Robertson and Co. Promotional and Training Films

It’s obviously getting busier here at Video Artisan as I’ve not found time to tell you about the completion of the promotional and training films I produced for Robertson and Co – the UK’s leading investigation and surveillance specialists.

This was one of those video production commissions with a long lead time.  My first meeting with them was early 2012 where we talked about the benefits and likely costs of producing both promotional and training films.  There were various internal reasons why it took nearly a year to get started but they kept me informed all along and were obviously keen to get the project under way.  Once we got the green light script writing commenced and both corporate and training films were completed in little over a month.

Shooting training films on location
Shooting training films on location

The need for both Promotional and Training Films

Robertson and Co provides a wide range of award-winning investigation, surveillance, claim validation, intelligence and fraud investigation services to a large number corporate clients, insurance companies and public sector bodies. Originally they wanted one film that would showcase their services and corporate values to potential clients – as well as demonstrating the level of expertise and commitment required by those wanting to be employed as Robertson and Co. agents.

The goal for the corporate audience was relatively straight forward – to set out the range of services offered by the company and to inspire new customers to use Robertson and Co. The training film’s goal was a little more subtle, in that it had to help reduce the costs of engaging agents by deterring those who would not be able to deliver the standards of service the company demands. Prior to the video, every year around 1,000 people enquired about becoming one of their agents – from which only around 10 ended up being employed by them for a period of 6-months or more.  Whilst most of these applicants failed to proceed to supplying CVs or progressed to an interview stage, this initial filtering was obviously costing the company a lot of time and resources.

Following our consultation they agreed that trying to produce one film to fit both purposes might have been possible but wouldn’t be as effective as producing two separate films. We were able to keep costs to an absolute minimum by using the same b-roll footage on both films – as well as gearing the interviews with key personnel in such a way that sections of them could be used in both versions.  This has resulted in the two films being not that dissimilar at first glance – but the emphasis on the narration is quite different.  Having said that, knowing that Robertson and Co.’s agents operate to a strict code of ethics and role specific training manuals will be something that potential clients want to hear.  Conversely, applicants watching the promotional film will understand the very important role they will play in delivering customer satisfaction.  This resulted in quite a few passages within each script having very similar wording but with a slightly different emphasis.

The Promotional Film

The promotional film is already being put to use – and will feature heavily on the company’s new website which is presently being developed.  The video is also being used as part of their general search engine optimisation efforts and is already creeping up the search results within Google and YouTube searches for their key words.

The Training Film

The training film is being presented to all of their current agents and will be shared with those enquiring after employment.  Whilst the initial thinking is to keep this for agent enquiries only and not to include it on their new website, this might change once it has been in restricted circulation for a period of time.

Thanks

A really big thanks goes out to my old school chums (Karen Clitheroe, Debbie Snook & Richard Haynes) and not forgetting my good wife (Tiffany) for playing the role of investigation and surveillance operatives/targets.

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Filming at High Street TV in Harrogate

Another filming job for BT was signed off in the past week.  This time it was a short film about High Street TV incorporating the Avaya IP Office solution into their Harrogate offices.

Filming in the call centre at High Street TV
Filming in the call centre at High Street TV

High Street TV is a multi-channel retailer selling a very broad range of products through mainstream broadcast TV Infomercials, websites, high street retailers and also through its own Sky channel (648). BT supplied them with a one-stop-shop telecommunications solution – at the heart of which was their Avaya IP Office solution.

This short film reveals the benefits that BT has brought to High Street TV by way of increased productivity, greater reliability and flexibility through using their Avaya IP Office solution and other telecoms services.

This was another great filming commission for BT.  All the staff and management at High Street TV made our job seem easy on the day.  Nothing was too much trouble and they were all well prepared for the upheaval that filming can often create.  This was especially challenging in such a busy environment – and High Street TV are a very busy company.

During this one-day shoot we had to carry out filming in various departments throughout the building – including a few shots within their own TV studio area (which didn’t make the final edit unfortunately).   Our two main interviewees were Sharon Green and Malissa Wong who were both instrumental in specifying and overseeing the installation of the BT Avaya IP system.  Whilst this was their first ever experience of being filmed I think they did extremely well.

The end result…  Everyone was absolutely chuffed with the final film – including me. : )

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Shooting as a freelance cameraman

I had the pleasure of working for Stuart Boreham last week as a freelance cameraman on a film he is producing about the groundworks taking place on the impressive Lots Road Power Station development in Chelsea.

Working as a Freelance Cameraman
Working as a Freelance Cameraman – photo by Stuart Boreham

This was a massive privilege for me as I’ve been a great admirer of Stuart’s video and photographic creations for many years.  As well as being a winner of a number of IOV Awards I think his body of work speaks for itself (take a look at his Vimeo channel).

