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Managing Marketing: Getting Value From Your TV, Film And Video Productions

Clive_Duncan

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Clive Duncan is a Senior Production Consultant at TrinityP3 with years of experience in the film, video and television industry. Here he shares his experience in production from all aspects and discusses the process and what is required to deliver real value on to the screen from an advertiser, agency and production house perspective and from his independent position as a production expert.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing and today I have the opportunity to sit down with an old colleague and friend (from a long time ago) and that’s Clive Duncan. Welcome, Clive.

Clive:

Thanks, Darren, pleasure to be here.

Darren:

Clive, for as long as I’ve known you you’ve been involved in the film and television industry; you’ve had a lot of jobs in different areas. What are some of them? Director and agency producer and now consultant but what else is there?

Clive:

When I first started out I joined the ABC; I wanted to be a cameraman. They put me through the ABC induction system where you go to the mail room and start at the bottom and I spent some time down at the Ripponlea studios in the staging department, which is shifting the sets around, making sure all the props are there etc for the multi-camera dramas they were doing and things like that.

Then, eventually when a vacancy came up in the cine camera department I was moved over there and started my career in the film industry. And it was a great introduction because in those days you actually worked on multiple disciplines; you’d work on news or current affairs, religious programmes, nature programmes and, of course, drama, which was split between studio (shot on videotape) and exterior shoots that were shot on film. They’d put them together and you could quite obviously pick the difference in quality.

I worked with them for 3 years and then I became a ski bum for 2 years and then I went back to the ABC and they welcomed me with open arms, not because I was a promising cameraman but because I knew their system and I could do the paperwork with my eyes shut (which I did quite often).

After that I worked on some of their major dramas–Power Without Glory, Beat of the City, and several others. Then the lure of advertising called me and the money as well. At that stage the Australian film industry was just in its infancy and they needed the technicians. And the advertising side needed technicians as well and of course they paid better than the ABC (but no Super, unfortunately).

So, I starting working as a camera assistant for Cameramen and I went from shooting or handling 16mm film at the ABC to 35mm, which was the industry high achiever’s standard.

Darren:

The gold standard. 35mm was considered the gold standard for years of shooting.

Clive:

Yes and that’s what gave us a problem when it came to videotape. When I was first at the ABC the videotape boffins would come out of their little caves and I remember one day they came out and they had a 1 inch videotape machine made by Ampex in a case they strapped to their back. And they had this massive camera that came over their shoulder.

They looked at us cinematographers and said, ‘your days are numbered’. That was some 18 years before we started shooting digitally. The gold standard was because the Americans shot on 35mm film all the time, even their sitcoms on multiple 35mm cameras.

Darren:

The news was shot on 16mm, sometimes 35.

Clive:

Yeah. Both the Germans and the Americans during the war shot on 35mm film so we had this sort of undeclared gold standard: 35mm film.

Darren:

But it was also because in those early days, videotape was pretty ordinary wasn’t it? The pre-digital days it was not grainy but you’d get little bits breaking up, pixels flashing everywhere and, as you said, the equipment to run it was enormous. I don’t think it was a viable alternative outside the controlled environment of the studio until you got to the digital age and size started coming down.

When you went from a consumer’s perspective; Dad’s old clunky VHS camera, which was like a ghetto blaster with a lens on the front down to the little handheld digital handycams—that was around the time that video started becoming a viable alternative.

Clive:

Yeah, obviously the price came down. You could and still can buy a good quality handycam for under $1,000. But what the video people failed to realise was that the size of the chips (the receptor, CCD) were tiny and that’s why video cameras had massive depth of field.

Darren:

It comes into the optics of the lens. The centre of the lens is always more perfect than the edges of the lens.

Clive:

Exactly.

Darren:

So you were capturing the image only through a very small field and the CCDs were small because they were so much cheaper than the big CCDs. It wasn’t due to the digital technology it was due to the physical technology of the size and lens shape. It’s the same problem now. The bigger the lens you can make the more accurate the centre of the lens will always be than the periphery.

There are always aberrations even in the finest lens. There are fewer but there will always be some aberrations.

