Visual Storytelling with a Humanistic Approach

Garage Creative Studios

by Rebecca Ferlotti, Muse Content Writer

Muse has worked with Garage Creative Studios for many years; this talented, low-key team of producers, directors and editors are often our first choice for video production when scope and budget allow. Most recently, we parterned with the Garage team on the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Truth Booth Campaign, which involved a trip to Cabo San Lucas, high-performing entrepreneurial leaders, and three full days of non-stop action. Mark Hamer, Vice President/Creative Director, tells us how to maintain focus and energy among the many logistical challenges of international shoots.

What intrigued you about the EO Truth Booth project?

One of the things that really drew me to it was the honesty behind it. It wasn’t contrived or manufactured storylines or putting words into people’s mouths. It was raw, authentic, real, and humanistic. I think that’s something we all gravitate towards.

When we heard that was going to be the kind of project, we thought, “this is awesome.” Real people saying real things in cool places. It was fun to be able to plan that.

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On set with the crew.

How do you prepare for an international video shoot?

They can be pretty complicated. We all think of traveling from a personal perspective, which is complicated itself – how do I get myself from this country to that country with my luggage? With international video shoots, you throw in a team of people, you have to get the appropriate documents, equipment, and worry about safety. It’s a lot more complicated than it looks.

I approach it in two different ways. There’s the creative side of it and the logistics.

The creative side is the location and the aspects of the area we have to capture while we’re there. What can we not miss?

The logistics side can sometimes be crazy. You first have to research the country. You have to research what that country’s international business laws are. Sometimes you have to have multiple permits. Sometimes there are special immigration clearances you need. For example, when we were down in Cabo…Mexico requires you to call ahead and have a representative. You have to let them know you’re coming and have it scheduled that you’re coming in with equipment. You can’t just show up. And that’s just on the paperwork side.

Then you have to think – how are we going to communicate when we’re there? And that’s not just communication with the clients that are there, that’s communicating with the person behind the counter getting your food. Along with that, how is transportation going to work? Are we going to rent a car or have someone drive us around? For example, when we were in São Paulo, Brazil…we can’t go and drive the way they do down there. They do it completely differently than us with how busy it is and how motorcycles are flying past you.

Most importantly, you have to think about safety. There are people that are counting on you to make sure that they’re okay. You have to take that seriously. You have to make sure they have the tools they need so they can focus on making a great piece.

That’s not even counting the gear part of it yet. You still need cameras and lights and audio gear and grip gear, so you have to think – are we shipping that? Are we carrying it with us? Are we renting it there? If we are renting it there, who are we getting it from and how are we going to pay for it?

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This hotel view didn’t hurt.

How is the video approach at Garage different from other production houses?

We put our relationships with our clients first. The best stories come from being respectful of everybody’s opinion. People need to be comfortable with speaking their opinions. What we always like to do is make friends first so everybody in the room is comfortable with speaking their minds and bringing up ideas. That’s where all the good stuff comes from.

In any of these projects, when you’re having these interviews, you can totally tell when someone’s reading a script or being fed a line as opposed to when it’s coming from them naturally. That’s super important to get that conversational, real-world dialogue going.

Another thing that’s important, going back to the whole travel thing, when you’re working domestically with a client or even locally, you might work with them, show up at 8, do your job, and go home. But when you’re traveling with them, you’re travel companions.You’re picking them up at 5:30 a.m. and spending the entire day with them, you’re going to dinner, you’re hanging out afterwards. So you have to have a good relationship. Otherwise, it’s going to be a really long trip.

How has the video industry changed since you started?

One way is the speed at which things need to get done. When I started, we were doing 30-second TV commercials that you would spend a month on. Now, we’re doing TV shows that are 25 minutes or more of content that need to be done in a week.

Another thing is the focus on how you put shots together. For example, we used to shoot and spend all day on composing and lighting one scene or one shot for a piece. At the end, every little detail of that shot was meticulously scrutinized by a team of people. Now, that approach just doesn’t work. Clients don’t want to pay that, but they still want a fantastic product. So you have to think, how can we streamline the art direction and production where everyone’s getting the most bang for their buck?

Also, before, everything was 30 seconds at a time. Even now with social media, there’s still room for some pieces that are able to breathe a little bit and give that authentic feeling. Sometimes to get a good story, you have to let it play out. The research it says you have to have videos wrap up in 15 seconds. While that’s true, it’s so hard to give the details and give the story its due credit in that amount of time. Our hands are tied by these time limits. Some of the longer pieces – and by longer pieces, I mean like 90 seconds – you can get a lot more of that raw emotion in there that ends up hitting the cutting room floor when you’re trying to make something in 15 seconds. From a humanistic standpoint, I have to believe there’s a place for those longer pieces because I think people want to see that.

What’s the secret of great editing?

In a word, I would say: story. The story has to come first, and you have to edit that story force before you put and bells and whistles in. When you’re watching other pieces, you can tell when effects are used just for the sake of using effects or when a technique is used just for the sake of showing off. Nothing compares to a good story. It’s a lot like writing a book or a paper. You write everything down that you can, but then you go back and make multiple passes to make it better…move things around, reorganize, and try new things.

You can be working all day on something, but at a certain point, you can tell every decision you make after that is going to be a dumb one. You think – I’m fried right now and would be wasting my time if I kept editing. Know when those times happen. Be willing to admit when you’re wrong. Be open-minded with yourself.

 

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