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Got Politics? Bring it to the Table!

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Do you talk politics at your table?

Left or right, red or blue, conservative or progressive – it is that time again. The Presidential election is upon us. For the next five months, leading up to November 6, 2012, political imagery will capture the attention of America and beyond.

The photography will be ubiquitous. And the films, ads, and speeches, will flood our airwaves, tvs and tablets. The pundits will express their impassioned points of view. Some people love it. But these days, many people seem to cringe at the very word: “politics.” Either way, this time period never fails to create some strong and iconic imagery. Click through some of the tabs above to see photos from the last nine presidential elections and beyond.

Everyone knows the saying, “Dont talk politics or religion at the dinner table.” The assumption being that it could lead to unpleasant conversation. Indeed people’s values are often rooted in beliefs that will not likely change…at least not before dessert is served. In fact, there is fear that these topics could create an uncomfortable situation. It’s just safer to talk about the weather, sports or the latest movie… and say, “Yup, that’s some crazy [rain, homerun, special effects]…please pass the sweet-potatoes.”

Talking Eyes Media, a non-profit founded by husband and wife Julie Winokur and award-winning photojournalist Ed Kashi, launched a Kickstarter campaign back in May to challenge this premise of keeping your mouth-shut-when-it-comes-to-politics. Their vision, “Bring it to the Table” was funded and they have taken the project on the road to invite people of all opinions to an open dialogue around poltics. The Bring it to the Table website explains:

Democracy is founded on robust dialogue, but somewhere along the line, politics replaced sex as the one thing in America we don’t discuss in mixed company – even amongst friends and family.
Bring it to the Table is a participatory online platform, community engagement campaign, and webisode series aimed at bridging political divides and elevating the national conversation. The project is for those who are tired of hyper-partisanship.

On the eve of America’s 236th birthday (July 4th for those of you tuning in from outside of USA) – what could be more patriotic than creating a more open dialogue?

You can help Bring it to the Table by donating here and check out their Tumblr here.

Shepard Fairey Installs 100-foot Mural

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Shepard Fairey has a new installation in London’s Pleasure Gardens. The 10-story mural is part of the London Pleasure Garden’s vision of emulating the 17th and 19th Century tradition of ‘communal spaces where people from all walks of life converged to listen to music, admire paintings, stroll, drink, flirt and immerse themselves in the culture.’ As the world’s attention turns to London for the 2012 Olympic Games (July 27-Aug 12) the longtime cultural capital of the world is hot showcase for these convergences of art, music, sport and media attention.

Head into your weekend with a quote from Fairey: “Art [and creativity] is really undervalued as a means of evolving culture. The more that [street art] is encouraged and there is a space that incubates it the better. As an artist, I always felt that museums and galleries were just too narrow a venue for my art – and art in general. The best art works like music, where music, when you really like it, you listen to the melody and the beat and then you pay attention to the lyrics and what the message is. It becomes a whole feeling and an idea bundled in one – visual art should work the same way.”

Powerful Wildfire Photos from Colorado

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Photo: Helen H. Richardson


Summer-time wildfires are a fact of life in the dry climates of the Rocky Mountain state.

However, the conditions in Colorado this summer have brought record breaking wildfires. There are currently three major fires burning at once. The High Park, Waldo Canyon and Flagstaff fires have consumed, by some estimates, over 100,000 acres and close to 600 homes. Devastating.

The photography coming out of Colorado is powerful. From the captured emotions of people watching their homes burn, to tired firefighters, to apocalyptic-like skies – it is reminiscent of a war zone. The photography is honest and eery. Click through some of the tabs above to view some of the photos curated from the hundreds floating around on the internet.

Our thoughts go out to the people of Colorado, especially the Colorado Springs and Fort Collins area who have lost homes in these fires. For more information on how to help those effected click HERE

Bio of a Commercial Shoot: 9 Days in 4.5 Minutes

Last year during our winter photo/video campaign for REI, Chase asked me to shoot a few behind the scenes stills every day to contribute to his Diary of a Shoot blog series. The following is what he got in return. This is what happens when you ask the video guy to shoot stills.

Too fast for you? Take spin through Chase’s blog series for the daily play by play of the shoot. It’s packed with useful information.

The music is “Eyes Be Closed” by Washed Out. If you dig it, you can buy it here.

