A demo of Tilt Brush, bright colours

We Went To The FilmVic VR Industry Day

By | Innovation, VR | No Comments

We got to participate in Film Victoria and ACMI’s free VR Lab as part of the VR Industry Day, November 2016. Producer Simon J Green was a successful VR Lab participant and, thanks to those kind organisers, had the opportunity to develop our VR concept with a range of experienced VR content creators from VRTOV, Sandpit, StartVR, Grumpy Sailor, Visual Playground and PLaTO Reality. Here he is, letting you know what it was like.

First I wandered around the playground of VR experiences and demos, trying some I’d done before like the excellent NYTs solitary confinement piece, and new fun like the carnival games in Vive that were just good old fashioned, Wii style fun.

Finally got to try Collisions, the first VR film with stories from Aboriginal Australians. The possibilities of such incredible spaces and people were under-utilised, but the highlights were the drone shots as Nyarri Morgan used his fire craft to light the scrub and the central element of the nuke going off as Nyarri told his story. His story was the best part, and I’d have loved to see more focus expanding his story into a visual, 360 medium. Awesome to see it all coming together and paired with ILM.

The session with the other creators was the best bit. Everyone, even the mentors, acknowledged we were all so new and fresh in this, so everyone was learning from everyone else. Still, we got great tips on the little things you can only discover through practical creation. And then I met three groups of people I’m now collaborating with.The workshop was an excellent leveller. There were older, more experienced traditional filmmakers in the room who, frankly, have not been the most open and willing in other settings, but who in this space could only be at the same level as the rest of us. It broke down some very tired, rather useless hierarchies, allowing us to all connect as creatives.

Something I took away was feeling that my team are making great progress in the business and distribution side of the industry, which is giving me so much confidence going forward as we turn The X Gene into a dedicated VR company. That came from, again, openness and a willingness to share both the ups and downs of our experience. As a result, those who saw my strengths, I could see strength in, and we came together to work on stuff after the lab.

I could feel our relative beginner nature, but in this context it was completely appropriate and appreciated, because we’re all starting out. What I loved was the openness. Our industry, I’ve found, keeps their doors closed, but with newer generations of makers and technology, those barriers are breaking down. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was delighted with the people I met, both the other participants and the mentors.

Enormous thanks to FilmVic and ACMI, and all the mentors and companies who gave their time, gear and expertise to the days. We’re creating a new medium with people around the world, and finally, Australia is participating on a relatively equal footing. For now, enjoy an egalitarian medium.

2017: The Year of the Organisation Nerd

By | Producing | No Comments

Hi. I’m Simon J Green. I’m an organisation nerd.

To feel comfortable with the new year, and quieten that niggling hint of panic in the back of my mind, I did this:

Gant chart in purple showing projects over time
The projects I have on this year that I want to finish.
How long each one will take, in very broad, weekly terms.
With everything here, I can see from a high level all the stuff I gotta do and how LONG it will take. I need a good 6 months for this junk!

Then I did this:

Time breakdowns of projects hour by day
I work out how many hours of actual work I’ll do on each project.
Which gives me a total number of actual working days I need to be aware of.

Which got translated into this:

Working days put into weeks
I now wanna know how much of this work will take up how much time. So I lay out two months worth of working days. I’m at Huddle 3 days a week, so they are in red.
Then I break up those actual working days from the other chart, break them in half (half days) and fill up the calendar until they’ll all in there.
These aren’t the actual days I’ll DO this work, but rather a visual representation of how much time I have, and how much time these projects will take up. Now, I know that I’m pretty much full, except for one little half day in Feb.

Doing all this fuckin’ nerd shit let me breathe a sigh of relief, ’cause now when someone asks me to help on something or do a project, I can tell ’em I’m booked up until March.

360 Video Test: Directing Viewers’ Attention

By | Innovation, Video, VR | No Comments

In a medium where the viewer chooses where to look, the 360 video director and cinematographer must use far subtler cues to ensure the important beats of a story are seen. In 2015, The X Gene and Virtual Reality Ventures worked together on a test shoot, attempting to bring the viewer into a high-action scene but still keep their attention on one point. If you’ve been inside a headset, you know you can look anywhere: up, down, to your left or right, or turn and look behind.

Here’s the result, and after the video, our observations:

The camera does not choose

In 2D filmmaking, action is planned, but the camera then moves around that action, filming different angles in short bursts. Often, the action is manipulated or cheated to get the best results when it’s all cut together. In 360 video, it’s all about the action first, with the camera almost (and in our case actually) a character to be considered as part of that action. It moves through in one long take, as everyone moves around it. A cinematographer doesn’t choose how to shoot, but rather how to move through action, choreographed like a performer.

360 video is way more like theatre

The best way to plan a 360 video shoot is to first nail the location or set, then block out how the actors move and interact over a set period of time. That is your scene. If someone fucks a take, you simply start again, but once you get it, done! So think like a theatre director whose audience is in the round, only the round keeps moving … or, to stretch the metaphor, the audience is reverse-in-the-round. Identify what is happening, where the stories are taking place and when the key moments of those stories happen, then block your camera to take your audience as close or far from those moments as is appropriate to convey meaning.

Think like a Renaissance painter

Two people run on either side of the camera. You only see one of them, so you follow her and discover she’s joined up with her comrade you never realised until now was on the other side of you. Now you watch those two run away into the distance. That’s how we made sure viewers, at the very start, were oriented the right way for the story. We picked an action sequence because that genre is the most raw, blunt way to convey story. There’s literally rising action, physically overcoming obstacles and the foe is actually vanquished to death. These codes and tropes let us use things like bullets to drag the eye, as viewers followed the stream of nerf pellets to see where they came from. This was most effective in our little twist, as we got the viewer to look up at a machine gunner, breaking away from the obvious and default eye-level as the bullets rained down. These are like live action, moving, temporal versions of how Renaissance painters directed the viewer’s eye around a canvas.

(Did you notice our director in plain sight behind the camera man during the headshot the end?)

Lighting is a thing OR Location & production design are huge

We picked our location deliberately, because the gantries on the second floor let us hide two giant 2k blondie lights that let us flood the place like we were sun gods. Lighting is totally doable, but you need to work harmoniously with location and production design more than any other medium.

Full trilateral 360° isn’t necessary

Nup. Especially not for anything you want the viewer to watch from a couch for a decent period of time. Looking behind you isn’t enough of a thing, we think, to justify using full, XYZ 360° vision, which is why we bought a 360 camera with 235° field of view: about the same amount of lateral movement you make turning your head from side to side.

This is just the start

We learnt way more during this test, and we’re gonna apply it and build on it in our next tests. Stay tuned, storytellers!

image: a drawing. one man saying to another, "I couldn't choose between comic sans or papyrus, so I used both" The listener flinches.

Cheap, Boilerplate, DIY

By | Design, Marketing | No Comments

There are plenty of ways to get cheap, easy content, but when you actually want and need quality, maybe avoid the sausage factory.

I was sent a link to a site where animations are pre-built. The user can log in, click some buttons, and get an animation element for their videos. I was asked what I think.

The thing about these automated animation engines – which are prevalent now – is they really focus on sausage factory graphics. They are designed to allow someone rapidity over originality and unique brand voice. They also, to be frank, undervalue the efforts of creatives. Exhibit A from the site:

I laughed out loud when I read that, because $80 for an animation is an absolute steal, and if someone thinks that animator is making out like a bandit, then they are a cold, cruel capitalist indeed.

What these sorts of ventures, and sites like Freelancer and Fiverr do, is strengthen the need for production companies like The X Gene to differentiate themselves on quality. My team’s work is custom designed, built on the brand voice and audience needs of the client, ensuring the outputs they create with us perfectly match the rest of their comms. We also create stuff way more advanced than the cheap stuff – it’s almost impossible to get that level at those low price points, not to mention that our processes are smoother than the far more difficult processes and translations of quick and dirty operators.

Fact is, there’ll always be people who are happy with business cards in Microsoft Word and boilerplate animations for $80 – but those aren’t our client. Our client knows and needs the skill-set, tool-set a experience a professional brings, because their level of communication, marketing and voice is at that level, too.

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IMAGE: Astronaut embarking on journey

Audience-Centred Storytelling

By | Innovation, Narrative, Research | No Comments

Narrative concepts are often developed in a bubble. The writer comes up with an idea and away the team goes, often only asking at the very end, “Does anyone actually want to see this?”

IMAGE: a straight line with Idea, through production to "Will anyone want this?" Old Fashioned Linear Concept Dev
Industries like, tech, software and product design approach what they do very differently.

IMAGE: a cycle showing an idea, tested against who might want it, what they like, leading to change and adapting. Iterative Concept Development

Audience-centred storytelling uses human-centred design principles (a mix of UX, Design Thinking and Lean methodologies) to bring the audience in from day one, before a single word is written, to test the idea of a creative team. The best creatives know that a brief, some sort of constraint is needed, against which creativity is used, in order to overcome those limitations. Give someone a blank piece of paper and say, “Be creative” and everyone is in for a world of hurt.

Orson welles quote The Enemy of Art is the Absence of Limitations

The X Gene is pioneering what it calls Audience-Centred Storytelling, working with other pioneering geniuses like Kylie Eddy at Lean Filmmaking, meaningful strategic designers Huddle, and forward thinking distributors The Backlot Studios to prototype, test and reiterate the steps and processes that let us either take a concept and ensure it’s gonna connect with a valuable audience, or start with a valuable audience and get them to help us create a story they’ll love.

IMAGE: Abril Latrene in full drag, bright blue hair, rainbow shawl.

Abril Opens Up Arts Culture’s Failings

By | Inspiration, Purpose | No Comments

I had the pleasure of hearing Abril Latrene speak at Huddle tonight. Abril is a drag queen, fabulous blue hair big as her bosom. By day she’s Shaun, working at a big corporate in change management. Incredible symbiosis, eh? Abril spoke tonight about her journey through the different motivations of doing drag. At first it was boredom, then as he got shows up for free, it became about a profession, getting people to see the show. Like many an artist, Abril then wanted to be paid for the performances, and ultimately, the motivation was for Shaun and Abril to be whole, one person, because that’s who he is. All through that, the villains of those who live the life they truly believe they should live popped up, forcing Abril to quit drag several times. Beautifully, the more Abril performed and Shaun’s workmates and friends learned he was Abril, the stronger and more confident he became.

Abril mentioned that he had to come out several times in his life, as a gay man, as a drag queen (with each new person and in particular each new boyfriend). Even tonight’s presentation for Huddle had him confront the coming out question, as Huddle has a national distribution list and that list had his name on it – boom, suddenly managers were aware of the Huddle event before he’d uttered a word. Tonight, Abril was honest, raw, vulnerable, fabulous, bawdy, funny and warm. She opened up to us – scared, she admitted she’s always nervous before anything, which she’s acknowledged as important to her to maintain – that no one would give a shit about what she had to say. Instead, we all connected with that fear. Abril talks about organisational change and comes out for performances, events and speaking engagements. She knows how to read a crowd. I tell you, friend, to get her in.

Image: Abril Latrene, drag queen, with ashock of deep blue, huge hair, purple gown and heavy dark blue coral-like necklace.

Of the many interesting angles Abril showed us, one thing I kept thinking about was work place bullying. Something that pushed Shaun out of drag queen shows was the bitchy atmosphere and, even more so, the shitty attitudes of venue owners. Abril, clearly, is bulletproof, but if Shaun felt like he was being treated like shit, venues couldn’t give a flying fook. When he stood up for that behaviour, he was kicked out. This is a thing in the arts. I spoke with Abbie about it, she was totally in agreement that the arts is shocking at workplace safety. If the attitudes, words and actions she faced in her drag job were displayed in her corporate job, people would be managed, told off or fired. There’s so many reasons artists and the arts ecosystem allows this shitty behaviour to continue: we’re disempowered and talked out of self worth so much we don’t speak up or seek change; we’re exploited by those in power (even the tiny amounts of power they wield); we’re channeled into competition for shrinking pools of money or time; we aren’t organised; we aren’t educated in certain ways; we don’t have protection; we’re sensitive.

How might we reconfigure our disparate workplace cultures so that artists are protected and encouraged instead of exploited and crushed?

