: Mike Cohen's Blog
Hello fellow Creative COWs!
In thinking about how to start contributing to the COW after a long absence, I am going back to what I seemed to talk about the most - work-related travel. When I first started my career in surgical video, I spent the years crisscrossing the continental US doing 24-hour trips. These generally consisted of:
- Wake up at 3am
- Catch a 6am flight to some hub (O'Hare, Charlotte, DFW) and connect to a flight to some city that is not so easy to get to from Connecticut.
- Get to a motel about dinner time, splash water in my face, and have a dinner at some roadside chain restaurant.
- Wake up at 5am the next day
- Find the hospital, park and meet up with my point of contact, or sometimes, just find my way to the OR.
- Change into scrubs, go to the OR, and spend between 2 and 12 hours shooting video. Originally it was open surgery, then as the years went by mostly minimally invasive (or laparoscopic) surgery. My grandma would always ask if it was "laser surgery" because that is what was discussed in the local paper. I explained each time that laser surgery is not very common in the types of procedures I record, but eventually I just said "yes, it is laser surgery" which seemed to make her happy!
- Pack up, and find the airport. There was no GPS or smartphone in the early days, and that map you get at the car rental place was hard to follow while driving a car. The Mapquest directions were not much better, and on more than one trip I found myself in the wrong part of town. Houston, St. Louis and parts of LA can get quite scary if you take a wrong turn. Thanks to GPS mobile apps that is generally not a problem, but a good rule of thumb when traveling by car is to have a decent idea where you are supposed to be. If you do find yourself on the wrong side of the tracks, just try to look like you know where you'd going. "Fly casually!"
- Catch a 9pm flight home.
- Get home about 2am.
- Rinse and repeat.
As time has gone by, I started doing fewer 24 hour trips and more multiple day trips for conventions or longer duration video projects. Being on the ground for multiple days gives one the chance to catch a breath and hopefully have a few hours to explore the local area and maybe find somewhere to eat that does not have the word "olive" or "garden" in the name! For the record, my grandparents loved those breadsticks and salad, and we had a few meals with them.
Where to begin?
I grew up about 20 miles south of Boston, and we did have field trips and family outings a few times a year. When going to Boston with my parents the trip usually revolved around seeing a touring Broadway show (Cats, Les Miz, Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, to name but a few), with dinner at Legal Seafood. As a kid I did not each seafood, so this was wasted on me. As an adult I have discovered a love for most fish and crustaceans and we do enjoy Legals.
Visiting Boston for business travel is a little different, mainly being focused on whatever area of the city the hotel is located, although Boston is very easy to get around by subway or foot. As a kid we always went to Faneuil Hall which has about 50 walk up counters with every type of food from burgers to lobster rolls, ribs, french fries and ice cream. But if you go in the Summer you can barely walk, and there are better places to eat while seated.
My most recent trip to Boston in 2016 we stayed in Copley Square for a convention. One night I had sushi in a little hole in the wall place. If there are people seated, eating and no EMTs present, it is probably a safe bet. I usually get a selection of sushi and sashimi, and try to get something where the chef makes selections. If not I ask the server to bring me a variety of food with only a few stipulations: no eyeballs, no eel or sea urchin. I'll eat just about anything else.
Another night I met up with my cousin for dinner at a little Gastropub near Back Bay station. I don't recall the name or what I had but it was probably pretty good given the packed house full of 20-something customers.
The final night my wife and I went to our old standby Legal Seafood. The best thing on the menu is seafood casserole which has lobster, shrimp and scallops in a creamy sauce with a mashed potato crust.
On the drive home we took a detour up to Burlington where they have recently opened a Wegman's grocery store. As a kid living in Rochester, NY I remember my parents raving about Wegman's, but at age 11 I was not yet a grocery store expert. As an adult who really like good food, I walked around this store with wide eyes and a big appetite. After about 2 hours we checked out and were on our way home.
Ok, that was fun. Let me make a list and try to come up with some other interesting factoids before writing again. I'll try to add another entry before the next superbowl!
If you have a memorable city or dining experience please add a comment - I'd love to hear from you.
Working in production, I started out duping VHS tapes and going on shoots to setup gear and learn my craft. Years later, I found myself informally in charge of video production, while we had a sizeable multimedia department not really reporting to anyone - they were mostly hired for a couple of big projects, reported to the project manager, and then just sort of moved from project to project.