My Favorite CameraBag of Tricks

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Camera Bag 1 on Chase Jarvis BlogHey photo friends. Erik here with a quick recommendation for an inexpensive photo editing solution.  I’ve been playing around with the CameraBag 2desktop software for the last couple months and I’m blown away at the capabilities packed into this affordable editing tool.  If you’re new to photo editing and wanna save a few bucks, or you’re like me and find inspiration in trying out new photo apps, I highly recommend you download this software. [20 sample photos by clicking the image tabs above...]

Here are my 3 favorite features:

1. Presets: CameraBag 2 is loaded with dozens of awesome presets. Scott recently wrote a blog post and then another blog post about the pros and cons of using presets. It sparked considerable debate and it was a pretty even split between the fans and the naysayers. I am a fan. Presets are a throw back to the inherent experimentation that photographers had with film and help to discover new possibilities and styles. It’s great way to take a fresh look at your photos. But, even as a fan, I believe that presets are useless without the following functions.

2. Customization: The “Style” presets are customizable via the built-in “Remix” slider. It’s fast and it’s slick. The software also comes preloaded with about 80 presets in the “Favorites” tab that, when applied to your photo, display every effect and adjustment in play at the bottom of the screen. You can tweak each effect and rearrange them to see how the order affects the final image. Infinite customization.

3. Quicklook: The Quicklook view is just plain badass. Clicking it gives you a proof-sheet view of options for styles, adjustments, borders, or favorites. Executed as a full-screen, side-by-side preview of what’s possible it is a speedy and brilliant tool to find the aesthetic you’re looking for.

That’s just a handful of notable features. Be sure to take a spin through this gallery of images atop this post that features before and after shots (from some of my bts snapshots). More questions? Checkout the CameraBag 2 website

Selective Focus Can Be Your Friend — Tilt Photography on the Cheap

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Hey photo friends – Erik here. While I’m typically the video guy around these parts,  I wanted to hop on the blog to quickly tell you about a piece of camera gear that I’ve been enjoying lately.  I picked up a Tilt Transformer from Lensbaby about a month ago and it’s now a permanent piece of my walk-around photography kit.  The Tilt Transformer allows you to mount your Nikon lenses to a Micro Four Thirds or Sony NEX camera and then swivel the Tilt Transformer around for some dramatic selective focus shots. Tilting the lens creates a “slice” of focus that can be adjusted vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, and the size of the focus slice can be adjusted by changing the aperture on the lens.  It’s a great way to create tilt-shift style photography for a fraction of the price of a single tilt-shift lens.

Q: What is the benefit of a tilt or tilt/shift lens?
A: The benefit of a tilt (or tilt/shift) lens can be myriad, but mostly it’s incredibly effective at removing visual noise and focusing or drawing the viewer’s eye to the intended subject.

Use the image tabs atop this post to take a spin through a gallery of photos I shot with it and my Olympus E-P3 and see what I mean. Also take a peek at the Lensbaby site for more details.

10 Essentials to Go the Extra Mile (for Your Clients + Crew)

extra mile 1Hello, readers! Megan here, Producer at Chase Jarvis Inc. We’ve just returned from an amazing 6-day shoot in Aspen, CO. You perhaps read about it here, here, or here. It got me thinking about client/crew relationships and customer service.

One of the ways you can set yourself apart as a creative professional is to really go the extra mile for both your client(s) and your crew. This applies to YOU, whether you’re a photographer or director producing your own jobs with a small crew, or a producer wrangling a hefty crew with a lot of moving parts. Here are some things to think about before your next shoot:

1. Flights: We do a lot of traveling around here, and we all know that flying can be a pain in the you-know-what. Lines, waiting, more lines, more waiting. Knowing whether people prefer a window or aisle, bulkhead or exit row, goes a long way to make the experience that much better. Be sure to include frequent flier numbers, when applicable. Also, how is everyone getting to the airport? Can you arrange for a car service to carpool some folks that live close to one another? Or should everyone cab it individually and bill the cost along with their final invoice?

