Hiring Professional Talent

05.06.2023|By Daniel Mendoza|9 Minutes

In early 2023 The Hilton Phoenix Resort at the Peak was looking to create content showcasing the many amenities and features of their resort. During our pre-production discussions we identified five specific vignettes, or showcases, to feature in the campaign. As the property’s ideal target demographic, a Family showcase was top of the list. Other vignettes included Adult Casual, Meetings & Events, Spa & Fitness, and Hole In The Wall Restaurant & Bar. This would be a lifestyle shoot utilizing professional actors and we had about three weeks to pull together a casting call and secure the talent.

So often, mainly due to budget restrictions, clients rely on friends, family members and employees to fill these on screen roles. This approach can sometimes limit the ability to create truly engaging content so we were thrilled to be working with a client that understood the benefits of hiring professional talent for their campaign. I think it is important for brands to know that there is a difference between having bodies to fill in the space versus models or actors who can help tell the story. Obviously there are many considerations to take into account such as if we are working on a project requiring footage of a specialty skill or trade that you want to display accurately.

Our Producers worked hard to get the casting call out and in front of as many actors as possible with the time constraints we had. As submissions began to stream in, we did our best to filter through the best options and begin envisioning our groups for the various scenes. The biggest challenge was by far the family unit. Finding child actors that would be available on a weekday while also fitting in with the adult actors who would play the parents made the task a bit more difficult, but we were confident in the process. Once we managed to pair together a family unit that was not only visually believable, but whose schedules all aligned, the rest of the actors fell into place.

After working out all of the details with the actors, our Producers began working on the production schedule. With so much ground to cover on the property, we slated between 30-45 minutes per location. This was critical to not allowing ourselves to get caught up trying to get the perfect shot, every time. It is very easy to spend hours setting up for just one shot, only for that shot to not make it into the final edit. Our experience has shaped us to be as efficient as possible in order to keep us on schedule. Nothing is more stressful than falling behind schedule so staying on task is key to everyone performing at their best.

On production day, we arrived around 8:30 am to unload gear and begin setting up for our first shot. Our four person crew consisted of a Producer, Director of Photography, Director/AC and Talent Coordinator. This allowed us to move efficiently and stay on schedule. Sean was helping me with the camera set ups as well as directing the talent through the scenes, while Kellie and Drew were constantly in communication to ensure the actors were always ready for the next scene. One major benefit of hiring professional actors is that they are hired to complete a job and so you can expect them to be readily available while on set. By utilizing friends or family that you may or may not be compensating, there is often a carefree sense about it all that is just hard to break and can easily slow down the production.

We managed to stick to the production schedule fairly well and even got ahead at one point. This helps instill greater confidence in the minds of clients. Even though we emphasize that production schedules are loose and more of a guide, the psyche still latches on to the times on the pages as if though they will determine the success or failure of a job. Our Producers feel the same way and that is why they are Producers. Their job is to keep every project on schedule and on budget. Our team strikes a great balance between creative freedom and meticulous attention to detail.

Our final scene of the day featured the fire pit on the patio of the Hole In The Wall Restaurant and Bar. It was about 7:30 when we wrapped up the scene and released the last of the actors. We began tearing down equipment and loading up the vehicles by 8pm. We knew we would have to return at a future date to get the property establishing shots as well as a few pick up shots of other activities but overall Day 1 was a success. The only thing left to do was get home, unload gear and back up footage.

Comparing this project to similar projects that chose not to hire professional talent, the results can be very apparent. We have been fortunate on occasion that the friend or family member a client used for a shoot happened to have some acting experience or a natural flair for taking direction, but that is certainly a rarity. Seeing the footage and the impact professional actors have on the scenes is so empowering. We certainly do our best to encourage clients to make the investment in hiring talent when we feel that the project can benefit from it. It not only makes our job easier and keeps us on schedule but it definitely shows in the results.

This isn’t to say we are being lazy by preferring not to work with non-actors, it’s just that filmmaking has its own language. Communicating with trained actors is easier because they understand that direction is not criticism. It is merely everyone getting on the same page to achieve the desired results for each scene and project. A direction as simple as asking someone to smile can really get in their headspace if they haven’t trained to understand that this basic request serves a purpose. We have made a great effort to build a network of talent and find ways to make it more affordable for clients to utilize professional actors to help make an even bigger impact with their content.

The greatest advice we can offer on this topic is that if you are planning to invest in marketing your business or brand, strongly consider the benefits of hiring professional talent. When paired with a production company motivated by storytelling, the results will not only be worth the investment but so will the experience. It is so important that your content be engaging and leaves the viewer with the greater sense of production value this combination brings. If you are looking to discover ways to better connect with your audience, we would love to hear from you and exchange ideas to help you get the most out of your investment.

Visit Phoenix 2026 NCAAW Final Four Bid

18.04.2023|By Daniel Mendoza|7 Minutes

In late 2020 we collaborated with Visit Phoenix on a project to try and help the city of Phoenix land the 2026 NCAAW Final Four Tournament. It was during the COVID pandemic so what the organization would usually do in person by hosting the committee in charge of selecting the host city, now had to be done remotely. So the ask was simple. Create a virtual tour of the city’s most hospitable hotel properties to showcase the accommodations, event spaces and amenities.

Our Producer having a background in the hospitality industry really gave us a leg up on making the most of our efforts as well as helping us navigate some of the challenges that came with filming in these spaces during the pandemic. The six downtown Phoenix properties we were featuring were Sheraton, Hyatt Regency, Renaissance, Westin, Residence Inn and Hotel Palomar.