The time had come to have an actual production manager - me. Well I did not have any formal management training, and it was really trial by fire. Knowing what I know now, however, I'd like to offer some tips and tricks for others in the field who may find themselves in one or more of these situations:
1 - You are a small production business owner, and you suddenly find yourself managing a team while trying to get production work done
2 - You have a multimedia background, and find yourself in a management role, while working for someone else.
3 - Part of your job is managing others in your team, but you don't have actual management duties - you're more of a supervisor (some overlap here).
"Management" can mean lots of things, depending on the type and size of the organization:
- Direct supervision
- HR functions (performance reviews, discipline, etc)
- Project management (like being a producer, but not always)
- Business communication and etiquette
I'll address each of these items, and try to offer some personal experience, tips and tricks for each.
You may be managing one or more production folks - shooters, editors, artists, project managers, writers, other creatives. Regardless or job duties, you need to keep a few things in mind. These are people with lives outside work, families, etc. Be considerate of this fact when you schedule work. In our small group we tend to travel a lot. While I am supervisor I also do production myself, so when scheduling out of town productions I am careful to consider the human factors. If we have a shoot on a Monday in Cleveland, this probably means that someone needs to fly to Cleveland on a Sunday afternoon. While compensatory time is provided after the fact, we are asking someone to give up a weekend day. Then let's say we have a shoot on Thursday the same week. Best to schedule someone else, or myself. If it is a two-person job, I need to make sure to give this fact soon enough, to be considerate to my direct report, and allow him to make arrangements at home for his travel.
Push comes to shove a shoot can sometimes be rescheduled, or another resource can be used (freelance, etc). Usually we can work it out, because we respect one another. As I said above, employees are not robots, they are people with feelings.
Now supervision is more than scheduling. It also includes providing feedback - positive, constructive and occasionally negative. This again has to do with respect. The employee needs to understand that a manager's job is to critique work and provide useful comments. Better to say "this graphic is kind of bland - try using XYZ font and a gradient, or whatever" rather than "I don't like this, try something else." It takes more energy to provide creative direction.
Occasionally you may give feedback which should be obvious to the recipient, like "you have a few typos - check the script." The direct should be smart enough to check the script, or hopefully just look at it again and say "oh snap, I spelled pancreaticoduodenectomy wrong, obviously!"
Finally, it is important when supervising others to help people grow both professionally and creatively. You do this by giving people new challenges, setting goals, and letting them work independently on meeting or exceeding these goals, and helping them when they need help. Over time, a direct will know when to ask for help, but occasionally you as a supervisor need to offer help...in a helpful manner!
HR functions (performance reviews, discipline, etc)
Another management function is human resources. Whether you are hiring freelancers, building a staff of employees or dealing with long term employees in your own or someone else's company, you sometimes need to wear the HR hat.
Annual performance reviews can take many forms. We've tried more formal numerical grading systems, but usually the best method is to write a summary of the direct's job performance, set goals and discuss the improvement plan...then revisit these goals at the next review, or sooner.
Occasionally discipline is called for. Hopefully you have made a good hire, but humans are prone to making mistakes, lapses in judgement or unpredictable behavior. If you do need to provide negative feedback, issue a warning or ultimately terminate someone, there is one key piece of advice...DOCUMENTATION.
Speaking for myself, none of the above topics were taught in communication school. Like many careers, you learn as you go. Same goes for creating budgets. Whether you are writing proposals or managing a budget for a project, you need to have an idea both how long tasks should take, and how much things cost (labor, direct costs, overhead). Perhaps smaller projects are quick 1-2 week efforts which have a finite scope. Other projects could be 6 months or longer in duration, and have the most potential to go over budget, behind schedule and as a result, further over budget. Learn to estimate costs and then review expenses as the project progresses to avoid surprises later on.
While bigger companies may have dedicated sales people, another job duty of a manager in a production environment is sales. We don't sell widgets, cold calls are not usually helpful - we sell services to companies whose managers may or may not be looking for these services. Thus sales is about building relationships, exchanging information, and keeping in touch. Some call this consultative selling.
If you are writing proposals, this connects with the budgeting topic above. You need to know how much it is going to cost to do the work, so you can accurately provide a bid. Every company costs jobs differently, so refer to your organization's methods.
Project management (like being a producer, but not always)
When you learn how to direct and/or produce a video, for example, you are essentially a project manager. When I first started doing PM work, I was more of a production guy managing my own work. This worked to a point, but the true nature of project management is managing the schedule and resources...making sure things are moving along the proscribed path, are done on time, on budget (may or may not be your responsibility to watch the budget, but if you are not watching the timeline, you'll need to answer for the budget!)...and not necessarily doing the work tasks yourself (but maybe).
