Better Setups for Video Calls

We’re all working from home now, and will be for a while. Some of us will return to offices, some will work from home part of the week, and some won’t ever return to an office full-time again. One things for sure, you’re bound to be on more video calls, and here’s how to look, and sound, good.

All around I think this is good news. Less time commuting (less pollution), more family or personal time doing the things we like. More time for exercise, deep work, or whatever it is that you like to do.

I had lunch with a friend the other day- he mentioned commuting for 45-60 minutes each way. This is absolutely ridiculous. His excuse was that he used that time for calls or listening to podcasts- beneficial and productive no doubt. But, imagine doing that while walking around your neighborhood, park, or beach? Breathing fresh air, getting some light cardio and vitamin D from the sun. Now this is beneficial!

Why invest in proper video equipment for video calls

If you’ve been forced to adapt to working from home, or remotely from your co-located team, you’ve likely been doing more calls and video calls.

We’ve long been a remote company and understand the advantages of working with the right people, no matter where they’re located. Looking, and sounding, good are two areas you’ll want to nail down for video conferencing.

Here’s why: when you’re on camera more focus will be on you. If everyone else on a call only displays as a random phone number or even a static picture of them from 9 years ago, it’s boring for others to look at- or worse, it’s just confusing.

If you’ve never met these people it can be awkward, hard to get to know them or who they are as a person (something that goes a long way towards relationship building).

So, if you’re the only one, or one of the few, who has their camera turned on, you’re going to have more eyes and ears on you. With more attention, you have more opportunities to make an impact and be a leader.

Oh I’d turn my camera on but I didn’t do my hair today…

Don’t use an excuse for not turning on your camera. Most on the other end won’t believe you, and they likely don’t care. With Covid-19 in full swing we (everyone else) on the call get it. We know you might have kids, dogs, others running around in the background. It’s okay- it’s better to be yourself.


If there are three things you’ll want to avoid on video calls, it’s:

  • Poor lighting
  • Poor audio
  • Slow bandwidth
Bad look. A blown out window in the background is distracting.

In the image above I’m in front of a large window: The outside is over exposed, and my face is under exposed. This is distracting to others as it’s very hard for them to see your face and expressions. Avoid this look if you can.


A “good” setup doesn’t need to be anything fancy. Your computer’s built-in webcam will suffice. But, make sure you’re front lit (your back isn’t right in front of a giant window), so you’re not silhouetted- when no one can see your face it’s kinda ominous and scary.

Nice lighting and using an external microphone (in the form of AirPods).

Also, make sure you have some kind of microphone. EarPods, or AirPods, or another headset will do wonders. Get the mic as close as you can to your mouth. This will reduce background noise and improve the Signal-to-Noise ratio, which means others on the call will hear you loud and clear.

You want the camera slightly above your eye line, and just beneath the camera ideally would be your monitor. This will appear as if you’re looking into the camera and provide a pleasing look for others on the call.


If you want to take it up a notch- something I definitely recommend. It would be to get an external camera, light source, and microphone.


An external camera is going to give you more dynamic range and better exposure. You can expect the colors to be more accurate and your image to come in more clearly for others on the call.

As noted above, if you look better (as in image fidelity) you’ll have more eyes on you and others will focus on you. A couple cameras I’d recommend:

A note about the Sony a6300 camera. While it’s really in a class of its own, and a step above the other two I’d recommend, it will require a nice lens and a way to connect the camera’s HDMI into your computer, such as using the Elgato Camlink. This will give you the most bang-for-your-buck in terms of image quality.

This will also give a slightly blurred background. This is another little hack to keep the focus on you. Your eye will naturally focus on the part of the image that’s in focus.


Lighting yourself properly is so incredibly important. A nice, soft light, pointing down on you about a 45˚-60˚ angle, slightly off center will provide an appealing look. Soft light will make the shadows slowly roll off your face and provide a twinkle in your eye- not just fairy tales here. All romantic Hollywood scenes have eye lights.

I like lights that let you control the brightness with a dimmer, and color temperature so you look natural on camera depending on other light sources around you. For example, if you have large windows or plenty of natural light, you’ll want something closer to sunlight or 5600K. If you have florescent bulbs (side note: replace them), you’ll want something around 4600K, or if you have incadencent lights you’ll want something closer to 3200K .

If you’re unsure, or move around, an adjustable light will be perfect for all situations. A few I’d recommend:


A quality external mic will make you heard- loud and clear. You can talk softly and natural, no need to have “speakerphone” voice where you are overly verbose and project your voice unnaturally.


A professional setup takes everything up a notch. Better camera, lights, mic, plus additional hardware to stream your screen. You’ll likely have multiple monitors, gaming card to accelerate frame rate buffering/recording, lighting control for background lights (color, intensity, pattern programming), and social share. A green screen to display yourself over your screen (or even those gimmicky Zoom backgrounds).

This means spending upwards of $20,000 for a proper studio with the internet bandwidth to stream.

End Notes

All this really isn’t for you, but the others on the call with you. If it’s co-works, clients, partners, or prospective clients they’ll all appreciate you taking the time to invest in a proper set up. It’s displays professionalism, and the fact that you care. Hopefully they’ll end up returning the favor. The Verge and The Wirecutter have additional information.

Complete Guide to Authentic Story Discovery Part 3

This is Part 3 in a 4 part series on Story Discovery. In Part 1 we talked about our Problem-Solving approach to story. In part 2 we discussed pre production research and identifying an audience. You should read those posts before this one.



Discovery and research are as much about sharing the findings as it is about collecting it. Once we’ve had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the space, talk to stakeholders, customers and others, we can start to see our story take shape.

By this point, we know far more about the problem and the solution than when we started and most likely have a few ideas to move forward with. The stories we tell lie in the findings from talking with those engaged in a product. Our observations from user research are refined into themes (for more on this visit Part 2).

When looking at the common themes and the ideas that repeatedly arise, we’re able to define our guiding principle for the project or relationship. The guiding principle is a simple yet profound statement that reminds us why we’re embarking on this journey. A guiding principle should be at the forefront of creative decisions throughout our project and relationship.

On longer term projects, when we’re finishing assignments on a continual basis, the guiding principle reminds us how each piece of the puzzle fits together as a whole.



Finally, we create a list of 3-5 keywords that further support our guiding principle and remind us about the creative decisions to make throughout the storytelling process.

Keywords are incredibly helpful during production when we’re making decisions on the fly, but also during our planning and pre production phases when we’re determining the look/feel/mood of our film.


Story Leads Us

This exercise provides clarity, allowing us to focus on what’s essential. Stories fail when there’s not a clear direction for the problem we’re solving. Trying to fit in too much or irrelevant people and/or places can convolute our plot. If we lose our audience’s interests too quickly we’ll fail at solving our problem.

When determining what to shoot, these keywords keep us focused and helps avoid overshooting. This frees us up to cover scenes with intention, but more on that in chapter 4.

It’s important to think about our targeted audience and how they’ll be watching the film when coming up with keywords. The creative decisions we make during production, and later in post production will affect how the audience perceives our story. Keywords guide us to make tactical decisions.


TAR keywords: adventurous, remarkable, sustainable, lifestyle, passionate

Our keywords inspire us and keep us going. Notice how they support our guiding principle of Story Leads Us.

If we’re trying to make our subject feel larger than life, we may include a keyword: Distinguished. This would suggest we shoot him on longer lenses where the background is out of focus putting all emphasis on our character. However, this keyword would also suggest capturing cutaway close-up shots of little details that further separates our character or reinforces the larger-than-life feel.

Finally, we ask ourselves what stands out as remarkable. We visualize the problem and put it into context learnings from the research and interviews already performed. This is a powerful exercise that provides a bird’s eye view of your story.

Google doc share

The research we do is meant to spark ideas, inspire us and the stakeholders, provoke perspectives and support our gut instincts. Throughout the process, we’re taking notes on our impressions and perspective. We write them down so we can have a barometer and can reflect on our progress. Impressions change as a project progresses and may diminish in importance, or fade to the back of our memory only to come back with renewed significance.

Filmmaking is a collaborative effort by nature, and this is one of the most important parts to collaborate on with clients. We’re at the intersection of having done enough research where we can have detailed conversations about the space and problem with clients (conversational but not experts), and still in pre production where clients can still provide responsible input without telling us how to do our job or what to shoot.