First thing we had to do was schedule filming all of the property details. Sheraton was still under construction and Hyatt Regency was undergoing renovations while the others were open for business and that presented its own challenges. For the property filming we had a three person team made up of our Producer, Director of Photography and Camera Assistant. We were also accompanied by one or two Visit Phoenix team members. Our gear set up for the properties consisted of a Kinefinity Mavo LF on the DJI Ronin 2 gimbal. This allowed us to film smooth footage throughout the space as well as smooth pan/tilt shots by simply positioning the set up in a room.

After about the third property we had developed quite the workflow and were moving quite efficiently. Some of our biggest challenges came from bedding that wasn’t steamed or pressed. Our Producer and Katie, a Visit Phoenix team member worked incredibly hard to get the comforters and pillows to comply, though some times it took more convincing than others. Some of the things that really stood out to us during this project was how odd it feels to be a hotel the size of the Hyatt Regency without a single guest. Our creative brains immediately began to think about the possibilities of filming a narrative film but I digress.

Each of the properties were incredibly hospitable and never made us feel as if we were imposing upon them. As an example, one of the decisions we had made was to try to film as much without seeing all of the COVID signage and markers that had become so common during the pandemic. Some of the hotels had the plexiglass partitions at the front desk while others just had signage and hand sanitizer dispensers placed in the common areas. It was a balancing act to capture content that could hopefully be used by the properties for years to come, while also respecting the current state of affairs that the entire world was dealing with.

After wrapping up the property filming, we began to discuss the final element of this collaboration. Visit Phoenix wanted to create an intro video that would feature the General Managers of each of the properties. They also wanted to do it in a way that was themed around the sporting event. So they managed to coordinate all six GMs, not an easy feat, for a day at ASU’s basketball training facility. There was a scripted message that would be delivered by all six GMs as well as a little basketball action on the court.

So we scheduled a location scout to identify the various spots at the facility for each dialogue part and to hopefully identify any potential challenges. We knew we would need to bring on our sound recordist for this to capture the best audio possible. Aside from that we had little concerns regarding other complications since the facility was not yet at full capacity due to COVID protocols. So aside from the regular team practice schedule we felt prepared for the task.

When the day to film arrived we moved like a well oiled machine. Set up gear and lights in the pre-selected location and give the General Managers enough time to comfortably get through their parts. We were not rushed due to the flexible schedule windows we created and it helped the talent not feel overly pressured. Once we got through the dialogue, we moved onto the court for some fun interactive shots as well as working on coordinating the final shot for the piece. The looks on the faces of the General Managers was priceless as you could see the genuine joy for them to be able to physically and mentally step away from their daily stressful positions.

Overall we were able to deliver 6 property videos and the GM Intro which you can see here. We were very pleased with the results and so was the client. Not only was this a great project to be a part of but it was also an opportunity that arrived when most of the businesses in the world were not spending money on video content with all of the uncertainty surrounding us. We would then go on to create similar property videos for four additional downtown hotels in the coming months as they proved to be a great resource for Visit Phoenix to continue doing the great work of increasing the city’s tourism.

TWM Napa Wine Tour

17.04.2023|By Daniel Mendoza|14 Minutes

In late April of 2019 we returned to Napa, California once again to film with the LOLA agency for Total Wine & More. This trip had two video components and would involve a full week of filming throughout region. We would be showcasing ten vineyards through interviews, B Roll as well as Product shots. Throughout the trip we would also be crossing paths with a wine tour group made up of Total Wine & More team members. We were tasked with filming testimonials with some of those team member as well as the group experiences. We would be joined by the talented photographer Tony Garcia and his assistant, Adam, for this project. They were both so great to work and just to be around.

Our crew was made up of our Producer, Production Assistant, Director of Photography, Camera Assistant and Sound/Drone Operator. Typically on production trips we would all stay at a hotel but this time we opted to go with an AirBnB/VRBO to get more of a family style experience. Since the vineyards were scattered all across the region we found a great home that was centrally located. After settling in and unpacking gear we met up with the agency for a pre-production meeting to go over the week’s itinerary as well as production details for the following day.

Gear for this project included 2 Canon C200 Cameras; Canon Cinema Primes; Canon L Series Glass; Inspire 2 with X5 Camera; RED Scarlet W; Rode NTG3 Microphones; Kino Celeb Lights.

Day 1 was a single vineyard to film and it was with Plata Wine Partners where we interviewed Alison Crowe, the Director of Winemaking. Alison really set the bar for the production as she was not only incredibly knowledgeable but she also had such a great energy that fueled everyone on set. After filming Alison’s interview we began to capture B Roll footage with her in the vineyard as well as product shots. Our Producer and PA soon arrived and joined the rest of the team just as we were wrapping up at Plata Wine Partners. We stopped to eat at one of our staple dining locations Gott’s before heading to the AirBnB to back up footage and charge batteries for the following day. Since we had an earlier finish time we took advantage of the basketball hoop at the house we were staying at as well as the hot tub.

Day 2 took us to Ram’s Gate where we would be featuring O’Neill Vintners. We set up for our interview with proprietor Jeff O’Neill in a lovely outdoor garden area before filming B Roll of the vineyard team tending to the vines. Next up was aerial footage of the property which provided some spectacular shots. This would be our fist day meeting up with the Total Wine & More team member tour so we captured some of their beautifully staged lunch experience as well as testimonials. The lavish set up for the Total Wine & More team members was something any production designer would be proud of so we made sure to capture some great shots of it as well as the architectural elements of the tasting room as well. With an earlier end time once more we made the most of our free time to get some relaxation in as we knew the 2 a days ahead would take a toll. Another great meal, a game of HORSE and the hot tub while backing up footage and charging batteries.

