a wedding video are the little things you capture, the environment the people are in, and the care you take to making people look good (or reasonably good, there's only so much to be done with a Flip!) I hope the editor of this Wedit video does it justice, because I'm pretty sure you could edit a decent video out of just the stuff on my camera. And I hope the editor appreciates having b-roll for once.

I am a little concerned about the quality of the edit though. The service is only about $400. If you have 5 Flip cameras with 2 hours of runtime, you could potentially have 10 hours of footage to sort through. I'm guessing most weddings don't fill all 5 cameras (ours didn't, not even my 150+ shots), and the company relies upon this to turn things around and remain profitable. But even for $400, how can your video be devoted the proper amount of time needed to review footage, find all those great little moments, figure out where camera overlap occurs to multi cam it, and pull out a cohesive story? Needless to say, I have massive doubts on this.

If you're reading this, trying to consider if you want to try a crowd-sourced wedding video service like Wedit, or wedding video at all, I would just consider 1) if your guests and bridal party are the kind of creative people who will pitch in to shoot some video without being prodded, 2) what kind of wedding video you want (Is a guest POV, probably shaky camera all you wanted? Or do you want a theatrical wedding video with crane shots and dolly moves?) and 3) what kind of budget you have. Always put more budget into still photography - I'm begging you. Believe me as a video producer telling you this - you'll cherish still photos more than video, 99% of the time. Overall, I think Wedit is an interesting concept for the right group of people.

It's been interesting to see the evolution of wedding video. Now there are apps where you can upload pictures and video during the wedding to a central location, which takes the Flip out of the equation entirely. But it still comes down to the willingness of your group of friends and family to contribute. If it's important, it's always better to defer to a professional than to get disappointed.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Aug 10, 2012 at 10:09:03 amComments (4) wedding video, video production

11 Facets of a Great Video Production Intern

If you want to be in video production, chances are pretty good that you're going to need to complete at least one internship before you find a job. The best part is that almost all video production internships are unpaid. In return for your free labor, a company agrees to help you along, teaching you and giving you valuable work experience. It should be a pretty fair trade on both sides, but it can start to slip occasionally. As an intern, it's important that you stay on top of your work, while holding the company accountable for their end of the bargain.

In college, I completed three internships that ranged anywhere from 10 to 20 hours per week. This was a challenge to balance with school and a part-time job, so getting the most out of my internship time was a huge priority. I worked on museum exhibit videos, local events, conference slideshows, and television, digitized tapes, prepared graphics and laid a-roll. I also swept floors, answered phones, organized music libraries, and even cleaned out offices when half the staff were laid off (but that's a separate post for another day.) Interning isn't always fun or glamorous or even interesting, but it gives you essentially building blocks for your career. Here's my eleven most important facets of a video production intern.

Let's face the facts. First of all: no matter what kind of college program you might be working through, or how innocent and passionate you might be, or how dedicated to video production you say you are, you're probably going to be doing some pretty menial work as an intern.The sooner you realize that you are an INTERN, the sooner you can really start to make the best of the situation.

Alright. Now that I've said that, I want to stress that just because you are an intern, doesn't mean you're the company play-thing. You (probably) won't be working on high dollar edits, but you shouldn't sell yourself short and start scrubbing floors and vacuuming spiderwebs out of dark corners. At least not all the time. If your internship resembles more of a janitor or secretary position than a low level assistant, there might be something wrong. There also might be something wrong if you're working 50 hours a week on client work without pay, too.

If you're in an edit suite shadowing an edit, ask the editor questions (but be careful not to interrupt them). If you're sitting on a couch with an in-house producer, ask them questions. If you're going to lunch with some associates, ask them questions. What kind of questions? Ask how they got to where they are, what school they attended, what their major was, what internships they did, what other jobs they've had, what the turning point in their career so far has been, what they like, what they don't like, the work they'd like to do, how they deal with clients, how they determine their freelance rates, what that little button on the Avid does, why they made a creative choice. In other words, ask anything and everything you can think of asking. And take notes.

Speaking from a technical perspective. If you're shown something, you should take notes. If someone demonstrates how to set up a capture in Avid, write it down. Don't ask for someone to show you every time. If you don't understand, it's fine to keep asking questions about the same thing. But there's a difference between "Can you show me how to set up a tape capture?" and "I'm working on setting up this tape capture and I think I've missed something, can you check it out?" One shows that you're on the road to learning it, and the other shows you probably don't care.

You might be taking on some tasks as an intern that aren't so great or enriching - organizing tape libraries, for example. But in almost any task, there is something you can take away from it. Instead of grumbling your way through something, ask yourself what you're learning. If you're doing too many menial tasks and not getting anything out of it, and you're unpaid? Go to the person coordinating your internship, and let them know. Which leads me to--

In your (probably) unpaid internship, you should be taking something away every day you're working. If you aren't getting what you want, talk it out. Be polite, explain your goals, and ask if some changes can be made within reason. Any company you intern for that's worth ever working for full-time will understand and help push you back into the right direction. Open the lines of communication right away. Meet up with whoever you report to as a supervisor at the beginning of your internship, and establish your goals. That way, they know what you want and can try to shape your experience.

Ask to get hands on with equipment as much as possible. In my past internships, I would take tutorials and manuals into empty suites and work away. Never waste any downtime. You're in a prime situation to better your skills in a way you might not be able to otherwise. Plus, if you get stuck, you have a staff of well-trained individuals to help you.

Don't skate by at your internship. Come in early, stay a little late. Don't simply exist. Why the hell are you there if you aren't doing anything? Certainly not for the pay. Do your very best work and be enthusiastic. People take notice of happy people who want to do good work, and you have a much better chance of being hired full-time if people genuinely like you.You could prove yourself to be a really valuable member of the team and a perfect choice for an editor role but if you're a jerk face, you're going to get passed over. If you're a little black rain cloud that just complains about everything, you definitely will be shown the door.

You're inexperienced, you're going to make errors. It's part of the company's hazard. If you make an error, apologize and fix it right away. No need to dwell on it or get emotional. Just fix it (or ask for help) and move on. Don't try to cover your mistake. And if you accidentally deleted the company's Unity? Welp, you're on your own with that one.

Get a status report. Are you meeting the company's expectations? Are they meeting yours? What improvements can be made on both sides, if any? By setting a date to speak, you'll guarantee you get some quality discussion that can really help you out. And you'll definitely be on the calendar for a meeting with a potentially very busy producer or manager.

Not Stereotypical
Don't get into personal relationships with anyone, or do anything that could damage your reputation. Be respectful and positive, and stay out of trouble. And be careful on social media.

What's missing from my list? Skillfulness or intelligence or technical aptitude? Nope, not necessary for an intern, at least not specific to video production. Companies want bright, curious, and enthusiastic people who are eager to move up and learn new things. They don't want someone with a cocky attitude who thinks they already know everything. Sure, some facilities may ask for applicants that have a basic understanding, but they aren't looking for an expert. When you approach a facility to inquire about internships, keep these facets in mind, and maybe you'll find yourself behind the camera or in the edit bay.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jul 9, 2012 at 5:47:18 pmComments (4) video production, internship

Focusing on post-production, from editing and motion graphics to personal experiences and the psychology of being an editor.


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