Clive:

The public had become used to the 35mm films of the cinema. We went to the cinema and we were knocked out by the beautiful close-ups where the actor’s eyes would be pin sharp and his ears would begin to soften off. That was the gold standard that everybody was used to.

And the video people just couldn’t get it. Eventually, after many, many years they developed chips big enough to cover the 35mm sensors.

Darren:

So, in a way the technology had to mimic the formats that were set because 35mm had been around since the start of the 20th century. That was the original format that the Lumière brothers were…

Clive:

Soon after.

Darren:

But it didn’t change a lot. 70mm was a bit of an aberration creating that bigger field to capture.

Clive:

70mm was a gimmick because they’d started running out of differences between gimmicks so they had Vistavision and all sorts of things that were basically larger formats or just different aspect ratios.

Darren:

Panavision—all that was was the 16:9 format—it was just super wide rather than the old 4:3 format that was used on television for a long time.

Clive:

That’s right and when you were watching a Panavision movie on TV all the credits, especially the Westerns—all the cowboys and horses were tall and skinny because they had to show it in that format to get the letters in.

Darren:

They had to compress the length of it.

Clive:

Exactly and in the action they’d cut back to normal sized actors.

Darren:

They were cropping.

Clive:

So the sides of the picture were missing.

Darren:

We’ve seen in the last 10 to 15 years with digital television because the television sets of the last century were square—4:3 format and the new ones have mimicked the 16:9 widescreen. So suddenly when we had both analogue TV and digital transmission happening at the same time people were either, if it was shot for digital 16:9 losing all that extra image or 4:3 going out on digital channels with big black stripes down the sides.

Clive:

Exactly. It’s interesting now that the phone cameras have become popular and used for news gathering, you see the vertical format of the iPhone or the Smartphone and you see those panels on the sides again so you know exactly what it’s been shot on.

Darren:

They’re using vision mixers to take that centre image and blur it and duplicate it on the sides to stop the big black bars because the black bars are so ugly when you’re watching television.

Clive:

Yeah, but they’re fooling nobody.

Darren:

If you understand the technology and the format you know, but for a lot of people they don’t even think about it. They’d think about it if the black was there but this out-of-focus, similar colour is an aesthetic solution.

Clive:

You’d have to convince me on that.

Darren:

There are a lot of things you’ve had to convince people of over the years. Didn’t you also work in labs actually processing film?

Clive:

Yes, in the days when they were processing film I was actually coerced into managing a lab. The people who bought the lab thought that a cinematographer would have a lot more in common with the users of the lab than basically just chemists and the like that used to run them.

It was an abysmal failure I must admit.

Darren:

In hindsight.

Clive:

Luckily, I was offered a job as a production manager in Asia and I worked all over Asia. That piqued my interest in Asia and their industry. But yes, the film lab was an interesting experience and now of course they don’t exist. Digital has taken over. Those guys in the yard with the 1 inch Ampax backpack were right; our days were numbered.

Darren:

Well, in a way, except that what we see now, irrespective of whether it’s film or digital, is it still requires the skills of a cinematographer to frame and use light. You can still tell the difference between a skilled cinematographer and the average Joe with a handycam can’t you?

Clive:

Yes.

Darren:

So there is still the role of the cinematographer to capture great images it’s just that the tools that they use have changed.

Clive:

And cinematographers develop over years and years and through working with other people and there is what I call film language: the perfected mechanics of shooting film. When you start out you don’t even know what film language is and when you work in a crew they use jargon that can be confusing at times.

But as you keep working you actually work out what they’re talking about. When I was working Swinburne Tech in Melbourne was the only film teaching facility in Australia. The AFTRS in Sydney didn’t exist, there were no courses at university, no media courses, nothing like this so it was learning on set, on the studio floor.

It was a very interesting experience and when you learn that language it becomes obvious to you that there is a lot more to it than you think. The people who pick up dad’s handycam and think I’m a filmmaker now; there are just glaring mistakes.

In fact, I was watching something the other day (the ABC programme—Pine Gap) and I was going, ‘why so much headroom? How come they’re framed on the wrong side of the frame?’ And I realised it was the videographer’s attempt at art rather than just telling the story in a compelling, straightforward way.

It detracted from the storytelling. There are certain rules and regulations that everybody has adhered to since the 30s in Hollywood.

