Cityscape Backdrops for Video

Talking head videos can get pretty stale, so often clients will request that we find more creative shots. While there are only so many angles available with the standard abstract conference room faire, the only option left is to turn towards the window for a cityscape background. Sounds simple enough right? LOL

*Subjects blurred for privacy.

Under just the right conditions, this can be pretty painless. Overcast days leave a nice evenly lit background which, if your camera and lights are adjusted accordingly, is the most ideal circumstance with a lower risk of overexposure.

When weather changes. For a piece < 15:00, clouds movement aside, sun angle change will not be detectable unless sunrise or sunset. However, once you go into the half hour + you will begin to see the light changing as the sun’s angle moves across the sky, requiring regular stops for camera adjustments.

Night. This can be the trickiest, because everything in the room will inevitably be in your reflection if you’re not careful. A work-around is green-screening the shoot and imposing a nighttime background.

Overexposure. Lets say you have a beautiful shot. The sun is behind the clouds, all the components are just right. Your subject begins to read off a teleprompter and BAM, the sun comes out. Time to stop, and completely start again after about a half hour or resetting. For the rest of your shoot, expect to be chasing a moving target.

Hire an Expert Gaffer. Budget-dependent, if you have a client who is insistent on shooting out the window, hiring just the right gaffer will help make this work by blocking out the sun at just the right angle. Still though, add at least an hour to two hours to your start time if this is the case and expect lots of time-delays if the light changes.

Temperature. If you are sending your material out to be colored, then mixing color temperatures between your foreground and background won’t be as difficult. However if you are your own colorist and doing a quick job in Premiere or Avid, I don’t advise mixing color temperatures since color correcting will be much more difficult than if you can apply a single effect to the entire picture rather than a section of it. Nothing worse than a cool background and an orange subject (IE The Donald).

Watch out for Dirty Windows.  As you can see in the second example above, just to the left of the subject (camera left, subject right). there are lines on the window from rain. It can be tricky to get these out since when you start lowering your aperture to sharpen the focus and get these lines to appear less defined and blurry, you’re going to also risk overexposing your background since the higher the aperture, the larger the depth of field and more light that is being let in to the camera.

But they do it all the time on the news and in Donald Trump interviews. The news is recorded in perfectly lit studios with non-reflect windows with ND tints built in and has been designed specifically to get those perfect out the window shots. Never compare what you can do in a studio with what you can accomplish on the field with a portable camera, lighting and audio setup. Donald Trump often has interviews overlooking central park from his gaudy penthouse. However, (a) he often looks horribly orange because they typically throw tungsten lights on him, and he’s already very orange to begin with. (b) Trump also has gold items throughout his penthouse for decor, so light reflecting off these items will inevitably be warmer and give an orange glow, and (c) I’m assuming his living room contains some built-in studio lighting for interviews since he does them of often from there (which is why I always wonder why his lighting isn’t better!). and lastly (d) the background looks horrible in most of these interviews.


Bottom Line. When shooting out windows, under the right circumstances, the final product can be gorgeous. But when it fails, it can be a huge waste of time and money. If you have an exterior window interview shot, download an app that will tell you exactly where the sun will be at any given time throughout the day, look at the weather forecast, and be realistic with what can be achieved, especially on a perfectly sunny day.

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When Direction Changes

I just got off a transAtlantic flight and had the good luck of sitting next to a really interesting character. Of Welsh descent, he now resides with his wife and two kids in Connecticut and manages construction of large scale residential projects in the tri-state area. We got to discussing working with clients and he told me about the rare but frustrating situation where a client commissions a new construction home, tearing down the old property on the lot, with a price tag in the range 10-40 million dollars and up, demanding many architectural and design choices despite his recommendation otherwise. And when their shangri-la is complete to their specifications, some customers will change their mind and ask for something entirely different than they demanded. This new request often incorporates the contractor’s initial recommendations, which fell on deaf ears.

New Residential Wood Frame House being built next to an existing Mansion

It’s at this point where the changes to the project are dependent on how much the client is willing to fork over to rebuild or redesign. While this is good for the local economy by providing hardworking people with jobs, it doesn’t always fare well for the contractor whose business is reliant on their reputation and client relationships, trust and referrals, especially in markets where many of the customers know one another like a high end residential neighborhood. An unhappy customer, no matter how much extra they are paying, comes with a price tag that no business can afford.