What if Abril had an arts representative that came in with her and negotiated, so she could leave early and perform on Friday nights while still meeting her job requirements?

What if venue managers had to pay for their talent if they made any money from the event, including the bar?

What if artists were trained better in empathy and support systems, so they looked out for one another in their practices?

What if the standard blood bath attitude of the arts was replaced with one of nurturing?

What if artists were paid more than arts administrators?

What if we didn’t accept the shitty status quo we have helped build, or at least allowed to perpetuate, and changed it for the our betterment?

IMAGE: 8 upper case H letters arranged in a circle to form the Huddle logo

We Moved Into Huddle!

By | Narrative | No Comments

Hello friends, Romans, country-people: we moved! The X Gene is now based out of Huddle, Level 6 90 Williams Street, Melbourne. After doing some work with Huddle, and knowing their fine people for a few years, the awesome team discussed the need for video and digital communication in their work. Simon, at the same time, had been going through the stages of learning about human-centred design through their Huddle Academy that we suggest you check out to get better and more open about the future of how we work and think. The rad thing about these Huddlers is they really believe in taking the world head on; their knowing the adventurous experiments we’re doing and radical changes The X Gene and Simon want to make, they invited us to join them so that they could learn from us, we from them, and together mix all the colours to create rainbows.

One of the reasons we looked for a space is we’re now working so hard and so regularly on our long form narrative work in film, web and 360 video, we needed a place the various teams could meet together, put things on walls and be immersed in the projects. That’s what we’re doing here, bringing together these incredible technologists, creatives, communicators and innovators to what we like to think of as The Tipping Point. The goal of The X Gene is to change the screen industry into an open, international, financially sustainable powerhouse bringing compelling stories to niche audiences around the globe. This is the place to start that mission in earnest.

IMAGE: Desk setup at Huddle, with two monitors showing images from Pixar films
The longer story of how we got here starts with Paul Fairhead – Paul was the manager of Kindred Studios, our old digs. One of our collaborators and friends Ben McEwing had been in Huddle for a while, which is how we met their fab peeps, and when Paul asked if we’d heard of the place, we leapt forward with enthusiasm that it’s exactly where Paul would really shine. He got the job, we kept chatting and a couple years later, here we are.

It’s really beautiful seeing Paul, as general manager of Huddle, do what he was born to do. This company is global, they do incredible things with strategic human-design of servicee, products and business. They generally want to untangle the most complex problems of we people. Can’t wait to see what we cook up together.
IMAGE: Front of Huddle Scottish House, grand old columns and tan brick facade

IMAGE: of virtual reality surgery. A VR drill inside a fragment of skull on a 3D screen

Virtual Reality Surgery in 3D

By | Innovation, Technology | No Comments

Virtual reality surgery is the way in which surgeons of tomorrow will be taught. We got to play with it.


I tried it: YOU CAN FEEL THE BONE.

The Department of Otolaryngology is home of Melbourne University’s Virtual Reality Surgical Simulation laboratory. This group, that brings together researchers from the Faculties of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, Engineering and Education, seeks to define the role of simulation in surgical training.

VR surgery involves immersion into a 3D world where the “patient” can be touched and operated on. Their team has developed a virtual reality surgical environment for ear surgery that was the recipient of the University’s Knowledge Transfer Award for 2008. The group has also developed a prototype for dental simulation. They’re involved in exciting research that will determine how best to train surgeons in VR, and provide real-time feedback to trainees.

See the Professor and his team’s work
http://medicine.unimelb.edu.au/ehac/otolaryngology/research/virtual_reality_and_surgery

Shot in Oct 2015, edited May 2016 by Simon J Green.

Music by Avaren: Drift, Mudz, Oceania & Vertigo available here under Creative Commons
https://soundcloud.com/avaren/sets/for-others-use

Nail in the wall text written in texta

The Nail in the Wall

By | Narrative | No Comments

It’s that time of year: funding responses. At the end of last year and for all of 2016 so far, I’ve been submitting work to grants and funds. After nearly ten years of corporate and advertising work, I’m finally serious about growing The X Gene into a fully fledged narrative screen production company. We’ve done stuff before. Short films, TV productions, theatre and web. All of it was around the edges until now.

When I started out of film school, I thought it prudent to get good at my craft before I embarked on a feature film sized project. I also saw how ridiculously tight, competitive and limiting government funding is. So we started Green Rabbit and then I started The X Gene to do two things: get good at producing, and make connections with the private sector. Filmmaking is way more of a business than the other arts, and alternative sources of money, multiple revenue streams, are the life blood of business.

So with our feature film projects front and centre, I’ve been open to every possible revenue stream available to us. Australia Council, Film Victoria, Creative Victoria, Screen Australia, AMP Tomorrow Fund, Awesome Foundation, micro grants, oh my. Any possibility has been seized upon. I’ve also started pitching to potential private investors and brands, but right now I’m in the opening week of when all these established grants bodies email a yay or nay.

There’s a crazy number of articles on ArtsHub about how to deal with rejection, so I’m bracing myself for some rough thumps to the old ego, some fists in the hopes and dreams department. I just remember what Stephen King says in his book On Writing:

“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

Our Front Page Was Accidentally Sexist

By | Design, Purpose | No Comments

I changed our website front page because it was accidentally sexist. This is what it was:

IMAGE: Our old sexist frontpage, five men in a phlanx, no women.

Notice anything missing? Women. The first thing a visitor to The X Gene would see was a phalanx of dudes. I didn’t even realise I’d made this omission of gender for years. Way back when I arranged the shoot, we got costumes, props, and I asked the camera operators and editors, buddies that I’d been working with for ages to come in and be creative scientists with me. I was quietly proud we had a mix of skin colours. I didn’t mean to exclude women. In fact, I didn’t even think about it. I just got my friends in.

And that, my friends, was a lesson to me in how I imagine the majority of sexism or gender inequality takes place: the insidious nature of not thinking beyond the immediate. I daresay most inequality in our civilised nation – so respectful, so relatively progressive compared to, say, the Congo – isn’t bellowing fat men, their noses bulbous from consumption, barking sexist epithets through teeth clenched around a cigar while they pinch their secretary’s bum. (Though, I know that still happens. I won’t tell you story of the ad men in the pub who thought they were in Mad Men and copped a public serve from a woman who would have none of it.) I think most of the quashing of access for women comes from bone headed decisions like mine. Men who are lovely to their mums, sweet to their girlfriends, but simply don’t take a moment to think beyond their present surrounds.

I saw how easy it was to make the mistake that must happen a thousand times a year per skyscraper floor, each building on the other until the compounding effect is the glass ceiling. More vicious men than us built it, but the charming, inoffensive modern man still maintains its thickness.

This is the homepage now:

IMAGE: Our new less-sexist front page, a pug being tested like the mind reading in Ghostbusters

Still not a woman to be seen. In fact, it’s a dog. Sorry. I only have the photos we took, but at least now there isn’t a military formation of men shot at a slight low angle, accidentally turning away any woman who might think another boys club isn’t worth the time. Now, it’s that most gender neutral delight: an overweight staffy pug!

I changed our front page to better reflect my company’s values. We missed the mark originally, and I look forward to a future rebrand where I can balance the message. For now, enjoy the Ghostbusters homage with my dearly departed old dog, Chubbs, and use my dumb mistake to think a little further out of your immediate zone. Maybe we shouldn’t just go to our mates, and maybe if we do, our mates should be a little more equally distributed.

IMAGE: showing the conversion to a paperless office in a chalky style, papers flying across teh screen, goign into a laptop. The background is a rough textured dark blue.

The Digital Office aka The Paperless Office

By | Education, Innovation | No Comments

It’s insane that I still get pieces of paper from people. A paperless office is more and more achievable. Here’s how you can stop losing stuff in the mail, down the sides of drawers, and make sure everything’s available with one of these:

IMAGE: a paperless office means you can use this: a search bar showing search default text

Get Paperless Files

Cloud storage, you might have heard, is everywhere. This is essential, and there are so many plugins for your email services that let you just pop attachments or even the emails themselves into your online storage. If you’re unsure, these cloud storage services are just hard drives online, accessible anywhere, wherever you like, on all your devices, and best of all, you can search easily and quickly. No more thumbing through piles of paper looking for that one document. No more out of date versions. It’s all in one place, shareable among your team, clients, suppliers, whatever. Essential! Here’s our nerdy guide to organising a cloud drive.

Google Drive | Dropbox | Microsoft OneDrive

Get Paperless Signatures

No more sending of paperwork in the mail, to get it signed and sent back; or even more annoying, scanned and emailed back; or triple annoying, printed, signed, scanned and emailed. These services let you upload a document, populate the text, date and signature boxes, or leave them blank but marked for filling in by one or multiple parties – then the finished document is sent securely to the signing parties, who can draw their own signatures into the software or browser, finish up and bam, you’ve got everything signed and filed away. Some plug in to your cloud drive, too, meaning signed documents go straight to where you want them. Most services are free, then only require payment when you have to send lots of agreements out in a month.

HelloSign | DocuSign | Adobe eSign

Paperless Notetaking

This is the final frontier. The one thing that kept a paperless office slightly out of reach: the need for handwritten notes. Drawing, doodling and scrawling is the fastest, and for creatives, often most tactile and solid way to jot ideas or details or anything. Styluses, pens used to write on tablets, have been around for ages, but fell short of pens and pencils unless you had a full blown Wacom set up. That time is drawing to a close. Fine point styluses and tablets custom built for such digital pens have finally closed the gap, and smart tech means your wrist or hand won’t get in the way. Sync your notetaking up with Evernote, Google Keep or SimpleNote, and your handwriting can even be searchable (to a point).

Samsung Note | Apple Pencil/Pro | Fine Point Stylus

 

IMAGE: A white box with its lid off, on a grey background. Communication and information

Open & Structured: How We Use the Information in Google Drive to Facilitate Communication in Production

By | Education, Innovation | One Comment

This post is about how we use Google Drive as a conduit for information and communication, and how in really understanding why we do it the way we do it, we’re actually developing the culture of our productions. Now I warn you, this is a super nerdy post. If you’re into management, information, communication or organisation, you’ll love this.

Due to much ongoing experimentation, we’ve landed on an approach that works for now, for our film crews of about 20-30 people, on projects that aren’t secret or sensitive. If you’re bigger or you wanna keep stuff secret, this may not be for you, and when we get there, we’ll see for ourselves! Regardless of size, getting a process for sorting your digital information, and nailing a cloud storage service can be tricky. Really, before you even choose from Dropbox, Google Drive, Box or one of the other services out there, you want to work out what your principles and values are in how you work with your crew. For us, it’s about

Open Access to Information, Structured Flow of Communication

The way we see it, Google’s Drive and their apps, including Docs and Sheets, combined with desktop, laptop, tablet and smart phone technology gives our crew the ability to access a film, TV or digital project’s data anywhere, anyhow. That stops a huge amount of problems – no more files kept at the office, out of reach; no more out of date pages getting mixed up with current drafts; everyone can know they’re looking at the most updated version of anything; stuff can’t get lost (as easily). With our crews, broken up around the city, rarely in one place at the same time, and often working in multiple roles, we want them to be able to access any information about our project immediately, as easily as possible.

So we treat our Drive folders as repositories of information, as consolidated as possible, with ease of access the priority. That means:

  • You shouldn’t have to click too deep in to sub-folders to find what you need.
  • Spreadsheets should make use of tabs to combine as much information in as fewer locations as possible.
  • All folders should default to Link Sharing ON – Anyone With The Link (No Sign-in Required).

Any sensitive or security-conscious files are placed in a special ‘locked’ folder that is set to Link Sharing OFF – Shared with Specific People. Then, only higher-level crew have access to that folder by invite only. But, If there’s no actual need to restrict something, then we prefer it be unbound by restriction! When a new crew member joins, we share the master folder with them, giving them access to every department’s information. It’s then incumbent on the Producer or someone from that office to walk the individual through the data that’s relevant to them.

All of this is predicated on the notion that we want people to use the digital world to find information as quickly as possible, unfettered by unnecessary bureaucratic measures. A soundie who needs to see what camera we’re using can find that information as soon as she needs it. A cast member who wants to know where we’re going next week can get location data in the middle of the night. The information is open, and we encourage each individual crew member to use the search bar, keywords, favourites, bookmarks, stars, whatever they prefer to create priority access to the information most important to them. All of this cuts out wasted time chasing information.

