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Divide and Conquer

Although I recently watched Lord of the Rings in HD, I am not talking about the Battle of Helm's Deep.

No, I mean to say, Given a large list of things to do, rather than trying to do more work than is humanly possible, simply pick and choose tasks until you can start knocking things off the list.

When I first started this blog, I used to talk a lot about workflow, project management and organization. I have not written about these subjects for a while, perhaps because I am more organized than I used to be. However, many of the principles still apply.

Make a List

This list can be daily, weekly, monthly, yearly or simply as often is necessary. Do it in Excel, MS Project, a whiteboard, a blackboard if you like chalk dust everywhere, scraps of paper, sticky notes or the back of an envelope.

If this list is something others need to see, I suggest a large markerboard in a hall or common area. I have both. The smaller board in the hall lists hot projects and shoot scheduling. The larger board in my office has a 3.5 month calendar and a column for each person including myself.

I keep a personal list as well on a running page after page legal pad (we will call this the LPad - take that Steve Jobs!).

Crossing off an item gives some gratification.

As for organizing not simply tasks or projects, one must often organize assets - media files, document version control, quality assurance and the like. An Excel file works, however this can result in a lot of file versions being emailed around. One file on a server that can be updated by anyone helps. A web-based spreadsheet that always appears in a browser tab can be even better. There are web-based services for this sort of thing like Basecamp and Dot Project - but you can get so wrapped up in managing the online service that it becomes a job unto itself (see "Balance" below).

Check it Twice

This is one reason I keep multiple lists - to make sure priorities are accounted for, to resolve conflicts and to make sure that we are not forgetting anything.

Periodically discussing the to do items with the people to whom they are assigned is another important function. And don't just say "do this, then this" - be sure to get feedback as to the realism of timelines and dependent tasks.

What is a dependent task? Why, it is a task that cannot be done until something else has been completed first. This can be a challenge.


As already mentioned, one must list items in order, or at least indicate somehow the order of completion that should be followed.

In our shop, we have a standing rule about prioritizing work should someone need to make a decision. In the case of a conflict, ask me. In case I cannot resolve a conflict, go to the boss. But the boss has better things to do than to do my job, so as a manager I need to maintain control over priorities, resolve conflicts, and stay organized.


Occasionally, a hot job comes through the door, or something on hold becomes active again. Thus, reprioritization can become all its own. No client should be told they are not the priority, as there is always a priority given to jobs that a client is expecting to be completed in a timely manner. And as soon a we can complete a client job, the sooner we can send an invoice!


This goes right back to the last two items. Find a way to balance everything that needs doing without resorting to multitasking or excessive overtime. You do this by delegating the right job to the right person in the right order, and evaluating the progress on a regular basis.

Easier said than done - management of jobs, schedules and priorities is a dynamic process requiring daily progress reports. It can be a simple "how's XYZ going? Do you think 2 weeks is still enough time?" or as complex as "attached is an excel listing the current status of XYZPDQ - we will update this at the end of the week and reevaluate the completion schedule if anything new happens this week, etc."

Balance can also mean, balancing the project tasks with the organization of the projects. Don't let whatever system you use become another project to manager. Being a project manager means you manage the project, not that you manage the managing of the project.

You have to manage the managing of the project, but not to the detriment of the project.

Do What Must Be Done

This does not mean working 80 hour weeks. It might, but it mostly means being focused on the tasks at hand, trying to stick to time lines, and being diligent in everything you do.

Think of the Big Picture

This big picture is your bottom line - profit. This bottom line is fed by successfully completed work, which keeps your clients happy. Simple really, but getting there is half the fun.

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 19, 2010 at 9:52:09 am workflow, project management

Pulling it all Together

Workflow is everything. As described since the inception of this blog, how you go about getting the job done can, in fact, decide how and when you get the job done.

I spent this past weekend gathering images for a textbook on pancreatic surgery. Approximately 200 frame grabs from video were needed to illustrate the surgical procedures described in the book. Some chapters included stills and/or illustrations, but others needed some further visual enhancements.

First, I printed out the current build of the book, and while reviewing a PDF on my laptop, marked up the printout with locations for images, and the video clips from which they will be generated.

Next, I confirmed that the videos are correctly numbered. I do this either by reading the text and viewing the videos, or simply checking the layout against the online content management system we devised for this project and ones like it.

Next, I locate the hard drive containing most of the videos. Yup, it's a eSATA internal drive in an external bay - great for sneakernets and great for collecting dozens of drives - usually one per project plus backups. Sometimes the best solution is whatever is simplest.

Each chapter has a folder, including word docs, videos and premiere projects.

Open the premiere project, or make a new one as the case may be.

Now, looking at the content of each paragraph in the book layout on one computer, I locate the associated video clip, drag to a sequence, then scroll quickly through the clip to get a sense of the content.

Then, move the cursor to the approximate frame I want, then use the arrow keys to find the exact frame. Given the nature of the subject, surgery, the appropriate frame is somewhat subjective, and somewhat dictated by the video itself. If we are looking for a shot of an anastomosis (joining together of two structures, such as a hollow viscus and a solid organ, or two hollow viscus segments - me smart, use big words!) then we may get a clear shot of applying a suture, firing a stapler or simply the end result. The available frame decides what will be used. The thing is itself.

Then hit ctrl+M to export a TIF. There have been numerous discussions around the COW about how to get print quality images out of video - SD, HD or DSLR (usually also HD). Well, we simply take the 720x480 TIF and print at its native size of about 2x3 inches within a 300 dpi document. The printer's pre-flight check will flag any non-300 dpi image - but we tell them in advance what is coming their way.

Naming convention is vital. Never, and I mean NEVER, should you name something Slide 1.TIF, because inevitably there will be other files with the same name elsewhere on your computer.
In this case, my naming scheme is:

ch_vid#_# (chapter_video number_image number from that video).

Since the video numbers are already listed in the chapter, the layout designer need only locate the video number in the layout and insert the images with the correct name.

Exceptions to this are if there is more than one image, there MAY be a directive to place the images at particular points within the text. However usually there is simply a reference to the image inline with the text, and all of the images live below that paragraph.

Periodically it is a good idea to browse through what has been captured to make sure I have not mis-named anything.

tick tock......time passes........a few breaks to watch Meet the Press (a show I always liked but especially now that a fellow alum of U of Hartford is the director of the show) and a This Old House episode...

8 hours later, with just a few chapters to go, my eyes bleary, watering and the 3rd cup of coffee sitting cold on the desk, it is time to call it a night.

Tomorrow, I need to save a backup copy of the raw images (raw meaning original, not raw meaning RAW. If anyone can tell me how to get RAW images out of DV I'm all ears. Actually my friends tell me I'm all nose.). Then all images go to photoshop for deinterlacing and color correction, cropping and the occasional cloning tool or other touch up. The danger here is that sometimes when you grab a still from interlaced video, it cannot actually be deinterlaced due to the particular type of motion involved. So then a decision has to be made - live with it, re-do it or discard it.

Finally, pass images off to layout, and then check everyone's work.

Gotta go watch True Blood and Being Human - we like Vampires around the Cohen household.

Thanks for reading.


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Aug 15, 2010 at 6:36:39 pm workflow, photoshop


This past week was a perfect example of contrasts in my job duties. I often say that I wear many hats, that every day is different, and that my job entails a wide variety of activities.

What better excuse than to update my blog with a new post (it has been a while) and share some photos from my week. Sorry to my die hard blog fans - grainy cell phone pictures are a thing of the past.


Spent the better part of the day, until about 1:30am Monday, reviewing a 384 page PDF of an upcoming book about Pancreatic Surgery. I am the project manager of We are about to go to press, but first, we need to do the following:

1. Make sure all the images are correctly placed.
2. Make sure the 100+ illustrations are reviewed, revised and updated in inDesign.
3. Make sure the video references are in the correct sequence - there is an accompanying DVD-ROM containing hours and hours of video and narration.
4. Capture additional video stills to populate image-free zones of the book - deinterlace, color correct, add to layout.
4b. Integrate final changes from proofreader.
5. Lock down the cover design.
6. Get approvals.
7. Send to press.
8. Review proofs (formerly called galleys).
9. Pray.
10. Receive copies - move to secure underground bunker (I am not making this up).