It’s evident how this situation mirrors a challenge that many of my colleagues in creative professions experience on the regular. For designers, producers, artists, making the client understand costs they cannot see can be daunting. This is because resources in a creative field are a bit less apparent than in my aforementioned plane friend’s brick, mortar and white onyx marble business. While the construction manager can point to specific hard costs which include building materials, stones and workers, creative workers can only reference time, talents and intellectual property which might be viewed less concrete than….well, concrete.

When a client changes their mind, creatives have to find inventive ways of solving issues, fixing creative material and finding a common ground with the client, even with daily seachange in direction. Most important, avoid blaming the client and instead focusing on finding the solution because there always is one, no matter how difficult it is to see.

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Working with HGTV’s Drew Scott

Last month I got to work on a Grey Global shoot with HGTV’s Drew Scott for Ally Bank. Drew was an unbelievably awesome guy to work with. A consummate professional, charming and when the camera was rolling he really was just part of the crew. I was especially impressed with his ability to come up with funny ideas on the spot, which added so much to the production value of what we were shooting. The only challenge of working with Drew was the swarm of people (men and women alike) who wanted to meet him on the street wherever we went with him.   We basically had to fight people off with a stick, but he seemed used to it.

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A few months ago I began co-producing original Vine series The Life Weasel with comedian Elena Simon. Out of 22 episodes, “Being Awkward w/ Your Black Friends,” has soared to 60,000 loops and grows by at 1,500 – 2,000 per day. Lets talk about why.

I’m not entirely sure why this episode has, and continues to be so successful. It’s likely a culmination of many things: social relevance, tight editing, strong hashtags, comic timing, the cows. Elena and I are wondering, did we tap into white guilt for having fleeting, borderline racist thoughts every so often?

Or, did we tap into the sense of humor that many black people have gained as a defense mechanism for dealing with that subtle brand of racism thats hard to pinpoint. Of course, having an awkward moment or thought doesn’t automatically mean someone is biased towards one group of people, or secretly harbors hatred or ill will. Our bottom line in making this episode was simply that people can be awkward sometimes, with no deeper underlying cause or nefarious intention.

Perhaps the popularity of this episode indicates that as a society we’re just getting started in a long conversation with race, and that comedy is merely serving the role of a giant, proverbial ice breaker.

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2016: Year of the ‘Social Short’

2016 will be the year of the Social Short. It’s all about micro-versions that supplement broadcast, print or web campaigns to extend reach and essentially get more bang for your buck. Social shorts are a series of videos or photos that are tacked onto a main shoot, re-appropriated from leftover content or cut directly from the main product.

pandora 2

FB social short

Facebook: Keep it wide (16×9) & upload a very high res file – old blue’s platform can finally handle it.  If you dont have a facebook page for your campaign, embedding via insta or Tweet is seamless.

Instagram: 15 second limit. While you can now upload media that is wide frame (16×9), I still rec the standard 1:1 height width ratio due to the mobile app’s vertical design.

life weasel vineVine: 5 rules – Quick, witty, funny, edgy, and raw. With a 6 second time limit, you’re going to find a very young audience here who loves comedy. Its good to incorporate music (licensing is super lax). To get views, posts need to be fresh, current and you should be an active part of the vine community both in sharing, liking, commenting on other pages, as well as posting original content. On-screen hosts should either be a recognizable celebrity or someone under 30, but ideally both. Another plus is the ability to categorize your post for a particular sub-community within vine (IE: Comedy) so your post can reach the right people. I currently co-produce an ongoing series for Vine called The Life Weasel, and have discovered that time of day really does have an impact. Young people are logging in after school, so anytime between 6-8 PM EST seems to be an ideal time.

YoutubeI include Youtube on this post, but the way the platform has evolved, I no longer see it as a social media platform since it is fast moving towards being a source of paid content and much less user generated / community based. The best part of incorporating Youtube into a campaign is its Google ownership, so videos are always highly searchable.

*Its important to remember that each upload really does need to be treated as its own micro-campaign and requires promotion and/or paid placement for real, valuable traffic. No upload should be treated as set-it-and-forget-it. These posts require promotion, preparation, keywording, proper thumbnails and sharing.

*Please note that Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+ are other great options, and I will report back when I have more hands-on experience with distributing social shorts on those platforms specifically.

To learn more about best practices in video, check back at

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The Life Weasel : From Concept to Comedy

Our new web series The Life Weasel premiered on Instagram and Vine on August 29th of this year, after developing the comedic concepts for several months.

IMG_4595It all began one day on set of an advertising shoot. We had some free time and began making a list of ‘hacks’ to get by in any awkward situation. This could mean getting out of an awkward convo with your roomie, to avoiding an ex-friend in the subway.