Structured Flow of Communication

The amount of data we amass for any one project can grow to mammoth size. Video files alone can be gigs big. With all that information, updated, added to and moved by each crew member as required, we need to keep everyone across the flow of information. That’s where structured communication comes in. There are a few different methods we employ, but the best fail-safe is the weekly conference call. If we could, we’d prefer to have a weekly heads of department meeting, around a nice big round table, with food, drink and good times – but we’re in Australia, my friend, where money for creativity is as rare as the Tasmanian Tiger. Instead, we use Skype, Hangouts or the simple phonecall (again, Australia, so shitty internet), depending on everyone’s majority preference. I’ve had people tell me they’ve taken hours and hours to get through such a call, which tells me they aren’t structuring their communication right. We have an agenda that rarely changes:

  1. The Producer first connects with the Director 15 minutes early, then brings in each Head of Dept (HoD), so by start time, everyone is on. (The Director, usually loquacious, chats with the crew as the Producer dials)
  2. After formally starting, the Producer calls on a HoD to quickly sum up what they’ve done this week gone, and what they need to do next week. No elaboration, just task lists crossed off or still open.
  3. The rest of those listening are reminded to take notes of what they need from the other departments.
  4. The HoD says they’ve finished, and the Producer throws it to the Director, who follows up with any corrections, adjustments, clarifications or additions.
  5. One by one, the Producer works through each HoD in the same way, with the Director following up. The second last is the Producer, who states their own this week/next week list.
  6. The Director is the last to state their this/next week list.
  7. Finally, the Producer goes back around the HoDs, asking each to name another department or the Director, and ask for what they need. Again, this should be quick, with any detailed discussion prompted to be followed up one-on-one outside of this call.
  8. Once everyone has had their say, the Director gives a wee pep talk, the Producer confirms the time of the call for next week, then all say I love you and hang up.

The Producer or a Production Coordinator is usually taking notes as each HoD talks through. We mark what issues there are, what actions will be taken, and who’s taking them, just to make sure after we hang up, nothing’s missed. This is kept in a single sheet, on a single tab, with each prior week pushed off to the right – all we ever use is last week’s and this week’s notes.

The point of this call is make sure everyone knows what everyone else is doing – problems get solved or are discovered to not even be problems, niggling misunderstandings are shattered to make way for crystal clarity, and everyone feels appreciated, listened to and understands how important their roles are, and how their work fits in to the other departments’ work in this big beautiful creative commercial beast. Often, during these calls, one HoD’s list answers two other HoD’s questions immediately, so we’ll hear, “I was gong to ask about blah, but that’s already answered!” Regarding our information storage, the most common expressions heard are, “I’ll put that in the drive for you” or “That’s in Folder X on the drive”. Again, we’re catching each other up on the flows of information, all coalescing in our Google Drive. It takes a bit of practice, and at first the rapid, business-like pace takes some people by surprise, but that in itself helps folks fully realise the focus and professionalism of our crew. For an hour a week, everyone is serious, determined and is openly seeking help in being great.

I’ve barely touched on the actual detail of how we use Google Drive, but soon we’ll show you how to fine tune the sharing settings in Drive to match our standard setup. The above is to emphasize that no matter what aspect of the creative process you’re fiddling with, starting with a candid appraisal of how you communicate, and what role you want information to play is crucial. Once you really know that, then the tools you need become obvious. It’s less about features and price and platform – those things come into it, but they all must respond to the answer to this question:

How Do You Use and Communicate Information?

The answer to that question will set the tone for your productions every time. We want openness and clarity in what we do, which means there’s a lot of stuff, and that that stuff needs to be made clear for everyone. Siloing information, like it’s some sort of treasured prize, doesn’t really do it for us, because each crew member is so specialised in their craft – that is their value. In order for them to do what they’re good at, they need to use their specialised brains to grab exactly what they need, and maybe a little bit more, at any time, to create their part of the project. Why slow someone down by having them request access to a document? Why delay their lightbulb moment because they’ve got no signal? We use information as a tool for our artists, and we communicate information to ensure visions are aligned. In doing so, we communicate how important that vision is and where it’s coming from, and give free and open license to our artists to use all the information they can gather to do their exceptional work. It seems to go all right for us so far.

The X Gene Use Google Drive For Video Delivery

Using Google’s Cloud Drive for Drafts and Delivery

By | Education, Innovation | No Comments

The X Gene uses Google Drive to send digital versions of drafts, documents and final deliverables of your video. It’s an easy way to keep everything centralized and accessible 24/7. Drive is Google’s version of of cloud drive, like Dropbox or iCloud, which are all cloud storage services that essentially create hard drives on the internet. The beauty of these services is we can create folders that are shared only with you and synchronize back and forth.

If you place the images or briefs we need into your shared folder, we receive them on our side immediately. When we place your video drafts or final videos in on our side, you have access to them straight away, too.

To get the most out of this system, we’ve got a few pro tips for you. Once you do these, we’ll be better connected, and the whole process becomes easier and quicker. You’ll take full advantage of the power of the web.

Install Google Drive

Drive exists in the cloud, which means you can access it anywhere, anyhow. The quickest way is to install a Google Drive app onto your computer. Follow this link and you’ll be shown the appropriate download (Mac and PC). Once you install the app, a special Google Drive folder will appear on your computer. You can use this like any normal folder, except it syncs to the internet whenever connected.

If you tell us the email address you use to log in to Google Drive, we’ll make sure our shared folder is accessible by you, and that folder (usually called ‘TXG-YourBizName’) will appear on your computer. Now we can share files back and forth, and all you have to do is drag those files into your shared folder.

Mobile Access

iPhone, iPad and Android devices also have a Google Drive app. If you download the app from the relevant store, you can access your files on the move, out the office, and even upload files to us. Show your friends and associates those awesome videos wherever you are!

Bookmark Your Shared Folder

The default way for most people to view their shared folder and the video drafts inside is via their web browser (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Explorer). If you don’t want to install the applications above, we highly recommend you take the link we first send you and save it to your browser’s bookmarks or favourites. That link takes you to the browser version of our folder (as opposed to the Desktop or Mobile App version). You can add files from there, but most importantly any files we add for you will show up there, too. Every draft we send goes into that same folder each time, so if it’s bookmarked, you can always check without diving into your emails or waiting for a download to complete.

Who Is This Actor from ‘How To Talk Australians’?

By | Freelancer, Narrative | No Comments

We’re trying to track down the name of this actor from the web series How To Talk Australians. We can’t find a full credit list. We’d love to talk to her about a role in something we’re making. Actors of Australia, you are legion and networked! ASSEMBLE! If you know who the actor is, comment on the post, linked below.

https://www.facebook.com/theXgene/posts/874780322571689

Who is this actor

a yellow cartoon duck with smiling eyes and a chubby demeanour

Why We Do Drafts

By | Education | No Comments

When we quote a job, we’ll say how many drafts are included. That’ll usually be drafts of a script, and drafts of an edit. Sometimes, it seems people aren’t quite sure of why we do that, or what constitutes a draft. Here’s why and what!

When we’re making something, it’s a mix of our vision and the client’s vision. Those visions will never immediately 100% align. It’s impossible for two people to think exactly the same way. If I say, “Think of a duck,” you and I are picturing two different ducks. Maybe mine’s black, and yours is green and tan. Maybe yours is a pond duck, and mine is Daffy. Making a collaborative or responsive creative piece is about understanding each other as much as possible – and understanding comes from communicating. Drafts are the things that let us communicate. They give us something central and real to discuss.
Image: a wooden mallard decoy duck to demonstrate how varied our ideas of ducks and drafts can be
In our official terms (read them here), a draft is defined as, “any video file, document, or sound file submitted to a client, on which notes can be given back to The X Gene. The final draft is either that draft which requires no further changes/notes, as stated by the client, or the maximum number of drafts as stated in the quote/by these terms – whichever comes first.

Here’s an honest truth: the first draft of anything is shit. Well, maybe not shit, because The X Gene is great at scoping what someone wants before we begin – but certainly not what the client exactly pictured. That’s good! It’s never going to be! The first draft is the starting point. We present that first draft and give the client a formatted Google Sheet, and ask them to go over it second by second, and tell us what to change. Be as specific as possible! The more changes, the better!

From that, we reshape the video or script, refining it with our own knowledge of copywriting or editing as we go, and then draft 2 is a big improvement. So many times, a client will exclaim, “Oh that’s much better!” When done properly, draft 3 is usually just a polish – a couple of timing changes, or a few word swaps, say.

Where it goes wrong is when clients don’t take the time to really look over the drafts we send them. If we get only two or three notes on draft 1 – sometimes none! – we get nervous, because in all likelihood, those changes will trickle through after draft 3, when suddenly the client has looked closer and noticed, and then we have to charge extra.

Back to our terms, “all jobs requiring editing or standalone motion graphics/animation include two rounds of revisions, which is three drafts, in the quoted price, unless stated otherwise. Any changes outside of these three drafts will be quoted and, if approved, charged accordingly.” It feels lame to say it, but in drafting, haste makes waste. A video is probably a pretty expensive line item, so we try and encourage our clients to take some time, sit down with a coffee or thickshake, and dedicate an hour or so going through the first and second drafts with a fine toothed comb, jotting down the timecode and exactly what should be changed. Then, wait until the end of the day, look back over those notes and confirm they’re what’s needed.

Maybe there’s a hesitation to tell us what to do? One of our favourite clients gave copious, detailed notes with exactly what she wanted as a result, and at first apologised. We rejoiced! Those notes told us exactly what to do, and so we knew that when we were finished, we’d done exactly what was right. The only time that goes awry is when a client changes their mind and reverts back. Flip flopping is a nightmare. So don’t be afraid to know what you want – and be specific about it – but take the time to ensure that you and your stakeholders are all agreeing that your duck is the same as our duck.

Finalists at Open Channel Pitching Contest

Outta Ammo, Animated Feature Finalist

By | Narrative | No Comments

We didn’t win, but got great feedback on Outta Ammo, our animated feature film based on BULLET: A Superhero Comedy. The Australian Directors Guild and a member of the NZ Film Commission connected with us, are helping out, and a producer from How To Speak Australians was a fan.

A blue worm hole

Your Market Is What It Is, Not What You Want It To Be

By | Marketing | No Comments

I was just thinking about an old client story. We were trying to determine a voiceover choice. Our target audience was female (more depth to that, obviously), the brief style included ‘feminine’ and so we were looking at female voiceover artists. Three women who neatly represented the audience were listening in and passing comment. They ultimately wanted a male voice, because he was “less threatening”. When pushed for detail on that, they explained that, even though they knew they shouldn’t, they found themselves harshly judging the women VOs, picturing who they were and not liking them. Whereas the guy: no problem.

This cut against my little feminist instincts, because I know it’s often discussed that women could benefit from collaboration, not competition. Same for all of us! It reminded me, though, that the market, the audience, is what it is, not I want it to be. I’d rather those women didn’t cut each other down, and that they didn’t see another woman as a threat – but I’m creating a communication tool aimed at the now, at the reality, not the wishful thinking or even the progressive desire.

When you’re looking at your market, product, item, film, whatever, remember that: you can’t force desires or opinions on an audience. You have to accept who they are and how they think, generally, and create for that. It sucks sometimes, but an imaginary market won’t suddenly appear from a time-warping wormhole. You gotta work with what’s here, now. Or find a different market.

Agree? Disagree? Found ways around it? Tweet us your thoughts.

Image: Gathering of listeners in Inspire9 for This Digital Life

This #DigitalLife

By | Events, Innovation, Inspiration, Purpose, Technology | No Comments

Here’s some of the highlights on Twitter from our successful inaugural This Digital Life event. Four incredible women from digital work places shared their cutting edge stories from business, then explained parts of how they got their personal lives balanced. Thanks a billion to Girl Geek and Toya Ricci.

Yes, Innovation & Startups & Tech, Dammit!

By | Innovation, Inspiration | No Comments

Oh man! Suddenly everyone’s realising what we’ve been blabbing on about at The X Gene for years! There’s been a dog pile of articles saying, “Hey, these startup folks are innovating, building interesting things and different business models and…oh snap! They’re getting investment and funding! Maybe screen and the arts should be doing that?”

