StillMotion’s KNOW Tour – A Review

One of the most celebrated and followed studios in the DSLR filmmaking realm is StillMotion. Started by psychology majors of all things, StillMotion has in just about seven short years grown from a small team of wedding and event filmmaking auteurs, to a high-end commercial video production company with 14 team members, offices in Toronto and San Francisco, and a client list that includes the NFL, ESPN, and AT&T. They are also one of the most giving of knowledge and education, providing tons of great content on their blog, their Vimeo Channel, and via seminars and cross-country tours.

Their latest educational opus is the KNOW Tour.  Aptly named, the purpose of this day of education is not just to teach you HOW to do what you do, but more importantly, know WHY you do what you do (“Why” in the sense of, why you may pick a certain lens; not why as in, “what’s your purpose in life.” Although, that would be a good tour too.)

They were kind enough to allow me to sit in on their local visit here in Atlanta (disclaimer: I got a press pass to attend.) Today I’m going to share with you my general take-aways and opinion for whom this day-long workshop is best suited.

The Instructors

The class was taught by Amina Moreau (StillMotion co-founder and wife to SM’s main front-man, Patrick, or P. as he likes to refer to himself) and Joyce Tsang, one of SM’s talented shooter/editors. As someone who has taught my fair share of seminars to large rooms, I can honestly say that Amina and Joyce did an exceptional job. They were eloquent, extremely well-prepared, and handed off topics very smoothly. One of SM’s tech-wizards, Evan King, also participated in the teaching for about 25% of the time.

The Resources

THE ANALOG

Every attendee gets the “KNOW Field Guide to Filmmaking.” For many of you, this alone may be worth the price of admission. It’s a thick, 367-page mini-Encyclopedia that covers Story, Light, Audio, Camera/Lenses/Movement, and breaks down an SM wedding as well as a non-profit promo video. This thing has diagrams, pictures, detailed gear lists, and terrific education. And like everything SM does, the production value of this book is off the chain. (i.e. really awesome). It’s made with a thick and durable paper stock, perfect binding, and has an exceptional layout design and consistent branding theme. The credits list Winnie Boonyaratanakornkit and Jeff Medford as the books producers. I have no idea who these people are, but this book looks like it was produced by a major publishing house.

I think one of the most valuable sections (particularly for videographers who don’t have a traditional photography background) is the chapter on light. They give you a short, yet thorough education on light, including what exactly is a “stop” of light, how do you calculate it, and what’s the significance of going up or down. For you photogs that may seem basic, but I know for a fact many of you traditionally trained videographers don’t know that info.

I have no doubt that my KNOW guide will become very, very worn out.

THE DIGITAL

They also will provide each of the attendees with their Keynote presentation. So the only notes you have to take are those tidbits that really speak to you and stand out.

But perhaps the coolest thing we got to walk away with was a 2-disc DVD of the live presentation in Portland, OR, taught bye Patrick, Amina, Joyce, Justin and Evan. (I think this is only available if you sign up for both the filmmaking seminar and the editing seminar, which is $249 total). The first disc alone was 2.5 hours. (Unfortunately, my second disc was damaged and couldn’t be read.)

They have available for purchase a couple of training videos where they go into detail about how they shoot and edit (“Deconstructing a Highlights” and “Deconstructing a Wedding Film”. The wedding film one is a 2-hour video that breaks down an entire SM wedding film (as opposed to the same-day-edits and highlights most of you see on the internet).

The Schedule

Come prepared for a full day, starting around 9 am and ending after 9 pm. The day was broken into two sections: filmmaking and editing. The filmmaking section was the bulk of the day and included everything from gear selection, storytelling, pre-production, and shooting. The editing part of the day was the last two hours involved looking at a breakdown of one of their wedding day edits.

Light meter discussion during lighting demo.

What It Is and Isn’t

You should go into this workshop knowing what it is and isn’t. It is NOT a workshop that goes into specific detail about how to shoot or edit a certain way. What it is in essence is a more “cerebral” journey into the art and craft of filmmaking by breaking down the decisions you make along the process.  As Amina pointed out in the beginning, “You’re not going to learn SM’s “secret sauce.” They don’t really have one. Their “secret sauce” is making decisions with a purpose, beyond “it looks cool.”

This is the aspect of the workshop that I admire the most. There’s so much geek-talk and pixel-peeping on the internet nowadays, I love that this is a workshop that could really care less about the latest 4K this or 10-bit that. It’s about understanding how to use these tools to convey a specific message. But more importantly, it’s also about KNOWing what that message is in the first place.

Lighting demo

Key Take Aways

Here are some of my personal take-aways regarding the workshop that could be factored into your decision about whether to attend.