2. Hotels: Whether you’re staying in a 3, 4, or 5-star hotel with tons of amenities, or a low-budget motel off the highway, providing the front desk with some details about your stay can really help things run smoothly.  Be sure to let them know how many of you are traveling together and if you have any special needs (early check-in, late check-out, meeting space for your pre-pro, printing capabilities, wi-fi access, breakfast, gear storage, etc.). Ask for dining recommendations or the location of the nearest grocery or drug store. Additionally, since you’re perhaps spending a serious chunk of change with the hotel, you might be able to wiggle into a few extra benefits as well that could help your shoot – early breakfast, discount rates, or extra rooms for gear/meetings. Also remember: the front desk is there to help, if you let them. You can show your appreciation by generously tipping the staff, the shuttle driver, bell hop, housekeeping, etc. Upon checkout, we like to leave an envelope at the front desk for housekeeping. Generally, the rule of thumb is $2 to $5 per day per room.

3. Rental cars:  Think about what kind of space you need:  you may be traveling with so much gear that an SUV is a necessity or maybe even a cargo van.  Or maybe your client wants a convertible if you’re shooting somewhere warm and tropical. Which company should you use?  There’s a balance to be found between price, convenience and reliability. We are usually hurrying off to a pre-pro or a scout and need to know that our car is ready and right. Whenever possible, we go with a company with whom we have a preferred account for fast service and a location in the main terminal.

4. Food: I could go on forever about this one. Food is often an undervalued aspect of a shoot. Keeping your crew well-fed and watered can go a long way to making a tough day feel less tiresome.

  1. Know food allergies and/or preferences. Is anyone allergic to nuts, gluten-free or vegetarian?
  2. Snacks are an easy way to make people happy. Our crew likes Peanut M&Ms, red Swedish Fish, beef jerky and string cheese. What does your crew like to have handy?
  3. What kind of restaurants does your client like to eat at for dinner? Sushi? Mexican? Find out so you can make a reservation in advance. We always love a spot with a private room for large parties. In many restaurants, there’s not even an extra charge!

5. Community: Make sure you get to know your clients and crew well; nothing brings a crew together like an off-duty meal. It’s a fantastic opportunity to talk about things other than the j-o-b and really get to know everyone on a personal level. Your client’s wedding anniversary is next month? File that tidbit away so you can be sure to send him or her a card and perhaps a bottle of wine.

6. Follow-through: Make sure everyone has received and read the call sheet you emailed by following up with a phone call to confirm. It sucks when a key member of your team calls bright and early on shoot day frantic because they don’t know where to go and when.

7. Organization: If there’s one skill that every producer should have honed, it’s organization. It can be tricky to keep track of all the moving pieces, but if you have a good system in place, it can help out tremendously. Try centralizing your information into a production book, with the creative, contact info, schedule, shot list, talent, locations, permits, calendar, travel confirmations, etc. that you can constantly reference. Not only is it super helpful for you, but it instills confidence in your client that you know what you’re doing and that you have everything under control.

8. Details: You know what they say, the devil is in the details. It’s often the little things that make the difference between an okay shoot and an awesome one. Is there a concierge we can leave our skis + snowboards with at the hotel? Is there a hotel shuttle available to take us to the location? Did you remember to get that radio to the 1st assistant? Or make sure everyone has their lift tickets on them? There are a million of these little details to think about on any shoot. The more you can anticipate in advance, the smoother your shoot will go. And the more you’ll impress your clients.

9. Communication: Words to live by, friends, “over-communicate.” Make sure everyone is on the same page and knows what the expectations are. Just had a conference call with your client? Summarize what transpired and who’s responsible for what in an email. I promise you, this will save your behind at one point or another during your career. This is also an effective way to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

10. Be (sincerely) nice: This might seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten myself out of a jam by simply being really nice. I’m not suggesting that you overdo it on the saccharine; in fact, no one likes a kiss-ass. This can sometimes be easier said than done, but don’t forget that we’re lucky to be doing what we love for a living. You’ll find that people (both clients + crew) are a lot more eager to work with you on a long-term basis if you just be nice :)

Thanks for reading! For more production tips, be sure to check out Kate’s awesome post here.

10 Tips to Help Photographers & Creatives [that's YOU] with Contracts

ARGH...  Contracts!!!!

ARGH... Contracts!!!!

Are you a photographer, filmmaker or creative type and find yourself bogged down by contracts and legal documents? No where to turn? Do contracts make you want to scream? Well hello friends. It’s me Kate, Executive Producer over here at Chase Jarvis Inc. One of my roles as EP is to deal with all of the legal schmegal that comes through our shop and –while I have an excellent lawyer that I always consult– I feel your pain. Over the years I’ve learned a fair bit and now try to do as much of the legwork as I can reasonably do to keep legal costs as low as possible. You may want to consider this approach – it has saved us thousands of dollars.

