Over the past 13 years of producing videos we’ve experience more things than we haven’t. We’ve seen huge changes in our industry including, the shift to digital, then HD, the DSLR revolution, YouTube, social sharing, digital distribution and now 4K and VR. All of this has resulted in an incredible reduction of barriers to entry.
We’ve seen good times and great times. Fought hard to win business, celebrated and hired a full staff. We’ve taken on huge projects with ambition and refined a process.
We’ve also seen our share of the bad times. We’ve lost business, had projects canceled last minute and been denied payment. We’ve had to pivot and redefine ourselves. We’ve had copy-cats of our work and style. The worst of them was having to let go of employees.
Through all this, I’ve learned a few things about running a business. For us, the best way to run TAR Productions is through a distributed model, meaning most everyone we work with is located all over the world.
We create specific, tailored teams for each project we take on based on the needs and what the project entails. Although we’ve really nailed down the kind of brands and companies we work with, different projects require different skillsets, knowledge and expertise. Building teams of some of the best and most talented freelancers allows us to be nimble and diverse.
Working as part of a distributed company is part of a global movement. Many companies are letting employees live where they want, for example, WordPress (the backend that powers this website and about 24% of the website out there) is also 100% distributed. I have friends at SlyTrunk and Clave Media, both of which are distributed (in fact, we all work out of Bloc).
A couple of years ago we decided to take advantage of modern technology, cloud services, high-speed Internet and our amazing team, who happened to be located all over. The lowered barriers to entry could be advantageous to us, and to those we were partnering with.
Operating on a distributed model gives us a ton of advantages, but the most important are team and nimbleness.
Here’s how to blend in at a distributed video production company, such as TAR Productions.
The most valuable asset we have as storytellers and being a production company is our team. Without them, we are nothing essentially.
The film industry is made of freelancers with various specialties. These are typically masters of their trade and I’ve been able to learn so much from them. When we get hired for a job I look to them for their knowledge and expertise in bringing out the best for the specific project.
Working in various roles before turning TAR Productions into a full-service production company, I was able to meet so many interesting people. Some are friends I had growing up who have come full circle back into my life and we now collaborate on projects. Others I’ve met through various projects or introductions.
The bottom line is if you continue to pursue your passion, act professionally and put yourself out there you will create connections you never thought on.
The distributed model gives us tons of advantages.
Several years ago I reflected on all the incredible projects I’ve been a part of and it dawned on me that I have incredible tools at my disposal. So why not put these connections to good use. There are plenty of people out there that find value in what you do. When I started bringing projects to these people they were always grateful to work with me again, and the projects started turning out better because of it, increasing our value.
It was a win-win-win situation. I was able to create a more valuable product, the people I learned from who are masters in their own right got more work and our clients received a more valuable product as a result.
A few years ago I was part of a small creative agency when my former business partner left me high and dry, abruptly & unexpectedly, I had to start over, and rebuilt a new brand. This is what I mean when I refer to the hard times at the beginning of this post. The silver lining is that when I took a step back I was able to realize a great opportunity.
Rather than rebuilt a team locally, I designed our unique process around the valuable team I already knew and worked with so well. The catch is that this team was located all over the world.
One thing to note is that a large majority of our team has been together for 10+ years. Many of them know each other and have the process down. They know how we organize and tag our media, they know what specs our projects require. They know our distinguished look and feel that we bring to projects and help us get there.
“Our team is comprised of professionals who are self-motivated and above all else, trustworthy.
We have an established list of team members that can really achieve anything. Because of this, and a few other reasons, we pay our team above average rates for the industry.
If you’re looking to duplicate this model you can start by using freelance services such as Upwork or Freelancer.com or sites such as 99Designs. There are many talented people on there, but their levels of experience can vary greatly. You can expect to get what you pay for on these sites.
I’ve used these sites for entry level work with modest success. I’ve yet to use them for anything high-value, so I can’t personally preach for them.
The key ingredient for us to make it work is the foundation of relationship that we have established. When one team member doesn’t know another, he or she will have an expectation to be professional and great in his or her craft. We have established a bar that we set very high and intent to keep no matter what project we take on.
This is what makes TAR productions so great. An environment in which each team member can rely on those they collaborate with so they can focus on doing their job to the best of their ability and not worry about chasing others.
I had to recreate what TAR is as a company. I had to pivot. I took a look at the industry and where I thought it was going. We have an enormous amount of powerful cloud technology and decided to take advantage of it. This is why I was quoted in Inc. Magazine.
I knew to take advantage of my network and team members I would have to work with them on equal terms. FedExing a drive is so easy. Drives are small in size, bus powered and can be easily mailed through FedEx’s pre-packaged boxes. We now take drives directly from the mobile command unit to FedEx, and the backup stays with us and goes directly on our media RAID.