At this stage, we’ll write our ideas down into what we call treatments- short descriptions of our story, characters, and plot. This is usually about page in length contains enough detail to get a good understanding of our story, but not too much as we need the freedom to remain  creative.

We love using Google Docs and storyboards for this activity. Themes, guiding principle, and keywords should all support one another as a solution to our problem and linked to our research. This is why collaboration at this stage is imperative.

As we discussed in Part 1, our process is fluid which allows  us to discover and then develop ideas. Admittedly, sometimes we go into the discovery phase with a hunch of what the solution might look like.This only takes us so far in terms of actually supporting that solution by putting it into practice.

I’m never surprised by where our story takes us and how often this changes between a project’s kickoff and post-research. Our solution isn’t limited to a short film- this can be expanded into a series of deliverables, or traveling to new locations or chasing stories we didn’t know existed beforehand.

When we work on a retainer basis with unknown deliverables, this discovery process continues to pay dividends despite the fact that it’s largely intangible. Having the insight and knowledge combined with our expertise and experience means we can seamlessly add value while moving quickly.

Wherever we end up at the end of our discovery phase, it should support our solution to the problem. In clearly defined problems we can craft one or multiple solutions. Straightforward problems yield straightforward solutions. But this is almost never the case.

When a problem is vague, for example increasing overall brand awareness, we’re left with something complex. In this case, we might have a concert of groups working towards this goal inside an organization.

Capturing the aspirations of the organization is an important part of defining the problem. Understanding the culture and history of the company can be huge in determining what story to tell that supports an increase in overall brand awareness.

We also want to consider the future road map of the company, what can we take from this and how can this support the company as a leader in an industry or field?

Increasing brand awareness was a problem that Peter Harsch Prosthetics faced. As a new business they didn’t have much of a brand to leverage at all. In fact, their brand was in such bad shape we ended up rebranding them as part of our project.

We quickly identified themes, our guiding principle and keywords. The guiding principle for our project stuck as the company’s tag line and hashtag:

Active Life Goes On

When telling their story and during our shoot, it was about handicap veterans who lost part of their limbs and how they continued on to living an active life.Peter opens the video with a quote, “Some people just want to be able to go to the grocery store, others want to finish an ironman.”

This is not only engaging and curious but also sets up our story to increase their brand awareness among targeted audience and support our guiding principle.

Our keywords for Peter Harsch Prosthetics were:

Heart, Mobility, Friendly, Supportive, Endurance



All projects have restraints or limitations. There’s so much of what we can do, but what can’t we do is the question identifying what’s viable and what’s not. Being curious folks, we find ourselves reeling back from different possibilities that might be out of reach, but also stretching and finding ways to make something work.

We’re always pushing, and the psychologists in us want more, want us to go deeper. Our guiding principle is story leads us and we’re always searching for the story angle or hook that completes our solution.

The most familiar limitation on any project is always the same. Budget.

Discovery usually accounts for 30-50% of our overall budget. At TAR Productions, we don’t work off a rate sheet or subscribe to industry rates, which sets us apart in our industry, budget is determined by the size of the problem and importance to the organization.

Our story is impacted by where we can travel to chase a story, the number of days we have to capture the assets needed, the tools and resources(such as crew we have available to us on location).

Time is another constraint we’re constantly battling, however, it’s also a useful constraint. Without a deadline, we can go on doing research forever and be unaware of when we reach the point of getting diminishing returns. Time constraints dictate if we need to sprint and  when we need to conclude research and move onto production.

More commonly, we’re working in conjunction with a product launch or event. Missing deadlines can have drastic side effects and respecting the time each phase (pre production, production, post production) takes to complete is paramount.

Needs are an unrealized constraint. Time and money let us focus on needs and allows us to prioritize our story to solve problems. We can discern between must-haves and nice-to-haves.

Another constraint we’re commonly faced with are available resources, such as gear, locations, crew and leadership. Budget determines our lighting package and lens options. If our story calls for a lot of movement and shallow depth of field, we need a remote follow focus and focus puller to make sure the shots recorded are usable and support our story.

Team leadership is especially important on long term and retainer projects. A creative director and Producer/Project Manager are incredibly critical to a project’s success. Having someone who is up to date on the project is a critical  asset in inspiring the team to push forward.


Westfield film storyboard


The final steps in pre production are about visualizing our story coming into focus (hehe).

Storyboarding helps us see the flow of pre-visualized scenes before we shoot them. This helps us identify shots we need to cover a scene while keeping our story flow going.

The benefit of storyboarding is that we can rearrange shots and sequences while editing. At this stage (before we’ve shot anything) we’re not locked to anything which  freedom and flexibility during production.

Storyboards help everyone get on the same page for production, the communication between the director, director of photography, and other crew are paramount. Storyboards help clarify our vision, align them to our goals and solution.

Storyboards help provide a lay of the land as some productions don’t allow for in-depth location scouting with multiple or all crew members.

During a location scout, we’re looking for interesting aspects that play a role in our story. Location scouting is far more involved than just looking at where we’ll be shooting- it’s about potential. We ask ourselves how we can photograph a scene to fit our story. For example, we take note of where the windows are located and how the light will affect the mood of our shoot.

behind the scenes men of march ucla

If we need to bring in extra lights or grip equipment, we have a better idea of what we’ll need to shape the light or create the feel we’re going for.  Light control is one of the biggest drivers about a story’s feel yet also very subtle and overlooked. To the audience, light control is almost invisible, something they don’t even notice. This is a form of subliminal messaging about how we react to our characters.

For example, in our shoot for CBS Sports’ Men of March, we were limited to shooting in the basketball arenas for a few interviews. We knew the environment matched our story, but the lighting of an arena is far from flattering on camera. We were able to light our interviews in a way that gave us the feel and mood we were going for. See the connection to our keywords developed above?

A favorite app of ours to use when location scouting is SunSeeker, which allows us to track exactly where the sun will be on our shoot day, down to the minute. If we know that we’ll be shooting a scene outside at 2:30pm, we’ll know where the sun will be and how to shape the light to our liking.

Video crew with lighting equipment

sun tracker app

Finding themes, writing a guiding principle and defining keywords are tangible steps that take place during discovery that help refine a vision. Creating storyboards bring filmmakers, stakeholders and crew on the same page allowing us to move seamlessly to solving our problem. In Part 4, we’ll discuss how to conduct pre interviews, interviews and a few production tips for interviews.


Critiquing Other’s Work

Yesterday I was asked on three separate occasions what my thoughts were on a video by colleagues and people around the office. They all knew me as a video producer, some more so than others.

Two of them simply asked, “what are your thoughts?” and the third asked for my thoughts and added her notes. Other than this, I didn’t have much direction.

I watched all the videos blindly- meaning, I had no prior knowledge as to what they were about or how the intended audience would see them or even who the intended audience was. Furthermore, I didn’t know the purpose of each project. Without knowing what the videos were trying to achieve, how was I to give any kind of intelligent feedback?

Feedback shouldn't be an empty feeling.

However, having no idea what the control environment was (or what it was intended to be), or the message I was supposed to finish the video with, I felt like I had a completely unbiased opinion.

I’ve been working in video production and storytelling for 13 years- a long time. I’ve told a lot of stories, worked with numerous brands and verticals, reached millions of people, and sat through tons of client meetings of people sharing their thoughts.

It makes sense why I was asked for my opinion. And I happily oblige these requests. Being that I was able to provide unbiased feedback, I felt I was adding a value to the project.

It seems the more experience you have in a field the more your opinion is requested. The most powerful feedback is based on data and experience, after all.

So I began offering my thoughts and writing email responses back. I found my saying, “I presume this video is intended for…” and “How many videos in this series will your target audience watch?” and a slew of other questions.

I had so many presumptions. My thoughts are unique to myself and are probably affected by my current mood and atmosphere. The next person’s opinion could have been completely different and just as valid.

The one thing I was sure of was that I was not the intended audience, this much was clear. So, in essence, my opinions were just that- opinions, otherwise useless.

