Will Stewart – An Aperture for Life

As part of our 5Q Interview Series we sat down with Will Stewart, who has spent his entire career in marketing and public communications. He is currently the director and producer for 9/8 Central, a video production company.

9/8 Central’s clients range from fortune 500 companies to innovative startups.

Will is a great guy who is passionate about his job and loves the Greenville, South Carolina community. We were thrilled when he agreed to sit down and share some thoughts, advice and jokes with our team.

What equipment are you currently using?

Toys are fun. Being in the video world is exciting because you get to play with a lot of neat toys – the bad news is that I have to pay for them.

Currently we are using the Canon C100, we also rent Sony FS7, Sony FS700 and Sony FS100 (when needed). I really like what Sony is doing right now; they have some nice stuff.

We have a full lighting package, everything from HMI’s – which you would use on a set if you were shooting a movie. We use Tungsten type lighting and fluorescent lighting, which is like Kino Flo and those sorts of things.

We also have some fun stuff like drones. Please don’t get me started on lenses – that’s the next thing. We just bought some lenses from Russia that were made in the 1970’s that are uncoated (which allows for some great flares and some interesting effects that you wouldn’t expect), those are really exciting. It’s not your typical cinema type were you know what you’re going to get.

We also rent a bunch of equipment when needed as well. Then I try to pack it all into an SUV.

What’s a typical day look like the day of a shoot?

Any shoot we do is planned out well before hand so the day of is more about execution then planning. We typically have a crew of 3 but sometimes go as large as 5 that will be part of the shoot. Getting all those people organized, on the same page and ready to go requires a lot of forethought.

My day of shooting starts weeks in advance, talking to the client and preparing for what they need. We create a book from the information we gather beforehand, things like a shot list, storyboards and scripts that we are going to be using. If there are multiple scenes we’ll have a lighting diagram so that while working on a scene, part of the crew could be setting up for the next scene which keeps things moving on time and on budget. So at the end of the day we know we didn’t lose the shot we needed.

If I’ve done my work right, I wake up in the morning not very stressed. I’ll just review the book, remind myself on important items and then drink a lot of coffee. A typical shoot is about 10 hours, so it starts super early in the morning – sometimes we are at the mercy of the sun (if that’s the type of lighting we need).

We load up the car the night before so that we’re ready to go, which makes one less thing to have to deal with in the morning.

With most video shoots it’s like running around with your hair on fire. It’s controlled chaos. My role as director has me watching out over everything. On top of that we are trying to keep the client happy and make sure they are getting everything they need. So the panic that we feel internally cannot be express to the client (and when I say panic I mean the typical chaos that is the nature of a shoot).

When it comes to video production what I tell people is that you have to be good at adapting to your situation. Whether it’s actors that don’t show up, or the sun isn’t lighting the scene just right – you have to be quick on your toes and willing to adjust.

It’s a lot of shooting; sometimes multiple takes and making sure you have what you need so that you can deliver on the final product. By the end of the day you’re exhausted – but it’s a really fun experience.

I usually just fall backwards on the couch and just lay there like a blob – because your senses are just going non-stop all day.

My production manager always says, “A half day is only 12 hours”. So if I’m ever complaining about the length of a shoot he’ll always tell me that – then I hit him (Will is joking – he assures us he does not beat his staff).

What are some great tips for people wanting to improve their video skills?

Yeah, there are a lot of different things you can do. If you just go on YouTube you’ll see that a lot of people shoot vertically on their phones, which is horrible. The reason for that is there is a lot of wasted space. You’ll notice the black bars on the left and right, that’s called vertical letter-boxing and it’s terrible. If you just turn your phone sideways you’d get so much more information in the frame. Someone that seems far away when your phone is vertical will appear much closer when your phone is turned horizontally (landscape mode).

Another big thing is just keep the camera still. It sounds simple enough, but something that few people pay attention to. It’s one thing if you are walking through your shop and just talking to the camera and you want that raw footage look – but it’s another thing if you are trying to convey a serious message, you don’t want someone to be nauseated watching the final product.

Locking your phone down, or securing it to something is always preferred when possible. You can rest it on a shelf, or table. I saw someone using one of those small clamps from Home Depot and clamping it to a chair, thought that was brilliant – anything to keep it steady.

Always consider your lighting sources. If you’re using your iPhone, which iPhones are actually pretty good when it comes to quality just be aware of where the light is coming from. If you’re shooting and there is a bright window behind you with tons of light – you’re going to look like someone in witness protection. So just be conscious of your lighting sources.

We have a wonderful source of light that comes up everyday called the sun – it’s your friend, use it to your advantage.

Sound is very important as well, you don’t just want to be a pretty face – make sure you can hear the person clearly and that you are close enough so that the audio doesn’t have an echo effect. I would always recommend using a microphone – unfortunately I don’t have any good recommendations. Wired lavalier microphones that you plug into your phone actually work really well.