Day 3 began at another Total Wine & More team member tour event. This time with Copper Cane at a unique outdoor space that seemed part adult summer camp and part lavish resort. We had a limited window with owner and winemaker Joseph Wagner so we quickly headed to his estate for our interview with him. Unfortunately there was no opportunity for us to film any B Roll with him so we would need to rely on stills and footage provided by their team. We packed up our gear and made the journey to River Road Family Vineyards. There we would interview proprietor Ron Rubin as well as winemaker Joe Freeman. We had plenty of time for B Roll at the vineyard before the Total Wine & More team member tour was to arrive for a special event that included a small orchestra. It was a long day so we couldn’t wait to get back home to shower, dump footage and charge batteries in preparation for the next day.

Day 4 started out at Baldacci Family Vineyards where we interviewed proprietors Thomas and Brenda Baldacci as well as their son and Director of Operations Michael. We opted to interview the three of them as a group to capture the family essence of their brand which included their dog. After capturing some great B Roll with Michael in the vineyard and in the cellar, we packed up and made our way to Chappallet. This vineyard definitely provided us one of the loveliest backdrops as we interviewed proprietors and brothers Cyril and Dominic Chappallet. We then interviewed winemaker Philip Titus before following him to the vines and cellar for some B Roll. After wrapping up for the day, we nearly ran out of fuel on our way back to the AirBnB but we just managed to make it to a gas station. To this day we still bring up the anxiety of driving down the mountain from Chappallet watching the gas gauge wondering how we could possibly make it to a gas station but the universe made it happen. We made it back to the house and the ritual of backing up footage, charging batteries and a hot tub continued.

Day 5 began at Titus Vineyards with an interview with Proprietor Eric Titus and winemaker Stephan Cruzan. After some filming in the vines, they then led us to a creek that runs through their property which provided some great footage as well as a great backdrop for the product shots. We loaded up and then headed out to Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery. Inside the cellar we set to interview proprietor Courtney Benham and Director of Winemaking Bill Batchelor. We captured some wonderful B Roll and product shots before hitting their shop to purchase some wine to take home with us as we were all impressed by their products. Most memorable from this day is our team getting to taste their Laguna Chardonnay directly from a concrete egg. Leading up to this everyone aside from our Producer was certain that they did not like Chardonnay but we all certainly had a change of heart after drinking the perfectly chilled Laguna as it came straight out of the spout and into the glass.

Day 6 started at Caymus where we interviewed the Wagner family consisting of Proprietor and Winemaker Chuck Wagner as well as his kids Charlie and Jenny Wagner who were also winemakers with the brand. The oldest son just happened to be Joseph Wagner with Copper Cane who we had filmed with just days earlier so it was great to see that winemaking was such a big part of their family heritage. After B Roll and Product shots we began making our way over to our final location for the trip which was also one of the most memorable. Blankiet estate was a French inspired castle in the heart of the Napa region sprung from the vision of Claude Blankiet whose personality was just as wonderful as the estate he had built. Of all the interviews we had filmed, this one was easily the most intriguing. The setting, the decor and the backdrop just made for such a unique visual. After the interview we filmed our B Roll which included aerial footage of the property as well as some great shots with Claude in the cellar. Shortly after the Total Wine & More team member tour arrived for their chance to meet with Claude and enjoy a wonderfully catered meal so of course we filmed some of that for the client before officially wrapping up production on the trip.

While our Producer and Camera Assistant set off for Oakland to catch their flight back to Arizona, the rest of us headed over to Amici’s lovely property where they were hosting an evening event. We were at Amici just weeks prior while filming for Total Wine & More’s Napa Wine Summit which you can read more about here. It was a wonderful way to cap off the trip and it gave us all a chance to collect ourselves after a long week. We met some incredible people, ate some wonderful food and drank great wine while sharing laughs and great conversations.

Throughout the trip we learned so much about the brands, the colorful characters behind the wines as well as our own capabilities when working in such a fast paced and demanding setting. Overall the agency and the client were pleased with our performance as well as our attitude throughout the trip. Something I have always held at high esteem is the importance of bringing the right attitude on set. For me, attitude and emotional intelligence is actually more important than the technical skills. Nobody wants to work with egotist and having the right energy on set can really help fuel great things from the rest of the team.

After making back home to Arizona, we began to receive scripts for the edits from the agency and the post production began. Over the next few weeks we cut together a total of 13 videos from the trip. The coverage of the Total Wine & More team members on the tour was provided as raw footage for their internal team to work on. Overall, we were very pleased with the outcome of the videos but even more impactful was the experience we had while in Napa. There are so many great memories and moments we will always be able to look back on and relive. To me that is ultimately what filmmaking is all about. Creating time capsules that are both internal and external for the production team and audiences to relive time and time again.

FPS Immersive Experience

08.04.2023|By Daniel Mendoza|23 Minutes

The most exciting and challenging project to date by far was an Immersive Experience project we were hired to film for Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse. In September 2018 we were to set out on a magnificent journey along the Pacific Coastline from Ensenada, Mexico up to Humboldt, California. Along the way we were to film with various producers of ingredients for Fleming’s seasonal menu items. The goal was to create an Immersive Experience to be showcased in restaurant event spaces that would transport guests to the places where ingredients and wines were sourced from. The trip was to take place over 7 days with 5 production/travel days in the middle so we knew we were definitely in for a challenging time, but we were up to the task.