  • Insights into the SM Process: they share some specific insights into how they do things I personally found very enlightening. I particularly loved learning about some of the detailed processes they go through during pre-production on a commercial shoot. Their casting process was hugely enlightening!
  • Beyond the Norm. I really liked how they offered answers that went beyond the norm. For instance, on the discussion of why they gravitate towards primes vs. zoom lenses, the talked about the common answer most filmmakers gives (i.e. the quality of prime glass vs. zoom glass), but they also delve into another reason that one might not expect (and one that you might even find controversial, if not intriguing).
  • Challenging. They were constantly challenging the audience with questions about “why.” Again, driving home the theme of KNOWing why you make the decisions you do.
  • It’s Interactive (…but take initiative). It was very interactive. They really want it to be a “conversation” (which is why they give you the Keynote, so you don’t have to feel bogged down with note-taking). However, in the beginning it didn’t really feel like there was ever a good time to ask questions. Amina made a point at the beginning to say it was a conversation, but only at the end of the filmmaking seminar did they ever open it up to a formal Q&A. Because Joyce and Amina were so fluid, it felt awkward breaking up that fluidity by raising your hand. It felt like you would have been interrupting. During the first break I asked Amina if asking questions was okay, and she said absolutely. So after that, I raised my hand with wild abandon. (Fun side note: award-winning wedding filmmaker and teacher David Robin texted me during the seminar to “stop asking so many questions.” But David wasn’t there. The little bugger had some mole in the audience feeding him info. I still don’t know who it was. If that mole is reading this, please make yourself known. :) ) All this to say, I would have liked it if they periodically would’ve specifically invited questions after every module. So if you attend, don’t be shy. (I will say that after lunch, and especially when we got to the audio section, hands started flying more freely.)
  • Research Your Gear. As you can see from the KNOW website, there are a LOT of sponsors for this workshop. Many of those sponsors are gear manufacturers. That’s great for you in that with so many sponsors, what could easily have been a $1,000+ workshop is only $149. The downside to having so many sponsors is that you don’t necessarily get a variety of discussion on different gear choices. The most egregious in my opinion was the discussion about stabilizers. This is one of the questions I get asked the most by photographers entering the video game, “which stabilizer to get?” SM has a great discussion about the different types of gear they use and why, from tripods to rigs to monopods,to sliders, etc. But the only tracking stabilizer they showed and discussed was a vested Steadicam Pilot which goes for about $3800 (Note: I originally thought it was the Zephyr. SM’s resident techno wiz Evan King offers comment below as to why they show it). I would have liked to have seen a discussion of a few different options. But, I know that given SM’s relationship with Steadicam, and considering Steadicam was a generous sponsor, I know that’s not realistic. So, that leaves the onus on YOU to do your homework. However, I will give them this: staying true to the theme, they went into great detail about when they use a Steadicam and when they don’t, and why. (They used their “Game of Honor” documentary as the case study.) One could argue that is the most important aspect anyway. As long as you recognize the sponsor bias, you can go out and get whatever stabilizer you want, then apply their teaching to that. But I would guess if you’re a total newbie, it would’ve been nice to KNOW about other options.
  • Finally SM Pitches Renting. I frequently have called P. to task that SM always talks about buying gear (and the most expensive gear at that) and rarely seemed to promote renting. Well, that has changed (thankfully). They frequently talked about the gear they rent and when they rent it. It was a refreshing change, no doubt due in part to the fact that Lens Pro to Go is another sponsor. But, who cares. I think renting is extremely important so as not to go into debt unnecessarily. I’m glad to see them talking more about it.

They used a number of great examples from “Game of Honor” including case studies on lens selection and stabilizers.

It’s not Gospel

I think one of the most important things I want to convey is that, just because it’s StillMotion, doesn’t make what they say gospel. I believe even Joyce and Amina would be the first to say that this is just how they do it; even though they way they present some material sometimes feels like they’re saying, this is the “right” way. That could just be teaching style, or confidence. But regardless, KNOW that it is okay if you disagree with something they teach. I and my fellow podcaster Carl Olson of the Digital Convergence Podcast, didn’t agree 100% with their unique reasons for shooting mostly primes. (And he tweeted as much). I saw another Twitter conversation with someone else regarding when SM picks their music. (That debate on Twitter actually inspired me to write a blog post about that. To come later.) SM is wildly successful and has a lot to offer. It behooves you to listen to what they say. But keep in mind it’s okay to disagree.

Bottomline

If you are new to the business, this workshop is a no-brainer. It will be one of the best $149 you spend, hands down. If you’re an intermediate level filmmaker, you will definitely come away with tips and tidbits that will improve your business. One good piece of knowledge implemented into your business could mean thousands of dollars in extra income and/or saved expenses. If you consider yourself an experienced/expert individual in the craft, you may find a lot of the info stuff you already KNOW and/or do. So if expenses are tight, it might not be worth going out. Your mind won’t be blown by what you learn.

Admittedly, I didn’t have to pay since I got a press pass. However, having now gone, I can honestly say that had I paid, I would have found it totally worth it. The field guide, the few insights I didn’t previously KNOW, and the networking would have been way worth the $149 investment (and I would classify myself as “experienced”).

Now you’re in the know about KNOW.

A lot of very cool prizes were given away at the end, including a full version of Adobe Premiere CS6.