Marked up a printout, sent some notes to the designer and hit the hay.

Monday - AM

Spent a few hours on e-mail and general housekeeping. 11am, leave for the airport. Made good time, no traffic this time of day. Realized I would miss the CT Primaries for Governor and Chris Dodd's Senate seat - oh bother.

The flight was delayed about 45 minutes - what to do with extra time....

I even started a thread using the COW MOBI site, entitled "Sitting Around Waiting" and got some interesting responses:

Monday - PM

Board Southwest flight for quick 1 hour flight to Baltimore. As the only airline that does not charge for extra luggage, SWA is a pleasure to fly - and the flight attendants are known to sing over the PA. I am surprised this is allowed by the FAA.

We arrived just in time for rush hour on the Beltway, but still made it to K Street in about an hour. Hampton Inns are predictably nice - comfy room, free coffee and tea round the clock and usually conveniently located.

We got settled and then took a brief walk around Chinatown, took pictures of the NPR building

(clearly the money I have donated has not gone into the building! But I'll bet Cory Flintoff has a nice cubicle.), and looked for something to eat.

I live and breathe by my black berry phone - and lately I eat by it too. Google maps is not fast, but handy for figuring out where you are and what is nearby. We wound up at a unique Japanese eatery, Kushi Izakaya. It has a sushi bar as well as wood fired grills for skewered meats, fishes and vegetables.

Incidentally, I recently upgraded my pont and shoot still camera to a Sony DSC-H55 - it even has settings for food and pets - custom made for this blog!!!

We ate at the robata bar (presumably the location on K St means that all the tables and booths were occupied by lobbyists)...

...the menu resembles Tapas and so did the check. But the variety of foods resembled the variety of job duties I'm supposed to be blogging about :)


Up at 7am - breakfast buffet - carbs and more carbs - long day ahead (potentially).
We met our surgeon client at his office, changed into scrubs and made our way to the OR. This surgeon is one of the first I worked with early in my career. The case started at 9:30am and went until about 5pm. While I cannot discuss the medical aspects, it was, supposedly, the first time such a procedure has been videotaped.

The case could have gone on until late at night, but what was able to be done was done, and we hit the road around 6:30 for a 9:30pm flight home. A quick stop at Panera for predictably good food, guaranteed to be better than most airport selections - I particularly like their chicken noodle soup.

Boarded flight on time, arrived in Hartford around 10:30, luggage by 11, car by 11:15, home by 12:15am, quick shower to wash off hospital and airport (sorry forgot to take pictures), and bed by 1am.


Returned to office around 10am, spent most of the day on odds and ends. I bought a pack of 100 to-go cups to go with my single serve coffee maker. Today was a two-to-go-cup day.

Odds and Ends

Reviewed a printout of the next catalog we will distribute.

Reviewed a new DVD series we are selling - best sellers in our nursing series.

Collected, scanned and emailed some release forms for a competed project - one can never be too organized when keeping track of such important documents. We also sometimes collect tax forms for consultants, so a locked cabinet for sensitive documents is important.

Reviewed some stills from Tuesday's shoot - since we are making both a DVD and book, some high res stills will be important.

Confirmed with the surgeon our next shoot - one down, six to go. Our illustrator will join us next time.

Back to the Pancreas project - already discussed items on the to do list.

Also worked with our web designer on some updates to our website. Our site is both an e-commerce site where we sell our books and videos, as well as a newly expanded Services area to help generate new business, a video gallery and improved layout for product display. Launching sometime soon.


I had a client scheduled for an edit session at 9:30am. I made a coffee to go and actually got to the office at 6:30 - tweaked some initial edits and did some further refining to prepare for the client. This is a promo video to be shown at a corporate event in the Fall.

Worked with client until about 1pm, then continued working on audio levels and color correction.

Afternoon conference call and some more Pancreas work.


Spent most of the day refining the video, adding supers and a snappy opening, and rendered a WMV for client review.

Did some more work on website redesign and some more odds and ends.

At the end of the day, packed up my editing computer for some weekend work - you guessed it, Pancreas! Sat in the wonderful daily traffic jam in Waterbury. Got home and discovered that some devilish creature had eaten my 6 beautiful eggplants growing in my patio garden. Blasted!

Well, they were looking good, as were the other plants.

Ode to a Lost Soul

Once you were young, but a seedling from Lowe's,
Then as you grew with your siblings beside you,
I knew you would make me a meal worth enjoying,
And would perhaps be worthy of prose.

As the weeks went by I fell deeper for you,
With your tender skin, your supple feel, your color,
I yearned for the day my lips would embrace,
The taste of your body in salad or stew.

Yet at last came the day my imagination had framed,
The breading prepared, the pasta al dente,
I opened the door to harvest your soul,
And all that I found was all that remained.


But if you leave town for a couple of days during a heat wave, not much you can do about it. Next year - bigger pots and perhaps a trickle watering system.

So to summarize, this week I was a project manager, a road warrior, a food connoisseur, a tourist, a surgical videographer, an editor, a client relationship manager, a still photographer, a poet and a coffee barista. What did you do today?!

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Aug 13, 2010 at 6:07:48 pmComments (1) travel, workflow

Live Blog - Books and Videos and Planes..Oh My!

Live blogging seems to come and go. We saw it a lot during the 2008 election season - now Tweeting seems to have supplanted live blogging. And soon Tweeting will be replaced by some new made up verb. Perhaps the forthcoming Yiddish social networking service will introduce the world to Shpulking - you have as many words as you want but your mother has to approve whatever you say!

Ok seriously, this will be a photo-based live blog. I often do a photo-based tape-delay blog, so this is something slightly new. I can't actually post to the blog by smartphone, so daily updates will have to suffice. And speaking of smart phones - my phone's camera is only as smart as 2009 would allow so the pictures are intentionally grainy.


Yesterday, I packed up what I needed from my office for the days ahead (I won't spoil the fun by revealing all my cards) - video camera, DSLR, laptop, desktop computer and a selection of hard drives.

This year I have been doing more gardening than the recent past.

I enjoy driving up to the house and seeing a colorful front garden

and I am also attempting to grow some basic container vegetables too on the back porch. The cherry tomatoes are starting to arrive! Lettuce and basil are going strong too.


Woke up early to get going on my to do list. Sure weekends are supposed to be for relaxing, but some weekends you need to get some work done, especially if days out of the office are a possibility.

First I finished editing some orthopedic surgery video. Tough to shoot if the surgeons are wearing those big space helmets, but the stuff that looks good looks really good.

Mid-day I took a break to go to the vet for some cat medications, then hit the library and a big box store on the way home. Picked up some fresh cod for dinner.

Back to the edit bay/living room - finish the shoulder replacement and render out WMV files to post to our client review website. Gone are the days of racing to FedEx for the 7pm cutoff.

Next task is to burn 8 DVD's, authored earlier in the week and saved out to ISO files from Encore. A variety of edited surgical cases for use later in this blog - maybe.

Testing on both the computer and a standalone DVD player is important - you never know when and where these might be used.

Last assignment of the day - edit an interview between a surgeon and a patient - about the experience, decision-making process and result. This is becoming more common for promotion of a surgeon's practice. In this case, it is purely educational.

Next I prepared dinner - cod wrapped around crabmeat stuffing, topped with crab claw meat, lemon juice and white wine. 40 minutes at 375 and we had a nice treat. We don't eat like this every day, but once in a while we pull out the stops! (camera phone pictures of food never look good - sorry)

Final step of the day is to write this blog.

Next stop - Tomorrow - see you then....

...time passes....(Zork reference)

Three Days Later

So much for this live blogging idea - one must have access to the internet and an energy level to go with it.

So I left off on Day One - the prep work.

Day 2

Flying somewhere on a Sunday is a mixed bag - you don't want to spend all day away from home, but if you are checking luggage that you can't live without, then you don't want to give United Airlines an opportunity to lose something. They love those opportunities - love em!
Well this trip is mostly me and my carry-ons, so I flew out of Hartford at 5:30pm - direct to Chicago. Met up with my colleague, our on-staff medical illustrator, who I do not see very often. We had a nice dinner at PF Changs to catch up and strategize for our meeting.