Does it matter if I think the color palette should be blue instead of yellow? I was watching these videos  in a small conference room and on my computer at my desk. Was this the same setting that everyone else would watch them?

Knowing this, I felt the value of my opinion was less than what it was built up to be.

After 13 years of working in video production, we still rely on feedback everyday.

As a content creator, should you change an edit based on one opinion? Probably not. Going with your gut is going to be more valuable when you create with design, with purpose. (this is why you follow a process).

This will lead to doubt, second guessing and sometimes an end product that is not what it’s potential could be. Knowing your audience and how they’ll watch it will be a huge aspect of how your final presentation will be received.

A two-hour video that you want someone to watch on their way to work or class is a tall order. But if someone is sitting on her couch relaxing without much else going on, two hours is more feasible. If someone is on the bus commuting as they do everyday two minutes might be too long.

Sometimes people give feedback because they think it’s valuable, but could be completely off topic. You may ask for feedback and hoping to hear about different attributes to your video, such as color, and you might receive feedback on sound, pacing or something else that you’re happy with.

So, yesterday, after I began writing my replies with the feedback I had to stop and pause for a moment. I deleted all my comments and then gave general feedback on best practices to make a more refined and polished edit.

Perhaps this is what they were looking for, perhaps they wanted to know what I liked or disliked about the presentation as a whole and was looking for confirmation on their thoughts. I’ll never know either way because they never coached me on the feedback they wanted.

Someone with experience can surely provide a lot of helpful feedback, but ultimately it’s up to the requestor to provide an adequate proposition on intended feedback without compromising or influencing your own thoughts.

Constructive Feedback

Feedback is incredibly important on any project. This is why major Hollywood motion pictures have screening tests for blockbuster movies. In some of our projects, we set aside time and budget for focus groups that provide us with a wide range of feedback.

We never send an edit over to review until we think it’s as best as it can be, even for rough cuts. We take the story as far as we can, we keep in mind our targeted audience and how we’re going to reach them. We make something based on our process and research, and where ever the story takes us.

And yet, even after 13 years of doing this, we still rely on feedback from our clients. Sometimes we assume a plot line is very clear or even expected knowledge by our audience. Sometimes we think a certain shot, or line of dialog, is required. Our clients let us know what’s working and what isn’t working. They guide us as much as we’re guiding them.

Feedback always improves projects, and we’re always happier after a couple conversations back and forth debating edits. Sometimes I reflect on where an edit was when we first delivered and I’m amazed and impressed by where our team can take it.

It’s the sum of little bits of feedback that really make a big difference.

Data Points

Harvard Business review recently did an entire podcast about giving and receiving feedback. The podcast is interesting because it talks about feedback at a very high level. It isn’t specific to video production, storytelling or even creatives in general. However, the principles can be used for nearly any business, I highly recommend you take a listen.

In short, the more experience you have the more feedback requests you’re likely to receive. I think that feedback is essential, and I’m happy to provide it where I feel I can add value. And if I feel I can’t add value I make these disclosures as well. This separates my opinions from constructive feedback.

Don't fear feedback, embrace it!

How you give feedback is incredibly important.

We’ve all asked for feedback and received feedback that wasn’t constructive or not what we wanted to hear. While the responsibility is on the requestor, I think those will great experience can read through the lines and provide feedback in most situations.

The following are some questions I would consider when asking for, or when providing, feedback:

What is the purpose of this video/documentary/campaign?
How are you planning on reaching your targeted audience?
Who is your audience? What do you want your audience to do after watching this video? (share, buy product, attend event, etc.)
What will make this campaign successful?
How does this fit into your long-term marketing plan?

How do you feel about giving and receiving feedback? Let us know in the comment below!

Hiring an In-House Video Producer

Video is becoming a more and more popular medium. And it’s finding it’s way in more campaigns for companies big and small. This is partly due to the lowered barriers to entry, partially due to the rapid advancement of incredible quality tools available to nearly anyone, and the social outlook.

As YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook video take off and the stats speaking for themselves on engagement and action, it’s pretty clear that companies are making internal producers a part of their marketing and/or design teams.

A few months back I wrote a post on why brands should hire outside production companies. This post was not received very well by a few people, they interpreted the post that internal video producers were not valuable, which isn’t the posts objective. I was showing the differences between in-house and agency production companies and the scenarios where outside production companies can add a ton a value. This post is about the in-house producer and the value they add to their company.

Our focus at TAR Productions in on branded entertainment, and some of the best campaigns we’ve been a part of have had in-house video producer or large creative teams where the collaborative effort was incredible. There’s a synergy working with in-house talent and sometimes that’s the best combo.

The Jack of All Trades?

Many companies and agencies describe themselves as full-service. I think this can dilute the message of potential and reduce the agency’s value in some respects. If an agency can be good at design, development, SEO, marketing strategy, etc…, what are they great at? Are they great at all the aforementioned services for everyone? in any niche or market?

Video production companies are the same- are you full-service, creating media for startup tech companies, sports brands, local service businesses, etc. Are you great at explainer videos? Companies need to define their niche.

This is where in-house video producers (I refuse to use the moniker ‘videographer’) can be really valuable. Having the expertise, knowledge and insights into a company or brand is a secret ingredient to producing incredible great work.

Yes, sometimes this can be a limitation, it’s really hard for one person to do it all, and do it all well. However, an in-house producer can create plenty of media that keeps the brand relevant and top-of-mind in fan’s minds (or social media channels), and over time built up a library of assets needed to create great work.

If you’re an in-house producer, hopefully, you have access to a Creative Director or VP of Content or CMO or similar. Having a resource to work towards your end goal will be powerful and their feedback will lead to a better end product.

Lonely soul in front of dead TV screen.

Companies have to start somewhere when hiring an in-house producer. (Note: for this post, I’m using producer interchangeably with cinematographer, editor, etc. To get more specific you can read Who’s who on a film set).

Over time, and repeated success, this can make sense for brands that create a lot of content. And since we live in a content-driven world, more and more companies are taking the plunge. Diligent companies will want to track video performance and ROI.

Hiring an in-house video producer really makes sense for long-term strategy. Creating internal videos that boost morale might be hard (and expensive) for an external company to produce since there isn’t the day-to-day relationship.

Also having one who understands the long-term trajectory of the company can be a valuable asset to overall strategy and execution. Having the right personnel and equipment available to capture the content can be the exact ingredients needed to a powerful piece down the line, think product launch, industry event, various advertising efforts and social media channels.

Video Talk

Creatives tend to understand one another. We have our own slang and terminology that some don’t get. We’re able to express ourselves easily to one another. There are many overlaps in sub-categories, too. The communication between photographers and designers might not be identical, but more times than not the communication get through.

This is similar to different dialects of languages. American, British, and Australians all speak English as the native language, although they do differ slightly.

Having an in-house producer can be an incredibly valuable asset when bringing in an outside production company or agency. From our perspective, having someone on the inside who knows what it takes to create a masterpiece can be our ally and push for our client (his or her employer) to really take things to the next level.

We’ve had several projects where the unexpected has arisen and the in-house producer was able to work with upper management on logistics that help our stories shine. In the end, it’s a win-win-win for all parties involved. Companies end up with an incredible video, the in-house producer played a role in upping the bar at the brand and we have another project we’re so proud of.

Sometimes, it doesn’t always go this well, however. Sometimes there is animosity towards bringing in an outside production company. The in-house producer is upset that his or her boss didn’t trust them with the responsibility of a large project.

Or they are fearing for their job and view the external production company as a threat. I can tell you this is the wrong approach. In-house producers and external production companies have a common goal- to make the best work possible. Teaming up will behoove everyone involved.

Creatives tend to understand one another.

Be The Expert

Your company might have a general idea of what they need or want to achieve. But they probably do not know the exact gear needed to achieve these goals. In-house producers can add value by being the expert.

This may be derived from the company’s goals, and your voice should be included in these conversations, too.

Always Be Improving

Being in-house does not mean that you’re a button-pusher. If you have a long list of projects to tackle and are constantly asked to do repetitive tasks I encourage you to bring ideas and strategy to your team/boss/CEO/marketing manager.

You have talent and ideas that (most likely) your boss does not possess- hence why they hired you to begin with. You are up on the latest trends and shift in branding and marketing (in terms of video) and bringing these notes and ideas to your boss is part of your role.

