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Live Blog - Books and Videos and Planes..Oh My!

Live blogging seems to come and go. We saw it a lot during the 2008 election season - now Tweeting seems to have supplanted live blogging. And soon Tweeting will be replaced by some new made up verb. Perhaps the forthcoming Yiddish social networking service will introduce the world to Shpulking - you have as many words as you want but your mother has to approve whatever you say!

Ok seriously, this will be a photo-based live blog. I often do a photo-based tape-delay blog, so this is something slightly new. I can't actually post to the blog by smartphone, so daily updates will have to suffice. And speaking of smart phones - my phone's camera is only as smart as 2009 would allow so the pictures are intentionally grainy.


Yesterday, I packed up what I needed from my office for the days ahead (I won't spoil the fun by revealing all my cards) - video camera, DSLR, laptop, desktop computer and a selection of hard drives.

This year I have been doing more gardening than the recent past.

I enjoy driving up to the house and seeing a colorful front garden

and I am also attempting to grow some basic container vegetables too on the back porch. The cherry tomatoes are starting to arrive! Lettuce and basil are going strong too.


Woke up early to get going on my to do list. Sure weekends are supposed to be for relaxing, but some weekends you need to get some work done, especially if days out of the office are a possibility.

First I finished editing some orthopedic surgery video. Tough to shoot if the surgeons are wearing those big space helmets, but the stuff that looks good looks really good.

Mid-day I took a break to go to the vet for some cat medications, then hit the library and a big box store on the way home. Picked up some fresh cod for dinner.

Back to the edit bay/living room - finish the shoulder replacement and render out WMV files to post to our client review website. Gone are the days of racing to FedEx for the 7pm cutoff.

Next task is to burn 8 DVD's, authored earlier in the week and saved out to ISO files from Encore. A variety of edited surgical cases for use later in this blog - maybe.

Testing on both the computer and a standalone DVD player is important - you never know when and where these might be used.

Last assignment of the day - edit an interview between a surgeon and a patient - about the experience, decision-making process and result. This is becoming more common for promotion of a surgeon's practice. In this case, it is purely educational.

Next I prepared dinner - cod wrapped around crabmeat stuffing, topped with crab claw meat, lemon juice and white wine. 40 minutes at 375 and we had a nice treat. We don't eat like this every day, but once in a while we pull out the stops! (camera phone pictures of food never look good - sorry)

Final step of the day is to write this blog.

Next stop - Tomorrow - see you then....

...time passes....(Zork reference)

Three Days Later

So much for this live blogging idea - one must have access to the internet and an energy level to go with it.

So I left off on Day One - the prep work.

Day 2

Flying somewhere on a Sunday is a mixed bag - you don't want to spend all day away from home, but if you are checking luggage that you can't live without, then you don't want to give United Airlines an opportunity to lose something. They love those opportunities - love em!
Well this trip is mostly me and my carry-ons, so I flew out of Hartford at 5:30pm - direct to Chicago. Met up with my colleague, our on-staff medical illustrator, who I do not see very often. We had a nice dinner at PF Changs to catch up and strategize for our meeting.

Day 3 - The Meeting

We have a series of surgical books we are producing - a book with accompanying interactive Flash disc with all the surgical videos, narration and illustrations. This project has about 100 original images all about pancreatic surgery. So we had an 8 hour marathon session with the book editors to review every image and note changes to be made for the final draft.
Next steps after that are the final layout, proofreader, then send to press, review the "galleys" which are not old-school galleys but rather a digital printing at print size with bleed, but we still call them galleys. Then the actual printing.

Oh my.

Meeting broke at 3 - cab to O'Hare which was rather deserted compared to later in the day. Stocked up on food for the flight to Vegas.

...hours later (took off 1 hour late)....

Arrived in Vegas to learn that NAB was in APRIL!!! Yikes.

Ok just kidding. After the very long wait for luggage and equally long wait for a cab, I checked into the hotel, got a nice upgrade thanks to some nice person somewhere, and met up with fellow Creative COW Steve Wargo for a late dinner and drinks at the Harley Davidson restaurant.