Day 3 - The Meeting

We have a series of surgical books we are producing - a book with accompanying interactive Flash disc with all the surgical videos, narration and illustrations. This project has about 100 original images all about pancreatic surgery. So we had an 8 hour marathon session with the book editors to review every image and note changes to be made for the final draft.
Next steps after that are the final layout, proofreader, then send to press, review the "galleys" which are not old-school galleys but rather a digital printing at print size with bleed, but we still call them galleys. Then the actual printing.

Oh my.

Meeting broke at 3 - cab to O'Hare which was rather deserted compared to later in the day. Stocked up on food for the flight to Vegas.

...hours later (took off 1 hour late)....

Arrived in Vegas to learn that NAB was in APRIL!!! Yikes.

Ok just kidding. After the very long wait for luggage and equally long wait for a cab, I checked into the hotel, got a nice upgrade thanks to some nice person somewhere, and met up with fellow Creative COW Steve Wargo for a late dinner and drinks at the Harley Davidson restaurant.

Steve and his crew had arrived before me to setup in a suite, and they actually did some interviewing before I even landed.

This gets me back to a point I made in my previous post about working with freelancers. If you have something critical that needs to be done at a location away from your home base, don't just trust anyone you find on Google. Remember what Forrest Gump says about boxed confections. But I know I can trust a crew with whom I have worked before to do the work that needs to be done, even if I am not there yet.

Steve, feel free to chime in.

Well that's the short version. The long version to come...

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 19, 2010 at 10:40:07 pmComments (1) workflow, GTD, teamwork

Locked and Loaded

Yep, another blog about leaving the safety of my cubicle to work with a client.
Why so much emphasis on this? Because it is good for business to have your, er, stuff together!

Many people have a checklist for a shoot:

- batteries
- lav mic
- xlr cable
- bnc cable
- monitor
- hdmi cable
- 20 blank tapes or 6 p2 cards
- headphones
- gaffer tape
- etc

Likewise I certainly make a checklist for a week long trip:

- suit
- sportcoat
- 2 pair knakis
- 6 pair black socks
- 2 polo shirts
- 4 dress shirts (white, grey, blue, pinstripe)
- 4 favorite ties
- dress shoes
- bathing suit, flip flops (assuming they have a pool)
- etc

So why wouldn't you have a checklist for a non-shoot, non-convention trip out of the office?

The particular meeting described below was for an important project we are working on. The editor of the project and I have been meeting at his office on and off since November. In each meeting, we review the script and current images and video, look for new images and video, keep a tally of images and video we need to acquire, and then revise or re-write portions of the script (narration and on-screen text). Sounds easy enough. There are over 400 screens in the Flash program, 100 videos and at least 150 photographs. We also have a list of illustrations or animations to create.

The experience is taxing on the brain, and educational. I am not a surgeon, yet over the course of such a project, I learn much of what the target audience of surgeons will be expected to learn.

A few years ago I picked up one of these Swiss Army laptop backbacks. I don't know if these are affiliated with the Swiss army knife, or if the actual Swiss army uses these in the field (doubtful) but what I do know is that it is the best backpack I have ever owned. The only negative is that it holds a lot of stuff (heavy) which is good and bad. It is good because I can take whatever I need with me. It is bad because I have a spine and back muscles!

Below is a representation of the major components needed for this trek. Not shown are such essentials as blank DVD's, thumb drives, power supplies, phone charger, herbal tea bags, mints and a small flashlight.

Obviously the computer is the essential business tool. While this laptop, as described in earlier posts, has the full CS4 suite installed, useful for long plane trips and the occasional on-site edit session, in this case it is simply a web browser and word processor, perhaps a few Photoshop manipulations for good measure. It is essential to have an organized set of scripts, images, videos and other assets, and make sure this is backed up in multiple locations. Whenever a major script revision is completed, I e-mail myself a copy for safe keeping. Google and Yahoo share this task.

A fairly new acquisition is the Zoom H4N recorder. This little gizmo is great for recording temp narration tracks, or in some cases final narration with either a video's author or myself. Another handy gadget is a Canon HD camcorder, recording to SD cards. While not broadcast quality, what if I am sitting in an office and someone says "hey, you want to come see someone with a knife in their skull?" - a little camera that shoots video and decent stills is great to have for these occasions, or more likely if we need a quick shot of an instrument, piece of equipment or even just to photograph a thumbnail sketch as reference for an illustrator or designer. You never know.

While bus powered USB hard drives are cheap and getting cheaper, we have a library of eSATA drives ranging from 350GB to 1.5TB. While I may not use it, having it with me along with a portable USB interface is handy.

A USB mouse is much easier to work with for long periods of time than the laptop's touchpad. And sometimes the best technology of all is a sheet of lined paper.

And finally, do not discount the importance of reliable writing implements.

So, to summarize, any time you are going anywhere, whether for a video shoot, editing session, tradeshow or simply the all-important sit-down meeting, know what you need to do and have what you know you need in order to do what you know you need to do. Whew.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 21, 2010 at 4:52:03 pm travel, workflow, planning, organization, alliteration

Nose to the Grindstone

While I blog a lot about the fun and excitement of air travel, and the production experiences at either end, once I get back to the office for weeks of uninterrupted work, it is time to get stuff done. Over the years I have experimented with various to-do lists, post-its and marker boards.

Recently we have instituted a Jobs to Start worksheet, distributed to all departments. Updated whenever a new project starts, this keeps everyone informed of what is going on, even in other departments. Why, you may ask, does publishing need to know about a video project in the works? Because, of course, every new piece of information is a possible opportunity. What if two departments were working with the same group of people on two unrelated projects. We don't want to be working against each other - thus good communication plays into different business units working together, even if the two units don't actually work together.

However, in our outfit, we all work together. For example, we have a series of multimedia textbooks. The media work and project management is handled by my department, Production, but once the layout is done and it is ready to begin the 14 week process leading up to press, the publishing department takes the reins. So while publishing does not have much to do with the prior 6 months, they need to know approximately where we stand with hitting our planned delivery date. You need to reserve time on the press and factor in time to transport and store inventory once printed. You always need to think of the big picture.

So while I started this post in talking about keeping track of project tasks, it has morphed into a discussion of good communication among people who do not always work together.

This is business 101 - keep others in your organization informed of activities that may impact them sometime in the future.

Going back to the completion of tasks, sometimes it is a matter of delegating, then checking the work you need to check before sending it on to the client or another set of eyes in your group. It can be daunting to send something you put your heart and soul into to another department for review and possible negative feedback. But better to get such feedback from a trusted colleague who may look at it from a different point of view, than your client whohas specific expectations.

Other times I may do the work myself - self-delegation. Often this is to keep the other folks on their own tasks. Thus I find myself doing a lot of little tasks - add some narration to a series of brief video clips, post some videos or files to the client website, and numerous conference calls and document management.

Yep, it's not all video shoots in exotic locations. Much of the time being a desk jockey is just what the doctor ordered. Get the work done, move things along, hit your milestones, tick stuff off the list. Sometimes I make a punch list, a phrase I picked up from years of watching Tommy Silva and Norm Abrahm wrap up renovations on This Old House.

Instead of:

- Finish trim in master bedroom
- Replace kitchen cabinet hardware
- Finish laying sod in the backyard
- Calibrate home theater in time for wrap party

my punch list may include:

- Render final pancreaticoduodenectomy video files
- Pull stills for hernia chapter 27
- Check narration files on FTP server, then send to programmer
- QA ventral hernia DVD
- Create new slipart and DVD menu design for laparoscopy series

Checking things off the list helps with the "divide and conquer" workflow. It is not always 3 weeks editing a long form show. Very often it is 15 minute tasks for hours on end. Frequently it is a little of each.

Seeing weeks or months of activity come to fruition in a new product to sell to the healthcare community is quite gratifying, and perhaps a bit more fun than sitting in steerage on a 737-800 waiting for your complimentary half can of cranapple juice. But getting there is half the fun.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 18, 2010 at 5:12:38 pmComments (1) project management, gtd, workflow


It has been well-established that multi-tasking is bad news. However, in the regular course of day to day computer activities, it is necessary to have multiple applications running. Shortcuts to apps and documents are a great time saver. Sure, this is a very basic concept, one that has been in Windows since the beginning, and even back to DOS if you think of the BAT file, but still worth mentioning as a workflow improvement.