I will start by stating very overtly that I am NOT a lawyer and can’t give you legal advice. This post is not said advice.  I do, however, think that–by example–it could be really helpful if I were to break down one common contract that photographers often get asked to sign before a project – the Non Disclosure Agreement (the “NDA”) AND THEN outline some generally helpful tips regarding contracts in general. This won’t give you all the details, but it will give you an important foundation, an approach, on which to build. That’s the point of this post – here goes:

Example:  The Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA).

The NDA is a contract that is also commonly known as a confidentiality agreement or secrecy agreement.  It is a legal contract between at least two parties that protects the discloser (person sharing the info) and the confidential information when they share information with a recipient (person receiving the information) for a specific purpose.  You may be asked to sign one any time an individual or company feels that they are sharing confidential information with you.  This is certainly smart business practice for sharing sensitive information… IN FACT, you may even want to have your own NDA to protect your own confidential information if you’re in a positon to share such info with contractors, etc.

My Top 10 Checklist for NDAs
Below you will find ten things to consider as you review any NDA.  And again, you should definitely consult a lawyer, but this is a great starting point:

  1. Is there a “Purpose” or “Project” clearly defined?  This will limit your confidentiality requirements to the specific project on which you are working.
  2. Do the disclosure terms favor the party sharing the most information?  It is designed to protect the discloser.
  3. Does the agreement need to be mutual or not?   You might be sharing confidential information on the project too.  If you are, you may want to use an MNDA (Mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement).
  4. What is included in the definition of “Confidential Information?” Is this reasonable?
  5. Is there a “Feedback” clause?  This explains what rights the discloser will have to any of YOUR feedback.  For example, it may say that your suggestions or recommendations belong to the discloser.  You should decide if this is ok for you.
  6. Review the “Term” (period of time for the contract) and “Termination” (how the contract may be ended).  Both of these elements should be appropriate to the project.
  7. Is there a “Survival” clause?  This states that should you end the contract, certain parts of the contract may always be valid.  Know and understand what these elements are, so you are sure to be in compliance.
  8.  Read the “Boilerplate” (that means the standard sections) even though it may seem boring.
  9.  State of law.  If troubles develop down the line and legal action is required, where would the proceedings would take place.  You may not be able to change this one, but it is good to know.
  10. Look for the standard exceptions to confidentiality.  These favor YOU, the recipient, and state when and if information is NOT considered confidential or when it may be shared.  In NON-legal jargon, these are examples:
  1. You knew the information before it was disclosed to you AND YOU CAN PROVE/DOCUMENT IT.
  2. The information is or becomes publicly available (in a legal way and not through breach of any contract.)
  3. The information becomes LAWFULLY available from a third party (that means NOT through your company or the disclosing company).  And again, it must be legal, without any violation of confidentiality obligations.
  4. You independently develop what is protected by the confidentiality WITHOUT the use of the confidential information.  Be VERY careful with this one.
  5. You are legally required to disclose the information.  Just make sure you really are legally required to do so before you do.  Also, you would want to determine with your lawyer if you are required to or should notify the company.

Some companies have developed really excellent NDAs that are perfectly good to sign in their original state.  Others may just have a stock NDA that is quite broad and may even feel that it doesn’t make sense for your situation.  You are looking to make sure that whatever you sign works for your company and the purpose of your project.  I have the impression that many recipients believe that they MUST sign the NDA AS-IS in order to even be considered for the project.  While that MAY be the case, in my experience, I have found that companies have been very open to suggestions IF the following is true:

  • they are reasonable requests and
  • I make it easy for them.  They do NOT want more work, so I always send the client two things when I’m requesting changes:
  1. a “Red Line” version of their own NDA, which shows the changes I and/or my lawyer have made within the document, and
  2. a SIGNED, clean copy for them.  That way, if they agree to our changes, they already have what they need. (This is often a magical technique that demonstrates efficiency and understandingl

If the company is not open to making any changes, it’s up to you to decide with your lawyer if you are willing to sign the contract with a real understanding of what your risks are.