Steve and his crew had arrived before me to setup in a suite, and they actually did some interviewing before I even landed.

This gets me back to a point I made in my previous post about working with freelancers. If you have something critical that needs to be done at a location away from your home base, don't just trust anyone you find on Google. Remember what Forrest Gump says about boxed confections. But I know I can trust a crew with whom I have worked before to do the work that needs to be done, even if I am not there yet.

Steve, feel free to chime in.

Well that's the short version. The long version to come...

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 19, 2010 at 10:40:07 pmComments (1) workflow, GTD, teamwork

Musical Cameras

No Steve Jobs, this is not some new gadget you can sell us, just a play on words.

Sometimes we have almost had to keep a separate calendar to keep track of who has which gear and when. For example, we recently had 6 shoots in about 10 days. A shoot that is out of state, which many are, means that a camera and associated kit will leave the office at 5pm and not return until approximately 10am 2-3 days later(a person goes too). Multiply this scenario by two kits and three people and you had better make sure you have planned ahead.

And speaking of planning ahead, you may want to find time to plan two or three shoots in advance. For example, as of this writing, one of our guys is returning from Maryland. Someone else is taking another kit to Vegas - they may cross paths for half a day in the office to exchange tripods. Then the next day I am taking limited gear on my own trip to Vegas where I will meet up with a fellow COW for a couple of days of shooting. Over the weekend another exchange will need to occur for something happening Monday in NY. Next week seems clear so far, but that could change, so we need to make sure we have gear available, which we will. Then I'm back in the office for a day, then out again the following week for a day or two. The TSA guys at my local airport seem to recognize me.

See what I mean? I am planning three weeks out, yet also doing or coordinating work in the intervening days and weeks.

A few months ago we installed an open source calendar on our web server, and we now have an easy way to see where everyone is going to be - all you need is the password. We thought about using Google Calendar, but not everyone has a Google account(believe it!), and honestly it would become one more account to have to remember to check. We just set the company calendar as one of the home tabs on Firefox and that's all you need to remember.

However we have dry-erase calendars tacked to the walls and the odd post-it note for good measure. Those of us with a smart phone likely store our important dates there as well.

So in summary, know who has what, where they are going with it, and when - and when they will return so that you can rinse and repeat. You always want to make sure you will have what you will need when you need it. To paraphrase everyone's favorite scientist, "Maybe in 1985 you can just buy a video camera at the corner drugstore, but here in 1955 it's just not possible."

Thanks for planning ahead.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 16, 2010 at 8:51:43 pm organization, coordination, business

A Fly on the Wall

If you don't work in broadcast television, often the last time you review a video project is in fact the last time you see it. It is satisfying to have the opportunity to see how the fruits of your labors are used in the real world.

Over the past few months we have been working on a training video for one of our local hospitals. Interestingly, I first met this client at a medical convention in San Diego two years ago. You just never know where an opportunity will present itself.

First I met with the working group in the hospital composed of nurses, physical therapists and administrators to develop the script. Several meetings later I submitted the draft, obtained feedback and created the final shooting script. When we finally settled on a shoot date in February, we had access to a disused wing of the hospital where a few features have actually shot, a couple of patient volunteers and of course the stars of the show - nurses! We shot two HDV cameras plus the recently acquired Canon 7d.

Next came the edit, a few more meetings to review and revise and the final cut. I wound up doing the voiceover also, but the shoot and editing were definitely a team effort of our whole crew.

Just today I attended the premiere of the video. This was not a red carpet affair, but rather part of a 1 hour continuing education seminar in the hospital auditorium. The two nurses in charge of the project and the chief of laparoscopic surgery gave some PowerPoint lectures, showed the video and then did a couple of brief case studies to test the audience. I was listed as producer and introduced to the group of people, with praise all around. Finally some light refreshments were served.

Seeing how my work is actually used after it is delivered is very satisfying indeed.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 16, 2010 at 8:29:38 pm results, opportunities, collaboration

Working with Freelancers / Vendors

On the Business and Marketing forum there are innumerable posts with such catchy titles as:

"I did work for someone and now I can't get paid"


"I did a job, but didn't have a contract, and now such and such has happened"

or the all time favorite

"Long time client has gone with some kid with a iMac and a Flip HD - bummer"

May you the reader never find yourself in such a situation. Follow the advice dispensed on the forum and you should avoid many negative situations.

