Monthly Archives: December 2011

Secret to Increasing eMail Marketing Results

Like to know a secret to improving your email marketing effectiveness? Try including a link to an interesting video. Here’s the lowdown. The Association uses an email service, Constant Contact, to do our email marketing and PR. These marketing/PR emails always include a link to a video.  According to Constant Contact, 23.7% of the people who open our email click the link to play the video. (see BLUE below).

Primary Research

So how does our conversion rate compare to others business sectors who don’t necessarily use video? Our Conversion Rate (in blue above) is 4 times higher than the industry average –(in red above), and 10x higher than Marketing/PR businesses (in yellow above).

How does all this help you?

We create custom video productions that make your email marketing more effective.  People love video.  They’d rather click “PLAY” than read. So, if you want to improve your Marketing/PR email conversion rate, call us. We’re ready to PLAY.

The Thousand Dollar Lunch

We had the best italian dinner after our tv commercial shoot!

One of the perks of being in the TV Commercials production business is lunch. Sometimes this can be a hurried sandwich-grab and some chips, but not usually. Not if you time your shooting script right. Everyone has heard stories of fabulous wrap parties where tables full of food and drink get consumed and everyone has a real good time. Well, some of those stories are true. I always used to give my crew the best wrap dinner I could, and since we were often in some exotic port or city there were usually plenty of choices. Once I treated them to a “wrap spa” overnight experience in Nagasaki, Japan, including twenty-course gourmet dinner, bottomless Sake cups, massages by blind people and soaking in the natural hot springs of a three-hundred year old resort. But that was just taking our reward for a job well done. Easy to pull off. A great lunch in the middle of a shoot in the middle of the day is a much more subtle and refined art. Possibly the best one ever was the Thousand-Dollar Lunch in Venice, Italy.

The Princess Cruise Line in Venice, our commercial production location

Our video production crew and I were in Venice shooting the Maiden Voyage of the Grand Princess and we had a cute model couple who tootled around with us while we videoed their every move. The way I had come by this couple was a story in itself. The girl, Lisa, was an ex-model and was working in a top talent agency in Miami. I had used her to cast several models I used on a Caribbean Cruise for Celebrity Cruises and in the course of the casting I had gotten to know her quite well. Lisa had told me she was getting married shortly and the honeymoon was all set for somewhere in Mexico.

She was marrying one of the models in her company’s stable named David. When I finished with the Celebrity shoot, Princess called and wanted us to cover the Grand Princess Inaugural Cruise in the Mediterranean (See my other article titled “Midnight Express-Oh!”). They wanted to cast two models to be the focus couple. I called up Lisa and started her casting for this couple. I asked her how her wedding went and she said it was great but the Honeymoon fell through due to something or other with the resort.

That’s when I got this great idea.“How about a two week honeymoon on a luxury cruise in the Med, I said, all expenses paid!” Well that wasn’t too difficult to sell. She and David were thrilled with the idea. I knew they would be a good addition to the crew. (Not always the case. See previous article  “Smooth Shooting on Rough Seas”). The fact that I would be saving lots of money on models fees didn’t hurt. So off we went to Europe, and to this day David and Lisa get out the video we made of the trip and play it on their anniversary. Probably the best Honeymoon Video ever made.
And that brings us back to the Thousand-Dollar Lunch.
David and Lisa, during tv commercial production
Venice is probably the most photogenic city in the world and we “shot the sh@t out of it” as they say. We shot David and Lisa in a gondola, David and Lisa in St. Mark’s Square, David and Lisa in a vaporetto on the Grand Canal. We were being escorted around in a beautiful vintage motorboat with a lovely Italian guide, all courtesy of Princess Cruises. When it came time for lunch, the driver of the boat said he knew just the spot. Yes he did.

We tied up at a picture perfect Italian Trattorria right on the Grand Canal. Grape vines were hanging over the trellises, the waiters were all dressed up, it was something right out of a promotional video. Hey, wait, we’re shooting a promotional video! So we just kept rolling. The Maitre’ D graciously opened the gate leading to the patio for our couple. They were given a romantic table right on the canal, they had pasta and wine and desert all served by the waiters straight out of Central Casting and we rolled on the whole thing. Of course, we all had lunch right next to them, just out of camera view. And what a lunch!

Unbelievable pasta, seafood and wine – it just kept coming. I’m sure we were there for nearly three hours. When we finally got the bill, it came to a few million Italian Lira. We really couldn’t figure out exactly how much it was, but we knew it wasn’t going to be cheap. When we finally did the math it came in at just over a grand. But we were in high spirits (not to mention the wine consumption) and we had gotten some absolutely gorgeous shots of the couple having a romantic lunch on the Grand Canal in Venice. “Come on”, I said to Jack, our Princess chaparone, “look at it as a location fee.” And that’s just how it appeared on his expense account. To be honest, shooting a similar scene in Venice, California would have cost twice as much and we wouldn’t have gotten lunch!! And really, if you are going to set a record for most expensive location lunch ever (this was just a crew of five) what better place to do it than Venetia! Molto Bene!  Here is a video clip of David and Lisa in Venice.

