It May Look Simple, But It Ain’t

At some point in your life you have heard this phrase as it relates to professionals in their field: “They make it look so simple.” You see a performance by Meryl Streep and she effortlessly transforms herself into the Prime Minister of England, a hard as nails fashion executive, a simple Italian wife, or a loveable world-renowned chef. You hear a beautiful musical piece from YoYo Ma and the pulling and pushing of his bow seem like no work at all. Or you hear Mariah Carey hit a note so high it almost hurts your throat just to think of it, yet she keeps…going…higher.

You look at the work of artists like these and you see what they produce and its seems… easy. But you know it’s not.

Excellence In Simplicity Is Often Difficult to Execute

I think a very similar experience happens when you watch a beautifully shot and edited film that on first glance seems like such a simple thing. One person talking to a camera. Various angles and cut aways. Simple music score. You may look at it and think to yourself, “What a beautiful piece. And it’s not even that elaborate. So simple. I could do that.” Then you read about the making of it and you see the behind the scenes (BTS) photos or video and you think, “Oh s#$%! Maybe I can’t do that!”

A few days ago I (and thousands of other admiring fans) viewed Philip Bloom’s short doc film “Portrait of a Boxer”: part 3 of 3 in a series of shorts Sony hired Phil to shoot with their latest line of cinema cameras like the FS100 and the newly announced FS700. It was pretty much just as I described above: a simple, short film. One subject. Various shots. Simple soundtrack. Then you see or read about Phil’s BTS, and your heart slumps as you realize there’s way more put into it than what may appear.

  • Way more lenses
  • More stands
  • More rigs
  • Original music
  • Color grading
  • Sound design
  • Storyboards

All of these elements went into the making of this beautiful film.

Original footage vs. footage color graded with Colorista II and Looks by Red Giant Software.

I’m sure many of you veterans saw that piece and KNEW right away that the excellence of the film, no matter how simple a story it was, had much to do with what went into it to make it look and sound that good.

But there was more than just the elements I mentioned above. You can’t discount Phil’s 20+ years in the business and the fact that he had a superbly talented assistant in James Miller. Their combined training and experience significantly added to the execution.

Weaker Knock-Offs

A great example of how simple shoots are more difficult than they look is when you see people trying to emulate or imitate a popular viral video. I recently saw a video that was a knock-off/spoof on a video that recently went viral. The original video is very funny. The knock-off I saw tried to be as funny as the original, but it clearly wasn’t. The production values of the knock-off were way off as well. All around, it paled in comparison to the original.

This happens so frequently it’s comical. But it’s also indicative of what little people know about filmmaking when they attempt to make what seems to them as “just a simple video.”

The same could equally be said for people who try to take good photos and screw it up. I know I’ve been guilty of that. Just because I know composition and lighting, doesn’t mean I can take a good photo in every situation. I’m not experienced enough with the stills part of the camera gear I use it optimally. And as my photographer wife would attest, it often shows. 🙂

Business Lesson

So my lesson for you today is simple. When you’re trying to educate your clients on why a 2 minute video will cost them $3,000, $5,000 or even $10,000, explain to them the analogy of the Meryl Streeps, the YoYo Mas, the Mariah Careys and the Philip Blooms of the world. There’s a lot more in that execution than you know. In lesser hands, the end product will not be as good. But with YOUR experience, resources, and style, you will deliver a product of optimum quality. (And it goes without saying to have a portfolio that shows it).

Below is Phil’s film. To get a better idea of everything that went into it, check out the BTS videos: Part 1 and Part 2.

Note: to appreciate the sound design, you’ll need to have stereo speakers or wear headphones.

5 thoughts on “It May Look Simple, But It Ain’t

  1. “lo hacen ver fácil, pero no es así”, ayer recordaba una frase parecida que me dijo mi primer mentor hace unos años atrás: “en este negocio hay que aprender a reconocer a los que realmente saben”, y Phillip Bloom, es una de ellas. Gracias por este excelente articulo! Como vos yo soy otro que sigo a los grandes líderes de este negocio y Phillip Bloom es para mi una de las mejores referencias en cuanto a fotografía y el manejo de la imagen con cámaras Dslr. I follow the leaders!

  2. Great analogy Ron. Just went through something similar to this yesterday when a client said i was too expensive. My reply was “Compared to what, Costco or Sam’s Club?” I told her that I was Nordstrom and Mercedes Benz. IMO she really needed to be educated.

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