Finally, Some General Contract Thoughts.
In this post, we looked at one specific kind of contract, but there are so many more… JOY!   As you go forth, with your pen poised to sign away, stop first and consider the following before you sign anything [and did I mention that I am NOT a lawyer??  So, please take these thoughts with a grain of salt.  These are just my thoughts after working in this capacity with Chase for so many years.]

  1. ALWAYS read and understand what your are signing.
  2. Seek advice. I know that legal advice can be very expensive, but know that getting into a bad agreement can be far worse.  Sometimes it can be more economical to belong to professional organizations to get access to legal support, discounted legal advice or even documents.  Try ASMP.org for resources around legal documents.
  3. Stay positive in you negotiations around contracts.  It is GREAT NEWS that a client wants to work with you!! Contracts are just one of the steps to the end goal of a fantastic job.  You may not get everything that you ask for, but through the process you will understand what your are signing up for and make sure to avoid any ‘deal breakers.’
  4. Always keeps copies of the agreement that are signed by both parties.
  5. Note any requirements from the agreement you may have to follow through with later.

Best of luck to you in your legal endeavors!  Until next time, Kate

The 50 Greatest Cameras of All Time?

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50 greatest camerasHey photo friends, Erik here.  I recently stumbled upon Photography Monthly’s article on “The 50 Greatest Cameras of All Time”.  I was a little surprised that my beloved Olympus E-P3 didn’t make their list, but I put together this little collection of some of my other favorites with some bits of information about them for your perusal. 

And whoa are there some doozies in there. The list is fascinating, lots of history and indications of the future. Click thru the gallery tabs above to see the rest of the cameras and then let us know what your favorites are – whether they’re on the list or not. Commentary? Why do you love em? Inquiring minds want to know…

No, But I Can Learn

i can learn

Do you know how to load a roll of film?
Work a light meter?
Edit slides on a light table?
Scan film?
Color correct scans?
Track a photo inventory?
Submit photos to clients?
Work with a stock agency?
Make prints?
Pack a camera bag?
Ship equipment?
Set up lights?
Scout a location?
Drive on the left side of the road?
Order food in French?
Clean a digital sensor?
Work in Photoshop?
Create a workflow?
Edit a Portfolio?
Build a creative brief?
Create a composite image?
Shoot from a helicopter?
Work 30 days straight (with a hangover)?
Use a prototype camera?
Shoot and edit video?
Manage a huge equipment inventory?
Develop filters for a photo app?
Layout a book?
Film a TV show?
Write a magazine article?
Build a community?
Hang an art installation?
Survive in Manhattan?
Film a Live broadcast?
Write a blog post?

I didn’t. When I started working in photography as Chase’s assistant, I was a blank slate. I like to think I still am. Many of these skills have become obsolete. Others did not even exist when I started. Knowing how to do everything is not the goal. Knowing that you can learn is everything.

Buying Mics & Hacking Audio for Your DSLR Video Setup

Zoom H4n on D7000HDSLR video is a great way to get high quality footage on a micro budget; and a great way to keep that budget micro is to be picky about what accessories are right for your setup.  I recently received an email question focused on this and–in particular–if I had to choose between the Rode Stereo Videomic or the Zoom H4n, which would I use?  So here’s a little background on my thinking…

1. Cost. They cost roughly the same amount, and I use both on a regular basis, so the question is a tough one.
2. The Rode. I recently did a blog post about the Rode Mic a few months ago. You should read it, but to summarize; I love the thing for its straight forward simplicity.  It allows me to just shoot and not worry about sound, but…
3. The Zoom. …When I DO need to worry about the sound (such as an interview or a scene in a narrative film) I bust out the Zoom H4n. It captures better files that the straight camera – remember it’s sole function is audio.

So, while my preference is to have both, if forced to chose one, I would buy the H4n. Here’s why: with a little hack, spending a little more cash and buying one extra cable plus a hot shoe adapter you can turn the Zoom H4n into a badass on-camera mic. Here’s how:

First, get a hot shoe adapter like this one and mount your H4n on top of your camera.

Second, plug this line-out splitter into the headphone jack of the H4n and plug the male end of it into the mic input on your camera.  Now your camera will record what the H4n’s microphones are picking up and your H4n will record a high quality, AGC (automatic gain control) free backup file.

Third, you can even monitor what the H4n is recording with 1/8” headphone jack on the fancy new cable you bought.

Lastly, an important tip. Make sure the H4n is recording!  It’s easy to forget to start your audio recorder when the director just yells “Roll camera!”.

