Cottage Industry

One of the results of post production “democratization” is that many of us are literally working in a “cottage industry” – that is, from offices and edit suites right in our home. We often work in isolation free of clients hovering over our shoulder and free to set our own hours. Sound like utopia? Well, probably not.

I tend to miss the interaction and feedback from coworkers and clients and often find that this way of working lengthens the time it takes to get the job done, instead of improve it. Nevertheless, it’s here to stay, so develop strategies to make the status quo work for you. Working in the “cottage” specifically means devising the best plan for marketing, client review and interaction and delivery of your final product.

Marketing

For most solo editors, this comes down to hanging out the old shingle on a website. For some, it’s a heavy dose of social networking with Twitter and Facebook. I don’t find the stream-of-consciousness world of Twitter to my liking. Plus, I simply don’t have that kind of time to waste. I have had a website online for about a decade, but lately find that the all-inclusive, comprehensive site doesn’t do the trick. After all, the point is to get the message out beyond the boundaries of your own dot com.

Although a company site that elegantly displays all of the demo videos and other details may look nice, it may not actually add any true marketing punch. I’ve opted for a split solution, using a combination of a website, this blog, Vimeo and Flickr. The point is marketing and each of these hosting communities have their own followers and search functions that increase the chance of a potential client finding YOU. For instance, many corporate clients use YouTube, because it has become a highly-searched resource.

A company website is still a good place for job-related information, like a production bio, list of services and so on. Beyond that, keep it simple. This blog is a place for me to express my running ideas and thoughts. If you look around, many pros have taken the approach of a blog format for their personal site. In addition to articles like this one, I also get a change to showcase some unique projects that I’ve worked on. One of the things you’ll notice about those fancy, complex sites is that they rarely get updated. That’s the beauty of blogs and video hosting services like Vimeo. You can easily add new content without a major website rebuild, since they are all template driven. This encourages you to keep the content fresh and for viewers to return.

There are a lot of video hosting options, including YouTube, SmugMug, Exposure Room, Sorenson 360 and Vimeo. I’ve tried various ones and in the end settled on Vimeo’s Plus service. I like the clean look and the level of controls. In general, the videos play smoothly for most connections. It also solves the Mac-PC compatibility issue that people have to deal with when hosting their own videos on a personal website. The Sorenson 360 site is also nice, but I find it a bit pricey, since it’s geared to high traffic. It might make sense for larger companies, but probably not for individual producers and editors interested in simply posting a few demo reels.

Client Review

There are plenty of ways to handle review-and-approval, ranging from online solutions to shipping tapes and discs. If you opt for the online route then there are two ways to handle this: direct interaction or delayed response. Direct interaction is the closest to face-to-face communication you’re going to get with a client. There’s Apple’s iChat Theater, of course, but if you are looking for something more platform-agnostic, check out Fuze Movie and Fuze Meeting. Fuze Movie (formerly SyncVue) is ideally suited for an editor and director or director and VFX artist working out the details to change a scene or shot. All connected parties can log in (via Skype) and play, control and even mark up frames during the meeting.

A web-based version of this is Fuze Meeting, which doesn’t require the custom player application or the use of Skype. Any web browser will work, but you loose the on-frame mark-up capability. Nevertheless, this solution seems ideal for an editor or director reviewing a spot with a client, such as an ad agency, on the other end of the line.

I tend to work with clients who can’t be online with me at the same time. A system of sending or posting files works best for them and so, solutions like Apple’s MobileMe, Xprove, YouSendIt, Sorenson 360 and DropBox fit the bill. MobileMe’s new share function is one I’ve started to use a lot. I will frequently encode, post and link both large versions and iPhone-compatible versions.

Xprove is my choice when I need something better than a basic send or share function. There is good privacy and version control. Best of all, team members accessing the video can leave comments, giving the entire team access to the running commentary of everyone’s input.

Delivery

The same services I mentioned above can be used for final delivery. For example, many basic (or even free) services are good for files up to 1GB. That’s enough for a five minute HD clip at Blu-ray specs. Some of the projects I work on these days are targeted exclusively for the web. When that’s the case I can deliver high-quality, high-bit-rate MPEG4 files to the web designer as a “master”. Generally that will be re-encoded into a set of different-sized files. In addition, I ship actual master files to the client burned unto DVD-ROM data discs for their archive. I’ve done a handful of projects like this where I have never actually spoken to my client in person. I could pass them on the street and not even know it was them. How odd?

Encoding

Client review and final delivery make encoding a key ingredient to post. I use more than one software encoder depending on the type of file I need to create. My current favorite for high-quality HD files for Blu-ray and servers is Adobe Media Encoder, which comes bundled in their collections. It’s also one of the fastest encoders across the board. Standard def DVD files get their MPEG2 pass with either Apple Compressor or Telestream Episode Pro. I’ve also used Innobits BitVice and Adobe Media Encoder, just depending on how I feel.

H.264, MPEG4 and MP4 (all versions of the same) tend to be the preferred format for the web these days. These codecs are cross-platform compatible and work with QuickTime and Flash. My new MP4 favorite is Sorenson Squeeze 6. In the past, I’ve had issues with contrast and saturation in Squeeze-encoded files, but Sorenson has completely cleaned that up. The video looks good, speed is fast enough and the interface redesigned. Sorenson Squeeze 6 is the app I like to use for my Vimeo files.

On the other hand, when I send up review-and-approval files, I stick with Compressor. Encoding speed is fast and I can set up droplets for my favorite presets. One of these is an iPhone preset, which is ideal when posted to MobileMe with the intent of sharing. This way clients can review the file either on a computer or on their iPhone if they are on the run. It makes a lot of sense due mainly to the success and popularity of the iPhone.

A new option is the Matrox MXO2 capture system configured with MAX technology. Matrox has loaned me an MXO2 Mini as a review and test unit (more in a later article). The Mini is an ideal Final Cut Pro accessory for file-based workflows, because it’s a small unit primarily designed to connect your laptop or desktop to a video monitor. Matrox offers a PCIe and an Express 34 card, so you can use an MXO2 Mini with both a MacBook Pro and Mac Pro, if you own one of each. The optional MAX technology adds an integrated chip to provide hardware acceleration of H.264 encoding. It works within Compressor, so after installation, you’ll see additional Matrox presets. Pick one of those and the Mini will accelerate the H.264 compression of that preset for a definite encoding performance boost. If you do a lot of that, then the extra cost of the option will quickly pay for itself.

The current trend of downsizing means that more editors will be working from home. It’s time to develop strategies for making the best of this. Don’t just survive – thrive!

©2010 Oliver Peters

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