What I want to talk about is how to hire and work with freelancers and/or outside vendors. I never want to find myself on the receiving end of a rant on the Business and Marketing forum - and neither should you.

Some of the COW audience seems to be independent operators and small business owners. There are certainly plenty of pros working for studios, tv networks and larger production companies.

So this post is aimed at small business owners / employees who, like me (not the owner but in charge of such activities) find themselves in any of the following situations:

1. Need a video crew because:
A) We are fully booked

May we be so blessed at all times!

B) It is more feasible to hire a crew than ship my whole crew and kit to the location

Let's say I need to do a 3-camera shoot at a hotel on the coast and do not want to take my whole in-house crew out of the office for a week, due to other editing or shoot obligations. Find a crew nearby, preferably someone with whom I have worked before.

C) It is a job well suited for an independent operator, and more affordable than going myself

Shooting a conference, for example, can often be done with one or two cameras, and takes 1-3 days, so why not use a local resource for this. I have hired a few folks off the COW Services page for just this type

2. Need a talent that we do not employ full-time, ie Illustrations, Animation, Voice Over, Copy Editor, Graphic Designer, etc


2a. Need a talent that we do employ full-time but we need more manpower or womanpower, ie Illustrations, Animation, Voice Over, Copy Editor, Graphic Designer, etc

In both 2 and 2a, you should identify reliable contractors who do good work at a fair price.

3. Need a service provider that we do not employ full-time and/or that is event related, ie, Video Conferencing, Webcasting, Audiovisual / I-Mag, Medical Equipment, Surgical Simulators, etc.

These services are often associated with an event, such as a meeting, a course or a trade show.

4. Additional talent to support our crew on a larger project or to work with at least one of our people.

I have hired a few COWs over the years for this purpose as well.

If you have done your job right, then those you hire will do their jobs right.


So as to avoid problems with your hired guns, heed the following advice:

1. It is a buyer's market for hired crew. Thus, shop around - it keeps everyone honest about rates. You should have an idea, over time, about how much the services you are looking for should cost in an average market.

If you are like me, you have done a lot of the jobs you may be hiring out, so you should also know if you are getting a good value.

2. Once you find someone, which can be a challenge sight unseen, ask for some references. Measure twice, cut once my Uncle Ted used to say.

3. Assuming you have negotiated a rate and services to be provided, even if this has happened via email, get something in writing. Usually I will draft a 1-page contract saying how much you are paying, what you get, a deadline if applicable, payment terms and any other details best not left to chance (ie, load-in 7pm Monday, allotted breaks, travel allowance, how and when to get you the media (ie, give them your FedEx #), etc). Get both parties to sign the thing.

4. Find out how your contractor operates - independent contractor (get a signed W-9) or some type of business for which an invoice and regular payment is appropriate.

5. Confirm the week of and the day before the event (or if it is a project, like a writing assignment, make sure they are really available).

6. At the conclusion of the event or the project, followup by email and/or phone, whether you were happy with the results or not. And if you were not happy, hold the person accountable, assuming you have something in writing. This is where it can get murky however. If you say "1/2 day video shoot, interviews, b-roll" and you get that, but an elementary school version, your recourse will depend upon the professionalism of who you hired. Thus, ask around and specify in writing your expectations.

In summary, if you need to hire someone either to supplement your own resources or in lieu of the same, know who you are hiring, make sure they know your expectations, pay them fairly and in a timely manner and if you have done your homework you should not only have a good result, but you may also make friends with a professional colleague.

Thanks for hiring!

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 15, 2010 at 4:29:41 pmComments (1) freelance, vendors

Ready for Action

Yep, another travel-related blog, complete with signature bad cell phone pics and a few DSLR images for good measure. Hey, everyone has to have a signature!

What can I say - I spend a day, a week or more preparing (on and off) for a big trip. Sometimes a big trip is a weekend, a few weekdays or likely just an overnight.