Thus, project management can take many forms, from a simple spreadsheet, or elaborate work breakdown structure plans and weekly 2-hour meetings. A friend of mine used to work for a large manufacturer and he sat through, and ultimately managed, these long laundry list meetings. My style is more of a post-it note for small projects, or a 1-page word doc list of milestones.
However when a client has its own project manager, often someone with the PMP certification, it is a horse of a different color, and I always learn a lot about organization.
Be proactive - follow your plan and if you see trouble brewing, take the initiative to deal with an issue before it gets bigger. Customers appreciate honesty -- admit to a problem. Don't ever bury your head in the sand or be afraid to ask for help. Your manager is there to help you.
Learn to think on your feet, so even if you are caught off guard by some issue, you can take a deep breath and figure out some options. You can always say to a client or co-worker "allow me to talk to my team and get back to you."
Don't pay lip service - don't tell someone what they want to hear if you have no way of delivering.
Think like the customer. Manage expectations. This list of aphorisms goes on...
Business Communication and Etiquette
Finally, business communication needs to be formal enough to get the job done, but human enough to maintain productive relationships. Here in 2016 e-mail seems to be king, but you learn how each direct and customer likes to communicate. Some people will respond to an email with an encyclopedia, others give one-word answers. For the latter, best to ask yes or no questions by email, and get on a call for detail. For the former, be careful how many questions you ask per message.
Also need to be careful about copying too many people. If one person copies 5 others, and everyone hits "reply all" with every response, you can easily have hundreds of messages floating around.
Likewise, be cautious about attachments...especially things like spreadsheets. Any document with a formula is subject to corruption the more people touch it. And with Word docs, if one person fails to use track changes, it can be a long day trying to do version control. Just make sure you know who has your document and whose turn it is to work on it.
Some people love text messages. My rule is, once you pass 3 text messages back and forth, and you have not resolved the issue at hand, it is time to pick up the phone and talk by voice. Same for e-mail exchanges. Sometimes you just can't get the point across or the question phrased accurately without a ton of background information. Just pick up the phone and move things along.
Sometimes a client is on the opposite coast, or wants to talk at 8pm. I work with lots of doctors who work long days and travel a lot. An 8pm conference call is not unusual. But be honest in responding to requests - don't give up a soccer game, school play or game night for a conference call (unless the sky is falling - if the sky is falling you should ask for the call).
As for conference calls, be careful not to invite too many people, and have an agenda and a moderator. Otherwise you will find yourself in a "Who talks first? I talk? You talk" situation. If doing screen sharing such as Webex or GotoMeeting, make sure you only have the relevant applications open. That means close Facebook, Reddit and your music streaming service. If giving a Powerpoint, that should be the only thing that is open.
Finally, e-mail is not for emergencies. A few months ago I got an email at 2pm on a Saturday with the subject line "urgent, please call me" from a co-worker. Well at 2pm on a Saturday, looking at my email is not a high priority. Anything urgent, make a phone call. Or a text message (maybe) might get my attention sooner (unless I'm a mile into the woods with my dog). Anyway, I called her back and was able to help with Powerpoint pretty easily.
This article really only scratches the surface on management in the production world. Everyone's own job will be unique, and your duties may change over time. Being a creative and finding yourself assuming management duties often means you are becoming more valuable for your organization - and possibly moving beyond the technical or creative job that got you there.
A few resources that have helped me:
Manager Tools Podcast
Some of it is focused on some systems which may not be relevant to your organization, but the passion of the two hosts in discussing topics like I have discussed above is worth a few hours of your time
Todd Henry gives lots of great advice in podcast and book form about balancing creativity with on-demand work. And talks a lot about balancing work and life.
Talking with a mentor, relative or friend who does some or all of these jobs.
Creative Cow Business and Marketing Forum
A great group of regulars offer sage advice on business-related aspects of production. It was this forum, not the technical stuff, that got me hooked on the COW!
Good luck in your own career!
Thanks for reading.
April began with a convention in Nashville, though not really. The conference was actually at the Gaylord Opryland Resort, known by most as the Biodome. If you have never been to a Gaylord, it is an interesting experience. Certainly an amazing structure. I know that they mean well, but these places are simply too big to be practical. But c'est la vie - you go where the business is.
This river reminds me of the Chocolate River from Willy Wonka's factory - I expected to see Augustus Gloop float by at any moment.