This is where the Windows Quick Launch toolbar comes into play. This is by no means a new feature, but I find that the ability to have instant push button access to frequently used tools saves seconds at a time - and those seconds add up. Maybe I have gotten a bit carried away, as the task bar keeps growing.

Whenever I think of a shortcut, I think of those great Family Circus cartoons from the Sunday Funnies, where Billy takes a circuitous route around the neighborhood when he is called inside for dinner.

Trying to find something in Windows can have the same feeling.

So here is my laptop quick launch toolbar, with explanations to follow:

(click image to enlarge)

1 - Desktop - this is obvious - sometimes you have so many windows open you either need to clear your plate (clear your mind) or find something on the desktop, without opening yet another window. You can always hit Windows-D.

2 - Internet Explorer. The only time I use this is when checking a new website or update to make sure it is compatible. Occasionally javascript behaves differently in IE. And some client websites only work in IE. Thankfully, Netflix streaming movies now work in Firefox. Oddly it took the adoption of Microsoft SIlverlight to make a non-Microsoft browser compatible.

3 - Word - this is obvious and perhaps the most used feature on a computer.

4 - Excel - another frequent flyer. What better way to track assets, timelines or money.

5 - Nero Quick start. While I generally only use Nero to burn a DVD ISO, occasionally a regular data backup fits the bill.

6 - My Documents. I make sure to use the same icon on all computers, so I always know where My Docs can be accessed.

7 - Photoshop - easy access

8 - In-Box - I like the movie screen icon, reminds me of viewing home movies in Grandpa's living room. I keep a shared read/write In-Box on my computer. This is where my colleagues place WMV or FLV files of edit versions for review. This folder tends to fill up fast, so periodic clean-ups and backups are in order.

9 - Video Inspector. A handy little free app that tries to identify the details of codecs in video files. Sometimes it does not identify the codec but it does tell you the audio sample rate, which can sometimes be the culprit if a video does not play back in Premiere.

10 - Firefox. I'm using it now.

11 - Audacity. Not the best audio editor, but for recording a quick pickup for a temp narration track or a simple cut or paste edit, it works. And it's free.

12 - FileZilla. While Fire FTP is a plug-in for Firefox, I have had better happiness with FileZilla for FTP transfers. We do a lot of FTP transfers, even within the office, but often around the country and the world. Still waiting on the FTP login for the Hubble.

13 - My Computer - a quick way to get a bird's eye view of everything. Windows+E does it too.

14 - Calculator. Windows has this normally buried in the accessories folder - most inconvenient. While I can do many normal functions in me head, thanks to many happy Tuesdays watching Danica McKellar on tv - a calculator is much easier.

15 - Adobe Encore.

16 - Pigdin. We don't use IM too much anymore, aside from the occasional Skype chat, but this is a AOL-free way of accessing any of the popular IM services. is even better.

17 - Premiere.

18 - Sorenson Squeeze. Since I use Premiere CS3 on my laptop, Squeeze is necessary for any batch encoding. It is also a fast way to make an MP3 file, since Premiere CS3 does not offer MP3 export. Back in the early 2000's we used Sorenson 3 QT files for all multimedia projects.

19 - Slip art and DVD labels - this is a shortcut to a file server. Every new pice of artwork for a package design goes in there for safe keeping and access from anywhere on the network.

20 - In-Box on a colleague's computer - same purpose as described above.

21 - CD Label software. On the odd occasion when we have a free CD label printer floating around the office, it is handy to be able to use.

22 - I found a set of Star Wars icons, which help to differentiate apps from docs in a fun way. This Jawa links to an Excel file that tracks assets for an ongoing project.

23 - This FX7 Medical Droid links to an online video library.

24 - Finally, Cloud City goes to our home page.

25 - This next icon is for some piece of software I don't use, and I think I'll delete that right now!

26 - This bull's eye is the icon from the CD currently in the computer. Normally it is, in fact, a CD icon.

27 - Network Places.

28 - Links to my other computer.

29 - Links to a colleague's computer.

30 - Nero Burning ROM - this goes right to the dialog to burn a ISO file to a DVD. Very handy for Encore DVD projects.

31 - This Word doc icon links to...a Word doc that I refer to a lot. Sure I could print it out, but it is updated regularly.

32 - This Excel icon links to...oh you know.

33 - Another frequently used and updated document.

34 - Flash Media encoder. This came before Media Encoder CS4 - batch encoding for FLV files only. Handy for works in progress.

35 - Hmm, a repeat of the previous icon like this. Better delete it.

36 - Link to the In Box on my editing computer.

37 - Link to the normal CD printing computer.

38 - Thunderbird for e-mail.

39 - Outbox on another computer - like an inbox but for files to retrieve.

40 - MPEG Streamclip. A handy little utility for playback and conversion of odd video files.

41 - You guessed it.

41 - Mobi Pocket Reader - a reader for E-Books. Some free, some not.

42 + 43 - Two more computers on the network - these should be changed to unique icons - darth vader and princess leia ought to do the trick.

44 + 45 - two more frequently used doc.

On all of these, the mouse-over tells you what it is. The unique icons, especially the ones with - visual mnemonics if you will - are easy to click without waiting.

And that is what this effort is all about - reducing the extra little fragments of time spent waiting, looking or trying to remember where you put things.

In other words, increasing efficiency.

Thanks for reading. Gotta go update my Jawa.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 19, 2009 at 11:00:27 am workflow, windows, efficiency

Round Pegs in Square Holes

Thursday - Midnight

Lately, for some unknown reason (caffeine) I have been staying up late. Too late. Oddly, after stumbling to bed around 1am I manage to wake at 6am, hit the snooze bar exactly 4 times, allowing my body to wake up on its own schedule, and still get to work at a reasonable time. A cup of extra bold from the K-Cup machine, a bowl of bran flakes (watch enough colon cancer videos and you'll tolerate the woody texture), and hit the road to the office.

Usually the last thing I do before bed, after my continuing search for the "end of the internet" is to check my work e-mail. This way I offload any of the unknown unknown worries until morning. Sometimes this check-in shows someone else's pending emergency, so I can be ready in the AM, or even fire off a quick note saying "no worries, we'll get it done" or whatever.

This particular evening, there were no such emergencies. Rather, just the knowledge that Friday was an easy few hours in the office then out on the road for a quick narration session.

Friday - The Wee Hours

Rusty, the Abyssinian, does laps around the pillows. Occasionally he puts his nose to mine, and gently taps my cheek with his paw. Cute. Meanwhile my dreams progress in the usual fashion. Namely, totally bizarro. I'm in high school, no wait, that's I'm at the hospital for a shoot...but it's the wrong hospital, I was given the wrong address...I go into the OR and it is my wife having surgery...but she's not sick...I turn the corner and there is my beloved Grandma Hilda...she doesn't seem to know that she is not alive, but that's okay, it is always good to run into her in my dreams...we chat often, it brings me peace and restful sleep.

And then, just past the lucky charms tree...BEEEP BEEEP BEEEP...THWACK! as I hit the snooze bar.

Friday - Wakey Time

I drift back to sleep, sometimes dreaming about whatever random thought was in my head, sometimes just tossing and body knows when it is ready to move into a non-prone position, and that time is not here yet....BEEEP BEEEP BEEEP - damn, another 9 minutes has gone by...KERTHUNK, take that snooze bar. Amazingly the GE clock radio I got for high school graduation is still ticking. That alarm has helped me get to dozens of classes, lectures, exams, shoots, weddings and funerals on time....more pseudo-sleep passes. BEEEP, you get the idea...Was that 3 snooze cycles or only two. To tell you the truth in all the tossing and turning I've lost track myself. It's either 6:18 or 6:27.

"All I ever wanted, all I ever needed, is my arms. Words are very, unnecessary, they can only do harm..." My wife's ring tone circa 1985 tells me it is 6:30, followed by "Mike, it's 6:30, you, calendar, view week...a shoot in the Bronx. Oh and when you get a chance, can you make me a coffee, and toast me a muffin, and feed the cats, and slice me an apple and mail that package by the door."