Pre Production

The first thing on the agenda was update our expired or expiring passports within a very short time frame. This meant we had to expedite the process just to ensure they would arrive in time. We found a company online that specialized in this and surprisingly everything went smoothly so we would be ready to travel without concern. It cost a pretty penny but we were rather limited on options seeing as I would be on another trip leading up to this job.

There were numerous unknowns we needed to address before the project and since the trip meant crossing the border into Mexico, we wanted to know what steps needed to be taken, if any, to cross with the amount of gear we had. The answer was certainly, yes. After doing research we felt the best option was to secure a carnet, which is a customs document you present when entering another country. It is also known as a merchandise passport. It basically lists your equipment including serial numbers and value of the items. Of course there are costs associated with obtaining this document but when it comes to gear, especially expensive gear, we weren’t wanting to take any chances and be forced to leave equipment behind.

The next question we needed to address was if there were any steps that needed to be taken for us to fly our drone in Mexico. At the time there wasn’t a lot of information available online so we did our best to reach out to any local production companies we could find as well as have a Mexican National dig into the Federal Civil Aviation Agency (Mexico’s equivalent of the FAA). We discovered no apparent issues with us having to submit any official paperwork but we did our best to inform their agency where and when we would be working just to be safe.

With our two main logistical questions answered we were then able to focus on the unique technical requirements of this project. The biggest challenge was the resolution of the final deliverable being around 16,000×1,000. This was so that the visuals could be projected onto all four walls surrounding the guests in the event space.

Part of the project was to capture 360° video at select locations and we made the suggestion that we might as well capture ambisonic audio for a truly immersive experience. This was our first time delivering anything in 360° so we made sure to research as much as possible in preparation for the assignment. We looked into various camera options and opted to go with Insta360 for the camera and we picked up a nice kit specifically for ambisonic audio capture that included the Sennheiser AMBEO VR Mic and the Zoom F8 MultiTrack Field Recorder.

Other gear we used for this trip included Canon C200 cameras, Canon L series lenses, a DJI Inspire 2 and the Teradek Serv Pro. The Serv Pro was the perfect monitoring tool for this job as it would allow the agency and client to all monitor what we were filming without needing to set up a video village in such a run and gun environment. Being able to look on their phones or tablet through the VUER app at what the camera was filming would really help us keep moving quickly and efficiently.


Day 1

We flew into San Diego, California, then made our way down to the Tecate border crossing to enter Mexico. I had arranged for my cousin to help us navigate the carnet process with the Mexican federal police as well as escort us through Mexico without incident as he had spent their entire life in the area. Before being allowed to proceed on our trip we had to take out all of the gear listed on the carnet document and cross check it in front of the agency officer. We are talking over 100 pieces of gear so needless to say it was quite a long process, especially when their agency was not in a particular hurry to help speed things along. The agency team and client team waited at a nearby restaurant for us to clear the inspection and after about ninety minutes we were finally made it through and started the drive down to Ensenada. Upon arriving at the hotel we grabbed a quick dinner then began preparing for the day ahead. Knowing we would be chartered to the island on a boat, we had to really only bring the gear we knew we would need.

Day 2

The following morning we boarded the boat and headed off for the hour long journey to this island where they farm Striped Sea Bass. The first thing we noticed as we neared the island was the incredibly high numbers of birds swarming about. We did a quick scout then started off capturing 360° content. The chef was preparing lunch for the workers as well as our entire group which led to some pretty amazing B Roll as he prepared some of the Striped Sea Bass right before our eyes.

After a delicious meal we boarded a smaller boat that was to take us out onto the water to interview one of the Pacifico Aquarium workers. The boat ride was equal parts exciting and nerve-racking as this was a small motor boat quite smaller than the one that brought us to the island. Stepping onto this platform floating on the ocean with the team and our equipment certainly had us on edge. Definitely not a good place to drop something and fortunately no one did. We wrapped up our filming on the platform and made it back to the island.

While filming aerial footage of the island and surroundings, we began to notice some of the birds getting closer and closer to the drone. They were becoming territorial so we were doing our best not to instigate them further while just hoping that they didn’t get bold enough to try and take the Inspire 2 down completely. We managed to avoid a disaster and brought it in as we prepared to go film another interview.

It was about a half day spent on the island before we wrapped up and headed back to the mainland to gather our things from the hotel and head back to the states. Upon returning to the US we needed to go through customs on the Mexico and US side to account for all of the equipment one last time. Fortunately the same Mexican agency official who we dealt with on our way in was there to help us and she seemed to be much more relaxed about the process this time around. We crossed through without any problems and after clearing US Customs we set out to make the long drive up to Paso Robles.

Day 3

Paso Robles was a two stop trip. First we visited the Javadi Farm where we had previously filmed the Mina Mesa film for Total Wine & More. The Javadi family not only make exceptional wine but they also happen to raise cattle as well so we filmed some B Roll of the cattle before heading over to DAOU mountain to film our 360° content from one of their incredible vantage points. After a few long takes, we loaded up the gear and made our way to Fresno to check into the hotel and prep gear for the following day.

Day 4

The trip also too us to a fig farm in the middle of California’s agricultural heartland. We were surrounded by fig trees, which came with some nostalgia as I grew up with a fig tree outside my bedroom window. The aerial footage of the farm was impressive specifically because the vast fields of trees on the property that included tall groves lining the roadways. The sun breaking through the branches and leaves provided some equally stunning B Roll footage of workers and we finished up with an interview with the property’s manager which included a very curious cat sitting right smack in the middle of it all. We next headed over to an artichoke farm near Monterey for some additional B Roll and aerial coverage before making the drive up through San Francisco to our hotel in Napa.

