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Video production tips and techniques from Content Media Group.

How To Be a Video Hustler: Anatomy of a Web Series

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Monetizing content during the Digital Revolution is a hot topic for video professionals. “Video Hustler” is a 26 episode web-based series. The series documents the wild ride known as life for Rage, one of the hottest music video directors. It’s a great example of how to create and monetize internet-exclusive New Media content.

new media video productionThe revolution is in full stream. Media has been liberated from the corporate suits and now is in the hands of consumers. Anyone with a recording device can order free business cards from Vista Print introducing themselves as: Content Creators. Monetizing content during the Digital Revolution is a hot topic for video professionals.

People love their content. On the internet, as the cliché downloads, “Content is king.” Well, we’re content creators. We actually paid for business cards that say so. Big deal. You no longer need that coveted certificate from The Devry Technical Institute to make videos. While those are six months of our life we’ll never get back, one principle cuts through the digital noise: Without quality, quantity is meaningless.

At Content Media Group we’ve been creating award-winning content for over 15 years. With over 12 Emmy nominations and 3 wins, we’re proud of a track record rooted in quality. Most video-pros who’ve been in the game long enough have a shelf full of shiny trophies. The sobering fact is 91 million viewers could care less. As long as there are fresh uploads of dancing squirrels and kitties playing with string, the masses are happy.

In the new rule book, content trumps technical quality. For a video professional, that’s a nasty pill to choke down. Our reputation is only as good as our last production. Now, all of a sudden, cool, animated lower thirds don’t count for anything? Not on our watch, Insatiable Consumer of Internet Video.

Call us crazy, old-fashioned video puritans, but we believe The People deserve better. With 5 new media reality-based shows under our belt, in September, 2008 we took on our most ambitious, Video Hustler. The series documents the wild ride known as life for one the hottest music video directors. He’s known as Rage. He’s the best at what he does and he chose to partner with us because he knew we’d treat this production like he treats his.

The 26 episode web series is groundbreaking. It’s content created exclusively for the web with all the quality of broadcast TV. Jeff MacIntyre, Co-Director, refuses to relax production standards “just because its for the web”. “Internet video’s reputation keeps the bar low. Anyone can upload video. It takes work to create compelling material. Video producers must focus on the end result, not the distribution platform. It’s the difference between monetizing your content and just getting a lot of views.” Oh, did we mention they’re actually making money doing it?
Video Hustler features some of the biggest names in the hip hop world. We go behind the scenes on music videos for Solja Boy, Busta Rhymes, Lil’ Kim, Akon & Snoop Dogg. The series blends the cool factor of hangin’ out with music’s A-List with Rage’s music video directing genius. It’s a fun ride that blasts viewers into the director’s seat. Drama. Oh, yeah. We got drama. When you’re dealing with talent, managers, agents, record labels, you are guaranteed drama.

Our cameras roll non-stop, so no yelling match is missed. In reality TV, capturing quality audio is a top priority. The team uses Sennheiser and Audio Technica shotgun mics and Sennheiser wireless lavs to assure drama-free sound from the drama-filled action. “I can clean up, cover up and fake crappy video, but crappy sound is a killer. Garbage in, garbage out. Time isn’t on our side to do a lot of audio correction with a tight post schedule,” MacIntyre, who also onlines the show, admits.

Post production is akin to a digital crock pot. Every format, aspect ratio and media type are thrown on to a timeline and expected to work. The team edits exclusively with Final Cut Studio 2. “I’ve been on FCP since v.2. You mean to tell me there are other NLEs? Really?” MacIntyre jokes. The post process harnesses everything the digital era has to offer.

The show mixes HD with SD source footage, video ripped from the internet, still photos and graphics. The show is primarily shot with the old Panasonic DVX-100 workhorse. Occasionally, the team shots HD with the HVX200 and Sony EX1. Standards? In 2010, who needs stinkin’ standards.

The workflow is unique. Jay Smith, co-director/shooter, captures the footage to external firewire drives. Clones the drives to hand-off to MacIntyre. Smith plows through the media to develop storylines, writes the script, records the narrative VO and assembles the rough cut. He then ftps the FCP project file and VO tracks to MacIntyre for online. MacIntyre reconnects all the media in FCP to the cloned drive and sexes up each rough cut.

“Honestly, these are 4 minute bursts of eye candy. Each episode has to move. We load ‘em up with cool graphics, effects and custom music tracks,” MacIntyre says. He creates most of the graphics in After Effects. “As powerful as FCP is, it definitely has its limitations. But that’s why ever good editor has a toolkit. I’m always encouraging new editors to become a sponge. Dig into After Effects, Photoshop and Compressor. Knowledge is extra billable hours!” he recommends.

Each 4-6 minute episode of Video Hustler takes about 5 hours to online. Content Media Group utilizes a secure client area of their website for episode review. After the notes pour in, tweaks are made and then the episode is encoded for digital delivery in Compressor. They usually encoded everything to Quicktime’s H.264 codec. “You get so much bang for your encoding buck with H.264. As far as file size vs. video quality, it really delivers,” MacIntyre says.

Jonas Hudson, Producer, early on struck a deal with the German online, content distribution company, Seven Load. “We utilize sevenload’s expertise in online content merchandising, reach, and technical skill sets along with street level new media guerilla marketing tactics through SEO, syndicated distribution partners and PPC distribution to build the audience,” says Hudson.

“Video Hustler is the edgy type of content you don’t see on TV today- it’s raw, honest and moves as fast as Rage himself. sevenload is proud to be the exclusive distribution partner of this groundbreaking series”, says Jeff Coe, Director International at sevenload.

“Monetizing content has been the battle-cry of every video professional,” MacIntyre says, “We know how to create the stuff. We can do that hung over on any Monday. Making a living from the stuff has always been the challenge. I think you really need to develop partnerships with other content creators and distributors. Most important, think niche. It’s easier to sell a series that targets a specific subject/community.” ‘Easier’ is, of course, relative. But the logic is solid.

Targeted content is easier to pitch and sell. The amount of niche communities online is staggering. Every one of them is hungry for original content. Fill the need and you’re closer to filling your wallet. The only caveat is celebrity-driven material. If the concept’s solid and a well- known name is committed, the road is a lot less rocky and financial backing becomes more attainable.

Content Media Group isn’t getting rich off Video Hustler, but that was never the point. “At this stage in the game, brand building has never been more important. We are positioning ourselves as the new media go-to guys. There’s still great ground floor opportunity in this medium, so get out there and start cooking up content!”, MacIntyre says.

Social marketing through Facebook, My Space, Twitter and blogs is the cornerstone of digital brand building. New media thrives on viral love. Get people talking about your content and sit back and watch your views swell. As for swelling of your wallet? Patience. Acceptable revenue models for any new venture are always last to show at the party. Thankfully, this is one party that will continue to rage. So, enjoy the low cover-charge and be ready to pounce with great content when money eventually arrives fashionably late.