Darren:

In some ways there is a visual language, a visual way of communicating and while it’s interesting to push those boundaries (like everyone was shooting handheld to get that supposed documentary feel) that was still taking a style, a visual language to an extreme. What they didn’t allow for was when you project that onto a big screen people get motion sickness.

Clive:

We used to refer to it as wobbly cam.

Darren:

Which is why you have technology like steadycam when you have a cinematographer who has to move across uneven surfaces so you can’t set up a set of tracks.

Clive:

Well you can at great expense.

Darren:

They design technology to allow them to literally walk the camera over that terrain and get a steady natural movement rather than that wobbly cam. Those camera operators always look like front rowers for rugby because some of that equipment they carry.

Clive:

In the very early days they had to be very fit and strong. I know a great steadycam operator and he used to spend half his life in the gym just developing his muscles. And he was an excellent operator.

They’re the unsung heroes because they saved production companies so much money because you don’t have to have 6 grips laying a track; all you have to have is a steadycam operator who can walk across a railway track and then up a couple of stairs to get the shot. It opened up amazing opportunities for the directors too.

Darren:

For storytelling, to do those shots where they can follow the lead or action through really complex environments.

Clive:

And nowadays the cameras are even lighter and they have handheld gimbals—basically a cage you hold on to with the camera in the middle of it and no matter what happens to the cage the camera stays. They’re gyroscopically controlled and incredibly light.

Darren:

Going back, you’ve worked in Asia and lots of markets around the world. Is it true that the film or TV production process is almost universal?

Clive:

It is universal.

Darren:

So, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world whether it’s Hollywood or Bollywood, shooting on the beach in Sydney or the snow in Siberia.

Clive:

The principles are the same. The film language is the same. The technology is the same. I was given the opportunity to go to Taiwan to instruct a production company there in the ways of Western production. When I got there, there was no difference between what they were doing and what we were doing except they did favour a low-contrast filter which gave you that soft chocolate box look.

Darren:

But that’s an aesthetic rather than a technical approach.

Clive:

Yeah. Exactly. I could teach them nothing they didn’t already know and I felt a bit foolish. And their principal felt a bit foolish too because they knew just as much if not more than I could teach them.

Darren:

But there have been significant changes haven’t there? In your career, from starting out shooting on film and big clunky video to what there is today, that technological change has really impacted on what can be done hasn’t it?

Clive:

Yes, it’s lightened the load—put it that way. Now the great technical innovation of the drone—gone are the days of $1,000 a minute for a helicopter. They were never that expensive but they were very expensive so the aerial shot was used sparingly because it was expensive.

And now, if I’m watching television I’ll say to my wife, ‘if I see another drone shot I’m going to vomit’. It’s just been overused. There is a place for it but now it’s a gimmick like Vistavision; now we’ll shoot everything on a drone. It’s not necessary. It’s interesting but only to a certain extent.

Darren:

I think your point of view goes to a philosophy which is technology should always create creative opportunities, stimulate the creative mind to we could do this, rather than be the idea itself.

Clive:

Exactly.

Darren:

Oh, we’re going to shoot everything on drone is not an idea it’s just a technique. It’s whether it actually helps the creative idea, the storytelling, the communication or whatever.

Clive:

In fact I can tell you a story—there was a film called Das Boot, a German film and they employed the first crane with a hothead, which means the operator didn’t sit behind the camera. He sat away from the crane and he used gears. So you could get the camera into incredibly tight spots. The film is shot on a submarine.

Darren:

Which actually helped it creatively because it created that sense of claustrophobia because the camera was getting into very intimate points where the action filled the screen. I remember watching that film; you just felt the claustrophobia of being in a submarine.

Clive:

They were called Lumar cranes (named by the inventor) and they became the latest piece of technology. One was brought out to Australia by Samuelsson and I remember an ad being shot on a Lumar crane for a vehicle because they could actually move the camera right around the vehicle 180°.

So, it was an ad that was written for a piece of equipment. Of course, the camera was reflected in the panels of the car so the whole thing became a failure and the one shot ad ended up being a multiple cut shot and everybody was looking to blame everybody else because nobody had thought about the reflection.

Of course, there was no operator in the shot because he was down below the level of the camera but the camera itself was in the shot.