Remember the Harlem Shake that everyone did in 2012/2013-ish? Even though these videos probably didn’t add a ton a value to the companies that made their own they were hot for a minute and fun to make.

Being on the forefront of this trend and organizing a few concepts is something your boss will love and be a simple reminder about your value. It will boost morale among employees and something they can share with their friends and family.

Having a team comprised of great people is much more valuable than a team of good people that can do everything. This is part of the reason why TAR Productions is run the way it is- we hire the best people and it doesn’t matter where they are located.

What value do you add to your employer? How have you helped your company grow? Let us know in the comments.

Ultimate Guide to Video Production Contracts & Free Template

The Contract Template You Need

This post is chock full of great stuff on the legal side of video production and the greater professional creative services in general. Over the past 13 years we’ve been in a couple of sticky situation before and luckily we had a contract in place to protect us. Had we not had a contract, we would have been in serious jeopardy of going out of business, filing for bankruptcy or maybe been sued.

However, we learned a lot from our experiences and recently consulted with our lawyer to rewrite our entire contract from the ground up. It’s solid, and we spent over $2,500 to get it there, and now we’re open sourcing it for everyone.

Signing a contract? Make sure it includes these items...

Contracts protect both parties. When producing a video both parties have something at stake, and also have the best of intentions. Sometimes there are assumptions, sometimes there are things interpreted one way but meant another. Contracts clear all this up, and more. Contracts make sure everyone is on the same page.

Professionals use contracts, amateurs don’t.

Presenting your clients with a contract shows them that you are a professional, and you’re working with them for business purposes. We never start any work on a project without a signed contract and a deposit.

We decided to open source our contract to give back to the creative community we’re a part of. Video Production can be a tricky world, there are many variables, equipment requirements, crew members and a whole lot more, and contracts are necessary.

Our goal with this blog is to help others learn from our experiences. As I’ve said before, a rising tide lifts all ships.


Why You Need A Contract

Service Contracts are important for any business. They outline the parameters of the specific job and cover the overall relationship between the parties involved. This is where everyone gets on the same page and any confusion is removed.

Master Service Agreements (MSA) is a great thing to have, it adds credibility to the service provider and lets your customers know that they are working with a professional organization. MSAs are typically provided by the service providers.

When you have a contract, or Master Services Agreement, in place, should something unfortunate happen the contract is there to determine how to move forward. Generally speaking, most enter into an agreement with the best of intentions, but things do come up, such is life.

In the last 13 years of running a production company, we’ve only had to refer back to our contract twice to clear things up. Had we not had a contract in place we wouldn’t be in business today.

A Note To Those Buying Video

Contracts are particularly important for creative projects because so much of the result, or final deliverables, is unknown. When someone hires us for a video we have no idea what the final product will look like, but we do know the process of getting there and have done that hundreds of times in the past. We might have an idea, storyboard, creative direction/inspiration and so forth based on our initial conversations, but until the lights and camera are out and the Director yells “Action!” is still somewhat of a mystery.

The same can be said for a website designer or any other creative. You might hire someone to design a website with X pages or a specific functionality (such as local search or online ordering), but at the commencement of that job, it’s hard to know what the layouts and art direction will look like.

It’s important to note that when you are hiring a creative you are hiring him/her/them for their knowledge and expertise. You were most likely referred to them by a friend or saw something in their portfolio that made you think “Ah, ha! This is the team for me.”

So, it’s important to let the creatives do their job and be creative. Hopefully, that process I mentioned earlier allowed you, the one hiring the creative, to get all your creatives to understand your thoughts and goals. If not, back up and have that conversation again.

This is why it’s important to price projects based on value, not time involved or cost.

For Creative Service Providers

If you want to be a professional outfit you need to have a contract in place for every customer, client, and job. There are two parts to our contracts:

  • Master Service Agreement (MSA)
  • Statement of Work (SOW)

Master Services Agreement

The MSA is the master contract covering everything between you and your client. It’s a detailed document that states who does what, who owns what, when things are to happen and how (such as payment).

When you’re working with larger clients they will sometimes ask you to sign their contract. They usually make the terms, too, which can be difficult if you’re a smaller company or just getting started. It’s hard to wait 30, 60 or even 90 days for payment.

This is where you negotiate. If there is language in the contract that is partial to the other party you need to explain why you need it changed and ask for edits. Without asking you’ll get nowhere and be bound to their terms for the rest of your relationship or project.

The MSA is only executed once between you and your client, so it’s important to talk about all terms at the onset of your relationship. Remember, you’re a professional, negotiation is not a bad thing.

As an aside, I’ve always felt that agreement is a better term than contract. The agreement sets the foundation for a healthier relationship with those who you work with.

Statement Of Work

The Statement of Work (SOW) is attached to the MSA and covers each project individually. This document is more job-specific than the MSA and covers what the scope is for each project.

Say you’re hired to produce a video for a client. When it’s all said and done they love it (of course) and want you to produce another video for them.

In this situation, all you have to do is create a new SOW that is tied to the MSA you already have with them and get working. Easy!

Our SOW covers what we’re shooting, where, how many shoot days, what is being delivered and when payment is due and any other additional notes that are project specific. The SOW covers the variables that change from project to project.

Contracts make sure everyone is on the same page.

Let Lawyers Do the Talking

You should get a lawyer and contract in place before you need one or both. Having a relationship with a lawyer is always a good thing. It’s unfortunate when situations get sticky, but sometimes that happens, sometimes it’s beyond your control.

Getting to know your lawyer will pay dividends in the long run. As your business grows, having someone to call on who is familiar with your line of work will make everything easier.

When negotiating an MSA with a new client, it’s best to let the lawyers do the talking. Your lawyer will have your best interests in mind and can talk with your clients lawyer about all the touchy subjects included.

They’re very comfortable talking about this, they do it all day, every day. Plus, when you remove yourself from these situations you can focus on having a great relationship with your new client and focus on the creative at hand.

Should you be the one doing the talking with your client about anything contractual, please do this in person- never over email. Sometimes a phone call or Skype will work, but in person is always the best for this kind of stuff.

Contracts can be a tricky business and the last thing you want to do is provide a false impression at the onset of a relationship.

Finding a Good Lawyer

Who’s ever asked their friends for a crappy lawyer? No one. Everyone wants a good lawyer. Once someone has a good, life-saving or relieving experience with a lawyer they tend to keep that relationship on good terms (same goes for storytellers and video producers, just saying).

The best way to find a good lawyer is to ask around. Ask friends, people you trust, colleagues or peers in the workplace. Ask your competitors (seriously). Lawyers by referrals are just like a you getting a referral from a client. If the project went well between you and your former client, odds are this potential project will go well, too. It’s the same with lawyers- we are all professional service providers, after all, aren’t we?

If you come up short with your friends you can try lawyers who practice different areas of law. Typically the business or litigation lawyers will stick together, as will family lawyers or criminal lawyers, but you’d be surprised how big their legal networks are.

The point is to get a lawyer before you need one. Should you ever need a lawyer having one in your rolodex or someone you’ve worked with before will behoove you.

Lawyer Limitations

Remember, your lawyer can only do so much. It’s your responsibility to have him/her understand your business and/or job functionality. This limitation can be erased after a few conversations or working together for a bit. That’s why I say a relationship with your lawyer will pay dividends in the long run.

The more your lawyer knows about your business, and the more you work with him/her, the greater the asset you will have. In these conversations with your client’s legal team, you lawyer will stick up for you and help you get the terms best suited for your growth as a business.

It’s a good idea to budget for legal with new clients. Expect a bit of negotiation and the last thing you want to do is take money that should be profit and have it all go to legal expenses. So, budget accordingly for the first couple of jobs since this is where a bulk of the negotiation will occur.

Anytime a larger client delivers you their contract have your lawyer review it. We’ve received contracts that state a project must be delivered on ¾” video tape- the state of the art video format of the 1970s.

Imagine being contractually obligated to deliver a project in a format that is extinct. I doubt the sender knew what was in the contract and sent it blindly.

My point is that contracts can be old. They can be something someone found somewhere on the Internet without even reading it.