Commercial Production for Princess Cruise Lines: The Caribbean Cha-Cha

St. Thomas, where  tv commercial for Princess Cruises was shot
When shooting custom video productions on location, always be open to the serendipitous event. (This applies to any vacation as well as filming on location.)

By this I mean: have a definite plan, but be alert for those golden opportunities that might present themselves along the way. The key to this openness is to be absolutely locked down in your prep. Only in this way can you have the freedom to know how much leeway you have for “audibles”, those deviations from the plan that sometimes yield the best shots in the film that fit perfectly into the clients marketing development strategy. This prep often includes a scout. I do this whenever possible. If there is one thing I’ve learned about locations, it’s that nothing is ever what you expected it to be. The idea is to be prepared down to the last detail and then be completely flexible. I learned about these two seemingly contradictory things on my very first major film shoot. This was a custom video production to create a promotional film for Princess Cruises, to be shot mostly in the Caribbean, starting with the major port city of Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas.

Actor and guide, in commercial production

We arranged to scout this island and arrived looking for a place to rent a vehicle. As we walked off the ship, we were greeted by the usual mob of tee shirt-selling, wildly gesticulating locals all vying for our tourist dollars. One guy separated himself from the pack and somehow got our attention. “What you need, mon?” he asked. I tentatively muttered something about a place to rent a scout vehicle but all the while I was craning my neck trying to find the “authorized” Princess tram into town. “No problem,” the guy said gesturing to his vehicle, “get in the Jeep.” Wondering how much this was going to cost and exactly where we would be taken I stalled, looking around for something a little more conservative. But this was Cha-Cha (we learned later) and he didn’t suffer foolish tourists well. “Get in the F—ing Jeep!” he commanded, and we had to obey.

Riding into town we explained to Cha-Cha why we were there. He turned out to be a goldmine of information and, as promised, took us right to the best Jeep rental place in town. Cha-Cha pointed out some of the better spots to shoot on the island and told us about some of the pitfalls to avoid. He turned out to be a very cool and intelligent guy who aspired to be a standup comedian and worked the comedy clubs in town at night. He was also no stranger to film production. I arranged with him to help us when we came back to shoot and to transport us around St. Thomas at that time. He promised to meet us with his cousins and plenty of vehicles.

Three weeks later I and our video production crew were back in St. Thomas with a couple of models and a full shooting crew. Sure enough, Cha-Cha and his cousins met us at the dock and we were off on a very full schedule of filming all around the island. Thanks to our previous scouting, we knew exactly where to go and in what sequence to shoot in order to maximize our time. By early afternoon we had captured all our necessary shots and even had time for a nice Caribbean lunch. (See a similar article, “The Thousand Dollar Lunch”.) Since I had the leeway, I could shoot an unscripted idea I had to utilize Cha-Cha and his unique bartering skills to start off our film. If I could capture on film my own fears when Cha-Cha first approached us, I could effectively contrast this with the comfort and security of a Princess Cruise. If it worked, great. If not, nothing ventured nothing gained.
Actor and guide in our tv commercial production

The final result was actually better than I expected. Using his innate acting skills, Cha-Cha terrorized our dazed and confused model couple and whisked them off to a broken down motel in the middle of nowhere. This dramatized the danger and uncertainty of a “land based” vacation in a very funny way. When contrasted in the film with the same couple enjoying the luxury and ease of a Princess Cruise, the comparison was easily and humorously made, and the audience put in just the right mood. Cha-Cha turned out to be the best thing about the whole experience (if not the film!) and for years travel agents referred to that Princess film as “the one with the laughing cabdriver”, even if they remembered nothing else about it. So thanks, Cha-Cha, wherever you are, for helping jump-start my career. I hope people are still getting in your F—ing Jeep. I’m sure glad I did! Below is the video of Cha-Cha doing his thing.

Custom Video Production for Duty Free Shoppers

Grand Hotel Taipei, the site of our tv commercial production

Corporate Video Production Services

So there we were, in the Grand Hotel in Taipei, using a child’s wading pool to catch the water our shirtless production manager was pouring down his back so we could get a light reading in the candle-lit room. Unexpectedly, the room service boy walked in and we could tell by his horrified expression that we had exceeded his wildest nightmares of gay-porno-Hollywood-weirdo-filmmakers abusing the sanctity of his beautiful hotel. Obviously, it was all just a cultural and technical misunderstanding, but we could tell by the fear in his eyes that he was ready to bolt for security. How we got to this point is an interesting story.