Darren:

That’s one of the things about advertising; there are certain products that are really difficult to shoot. Cars are one of them; large reflective surfaces and often moving, or you’re moving around the car.

I remember years ago on a catalogue shoot even shooting the cutlery; in every single shot you saw the reflection of the photographer. That’s one of the issues that happens when you’re focused on the job, the technology and not necessarily the outcome.

I guess the other thing that technology has allowed us to do is to be able to really expand the storytelling hasn’t it?

Clive:

Yeah.

Darren:

Things can be done now that were inconceivable or at least incredibly expensive to do previously.

Clive:

The primary example of that is battle scenes like in the Game of thrones or Lord of the Rings where 80% of the combatants are digitally created. Once upon a time you would have needed an army of horse wranglers, extras, costumers to get them into their armour, armourers to give them each a sword and shield etc. etc.

These things were incredibly expensive and things like Ben Hur, Spartacus that were in the 50s and 60s. I remember going to see Spartacus with my dad in the Holden to the drive-in and being amazed.

Darren:

The logistics were massive.

Clive:

They were promoted as such because they had to recoup so much money that they had invested in them, in these massive scenes. The Hollywood water tank where you would have fleets of Roman boats with their oars clashing—that was all real. But nowadays you just give it to some clever artists and they create it all in a computer.

Darren:

There are actually companies that specialise in this sort of work.

Clive:

There is one in Melbourne that does the Game of Thrones. They were originally a digital company that started creating images and then duplicating the same image but then changing it ever so slightly. So you’d construct a mouse, then change it ever so slightly, perhaps it’s colour then reproduce it and then you’d have 2 mice, then 3, then 4 mice until you had a plague of them.

Darren:

There are even companies that build libraries. I remember a job you did; they were doing 3D animation and you said the quote came in—there was a ballroom scene and they needed to create all these characters and that the agency and production company had allowed full development of all of these characters—let’s say 100 3D animated, wireframe, surfacing, light for all of these characters.

And you went to a website where it was literally like a library of 3D animated characters and you could just buy them off the shelf.

Clive:

Exactly; you’d buy the wireframes and you could dress them anyway you liked—a frock on one, a frock coat on another, a wig and all sorts of stuff.

Darren:

The opportunities there are now to really use technology to create that creative opportunity and make it something that people are going to remember.

Clive:

Once upon a time you would have said that’s far too expensive to produce; now, of course, the sky’s the limit.

Darren:

I think there’s a big focus these days on getting the costs down. Technology has come down in cost and there is a real belief in most marketers that they don’t want to spend on the big blockbuster.

Clive:

No. They don’t want to spend full stop. They don’t use film anymore so there are no stock costs involved. When I was working in Asia a producer told me ‘estimate how much stock you will need, double it or even triple it and this is what gives you the fat in the budget for when things go wrong.’

She said to me, ‘the agency and the client have no idea how much film it actually takes to shoot a 30 second or 60 second commercial.’ And what used to happen was the director and producer would have a contract and they would split the money that was saved by not shooting the allowance.

So, it was greed-driven and that’s why they had the Range Rover in the car park and not the ute.

Darren:

But even today there are examples of that. As technology has changed we often see production companies will still have allowances for technology that’s no longer needed.

Clive:

Exactly. For instance, not even technology but location searches. 10 years ago there would be an allowance for location searches and that would involve a location expert getting in his or her car and driving around to assorted locations and knocking on the door and asking if they could come in and if they could use it for a film set etc.

Now, everything is filed away digitally and they no longer need to get in their car and drive out and yet that allowance is still on film budgets. The location finder can just sit on his or her computer and look for suitable locations.

Darren:

Plus allowances of $1,000 a day for mobile phones and mobile internet. That would pay for a year of my allowance and I’ve got no chance of using the 60GB a month.

Clive:

Here’s another example of technology changing and that’s writing an estimate for a production. Once upon a time it was all done with pencils and paper, you’d hand it to the secretary and she would type it out, and it would be presented to the agency or client. Now everything is computerised and you can have a very accurate budget to the agency or client within a matter of hours of being briefed.