This entry will give the highlights on the past two trips, and attempt to give some tips and tricks for a successful shooting / travel experience.

Planning Ahead - Locations

The first trip was actually to a familiar location - a hospital where we had worked in 2008. So we knew where we were going, but it is still a mystery until you are actually inside if it will work out as planned. This is why we have a pre-production meeting the day we arrive. We sit in an office and go shot by shot through our extensive shot lists, making sure the equipment is available and there are people who know how to do what we need them to do.

Another important location is the hotel. In Denver we tend to stay near the airport, right off the highway. A little planning as to travel routes can pay off - on this most recent trip the Denver Marathon happened to be passing right by the hospital on day 2 of our shoot.

At the conclusion of the 2-day shoot, we had a few hours to kill before the red-eye home, so we went to another cool location, the Red Rocks amphitheater - very cool place.

Planning ahead - Equipment

Given the every-increasing fees for checked luggage and overweight items, we have started weighing our gear before leaving. We just borrow the scale from the shipping desk.

Lately we have had a shoot almost every week. As of this writing, we have four shoots in one week. Thus it is important to test the function of everything before every trip. Wear and tear is inevitable. And we keep everything packed and ready to go. The kit at the moment includes an Anvil case containing HD field monitor, 50' HDMI cable, wireless mic, wired lav mic, blank HDV tapes,small makeup kit, AC extension cord, XLR cables and a couple of pieces of grip gear for our various surgery tripod systems.

Next is the Arri kit - a 150w, 300w, 650w and a Lowel Omni for good measure. Last most important item is the mini-rock-n-roller cart. These things are relatively indestructible compact and sturdy. I never leave home without it!

Seeing these items come down the belt is always a good feeling. We always fly out early enough in the day that if the airlines manage to lose something(they will try), they have time to manage to find it. Last flight of the day is a bad idea unless everything is a carry-on.

First thing to do in a new location is to test the wireless mic. Sometimes, especially in older hospital buildings, the steel construction causes too much interference for the signal to transmit clearly. Assuming you have a clear signal, extra batteries should always be nearby.

Procedure Planning

As with any shooting situation, you should have some idea as to the content you will be shooting. In the case of surgery, the best thing to do is talk to the surgeon about positioning and key steps. Experience with the subject matter also helps, so you can anticipate what comes next - as in cooking, sports or DIY shows.

The second trip, this past week, took me back to Pittsburgh, home of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

They have a cool display at the airport terminal. I watched Mr. Rogers every day from about age 2 to 6 and a number of times as a young adult. The man was very wise and a good influence. And I think Picture Picture was an early influence on my career choice.

Actually, this trip I was out in Monroeville shooting some joint replacements. Fascinating to watch, as there are dozens of specialty jigs and tools used including saws, drills, hammers, pulse lavage and what looks like a large caulk gun.

Not so far removed from shooting a home improvement show, however instead of replacing the crown moldings or HVAC system, the patella and femoral head are replaced.

During some down-time after arrival on Sunday, I visited the Monroeville Mall - legendary shooting location of George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead." By today's standards, the mall is rather tired, but once upon a time this was a mecca of indoor shopping - and zombies! Nearby I went to an electronics store to try out the new tablet computer from Apple - perhaps you have heard about it (not much press coverage). Always good to check out one's own website to make sure it works.

And I pulled up my favorite YouTube video for good measure. Miss you Grandma!

With activities done for the day, I dropped my colleagues off at the terminal, fueled up the rental van, "enjoyed" a gas station hot dog, returned the vehicle, checked the cases and waited for my own flight home.

Stopover in Dulles - very busy for 10:30pm on a Monday.

Upon landing in Hartford, got my checked items, loaded the wagon queen family truckster and made the familiar drive home.

Sometimes something simple is the best image of all:

Next morning, up at at 'em early for some morning meetings a short drive down the road in, of all places, Connecticut!