YES WE SHOULD!

I, Simon, the owner of The X Gene, have been going to Lean Startup, Startup Victoria, Disruptive Startups and all the other juicy meetups that happen at the likes of Inspire9 and York Butter Factory for years. Going to events to network and meet is the gig, but these particular events grabbed me by the mindgrapes because they think differently. They think the way we need to think to embrace the new favourite word, innovation.

GIF: gotham deserves screen, Commissioner Gordon as the king of innovation saying, "Because he's the hero Gotham deserves."

Imagine Batman is our future screen industry…

I’ve written a great deal on this blog and my own personal blog about how difficult it is to speak with or get through gatekeepers of the screen industry. I’ve called producers who’ve had only a modicum of success and asked for very specific information that should be easy and harmless to divulge, and been told no. Many times. Doors? They be closed.

So when you go to Lean Startup, Startup Victoria, Disruptive Startups and their ilk, you can’t help but wet your pants at how open, sharing, caring and excited everyone is. They want to create, they want to build, they want to innovate, they want to sell to lots of people – and in order to do it, they know they need each other as much as themselves. You’ll learn about business models that failed, structures that bend and change to suit the growth stage. You’ll openly discuss money and budgets and how to make them work. You’ll hear time and again how founders needed to remember their customers were the key to their chances of survival. You’ll be welcomed by strangers and there’ll be enthusiasm for you, and you for them. All of it will be tested and re-tested by successful mentors who insist that something must be set alight before it can go to market – where it’ll be burnt again in an even greater flame. It’s different, man. The egos in the room are all about the project, mostly. Rarely is the attitude dominantly, “How cute that you’re trying, I’m better than you, fuck off, despite my own lack of success.”

I’m not bitter, just frustrated. I love my screen industry, but honestly, I also hate it. Love/hate is a tension that provides energy. The startup and tech scene gives me the tools and understanding I need to apply to our industry, to change it for the better. Somewhere to direct that energy. Disruption is happening all around us, but too few are grasping that and running headlong into it. Here’s what I’ve taken from these magnificent bastards. Here’s what I adapt from the tech startup scene and try to ply in the screen trade:

Innovate, Disrupt, Dummy:

  • You run a business. Freelancers, production company, whatever: you run a business. You gotta work out where you fit, accept your weakness and play to your strengths. Part of that is for creative satisfaction, but an equal and sometimes greater part of that is to generate revenue. So how are you going to get comfy with that? And if you’re not comfy with that, how can you get out of the way ?
  • Share. Share as much as you can. Closed doors stop any of us building industrial memory, joint knowledge. Instead, it’s hundreds of little people clutching anything of value while making tiny dents. Only as a group, working together and building one another, can we make an impact on a huge global stage.
  • If someone doesn’t want to play with you, fuck them. Move on and find those who will. We need to stick together. There’s enough people telling us NO as it is. Build a team.
  • Specialise. Entrepreneurs know how to build a team around them, with each member doing something exceptionally better than the entrepreneur. Fuck the auteur model. Be an exceptional producer, and work with an exceptional writer, interpreted by an exceptional director who brings in an exceptional cinematographer. Pick your place and be exceptional.
  • Learn the traditional, common wisdom…then find ways to smash it to pieces and build something from the shards. Our screen industry has rarely been strong, yet ‘the way things are done’ culture permeates. At the same time, the way the audience views and uses content is changing at astronomical pace. Nothing that was done ten years ago, let alone thirty, stands up today. Look for ways to do it differently and go for it.
  • Our product is story. We need to test our product. No self-respecting business sends a shitty product, untested, to market. Beat the shit out of your script, get audience feedback and listen to it. Learn how to take and how to give feedback. Learn how to apply it. If you aren’t a writer, stop writing and find someone who is. If you aren’t a writer, stop writing. Or fuck off and learn, then come back when you are. We’ll help you learn, of course! Because if you are a writer, teach others!
  • Do it for THE AUDIENCE, not for you. They pay us, they decide what’s good, and they are now global. Don’t worry so much about the domestic. You get the world.
  • Nichefy. With a global audience comes larger numbers in smaller percentages. Google cracked that nut years ago – a specific need fulfilled commands a higher price per unit than a broad need lightly caressed.
GIF: Batman runs into the darkness of innovation as Gordon says, "But not the one it needs right now."

…and tech startup spirit is what we need right now.

Check these out:

goo.gl/vBQMmW – Tania nails it and inspired this post! ‘Silicon Valley may hold the key to innovation in the ‘ – by Tania de Jong
 – might be broken, but Tech start-ups needed to future proof Australian media – by Chantal Abouchar

goo.gl/zMqubr – research on how to make content audiences want, from Simon’s personal blog

goo.gl/XTgGS2 – Lean Filmmaking, where screen and lean smash together, by Kylie and David Eddy

 

Kelsey Schwenk from Studio Thick agency talking virtual reality

Virtual Reality: how we’ll use it, Kelsey from Studio Thick

By | Advertising, Innovation, Marketing, Technology | No Comments

Kelsey Schwenk is Engagement Director at Studio Thick. Thick partner with progressive businesses and organisations to reimagine their strategies, products and services for a brighter future. Kelsey leads client partnerships, guides innovation, and ensures we’re having a diverse impact on the world. We got excited with Kelsey recently talking about our experiments in virtual reality, so we spoke over Hangouts about how the world will use VR, why agencies like Thick will utilise it, and how creatives like The X Gene will execute it.

Simon J Green: Thanks for joining me Kels! So first, tell me about the exposure you and Thick have had to VR so far, even if it’s only a little. It is an emerging comms channel, after all!
Kelsey Schwenk: In our office we have an Oculus that we’ve been playing around with, but we keep up to date on what’s going on in the world with it, mostly. At the V21 Conference this year, it’s all anyone was talking about. It’s interesting – most people were looking for ways to use the tech to do something cool, not the other way around. I’m thinking it should be, “Here, I have this problem, I wish I had a way to solve it” and have VR be the solution.
S: So at the moment VR is an answer to a question no one’s yet asking? That’s why I think relationships with agencies like Thick are important. You are finding the problems businesses have. Being aware of VR’s limitations and opportunities means you can see if those problems might be solved by VR.
K: One group wanted to simulate off-roading in a truck, so they created this elaborate experience… when it probably would have cost less to just drive the truck off road in real life. It is like creating a really elaborate kids ride, and gaming was the big push, obviously.
S: Seems like the easiest way to get people aware and inside the experience. I’ve seen a VR rally driving experience. You sit next to the driver as he goes nuts in the dirt. Virtual Reality Ventures, our VR partner, always use the rollercoaster demo to quickly give people an idea of the tech.
K: One of the best examples I’ve heard of is actually not “customer” facing though. It was an agency using VR to show their clients what their designs would look like in a concept store that didn’t exist yet, so they could ‘feel’ what the space looked like before committing to the design.

Meeting Robert Redford

S: Ivy League universities have been moving those globe-style live-action cameras through their campuses, to give newly admitted students the chance to walk through before they actually get there. Tours of places and sites seems like the most obvious application – do you think it’s crucial for increasing the public’s awareness of the tech?
K: Awareness isn’t the issue… it’s access. And finding the right application that is going to make everyone out there download the app or get Google Cardboard. Tourism is an easy application for the tech, particularly for experiences where photos and videos don’t sell the experience enough. I think it has a ways to go before it becomes mainstream though – it’s almost a novelty at the moment. I could actually see it being more beneficial to having remote meetings where interpersonal exchanges are key. It’s just not the same on a web-cam.
S: What does the virtual reality space give: or more, what do you want from remote meetings, that you don’t get with today’s experience?
K: It allows you to be/move naturally, as you would in real space – you don’t have to alter your natural behaviours (other than wearing a headset). So conversations would flow more naturally, I think. And seeing reactions and emotions. When you’re giving a presentation to a blank screen, it’s impossible to know if you’re doing a good job.
S: So you could turn to someone and speak, and that would be a cue to everyone else, a cue that’s missing from today’s remote meetings?
K: Exactly! But I see entertainment as the driver – that’s where the innovation will come from.
S: True! In movies, meetings are always held with VR figures, but really it’s for the exact same reason we’re discussing: so the viewer (and the fake people in the SHIELD Security Council) can see who’s talking to whom, and convey meaning beyond a face and words.

Stories That Explode in Virtual Reality

S: Facebook is bringing in the live action, globe camera video style. What do you think that will do?
K: So is YouTube. I think it’s going to change the types of videos we see… just like GoPro did a few years ago. Hopefully, by democratising the technology, we can allow the innovative creators in the world a new vehicle/medium to show their stuff.
S: When we’ve been playing with VR, we’ve been pushing the live action(moving cameras through a space, and letting the user move through that, instead of 3D models, environments and animations). Experimenting with how the  viewer will experience the content, how we get them to look where we need them to look to tell story. But when we think as producers or for business development, we’re acutely aware that the browser-based, flattened version of interaction is most likely.
K: It’s a whole new level of cinematography. I think that’s the difference between a GIF and a movie. Both are valid forms of entertainment, but for entirely different purposes… (and budgets).
S: Almost like arthouse cinema and blockbusters – a smaller selection of dedicated audience will take up the full virtual reality experience. But when we want lots of people to see it, Facebook and YouTube will be our besties.
K: Yup. As long as they can make it easy to access and understand and create.
S: Telling stories through this VR medium: we’ve been pointed to some excellent white papers by the video game industry on how to direct stories in a sandbox world.
K: They’ve been playing with it the longest, I think. I remember seeing demos of it at PAX years ago

The Creative Struggle

S: So for those creators you’re talking about – agencies like Thick will be the ones making use of us to find solutions to client problems. What do the creators need to know, and what do the clients need to know, to make that work best?
K: The biggest thing is to find the problem to solve. Not invent a problem just because you want to use the tech. Finding an experience or a story that you want to tell that you just can’t do any other way. Otherwise it’s just playing to a fad. In the work we do at Thick, it’s finding the right channel to communicate your insights, or testing something out that would be too expensive to build otherwise! That’s probably how I see us using it in the future: using it as a tool, not the end experience.
S: Testing in a Virtual Reality sandbox. With VR audiences.
K: …and then translating that into ‘real life’, yes. Like a prototype.
S: You’d get the global audiences of the internet in a more ‘real’ appearance.
K: Well, you can test context. So you know what it’s like to be searching on a mobile phone on a busy tram. Or how you walk through a concept store, or at a construction site. It all depends on the context of your solution.
S: We could test movies in a virtual cinema, and build into the program the ability of the audience that logs in to still play with their phone – and see how bored people get of the movie. How much time is spent actually watching the screen.
K: The context in which we use our screens is very important (and often overlooked) in design and testing.

Wrap It Up Kids

S: Well thank you very much Kelsey. This is all excellent, juicy stuff. Anything you want to add in summary?
K: Just that I’m excited to see what the masses do with this tech – I have a feeling we won’t know the real potential until we make it super accessible to everyone.
S: We need the VR version of what the iPhone did for smart phones.
K: Or GoPro for video, yes.
Image: video strategy is a part of content marketing by The X Gene a video production agency in Melbourne

What’s Content Marketing?

By | Marketing | No Comments

You’re going to see a huge amount of chatter on business and marketing sites about video and content marketing in 2015!

What’s that? Essentially, content is all the stuff that’s getting made for your organisation’s existence online: blogs, images, articles, photos, infographics, landing sites, VIDEO. Taking all of that and having an actual plan behind how you’ll use it to get people interested in your organisation, be attracted to what you do, and then visit in some way is content marketing.

The beauty of this for The X Gene is that the most popular type of content to market with has become video. Internet speeds and device acceptance has meant videos are everywhere. YouTube is now the world’s number two search engine. You’ll have noticed people saying they prefer to watch a quick 60 second video rather than read a block of text.

The X Gene has long called itself a video agency (rather than a production company) because we’ve long seen that video is an asset that needs to be fully supported by a strategy and marketing tactics. Our service, Video Strategy, is all about that! We want to make it easy for you to take advantage of video in 2015, and then make sure those videos do something for you – be that drive sales, create sign ups or spark conversations.