To save cost on your lawyer reading and redlining a contract you should read it yourself first. Highlight anything specific you want to review with your lawyer- remember, you probably know more about the creative world and video production than your lawyer does, so this will behoove both of you.

Watch our reel.

A Horror Story

I fully believe that everyone enters into an agreement with the best of intentions. We once had a project where we were all set to do a video for. We had met a few times, reviewed creative, signed a contract and received a deposit. Everything was good.

Until it wasn’t. Less than 24 hours before we were scheduled to shoot we got an email from our contact saying that the company was going in three different directions and that our video was no longer needed. We had no idea this was coming and there was nothing we could do about it.

It was the 11th hour. We had already made all arrangements for the remainder of the project, including pre-production, strategy, renting gear, and booking crew. We’re screwed.

The good news, our contact said, was that he was now in need of 3 (three!) videos- but they needed a month-or-so to figure it all out. Our client assumed this was an easy switch and swap, but from our point of view, it was a completely new project. Our contract covered what would happen in this situation and we began the process of getting paid what was rightfully owed to us based on the work we had already performed.

Our client saw it differently. They assumed that since we didn’t actually shoot the project they didn’t owe us anything.

Here we were, with a lot of expense- gear rented, a crew hired and all the research, strategy, creative direction, pre production, script writing completed. These attributes are project specific and cannot be transferred over to a new project a month-or-so down the line. Worse, we had hard cash spent on a lot of these.

We work with a lot of hired freelancers on a per job basis. Once these guys are booked for a day or a job, they’re getting paid no matter what. We rely on our team to complete jobs and expect them to work hard for us. Once they have committed to us they are turning down work from others, and if we cancel on them they’re out of work. Morally, I can’t promise work and pay for our crew and not pay them, it’s just wrong.

If we back out on our end of the commitment to our team do you think they’ll continue to work for us? Our relationship with our team would deteriorate and have serious negative long-term effects on our business and reputation. (Notice how many times I’ve mentioned relationships in this post?)

Fortunately, we had a contract that covered us in this unforeseen situations. And, this is exactly why you should build a relationship with a lawyer.

It took us time to get paid, a long time. In the meantime, the company laid off 15% of its workforce and guess what, our contact was one of them. So, now we had to start the entire process of tracking our money down all over again and talk with new people. It was a disaster. The supposed promised 3 videos in a “month or so” were also gone and dusted. Just another reason why we needed to get paid for work already performed.

Learn from our mistake here and make sure your contract has a clause in there to cover you in situations such as these. This has only happened to us twice in 13+ years of business. It’s never fun, but you only learn the hard way once. Luckily for you, you found your way to our blog and will hopefully prevent it from ever happening (keep reading…).

Working With Friends

It’s really easy to work with friends, right? Or worse, family! Someone who knows you, likes you, know who you do and thinks you’d be the perfect fit for this job. Great! You trust this friend and think they’d never hurt you, overwork you or use the project in the wrong way. Until they do.

It’s really easy for friends or family to assume something is easy, ask for more revisions, expect more from you and belabor you in producing much more than you should have. Or, your friend might make recommendations that you don’t have the heart to tell her your professional opinion is different based on your experience in this world.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to work with friends, but please do it in a professional manner. Many times, when working with friends on an assumed handshake projects can take a turn for the worse and friendships are broken, time is wasted and nothing meaningful is created.

I recommend having friends and family sign contracts for any and all projects. This might be a bit awkward, but it will show them that you are a professional, and your time, knowledge and expertise are valuable and not to be overlooked. This starts your project off on the right foot. I also recommend charging a fair fee, and this fee, of course, is based on the value of the project (value pricing).

SOW example

Contract Checklist

When we had our contract reviewed a couple years ago we gave our lawyer our base template and a list of about 9 things we needed to be rewritten or added. To be honest, we got this template from a former business advisor and I have no idea where he got it from. It’s legitimacy was never questioned by us, which means it could not have been sufficient should we really need to rely on it.

The 9 or so additions or paragraph rewrites we requested were notes that we had been making over a couple of years. We took note of what clients asked for clarification on, or what they asked to be stricken or rewritten. We took many notes of language that we found didn’t stand up to the project we were taking on. We had scenarios arise during projects and found out after the fact that our contract didn’t cover us in certain, precarious situations. So we needed this fixed because it was repeatedly costing us time and profit.

Apparently, the contract template we got from our former business advisor wasn’t so great afterall. It may have worked for him, but for our video specific needs, turns out it wasn’t great. Our lawyer ended up writing us an all new contract.

Want a bullet proof contract? Include these points:

  1. Services Provided: What you will be providing to your client?
  2. Deliverables: What constitutes a “final” or “accepted” deliverable? (our revisions are stated in the specific SOW)
  3. Compensation: How you will be paid and when? (don’t forget about expenses as in example above)
  4. Confidentiality: Being professional means not sharing your client’s trade secrets with the world.
  5. Ownership: Who owns what and when. The service provider should retain ownership until the job is paid in full, always. Otherwise, you have no leverage to get paid after delivering final assets.
  6. Indemnification: You should have insurance in place, but this is also good to have in your contract.
  7. Timeline: How long you expect the project to take and key dates.
  8. Termination: What happens if a project is terminated. Make sure to cover reasonable costs and commitments already scheduled.

Contracts for video professionals provide peace of mind

Contracts for creative professionals make sure everyone is on the same page. No Surprises.

Open Source Contract Template

Now that you know all about what a contract does, why you need one, how to talk about contracts with your clients, working with friends and what it should include, you’re convinced you need one. Great! But where can you find a good contract? The Internet is full of crap.

Well, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve decided to open source our contract that we use with all our clients. Our contract has gone through several revisions and additions as things have come up over the years. So, it’s been developed over years of practice and real world situations.

However, we might be missing something, or your needs might be a little different than ours. We’re based in California, and our state might have different laws than yours. So, be sure to get this contract reviewed by a lawyer before using it.

Use our contract as a template for your business or as a starting point. Remember, we’re not lawyers, this is not legal advice, we’re storytellers, and this template is being offered as a starting point only.

How will having a strong contract help your productions? Let us know in the comments below!

2015 Recap

A Year to Remember

Each year we like to post a recap of all our progress, how we’ve grown and the incredible projects we’re so fortunate to be trusted with. Behind it all, it comes down to one thing: the people we work with.

The faces of TAR Productions

After producing videos for 12 years, we’ve been fortunate to work with some of the most incredibly talented people in the industry. Because we’re a nimble company and build teams around each project we take on, we’re able to maximize our effectiveness by bringing in specialists for each role depending on the projects needs.

Our entire process is built around this and because we do so much in the cloud, it means we can be efficient as well as effective. To our clients, it’s a seamless process. Behind the scenes we’ve spent a few years developing what makes the most sense (we also have a rockstar project manager/producer to keep everyone on track and on time).

It all comes down to one thing: the people we work with.

Here are some of the projects we’re most proud about this year:



Thank you to our incredible team and amazing clients that trust us to bring magic and create an impact. We’re really excited about 2016 and have some big plans.

Working on your own videos? Download our free budget templates now.

We also designed and custom built this very website you’re on right now. It’s 100x better than what we had before and we’re really proud of it. All things considered, 2015 was a great year. Thanks for being part of it!

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

The How and Why of Video Production Budget & Templates

Anytime you work in creative professional services it’s hard to put a value to it, especially when talking about your own work. It’s even harder to judge what someone else will value your work and services at.  

To further complicate things, two people may value your services completely different; read: yourself and a prospective client.

When you’re a freelancer, business owner or employee it can be pretty hard to receive feedback that your services are deemed less valuable- or not valuable enough to justify hiring you for a job.

Film & Video budget templates. (free)

When you’re just starting out you’re more likely to take on jobs to build up a portfolio or network with others. I’m not against this at all, but I see it happen far too often and for far too long into someone’s career. It seems there’s always another job that you want so bad you’re willing to discount your rate, justified by the fact that the marketing power from this project will pay a positive ROI.

This is something we deal with on a regular basis at TAR Productions. We constantly get asked for a quote on jobs where people assume it’s as simple as looking up a rate sheet.

As creatives, we need to remember that we’re also a business. I’ve been able to build up a company built around value, and our services to customers are of great value. And we need to charge a premium for this.

