Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

East Bay St Charleston.jpgCharleston, South Carolina is one of my favorite cities in the U.S. and East Bay Street is one of my favorite spots in Charleston. I took the above photo this morning after a short stopover there and reminded myself that I need to spend some extended time there someday just walking around the city soaking in the culture. Plus shooting some photos and footage.

Check out Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown episode on Charleston (season 5, episode 8 currently on Netflixwhere he talks about the unusual amount of beautiful buildings in Charleston, and the unlikely amount of top chefs in the city.

Scott W. Smith

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Day 1 with the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro Camera (6/2/17)

I’ll follow yesterday’s post on Scott Adam’s talking about the skill acquisition success formula with a photo taken today which rounds out a week of personally dipping into a few areas of new skill acquisition.

I don’t know how many cameras I’ve shot with since my film school days, but the number of film/video/digital cameras has to be 25+. Add still cameras to the mix and there could be another 15 or 20. If you’re going to work in production you have to embrace change. New skill acquisition is a part of the game.

I first learned to shoot using 35mm still photography cameras, and then 8mm & 16mm film motion cameras. But it’s been well over a 15 years since I’ve loaded any kind of film into a camera. (Though film is still a thing and I hope will continue for decades.)  But the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro that I put on my shoulder this morning reminded me form-wise of the Arri 16SR I used to shoot with in my L.A. days. (Made me romantic enough to go on ebay and see what an Arri 16SR is going for these days. A fully dressed SR II goes for about the amount of a stripped down Blackmagic Mini Pro.)

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 12.56.53 PM.png But this week it’s not only learning a new camera, but on Tuesday I had a meeting about what will be my first short animation project, on Wednesday had a request to do a vertical video, and this morning I finished edited my first square video meant to be used as bonus material for an online magazine and also be social media friendly (You Tube, Facebook, Instagram). And that video is the first project I shot professionally using the 240 frames per second mode on my iPhone7 plus.

And at 3AM this morning I was sending notes to an editor for updates on a commercial that will be playing in the Midwest starting tomorrow.  I’m reminded of an old acting teacher I had (Arthur Mendoza) who used to tell his students, “You have to be able to flip your pancakes.” (Meaning the kind of roles you can play. Expand your skill set—be versatile. (Think Denzel Washington.)

And so it is with every area of production. I don’t know how many people I went to film school with back in the 80s are still working, but while there’s been the wide success of Emmy-winning director David Nutter (Game of Thrones, Band of Brothers) my guess is less than 10% are working on any kind of productions. Partly because of the competitive nature of the business*, but also because every wave of change has the potential to knock people out of the race.

People laughed when Amazon and Netflix said they were going to start making their own entertainment content. But no one is laughing now—except those who are watching Red Oaks and/or Master of None.

Keep acquiring new skills. Keep making yourself useful. And keep creating content with the opportunities that come your way. And if none come your way, make your own opportunities like every You Tuber out there is doing. No guarantee you’ll be a You Tube star making millions, but you could be on your way to making a living creating content.

*I’ve heard that everyone working in the Hollywood film industry would have to quit their jobs for there to be work for film school grads every year. Thankfully there are many other avenues for content creators to work and continue to acquire new skills. (In fact, there are way more creative opportunities now than when I was coming out of school.) More than one ASC cinematographer started out as a portrait photographer or working on corporate, industrial, and/or educational films).

P.S. There’s an indie feature currently being shot in Iowa with the Mini Pro camera so I think it’s going to come out of the gate strong this year. The camera is made by the Blackmagic Design which also makes DaVinci Resolve editing and color correction software.

Scott W. Smith

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“This is certainly the fastest that a podcast has accrued that big of an audience, no matter how you cut it.”
Nick Quah on S-Town

I’m not sure a screenwriter has hit the network TV talkshow circuit since 2007/08 when Juno brought Diablo Cody fame. But S-Town podcast producer Brian Reed was interviewed on Jimmy Kimmel earlier this month. One more indication of rapid changing times in the digital world.