Yes, of course. Amazingly, I do all of these tasks, and get out of the house by 8am - no coffee today for me.

Usually, the first thing I do when I go downstairs to feed the boys (cats - you take what you can get) I grab the Blackberry and check for messages. This is a slippery slope, because like this particular day, things can get complicated. Before bed, I was content to know that the next morning I had only to do some quick edits to a video then get on the road. After the cursory message check, "not so" became the order of the day.

Emergency 1 - we need a location contract for a shoot in a few weeks. No worries, I will simply modify the last such document we had to create, get it approved by legal and off it goes - hopefully. But that is an additional task to complete before 10:30.

Emergency 2 - the CD-ROM interface sent out for approval is no right. Again, no worries, that's why you send out mockups before moving to programming.

Emergency 3 - help our intern finish a draft of a DVD, to hopefully send out. This is not really an emergency, but just something else to do. Give him a template for DVD case slipart, a label and show him how to troubleshoot the Encore DVD project and then burn an ISO.

With these things done, I still had to do those edits. Well, I know the material pretty well, and I can easily differentiate a gastrojejunostomy from a jejunojejunostomy, so all is good in the world again.

10:35 - 5 minutes behind schedule - damn.

Hit the camera room, make a quick mental checklist, then grab each item and place on the floor outside the door:

Shotgun mic
camera case
power supply
Sony Lav mic
2 25'XLR cables
microphone stand
small tripod with camera plate
orange extension cord and power strip (you never know what kind of room you are going to be in)
Laptop, mouse, power supply mousepad
Pen and paper

hmm, that seems like everythi....TAPES!

Ok, grab a small luggage cart, carry everything to the ION and get on the road. No time for gas, coffee or lunch, gotta be in NYC at 12:45.

Stopped in Danbury for gas, gas station coffee (I love that whipped hot chocolate/capuccino machine) and a couple of donuts form the drive-through donut kiosk, then back on the road.

84 to 684 to the Saw Mill. Windy road, hairpin turns, and the lady in front of me was either on the phone, doing her makeup or drinking coffee, because she kept hitting the curb and very nearly drove into the Saw Mill River in Chappaqua.

Got to my destination just in the nick of time. Get the gear, leave the keys with a man who claims to work in the garage, get the elevator and head inside.

Went to the conference room, setup my makeshift recording studio/editing suite (a laptop and microphone - but that sounds so lame!).

Shotgun mic gets the best sound in a noise room (uncontrollable HVAC, shut off plasma screen and any fans I can locate), plus a lav for backup. My job is to monitor what is being spoken, and make suggestions for re-reads, knowing what material I will need for the edit. Sorry I can't get into more detail on the content.

Once setup, got the material I needed, packed up, and reversed the process.

Only problem is, Friday + 5pm + Greater NY = Gridlock. After the split to the Hutch it cleared up a bit, but then the 684 interchange was busy. Smoother sailing until Brewster, then the Danbury gridlock from the NY border up to Newtown was a nightmare. I stopped at Trader Joe's(good food cheap) and Stew Leonard's(animatronic animals + groceries)
for some quality food, and to get out of the car for an hour.

Home finally around 7pm. Cook dinner (spicy orange chicken with stir fry veg and rice noodles), then sit down at the computer, not to relax yet, but to do two more tasks that didn't so much creep up earlier in the day, but that would never have fit into the schedule. Download 7 videos edited by a colleague, review them before sending the client a download link. Then download another video from another project, review that and send to the client.

Finally at 10:05 I can relax. Watch some HD videos on Vimeo (check out Philip Bloom's videos) then remember that I wanted to write a blog post before bed. And now it is 1:34am and I was wondering what I could possibly have to do late at night on the internet. Maybe I'll search for a video about fitting a round peg into a square hole. In other words, fitting more into a short period of time than there is actually time to do. Or at least trying.

Seems there are 217 results. None very interesting or relevant.

So now I will brush the pearly whites, hit the hay, and close my eyes, touch noses with Rusty, then see where my dreams take me, as this strange journey continues.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 19, 2009 at 10:00:33 pmComments (1) travel, workflow, audio

Project Management Redux

As the year comes to an end (or a screeching halt if you are heavily invested in the market) it is time for my annual self assessment of...myself.

This year I feel I have made the most progress in project management. I have blogged previously about various workflow improvements, experiments and systems for managing multiple projects, and/or managing a single project to completion. Rather than looking at these nuances or exingencies of workflow, in this post I will analyze my overall project management philosophy.

Some Background

Over time I have figured out the right way to, and of course the wrong ways to do the same things. There is, in fact, no definitive right or wrong way but trial and error weeds out the errors.

Anyone else confused?

In project management, as in MS Proect, you have dependent and independent tasks. You've gotta stay organized or there will be gridlock combined with chaos. The goal is organized non-chaos, although chaos often prevails.

Solution to chaos is organization. Some people may use lots of sticky notes while others may use MS Project. I have used MS project and to quote Mr. Horse from the Ren and Stimpy Show, "No sir, I didn't like it." You become a slave to MS Project. I once tried to make a Project file for a client with multiple long time range projects, and it became unweildy quickly. In fact if you look up "unwieldy" in wikipedia, there is a picture of my GANTT chart for this project. Nothing? Tough crowd. Not a fan of the GANTT chart, although if a client sends me one it is usually a sign that the client keeps organized, which is a good thing.

Moving on...Lately I have been using Excel, another MS creation, but one based upon simplicity. You could just as easily use a Word table or a large markerboard. But e-mailing a large markerboard to others really clogs up the server. Plus without the sweet licorice smell of the dry erase markers, it just isn't the same. Mmm, licorice... Excel lets you get as fancy or non-fancy (simple) as you want to, and is easily updated. Thus I am using Excel not for its spreadsheetness, but for its easiness of information dispersal (infomersal?!)

I have experimented with Basecamp, Campfire and other web-based PM tools. But again, you need to keep these updated, which eats into limited time to actually complete project tasks. A project task should not have to include managing the managing of the project. The managing of the project is part of the project itself. You should not have to remember to manage your project - managing the project IS part of the project itself. This IS getting confusing, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to invent some new words. Let me climb into my hover car and get back to my point. Insert Jetson's car noise here "bbbblllllloooooooeeeeeeaaaahhhhhhhoooooooeeeeeeeowww...!"

Now once you have organized your chaos using an assumedly simple yet flexible solution, you need a method to manage your managing. To do lists work for me, usually revised or re-written daily. I have tried using web and MS Office-style methods, but a great new portable technology works the best for me...paper! I re-use misprints from the printer and other scraps of paper that would otherwise go to the dump. My Grandpa Morris used to use the backs of envelopes for note paper, so it is in his memory that I too recycle! He was "going green" when gas was $1.00/gallon.

The to-do list tends to get packed with other last minute tasks, phone numbers, phone messages and the odd drop of mustard or mayo from a sandwich, so I go through a lot of to-do lists. But there is nothing like the satisfaction of crossing out tasks with a pen or the mother of all task completing instruments - the yellow highlighter.

It is also important to set reminder alarms for planned conference calls or time-sensitive tasks. I use my phone's calendar. I stopped wearing a wristwatch years ago, although I do miss the watch outline on my wrist, proving that despite my pale appearance I do get sun exposure. Now if you want to check my Vitamin D intake you need to be married to me. Sorry ladies, I'm spoken for.

So I have a method for organizing and sharing project status, a schedule from important communications and a habit forming way to track my own tasks. Next is the much hyped management philosophy.

• Get stuff done in a timely manner

• Own the project. You can't "sort of manage" a project. It's all or nothing.

• Avoid procrastination

• Practice delayed gratification (anything involving the word gratification sounds good to me!)

• If something is unpleasant to do, do it first. Often these tasks only take an hour or so and don't seem so bad once finished.

• Stay organized.

• Keep up with correspondence. If a paper trail is important to fully understanding or explaining a project, review the sequence of events from time to time.

• Be your own best critic. It is easy to be your own cheerleader. It takes courage ot be critical of oneself - be constructive.