The computer will factor in each and every possibility for the production and it’s a good idea. I remember when I was making one of these on an Excel spreadsheet that you never wanted the person doing the budgeting to forget anything.

Darren:

But most equipment hire places if you hire for more than 3 days they’ll give it to you for a week and yet a lot of these budgeting computers will say you’ve got a 4 or 5 day shoot and multiply the one day rate 4 or 5 times, when in actual fact the production company is only going to pay the hire company for 3 days.

Clive:

It helps pay for the Range Rover.

Darren:

The other one was that they had an allowance for a high speed lens kit and they already had the standard lens kit in there as well. And their argument was we need the high speed lens kit for high speed shooting and the standard kit when in actual fact you use the high speed kit for everything.

Clive:

Exactly.

Darren:

So there are a lot of little areas that can quickly add up to significant costs aren’t there? You were an agency producer for quite a while; you’d pick this up.

Clive:

But most agency producers come from within their agency.

Darren:

Not the production company.

Clive:

I was a bit of an anomaly; I ended up being an agency producer. Most of them come from within the agency. They’re not au fait with the subtleties of the technology etc.

Darren:

So they’d also be possibly a little hesitant to challenge the producer because the producer does this every day.

Clive:

Yeah, of course. The crimes that were committed (for want of a better word).

Darren:

At worst it’s fraud. It could just be seen as trying to push the boundaries of what’s accepted. But we hear all the time from the production industry how there’s no money left for production anymore. Are they still driving Range Rovers or are they trading down?

Clive:

No, they’re trading down; they have to to stay in business. I must admit I was part of a time in history when production staff, the film crew were paid exorbitant amounts of money because there were so few of them.

There are industry standards set for fees but once you become freelance and set yourself up in the marketplace you can demand anything you like, as long as it’s within the competition, as long as it’s reasonably close to your competition.

Darren:

Talking to crew members they say that advertising and long-form; TV, feature or documentary, the rates are pretty much standard across the board now. That the old loading for advertising often doesn’t get paid.

Clive:

That’s right. Producers have got such a pool of talent these days. They can just ring up 5 grips and say we’re offering $200 a day—do you want it? And of course the grip with the debt, has got to pay for his dolly and truck and all his little bits of equipment—he’ll take it because $200 is better than no dollars.

Darren:

But that leaves advertisers in a difficult position because they’ve traditionally relied on their agencies to manage the costs for them and the danger is if you pay too little you could potentially end up with something you don’t really want to run and if you pay too much you’re just wasting money.

Clive:

Yeah, that is a dilemma. I don’t know about the bottom end where you end up with something you can’t run. You are there when it is being shot, the indicators are there on the screen, you’re watching it. The agency has to sign off each shot.

I remember a director taking his storyboard to the shoot and sticking it to the wall and each time he shot something he would get the agency to sign it off. You’ve got to remember it’s the agency’s script not the director’s script so if something becomes unpresentable it’s because it’s a crap script. The director and crew have done their best but it doesn’t get across the line because nobody thought about the script.

Darren:

But where I talked about the bottom end we’re increasingly seeing advertisers bypassing their agency and going direct. I’ve heard people say, ‘I don’t know why I pay $150,000 to get a TV ad made; I got this video made for $5,000’. And the danger is if you keep going down too low you start cutting corners and you increase risk.

Clive:

I don’t know that the risk is it’s unpresentable.

Darren:

What is the risk then?

Clive:

When you start cutting corners there are certain safety aspects; traffic control and having a nurse on set, having a decent caterer so that your crew doesn’t get gastro at lunchtime. Seriously, I have been served crew lunches by a guy with a rubber glove on, diving into a bain-marie and popping the food out onto a plate. There are two extremes here obviously but these are risks. Risks by not testing the equipment before the shoot.

Darren:

I’ve been on shoots where I got given money to go down to the local takeaway and buy everyone’s lunch—there are lots of different ways of doing that.

Darren:

Clive, we’ve run out of time because there are so many stories. Thanks for sitting down and having a chat.

Clive:

We haven’t even scratched the surface.

Darren:

There are so many things we could talk about. Throughout your career is there a production or a piece of work that you are most proud of?

Our Production Management Assessment provides a detailed evaluation of your current production operation and recommendations to achieve optimal performance. Find out more

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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