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Pro Videographers Have Talent That Tech Tools Alone Can’t Match

So, you’ve just bought yourself the latest video equipment, read the instruction booklet, and are now ready to shoot your own TV commercials or training films. Maybe even a full length feature. Who needs to hire the pros?

“It’s the democratization of video production,” observed Craig Bentley, president of Bankers Hill-based Imageworks, a full-service production company. “With a high-quality camcorder and editing software available on computers it’s possible , with a little bit of training and luck, and without a lot of experience , to do something that looks pretty good.”

But, even if it’s possible, Bentley added, “It’s not always advisable.”

“A quick browse around YouTube and you’ll see a ton of crummy videos being shot and produced out there,” he said. “Businesses need to take a serious look at that, if that’s the way they want to go. You should proceed cautiously if you do want to look professional.”

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Consider it the same as buying insurance, said Bentley.

“You can try to do it yourself, but by the time you get something that looks good, with all the manpower you put in, you didn’t save any money,” he said.

In agreement is Jim Staylor, president of Poway-based Staylor-Made Communications Inc., which specializes in corporate and event videos and interactive multimedia.

“The things I know I don’t even know I know and you aren’t going to get that from an amateur,” he said.

Staylor, who works both nationally and abroad, compares these amateur auteurs as ducks paddling in a pond.

“There’s a lot underneath the surface, but they make it look smooth on the outside,” he said. “Just because you have it, doesn’t mean you can use it.”


Strutting Your Stuff

Schmoozing doesn’t hurt either. On Sept. 26, the Media Communications Association-International, San Diego chapter will be presenting its Multimedia Showcase at the KPBS studios on the San Diego State University campus. Event planners are inviting local multimedia mavens to “strut your stuff,” which will include video, graphic, Web site and PowerPoint work.

“People really get gigs from these events,” according to promotional material on MCA-I’s Web site.

The event also provides opportunities to network with potential clients, including corporations, small businesses, nonprofits and government agencies.

“This is a way to show people out there that want multimedia presentations produced what we do here,” said Mark Schulze, president of MCA-I San Diego, and chief executive officer and president of San Diego-based Crystal Pyramid Productions and New & Unique Videos.

Schulze doesn’t worry about competition from Los Angeles, because he considers San Diego to be “the multimedia capital of the world.”

“Everything is here in San Diego,” said Schulze.

For Bentley, it’s all about finding the right niche.

“A lot of us don’t focus on the commercial end of the business, because cable TV and the TV stations produce commercials pretty cheap, so it’s hard to compete,” he said. “For most production companies in San Diego, you have to have one good niche to provide you with a steady income and take other stuff as you can find it. Most of us are working on the corporate end of things.”

This often involves training and marketing videos for local manufacturers, telecommunications and biotech companies, said Bentley. But, sometimes, other opportunities can crop up. Maybe an L.A.-based show, such as “Entertainment Tonight” or “Access Hollywood,” might need a local crew to cover an event here. You never know.

Bentley himself has been juggling a variety of clients, locations and subjects over the years. But, these days, his main “bread and butter” has been producing videos for the state’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training program. That gig provides his company with one-third , sometimes as much as half , of its annual revenue. Another steady client has been KPBS, which Imageworks collaborates with on “Venture Challenge,” an annual business plan competition organized by SDSU’s Entrepreneurial Management Center.

His two-person company generates revenues of about $150,000 a year.

“There is a producer and an associate producer, and we wear many hats,” he explained.

But while Bentley might not be cranking out millions of dollars, neither does Imageworks have to pay the full freight. A couple of its main clients , KPBS and Carlsbad-based digital OutPost Inc. , also are production companies. In their projects, Imageworks is hired as an independent producer, rather than the production company of record.

“So, the bulk of our income only has to cover salaries of the two employees, and a small amount of monthly overhead,” Bentley explained.


General Contractor

Staylor agrees that corporate communications training is where the action is for independent production companies. He figures that there is more money being spent on this type of project than all the films in Hollywood combined.

“There are thousands of corporate training videos,” said Staylor, who considers himself a kind of general contractor, parceling out pieces of projects to others.

Staylor charges $10,000 to $20,000 for a typical corporate project. In two days, he said that he managed to line up four projects, totaling about $50,000.

“I have done small projects for $500, all the way up to $250,000,” he said.


It all depends on the time and complexity of the shoot. Staylor said that he usually makes from $200,000 to $250,000 a year, but added, “This year, I’m already at $300,000.”

Still, in this business, he said, “Cash flow is a challenge.” So is juggling all of the clients.

“I used to say that I wanted to be my own boss,” said Staylor, who started his business in 1992. “Now, I have 25 to 30 bosses a year.”

Among them are Sony Electronics, Sharp HealthCare, Souplantation, Outback Steakhouse, Target and Taco Bell.

Staylor’s advice for long-term survival? It helps to have clients outside of the region, he said, and finding a niche can be a boon.


Taking A Risk

For Laura Maloney, it’s all about reaching out to so-called “maverick companies,” who are “willing to take a risk.”

She serves as director of community relations for digital-telepathy, a Bankers Hill-based company launched in 2001 to design online businesses.

“We like to work with clients who want to test out new technology and different types of social networking sites,” she said.

For instance, her company recently unveiled and is now marketing TierraNatal, an interactive site that helps connect Latinos to their homelands in Mexico and throughout the United States.

“You can get a real insider feel and an authentic taste,” said Maloney. “Each town is filled with content from its members.”

The next step for the site, she said, will be a business section to promote local enterprises in the various communities.

“People are always coming to us for social networks, and different ways to leverage community involvement,” said Maloney.

While digital-telepathy prides itself on being cutting edge, it also tries to build on what already is out there, she said. For instance, in November, the company started the “Top Fox” campaign, building a Facebook-sponsored page for Mozilla Foundation to promote the launch of Firefox 2.0. The 2.0 designation refers to how both software developers and users are approaching the Internet as an interactive platform these days.

“We always want to be new and exciting, but we also want to be involved with things that already exist that work well,” said Maloney.

The company has been growing, generating revenues of $1.25 million in 2006, up from under $500,000 the previous year. Other clients include Hard Rock Hotels, Del Mar Country Club, and Groovy Like a Movie, a San Diego-based production company.

Maloney sees nothing but limitless opportunities for multimedia and the Web.

“There are tons of audio and visual being put on sites,” she said. “Now, they are not really all that searchable.”

Once they are, she said, “It will be great for businesses.”

Meanwhile, Bentley is keeping an eye on some big issues brewing in the industry, such as new Internet innovations, broadband delivery issues, and competing DVD formats.

“Our industry is going through huge changes right now,” he said. “It will be interesting seeing, in the next few years, how it’s all going to shake out.”

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