Here we had our exhibit booth and I also was conducting interviews for various projects. I did not get a hotel suite, so I moved furniture around and setup a basic interview space in my basic hotel room, which luckily was only a few min walk from the convention center.
The first night we ate at an Irish bar at the hotel, which had a nice duo playing traditional Irish songs.
Other evenings were spent downtown Nashville, where there is a great supply of entertainment and dining.
The first night we went to a generic bar which had a decent country band playing covers. My companions were enjoying all the hits by Garth Brooks and the like - I was not too familiar with any of the music, but it was well performed. Food was basic burgers and beer.
Next night we went to Pucketts, known for ribs, and saw internet sensation Tyler Barham (never heard of him either) but the ladies were swooning. Again, very talented.
Afterwards we walked back to the main drag and went to ACME Feed and Seed, a former feed and grain store now serving food and drinks with a great house band.
Final night was the big event put on by the conference, featuring a talent show by surgeons, and a party band churning out the latest and classic hits, not much country, a decent buffet. This was at the Wildhorse Saloon, a well known party and concert venue, also owned by the Gaylord group.
Next stop, 2015 Workation.
|Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 11, 2015 at 7:30:47 pm|
The very next week after LA, I had a two day conference in NY at the Grand Hyatt, attached to Grand Central Terminal. I love this area of Midtown NY with the juxtaposition of old and new architecture, some of the most iconic NY landmarks and easy access by train.
Well, I didn't take the train. My wife came along so between our luggage and some gear I had to take, driving was the only option. Getting to NY is easy, but getting through NY is a challenge given the overly aggressive drivers, especially taxis who honk incessantly.
I was relieved once I dropped my car at Valet parking ($80/day) at the hotel.
It took forever to check in - it was also model UN week so the hotel had 500 students from around the world.
My wife got a room and I went over to the meeting room to work on setup. This event, the Global Hernia Symposium, included live surgery. We did some testing with the video bridge and figured out the workflow with the AV guy.
Most live surgery as previously mentioned, is point to point via satellite - one source, one destination.
This case however was multi-points of source to one destination, and over IP, not satellite. This takes a lot more planning, like months to get everything aligned. We use Intercall and Stratosphere, two NY based video conferencing vendors, to handle the bridging and video conference technology. My job is to get all of the participants aligned, and it is not uncommon for me to send emails with 15 recipients.
Fast forward 12 hours and it is the main event - we had 5 hours of live surgery from NY, Brazil and Colombia one two projectors and 2 80" LCD monitors, with real time Q+A from the panelists and audience. This was then followed by more traditional lectures and discussion until we ended on Saturday afternoon.
My job also included event photographer at the event, and on the dinner cruise.
There was not too much time for fine dining, but I found a couple of good sushi restaurants for takeout. Then on the way out of town on Sunday, my wife and I went to our favorite place to get all sorts of food, Zabars. I'll let the photos tell the rest of the story.
With a car full of appetizing, we could not wait, and stopped along the Saw Mill for a bagel, cream cheese (shmear) and lox picnic.
Ok that's it, it is now April!
If you read my post about Los Angeles last year you can refer back to that - same basic deal. This time we used the in-house AV group, and they did mostly fine. Setup was done by about 8pm, leaving time for some sushi before bed.
The whole week, each night, Hollywood Blvd was shut down for filming a TV pilot called The Lucifer Chronicles, or some such thing. It was interesting to watch and char with some of the crew between takes.
I met up with my buddy Lando for a late night Falafel dinner on Sunset Blvd, and ate mostly sushi the rest of the time.
A new responsibility at this meeting was managing the distribution and collection of lead retrieval scanners, and I was once again stills photographer.
$50 cab ride to the airport, redeye home, rinse and repeat! The USAir terminal at LAX is a dump. Philly is improving, especially the newer regional jet terminal.
If you read the 2014 entry on the Dominican trips, you will know that I document medical procedures performed by a group of US surgeons who travel to the DR. I had spent December and January preparing for this trip, including making sure everyone on the trip had booked travel and that we all had hotel rooms. Sounds simple enough but a 4 day trip with 7 people has a lot of details to keep track of. Not to mention meeting our driver at the airport and being totally unable to communicate. I should have paid attention in high school Spanish class. Sorry Mr Morales.
We all flew into Santo Domingo on a Thursday and met up at the hotel bar upon arrival. While Santo Domingo is a large densely populated city with a lot of poverty, we stayed in a pretty safe and swanky part of town in a relatively new Marriott.