This one-day shoot was just part of year-long project Stuart is working on for Careys who are carrying out the groundwork on this £500M development.  The entire site is being developed by Hutchison Whampoa and will consist of 13 separate buildings including two multi-story luxury tower developments.  With part of the development in Kensington & Chelsea and part lying within Hammersmith & Fulham, the site has not been without its planning challenges.  Now finally under way it will eventually become one of the most impressive Thames waterside features.

 

My freelance cameraman services were required to capture part of the action as a steel bridge was lifted over a creek separating the two sides to site. In addition to me filming on a Sony EX3, Stuart also had another freelance cameraman shooting on a DSLR doing the funky slider shots as well as filming from a cherry picker once the bridge lift was taking place.  Stuart had also located a couple of GoPro cameras, plus a Sony EX1, to capture a range of timelapse sequences of the movement. Whilst all this was going on Stuart was taking stills of the proceedings.

Even though there was a lot of hanging around waiting for the action, once things did get started it was all hands on deck and meant dashing from one side of the creek to the other in order to get the bridge being lifted into its final position.  I don’t mind admitting it was exhausting work.

I hope this is the beginning of more calls from Stuart for my freelance cameraman offerings.

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Filming customer references

Filming Customer References

Why you really need to start filming customer references

One of my most exciting and promising contacts came in towards the end of 2012 with an approach from a local agency on filming customer references for a number of blue-chip clients.  One of their largest and more prolific clients that use their services is British Telecom.

The agency specialise in producing a mixture of marketing collateral based on interviews and interactions with their client’s customers.  These marketing tools can be brochures, website content, fact sheets and/or videos – which are ultimately used to help their clients sell more of their products or services.

Filming customer references for BT

My work for them started with a edit-only job on a short film about ABM Rexel in Spain outsourcing their world-wide telecommunications infrastructure to BT Global. Filmed in Spain by a separate film company, the first task was to transcribe and then translate the customer interviews from which the agency produced a paper edit for me to follow.  Two versions of this film were eventually produced – one with and one without English subtitles.

The second commission was a short film about the John Taylor Hospice who had adopted BT’s N3 Mobile Health Worker technology into their practice in Erdington, Birmingham.  This was partly finished project which required additional and more up to date footage by way of filming customer references and BT representative interviews at the hospice. In a nutshell, N3 Mobile Health Worker is a system which enables health workers to instantly access patient records in the field – and also to enable collaboration with other health workers involved in their care.

The original footage supplied by BT was taken roughly a year before my involvement and consisted of interviews with various health workers who use the technology in their work.  These were all filmed in standard definition so I had to be a little creative in using them against the new high definition interview material.  Insetting these shots into pictures I took of the the mobile device overcame this problem quite well.  I also think the benefits of the N3 Mobile Health Worker technology to the hospice and their patients is very clear from the final film…

The task of filming customer references

Filming customer references and case studies are relatively straight forward filming challenges.  However, the work that goes on prior to filming is key to their success.  The agency are incredibly skilful word-smiths who understand their client’s needs and know how to capture the messages that will result in their clients achieving their goals.  They also fully understand the video production process and the best ways to get the message over using video.  Every shoot is therefore tightly storyboarded and planned – but at the same time they realise the benefits of using creative professionals such as Video Artisan to help direct and craft the content into something with purpose.

I’m now in the middle of the third film for this agency and BT Global which is in the final approval stages.  We’ve also started planning another film which is due to go into the filming stage mid-April – so it looks like this is going to be a regular stream of work for Video Artisan.

I’ll be adding these films to my showreel as each one gets signed off – so keep an eye out for them.

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Varavon camera slider review

Varavon camera slider

Justifying the purchase of a Varavon camera slider

It’s all too easy to get dragged into buying shiny new toys in this game. The impulse to purchase is often overwhelming so you have to keep your wits about you in order to differentiate between your ‘needs’ and your ‘wants’. But, in a creative industry such as this, there’s often a very wide grey area between wanting something and needing it.

I’ve built up a pretty comprehensive DSLR shooting kit over the past year or so. Whilst there’s a few things in there that are definitely ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs’, so far I’ve been pretty much self-contained on every filming commission I’ve come up against. However, there’s been one “grey area” item that’s been missing from my set-up until now – and that’s a camera slider.

I know I’m pretty late to the party on this but on the odd occasion where I believed I really had to have a slider on a shoot I’ve been able to beg, steal or borrow one. Over the last year I’ve had a play with a few different makes and models and been left both hot and cold by the experience. I’m sure some of my less positive experiences with sliders have been due to my inexperience with that particular system but there are definitely good and bad examples out there.