We don’t work off a rate sheet, and by now you know that we’re big fans of value pricing projects. Value pricing in professional creative services makes sense for all parties involved. Production value isn’t something found in a rate sheet.

We have a rate sheet for reference, but this is to reference what we pay freelancers. We reference this to make sure we’re turning a profit on each job. 

In early meetings with prospective clients we’re asking them what their end goals are and what a successful project/campaign will look like. These answers give us so much info into what needs to go into a project and how to translate that into production value.

Think about it: your client is thinking about selling more T-shirts and pants. They might say they’re currently selling 10,000 pants per season, but this upcoming season they want to sell 25,000 pants. 2.5x increase and that goal is incredibly valuable to them. Besides selling more pants, they’re gaining new customers and fans, increasing their reach, creating residual value in their brand that will pay dividends for seasons to come. How valuable is this?

Production value isn’t something found in a rate sheet.

Your client not thinking this project needs to be shot in slow motion with a gyrostabilizer. They’re not thinking that a custom score and sound design is going to take this project to the next level. They’re not thinking that the voice over should be ominous and powerful (all things to consider when creating a budget). They’re thinking about selling more pants, the end goal, and looking to you, the expert, to help them with that.


Taking what you learn from your early meeting with your prospective client you can gauge what it’s going to take to deliver a successful project. Clients will ask how much this is going to cost. They always do. When this happens you need to be prepared to give a range, ballpark or number. There are a few ways we go about figuring this out.

When budget comes up in your meeting (this is usually towards the end of it) you need to be confident in your delivery. Make eye contact and be upfront on what it’s going to cost. Take risks on pricing if you’re looking to grow your business.

Whatever you do, when asked how much this is going to cost, do not say “ummmm…” with a blank stare on your face. If you say this you just lost at least 10% of your budget immediately.

If you don’t know how much it’s going to cost let them know that you’ll figure it out and get back to them. Explain it’s complicated and there are a lot of variables that go into a project. But confidence is key here.

Working on a production budget

Always taking notes when making a budget, as there are so many variables in production

Want to know how we narrow down budgets? It’s easy, we ask. This can be hit or miss. Sometimes we’ll get a very straight forward answer, something along the lines of “Our budget is $X.”

Other times we’ll get wide eyes and a shoulder shrug. When this happens I can’t help but think that the project isn’t all that important to them.

Sometimes we’ll get a response such as “We’re not sharing our budget and looking at who is going to be most competitive.”

This is when we kindly inform our clients that we don’t compete on price and tell them why.

However, we always have to give our prospective clients the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes they have no idea. There is always a chance that they have never done a video before and don’t know what’s involved.

This is always a pivotal part of the conversation. This is where you can differentiate yourself from your competition and really earn your client’s trust.

Your client might think you’re two guys with a decent video camera when you’re really bringing out an entire crew, with big lights, lenses and a strategy to ensure success.

Narrowing Down a Range

One thing that we’ve found pretty helpful is asking what their range is. We’ll ask if it’s closer to $5,000, $50,000 or $250,000. We’ll usually get a pretty good idea of what we’re talking about here.

We always follow our process for all projects, but if we spark some initial ideas during one of these conversations we’re not afraid to ballpark a budget required for that project. This could always be our blue sky idea that is totally awesome (and might cost a lot to do). The worse that can happen is you’re shot down and move on to option B.

In other words, don’t waste each other’s time talking about amazing, incredible projects that are out of budget. No matter how cool the idea is, if the budget doesn’t support it and it’s not an option, why are you talking about it to begin with?


Outdoor lighting with silk modifier


So you’re hooked on value pricing, great! But you still want to make sure you’re running a profitable business. I’ve included two budget templates below for you to use and make sure everything is making square business sense.

We work with several freelancers with various backgrounds and they’re all worth their salt. We have set rates with all of them and when I’m building a project budget I usually include their rate, number of days and who will be working a specific role.

Another great thing about a budget template is that you have a list of all the roles you might need for a project. Forgot to include a boom operator in the original ballpark? A template with all the roles you could ever need is really useful.

Not every time will you need a 25+ person crew, sometimes just a few people will do. And for that we’ve created a simpler budgeting template.

There are lines for contingencies and commissions if needed. Remember, these templates are so you can measure if you’re running a profit.

Another great feature of using budget templates is that you can quickly see what the bottom lines comes to. If you need to increase or decrease certain fields based on your client’s budget you can do so.

For example, if your budget comes in under your client’s budget and you think you can use a field producer for a few extra days during pre-production bring her on board early (pro tip: you’ll always end up with a better product when you’re more prepared).

We’ve included two budget templates: simple and detailed. The simple budget is great for a majority of the shoots you’re probably going on. You can add or hide rows as needed and change the commission or contingency structures.

The detailed budget is pretty complex and makes more sense when you’re working with large crews and several shoot days. If you are working on a large production your Line Producer will love you for being so organized.

What questions do you have about budgeting for film and video productions?

Kickstarting A Career in Film and Video Production

The Entertainment Industry

Cinema (feature films), Branded Entertainment, Video Production all fall under the Entertainment Industry umbrella. And they’re all great for a fun and exciting career that make billions of dollars each year globally.

It can be a little daunting to establish yourself and get on your feet. Where do you start? How do you get a job? Where can I learn and hone my skills or craft?

These are all great questions considering the entertainment industry is largely made up of freelancers and contractors on a per-job basis.

Fluid motion, a career moves in waves.

Here are 7 tips to get started in film and video production:

  1. Work. Do everything you can and go into with an open mind. Be a sponge and soak up all the knowledge & experience you can.
  2. Now. Be in the present, you can definitely have long term goals, but take each gig for what it is and walk away better/more experienced/more networked.
  3. Network. Don’t underestimate the people you know and meet along the way. Don’t overthink this, that’s not being present.
  4. Be Yourself. Don’t get caught up in gear. Having this camera or that lens doesn’t make you a better [fill in the blank, Director, DP, Editor, etc.] It’s about your unique talent that no one else can deliver but you.
  5. Learn. There are incredible resources online to learn filmmaking crafts, some are even better than traditional film school. I like, andShane’s Inner Circle.
  6. Fail. Make mistakes. It’s the best way to learn. (AKA Fail Forward)
  7. Have fun. That’s the reason everyone else got into this business.

Follow your light, your career in video production will always move forward with hard work & dedication

Your career in video is not about gear, but it sure if fun being a tech geek

Bonus Tip: Be curious. There’s a story around every corner and you’d be surprised by how many people would like hear it.
If action sports is your thing shoot as many great athletes as you can. Try and connect with up and coming professionals and offer to shoot them. Eventually their sponsors will likely look for content and there’s your foot in the door. That’s how I got my start professionally.
[OptinLink id=1] [OptinLinkButton button_type=flat link_type=optinlink color=#0088cc border_radius=3 button_text=”Download Our FREE Budget Templates”] [/OptinLink]
I’m not a fan of working for free (with very few exceptions) but if you are going to donate your time/services, do it for something you believe in where you can make an impact. Find a Non Profit that you like and see if they need a video.
This is a great way to build your reel and meet people in the community. There’s also the networking group Storytellers, Filmmakers and Video Production Professionals.

What struggles did you had when you were just getting started? Let me know in the comments below.

How I Built TAR Productions into a Full Service Video Production Company

TAR Productions Origins

This is a special post for the TAR Productions Blog. A short exposé on how I turned my childhood hobby into a career and the wild road that got me there. I like to keep these posts relevant to storytelling, the video industry, and knowledge I’ve acquired over the years, but I’m taking a break to share my personal journey. These are some of the ups and downs in the story of how I built a company from the ground up.

Building a full service video production company or creative agency is a lot of work. It takes years of persistence, trial & error, wins and losses. While that’s the nature of the beast in hindsight there was a better way to go about it.

It’s not something I recommend for anyone. It’s not for the faint of heart. There will be sleepless nights in cold sweats when you’re scared of everything. There will be times when nothing is going your way.

There will be magical times when you feel like you’re on top of the world.

I’m sure I’m far from alone in these experiences and the impetus for this blog was to help educate and spread knowledge. Be sure to let me know about your experiences in the comments below.