Day 5

We first visited Robert Mondavi Winery to interview one of their team members as well as B Roll and aerial footage. Next up was Freemark Abbey Winery to capture 360° content. Finishing up Napa was Far Niente for B Roll and another 360° content capture. This was where the client portion of the journey came to a close, leaving us to travel up to Arcata and Humboldt with just the agency team of three. We were all tired and running simply on the adrenaline of adventure but we could start to see the finish line now.

Day 6

The beaches of Arcata provided some incredible coastline imagery and not just from the birds eye view of the drone. There were visual opportunities everywhere we looked. So we set up for our final 360° content right on the sand with ocean to the west and Northern California cliffs to the east. It was so calm and soothing and to have this be the last leg of the trip made it extra special. I believe we all sat back and soaked it all in, teetering between being right there in the moment, and reminiscing about the days and miles between us and the beautiful Ensenada waters where it all began.

Day 7

The next day we would make the long drive back down to Oakland where we could fly back home to Phoenix, Arizona. It seemed like it took so much longer getting back as by now, the adrenaline was all but gone and the reality of how much we had put into the past week had caught up with us. I wish I could say that the hard part was behind us but little did we know what Post Production had its own challenges in store for us.

Post Production

Within a couple of weeks scripts and asset details began to come through. It was time to begin building towards the final deliverables. Up to this point, I had been editing entirely on my laptop. I knew that was not going to be an option with this project due to the amount of content we captured as well as the unique resolution for deliverables. We went to work on building a beast of a desktop machine.

Once scripts and storyboards came in we began to build out the videos. After some rounds of revisions we began to finesse the cuts before preparing to then work the edits into the unique resolution. The final output resolution for delivery was to be 16,000 x 1,000. Initially the plan was for each video to wrap around the entire room but that proved to create its own challenges due to the layout of the room as well as the corners of the walls not really complimenting the imagery. Another big issue with the single image approach was just how much of the image we would be cropping out on the vertical height. Igloo, the company they partnered with to map out the project and install the system had mainly been accustomed to running their projections in round rooms that would be set up for special events. They certainly had their own challenges customizing their system to the event space but everyone was working hard to see this through.

Eventually the decision was made to project the same image onto the four main walls of the room so that no matter which way guests looked, they were seeing the same imagery. This meant the crop factor would not be as intense and allowed us to keep more of the great imagery we had captured on the screens. So using a template provided by the agency we had to then take each video and resize it to four varying sizes that represented each wall in the event space. These four dimensions would add up to the unique resolution of 16,419 x 1,000. The new challenge this presented was accuracy in measuring the walls as they were not all uniform.

In order to ensure accuracy we scheduled a test run prior to launch to allow us time to address any possible issues. I flew to Orange County, California to finally see this concept brought to life. So much emotion leading up to this moment after encountering frustration and challenge throughout the editing process that we couldn’t fail now. We weren’t sure what to expect due to so much back and forth between the agency and igloo regarding an audio situation. It turned out the system they had been installing wasn’t equipped to actually present surround sound. This was quite a disappointment due to the work we put in to capture the ambisonic audio. Fortunately we were able to provide an AV tech to install the surround sound system that would compliment the projector system.

So we loaded up our files and prepared to witness something truly incredible but it quickly became apparent that things were not ready to go live. The audio wasn’t working, the visuals were off centered and all I could do was try and think if I may have made any mistakes with the HAP encode process necessary for their software to play the files. The agency was concerned as well and reached out to igloo who put us in touch with the head of their tech support in Australia, which presented its own challenges due to the time difference. Fortunately he confirmed that I had been doing everything correct on my HAP encode then said he was going to work on a possible fix.

We spent the next week trying to figure out a solution when igloo finally sent over an update to their software system that was supposed to fix all of the issues. We went back to the restaurant to se for ourselves, not getting our hopes up too high. What followed was a moment of absolute emotional free flow as we saw the imagery up on all four walls with full surround sound working and it was mind blowing. All of the hard work we had put in had finally paid off and tears ran down from my eyes as I pulled my phone out and began recording the experience. I thought to myself, it doesn’t get any better than this.

The agency, however, had other ideas as to how they could elevate the experience even further. Days before the official public launch, they invited select guests to take part in this experience as a sort of official dry run. The agency had sourced specific items such as seashells from Pacifico Aquarium, soil from DAOU mountain, fresh herbs and more that was placed into a touch box for each guest so that they could hold the items and smell them as well as taste them to elevate the experience from something visual and audible to then reach all of the senses. We filmed the test run to create a trailer for the experience which you can see here.

Everyone was so proud of how well it had all turned out and without a doubt we were all a part of something truly special. Our work was done, for now. The official launch was a great success and there was discussion about taking the experience to other restaurant locations as well as creating fresh content regularly. It would be a huge undertaking as it would mean that restaurants would need to come up with the extraordinary budget to install the project mapping system as well as surround sound.  We are still hopeful that there are more opportunities to see this through but the 2020 pandemic certainly slowed down those discussions.

To date this is still the most memorable, albeit whirlwind of a project we have taken on. Being able to be a part of something so different and unbridled was equally terrifying and exciting at the same time. We learned so much about our capabilities throughout the project and developed some great work flows that we still apply to this day. The main takeaway is that when you are hired to do any task, ask yourself, how can we make it even better.