Who would have bet a year ago that a podcast set in Woodstock, Alabama would capture the nations attention? If William Faulkner were still alive he might take that bet (if he’d had a few drinks). Flannery O’Connor might have even taken that bet sober. Because those two writers knew that dark Southern Gothic tales can be powerful.

For at least a season the torch of mythical Southern storytelling belongs to Reed, a Jewish New Yorker. And along the way he’s helped make sundials cool again. And the results could cause the rising generation of content creators to rethink what they’re creating.

As I type this S-Town currently sits atop the iTunes charts of podcasts in the United States. It’s lived there (or around there) since its release in April. The New York Times called it a blockbuster after 16 million episodes were downloaded in its first week.

Reed will tell you he didn’t have dreams of wild success with this podcast, but it’s not like he got lucky either. He’s part of This American Life where he came up learning from Ira Glass, and the S-Town producer was the co-creator of Serial which was the jolt that the podcasting world needed in 2014 to say, “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

Recently I was asked what media consumption podcasting has replaced—I said all of it. Which was a little bit of an exaggeration, but it’s true to say that listening to podcasts all pretty much totally replaced listening to CDs and the radio, the TV doesn’t go on for days in a row at my house, and this three-day weekend I couldn’t even find one movie I was interested in investing time and money into. But podcasts—I’d say I’m at around 10 hours a week consuming.

That’s why I think Chris Giliberti’s Forbes article  Reasons 6 Why Podcasting Is The Future Of Storytelling is worth your read.  But here’s his shorthand list:

  1. Investment is increasing
  2. Content is improving
  3. Talent base is growing
  4. Distribution is expanding
  5. The connected car is here
  6. Virtual Reality is on the way

Everyone knows what a brutal business the film industry can be. Just yesterday I heard report that film schools are graduating more people each year than work in the entire film industry. meaning that everyone working in the industry would have to quit their jobs for the new graduated to find work in the film business. I doubt that’s totally true, but it’s tough racket.

I think that podcasting will become a way for storytellers of all sorts to get traction in the film and Tv world. If you can tell a compelling story and build and audience via podcasts you can not only earn a living, but I believe there’s a better chance to find film/tv success than just hanging out at Starbucks trying to finish that script your working on.

And when Jimmy Kimmel calls, please send me a thank you note.

Scott W. Smith

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As of May 2017, podcasting now takes up more media consumption in my life than reading newspapers/online articles, watching TV or watching movies.

With the proliferation of smartphones and cars that now allow downloading of podcasts some are calling this the golden age of audio. In 1938, as Laura Hillenbrand pointed out in her book Seabiscuit, 40 million people listened to the horse race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. This was during the depression when television was in its infancy, and radios were cheap and ubiquitous.

Even with the added competition of cable TV and the internet over the years radio has been a survivor. Podcasting and podcasting app aggregators like Stitcher now lead many to believe that the digital demand makes podcasting a growth platform.

But the future of podcasting is still a big question mark. On June 17, 2015 The New York Times ran an article titled Podcasting Blossoms, but in Slow Motion. The writer, Farhad Manjoo, asked, “Is podcasting in the middle of a long boom or a short bubble?” A 2015 Edison Research report showed that podcast listeners went up 2% from the pervious year and now reach an estimated 46 million people.

Manjoo also made this observation, “Gimlet is betting that high production values will win the future of podcasting. Gimlet’s shows also suggest that podcasting can foster new kinds of programming that might never have taken off in traditional radio.”

I’ve long appreciated the storytelling ability of radio greats Garrison Keillor (Prairie Home Companion) and Ira Glass (This American Life), and in 2014 with both the success of Serial podcast and the launch of Gimlet Media it sure looks like podcasting is more than a fad. And a place for storytellers to find an audience.

Time will tell if it’s back to the future. It was almost 100 years ago when radio dramas in places like Schenectady, New York and Cincinnati, Ohio began airing full stage plays with actors and original one-act plays written for a radio audience.