Pay attention to your clothing. Most cameras react oddly to really fine checked shirts or shirts with really fine lines in them. It creates something called the moiré effect. It just makes the shot look odd. I would film the shirt that you are planning on wearing that day. Just put the shirt on and film it for 5 seconds just to make sure the camera isn’t doing anything weird to it. Usually a solid or bold pattern shirt, and by bold I don’t mean loud, I mean it just needs to have broad patterns and broad checkers.

What ways can small businesses use video to grow?

Our world has turned into one where we like to look at things more and read less. They say that a 4 minute video is equivalent to a one million word article, which I don’t know if that’s true or not – but it sounds really good to say and emphasizes the point, so we’ll just roll with it.

Statistics show that consumers are more likely to spend time on a website, buy a product, trust an individual and show confidence in what they are consuming if they can see a video. It makes sense – it’s human psychology. You get to see the whites of someone’s eyes, you get to see who they are and what they’re like. It just gives you so much more information. We can rely on our basic intuitiveness and make a decision based on our experiences if that person or product seems nice, makes sense and resonates with us. The consumer gains trust in what they’re looking at.

That’s one of the great things about video – it gives businesses the ability to connect with consumers as if they were talking to them personally. Once you make that video once it can be consumed by millions of people – it’s very scalable.

There are generally two types of videos we do. The first one involves more of a story, so things like a commercial or people interacting with a product – we show that story arch. We do that normally in three acts, like a play. Act I is used for exposition – to establish the main characters. Act II is the rising action – an attempt to resolve the problem and usually a turning point, then the great resolution in Act III. You kind of do a whole Shakespearean thing. It’s a proven method and it works.

The second type would be a documentary style type video. Someone would be talking about their product and while that’s happening you are seeing images and videos that match what they’re saying. Many times we go for that because it’s just a great initial start to a product. This is what Apple does. They branded it in a very unique way using the white wall.

Once you have the video, there is almost an endless amount of ways you can promote it. You can run Facebook Ads, YouTube Ads, put it on your website and in e-mail campaigns. Putting a video in an email campaign drastically improves open and click through rates.

The use of Facebook for advertising your business with video is a no-brainer. You can target audiences so preciously and reach the demographics that you are trying to reach. It’s just a wonderful platform to market on.

How does a company that wants to grow or increase their exposure / customer base do so?

If you have a product or a service that you can get into the hands of some influencers throughout the community – that’s a great first step. I would describe an ”influencer” as any person or brand that the community listens to and is willing to pass your business information along. We don’t all have access to Kim Kardashian (or want to for our businesses) – but she would be an example of an influencer that has an audience, and they listen to her. So I guess I would also add, someone that has an audience.

The first thing is to have a great product (or service) you’re not going to be able to fake it. You can probably fool enough people at first, and get enough people to buy into what your selling for the short term if you’re a good salesman – but it’s not lasting results. Ultimately that’s what you’re looking for, lasting results.

So find that “sphere of influence” first. For 9/8c, when we were starting out, I was working for a marketing firm at the time but working at nights and on the weekends trying to establish my video product company. I didn’t say “no” to any job – there were a lot of my peers that would say, “Will, you should really choose who you work with, and not compromise on pricing” – but when I started out I was shameless. I would have people who would pay me just beans to do the work, but I knew it was a great portfolio builder and I needed that. I met a ton of people that way – and to this day I still have great relationships with those people and am still getting referrals from it.

I would make every experience with customers a memorable one.

I once shot a free video for a client a long time ago, more as a passion project – and that was frowned upon by my peers. Just this year I had someone who saw that video and told me it was her favorite video in my portfolio and hired me because of it. So, you just never know – the point is that you must start somewhere, just put yourself out there.

Word of mouth is wonderful – the trick is knowing where your customers are and going directly to them. Be proactive. Social media can play a big part in this; it’s a great way to get your foot in the door for a more personal relationship. The trick to social is consistency. I see people all the time that get on this social media kick and say things like “we’re going to be the Instagram kings” – and they post everyday — for a week, then it’s over. A year later they’ll say, “Instagram doesn’t work” — it’s hilarious, and it’s hard. Networking and growing a following through social is a lot of work.

A big tip I would give is to not mix personal and business social media accounts. If you’re having a bad day, or you just ate a delicious cupcake – don’t post that to your business page – save that for your friends and personal pages.

5Q Interview Series

HIBR’s “5Q Interview Series” is designed to share the experiences, thoughts and wisdom from some of the most interesting people from the local community. Our goal is that by hearing some of their stories and gaining some insight into their lives that people may be more inspired to go out and achieve whatever it is that makes them happy.

We make products that help you sleep great throughout the night so that you can wake up feeling fresh and energized – ready to make your dreams a reality and seize the moments in your life that matter.