• Finally, take care of yourself - eat, sleep, exercise, floss (seriously, keeps your co-pays under control), laugh, sing, paint, whatever.

I mentioned owning the project. I think this is most important. Even if you are not an expert in the subject matter, you can and should become an expert in the subject matter of the particular project, if only so you can notice things to correct before the client does. In other words, know your content. If you have a book with 300 pages, of course you cannot know the material by heart, but you can have a decent understanding of each chapter and will probably remember one or two important aspects of each chapter, each author and the layout and images. Same goes for a video project. Perhaps you cannot view the video in your head with your eyes closed, but you know all of the key moments in the video (which is why you wake up in the middle of the night humming Acoustic Underscores Track 20 and you start seeing the furniture in your living room as a series of Photoshop layers).

Sometimes in project management, it pays to take the extra time to review something one more time, sometimes in such detail that if you ever have to look at it again you will surely go mad. Such attention to detail may not catch every mistake, but you have done your due diligence as a means to respect the client and the client's money.

So in summary, my project management philosophy is to get stuff done. My way. However my way needs to comply with the company's way, that is, in the interest of the bottom line.

Thanks for reading. I'm gonna go practice infomersalizing.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Dec 5, 2008 at 8:14:14 pm workflow

Large Project Editing Workflow

I'd like to say I have been so busy catching up on work that I have not had a chance to write new posts. This is partially true.

Partially, I took a week to visit my folks in insanely sunny Florida, helped my wife through some medical troubles (no, for the last time, I did not film it) and have in fact been pretty busy at work.

Oh, and I discovered I know a lot of people on Facebook.

But back to the important topic of workflow.

As described in excrutiating detail in previous posts, I make the most of to do lists, post-it notes, scraps of paper, e-mails to myself, Excel spreadsheets and various other attempts at self-organization.

I recently completed a project which was an excellent exercise in organization. I will describe it in generic terms, but give some specific example of learning points.

The Documentary/Promo/Movie Trailer to Promote a particular career

Ok, I guess that wasn't too generic. It is an interesting project.

We pitched a casual documentary style approach, using inspirational interview clips and relevant b-roll, good music, and little to no narration.

Once we had cleared the various PR hurdles, we got three great days of shooting at several medical schools and hospitals, including a c-section. I developed a list of questions, and while conducting each 30 minute interview came up with follow-up questions designed to get people to talk about what they do best(which is not talk about what they do best. What they do best is do what they do best.) It is my job as producer to draw out performances, even and especially unscripted candid interviews. We also tried some possibly hokey segments, some of which will never see the light of day!

The next step was to digitize (capture) all of the raw footage, 4 66 minute DVCPRO tapes and about 15 mini-DVCAM tapes. We shot primarily with 2 V1U cameras in DVCAM mode (incidentally, the two cameras did not match as I'd hoped they would) and shot a few interviews with the DVCPRO, although we could have left this at home and saved gas.

After 3 days of digitizing, while doing other work of course, the next phase begins - logging. Rather than logging the tapes before capturing (digitizing) I capture and then log.

Step 1

Take each interview subject and isolate unedited on its own sequence. In some cases we shot an interview with two V1U cameras, with the lenses practically touching, one wide one tighter, to facilitate editorial or time based edits without jump cuts or dissolves. This is a good way to simply edit out long pauses, ums, ahs, coughs, or retakes. But one can also compress a long thought into a short one. Since the V1U has no timecode output, we try to have each interview subject clap their hands, which is an easy way to sync things up. We generally had a lav going into only one camera, so you find the good audio, fill left or fill right, and turn off the track from the other camera.


Step 2

With each person on his or her own sequence (timeline) I next chop up the timeline into topics. In other words, I edit out the sound of me asking a question, so I am left with the person answering the question, with black spaces. I like to do things methodically, so I do this for every sequence, before actually viewing the material in real time.

Before proceeding to the next step, just for some psychological reason, I like to know how much material I actual have to now go through. So I ripple delete the spaces on all the timelines, so I can write a time next to each person's name. My yellow lined paper now looks like this:

Harrison Fjord - 22:00

Barbara Edyen - 7:00

Bruce Willjyis - 4:15 (boring)

Peter Jaquson - 11:15

you get the idea - I can now tell myself, "Self, you have 1hr 33 minutes of interviews to watch."

Not so bad.

Step 3

With everything chopped up, I now go back to actually listen to the material and make notes. On yellow lined paper, I write the person's name and then a few words for each unedited chunk of interview:

Steven Shmeeldurg

1 - why he got into his career - money of course!

2 - met his wife on a project

3 - When he knew this was the career for him - he could produce mediocre work and still get rich

4 - etc

5 - so forth

6 - so on


After this step, I now have a few sheets of lined paper. Now to select my, er, selects. I do this on paper, placing a check mark next to the clips I want to use. I go through each timeline, and just eyeballing the clip number, move the selects to a higher track. With this done for every speaker, I then copy and paste the selects to a new timeline, and watch it all in order. I save this timeline as edit 1.

Now I save as edit 2, and start weeding out the, er, weeds? My goal is as short as possible to get the message across. The goal was stated as between 3 and 20 minutes, whatever works. I wrote on my yellow paper:

Edit 1 - 23:00

Edit 2 - 17:00

Edit 3 - 14:00

As the amount of material is reduced it becomes increasingly more difficult to make cuts. I got to about edit 5 and maybe 7 minutes of really good gems.


The page down - spacebar to play - delete to delete keys makes things a bit easier in this process, although you need to use the mouse anyway.

Now for about three weeks (3 months) I had been brainstorming ideas on how to actually cut this together. The brainstorming started before we actually shot anything, but not knowing if we had a chance to get the kind of material I was envisioning. The plan came together - somebody call Howlin' Mad Murdoch.

With my shortest-humanly-possible-without-losing-some-nice-moments version in front of me, I came up with an editing format I was happy with, and realized I need to add some more time in the form of b-roll, SOT and some more interview segments from a second set of questions. Time rose back to about 15 minutes. Some efficient use of the three camera setup for one SOT sequence and some thoughtful cutting of the interview segments got me down to about 11 minutes. I next added a title sequence and conclusion and hit 12 minutes and change.

I watched this edit (7) another time or two and tweaked some edits on each pass.

Now to add the music and hopefully make it more engaging.

stack of discs 

I recently added a bunch of new CDs to my Firstcom contract, so I grabbed a few of the new titles, and found some contemporary sounding music. I decided there should be music under the whole program, including the interviews and SOT segments. Since there is no 12 minute track in the Firstcom library (I know, Sonicfire Pro could do it) I decided to use different tracks based upon the mood of the music and the subject matter being discussed (someone call Steven Shmeeldurg, maybe he can use that technique!). 


Some of the Firstcom discs include just the audio CD, so you need to rip the music. Others include a DVD-ROM of AIF files, including both the full mix and the separate instrument tracks. The separate tracks makes things more fun and you have more control over the mood. This also helps transition from one piece of music to another - you can bring in the drums or piano before the previous song fades out - hopefully this makes it less jarring. But kids these days are used to quick changes, right?

With the music added, I spent a few more hours perfecting the mix, and then time to render out to FLV for web viewing. Oh wait, have to color correct the multiple cameras, right. Premiere has numerous color correction tools, and it took a little while to find the right combination or 3-way color correction, Proc Amp, HSL, Levels and Equalize (not all of those and not the same cobination on all clips). Not bad for a first pass, we can tweak it on the final edit. Remember this is for the firtst edit.

I posted it online before heading home for the evening (incidentally, all of the above took about 4 days of focus.)

Once at home, I watched the full video over my DSL - always a good idea to check out your work via a home computer setup. Although we have cable modem attached to our network at the office, the home DSL experience is a good test.

It looked pretty good, so I e-mailed the client a link.

The next day most of the feedback was very good, a few comments about music choices and some of the interview clips, but these things are very easy to fix. I was also asked for a script. I quickly made a two page Word doc listing the times and brief summary of each sound bite, just so people could refer to this while reviewing. Once we lock things down for the final, a full transcript will be needed for approval. It is a good idea to have a transcriptionist in your rolodex (what's a rolodex?) for these purposes.