The next two days, after driving past Land Rover and Bentley dealerships, we transitioned into the...less wealthy part of town to the hospital, surrounded by barbed wire. We were told not to wander. Inside, the hospital was quite modern for its location, with a state of the art cardiac cath lab.
For this trip we brought 5 Canon HD cameras, one Sony 4K camera, the trusty 7d and tried to limit our gear to two checked and one carry-on suitcase, and a backpack. We still had to do the customs CPB form going in and out of the US, but it was a lot easier with less gear. Not to mention customs at the Santo Domingo airport is a pleasure, as this airport is not as tourist oriented.
We are accompanied on these trips by a surgeon from the DR, who now practices in Florida. He helps with the ground transport and other logistics, and arranges dinners. On this trip we ate at an outdoor restaurant adjacent to the Christopher Columbus Palace...
And at Maison de la Cava, a restaurant built in a cave once used by pirates...
And then it was back to home base once again for post production...
Editing 6 tracks of video is somewhat of a challenge, so I synch everything up, setup the main camera as track 1, the fluoroscope as track 2 (always visible in 80% of shots), then did a PIP for the 4 other angles. You can't do a multi-cam for this since more than one track is in play in must cuts. This setup plays quite sluggishly, so I render the sequence as the next step. A 3 hour sequence of PIP effects can take 12 or more hours to render, so I took my computer home for the weekend and let it rip.
Next step was then to make basic cuts using lift/extract to cut time. Then final clean up pass to decide which shots to keep and hide the shots not being used. Then render out to MP4 for review by the surgeons, who then do the traditional method of sending time code selects for the next pass.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
|Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 11, 2015 at 6:36:44 pm|
I kicked off 2015 with a 2 day trip to NYC to conduct some interviews. I expected a spacious hotel suite, I got a Residence Inn just off Times Square. While some Residence Inns have a lot of space, this one, not so much. I was by myself so I carefully moved furniture around, including moving the tv wall unit into the bedroom and placing the coffee table on the bed, to free up enough space for a three camera interview shoot and lighting. Worked out ok but it was a tight squeeze.
It happened to be my cousin's birthday, so I met up with him for dinner, but after my first trip to B and H Photo and Video. If you are every in NY, do yourself a favor and check this place out. Seeing the website and catalog come to life was pretty exciting. Just leave your wallet at the hotel!
Quick drive back home to get ready for the next episode...
Happy New Year.
I skipped Part 14, because if you've ready two blog articles about trips to Denver, you've read them all. Use your imagination - it was cold and snowy and productive. Redeye home.
That was November.
The week after Thanksgiving 2014 it was off to our final conference and trip of the year in Chicago (again). For this one at the Chicago Hilton, we did in fact use the in-house AV team, due to the high cost of labor requirements of the property. It worked out ok, you just need to be very specific about what you need.
So the meeting was uneventful, complete with live surgeries.
We had one presenter who was unable to travel, so she appeared via Skype.
I also coordinated the recording of the meeting on video cameras and KiPro drives for later post production.
Meals probably included Rudy's again, Rosebud and then airport dinner at Harry Caray's bar - a Midway tradition.
This was a quick one, and thankfully the last trip of 2014. All told, I was away 70 nights, including 10 weekends.
Here's to looking ahead to 2015 and whatever it may bring...
|Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 11, 2015 at 6:20:35 pm|
To a dee-luxe apartment in the sky-high-high. Anyone born after 1990 might not know what this means.
Anyway, the very next week I had a shoot back in Chicago. Problem was, it was the week of some big packaging conference with 100,000+ attendees. Chicago has about 108,000 rooms, so we were numbers 108,001 and 108,002.
I could have gotten a room at the Palmer House or another swanky place for upwards of $500/night.
So I turned to a website I had visited but never used, AirBnB. Kind of like Uber for apartments. Even on this site I had a tough time finding availability, but eventually secured two nights in a two bedroom two bath condo on the 23rd floor of a building overlooking the Chicago River, two blocks from the Willis Tower.
It turned out to be much better than a swanky hotel, as it had a modern fully equipped kitchen and nice amenities. Oddly, one of the available amenities were lighted mirrors on the ceilings. I didn't ask what sort of guests might need these!
Oh well, it was a safe and clean place to stay for two nights, a quick cab ride from the hospital campus.
I then went on to book apartments for vacations in 2015 - more on these later.
With this shoot done, it was back to the plant for a week of post and then back to my most frequently visited city in Part 14...
Thanks for reading.
|Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 11, 2015 at 6:11:03 pm|