Having a Video Strategy is Part of Your Content Marketing

Video strategy is content marketing with video at its core. We find out what your organisation is about, who you’re speaking to, and what you want them to do. We then work out what videos we can make for you over 6 to 12 months – that’s the fun, creative, amazing bit we’ve always done so well – but on top of that, we create a strategy using online, paid and organic tactics to get that content seen, and turn passive viewers into active users.

It’s an exciting time to be digital and making videos. Please contact us to learn more about how you can be a killer video executive producer yourself!

Acting schools melbourne feature

Acting Courses in Melbourne

By | Freelancer | No Comments

Our work experience chap David wanted to be a performer after school, so we asked him to put together a list of acting schools and acting courses in Melbourne, as a reference for him when he graduates. Now we’re sharing the fruits of his labour for any other budding thespians and camera darlings. Hope it’s useful for you, and we’ll see you on the other side.

Name Owner/Main Teacher Suburb Screen or Theatre Specialise in:
Brave Studios Elle Mandalis/Damien Fotiou Footscray Screen Television acting and presenting
Peter Sardi’s School of Acting Peter Sardi Hawthorn Both In front of cameras and on stage
Melbourne Acting Academy North Melburne Screen Specialize in perfecting auditions and being authentic
The Rehearsal Room Richard Sarrell Armadale Both The communication between actors and actors and directors
The National Theatre Drama School Ken Boucher/ David Harford St Kilda Theatre Theatre performances
Verve Studios Amanda Melby Melbourne Both High quality acting and preparing for the industry
16th Street Melbourne Acting Studio Kim Krejus Caulfield Both Work ethic and technique
University of Melbourne VCA Barry Conyngham Parkville Both Whatever course you choose
Howard Fine Studio Howard Fine North Melbourne Both Hollywood acting
Open Channel Marc Gracie Docklands Both They do behind the scenes things as well
Apo Arts Academy Pamela Apostelidis South Melbourne Theatre Musical theatre and dance
Film and Television Studio International Craig McMahon South Melbourne Screen Full time television acting
Video seeding blog post feature

Video Seeding: Getting Video Views

By | Marketing, Research, Viral Video | No Comments

Nothing hurts our feelings more than a low view count on a piece of content we made for a client. We’re human creatures, if you cut us we bleed, and if people don’t watch your videos, we roll into a ball on the floor and cry and cry and cry. A low view count is mostly because the owners of the content didn’t push it. A fantastic piece of video does not guarantee eyeballs without a solid strategy to push it. You can’t just throw it up on YouTube and rub your hands together.

Crying because no one watched your video

Crying because no one watched your video

Putting the video itself on multiple sources can help you get a good aggregate view count – chuck it on YouTube, obvs, but also upload it to your Facebook page, your LinkedIn business page and your Vimeo account. All of this should be covered with strong descriptions and tags and titles that feature keywords, but don’t go over the top. Google is looking for relevancy, and if they see a bunch of videos about your service, with your name near it, they’ll boost you up in their estimates.

But wanna know how stuff goes viral? Video seeding. We spoke with Lava Communications about how video seeding works, and now we’re excited to offer their services along side our own. Essentially, you give the video a boost in views, so that the organic views can pick up from there. It’s like boosting a Facebook post. You pay per view, less than 50c (as of Nov 2014), and away you go. Know how many views you want? Then we know your budget. Know your budget? Then we know how many views you can get. There’s a minimum guarantee on views, and away you go.

A fantastic short piece that divides the detail of this can be found here, by Loren Rochelle.

Next time you see a campaign that went viral, think about the behind the scenes work that went into getting those videos out there. It wasn’t just set and forget: video is part of an active marketing strategy, just like any other communications channel. Ours just happens to be the best!

A bull asking you to be bullish from www.freepik.com

Does Australia Lack Innovation Backbone?

By | Innovation | No Comments

We talk a lot about innovation here at The X Gene blog, and most of it is about how to be innovative and think differently. But I won’t lie when I say we often get frustrated with the lack of desire to innovate. One of my biggest personal hobbies is researching how and why Australia isn’t as forward thinking as other countries. I came across a story that really summed up a component of this problem.

At a tech startup meeting we were about to film, I was speaking to one of the presenters. This man had done what a lot of those the room dream of: he’d built a successful business in Silicon Valley, grew it over the years, and then sold for a lot of money. He had come back to his home country of Australia to try something new, because he wanted to bring what he had learnt and apply it here. This man had form, and he had a strong idea, but what he was struggling to find was people who would work with him. He needed developers, people to do the coding work that is fundamental to these sorts of projects. They needed a few key skills that he didn’t have, typical of an entrepreneur. Building teams is crucial. Because he was operating at a higher level he couldn’t use the freshly graduated and needed a more mid-level group. Unfortunately, anyone who fit the criteria was so used to an 80,000 dollar plus full time wage in a conventional corporation that when he approached them they loved the idea but demanded similar payment. He tried explaining, as he did to me, that this simply wasn’t how it worked in startup land, and that he would be giving these people something that, in his eyes, was more valuable: a percentage in the company. While a lot of these developers understood the value, they had all been so used to the wage they were on and now had mortgages up to their eyeballs and expenses through their families, that even if they wanted to take the pay cut and take the stake in an idea they thought would be worth more later, they couldn’t. They had hemmed themselves in.

What I took from this conversation was a deep concern. If a proven track record in an even bigger market isn’t enough to dislodge talented people in a field, and have them take a little bit of a risk, then what hope is there? It’s true that this business owner might need to take some risks on younger staff himself, but constantly relying on the newest batch of talent is difficult because that talent doesn’t get to learn from more experienced minds. We have this problem at the moment, a disconnection between a small group of visionaries and a large group of Australians very much stuck in old patterns that seem unsustainable in this dynamic climate. We are not talking about changing wages or any of that nonsense, instead we are talking about a mentality to try. Where is that in the Australian culture? Is the lack of risk-taking backbone an ingrained characteristic that is holding us back? If we don’t start breaking out of old habits we will lose big opportunities. The presenter I was speaking to lamented that if he couldn’t find people soon he would have to go back to California where he knew there were plenty of skilled practitioners ready to take a calculated risk. Australia constantly loses talent overseas. If things don’t change it will simply continue, and our nation will miss out in the future.

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A lion asking you for bravery designed by www.freepik.com

Fear and Bravery in Agency Land

By | Advertising, Innovation, Inspiration, Marketing | No Comments

I’ve been thinking about creative bravery. I’m on my way to an event to launch a fun fashion initiative by Porter Novelli. Hosting the night is Mandy Griffiths (who, incidentally, is one of the speakers at This Digital Life). At the event, a collection of communications and agency folk will be there. These are the people that create and execute the marketing, advertising and general communications strategies big brands need to make you know them and choose them.

These people are the key to groundbreaking, clever, brave, innovative, creatively thrilling content. We need those strategies and influencers to tell their clients to be BRAVE, try new things. Another fantastic woman, Richenda Vermeulen, said a very similar thing in her company’s birthday blog post.

Richenda is right: brands in Australia need to take risks, try different things, seek to be different. Digital is excellent for that because it can shift and change. Best of all, you can measure the success of a brave digital campaign with real numbers and clear pathways from the creative to the BUY NOW button.

I implore our strategy aunts and uncles – please keep pushing your clients to embrace the exciting world of digital. Work with specialists in their fields, find channel suppliers who can give you bold new ideas, then sell them with vigour up the chain. That’s what I’ll be asking the people I meet tonight – how are you guys pushing your clients to be BETTER. Different. Brave.

CBS Twitter Freewheel Weather CHannel logos

CBS, Twitter, Weather Channel and FreeWheel Talk Video Content

By | Advertising, Research, Technology, Video, Video Blogs | No Comments

From Brightcove:

Recently, we brought together several of our media customers and partners for an excellent networking breakfast in New York City that included a panel discussion on how to maximize the performance of video content, as well as a session of case study-driven best practices shared by Brightcove’s CTO for Media, Albert Lai.

On the panel, CBS, Twitter, The Weather Channel and FreeWheel weighed in on opportunities for broadcasters in the year ahead, as well as how to measure the performance of video initiatives as it relates to advertising, user experience, reach and engagement across devices. Their thoughts seemed to resonate with many Brightcove customers in the room, some of whom contributed their own 2014 areas of focus in the video below after the sessions.

Zack G and Barack Obama on Between Two Ferns

Why Obama Making Fat Jokes Worked

By | Marketing, Video, Viral Video | No Comments

We finally got around to watching Prezi Barry Obams on Between Two Ferns, and from the first time The President makes fun of Galifianakis’ weight we were giggling our heads off. He calls the President a nerd! The thing we really like, though, is this video that is exactly like all the other Between Two Ferns – awkward, brash, stilted, deliciously mean spirited and funny – was used by the White House to boost sign ups at HealthCare.gov. They wanted to reach out and plug the site so more people signed up to their reformed healthcare system and ensure they have coverage after the imposed cutoff date. According to White House  communications advisor Tara McGuiness, it worked.

 

Funny or Die is Will Ferrel and Adam McKay’s comedy video site, and it hosts Between Two Ferns. It worked. Here’s what you can learn from all this to get your own stuff moving via video:

THIS VIDEO WAS EMBEDDED EVERYWHERE

The video was hosted on FunnyorDie.com, but there were comms advisors from the White House and media and PR people from Funny or Die speaking with and making aware every website that could possibly place the video into their own articles or blogs. I saw it on The Verge, but you could also find it on (as a smattering):

  • Huffington Post
  • E! Online
  • YouTube
  • Variety
  • Forbes
  • NY Daily News
  • Popwatch
  • The Wrap
  • Gawker
  • Mamamia

That’s a broad collection of audiences.

THERE WAS A BUNCH OF METADATA

Wherever the video appeared, there was at least a link to HealthCare.gov and you need that, you need the call to action and then a quick way for someone to execute that action. The best way for this all to work is when the form matches the function. This is a digital video, posted online, to drive traffic to another website. All someone has to do is click a link. Secondary follow up: make a phone call. But a link in an online video is the best way to take advantage of it all.

DON’T BE AFRAID

Before you worry about using comedy or something different to promote your stuff, think really hard about this: the President (stakes!) went on a show that is famous for being cruel to its guests, and makes fat jokes. Do you really think making light of white goods, or being silly with a corporate message is that scary?

Feature for blog about directors and one stop shoppers

Interviewing: When a One Stop Shop Solo Operator Isn’t Good Enough

By | Marketing, Video | No Comments

The CEO is nervous. Her job, as she sees it, is to organise the company, work behind the scenes to keep stakeholders co-operative, talk in boardrooms. She doesn’t consider part of her job to be talking in front of a camera, about herself, telling stories and seeming at ease while feeling rigid inside.

Sitting in front of a camera requires a rare type of confidence that comes from experience (or brash youthfulness!). Being a powerful person in the boardroom does not always translate to being confident, warm and flowing on camera. Of course not. Think about the qualities a good CEO has. Toughness, straightforward attitudes, an ability to cut through crap and get stuff done. Good governance. The Board’s representative in carrying out the greater strategic goals. Being liked isn’t high on the priorities list.

Do you know what someone needs to look good in front of a camera? A smile. Warmth. Confidence, but not so much that you come off as threatening. Languidness. Ease. Balance. Deferment. A great deal of these qualities are not naturally promoted by a CEO role. Think below the surface. A CEO is constantly facing problems, threats and challenges. A personal fortitude often means a withholding nature, not giving away too much to avoid exposing weakness. The camera loves someone exposing their weakness then laughing about it with the audience.

So it can be very hard for a CEO to sit in front of a camera and feel natural. That’s what a director is on set for. A great director works almost entirely with the talent – our CEO – making her feel comfortable, talking with her, asking her questions to make her feel relaxed, explaining how everything works or completely ignoring the technology, depending on how the director intuits the CEO is best worked with. While the camera operator and soundie and lighting guy are moving around, setting up, talking, working out angles, the director keeps the CEO centred, focussed and prepared. They keep a quiet island for two amid the chaos.

Do you know who can’t do that? The one man operator. The guy who brings the camera, the lights and the sound, and sets it all up himself. He runs around, doing the work that takes a full crew an hour. He rushes, he sweats, he looks hassled. The CEO is nervous. She feels exposed, unsure, and when she asks questions to try and find security, she’s given short, offhand replies. She isn’t given eye contact. The solo operator throws replies over his shoulder, because he’s busy pushing the light up higher and balancing the shot bag on his foot.