I should add that during the final day of editing, I was getting the inexplicable "Sorry, a serious error has occurred, Premiere needs to close." error, usually when doing anything in Premiere involving doing anything with any function. Not good when you are almost done with a project. On a few occasions I lost about 10 minutes of work. It seemed the faster I worked, the less frequent were my manual saves, and Premiere's auto saves were set to 20 minutes.

After a few frustrating incidents, I set auto save to 1 minute intervals - a little annoying, but even with frequent crashes I did not lose too much work. I dealt with this hassle so I could finish the project.

Once the video was online for client viewing, we determined a few things about my computer. First, someone had installed AOL instant messenger without permission - whether or not this was the culprit, it wasn't helping. Next we tested the RAM and that checked out. So next was a reinstall of all Adobe products. This seems to have fixed the problem, although I have still had a few Serious Error crashes, but nothing like before. I'm sure we will figure out the problem eventually.

Thanks for reading.




Posted by: Mike Cohen on Aug 5, 2008 at 6:03:08 pmComments (1) workflow, premiere, editing, documentary, interviews

Getting Organized

And so my Spring travel season comes to a close. Like the annual monsoons in India, my Spring travel takes me to conferences and various shooting locations, as recounted in previous posts. The only problem with so much travel, is one needs to get into the swing of things to actually cut the videos and move toward project milestones and eventual completion.

I have blogged before about project management, workflow and organization, but I feel it necessary, especially for independent contractors and some of the younger folks who read these blogs to reiterate the importance of being organized.

Getting organized can be easier than staying organized. I tend to change up my methods periodically. Whatever method I use, I follow one maxim: use paper.

Here you can see my current incarnation of brain management - the linear calendar.

I'm not a big fan of the GANTT chart. Perhaps it was the late 90's MS Project experiment that had me spending more time managing the MS Project file than actually completing the tasks which ruined it for me.

So I call this a linear calendar. Rather than using a standard blocky calendar, or any of the online google-type calendars, I like a simple linear representation of about 2 months, all on one sheet of lined paper, with plenty of room to estimate time to dedicate to tasks.

This is an alternative to my usual sticky note lists of tasks to do. Simple lists of tasks are ok unless you have some specific deadlines. The linear method is flexible and shows me where I will have some free time, breathing room or bottlenecks. We will see how this works anyway. Actually getting the work done, regardless of the method, is of course the key goal. Write your tasks on toilet paper if it works for you.

After days and weeks of travelling, collecting spent tapes in my satchel, I am always faced with a week of digitizing. Technically it is capturing, since DV tapes are already digital, but digitizing is the word everyone seems to use.

Here is the importance of having 2 workstations - one for digitizing and one for working in the meantime. For this particular project, I will take a deck home for the weekend, and once every 83 minutes or so I will look up from my latest issue of Creative COW Magazine and change tapes.

Other workflow improvements....

Another workflow improvement I use is pre-labelled blank CD and DVD discs. As pictured here, I use a generic label, making the added Sharpie text look much nicer than it would on a completely blank disc.

Once the editing actually begins, workflow is ever important. In the case of medical topics, we often shoot with 2 or 3 cameras. Setting up my Premiere sequence with the video synced up but visible like so helps expedite the initial edit.

Sometimes multiple PIP setups like this remain in the final edit.

Now, if I could just organize my receipts...


Thanks for reading.


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jul 23, 2008 at 8:01:55 am workflow

Lazy Saturdays

It's Saturday morning (at least it was when I started this post). Sleeping past 7am can be a real treat. Make a cup of coffee (as much as I like the convenience of highway gas station coffee, making it at home is so much nicer), eat breakfast whenever, and plan out my day.

Now certainly weekend time is valuable and precious, however it is also an opportunity to be productive without working too hard.

Here's my home office setup for the weekend. The morning sunlight casts a comforting glow on my workspace, normally provided by fluorescent lights:

This gives the phrase Capture Window new meaning - it is nice to be able to capture video while looking out the window, reading, eating or catching up on a week of TiVo recordings.

Other exciting tasks for the day include cleaning the kitchen, recycling cans and bottles and trudging out to my local grocery store for leeks and some cheap wine for cooking (forgot them yesterday - so much for saving gas, although I suppose I could ride my bike.)

So how does this fit into Workflow, or the COW in general? In my opinion, anything that increases efficiency, such as digitizing video while wearing my pajamas and watching the latest Dr. Who episode is a desirable workflow improvement. The COW is, after all, about combining the knowledge and experiences of thousands of media professionals for the greater good.

The greater good? What is this a Barack Obama speech? No, what I mean is that our goals as media pros include making our businesses profitable, and if capturing video over the weekend, a task which requires almost no effort, can increase throughput of project work by a modest amount of time, then it is time well spent. After all, the video deck sits idle most weekends and evenings.

Now if there were only a dishwasher that loads and unloads itself - I'm on my second load of the day already...

Thanks for joining me on another lazy Saturday.



Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jul 23, 2008 at 8:00:09 am workflow

Project Management

Someone ought to write a book called "I'm a project manager, Now What?!"

Hey, not a bad idea for a book.

Back in 2003 I began the gradual transition from video editor/shooter to project manager. Mind you I do plenty of editing, but depending upon the project I am in fact managing, sometimes more sometimes less. But the particular responsibilities are no less important than the others.

At the time, we had about 3 times as many employees, so I was also a department manager. There was some resentment, such as "can you do my job as the web master? how can you possibly manage me or review my performance if you can't do my job yourself?"

I'm not making this up.

As it turns out, in addition to learning how to evaluate the performance of others, I also had to learn how to fire people, not an easy thing to do.

Given a leaner crew, I could focus less on personnel issues and more on figuring out how to juggle multiple projects and manage a few others, and delegate work to everyone, including to myself.

I have blogged previously about making lists and using the right tools to keep track of a project's process, milestones and deliverables. My favorite tool is a great new application - a calendar! Another tool I use a lot is the yellow sticky note pad - brilliant!

We tried using MS Project and various other free and non-free pieces of software, but in a small organization you can easily devote hours per week just managing the tools you are trying to use to manage your work. Alas, every organization is different and has different needs.

What has worked the best is relative autonomy. Give someone a task and a deadline, and they generally only seek help when absolutely necessary. Everyone, however, has interruptions - many of which are unavoidable - and these lead to missed deadlines. We can all improve in that department.

Project management, thus, includes a heavy dose of time management. Time management is an acquired skill and perhaps the most difficult one to master.

In summary, project management can take many forms. Personnel management, time management, even equipment management all play a role in moving forward toward deadlines. Some deadlines are a day or two, a week or two, a month or two or years in the making. Something useful yet cumbersome about breaking up a project into tasks, either in MS Project or on paper, is that you can fail to see the big picture - or you are so focused on only the major milestones, that you feel like you are not accomplishing anything, while in fact you are working on a 3 month deadline, which is itself made up of perhaps 50 smaller tasks. But these 50 smaller tasks are not and should not be part of a big picture view of anything. This is the beauty of delegation - you can avoid micromanagement as long as you have a capable person working towards the goal - it is assumed the resource will hit each smaller task.

The challenge is when you are the manager and the resource. Time management indeed!

Thanks for slogging through this one!

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Apr 29, 2008 at 3:28:34 pmComments (1) workflow, project, management, hr

To Do Lists

If you're like me you have a million things to do. Oddly, none of those things happen to be writing blogs, but hey, I ticked off 7 items on my to do list today!

As outlined in previous posts, in addition to shooting and editing video projects I also am a project manager.

When I realized that 50% or more of my days were being spent project managing, I did some research on ways to improve efficiency.

For a while I listened to a project management podcast by Cornelius Finchner

He has some interesting ideas and conversations, however he also spends a lot of time on preparing for the PMI exam and certification, and a lot of things related to being a full time enterprise level project manager.

Having culled all I could from these podcasts, I turned to this great new thing which apparently existed even before the oh so revolutionary Internet: a library!

My local library in Woodbury, CT not only gets a lot of great new books on business subjects, it also has great organized stacks of useful resources. Having flipped through several of the old classic books from Tom Peters and some of the new classics from guys like Jack Welch, I stumbled upon one of the "who moved my cheese" style books, the On Time on Target Manager. This is what I call a 1 hour book, because you can read it in 1 hour or so, and it is written as more of a parable than an actual story.