This is a little more of piecemeal one-man-band kinda setup than using just a microphone like the Rode, so make sure you’re familiar enough with your equipment to make it work properly without slowing down the production while you make adjustments.  You’ll probably be in the role of be being audio guy and camera guy, so make sure to practice to get good at both.

Here’s an enlarged image of the thumbnail above, highlighting the cabling. Keep in mind that these cables were purchased at RadioShack a while back just to test out my original hack job/experiment. If you buy the cables I linked to above from B&H, your setup will look much slicker than this first attempt pictured here.

Zoom H4n on D7000

Here’s a picture of my setup with cables purchased at RadioShack. If you buy the cables I linked to above, your setup will look much slicker than mine.

Save Money! Last Minute Tax & Money Considerations for Creatives

Mara here – I handle the money & taxes here around Chase Jarvis Inc – chiming in with a few last minute year end accounting tips for all you creatives out there. In these moments of the year, I suggest you take an hour today before the parties begin to focus on your accounting paperwork and the financial status of your business. Here’s a few things to look at ASAP

Contractor or Assistant Payments. Review the payments made to contractors for the year and check that you have all the W-9’s you’ll need for your January 1099’s (they are due to be delivered in January!) If you paid an individual or single member LLC at least $600 in service income this year, you’ll need their Social Security Number or EIN. Send those emails out now, you’ll beat the end of January rush.

Profits & Losses. Look at your profit or loss for the year. Do you have a profit or a loss? If it makes sense to reduce your profit this year, buy something now!! Do you need some new equipment? How about just some printer cartridges or a new bag? Anything you buy this year will reduce what you send to the IRS. Alternatively, if you have a loss or think it would be better to reduce next year’s profit, you may want to wait to spend that money until after the first of the year. Remember, if you charge that purchase on a credit card, the purchase counts in the year you charge it, not when you pay the credit card bill.

Tweak it. Think about any small changes that would streamline the way your business runs. For example, we find that sometimes we work with models who don’t have experience creating invoices since they don’t work as an independent contractor very often. We’ve created a simple fill in the blank invoice that they can fill in on-site with all their relevant information. It saves us having to explain the process to them and potentially needing to chase down an address later. Is there anything that you can prepare now to simplify your life on projects next year?

Big changes. Start to think about whether you need to make any big changes in your business. Should you add a retirement plan? Is your accounting software working for you? Do you like your bank? How about your tax accountant, do you need to start shopping for a new one? January is a great time to make changes since most businesses run on a calendar year and there’s no time to consider that like right now. If you wait, I’ll be April before you think about this stuff again.

Tax status. A big decision, if you’re a sole proprietor, is whether it’s time to incorporate your business. I can’t advise you on this, you’ll need to discuss it with your accountant and maybe a lawyer. But if you think you’ve grown to the level where it makes sense to have that separation (protection from your personal assets), start to look at it now. Make the appointment with your advisor today! Roping in your lawyer/accountant at the beginning of January is a heckuva lot easier than April when everybody else is trying to get their taxes in.

That’s it. hope you’re enjoying family and friends and holiday cheer. And if you can act on at least one tip above this week, I’ll give you credit for crossing off a New Year’s resolution in advance!

When The Music Matters–Interview with Commercial Composer McKenzie Stubbert

McKenzie Stubbert in StudioErik here…As the resident video editor here at Chase Jarvis Inc, I’m on a never ending search for music. Often times the music drives the edit. The rhythm of the music can have a huge influence on the pace for the cuts and the mood can make a hilarious moment tragic. In other instances I get the luxury of having custom music created which is based on my edit of the footage. When that opportunity presents itself, we reach out to skilled composer and our frequent collaborator, McKenzie Stubbert. Most recently he created the music for our ‘Dasein: The Art of Being’ documentary. While putting the finishing touches on the score in his Portland studio, I seized the opportunity to pick his brain a little about what he does.

How did this become a career for you? What’s your musical background?
I started music/piano lessons at around four years old. With the combination of supportive parents who encouraged and paid for lessons and a school system that still had money for music, I was able to get a lot of opportunities to practice and perform. After high school I went to music school and got a fairly formal education focused on composition. After that I had to teach myself the technological and business side of being a composer who can earn a living. They didn’t teach me those things in college. Add that on top of a basic natural ability for music and voracious appetite for all forms of art and…ta-dah!