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21 Responses to “StillMotion’s KNOW Tour – A Review”

  1. So P. isn’t on the tour?

    • I don’t know. He may teach in some of the cities. But I can attest that Amina and Joyce do an admirable job.

    • I’ve tweeted with him in the past regarding this. He is at some of the workshops, but it all depends on their schedules. I’ve noticed in other pics of the KNOW event, different presenters like Justin and P. vs Amina and Joyce. I attended for the full day, the filmmaking + editing. I was satisfied, even though I was hoping for Patrick. Amina talks with the same tone and inflections as P ;)

      • Update…I just viewed the complimentary DVD that was given. It is a video of the entire KNOW presentation “Live from Portland, OR” given by Patrick himself. So now I get to experience the whole thing over with Patrick Moreau anytime I want :)

  2. hey Ron,
    nice review I think it’s pretty fair and balanced. I just wanted to clarify a few things.

    the Steadicam I brought on tour is the Pilot which goes for about $3800. while there are many handheld options you don’t have the ability to go as long with them and can’t quickly flip them upside down to do things like low mode easily like you can which a vest system to quickly name a few. that said we’ve used some handheld stabilizers and we even highlight the Merlin in one of the tutorials we’ve got on Vimeo.

    as far as presenters go Amina and I are constantly on every stop and everyone else rotates out depending on what’s going on, so P, Justin, Ray and Joyce have all done their fair share of stops out the 26 we’ve done so far.

    I love the idea of a Q&A at the end of each section and it’s something we encourage to an extent but at the same time the day is 12 hours as it is so we have to keep things tight-ish just to get through all the material. being able to elaborate more on gear and spend more time comparing things is something Joe and I have talked a lot about and you’ll see stuff like that coming down the line but I just don’t know if the tour is the best place for that given how little time we’ve got with attendees in each city.

    I’m a gear nerd as you now know but for this tour we really want to drive home story and thoughtful choices above all and once you frame the conversation that way gear automatically takes a back seat. we show what we use (I pulled almost everything I brought on tour of the studio) but if someone wants to drive a different car than we do from point A to point B that’s cool too.

    as far as sponsors go, we only approach people who make stuff we already like and use and plan on keeping it that way. I think the minute we start promoting something we don’t really use we lose our credibility pretty quickly. we’ve just been very lucky that companies whose gear we use have been so receptive to what we do and in turn support us which helps us make the tour as affordable to everyone a possible.

    anyways hopefully that helps clear things up a little bit, we love feedback and everyone’s suggestions help improve the tour as well as help frame any other educational efforts we take on in future.

    keep doing what you’re doing man, I love the podcast!

    -Evan

    • Thanks for the comment Evan. Glad to hear you all take feedback well. I’ll be sure update the blog.

      FYI, I use the Steady Tracker, and I frequently tilt it upside and/or spin it. No vest needed. :)

      BTW, it was cool to see a brutha working at StillMotion. ;)

    • oh, and thanks for the compliments on the podcast!

  3. thanks sharing your Sunday with us and for such a detailed review of your KNOW experience! we really appreciate the honesty on everything from what the workshop is and what it isn’t, things like sponsors and even topics we disagreed on. we love to share our perspective and why we do what we do but more than anything we hope that people take home the main messages of putting story first, proactively thinking about your choices and making purposeful decisions.

    Joyce

    • Thanks for the comment Joyce. You definitely hit home your message. What what a great message it is. I wish there was as much hoopla over good story as there is over RAW and 4K technology.

  4. Ron, a great review of a great team. Spot on. I’ll be thinking about KNOW for a long time.

  5. They were kind enough to give me a seat to this as well. After I gave them 200+bucks. But it was worth it. I saw you sitting to my right, Ron, next to that guy with that really nice hat.

  6. I was at the KNOW stop in Philly and I really loved it. the approach to gear was good to me. they have a samples of the stuff they use but I didn’t feel like I need to go buy manfrotto tripods (maybe that monopod though) to successively use a tripod.

    I think “Story first” is something we all get to say and hear on the internet but I think the KNOW tour is StillMotion putting some action behind the popular phrase.

    I was originally just signed up for the “cheap” option without the after dinner session on post production but when it came time to leave I felt like I was getting too much solid info to walk away so I paid the extra $100 to stay for the post session(and the DVD of the whole presentation) Well worth it.

    I would say I”m an experienced filmmaker, I have worked for 8 years in a lot of the industry from tv news to corporate shoots to small indie shorts to million dollar features. I was in a bit of a rut and this was a great boost and reminder why I love this craft.

  7. This was a great tour. We went in Tampa and paid for the editing section. It was worth the time and money. However, we never got the DVD video or the power point. I have emailed them and have yet to get a return. Did anyone else run into this?

  8. In place of the traditional three-legged tripod, a “monopod” can often be used to serve
    the same purpose. Make sure to only pan in one consistent direction
    in your shot. Budding shutterbugs will find it useful
    to follow these tips:.

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