The simple lesson from this book (skip this paragraph if you do not like spoilers) is the following:



Do things for the right reasons, in the right order, with the right people, and want to do what you do.




Ok you can start reading again if you skipped ahead.

Brilliant, yet simple. Oh sure, it sounds too simple, but when your To Do list resembles a take out restaurant menu, it can be overwhelming to keep your brain focused on the most important tasks.

Long before I read this little gem, I had been making to do lists. However these lists are often just a collection of unfinished, difficult to finish projects, rather than tasks.

Therein lies the difference - differentiate between a project and a task.

For example, here is a fictional Project To Do List:

1. Paint house

2. Clean garage

3. Organize tape library

4. Find the crystal skull

Obviously I will never check off any of these tasks in the short term, especially if this is a daily list. A list like this can be written on a marker board, well out of my line of sight.

A better to do list, let's say for the week, should be:

1. Assess condition of shutters - if they need to be sanded, take down and put in garage.

2. Sweep garage floor. Clean up recycling. Get rid of t-tops from old TransAm.

3. Setup excel file for tape library. Get buy-in from boss and co-workers.

4. Take weekend trip to Chile rainforest, contact local tribesmen, meet long lost son.

See what I mean? Divide and conquer with an overwhelming list makes it less overwhelming.

So lets say this 2nd list is my weekly to do list, then each morning I can make a smaller boiled down list. You may say, I can manage off the less focused list just fine. But in reality, I at least find that my brain can more easily deal with smaller manageable tasks. Plus I get a kick out of crossing out or checking off items with a magic marker. Maybe we really do learn everything we need to know in kindergarten!


1. Remove shutters from east side of house

2. Move clutter to one side of garage

3. Make a list of fields for the tape database

4. Check last minute airfares to Santiago International Airport. Find bullwhip and leather jacket. Make list of former girlfriends.

So how does this all relate to the price of eggs?


I know I talk like an old man!

Let's use a real world example:

Project List

1. Nursing Video - complete 1st edit

2. Whipple video (that is the actual name of an operation, look it up) - 1st edit

3. New Nursing DVD library - prepare for sale

Again, this may be the list of important project milestones, but you can't check off anything on that list after anything less than a few days or weeks of work. We humans need the occasional instant gratification. Hence the popularity of scratch tickets and tiny bottles of booze in hotel rooms (or so I hear).

Let's boil down this list to a week:

1. Nursing video - complete first pass editing raw footage to script, rough titles, intro montage

2. Whipple video - digitize raw footage, edit down to 1 hour or less

3. New Nursing DVD library - make DVD masters, packaging, labels, post-tests, catalog images and website.

Maybe, if nothing else comes up, I can do some of this. Remember, I am combining video production and project management tasks. While I frown upon multi-tasking, if you can set parts of your day aside for different tasks, that may be ok, but it may differ for everyone.

Here is a sample Monday list:

1. Nursing video - edit at least 5 minutes, rough in shots and temp titles.

2. Whipple video - digitize 2 hours of tape, more Tues

3. DVD Library - author 1st 2 titles on DVD, burn master discs - 2 more on Tuesday, pull stills for packages.

Ok, things are looking more manageable.














Some weeks the lists are not so organized. Lately I have been using brightly colored sheets of paper and a Sharpie, but I try different techniques. Oh, also I like pretty colors. And books with lots of pictures!

A neat work environment is certainly a goal. We can dream...!


In summary, if you manage a lot of projects and do some or all of the work on those projects, the key is to find an organizational system that works for you. If MS Project is something your organization uses, I am sorry for you. Actually it can be a good program if you do not micromanage every task, and if you have the time to manage the project files.

If you are lucky enough to have a scheduling person in your group, learn to follow the schedule, and avoid interruptions.

Avoiding interruptions, however, is another blog for another day.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 5, 2008 at 7:34:45 pm workflow, project, management

It has been 3 months since my last post

Hi. My name is Mike. It has been 3 months since my last blog post.

All: Hi Mike.

I have missed all aspects of the COW. I receive my Business and Marketing forum e-mails, but frankly have had little time to read these, or browse the forums or the blogs.

Well, dammit, I pledge to find the time. Here is a little review of what has happened these past 3 months, and why I have strayed from the COW's fertile pastures.

Ooh, that last sentence may have come from a Mike Huckabee speech!


Early October 2007

With the looming medical convention in New Orleans I have these key projects to finish:

1. Planning for live surgery event Oct 25. Drive to NY to check out the Florence Henderson Theater. Actually it is the Florence Gould Hall, although sometimes it is referred to as the Elliot Gould Theater. Contract with a prominent video conferencing service for lots of clams as Fred Flintstone would say.

2. Wrap up DVD on colon surgery. A hand drawn flowchart saves the day. Encore 2.0 lets you view the project like a flowchart, however I have never gotten Encore 2.0 to successfully build a project without an error, and in some cases the project file becomes corrupt altogether. So using Encore 1.5, a roadmap is the key to avoiding confusion.

It is at this point that I start wearing a hat to work every day, due to the incongrous patches of baldness thanks to the above project.

Oh well, it was a learning experience.

2. Next project is, get this, a DVD on colon surgery. This one is a bit more complicated, as each of 25 surgeons has his or her own chapter, including a Flash interface, video, narration, illustrations and a companion printed book.

Mid-October - Medical Convention, New Orleans

I had not been to NOLA since 2004. The convention center and tourist district are largely unchanged. During the taxi ride form the airport we see a lot of homes with tarps on the roof, and the French Quarter has many many abandoned homes and businesses.

The Loew's hotel however is quite nice, with one of the nicest indoor pools I have seen in a hotel.

A Few Representative Pics from this trip:




My last day there while walking around the French quarter, I called to check on my grandma Hilda. News is, she isn't going to make it. Her first words upon learning this, "Mike is going to miss talking to me." 36 hours later she was gone.

Over the New Year's holiday I started going through my home video collection, cataloguing all my videos of my Grandma Hilda. I feel so lucky that she permitted me to interview her on camera several times over the past 10 years. I recommend doing this with anyone you care about and will miss when they are gone.

Late October, 2007

Time for our big live surgery event. Four hospitals in NY transmitting live cases to the Florence Griffiths Joyner-Kersee Gould Henderson Hall. I find this funny. Two hospitals had full iSDN connections, two had only marginal IP bandwidth available. The ISDN feeds looked good, the IP not so good. We filled the time with some pre-recorded HD surgery. We rented a Panasonic PT-DW10000U HD projector and some XDCAM decks. Of course playing HD surgery after IP surgery is like viewing the Mona Lisa in person compared to using a ViewMaster. Actually, ViewMasters usually look pretty good, so make up your own metaphor.

The next day we rented out the historic Hudson Theater adjacent to the Millenium Broadway hotel. This day consisted of about 40 PowerPoint lectures, panel discussion and a presentation over ISDN from London (cha-ching$).


I couldn't resist taking this shot:


With this big event over with one could focus on the coming tasks for the rest of the year.

Early December, 2007

Fly to Tampa, FL. I have not been here since 2000. Little has changed, although I never actually visited downtown. While the Courtyard is a nice hotel, it is centrally located in a ghost town. Walking at night just a few blocks to a great cafe was like a Twilight Zone episode. You know, the one where a salesman finds himself alone in a strange every episode! Next day I was to shoot 3 surgeries, however the patients were put to sleep before consenting, so I was stuck with the 3rd case of the day, which turned out to be a bad case to videotape.

Next day fly to Phoenix to shoot 4 new videos. This shoot went great. Word of caution, if someone recommends going to a little town with lots of cute antique shops, run the other way and don't look back. Aside from the dozens of what I would call junk shops, Glendale, AZ actually has a great German beergarden and restaurant called Haus Murphy's which made the trip worthwhile. It was also the winter festival, which was a lot like a New England winter festival without the snow.

Well, here we are in 2008 and looking forward to wrapping up some lingering projects and starting some new ones. Now if I could just shake this cold...ACHOO!



Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 1, 2008 at 10:00:40 pmComments (1) workflow, travel, encore

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 four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

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


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