How would you describe your “sound”?
McKenzie Stubbert in Studio 2I’m still working on this and in a way hope that I never firmly land and stay anywhere. At one point a friend described what I write as “sad clown music” with “twinkles”. While I haven’t written circus music in a while, I’m still drawn to more melancholy harmonies and icy/metallic textures. But, as a commercial composer, I try to be versatile and write to the needs of the creative goal. Sometimes that means writing something quite different from what I would normally write for myself.

 

What are the various ways you get hired? How do you market yourself?
The adage “you’ve gotta know a guy” is still true. This translates into trying to get to know a lot of people.

At one point, I spent about a month solid calling and emailing people around the country trying to get them to check out my work. It netted about a 1% return. I’ve found that it’s very important to have good work and a clean website with which to share. My good friend Jason Glaspey (interactive wizard) told me that “your website needs to tell a story and, in this case, the story is: ‘I am good at what I do. I am available for hire and here are some examples of work I’ve done, and people I’ve worked with. When you’re ready to hire me, here’s how to get in touch.’” His advice helped me focus everything about my approach.

I still have to contact a lot of people. Looking for work doesn’t really ever stop But, the more projects I work on, the moreMcKenzie Stubbert Studio people become familiar with my work and no longer need to be convinced that I’m good enough at what I do to be hired.

I’m certainly guilty of coming to you on several occasions with my hat in my hands, hoping you’ll compose some magic for a project with a challenging budget or timeframe, how do you decide what projects are worth your time and effort?
With every project there are three possibilities:
1) The people are good.
2) The project is good.
3) The money is good.

I have to have two of those to take the job. This isn’t a philosophy of my own invention but one that I try to abide by.

McKenzie Stubbert Studio 4Talking specifically about our Dasein documentary, what about that video made you want to take it on?
I’m always looking for projects that are so good that if I saw it later and didn’t work on it I would be really annoyed. Also, I’m a sucker for slo-mo b/w film of New York. Chase and Co make pretty pictures that are hard to resist.

What’s your process like?  Where do you start?  Do you start writing right away or do you allow time for the content to simmer?
How much time I spend before I start writing is directly related to how much time there is before the music is due. Each project is essentially a puzzle which needs the right sounding piece to fit in the space. In designing the piece I have to decide what the sound should be. What is the vibe/groove/feel/etc?. The real writing often doesn’t start until I’ve solved this problem.

I’m always impressed by your ability to take your musical cues from moments in films that I never expected. Can you give some examples of that in the Dasein video?
The Dasein logo that spreads out was an obvious “hit point”. It was actually my wife who said, “I want to hear a deep sound like a helicopter there”. That ended up shaping the pulsing sound that kind of anchors the entire piece. Also, the nature of the slo-mo b/w footage suggested a kind of dream was happening. Almost as if Chase is talking and remembering everything that you are seeing.

What equipment do you use to compose your music?
I use a Radio Shack tape recorder and make every sound you hear with my mouth and a piece of wax paper.

And…Apple Logic and myriad of virtual instruments. The Kontakt player is pretty vital to me.

How do you figure pricing/licensing for your work?
Usage is key. A 30 second spot for a tiny website is going to cost way less than a 30 second national TV spot. But that cost always seems to change. It would be much easier if there was a national index I could consult every morning like I was selling gold. Well…I am selling gold, but just not the kind that everyone can agree on. Music has value only McKenzie Stubbert Studio 5when everyone agrees on it. It can be tricky to know what that is because people are essentially guessing based on their previous guess, then using that new guess as the precedent for the next guess. All that to say I try to do my best to come up with a number that’s fair to all involved.

What advice can you give about maintaining relationships with clients and collaborators?
Frank Zappa said “talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” Being that the very subject of my work is often hard to discuss, I try to be as clear as possible when it comes to every other aspect of my work. Before I send off every email to a client I ask myself…am I being/have they been clear? Clarity of language is key for me. It’s important for me to document what decisions are being made at every step so we can refer to those as we go along the process of the project. I also try to remember that this isn’t a commissioned work of art. What I’m doing has to serve not only the project, but the client’s desires for the project. I find that when I convey that goal to my clients, they trust my instincts a bit more.

 

 

For a refresher of what McKenzie does, give Dasein: The Art of Being a LISTEN:

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