When I was a kid I loved “School House Rock” on Saturday mornings. One of the most popular was “Mother Necessity.” It taught how the most important inventions in history came about from a necessity (Based on the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”)
No place has “Mother Necessity” been more busy than in the filmmaking and photography industry. Dozens of professional photographers and filmmakers have become part-time inventors and expanded their businesses by creating gadgets, gizmos, or gear they needed in their visual arts business. The latest member of the visual artist turned equipment inventor club is Ted Banucci of The Last Cut.
Ted was frustrated on site when shooting with his DSLR and needing to easily, quickly and safely exchange caps and backs. So he created the Backer Capper. He currently has a Kickstarter campaign going you should check out. Here’s the video, and below Ted took the time to answer some questions about what it’s like venturing into the inventor world and starting this complementary business.
1. What was the impetus for this product? Did you drop a lens or something?
One day on vacation in Oregon, I was taking some scenic shots with my DSLR (specifically a Canon 7D) to pass the time. All of a sudden, a deer jumped out of the woods about 300 yards away. What an awesome opportunity to take a shot of this deer with the golden hour here and an incredible backdrop!
Unfortunately for me, I had a 17mm lens on my camera body, because I was taking some panoramic shots. Quickly, I tried to change to my 200mm lens, which was in my sling bag. It had just rained and I felt like I couldn’t put the body down on the ground, or else mud and debris might ruin my Canon. I ended up strangely juggling both of my lenses and body at the same time until all lens caps were in their proper place and the correct lens was on my DSLR. By the time all of this happened, the deer had been spooked away (most likely by my loud, self-depreciating cursing while attempting the lens change).
Other scenarios came up where the same lens-juggling acts came into effect: a wedding, family shots, etc. I needed a solution!
2. How did you go about designing the product? Did you have to hire/partner with an engineer?
I had some thoughts in my head about what could make the lens swap faster or more convenient, and it always came down to avoiding the juggling act of lenses. I wanted the solution to be small, inexpensive, and simple, rather than some electric gizmo that would take a large amount of money and time to design.
I had some parts from other products and projects lying around the office and within 20 minutes had made a simple prototype that worked. The prototype was refined over some iterations to what it is now, with my business partner Zack, who like me, is also keen on inventing things in his spare time.
We eventually took that idea and shape to a plastics engineer who was able to create a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) drawing of the product, and helped us determine the most efficient way to create the molds, and exactly what plastic materials to use. This engineer was hired by us for this project and is helping us with the packaging and manufacturing of the device.
3. Is the project more about making additional income to your video income, or do you see this potentially being your main gig one day.
Zack and I started camarush.com 3 years ago as a side gig to my video business and his web business. camarush.com sells helmet cameras like the GoPro and Contour. I kept on doing my business and Zack, his business at the same time (and we still do).
One special light clicked on for us though with an idea that Zack had. Zack modified an egg timer to have his GoPro do panning timelapses (this was back in 2009). We called it the camalapse and started selling these hand-made on our site and they were selling like crazy. We couldn’t keep up with the demand, so we eventually contacted the egg-timer company about making our own kitchen timer mold, which was simple for them to do. We drew out the shape of what we wanted the camalapse to look like, and next thing you know, we are selling our custom designed camalapse all over the world!
I say a light clicked on with this product because Zack and I kind of found something we really liked doing: creating new ideas for people, and watching them being used by people over the world. I get goosebumps every time I see a video with a camalapse rotation in it… it was even used for B-Roll on the 2012 SuperBowl!
So to answer your question, while I love creating video, one day when we create enough products, I’d like to eventually move into this sort of inventor role. It’s not really a financial reason to moving over to this new role, but it’s more of where my passion lies.
4. You’ve seen the business change a lot over the years. What has been some of the biggest changes you’ve seen and where do you see it going?
I’ve been filming officially as a business over 10 years now. You are right, tons of changes have happened over this time. The creation of smaller, better, more inexpensive cameras and computers has really revolutionized the business. Adding to that is the popularity of phones and helmet cameras that record in HD, and the ability to put video on the web simultaneously. Everyone from the film student to grandma is making video now, when before, it was primarily called upon by a professional. That is allowing video to be made by more people, and allowing it to become cheaper at the same time.
We’ve been battling this phenomenon in the industry for years, convincing new people in the industry to charge what they are worth, calculating for all the time they take to put into those 40 hours of editing of an undercharged wedding video. With education in associations and industry magazines, I have seen people start to understand the business side of video more rapidly, which is a good thing for everyone.
The professional will always be needed (well, for the next 15 years at least… before Minority Report style editing is popular). However, my opinion is that we will see a shift in parts of the industry as to what the professional is hired for. Commercial and corporate jobs will always be there, but video revolving around social events (not necessarily weddings) will go more and more toward a hobbyist route.
5. Many photogs and videogs end up starting side businesses like this based on needs they found while shooting. But they didn’t start a business to make photog/video accessories. They started because of a love for the craft. So then, is it just economic necessity for visual artists to expand beyond just their shooting?
I think it is a love of the craft that convinced me to bring this product to the market. I certainly don’t think it’s going to make me rich by any means, much less buy me a few fancy dinners!
All of us have said to ourselves, “Gee, I really could use a bracket for this”… or, “I wish someone invented a gadget that will do that to make my life easier”. That is sort of the direction I took with this. I have a lot of gadgets and doo-hickies in my head that I want to bring to market because I think they will help people be more creative and add to their films or photos.
The Backer Capper seemed like one of those ideas that was easy enough to make (or so I thought before I saw the mold costs), and a good introduction to going through the true invention process (with the camalapse, we were fortunate enough that we could skip a few of those steps). In the end though, I think people will love this product and how it helps them out, and that is gratifying to me.
I don’t think photographers or videographers need to invent anything at all to be successful…. I see tons of great artists out there who are amazing at what they do and are getting paid to do it. And I think anyone, if they put their mind to it, can get to the point where they are honed in their craft and very successful. In fact, inventing something could result in a distraction toward achieving those goals.
However, if you do think of something that can help your craft, bringing it to the public may result in some extra financial gain. There are also a lot of outlets if you don’t want to get too distracted from your “normal” work. Websites like Quirky and Everyday Edisons offer ways to get your idea seen and taken over by experienced designers, who share the wealth. Or better yet, approach someone who has been through the process before and have them agree to a deal to make your idea happen.
For me, going through this design process was something that I was always interested in, and KickStarter was a great way for me to see if I had to invest a bunch of money or not depending on how popular that idea turned out to be. So far, the idea looks like it’s going to make it!
If you’d like to see the Backer Capper come to life, contribute to the Kickstarter campaign at backercapper.com.