Tim Ryan of @tarproductions filming surfing in 1997


I started TAR Productions as a hobby when I was 13 years-old. Over the years it matured into a full-service, award winning production company but the lines are blurred as to how and when that transformation took place.

As a kid, I was a geek. I was enthralled with technology and tinkering with wires, cables – anything with an on/off switch. My Grandmother had given my parents a shoulder-mount VHS camera to record the childhood memories of my sister, brother, and me. It mostly lived atop their closet in the plastic case it came in, but dad got it out for a few soccer games here and there.

I remember the very moment I climbed up above their closet and pulled it out, charged the battery, found a dusty VHS tape, and hit the red Record button. The neighborhood kids and I skated down the street to our neighbors driveway where we did power-slides repeatedly until she kicked us out. We were making a skate movie and I was a bona-fide filmmaker, booya!

I started taking that camera to the beach and filming my friends surf. In the late 1990s there weren’t many kids who would rather sit on the beach with a camera than be out in the water surfing with their friends. I was an anomaly, a dork.

That was pretty much the story of my teenage years, always tagging along to video my friends surfing. I got so lost in the act of filming that years flew by and it was suddenly time to go off to college. I took three Video/Film courses in high school and that’s where I learned you could study film in college; sign me up.

I didn’t know this at the time, but my parents’ influence on me was already there in terms of running a business. They were self-employed for their whole careers and I grew up watching them work 7 days a week, sacrificing family vacations and weekends. This was the norm growing up.

My foundation in film is all self taught. I would put together a short movie and would constantly analyze and iterate on my productions. I always wanted better quality shots, angles, lighting situation.

My production started to include short drama pieces that I would cast my friends in. After seeing Snatch I wanted to make a gangster-like film with gambling and guns. Using a utility light and a card table, I cleared out some room in my parent’s garage and built a set.

I went to the bank and pulled out $400, made up of two $100 bills and two stacks of $1.00 bills. Placing the $100 on top of the $1 it stacks it made it look like a few high schoolers were gambling with $10,000 in cash. No biggie- this was Hollywood.

Because of my parent’s work ethic my parents were adamant that I  get a strong formal education and go to college. Although I cringed when they told me this, I knew it was coming. I wasn’t all that excited about college until I learned that Film Production was something I could spend my time studying.

Tim Ryan of @tarproductions on set in film school in 2005


My first year of college was a complete shock. I wasn’t expecting so many general education classes like World History and Mathematics 101. This was not what I signed up for. I protested these classes and found a way out of them and into more film classes.

I was becoming fast friends with several professional surfers and began tagging along with them on surf trips all over the world between classes and on school breaks.

A professional surfer named Dylan Graves was my biggest supporter and the one who introduced me to a lot of other guys. I would sneak away on trips at every opportunity. Spring break meant work for me. Winter vacation meant going to Hawaii and grinding it out, shooting all day in the hot sun getting sunburned.

I was enthralled in the surf scene, and what a scene it was. I met great people who I’m still in touch with today and – unknowingly at the time – expanded my network beyond what I could have ever imagined. A lot of the people I work with today are from relationships I developed this time.

Halfway through my studies I realized I should be getting more out of my formal education and started dropping in on classes that interested me like Entertainment Law, Business Law, and Entrepreneurship. These were the classes that interested me. I was teaching myself the in’s and out’s of film production on my journeys around the world but business and marketing alluded me.

I graduated only a handful of classes short of a double major in Film Production and Business Administration from Loyola Marymount University.

Contrary to the suggestions of my advisors, by the end of school I was taking two additional classes per semester. It was out of pure curiosity and interest, and had nothing to do with my chosen ‘career path.’

Throughout my classes in Film and Business I made some of my best friends that I still love very much to this day. These are the relationships that count and when I look back on my time in college, I wouldn’t be where I was today had I not spent 4 years in a very social environment.

Not only did it help me work through my shyness, but it opened my mind to thinking about the world in much broader terms.
I finished film school with a one track mind: make surf movies.

Tim & Adam outside the Depot for X-Dance Film Fest in 2010

GRAD SCHOOL (AKA World Travels)

After graduating from the film program at LMU, I continued as a freelance videographer full time. I remember telling myself at the onset of everything, “Get a freelance gig. Travel. Learn. Have fun and make enough money to pay for the next round.”

I quickly racked up an impressive roster of clients in the action sports industry, videoing surfers I idolized growing up and had since become friends with. The invitation alone was enough to get me to accept the work, even if the pay was below the poverty line (if at all). Ignorance is bliss, they say, and I was flying around the world without a plan or a place to stay just to see how it all worked.

I was able to see the world. Most of my friends from college were sitting at desks all day and I was out living. The list of countries I experienced were incredible and halfway through my 3 year tour I remember thinking to myself that this was the equivalent to Grad School for me. Where else could I get an education like this, something that was so different from my formal education, yet just as valuable.

I learned a lot of life, the pursuit of happiness and myself. I grew so much as a person during this time and my limits were tested time and time again.

It wasn’t always easy. I made mistakes, damaged camera equipment, slept on sidewalks, went broke more than once, got denied access to countries, and approached by men with machine guns but I never got down on myself. I always took these as learning experiences. Looking back on it, some of the situations I got myself into were pretty bad and could have easily been worse. But I was able to travel, see parts of the world I would have never seen otherwise, met beautiful people, and made close friends I’ll have for the rest of my life.

When I shot the Quiksilver campaign I was asked to pack my bags less than 12 hours before my flight- that’s less time than it takes to fly to Thailand from California. I could have never done this with a conventional mindset. Not having a plan can be scary at times, but believing in yourself will trump any doubts in front of you. I didn’t make any money doing this, but I gained a completely different education than what I was taught in school.

Luckily I was in my 20s at the time and lived a pretty carefree life. I was a sponge, soaking up every opportunity I could. I tried to learn something from everyone – even the accounting department.

This meant not knowing where I was going to sleep at times, not knowing where my next job was coming from, but none of that mattered to me. What mattered was the opportunity I had and was chasing.

I actually slept on the sidewalk in Paris, France with all my gear a couple of nights because I couldn’t find a hotel or anywhere else to stay. On the second morning a baker dropped off a bag of baguettes and day old bread for me. He thought I was homeless and felt bad, I guess.

During this time I walked into big media companies and convinced people to hire me. I was put in charge of productions with budgets up to $250,000. Had I been shy I would have never had the guts to do this. Looking back I’m actually surprised it worked, but had I not been a combination of hungry and ignorant I wouldn’t have done any of it.

With my combination of education, experience, and drive, I always over delivered. Everything happens for a reason, and none of my hard work went unnoticed. I knew it would all pay off one day, in some way, shape or form, but you never know how until you put yourself out there.

The culmination of this 3 year graduate program on life arrived with the ultimate opportunity. I was invited to join two friends on the trip of my dreams: make a surfing documentary as we travel across Europe by train.

TAR Production's On A Rail cover


I had been dreaming of traveling Europe via rail for a long time. I have always been drawn to the slower pace and the ability to soak everything up. I had spent so many years going to places on strike missions with limited windows to catch a swell and with little to no time to explore our surroundings. That was the nature of the beast when shooting action surf videos.

However, This always left me wondering what life was like in the places I would visit. When On A Rail: Europe came about I knew this was the opportunity to blend my passions: surfing, filmmaking, culture, and storytelling. I was excited to travel by train, talk to strangers and have a home base in each country that would allow us to live more like locals even when home base meant the sleeper train.

The trip came up pretty quickly and I this was right when HD was becoming mainstream. I was pretty indecisive about the trip until the last minute and ended up buying a new HD Sony camera on credit, purchasing the plane ticket via saved airline miles and packed within 48hrs of leaving.

The waves were good, the times were magical and, again, I did it totally on a whim. I didn’t have a whole lot of money at the time and budgeted 20 Euros a day for food and accommodations.

Through the journey I made great friends who I’m still close with today. I slept on the same sidewalk twice, weeks apart from each other. Once with our group and once all alone, camera and belongings in tow. We partnered with Surfing Magazine who ran a cover story and 12 pages of editorial, and distributed the documentary internationally.