TWM Napa Wine Summit

07.04.2023|By Daniel Mendoza|7 Minutes

In April 2019 we set out for Napa, California for our second collaboration with LOLA and Total Wine & More. The goal was to interview ten winemakers, eight of which were traveling to the Summit from out of state. The list included Sheridan Vineyards; Vintage Wine Estates; Sextant Wines; Sobon Family Estates; Northwest Wine Company; Lloyd Cellars; Samuel Robert Winery; Coelho Winery; Amici; Moone Tsai (Links to videos here). Only Amici and Moone Tsai were local so we had to rely on B Roll footage provided by the other vineyards to

We flew to Napa on April 8th and we were set to film on the 9th and 10th. All but one of the interviews were to take place at the Culinary Institute of America so we scouted the location shortly after our arrival to try to identify any challenges as well as pre select the best spots for the interviews. The location provided so many options for set ups and some incredible architectural backdrops. We headed to the hotel to prep gear and stage a quick pre production meeting before calling it a night.

The next morning we were up early to begin setting up for the first interview. This was our only indoor interview as we managed to get it in before the location opened for business. We spent about an hour on each interview, including set up and break down time, so it was critical to keep things moving. Once we moved outside we were definitely battling the sun and doing our best to set up in ways that the sun wouldn’t change drastically during the interview. Once outside we mainly switched from our kino celeb lights to diffusion, flags and bounces. We would occasionally still use a light for fill or eye light.

Our most difficult set up was definitely with Amici as it was a four person interview so it meant one of the two cameras would require movement to follow whomever was speaking. It also meant finding a way to cover each of their team members with audio as well. Our sound tech only had two wireless packs so it meant improvising and relying on a combination of wireless and boom audio. After nine interviews we were definitely ready to wrap for the day.

Day 2 was very different from the speed dating feel of Day one’s packed interview schedule. We started the day off at the incredible home of the owners of Moone Tsai. Not only was their home absolutely stunning, but it was on a mountain that overlooked Napa Valley. This interview was definitely a more intimate setting with the two owners conversing with their friend and Total Wine & More partner. After touring/scouting the spectacular home, we opted for setting the interview up on their outdoor patio with a magnificent view of the surrounding region.

By far one of the trip highlights was flying the drone though the house as there was a perfect pathway leading from the front door through the foyer and out another door that carried right over the pool and cliff to reveal Napa Valley in all of its grandeur. Once we finished at the home we traveled with one of the owners to their production facility to film some more B Roll. Everything about this brand screamed top notch and sophistication.

The second half of the day was spent at Amici where we filmed similar B Roll as well as product shots with wines from the winemakers we interviewed the day before. Our Total Wine & More partner joined the Amici team for some B Roll footage in their barrel room before we headed to a nearby property to film some additional scenes with the Amici team. Next we began shifting focus to filming bottles of wine from the various winemakers we had interviewed. The area surrounding Amici provided numerous settings for the product shots. We worked closely with the very talented photographer Tony Garcia to capture the products in serene backdrops.

On the Amici property there was a quaint and lovely house that served as a BnB for friends and guests. It just so happened that they were hosting a group of friends in from out of town so we took advantage of the strands of market lights hanging around once the sun went down. We began doing a little production design and setting up shots now that we had time and freedom to experiment creatively in the moment. We found a wine barrel and placed it in the center of the lawn then placed an assortment of Amici wines on it. We set up our kino celeb lights and waited for the background sky to be just right. It was the perfect ending to the production side of the trip. The next day we made the drive to Oakland, California to fly home.

Over the next week, the agency began sending over video scripts after going through the interviews and we began working on the edits. We mixed the B Roll footage we captured with any supplemental content provided by the winemakers to create the spots and we were all pleased with the results. This was a great appetizer project just before we headed back to Napa for a full week of filming on a much greater scale for the client as well as for our team.

TWM Mina Mesa

07.04.2023|By Daniel Mendoza|9 Minutes

It was 2017 around Thanksgiving time when I was speaking with my brother in law who works at the LOLA agency we had been collaborating with over the past year about Total Wine & More. I asked them if they had done any video work and he informed me that pretty much all of their work with the client was geared towards print. About a month later, the agency reached out to us about a concept they had pitched Total Wine & More that was actually approved and it involved video. I couldn’t have been more excited, not only about the project, but how quickly it seemed to manifest from a very casual conversation weeks earlier.

The goal was to film at Javadi farm in Paso Robles where Troy Javadi and his team produced Mina Mesa wine. The inspiration or theme for the project “Wine Wanderer” and it was along the lines of Anthony Bourdain or Booze Traveler with us following Michelle Giammittorio (Wine Buyer/TW&M) to the Javadi farm where she was to meet with Troy as well as Shawn Richcreek (TWM Store Manager) for a candid conversation over wine and small bites.

So in January 2018 we set out to Paso Robles. Our team consisted of myself (Director of Photography), Nick G (Sound and Drone), Chad Lawrence (Gaffer) and Becky Jo Harris (Hair and MUA). Chad and I drove from Phoenix with all of the gear while Nick and Becky flew into San Luis Obispo airport. We all made it into town on January 10th and began scouting the location before returning to the hotel to prep gear and have a quick pre production meeting with the team.

