How I started in the video business

February 12, 2014 at 11:01 pm | Posted in Daily blogs and thoughts | Leave a comment
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This is a true story.  I’m not  embellishing anything, which admittedly, I am prone to do in some of my writing.  I’m going to leave off the name of a few companies in this post because I don’t want to embarrass anyone.

I ran the in-house video production department at COMPANY X for 10 years.  I’m sure plenty of video production companies weren’t happy about that either, especially the ones that serviced COMPANY X before they hired me to start an in-house.  Shortly before hiring me, COMPANY X bought a television camera and gave it to an admin assistant to struggle with.  She had problems figuring which cable goes to the “Genlock” connector and which went on the “video” plug.  She was constantly afraid of the equipment because the connectors all said “1V p-p” in the manual, and she didn’t know what the P-P was for, and didn’t want anyone to know that she didn’t know what the P-P was for.  She was one of those people who could spend hours with a software manual, looking for the “any key” on the keyboard.

The videos we made looked like total crap the first year.  Why not?  We didn’t know what we were doing.  I had worked in a Union shop doing broadcast news as an associate producer,  I wasn’t even allowed to touch the equipment.

At COMPANY X, back in the 1980’s, we had a one tube newvicon camera, I think it was a Panasonic 4290, or 4920, or something like that.  I once saw a technician open up the camera to tweak some miniature adjustments.  One day after watching that, I opened up the camera and found the adjustments labeled “gain” and “chroma” and “r-y” and all other kinds of weird legends.   So I stuck my screwdriver in and tried to make the picture better.  After I totally f’d up the camera because I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing, I told my manager at COMPANY X that we should invest in a new “3 tube camera” to give us better pictures.  After a lot of begging, justifying and filling out forms, we bought a Panasonic 777.

My first new hire, about 6 months after we bought the 777, dropped it.  It never worked the same.  Then after a few years, the Saticon tubes in the camera needed to be replaced since they wear out.  COMPANY X  wouldn’t give me the $2000 for the repair.  Finance said any expense that big had to be capitalized.  But since the camera was already on a 10 year depreciation (I know, who thinks a video camera lasts 10 years? ) it didn’t make sense to invest the money.  Thus, we had a 4 year old camera that was worn out, but still on the books at 60% of its original cost.

The end result was that we made lousy looking videos for in-house clients that didn’t have any money, and when I could squeeze the money out of them, we rented cameras.  That was my manager’s idea; he told me if I rented enough cameras, finance would see it made sense to invest in new equipment, because we’d be saving money by buying instead of renting.

Fast forward a year, a new CEO comes in and decides COMPANY X needs to be top quality on everything we do.  Since we had been spending so much money on rentals, I could make a case that we could save money by investing in new cameras.   I got a pair of Hitachi 2/3” chip cameras with both ENG and Studio kits, a Targa board, a dual channel TBC and a third ¾” VTR so we could do A/B rolls on edits.  This time, they put all the new stuff on accelerated depreciation.  The 777 with the worn out tubes was sent to a cabinet to live out its retirement years.

A year and a half later, COMPANY X decided it wasn’t going to be in the video business anymore.  I was promoted to the manager of mail-room operations, printer ribbon sales, and lease auto.  Nobody seemed to question how 9 years of producing training videos qualified me for any of those positions.

Within a year, I was laid off.  Leaving on a high note, I told my manager I was starting my own business, and if they had any problems or questions on anything I knew about, had been working on, was responsible for, etc, that I considered us as parting on good terms, we were friends, I had no hard feelings and I would always be there to help them out, be it a phone call or coming in if they needed me to.

Within a month, they hired me to sell their video equipment.  I was told “Just get book value so we can clear the assets off the books.”

A neighbor of mine knew another person who was starting a new video production company, we’ll call it COUNTY VIDEO.  COMPANY X had a very nice lighting grid – that’s the pipework that hangs from a ceiling that studio lighting is mounted onto. COUNTY VIDEO bought it all.  Fixtures, dimmers, studio curtains, clamps, thousands of dollars in spare lamps. They even hired an electrician to come in and take down the black pipes hanging from the ceiling to put in his facility.  COMPANY X was greatly impressed with me selling their pipes.  They didn’t even realize they had the pipes up there.

I even found someone interested in buying an old Panasonic 777.  The camera was pretty worn out, but the lens was worth several thousand.  Enough to clear it off the books.

I sold one Hitachi camera, one ENG kit, two studio kits and a pair of tripods to the owner of TOWN VIDEO, who had the same camera as COMPANY X, but only with one ENG kit.  I figured the price out so it would clear the second camera off of COMPANY X’s books, but TOWN VIDEO still got his stuff at 1/4 of what he would have paid for it new.

Then I told COMPANY X that I wanted their other Hitachi camera, and since I had raised enough to clear it off the books it was worthless and they should give it to me for free.  They balked and said it sounded like I had a real a conflict of interest.  I spoke with their corporate attorney and reminded him that he said they wanted book value.  I got them book value so I did exactly what had been asked.  The assets were off the books.

Then I reminded him that he laid me off after ten years of dedicated service, and I had a baby at home and needed that camera to survive, and I had even got him money for the lighting grid pipes that he was planning on paying someone to take down.  Guilt made the deal.

Finally, I took the commission they were paying me for managing the video equipment sale and used it to purchase their edit system which consisted of 3 tape decks, signal processors, a character generator, a 19” rack, and a bunch of monitors, cables, and wires.   I still have a box full of BNC cables in lengths up to 100 feet if anyone’s interested.

But the highlight of this story is when COMPANY X  decided they wanted to be in the video business again and hired me as an independent consultant to make videos.  So I shot their videos, using the camera they had sold me for free, charging them full rental rate for the use of their own equipment, which of course was worthless to their finance department.  It was very gratifying editing their video programs on the equipment they paid me to get rid of for them because they didn’t want to be in the video business anymore.  But the best part was when they were happy with the final product and thanked me.  Then their marketing VP referred me to other companies.

Go figure.

As the story comes to its end, I made a deal with COUNTY VIDEO; the guy who bought the lighting grid.  If he let me put my sign on his door, I guaranteed him all my studio work.  It was a real pleasure when COMPANY X came down to the studio and paid me to rent their black pipes, curtains and cameras from COUNTY VIDEO.  Those pipes are still there today and we still shoot videos in that place, although he took my sign down when I moved out.

I forgot how much fun it was working for a big company.  When I think back, it’s no surprise what kind of financial shape this country is in.

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