So in summary - plan ahead, know what you are doing before you have to do it, check your gear, allow time to actually get your gear at the other end, say please and thank you to everyone you meet at the airport especially if they are having a bad day. Basically, follow the advice of the man in the zippered cardigan.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 8, 2010 at 7:50:40 pm travel, pre-production, neighbors


I define Logistics as "all the stuff you have to do in order to be able to do what you have to do."

Yes, working in production is not just about showing up on time, getting your shots and meeting deadlines. In many cases, it is also about planning for what comes next. Sometimes this simply means having a conference call with the crew, the talent and the client and setting times to arrive on location and to manage everyones' expectations for the project.

But sometimes, and with increasing frequency, planning involves a lot more than simply times and locations. Here are a few examples:

Live Webcast

In our world, a live video webcast or point to point video conference could be a surgery or it could be someone giving a powerpoint lecture. In either case you have to first evaluate the connectivity options. Does the source of the signal actually have the means to transmit? Does the receiving end have the ability to receive? If it is an individual at a web browser, do not assume that everyone has Flash or Silverlight or Firefox or whatever. Don't even assume there are speakers attached to a computer in a corporate setting. We production folks take for granted these simple things, but a computer designed for data entry on a network of 2000 computers might have difficulty accessing a live stream of video and audio. Likewise, the receive end could be a conference center or hotel meeting room. In my experience, video conferencing is not a standard capability at even the most well-equipped conference centers. But there is usually a vendor within a few hours' drive, unless you are in some out of the way place like Cleveland. Sorry Cleveland, could just as well be Little Rock, Boise, Birmingham or Austin. Well, probably not Austin.

Next, if either the source or the receive end do not have existing connectivity, they pray you have enough time to arrange for it. Does the hotel have ISDN or T1 lines available? Does the source have the ability to transmit either type of signal or do you need a bridge? If neither site has connectivity, can we send a vendor into both locations? Can I get an ISDN line dropped into the room in time? Is Verizon or Comcast going to be able to do it on my schedule? What about IT in both locations? Chances are they do not know about the event and may not even know who it the right person in their department to address this? I once was part of a distribution list of at least 50 people trying to arrange a conference call just to find out who needed to be involved. As it turned out, the call was at 4pm on Good Friday, so only about 5 people actually dialed in, and we managed to figure out whose job it actually was. In the end, we got all the ducks in a row and we made everything quack!

Generic Hospital Video Shoot

We have been in and out of enough hospitals to know what we need to do to get in and out easily - or at least as easily as possible. Do we need immunization records? Usually. Do we need a location agreement? Sometimes. Does security, public relations or the vendor management office need to know what we are doing? Varies. We used to have to allow time to get our equipment checked by biomedical engineering. Back in the day we sometimes had voltage leaks on the BetaSP power supplies and we needed a ground lifter. Nowadays cameras are battery operated so we have an easier time. But that does not change the fact that we are hanging video cameras over open abdomens - we need to make sure the nurses are comfortable with what we are doing. And nurses are the gatekeepers in the hospital - be nice to your nurses!

Occasional Crazy Situation

On a few occasions we have shot multiple cameras in mass casualty disaster drills. As far as logistics go, all bets are off. We need to know precisely where to be and when and we can't stop what people are doing to ask them what happens next. If the helicopter is landing on the roof we'd better be there. If the fire department is hosing people down in the decontamination tent we had better capture it, and be upwind of the water! If we are shooting a motor vehicle crash victim extrication drill in a remote roadside location we had better make sure there is a generator available if we need it. You don't want to be unplugging the Jaws of Life if you need to charge your batteries. Today's Lithium Ion batteries have solved this pesky problem, but once upon a time this was the case.

When planning all the logistics for a shoot or other event, it can feel like everything is an urgent emergency. It isn't, but it feels that way because it is urgent for all involved. Or likely, it is urgent for some of the people involved but not the few who should be acting with a sense of urgency. This is your job as a manager - to maintain your cool and get the job done (because all of this has happened before and it will all happen again). Because of your experience in logistics before a big event, you know there is a 99% chance everything will work out. It's that 1% that seems like the end of the world at times, but that's just part of the process.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 1, 2010 at 3:25:39 pm pre-production, logistics, planning ahead

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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