We ship a drive to our editors, colorists, sound designers all over the world. We work with top-notch digital markers located in multiple continents. So here’s a quick rundown of our process. We’ll detail this out in a future post soon.
- Fill crew members for production and post
- Organize production crew and post-production crew
- Estimate rough idea of schedules
- Ship drives to Editor, Colorist, Sound Designer (sometimes sound is sent via Hightail or other FTP-like system)
- Setup cloud workflow for project files, FCPXML
- Deliver final project files from Editor to Colorist, Sound Designers
- Sound Designer send link to mixed stems
- Editor & Colorist mail back drive using our FedEx account
- Final renders and masters are saved on media RAID at TAR HQ
- Link delivered to client upon receipt of full payment
This has worked pretty well for us. It’s efficient and effective. It reduces our overhead while expanding our creativity and professionalism.
We’ve set up a cloud workflow that allows everyone to be on the same page, and our Producer/Project Manager makes sure everything is done on time and on schedule.
The other great advantage of having a fully distributed team of freelancers is the ability to be nimble. We don’t have a huge overhead or large payroll that we have to cover every two weeks.
This can be a burden, especially if you a growing company. You take on projects just to keep the lights on, you loosen up on your project requirements and can deliver subpar projects.
A majority of our work is focused on consumer products and lifestyle brands, but we work in quite a lot of vertices. We establish a team for each project is makes us more effective and nimble.
As I outlined in our post on budgeting video projects, we set rates for each crewmember for each job. When we bring in someone with specific experience it allows us to be more flexible and raise the bar. We, as a company, haven’t done a lot in the beauty world, but some of our go-to Directors of Photography have and having them on our team makes us so much more valuable, furthering the win-win-win scenario.
We are able to scale pretty quickly for larger jobs and work all over with an experienced team because of this. Our crew have their own setups allowing them to take on multiple projects during any given month- and that variety is exciting and stimulating, enough that the security of a salaried job and a limited scope of work is stifling rather and desired.
Large in Size or Heart
From time to time, I’ll see a website that has a “team” page with several headshots suggesting the video production company is much larger than it is in reality. This may or may not be true but, in general, I don’t think it’s a good idea.
I think it’s misleading to the prospective client and probably does more harm than good. It’s okay to be a small company. It’s okay to be yourself and offer your services to companies that find value in it. Suggesting you are something you’re not can come back to bite you in the ass.
You don’t need to appear to be big to get clients. You need to do great work, and having a strong team is the backbone of great work. I recently read a stat that said by 2019, 25% of our workforce will be made up of freelancers. I think this is great.
Furthermore, you’re pricing project based on value, not team size, right? The relationship you establish with a client will be made during your first meetings or phone calls. Clients are people too. Having a huge team page that isn’t a fair representation of who you are is equivalent to Napoleon Complex. I think it’s better to impress your client with your process, services, knowledge, and expertise.
Professionals are no longer seeking the perceived safe bet of a big corporate company, but rather are drawn to the unique value propositions and talents of more boutique, yet established agencies.
We have growth plans of our own and plan to take on a few Full-Time employees but only when this makes sense for us. Even when we reach our peak goals we still plan to utilize our network of freelancers, maximizing our elasticity.
The bottom line is this: We’re able to do great work because of our team and defined process. These are two unique ingredients that differentiate us in the marketplace. Our team members can also do other work when they desire.
The largest challenge we have being distributed is interpersonal conversations and bonding that can happen. Sometimes, it’s really helpful to sit in the same room with someone and hash out ideas, talk through problems or how we can overcome something. This collaboration can be very valuable, and I’ll be honest with you, it’s really hard to duplicate this even with Skype or Google Hangouts or screen shares.
We all need the occasional reality check from our peers. And the presence one holds in a room can change the environment subtlely. This can create an in-person pressure that helps bring out the best in someone.
We overcome this with the reasons I listed above, having senior, professionals who have been working together for several years. Our team know the way the other person thinks. They know their humor, if they are night owls or early birds, when they can expect deliverables.
I’ve found that when projects are set up this way, and the expectation is set, everyone follows it and can accomplish the project’s goals. In a unique way, we’ve been able to create our own digital bond among our team.
Having a distributed team has worked for us, but only after pivoting a few times. We’ve set up the right team to run this process and manage the team. We can have several different teams going at once but luckily our Producer/Project Manager is a rockstar.
We get a lot of emails from people wanting to work with us. We take it as a compliment and file everyone’s email based on location and skill. We can’t respond to everyone as we receive quite a few of these, but it’s still nice to know who’s out there in our industry and where they are.
If we happen to have a shoot in some place we haven’t yet been it makes it easy for us to hire locals with knowledge of the area and might be able to help source certain gear or shots. All this comes down to building our story. If you want to be part of this list email us at team @ tarproductions.com. Be sure to include what you do, where you’re located, experience or career highlights and a link to your reel or portfolio.