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Locked and Loaded


Yep, another blog about leaving the safety of my cubicle to work with a client.
Why so much emphasis on this? Because it is good for business to have your, er, stuff together!

Many people have a checklist for a shoot:

- batteries
- lav mic
- xlr cable
- bnc cable
- monitor
- hdmi cable
- 20 blank tapes or 6 p2 cards
- headphones
- gaffer tape
- etc

Likewise I certainly make a checklist for a week long trip:

- suit
- sportcoat
- 2 pair knakis
- 6 pair black socks
- 2 polo shirts
- 4 dress shirts (white, grey, blue, pinstripe)
- 4 favorite ties
- dress shoes
- bathing suit, flip flops (assuming they have a pool)
- etc

So why wouldn't you have a checklist for a non-shoot, non-convention trip out of the office?

The particular meeting described below was for an important project we are working on. The editor of the project and I have been meeting at his office on and off since November. In each meeting, we review the script and current images and video, look for new images and video, keep a tally of images and video we need to acquire, and then revise or re-write portions of the script (narration and on-screen text). Sounds easy enough. There are over 400 screens in the Flash program, 100 videos and at least 150 photographs. We also have a list of illustrations or animations to create.

The experience is taxing on the brain, and educational. I am not a surgeon, yet over the course of such a project, I learn much of what the target audience of surgeons will be expected to learn.

A few years ago I picked up one of these Swiss Army laptop backbacks. I don't know if these are affiliated with the Swiss army knife, or if the actual Swiss army uses these in the field (doubtful) but what I do know is that it is the best backpack I have ever owned. The only negative is that it holds a lot of stuff (heavy) which is good and bad. It is good because I can take whatever I need with me. It is bad because I have a spine and back muscles!

Below is a representation of the major components needed for this trek. Not shown are such essentials as blank DVD's, thumb drives, power supplies, phone charger, herbal tea bags, mints and a small flashlight.


Obviously the computer is the essential business tool. While this laptop, as described in earlier posts, has the full CS4 suite installed, useful for long plane trips and the occasional on-site edit session, in this case it is simply a web browser and word processor, perhaps a few Photoshop manipulations for good measure. It is essential to have an organized set of scripts, images, videos and other assets, and make sure this is backed up in multiple locations. Whenever a major script revision is completed, I e-mail myself a copy for safe keeping. Google and Yahoo share this task.

A fairly new acquisition is the Zoom H4N recorder. This little gizmo is great for recording temp narration tracks, or in some cases final narration with either a video's author or myself. Another handy gadget is a Canon HD camcorder, recording to SD cards. While not broadcast quality, what if I am sitting in an office and someone says "hey, you want to come see someone with a knife in their skull?" - a little camera that shoots video and decent stills is great to have for these occasions, or more likely if we need a quick shot of an instrument, piece of equipment or even just to photograph a thumbnail sketch as reference for an illustrator or designer. You never know.

While bus powered USB hard drives are cheap and getting cheaper, we have a library of eSATA drives ranging from 350GB to 1.5TB. While I may not use it, having it with me along with a portable USB interface is handy.

A USB mouse is much easier to work with for long periods of time than the laptop's touchpad. And sometimes the best technology of all is a sheet of lined paper.

And finally, do not discount the importance of reliable writing implements.

So, to summarize, any time you are going anywhere, whether for a video shoot, editing session, tradeshow or simply the all-important sit-down meeting, know what you need to do and have what you know you need in order to do what you know you need to do. Whew.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen



Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 21, 2010 at 4:52:03 pm travel, workflow, planning, organization, alliteration

Nose to the Grindstone

While I blog a lot about the fun and excitement of air travel, and the production experiences at either end, once I get back to the office for weeks of uninterrupted work, it is time to get stuff done. Over the years I have experimented with various to-do lists, post-its and marker boards.

Recently we have instituted a Jobs to Start worksheet, distributed to all departments. Updated whenever a new project starts, this keeps everyone informed of what is going on, even in other departments. Why, you may ask, does publishing need to know about a video project in the works? Because, of course, every new piece of information is a possible opportunity. What if two departments were working with the same group of people on two unrelated projects. We don't want to be working against each other - thus good communication plays into different business units working together, even if the two units don't actually work together.

However, in our outfit, we all work together. For example, we have a series of multimedia textbooks. The media work and project management is handled by my department, Production, but once the layout is done and it is ready to begin the 14 week process leading up to press, the publishing department takes the reins. So while publishing does not have much to do with the prior 6 months, they need to know approximately where we stand with hitting our planned delivery date. You need to reserve time on the press and factor in time to transport and store inventory once printed. You always need to think of the big picture.

So while I started this post in talking about keeping track of project tasks, it has morphed into a discussion of good communication among people who do not always work together.