Another thing that I’ve learnt is that sliding, as with every other camera technique, becomes easier the more you do it. I guess I’m really leading up to an attempt to justify my purchase but, if I was going to perfect this technique, I really did “need” to add a slider to my regular kit.

The inspiration to slide

We are all exposed to a constant stream of inspirational examples of video and film production. For a long time now the showcase for works has no longer been limited to just TV and cinema. Video is everywhere – and there are a lot of very talented people creating it. Great techniques and creativity therefore spread quickly and widely around this creative community. Platforms such as Vimeo and YouTube not only help spread these creations around the community but, more importantly, they provide the facility for admirers to pose questions to producers and for them to share how they achieved their masterpiece.

The use of sliders to change the camera’s perspective mid shot is just one of the techniques which have inspired me. Sliders can be used to move the camera closer to the subject too, with or without tracking focus, but the draw for me is the slider’s ability to add temporal parallax to my images. There are some magnificent examples out there and the reason we all love them is that this technique gives us another dimension and depth to our images.

Temporal Parallax

With two eyes set apart we perceive the world around us in 3D. Known as ‘Spatial Parallax’ – this enables us to judge where we are within our surroundings. ‘Temporal Parallax’ enables us to give perspective information to the viewer using the two-dimensional image created by a camera. Instead our two eyes (or two lenses of a 3D camera), temporal parallax is added by a slider by moving the camera along a perpendicular path to the subject and giving the viewer a differing point of view within the same shot.

Adding foreground and background information within the shot adds even more depth information to the viewer. Imagine you are on a train looking out of the window. Anything near the train whizzes past your view whilst items in the distance appear to move by slowly. Your brain takes in this information in an instant, calculating where foreground and background objects are now and where they were a moment ago and from this it interprets depth.

Sliders obviously don’t travel the same distance or speed as a train, but even minor movements can generate the same depth experience for the viewer – especially if you work at including foreground and background information in your framing.

To BVE with a mission

I finally satisfied my slider lust during a visit to BVE London in February. One of my missions there was to look at and price up the current slider options out there and I settled on the Slidecam S 900 from the Varavon range supplied by Proactive in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.

Varavon Slidecam S 900 with DSLR rig
Varavon Slidecam S 900 with DSLR rig

As I mentioned earlier I have tried out a number of other solutions. I’d long since ruled out the various Igus linear rail systems (or even building a DIY Igus slider) because I didn’t have a lot of faith in the aluminium rail construction. With the rails exposed I couldn’t trust myself not to give it the occasional bash and dent. If you’ve ever used a slider with a dent or protrusion you will know what I mean. Everything is magnified through the lens and even the tiniest imperfection can cause your slide to come to a sudden unplanned stop or cause an unwanted jolt in your slide.

Whilst the main body of the Slidecam S is made from the same lightweight aluminium (total weight of the unit is just 2.56 kg), the roller bearings themselves run along much more durable chrome-coated aluminium shafts. These shafts are also protected from external bumps, damage and dirt as they are located within a recess.

Protected slide shafts on the Varavon Slidecam S 900
Protected slide shafts on the Varavon Slidecam S 900

The carriage itself has a three-roller bearing assembly which gives very smooth and constant slides. Within the kit you also get a neat little oil applicator which clicks into the shaft recess and enables you to lubricate and clean the path at the same time. And because this is a recessed path you don’t need to worry about oiling getting everywhere.

Atop the carriage you have a 3/8” screw thread with for mounting a flat base tripod head. Proactive have put together a bundle consisting of the Slidecam S 900 with an E-Image fluid action EI-717AH head which comes in at £260 plus VAT. However, if you have your own flat-base head, the Slidecam S 900 can be bought on its own for £225 plus VAT.

There are various mounting screw points (both ¼” and 3/8”) on the main body to attach the slider to tripod/s or other threaded mounting solutions. The slider can therefore be used horizontally or vertically – or indeed under-slung if you have the right mounting grip to attach it. The unit also comes with its own screw-on adjustable legs which attach to each end of the slider for table-top or floor use. Each leg unit has two independently adjustable and lockable rubber feet to help stop the unit from slipping when used on a polished surface.

Legs and attaching points
Legs and attaching points

Varavon actually produce a range of sliders for different payloads and applications. This starts with the Slidecam Lite (600mm and 800mm lengths), then the Slidecam S (900mm, 1,200mm and 1,500mm), then the heavy duty Slidecam EX Plus (800mm and 1,000mm) and finally the super-heavy duty Slidecam ENG (only available in 1,000mm). Whilst an 800mm Slidecam Lite would have probably been perfectly adequate for me with its 9kg payload (and lower price tag at £230 plus VAT with head), I felt that the extra width of the ‘S’ version would offer greater stability when my DSLR was fully loaded. The ‘S’ can handle anything up to 19kg so more than I would ever need with my present shooting kit.