Scott W. Smith 



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Once his podcast company Gimlet Media was up and running CEO Alex Blumberg realized there was a difference between starting a company and running a company. It’s almost like finishing a marathon and the next day starting an ironman race. Much endurance and stamina is needed.

Running a startup business is not a 9-5 job. The wild success of the Serial podcast developed by Blumberg’s former employer This American Life brought new respect to podcasting and raised the production bar.

Gimlet Media started with two podcasts (StartUp and Reply All) and it became clear listening to season one of the StartUp podcast that all employees were pushing themselves to exhaustion. PJ Vogt, one of the hosts of Reply All, said seriously “I don’t need to have a personal life this year.” His co-host Alex Goldman added, “We cannot keep the pace of going the way we’re going.”

Investors were pushing for growth. More shows, more advertising revenue. More advertising revenue, the more the company was worth. Remember “moderate growth is enemy.” Mistakes are also the enemy of any startup. Part of their small team of people included some who were young and inexperienced. “Mistakes want to get made,” Blumberg said reflecting on an early blunder.

Within the first year of its launch Gimlet Media had viewership 10 times what was projected. They were pioneering native advertising where the advertising looks and feels like the non-advertising content that surrounds it.

But this got Gimlet Media caught it what Blumberg called “the wrong side of native advertising” when the mother of a 9-year-old they interviewed thought her son was being interviewed for This American Life instead of an advertising spot for Squarespace. A Tweetstorm ensued with comments aimed at Gimlet, “When we blur the lines between marketing and journalism to the point of where people are misinformed that’s just lying.”

Gimlet has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and prides itself on transparency. So they owned their mistake and gave a public apology, and it led to a clarification of their native advertising policy which you can find on their website. No one said starting a company with a small group of people was going to be easy. (To see native advertising done correctly see the Open for Business work Gimlet’s creative team did for ebay.)

Related posts:
Power Your Podcasts with Storytelling (Part 1)
Power Your Podcasts with Storytelling (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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When Alex Blumberg was trying to raise money for his startup podcast company he eventually understood the importance of his pedigree—his professional background. Blumberg realized that his “unfair advantage” was spending 15 years in public radio working alongside radio producer extraordinaire Ira Glass producing quality radio programs. Simply put— knows how to put together quality stories. His Planet Money Makes a T-shirt special series raised $600,000 from viewers and the documentary won an Emmy, signaling to investors that Blumberg not only had creative talent, but had an entrepreneurial side as well.

He partnered with Matt Lieber who brought a business backbone to the company. It was important to investors that while Blumberg had spent a career in public radio that he wasn’t against making money. He and Lieber honed their business plan and pitch over time and started to get FOMO (fear of missing out) and raised over a million dollars. They reached out to listeners in season one of their podcast StartUp for the remaining $200,000 needed for the initial goal of hitting $1.5 million dollars.

The company launched in 2014 and by 2015 their ad revenue was over $2 million dollars. In August of 2016, Max Willens of Digiday reported Gimlet Media had a “A $6 million round of funding raised late last year, from a group of investors led by Graham Holdings, fueled that expansion (the infusion valued Gimlet at $30 million).”

So out of the gate Gimlet Media is seeing solid ad revenue, continues to bring in investment dollars, and is building a relatively “small but meaningful” group of listeners. (That’s small verses traditional media giants, but Gimlet says their podcasts are “downloaded seven million times per month by listeners from nearly 190 countries worldwide.”)  And some of that fan base is willing to subscribe to a $5 per month membership where they in return gain early access to programs (and a Gimlet t-shirt if the pay for the entire year up front).

Yet, Gimlet Media is still not running a profit. It takes a lot of people to run a company. What started with just Blumberg and Lieber quickly became four people in the first few months, and then was up to 16 people by its second year, is now a team of over 60 people. (For what it’s worth, the Brooklyn-based Gimlet Media team appears from their website to be approximately 66% female.)

And that team has helped produce four programs that last month were in the top 100 podcasts in the U.S. according to iTunes.

Scott W. Smith

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