The following morning we arrived at the location to begin setting up. While Becky was working on Michelle’s hair and make up, we began setting up to film what would be a somewhat challenging driving sequence with Michelle in a rented Convertible 1967 Chevy Camaro. Typically with car sequences we would prefer the vehicle be on a tow set up just for safety but that just wasn’t an option here. Not only were we to do the intro sequence with interior vehicle shots but we then had to provide aerial coverage of the car driving down the dusty road onto the farm as well. We pulled out the DJI Phantom IV and got some great coverage leading and following the car along a desolate and dusty road. We then filmed a brief roadside interview with Michelle before camera and sound loaded into the car with her to cover the drive in. Fortunately everything went smoothly and without incident.

Once on the farm we then set up to interview winemaker Troy Javadi by his horse stables. The setting was perfect for the concept and helped us capture the essence of the concept. Troy’s story was exactly what you would expect from a multi generational farmer. Strongly rooted in working with what the earth gives you and making sure you take care of the earth in return. Turned out his family had been farming for many generations in Iran before relocating to the U.S. Troy and his family were incredibly hospitable to the entire team and he brought quite the personality to set.

Finishing off the day was the candid table discussion between the three characters as they shared wine, food and conversation as the sun was setting. The set up didn’t come without challenges as we were fighting the elements in regards to lighting and audio. Chad did a great job bouncing light from the sun onto the talent and Nick, somewhat of a sound snob, certainly exceeded our expectations. The table setting looked great, despite not having a production designer but the fact that we were on a farm surrounded by rustic barns and decor, it was certainly a much more forgiving set. It turned out great as far as content was concerned so we wrapped up for the day and began breaking down equipment to get rested for the following day.

Day 2 was free roaming around the large property to film B Roll of the landscape and farm animals. He had horses, cattle, goats, chickens, vineyards and olive trees so they had really maximized the land they owned. The morning welcomed us with a thick blanket of fog that draped over the property. It looked calm yet eerie and made for some spectacular imagery. The vines were bare and we found a tree straight out of a Tim Burton film, so of course we filmed it.

As it turned out, Troy’s two sons were quite into the rodeo scene so we filmed them practicing their roping skills with live cattle. At one point I actually ventured into the rink for a better vantage point and it was quite a rush being so close to the action. We managed to also get some aerial coverage of the practice before the horses seemed to have had enough of the annoying buzzing drone flying about. So we finished up our coverage on the property then headed back to the hotel to prepare for departure on the following day.

It was a long drive home for Chad and I but it was great to reflect on the production and all we had managed to capture. Most of the productions we have been on were for the most part unscripted. This typically requires us to get much more coverage than what is needed just to ensure we will have enough to work with in the edit. This didn’t concern us as we had become quite versed in documentary style filmmaking but it did make us long for opportunities where we could go in with a script and detailed shot list that would also make the post production process much more intentional.

Having succeeding at unscripted content we soon would find ourselves being cornered into this niche. It can be challenging to get others to understand that just because you are good at one style, doesn’t mean you can’t take on the other. It’s interesting how often we’ve been out of contention for projects merely because they were scripted, when anyone who understands the basic fundamentals of filmmaking should know that if you can be good at telling a story without a script, you are only going to be better at telling stories with a script.

The final film ended up being about 90 seconds long and included 60 and 30 second cut downs for social media. Overall we were very pleased with how the project turned out and how our team had performed. We were grateful that Total Wine & More was beginning to invest in video content and we were hopeful there would be more opportunities down the road to collaborate with their team once again.

FPS Napa Micro Site 360

06.04.2023|By Daniel Mendoza|9 Minutes

In August 2017, we were hired to be part of an exciting collaboration with LOLA agency and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse. The goal was to create a microsite 360 experience featuring 6 Napa vineyards. There were 3 production teams involved in producing the content. OmniVirt & Axis Images was to capture 360 content and create the microsite. Vinnie Finn and his team were to capture stills of products and the vineyards while we were tasked with creating video content that would populate the microsite “hot spots”.

Before venturing the 700 miles to Napa, we had a pre production phone call with all the teams to go over logistics and details. This was a great way to get to know what to expect as far as workflow and timing. The main takeaway was that photo and video teams would need to work around the capture of the 360 content so that we wouldn’t end up in their shots. Since we were all serving different purposes it should be fairly easy for us to all find our spots to perform our tasks.

Being our first time in Napa we were definitely swept away in the natural and manmade beauty of the region. But it was important for us to remain focused as we were to cover four vineyards over a two day period. We did quickly scouts of the vineyards to get a feel for the visual offerings of each property then headed to the hotel to settle in before a quick pre production meeting to go through the schedule for the following day. We were in for a couple of long days as we would be up to film at the first property by sunrise and expecting to wrap after sunset at the second location.

Day 1 started off at Trinchero, a stunning property with an incredible drive up to the Estate, we knew that the aerial coverage here would be breathtaking. The photography team was pretty close to us most of the trip as we were able to piggy back off one another to get the content we needed, while the 360 team was certainly much more distant and removed from our experience due to the nature of their process and objective. The aerial coverage gave us quite a scare when we realized that the drone somehow managed to fly through some power lines that blended into the landscape. It was only when we watched the playback that we realized how close we came to the potential hazard. Fortunately nothing happened and we were able to continue using the drone for the remainder of the trip as well as helped us do a better job scouting for possible hazards moving forward. After finishing up filming B Roll footage around property we began to set up for our interview with R&D Chef Jessica. The tasting room/event room was a great backdrop for the interview and we wrapped up just in time to grab lunch on our way to the next location.