It’s also worth noting that Varavon also produce a unique curved slider, the Slidecam Arc 90. Though I’ve not had a play with this I can see where this product might come in handy. But as yet it’s not made it on to either my ‘want’ or ‘need’ list.

Get a-head

I must admit that I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to tripod heads being a proud owner of both Vinten and Sachtler sets of sticks. However, I must also admit that with the E-Image EI-717AH Flat based head you get a lot of product for very little money (£55 plus VAT if bought separately). As both my tripod heads have ball-levelling mounts they are unsuitable for use on the slider without an adapter. These adapters are not a great solution as they tend to mount the camera in a much higher position which, in my mind, could make the whole assembly unstable. The additional E-Image head was therefore a very wise investment for me.

The E-Image screws directly on to the slider carriage and can be roughly tightened using the carriage’s Easy-Mount dial. Whilst this is a handy means of quickly attaching the head to the carriage you will definitely want to tighten the head even further. This is achieved by locking the head’s pan position and then screwing it down further to the carriage until it’s firmly fixed.

The head comes with a slide-locking plate for attachment to the camera which allows you to quickly attach and remove the camera whilst on a shoot. Whilst the head’s optimum payload is somewhat less than the slider itself (6kg), it is still well within the weight of my fully-pimped DSLR camera.

The head has a fluid damping drag system to ensure smooth pans and tilts as you slide. It also incorporates a built-in counter balance system to give you increased control of camera moves – and the ability to lock either or both pan and tilt actions. In addition the head also comes with an in-built bubble level and a really handy telescopic pan bar so you can operate the entire set up from some distance.

The E-Image EI-717AH Flat Based Head
The E-Image EI-717AH Flat Based Head

Yes you do get all this for £55 plus VAT so it’s not fair to compare it to the likes of my Vinten and Sachtler. It’s simply not in the same league in terms of performance and price but it is more than adequate for use as a slider head. When I first tested the head it had spent a few cold hours in the boot of my car and was as stiff as a board when trying to pan or tilt with it. Though all tripod heads will perform differently under colder conditions operating the E-Image was a real struggle. Brought indoors and warmed up to room temperature it loosened up nicely.

Varavon camera slider Conclusion

Like most other sliders this combination works best when laden. The head is quite heavy in itself (1kg) so with camera on top you have enough resistance to create wonderfully smooth slides along the entire length.

There are some nice little touches with the Slidecam S which are missing from some of the other options out there. For instance, along the entire length of the slider there’s an inch measure gauge so you can note and repeat the distance of travel within a shot. I’m sure it wouldn’t take too much engineering to knock up a means of attaching an adjustable stop of some kind to the slider so you can limit the range of movement more precisely.

The carriage also comes with its own bubble level which is really handy for either ensuring your slider is dead level or even for making it just off level and letting gravity slide the camera downhill. And though it’s never a deal breaker the sliders comes in a neat and robust carry bag.

The thing I like most about this Slidecam S bundle is its robustness. I can be a pretty clumsy oaf at times but I can’t see anything flimsy or susceptible in the construction of either slider or head that would yield under normal use. In this game it’s very hard to come across any product that boasts, “Built to last”, but I think Varavon could quite rightly claim that on this occasion.

I’m sure the Slidecam S will satisfy my needs for some time. However, one of the sliders that I used last year was motorised and I have to admit I really liked that option. Being able to set variable speed to the slide was very handy, especially when you have the slider positioned where you cannot easily move the camera smoothly and to its full extent. Thankfully Varavon have introduced the Motorroid attachment for their straight sliders which I’ve no doubt will be added to my kit bag in the not too distant future.

The Motorroid is available in three kit versions – the L1000 (£295 plus VAT), L1500 (£315 plus VAT) and L2000 (£325 plus VAT). These are all the same unit but vary according to the pulley belt length which is defined by the length of slider it’s to be attached to. The unit comes supplied with AC Adapter and with an optional 12v, 4800mah battery at £45 plus VAT – added to which Varavon are also producing a time-lapse controller called the Timeroid which will be announced soon.

If you are still sitting on the slider fence but really want to add this new dimension to your productions then check out the Varavon camera slider range and get sliding.

Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon.)

Notes: For further details and specifications please visit www.proav.co.uk. You should also check out this Olivia Tech Video on the Motorroid – www.vifocam.com/oliviatech-motorroid-800-special-edition-28-off/

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