Originally we set out to write the idea into a 22 minute sitcom pilot. However, not long after, we realized it was more exciting to master some new platforms and go after a younger demographic. Little screens in the palm of your hand, entertainment made for mobile-sized devices (and EVER-shortening attention-spans) was the answer. The challenge: Tell a story in two miniature lengths: 15 seconds (or less) and 6  seconds (or less) for Instgram and Vine, respectively.


Vina LW shot

Since we didn’t have ready-set sponsors in place, we made the most out of our resources by keeping our expenses low and time-efficient. We were able to keep our production expenses to a minimum which included hair, make-up, camera & audio operating, lighting, locations, craft services etc. We also maximized our shoot times to produce 5 episodes per day.

Shot on the awesome Sony A7S and Shogun camera package, we experimented shooting simple scenes with high production value. Unless you’re Logan Paul Vine celebrity, most social media videos are produced with cell phone cameras or webcams. It was exciting to film silly internet videos with professional equipment we usually use only for our high-end clients.

Upon uploading our first 5 episodes to Instagram & Vine, the response was tremendously positive and instantly requests poured in for more. Instagram was somewhat warm, but not quite as hot as Vine.

Goal achieved and ongoing! 

This fall we are thrilled to have a successour third shoot and we’re inviting up and coming NYC comics Thalia Robinson, Brooke Arnold and several others. We’re really excited to see how this project develops.  Watch this space!


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“Go away from the light!”

Recently, my good friend Shaina, founder of super food recipe blog FastBeets, asked me for advice in photographing her culinary creations with her iPhone 6, and I gave her one simple tip: “Go away from the light.”

You see, Shaina lives in a high rise in a big city, and as so many would, she assumed the view out her window would make an excellent backdrop for her recipe illustrations. And who wouldn’t? The photos below are exemplary of her valiant efforts:


nutella5While its great to see the Staples Center,  we’re missing the point! Where is the visual appeal of Shaina’s Cream of Anti-Cancer Soup and her 5-min No Guilt Pasta. Give me vibrant colors of these ingredients! I don’t want to make this bland-looking food, nor do I want to eat it.

By placing a bowl of ingredients next to a window and towards a vast, well-lit California vista, her iPhone has two simple choices: get the food, or get the background, not unlike the dilemma a photographer with a simple DSLR setup would have. And it ends up sort’ve failing at both by trying to fall somewhere between the two. Truth be told, a professional with the right skills, equipment, lighting, lens, ND filters and post-production workflow could nail this, but we’re talking quick and easy, consumer-level photography. But as Shay recently said to me, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Moving away from the light, and working with it, rather than against it, Shaina illuminated what matters – her ridiculously innovative recipes. Not the red carpet outside the Staples Center, not Hollywood Boulevard, the countertop, or anything else. The food gets center stage. And she was amazed at the improvement. Unlike the previous photos, this is now food I want to make! Or watch someone else make it while I catch up on House of Cards, because I hate cooking. These Butternut Squash Chips and Nutella (Protein) Cookies look delish.




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J&J HIV Education in Haiti: We’re live!

At Rich Media Play, we’re buzzing with excitement because our latest video for the Janssen HIV Medical Education in Haiti went live today. This project illustrates the important work being done by the Doctors and staff at Johnson & Johnson to educate local medical communities and provide supplies to treat those affected with HIV. Along with Samantha Young and her amazing crew at Rabin Martin, we’re proud to have played a part in bringing this powerful story to the small screen.



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iPad Teleprompter = Amazing


A client of mine recently requested I use a teleprompter to record a series for them, because the topics are so information dense and fact-dependent. One wrong word and the entire meaning of the video can be changed, with potential financial and legal ramifications. I read loads of reviews, blogs and watched testimonials and eventually found the very affordable OneTakeOnly teleprompter system, which pairs with your (full size) iPad. At only 400 (including 15mm Rig w/ rods), this is the best you’ll find out there, considering that teleprompter can range up to the thousands. The only caveat is that you have to own or purchase an iPad separately, and an App for running with it. But if you already have an iPad, the cost can remain pretty low.

The App I found that works beautifully is Promptsmart, which uses voice recognition to adjust the pace of scroll to the speaker. At only $13.00, it beats out its competitors on the App marketplace, which can range up to the hundreds. See video below:

PromptSmart from Jordan Gurrieri on Vimeo.

For only $413, the OneTakeOnly rig paired with Promptsmart voice recognition worked beautifully on my first shoot using it and we wrapped in record time.

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