Unfortunately, the music licenses have mostly expired and with the status of the independent movie industry these days I can’t seem to justify the expense to renew them.

The year was 2008 and about halfway through filming On A Rail: Europe the stock market lost about 600 points in a day and the speculation about a vast global recession had arrived. I needed a new plan.

The Car Ollie, a huge viral success from TAR Productions early beginnings.


I’d like to tell you that this video we shot for less than $400 that went viral and ended up on the homepage of all the major websites at the time racking up millions and millions of views changed my life. I’d like to tell you that when Nike and Axe copied my idea that they called and looped us in but they didn’t. I’d like to tell you that more inquires came in than we could handle but that’s not true either.

It was late 2008 and the recession had settled in and gained the attention of my dwindling pocketbook. My freelance work and travel opportunities had vanished almost overnight and I knew better than to try to keep it going. The good times were great but they never last.

I was editing On A Rail: Europe and hustling video leads in the San Diego area and instead of marketing myself as a freelance videographer, I began positioning myself as a full service production company targeted towards small businesses who appreciated creativity. I needed some pieces to market myself by and gathered a few friends to create something that would catch people’s attention: a “viral” video.

My college roommate had been playing around with Adobe After Effects, a video effects program, and was doing some cool stuff with cars. I told him I thought we could do something similar with a skatboarder ollieing over a car. We created this video with the intention of it going viral and being able to immediately gain millions of views. I was so confident in this that I agreed to pay for everything. The total costs came to a whopping $354.

We created it, put it on YouTube, and waited for the views to stack up. An hour later, they didn’t. A day later? Nothing. Damn, my idea sucked and we have nowhere to go. I decided to upload the video to, a now defunct website dedicated to skating where users could vote on the content.

By accident I hit the “Flag Content” button and immediately thought it would be removed. I shrugged my shoulders and went surfing. When I came home two hours later we had 25,000 views. It was happening. Every time I refreshed the page the view count stacked higher and higher. The editors of the site recognized Zach Miller, the skater in the video, and decided to promote it on the homepage.

Then it started popping up everywhere. View counts were going through the roof. In one day we received more than 600,000 views. By the time the fire died down we had more than 4 million views! Wow! The only problem? The video was ripped by Internet users and reuploaded to their accounts. We were never credited for our work and therefore never gained any traction for it.

Nike and Axe body spray didn’t seem to mind though since they copied our campaign for their own. Of course, the greatest form of flattery is imitation, and I was indeed flattered. The love was fast and short-lived, and there I was again: still in need of a plan without any money.

TAR Productions - Full service video production company


I finished editing On A Rail: Europe in the spring of 2009 and was ready to have a party to celebrate. I gathered friends in my hometown and took over a local bar and all 26 TVs. Being at that bar watching everyone experience my project on screen was one of the proudest moments of my life.

I finally felt I had achieved a life-long goal: make a surf movie. The following night I drove up to LA and gathered all my college friends, their friends, and the friends of their friends. It was a typical house party with the addition of a big projection screen to show the film. Exposing yourself and your work to crowds even when you know them can feel overwhelming, so I as soon as the film began I walked outside and straight into an old friend from college: Kelly. We struck up a conversation for the rest of the evening and I couldn’t stop thinking how beautiful and wonderful she was. Then, just as suddenly as she had shown up, she was gone.

I was slowly growing my production company as I picked up clients all around town. The growth took its time but it was steady and I had goals just like when I was traveling: make enough money on one job to keep going and build upon what I’ve established.

Over the years I’ve had several employees. I’ve had good times, great times, hard times, and impossible times. But I always keep in mind that with each day and each challenge, I continue to gain experience and valuable lessons.

Today, I finally know that TAR Productions is at a place where we know who we are, what we do best, and how to maximize value for each of our customers. We proudly operate under what’s known as the Hollywood model, with two full-time employees (myself and an Account Manager) and bring on specialists for each unique job. Our shortlist of go-to freelancers are people we’ve met along the way who have greatly impressed us with their talents and are a pleasure to work with. This is why following my curiosity in school and traveling for 3 years like a chicken with my head cut off was so valuable in the long run. It all comes back to the amazing people I’ve met along the way.

A failed experiment from @tarproductions


At one point I was approached by an agency to merge our businesses. They were focused on a similar niche with consumer products and lifestyle brands and they had a lot of experience in print. The idea was to serve current clients with a more complete offering and bridge the transition into the digital world, something I had a lot of insight to.

We had some great wins, and I learned more about the agency side of things, albeit print and traditional advertising. It was fun and I grew in new ways, but then I realized something: it wasn’t my focus. I had set out to build a company that created media and branded entertainment for companies living in the digital age. Our creations live on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and others networks.

The match ultimately wasn’t perfect and created a lot of confusion. I had to reeducate our friends, clients and fans as to what we were doing. And when it failed I had to revert back to TAR Productions and do it all over again.

It was a setback, but like any I took the experience for what it was and moved on.



Looking back at more than 12 years of experience in video production I’ve learned a lot. That’s one of the reasons I got this blog going: to share my knowledge and better the industry as a whole.

If I had to do it all over again would I do anything different? Probably, hindsight is 20-20, right? But my experience and my struggles have led to my competence and success.

Although I have many hours logged in the classroom, my most valuable lessons and experience have come from doing. In the beginning, I put my hands on every opportunity I could just to get the experience. It wasn’t about the money. Most of the time I was underpaid, but the experience I took home was was invaluable.

Had I been working a traditional job, tasked with doing the same thing every day, I wouldn’t be pursuing my dream and been able to accomplish what I have thus far in life. I’m not saying this is a bad route to take, but I feel the flexibility and versatility has outweighed the drawbacks.

Toughing it out when you’re young and learning as much as you possibly will pay dividends for years down the road. There were tough times when I had credit card bills that far out numbered my bank account balance but it always seemed to work out. There were costly learning experiences but with each of them a takeaway and opportunity for growth.



  • Learn everything you can. Don’t limit yourself.
  • Pay attention to lighting and sound design. These will increase your production value more than shooting on the “best” camera.
  • You’re a video editor/storyteller, not a Final Cut Pro editor or Premiere Pro Editor – don’t limit yourself to the software available today. Undoubtedly, it will change.
  • Rent gear instead of buying it. Unless you’ll use it for years to come or every single day for several years (such as a computer), it’s not worth it.
  • Build your network. Meet people and keep in touch.
  • Only start your own production company if you really love admin work. Otherwise, be an employee or freelance in a specific field.
  • Specialization is becoming less important as barriers for entry decrease. Areas of specialization are reserved for big budget features, commercials, and branded entertainment.
  • Explore and exploit new mediums/networks.
  • Everyone started somewhere (usually the bottom). You are not alone.
  • Don’t let haters on the Internet deter you from your end goal.
  • Have fun, but be prepared to work your ass off without so much as a “thank you” (and don’t take it personally).
  • Remember, there’s someone out there who genuinely loves the work you’re doing. Keep it up.

TAR Productions HQ in Encinitas, CA

Full Service Video Production Company

I share with you my journey in hopes that it gives you some insight into your own. I certainly didn’t take the traditional route but it worked out in the end through hard work and willingness to learn and understand. I tell you, it’s been an incredibly fun journey that I wouldn’t change for the world.

What does full service mean? It means we dive deep into understanding the uniqueness of the customers we work with. We take the time to understand who the audience is and then come up with creative that speaks to our targeted audience. It means we handle strategy, casting, distribution and everything in between.

The viral video we did for PacSun received over a million views the first week we released it. Was this by chance? Definitely not. We took time to learn their goals and created a plan that would lead to our success.

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I would like to thank all of those who have helped me along the way and made a difference in my life. Without you I wouldn’t be where I am today: have a successful production company, a great and fulfilling life and live near the beach. The best part of my journey? That pretty girl I ran into at the On A Rail: Europe premiere is now our account manager, my beautiful wife, and the loving mother of our children.

TAR Productions is now running on all cylinders and is truly a full service video production company. We’re very lucky to work with great people on our team and on the client side. We tried and tested our process in virtually every production scenario possible and are able to consistently produce great work because of the awesome team and companies we partner with.

Does this provide insight to those just starting out? Let me know about your experiences at the start of your career in the comments below!