Back in 1995, Duty Free Shoppers asked The Association for a custom video production. We decided to create a spectacular wall of video that would captivate free-spending Japanese visitors and entice them into the DFS store. We were to spare no expense, which meant 35mm film, Taiwanese movie stars, fantastic locations, helicopter aerials, etc. We came up with a proposal to create a stunning visual montage of nightlife, high-end products, and, we were instructed, some golf.
Grand Hotel Staircase, near our commercial production

Armed with an ambitious shooting script, I and our video production crew flew into Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, and took a shuttle to the Grand Hotel, a beautiful period piece constructed by the wife of Chang Kai-sheck as a monument to the greatness of Chinese culture. It really was lovely, evoking the glory of ancient China, and we used it as a set for several of our scenes.

But we found that location production in Taiwan promised to be supremely difficult. For one thing, few people spoke English and all of the street signs and store names were in Chinese characters. In Mexico, France, Italy, etc. you can kind of make yourself understood with a sort of Esperanto mix of all the languages. Also, the signs are readable, if not understandable, which honestly helps a lot. Not so in Taipei. We got so lost on our first cab sortie into town that we had to tell our driver to take us back to the hotel. When he obviously didn’t understand what we were saying, we knew we were in trouble. Finally we spotted the hotel and with much grunting and gesturing finally got him to deliver us to the door, empty handed but glad to be back. We realized we needed help. That’s when we lucked into the one person who turned what could have been a nightmare shoot into a dream: Alice Lim, our Chinese translator with the Scottish burr.

Alice worked at a commercial productions company in Taipei, and when we talked with her on the phone we couldn’t believe such a pure Scottish brogue could come out of what she referred to as a “Chinese Face”. We never did get used to that. She was of Chinese descent but grew up with her family in Glasgow before coming to Taiwan. She spoke Mandarin as fluently as English. We were completely lost without her. Fortunately, she was as familiar with film production as she was with the ins and outs of Taiwanese culture. So with Alice as our guide we proceeded with several weeks of relatively trouble-free production in and around Taiwan. That is, until the unfolding of the events described in the first part of this article.
A Shot from our tv commercial production

The whole idea for that shot was to have a beautiful Chinese girl sensually bathing herself in a beautiful room full of antiques and candles. The model would only be seen from behind and only waist up, hence the kiddie wading pool to catch the water. The candles were lit, and as the makeup girl prepped our model in the bathroom, the production manager stripped down, assumed the position in the pool, and slowly poured some water down his back from a beautiful glass pitcher. We were getting the right f-stop when the room service boy walked in. His eyes instantly became three sizes larger and we all got the image that he was looking at. Of course there was no use saying, “No, no, it’s not what you think!” in English.

Fortunately, Alice popped out of the bathroom and quickly explained the situation, thereby averting an international incident and new low in American-Taiwanese relations. The shoot went on and the result was a spectacular asset to Duty Free Shoppers market development strategy. Gan bei, Alice, gan bei.

Canon HDSLR Report from the Trenches – Shooting with Canon’s EOS C300

 Scene from XXIT Shot with Canon's C300
A scene from ‘XXIT’

I recently had the chance to meet Dana Christiaansen, Director and Director of Photography, at an event where he shared his first-hand experiences shooting with the new EOS C300 for Sam Nicholson’s new digital film, ‘XXIT’.   Dana’s report is revolutionary! You’ve got to hear it for yourself.

Which is why I invited him to come to our next Canon Boot Camp on Dec 10th!  Yes, Pro Level I  students have the chance to hear direct from Dana how he’s used this amazing camera and ask him their questions.

What’s the catch? Well, you have to attend the Pro Level I canon camera class for starters. If you haven’t been to one of our Canon certification boot camps, now’s the time to jump in. The classes are better than ever, with more hands-on experience and more time actually using the camera.

Dana Christiaansen, Nicollette Sheridan and Sam Nicholson check out the Canon C300

Also, since Dana is a working pro, there’s always the chance he’ll not be available at the last minute. That’s the second potential catch. We sure hope he can make it though, because it’s fascinating first-hand stuff for commerical production, feature film work and especially documentary work.

While we can’t control his appearances, our Canon camera classes are a great value on their own merit. To find out more about the classes, visit or contact Trevor at



Extreme Shooter Experiences The Canon Boot Camp

The Association's Canon Camera Classes and Canon CertificationL.R. is an extreme/high risk shooter who took The Association’s Canon DSLR 5D and 7D Boot Camp. Here’s what he had to say:

Class A instruction  all the way! The instructors are there to be used…You come out of that Boot camp knowing the camera as well as under duress which I might add is needed in the work place. Hence, the name Boot camp. There’s literally decades of experience as well as debunking any myths of the Canon 5/7D cameras.

Even if you are a veteran you will be surely surprised on what you get out of this workshop!

Extreme/High Risk Shooter

The next Boot Camp is going to be on Dec 10th. Actually, there are two Canon Camera Classes that weekend, because Pro Level I is on the 10th, and Pro Level II follow the next day! So it’s going to be an exciting and productive weekend for the participants. The attitude of both classes is we assume you have already booked work using a Canon DSLR on the following Monday, and you need a working knowledge of the camera ASAP. Thus, these Canon camera classes are a very practical and hands-on learning experience.Visit to find out more or register for the classes on Dec 10th and 11th.