The CEO hasn’t been looked after, given the time she deserves and needs for a good result. After the solo operator is finished set up, he asks the CEO if she’s ready. She says yes, because there’s no way she’ll look unprepared. He’ll press record and she’ll come off stiff, awkward, reserved, wooden. Of course she will! She wasn’t directed! Even talented, A-list stars need direction to get good work out of them.

That’s why you should hire a proper production crew. We know that a technician isn’t the best at working with people. That’s what directors are for, and we know some of the best directors going.

Lancers charging

How a FREELANCER Can Get Work with The X Gene

By | Freelancer, Innovation, Video | One Comment

If you’re a freelancer in the film, TV and video industry, you may have come here via this blog post, FREELANCER TIPS: Advice To Camera Operators. We get a lot of emails enquiring about whether we have room for full time or part time employees. We also gets lots of enquiries from freelancers. Very glad to help where we can, and we add your details to our files because we’re always looking for new talent. We love talking to you and sending you in the right direction, and are delighted with the popularity of our blog posts in your direction. The X Gene hates closed, locked doors.

We all have a lot of hassles finding work in the business. Going full time freelance is daunting enough, but once you take that leap, you’re now committed to finding enough work every week to keep you eating. All the folks at The X Gene have gone through this stage. Simon was a soundie and editor, Britta worked her way through film studios as an editor and Adam’s been camera opping for years. So we feel your pain.

One way we help out freelancers as well as get jobs is by being happy to help out in the parts you don’t like. Being a producer really means doing the boring and painful stuff; client liaison, sales, budgeting, invoicing, chasing and organising. Luckily, we love that stuff. There’s nothing more satisfying than being told our brief to a camera operator or editor was impeccable, or our shoot schedule meant “shit just got done.” So that’s what we can offer to the freelancer who has work but as part of a much bigger job.

Here’s how it unfolds: you get an edit job or a camera job or a graphics job, but it’s part of a much larger project, and you don’t want all that nonsense. You just wanna do your thing. Bring the job to us, and tell us what you want to do and how much you want to get paid for it. We prepare the quote, pitch or proposal and get your approval. We take it to the client, with your role securely in place within the project. They say yes, we make it happen, you fill in your end and get paid through us.

We’ve got this set up with a few of the operators in Kindred Studio with us, and the friends and associates of other freelancers. If it’s something you’re interested in, to expand what you can offer potential clients, or if you already have a job you want to fill out, let us know.

Feature for blog with stats on what counts as a video view

What Counts As A Video View? You’d Be Surprised!

By | Research, Technology, Video | No Comments

Just because someone sees your video, doesn’t mean it’ll count as a view! Turns out there are varying definitions of what counts as a ‘view’ on video content.

Depending on the website that’s hosting your video, TubeMogul informs us that a half view, and autoplay or a refresh can an affect on whether your view count goes up or stays as it is. Below is the table of results from TubeMogul’s research, updated in 2010 and found here via Creative Commons license. One/session is one count per session (monitored via the viewer’s IP address), > 1/2 view means the viewer got through more than half the video. Note that autoplays aren’t always counted, which is important if you want that intro video on your homepage to gather a nice collection of views. You’ll have to weigh up the importance of people seeing your video vs raising the view count.

III. Summary of Findings

Site Full View >1/2 View Refresh Embedded Embedded Autoplay 
blip.tv one/sess. one/sess. no count one/sess. one/sess.
Dailymotion count count count count count
Metacafe count count no count count count
MySpace count count count count count
Viddler count count count count count
Vimeo one/sess. one/sess. no count count count
Yahoo! Video count count count count count
YouTube count count count count no count

By David Burch, Director of Communications – Link to Report

Feature for blog about how much web video costs

How Much Does A Web Video Cost?

By | Marketing, Video | No Comments


Lots of people are curious about the price of video. It’s dependent on what you’re after, but here’s a handy guide to get you started.

The average web video is 1 to 3 minutes long. There’s juicy research from video hosting platforms that says a viewer will drop off at about 90 seconds in, so get your key messages in early.

Most of our clients use a web video to introduce a brand, service or product. They’ll deploy those videos on their site and throughout their social media network.

A commercial might be expensive, but web video is the entry point for small business. The Interactive Advertising Bureau releases reports about the digital space, and they say the stickiest sites are always those with video. That means people not only stay on the site longer, but are more likely to come back.

A ‘web video’ is a very broad category. They’re very different from video to video. To find out what’s right for someone, we start with a simple chat. We ask questions to know the brand, then understand the message. Finally, we go back and brainstorm three or four fun ideas, with budgets attached. Those concepts might be live action or animation.

Once confirmed, we take care of pre-production (concepts, scripts, storyboards, shotlists, schedules), production (cameras, lighting, cast, crew and locations) and post-production (editing, motion graphics, effects, colour grading, exporting, sound). Once it’s done, we help implement and deploy the video. This means we might work with a client’s web developer, or create different versions for different uses like online, trade shows or DVD.

The question on everybody’s lips: how much does it cost. You’re looking at $3,000 to $8,000 depending on how fancy you want to get. AU$5,000 is the average.

Honestly, the business that can afford The X Gene’s work in this area is a medium businesses with 10+ employees or an operating budget that can justify a more sophisticated marketing approach. We find that’s professional firms like financial managers, insurance brokers, and the technology sector. Animated videos tend to be the realm of government, not-for-profit and education institutions, often with dry or complex messages that need to be made more visually interesting.

So that’s a quick overview of web video. Wanna make one? It’s the next step in being rad.

Feature for blog explaining shorter videos are better for engagement

How Long Your Web Video Should Be

By | Research, Video | No Comments

Wistia are a neato burrito video hosting company that love the moving image as much as we do. Every couple of years they seek to answer the eternal question: how long should a video be? Click the article link to read more, but here’s the overview graphs.

http://wistia.com/blog/does-length-matter-it-does-for-video-2k12-edition/

Wistia

Wistia

Wistia


How much does it cost to film an event? Lots of companies put on big shows or little shows, to reach out to new people or celebrate the existing. Film it!

How Much Does it Cost to Film My Event?

By | Events, Video | No Comments


Event marketing is all the rage. Lots of companies put on big shows or little shows, to reach out to new people or celebrate the existing. We capture these events in two ways.

We film the whole event and create long form versions for those who were absent, online membership clubs or to sell the videos themselves.

Or, we can create a highlight reel(s) that captures the atmosphere and promotes the event, the business and the sponsors or partners.

We’re usually working with organisations that hold training sessions, seminars or presentations to their board, the media or their peers. Some of our favourites are awards nights and ceremonies.

The way this gets done is a bit different from the usual pre/prod/post process. We’ll get called up to cover the event. We discuss the needs, what’s going to be on at the location and what the client wants to do with the content. We then bring a usually small crew, film, then edit it all together. Overall, it’s a fairly simple production, but it’ll take a bit longer because we’ll be dealing with potentially days worth of footage.

To cover an event, are the stacks of cash fat or skinny? At the lowest end, we’ll have someone with a camera running around grabbing just visuals, then a quick edit. At the highest end, there’s a multi-camera set up with different angles, different audio feeds and hours and hours of final product. So $2,000 to $5,000 – up to a three day seminar from $12 to $15 grand.

Who’s getting these sorts of videos made? Businesses with either lots of staff or lots of stakeholders, covering end of year or general meetings. This can be an industry association’s organising committee – Insurance Council of Australia, Australian Constructors Association, Planning Institute of Australia.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle, so if there’s an event coming up that you know could’ve been shot better than last year, email us for a chitty chat!

A golden Mercedes Benz

Why Go Pro Video: The Reason it Costs What it Costs

By | Marketing, Technology, Video | No Comments

Here’s the thing about video – anyone can do it…but only professionals can do it well.

I’d be a moron to dismiss or ignore that as digital swept through and technology got cheaper, making videos became more accessible. A smart phone today will shoot some pretty nice footage (I like how the iPhones oversaturate). This all means businesses promoting themselves can have the same sort of fun with video that we have every day.

My job as a producer at a Melbourne video agency is to make content that promotes businesses, not-for-profits, individuals – anyone with a message. The challenge is finding a place for ourselves now that anyone can afford the basic tech.

Some companies have decided to go for bulk. Buy or build a studio (because that’s something harder to get) and pump out a huge volume of video content at a cut-throat rate. It works for these companies, but they’ll freely admit they are missing one thing: quality.

The X Gene has gone a different route. We’ve moved away from cheap. We come in when our client wants a premium product. A potentially lucrative contract with a big international firm? A line of clientele that take part in the finer things in life? A large audience, a large investment, high stakes? These are the types of things a little clip in a poorly green screened studio won’t help.

If you want big returns, you need high quality. That’s The X Gene. High-end cameras, complex lighting and audio setups, multiple edit suites and specialised post-production software – yes, we have all of that, but we also have something far superior: the years of experience and proven talent to utilise all this creatively. We create the best videos we can, and then push ourselves to do better.

That’s what you’re paying for when you get a video made with us. That’s why it costs more than the quick and dirty alternatives, or the overseas options from sites like freelancer.com. I’ve heard business owners in seminars talk about getting a video done overseas and not being happy with the result. They end up making three or four mediocre videos that probably cost them more than they budgeted for anyway. I’ve also been proud to see other owners and our clients show off a premium video and say it was a bit more expensive, but the results speak for themselves.

The old cliche is true; you get what you pay for. With all this talk in the news of Australia needing to accept it can’t compete on price when working against nations four to ten times cheaper, I hear a constant refrain, “IP and value added skills and expertise are the way forward.” That’s us. Quality in a service industry, making excellent content to make you cut through and stand out. That’s why you go pro video – to be better than your competitors. We strive to be better than our competitors, so who better to team up with to take over the world?

iiNet and AAPT

iiNet & AAPT want money instead of innovation on NBN

By | Innovation, Technology | No Comments

Working with video means we transport GBs of data a day over our internet. The future of the NBN is damned important to us – especially those fast upload speeds. Sending a client a video draft can take ages…sending them 6 drafts can be excruciating. iiNet and AAPT have come out in support of the Coalition’s NBN plan, one that takes away our beautiful speed and our precious upload/download equalisation. Well, those two businesses sort of support it: their finance teams, that is. From iiNet’s CFO David Buckingham, “the technology lovers love the Labor version but the accountants like myself … like the idea of the faster rollout and hopefully a lower cost because that’s how we can differentiate. So as a CFO I’m looking forward to the lower cost base and the faster rollout.”

Key difference here is the tech vs the cost. The argument is that that speed is worth waiting for, because the Coalition plan will rapidly be out of date and leave us as frustrated as we are now. The article shows the contrast between the needs of society and business. It’s particularly ironic given the performance factors these telcos advertise. The debate also demonstrates the hurdles we have to jump to be innovative (spoiler: it’s money).

via http://www.businessspectator.com.au/news/2013/7/25/nbn-buzz/aapt-iinet-back-coalition-nbn

Cover image from old BandT

Cannes: ‘Move over Grandad’ (reblog)

By | Advertising, Inspiration, Technology | No Comments

The following is a rad article we loved and got us juicy. We’re one of the creative agencies nipping at the heels of the bigguns, and our work is changing the way video is done in Australia.
The article reblogged here with permission from Kevin Macmillan’s The Works, Sydney and was originally posted on B&T.com


I was very excited heading to Cannes 2013. As I pack my suitcase to head back to Sydney, I’m even more excited.

I don’t remember a time in our industry when young creative entrepreneurs have been more at the forefront of marketing.

The ordered approach to marketing we all know from the past few decades, the approach we all understood to be the correct way is crashing down around us. It was so evident in Cannes throughout the week.

Media is going through the ringer. Research is going through the ringer. Strategy is going through the ringer. And Creativity is thriving. The young creative entrepreneurs up on stage at the talks and the seminars spoke with conviction and were wide eyed about the future.

The older speakers from the old marketing world often appeared like rabbits caught in the headlights. Whether it be the boss of a big corporate organisation or the boss of a big agency, I somehow got the vibe they were merely warning us about the changing approach to marketing, rather than actually being part of it.