This is business 101 - keep others in your organization informed of activities that may impact them sometime in the future.

Going back to the completion of tasks, sometimes it is a matter of delegating, then checking the work you need to check before sending it on to the client or another set of eyes in your group. It can be daunting to send something you put your heart and soul into to another department for review and possible negative feedback. But better to get such feedback from a trusted colleague who may look at it from a different point of view, than your client whohas specific expectations.

Other times I may do the work myself - self-delegation. Often this is to keep the other folks on their own tasks. Thus I find myself doing a lot of little tasks - add some narration to a series of brief video clips, post some videos or files to the client website, and numerous conference calls and document management.

Yep, it's not all video shoots in exotic locations. Much of the time being a desk jockey is just what the doctor ordered. Get the work done, move things along, hit your milestones, tick stuff off the list. Sometimes I make a punch list, a phrase I picked up from years of watching Tommy Silva and Norm Abrahm wrap up renovations on This Old House.

Instead of:

- Finish trim in master bedroom
- Replace kitchen cabinet hardware
- Finish laying sod in the backyard
- Calibrate home theater in time for wrap party

my punch list may include:

- Render final pancreaticoduodenectomy video files
- Pull stills for hernia chapter 27
- Check narration files on FTP server, then send to programmer
- QA ventral hernia DVD
- Create new slipart and DVD menu design for laparoscopy series

Checking things off the list helps with the "divide and conquer" workflow. It is not always 3 weeks editing a long form show. Very often it is 15 minute tasks for hours on end. Frequently it is a little of each.

Seeing weeks or months of activity come to fruition in a new product to sell to the healthcare community is quite gratifying, and perhaps a bit more fun than sitting in steerage on a 737-800 waiting for your complimentary half can of cranapple juice. But getting there is half the fun.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 18, 2010 at 5:12:38 pmComments (1) project management, gtd, workflow

A Photo Blog


On this week's journey, I think I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. Well, perhaps a bit of commentary to tie it all together.

The title card is from the Philly Airport. I had just enough time between flights to grab a bag full of food for the 4 hour trip out to Denver. I ate it all, and got a lot of work done on the plane. Sometimes I think I should install an airplane seat at my desk!

Let's backup a bit. The planning for this trip was interspersed with another time consuming project. I suspected there might be some last minute work to do before leaving town, so I packed my bag days in advance.


As predicted, the night before the flight, I had a request to help create a powerpoint presentation matching the design of the video graphics, and including some video clips from the edit. To avoid a late night in the office I decided to take the computer home and do the rendering at night while I did some other chores to prepare my wife for a few days alone:

Clean dishes to eat...

...a pasta casserole with vodka sauce, sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and Kalamata olives.

Media Encoder seems to move slowly when a deadline is looming. The files finished at 11pm. I set the FTP upload going and went to bed. When I woke up at 3am, the files were ready and i could email my client.
No time for breakfast, gotta hit the road.

One nice thing about such an early flight is I can get to the airport in less than 45 minutes, security is a breeze and the terminal is deserted.


I have to admit I was a bit bleary eyed.




You know it is an early flight when the sun is just rising while making your connection.

I spent the flight primarily reviewing the detailed shot lists prepared by my colleague. being familiar with the shots and formulating questions for our contacts on the ground would be helpful in the meeting scheduled a few hours after landing.

Back in the Denver airport, underground to the choo-choo, luggage, pickup curbside by another co-worker already in town, and to the hospital for pre-production.




After a long flight, airport food, car ride, meeting and running on vapors, we all decided to get grocery store food and dine in our rooms. But we were not done yet. After getting the gear charging and self-nourishing, it was time for a final planning session, going shot by shot, deciding upon the schedule and division of labor. Teamwork is vital.



Next morning, get to hospital, change into scrub attire and get setup. Specifics of the shoot are, as in many cases, proprietary and not able to be discussed in detail. However it is the teamwork and the process that is important to talk about here.

Lunch break arrived around 1:30pm for me. The break room had one of those automated coffee machines - you select decaf or diesel, mocha or regular, small or large and hit GO!


Back to work. The afternoon was spent getting a lot of stills with the 7d and various action shots in and around the OR. Follow the shot list, work the system, get your shots, think on the fly, stay motivated, think creatively, give directions, explain things, show peole what you need and make your moves.





Finally at 5pm it is a wrap for the day. It's a weekend, people have plans. Our plans are to find a restaurant, eat, maybe see some daylight, and have another planning session to make sure we get what we need on the final day.




Here are a few interesting shots from the day.







Overall, despite the earlier hours, cheap coffee and dry air, a satisfying way to spend the weekend. The material captured over two days will help to complete several important projects over the coming weeks. For now, thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen








Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 6, 2010 at 9:09:21 pm travel, production, planning, teamwork



I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!




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