It’s always more interesting to hear from the creator of something. The person who made something. Not the person who was there when it was made.

Around the world, technology is allowing young creative entrepreneurs to make more ideas, deliver them quicker to market and use real live testing. So instead of “here’s what the future looks like” the Cannes festival was much more “look what I made”.

Cannes did not feel like an ad festival. If felt like an ideas festival. A place where young creative entrepreneurs could come and share creative stuff. There was a ‘Move over Grandad, you ain’t getting this shit’feeling in the air.

It confirmed what I already thought; that the marketing world would be a better place without all the marketing bullshit.  A better place if we were all brave enough to accept what marketing really is – a simple creative idea to make people love your product.

If I’m going to take one thing away from Cannes it’s going to be this; we are in the age of making ideas, not talking just talking about them. As a creative, that is unbelievably exciting.

Kevin Macmillan is founder and creative partner at The Works Sydney

Feature image about video used online, seeding, activation

Get The Most Out Of Your Video

By | Technology, Video | No Comments

We made a Prezi! Prezi is a fun little app that spruces up the traditional PowerPoint and move a around the screen in a more cinematic way.

Honestly, this is a simplified version of one aspect of what you can achieve in motion graphics programs like Adobe After Effects. We’ve noticed that successful apps are really those that capture one aspect of a much more complex, professional program, and repackage it as a simplified, restricted version that the general population can play with.

In our Prezi, we wanted to show you what you can do with any video you have once it’s edited and delivered. We love telling our clients these little tips, because we want them to get the most out of our work, to get the most bang for their buck. Please have a chat to us if you’d like to learn how to get your message to the most eyeballs. Enjoy by pressing the little arrows and marvel at Prezi!

Dropbox icons

Why I Chose Dropbox As Our Cloud Service

By | Technology | No Comments

Let’s hear from our founder, producer and mad scientist Simon J. Green. Take it in the face, Simon…

When I set up The X Gene, I’d just moved from a digital media company I’d also co-founded called Green Rabbit. While we were there, cloud services had just started becoming a ‘thing’. At The X Gene, I knew I wanted to move all our creative, briefs, client files and general business documents to a cloud service, because I knew I’d be on multiple computers as well as needing mobile access while out on shoots or in transit between client meetings.

THUS BEGUN THE CLOUD SERVICE EXCEL MATRIX.

I’m a nerd. Massive. I looked at all the current cloud services and compared their features in an excel spreadsheet. Plan costs, GBs of space, shareability, mobile apps, integration with other apps and online services. Back then I think I was looking at three main contenders: Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive (although I think Google had  just rolled out their paid version), with YouSendIt floating around the edges.

Ultimately, I decided on Dropbox. Since then, heaps has changed. YouSendIt have become way more attractive, adding a solid cloud service as well as online document signing. Interesting, because I know a lot of people who use YouSendIt anyway, and I even still use it for a quick send that I can leave uploading. I know, once it’s upped, it’ll be immediately sent. Dropbox doesn’t do that, although I can easily leave it uploading and then email the link from my mobile while I’m out.

Box seemed to scrape together a lot of key integration in apps, but I found it rather American-centric in that regard, and hardly anyone I work with uses it. On an iPhone or iPad, this might have been a concern, but since I’ve moved to Android, the cross-app shareability options have exploded.

Google Drive is probably the most viable outside of Dropbox for me. Our company email and calendar is set up through Google, we use Chrome for browsing, mobile and tablet are now Android, Google Apps looks tasty, especially with some of the business tools available, and we have a chunk of documents in Google Docs, because the collaboration is so damn useful.

Dropbox is our winner, though, and hear’s some of the reasons why: they’ve since increased plug-in support for multiple apps and online services, in particular Vimeo. Vimeo is fantastic for us, because we display all our finished work through a paid Vimeo account with embedding on our sites, and deliver drafts to our clients using password protection. One incredible feature sees us able to upload a video by clicking a button and browsing our cloud and choosing the video within that ecosystem. The video is already online, so the processing is a matter of seconds instead of up to an hour. That means just the one upload, which saves us bandwidth and allows us to deliver drafts to clients in two ways – one a Dropbox short link, another a Vimeo password protected link. Dropbox has a teams function now, which will help us as we grow. Using the integrated desktop app means when a client or contractor uploads a file to our account, it immediately starts downloading on our computers, giving us instant access instead of having to wait for manual clicking of the Download button. This shared folder system also makes it easy to keep our briefing and creative files neat and tidy for our contractors. We’ve also gathered something like 60 GB of additional free space from their referral system. If someone joins one of our shared folders, then adds Dropbox’s app to their desktop computer, we get a chunk of free space. If someone clicks this link http://db.tt/bgtBRkG and joins Dropbox, we get free space. Through various online tweets, surveys and offers, we’ve received free space. SO MUCH FREE SPACE!

We looked long and hard at the others, but we’re happy with our decision. We  love seeing the add-ons that increase productivity as cloud services become more prevalent. So that’s why we went with Dropbox.

Data on how audiences react to video content

DIY + Professionally Produced = More Sales, More Happiness

By | Advertising, Research, Technology, Video | No Comments

Sales and happiness aren’t necessarily one in the same, and conversion is the preferred industry term, but isn’t happiness better than sales or converting? Yeah, agreed.

At The X Gene, we produce videos to make people happy, but ultimately to get our clients sales, conversions or just getting a thumbs up. We’re completely aware that with technology advancing and prices for that tech falling, folks can make videos at home or in the office. Obviously, we’re really good at it and would prefer to do it for you, but ignoring the growing trend of DIY would be insane. Our producers actually come out and consult with companies around Melbourne, giving them hints or showing them even more cool stuff out there.

It turns out, when you combine us with you, the results are even more impressive than just DIY or pro video production on their own. That’s marriage, baby, and it’s happy.

This study by comScore and EXPO found that offering viewers and potential customers both a user-generated video along with a professionally produced how-to video, the sales, conversions and happiness increased way more than just one or the other, alone.

So, chat with us to combine your DNA with ours, and we’ll make a beautiful conversion sales happiness baby.

LINK: comScore Study Finds Professionally-Produced Video Content And User-Generated Product Videos Exhibit Strong Synergy in Driving Sales Effectiveness

Amazing post with all the goodies

By | Food for thought | 2 Comments

In varius varius justo, eget ultrices mauris rhoncus non. Morbi tristique, mauris eu imperdiet bibendum, velit diam iaculis velit, in ornare massa enim at lorem. Etiam risus diam, porttitor vitae ultrices quis, dapibus id dolor. Morbi venenatis lacinia rhoncus. Vestibulum tincidunt ullamcorper eros eget luctus. Nulla eget porttitor libero. Read More

Auctor consectetur ligula gravida

By | Dining | One Comment

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Effectiveness of video and ads online

Length, Placement & Rolling Over: How Do You Perfect A Video?

By | Advertising, Research, Video | No Comments

We know video is the best one of all the ones. Radio is audio. Design is static images. Copy is reading word. Video combines all of those, and moves! C’mon!

Still, proof is better than jabbering unfounded, so we’re gonna show you some examples not only of the effectiveness of video, but how to achieve the optimum effectiveness. (Hint: it’s half science, half art, just like The X Gene)

The Interactive Advertising Bureau is like our mothership. Their research council undertook a study to see just how long a video should be, and where the best place to pop it is. Here’s a quick overview, but click the link below to see the gritty details:

  • 15 seconds appears to be an optimal length for digital video creative in the pre-roll position. 5-second spots had trouble conveying a message; while 30-second spots risked turning off a viewer waiting to watch something else.
  • 30-second spots do well at conveying a complex or emotionally resonant message, but work best in user-initiated placements (where the user must take an action, like clicking on an ad or rolling over an in-text link, to begin playing the ad) where viewers display more patience for long messages.
  • Pre-roll, in-text, and in-banner video ad placements can all contribute to achieving the goals of a campaign; however, different placements may perform optimally with different creative lengths.

LINK: IAB Digital Video Ad Effectiveness Case Study

Equipment science and video on a table

Web Video Trends in 2013

By | Technology, Video | No Comments

We just sent this information to a client, but thought it was valuable enough to share with you. This is stuff we’re seeing more of, or just really excited about in 2013.

Responsive/Adaptive websites
Site design that adjusts itself based on the screen it’s being viewed on. We know a web agency that create tile based sites that slide around and reposition themselves on different screens and different orientations. Cool!

 

In-browser applications
The idea that content or programs run exclusively in a web browser, with little to no plug-ins. With HTML5, this seems to be more and more achievable.
Important for an audience that may only have a computer, a browser and the internet.

 

Interactive video
Video that doesn’t just play from start to end in a linear fashion once you click ‘play’, but instead can be clicked on, through and around to create branched, more inclusive, shorter interactions.
Exciting for us, because we can break people out of ‘sit and watch’ and get them to actually play around with the video. Think of choose your own adventure, online, as video.

Magna fringilla condimentum

By | Gaming | No Comments

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Praesent ullamcorper suscipit mi, id convallis risus ullamcorper eget. Curabitur ultricies elit lacinia arcu ullamcorper adipiscing. Integer velit dui, gravida semper commodo vel, accumsan ac orci. Phasellus venenatis venenatis velit ut ultricies. Cras porta dignissim malesuada. Etiam auctor, justo et facilisis ultrices, justo mauris imperdiet ligula, vitae tincidunt justo quam fermentum nulla. Read More

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By | Fashion | No Comments

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Aliquam blandit diam nec lacus congue imperdiet. In elementum ac magna ut hendrerit. Quisque vel arcu non leo imperdiet faucibus eget at odio. Etiam nisl ligula, consectetur et leo nec, commodo fringilla massa. Nulla arcu orci, lobortis ac augue at, egestas vehicula mi. Aliquam eleifend viverra nisi, blandit iaculis urna. Praesent at egestas leo, ac tincidunt lorem. Read More

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By | Music | No Comments

Integer justo arcu, tempor eu venenatis non, sagittis nec lacus. Aenean sagittis, velit eget condimentum posuere, nulla massa consectetur nulla, iaculis lobortis sapien odio ac quam. Donec eu dui vel eros feugiat feugiat vel non lectus. Duis laoreet consequat diam in dictum. Mauris dui risus, sollicitudin id pretium a, ullamcorper non lacus. Read More

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By | Dining | No Comments

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By | Food for thought | No Comments

Vivamus risus mi, lobortis ut congue vitae, vestibulum vitae augue. Maecenas nunc odio, pulvinar id vulputate nec, porttitor at quam. Suspendisse vulputate diam eu leo bibendum feugiat. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Sed non ligula augue. Praesent imperdiet magna at risus lobortis ac accumsan lorem ornare Cras sed lobortis libero. Pellentesque arcu lacus, dignissim ut porta in, interdum vel risus. Curabitur non est purus. Ut adipiscing purus augue, quis elementum dolor convallis id.

Use video for magazines

Got A Brand, Magazine or Website? Produce TV!

By | Video | No Comments

After finishing up on 4WD Touring Australia, a 13-part half hour series airing on Aurora, Foxtel’s open channel, we want to make use of our fabulous production team to develop more series with you.

In particular, we’re after brand funded content. This can be media that has an existing advertiser base (magazines, websites, eBooks) or a product that ties in with something that people enjoy as part of their lifestyle.

For example, 4WD Touring Australia was first a magazine, but the owners turned it into a TV series that their existing advertisers took part in funding. The idea is to create a program people enjoy, while also giving them access to the elements of that lifestyle they’d be keen to buy or make use of anyway.

Our skill is in working with you to create a concept that incorporates your brand personality, and then planning, shooting, editing and generally executing the show. Aurora is the channel that airs the content around the nation, and they loved our work last time, keen to work with us again.

That’s as simple as we can put it, really! Please get in contact with us if you think you have an idea.

 

While we’re at it, here’s a great article about brand funded content from Mumbrella.

Dollar signs over the annoying orange

Hey Apple! Annoying Orange Shows How Far Viral Video Web Series Can Take You

By | Technology, Video, Viral Video | No Comments

Not sure what good viral videos or web series are? Annoying Orange, a web series started by Dane Boedigheimer in 2009, can tell you – in his whiney, high pitched voice.

“In 2010, Boedigheimer’s YouTube channel had almost 350 million views and earned an income of $288,000 from ads.” – wikipedia

Yep. And what really hit home was when one of our X-agents was walking through Sunshine Plaza in Melbourne’s outer suburbs (of all places!) and came across this:

That’s an arcade booth, one of those ‘use the hook to get the prize’ machines, full of Annoying Orange merchandise, with the video itself playing on a screen in the back.

The series has been re-broadcast on Cartoon Network, has accessories, toys, clothing, a Halloween outfit and a mobile video game.

That’s what viral videos and web series are good for. Contact us to start your own.

Adam Bennett camera operator with kit

FREELANCER TIPS: Advice to Camera Operators

By | Freelancer, Video | No Comments

Hello. I’m a producer. I work with talented, reliable video production crew. Part of my job is to look for freelancers I haven’t worked with before, test them with small, paid jobs, and then zealously hire them as my crew for as many productions as I can. Once I’ve found a good egg, I’ll happily pass their details to other producers I work with, because having a good crew is wasted if I can’t be a reliable source for the industry.

As such, I have a good idea of what is required of a freelance camera operator. I’m often asked for advice by guys and gals just starting out, or at a turning point in their careers. I’d like to share some of it with you. I hope it helps.

Get Your Showreel Cut and Get It Out There

This is number one. You’ll come up with a million excuses not to: the shots aren’t good enough, you need to transfer footage off other drives, you need to conform the media, you’re waiting for the director to give you the DVD. None of these reasons are good enough. Put together what you have and get it out NOW! You can update it later, but right now, you’re far less impressive without a reel.

We need it to see what you can do, and even a weak reel is better than no reel at all. I’ve looked at reels that were obviously just the two short films the student did at school – but the camera work showed promise. Without seeing the actual work you do, I have no way of judging where you are in your skill set. Once I’ve seen your reel, a chat will clear up all the other stuff. Your work is most important. Cut it and get it out there!

Spread it Around, You Nasty Thing

You have to promote yourself. That’s probably the hardest thing for you. You’re behind the camera. You like playing with lights and codecs and lenses. You’re Australian. You don’t like big-noting yourself. I get that, but here’s the thing: if I’m in a room with two camera operators, and I need them immediately to shoot something just outside, the one who tells me, “I’m really good,” will get the job, while the one who shuffles his feet stays behind.

It’s the same with the Internet. When producers, directors or agencies are on the prowl, they’ll go through a hot mess of reels and websites. The ones that stand out as being confident tell us that there must be talent behind that confidence. If it’s hollow bravado, that’ll be worked out very quickly anyway.

You might be worried that you’re good, but not good enough. That’s fine too, because if you’re a solid operator put out of your depth, you’ll come out better in the end. So put your damn hand up and say, “I’m a good camera operator.” Own it!

Specialise

There’s nothing less convincing than a business card that reads

Leslie Dixon
DOP, Editor, Director, Lighting, Motion Graphics, Plumber

I’m going to cut to the chase and use a cliche: jack of all trades, master of none. I’m looking for a camera operator to shoot an ad or a TV show or a corporate event. I try to work with the best, so I can provide my clients with the best. The best work gets the best pay. So I need to know you are focused only on cameras. You read about them when you’re on the train. You’re working towards an ACS. You can bamboozle me with the latest camera advances and chip sizes. You specialise in camera operating. One day I won’t be able to afford you because you’re so specialised in camera operating, you’re known as one of the best.

We all start off wearing multiple hats. I did, but at some point, you have to decide to specialise. It might seem wise to offer me both cam op and editor in the same package. Nope. If I want an editor, I’ll go find an editor who specialises in editing, because that person’s going to be better at it than you. Because you’re a camera operator.

Charge Appropriately and Objectively

When you’re about to send a producer your biggest quote to date, you feel nervous. They’re going to reject it! It’s too much! So you change it, reduce costs, take the hit on gear, or work half a day for free.

You dummy!

What to charge can be tough, but there’s a basic rule I learnt from a ring-in teacher when I was at RMIT. Think about your cost of living. Do a rough calculation of your rent, groceries, bills, all your regular expenses for a year. Now, think about how much money you’d reasonably like for fun each week. Add that to your yearly total. Now add 9% (12% now) for superannuation. What do you have? OK, that’s your ideal yearly wage.

Now say you were working four days a week as a camera operator. That’s 208 days. Divide your ideal yearly wage by 208. That’s what you should be earning.

It’s a good start, but I would mix that with research. Look up other camera operator rates online, or ask producer friends how much other operators are charging, roughly (no names!). Now, be as objective about your skill level as you can be and see how you stack up. Note: generally, most people think they’re worse than they really are.

Charge a daily rate and maybe a half day rate for you. Don’t charge half day rates for your gear – once it’s out, it’s out for the day. Stick to these figures and use them first and foremost.

When you send that large quote, stay true to your convictions. If that’s what it will cost, based on your regular rate, then that’s what it will cost. Don’t pre-empt a no. Wait for it. If it doesn’t come, you just made a great sale. If it does, negotiate! If they don’t want to negotiate, you didn’t lose all that much, did you?

Hope That Helped

I hope this is useful to you. Maybe some of it, maybe all of it. If it helps the tiniest bit, then our whole industry is the better for it. Now go shoot something, and send me your reel!

UPDATE: There’s a companion post to this one, HOW A FREELANCER CAN GET WORK WITH THE X GENE. If you found this useful, check it out.

Simon J. Green is the owner of The X Gene and a producer of six years. Before The X Gene, he ran Green Rabbit, whose office in Docklands saw a regular rotation of camera operators he works with to this day. He’s produced TV shows, corporate videos, TVCs and every niche of video in between – always relying on camera ops to do the shooting.

examples of geometric patterns and style

Trends in Design, and Why You Should Avoid Them

By | Design | 4 Comments

If you’ve ever worked with designers, you might notice that they love a little thing called trends. There’s nothing inherently evil about a trend. It seems like an element of design just simultaneously catches on, across a spectrum of projects. Following a trend in your branding can be useful: it grounds you in a certain time and place. Especially useful if the thing for which you’re designing is short-lived and now.

If you’re building a brand over a longer period of time, following a trend that lasts literally a year can leave you looking daggy or – for us, the greatest sin – unoriginal. The problem with just moving with trends is that you aren’t really doing what you’re supposed to be doing when branding. You should know what and who your brand is, and its design should match. This insulates you from trends, because as they come and go, people will still look at your brand’s design and say, “Yeah, that’s totally right!”

As such, we can’t help but notice trends in design. Last year it was Sketchblock font.

Right now, it’s geometric shapes with solid gradients. Here’s a handful. See how many you can spot in the wild, and why not post them in the Comments?

Melbourne City Council

Telstra

Medicare Local

PricewaterhouseCoopers

MYOB

NPS

Woman holding sign saying Don't Discount Journalism

Fairfax and the Truth About the Digital Future

By | Technology, Video Blogs | No Comments

The breaking news on our screens this morning is that Fairfax are dropping 1,900 jobs, closing the printing facilities in Chullora and Tullamarine, moving their print to tabloid format and erecting a paywall for their online sites. Our producer talks about the digital future, as seen through Fairfax’s crystal ball, and how it can help you.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-06-18/fairfax-cuts-jobs-goes-compact/4076732

The dot points, for those in a rush.

  • All media are adapting to digital. Fairfax is going through that painful transition.
  • The future of all media wil be smaller, niche, not as big – and there needs to be acceptance of that fact.
  • These changes had to happen. But workers can re-skill, or use their experience and expertise to set up their own new opportunities.
  • It’s a exciting time – wild west of the web.
  • Growing, understanding, will lead to, in my opinion, a more mum-and-pop approach to the entertainment and news we love and consume.
  • Fairfax workers, realise you have skills and knowledge. Find people you can work with and create your own visions.

ABC News: Who will survive the digital future?

Awesome deer shaped powerlines

Power Lines Just Got Better

By | Design, Inspiration | No Comments

I bet you thought power lines were the best they could be. They get held up by big structures that look like lego technic, and they give us power to give us internet. Well, they just got EVEN BETTER. This is the sort of creativity and extravagant thinking we genetically engineer into our people at The X Gene. (Click the pics to see more)

Giants!

http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/electrical-tower-giants-6-pics

Stag party.

http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/design-depot-deer-shaped-electrical-towers

Bonus: desktop power line wire holders.

http://www.geeky-gadgets.com/desktop-power-line-wire-holders-by-daniel-ballou-24-03-2012

Terry Tate office linbacker comedy viral memes

Three Types of Viral Video: 2. Funny Bone Activation

By | Video, Viral Video | 2 Comments

At The X Gene, we love researching video. One of the types we dissect is viral video. From our crazy experiments and field research, we’ve noticed there are three general categories of viral video. We try and direct our clients to these when discussing video productions, and now you can see what we’ve got to say.

The second is the Funny Bone Activation category.

UPDATE: If the President of the USA can be funny and make fat jokes, what are you really worried about with your brand?

(See also: 1. Did That Happen!? and 3. Sexy NSFW.)

Comedy has always been a fantastic loosener. It’s like a massage that relaxes your audience, making them happier to accept the messages you’re broadcasting. But it has to be funny. That’s bold-italics-underline because it’s the most important. Funny viral shouldn’t be considered lightly. If a video campaign tries to be funny and fails, you lose a whole lot of cool points and set your reputation positioning back to before you brainstormed the campaign. What’s the best way to make sure something is going to be funny? Hire writers and/or comedians. People who dedicate their lives to understanding humour (and need to in order to survive) have a far greater chance of getting the gums giggling. You can oversee the funny-makers, however, by ensuring you understand the audience you’re reaching, and what that audience finds funny.

A superbowl star for Reebok. Combining office humour and football = massive.

Styles of comedy vary from group to group. We at The X Gene love hearing a client’s profile of their brand, and who they want to reach. Sometimes that’s the group that already epitomise the brand; sometimes that’s a new group of people lured to the fold. The comedy stylings of ad campaigns run by, say, Lynx (Axe) Body spray are vastly different to that of Hewlett Packard. Understanding the brand, the audience, then trusting the right writers, comedians, actors, and director to employ the right style is crucial.

Rhys Darby, from Flight of the Conchords, boosted this internal campaign’s juice.

Often, due to the recognisable names in a comedy campaign, social network support is employed to make sure a lot of people notice the star and click through, share, make it easy. Manliest Rituals from Axe Body Spray utilised a customised tab on their Facebook page that acted as a mini-site, thus allowed people to watch the series in Facebook. Sharing was one click away. They also built a regular site, but in-app presence  is an increasingly necessary way to make your audience aware of the campaign you (and your writers) have put time and effort into.

A cruder humour for a teenage, frat boy audience is a lot of fun to make!

Johnny Bravo dropping his jaw to the floor

Three Types of Viral Video: 1. Did That Happen!?

By | Video, Viral Video | 2 Comments

At The X Gene, we love researching video. One of the types we dissect is viral video. From our crazy experiments and field research, we’ve noticed there are three general categories of viral video. We try and direct our clients to these when discussing video productions, and now you can see what we’ve got to say.

The first viral video category is Did That Happen!?.

(See also: 2. Funny Bone Activation and 3. Sexy NSFW.)

These are the sorts of videos that make us doubt whether we’re seeing special effects or something incredible and real happening before our very eyes. They require heavy special effects, and are best accomplished through a shaky camera style or low resolution, faked ‘camera phone’ look. Making the video look like it was done with a camera phone adds to the illusion that the recorder just happened to be there at the exact time, or was running with a group to capture the amazing event. These videos require substantial planning, funnily enough, because the effects in post-production require a great deal of time and money. Compositing is hard enough, let alone compositing over the top of a poorly-lit jet that jitters and blurs in the frame.

Marc Ecko tags Air Force One… or does he!?!?!

The Did That Happen!? style of viral video is shared and passed around because people want to show one another this amazing thing they’ve seen. They feel the ‘wow’ in their gut, as if they were watching it live, or had seen something secretly amazing that no one else has yet witnessed. Passing it on to a friend or family member endows the sharer with a feeling that they found it first, and are exposing it to the world via their Facebook, Twitter or blog. They want their friends to feel that ‘wow’ as well, and love being the ones who gave them that ‘wow’.

OMG! Look at this squirrel. Real? Probably!