Franciscan Estates, as it was called at the time, was our next vineyard and the focus points for our coverage was around the sustainability practices as well as the renowned Rutherford Bench, which is a prominent landmark in Napa. We covered the property extensively before preparing to interview Fleming’s Wine Director Stephen. When watching Vinnie and his team work so efficiently we were inspired to reflect on our own processes and begin looking for ways to improve our own workflow. He had an assistant to help with the lighting set ups and a team of three working on food prep and styling. The lead food stylist was the incredibly talented Suzy Eaton and we would strongly suggest giving her and Vinnie a follow on Instagram to see the impressive content they regularly produce.

After wrapping up we headed to the hotel to back up footage and audio as well as charge up batteries in preparation for the following day.

Day 2 was a particularly early start time at Schramsberg Vineyards as the styling team was to begin working on the table setting at 4:30am. This property was easily our most memorable of the trip as it provided some memorable events. We began filming in the maze of caves that run under the property to capture the Riddling process. The main challenge here was the limited lighting and access to power for our lights but we made due and managed to capture some exceptional content. There is certainly something mentally and physically challenging about filming in underground caves we discovered. After exiting the caved we managed to capture some great aerial footage of the lush greenery lined drive up to the estate and it was made even more special by the fog that was prevalent that morning. After filming with Wine Director Stephen and his tips on proper sabering technique, we headed out to grab a bite on our way to the next vineyard.

Oberon was the fourth and final location for us on the trip and it was a vineyard. No tasting room or Estate to film in so all of our coverage would take place among the vines. Seeing the grapes on the vines throughout this trip was truly special. Our last wine project took place at DAOU vineyards and the vines were rather bare at the time just due to the season. After concluding our aerial coverage we set up for another interview with R&D chef Jessica as she demonstrated how to make a demi-glace sauce. Our second interview was with Tony Coltrin, the head winemaker and quite a revered name in Napa. Due to the timing of the interview and the fact we were outdoors, Tony wore sunglasses during his interview which led to some challenges in post production as you could easily see our team and the agency in the reflection of his lenses. We used some post production processing to try to minimize the issue and have since learned to either avoid sunglasses or embrace the reflective challenges.

Despite being in Napa less than a week it certainly felt longer just due to the fast pace and long days lugging gear around and covering so much ground with our two person team. We learned a lot about ourselves as well as working collaboratively with other production teams and we are grateful for the connections we made on the trip. We went into the production with an open mind and it allowed us to remain nimble and flexible when things changed. It was truly special being able to tell some great stories about each property and without a doubt it opened doors for future projects and relationships. We have been to Napa three more times since then for other projects but as the saying goes, you always remember your first.

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TWM Mina Mesa

DAOU Mountain

06.04.2023|By Daniel Mendoza|5 Minutes

In February 2017 we traveled over 500 miles to Paso Robles, California to film at DAOU vineyards with LOLA agency. The goal of the project was to create a brand film that would screen at a Ruth’s Chris special event wine pairing dinner to give their guests an intimate look at DAOU, the featured winemaker.

After the long drive we scouted the location before heading to our hotel for a pre production meeting with the agency creatives to go over the plan. We discussed production schedule as well as pre-selecting the best locations on property for the interviews. Before bed we did a final gear check to ensure we would be no unexpected surprises the next day. We like to inspect gear before, during and after any long road trips to minimize the surprise of misplaced or lost items that can hinder production. We’ve made it common practice to research any rental houses near jobs, specifically when traveling far from home base.

Our gear included (2) Canon C100 Mklls, (1) Canon C300 Mkll, Canon L Series Lenses, DJI Phantom IV drone, Lighting and Grip kit, Sound Devices Field Recording Kit, Freefly Movi Gimbal as well as Manfrotto tripods and monopod.

The next morning we were up at dawn to capture a majestic sunrise from the lovely vistas of the property. Filming sunrise is a serene and beautiful way to start the day and for us we think of it as the calm before the storm. The rest of the day was spent capturing interviews along with incredible scenic overlooks, the barrel room and tasting room provided equally stunning backdrops for interviews and B Roll footage. There was a lot of ground to cover between our two person team, specifically when filming the vineyard B Roll as the terrain was incredibly steep which made lugging gear around particularly taxing.

Coming from a world of event coverage, we were quite versed in moving quickly and capturing as much as possible. Some working or aspiring filmmakers tend to downplay the validity of events, specifically weddings, but for us it has been a solid foundation from which to build upon. Events are primarily documentary style coverage and this provides you with the opportunity to work on your ability to anticipate moments. It is a combination of chaos and timelines. Perhaps the greatest and most valuable skill we have sharpened is this ability to anticipate moments. This is a skill that has carried over into scripted projects as well.

The vast property we covered over the course of two days included the vineyard, the tasting room, the barrel room as well as the adjacent water pond which was used to water the vines among other things. From formal interview set ups to B Roll in the field, to aerial coverage and then repeating the process in a variety of orders over the two days proved to be taxing on us physically as well as mentally. But the results made the entire experience well worth the effort.

Being our first true collaboration with the LOLA agency, it was great to have them beside us so that they could see us in action which soon won over their trust in us and our capabilities. We really clicked with them as they were very hands on and in the trenches with us for the benefit of the client. Delivering exceptional content in a reliable and timely manner is a baseline metric for us but equally important is the personality and energy you bring to every job. When you are doing what you love and you are surrounded by inspired and passionate people, the results are typically something special.

Production Crew Roles

05.04.2023|By Daniel Mendoza|7 Minutes

Ever wonder what each crew member actually does on a production? You can probably guess what a director, editor and writer does but what about roles such as grip, gaffer and colorist? For the sake of this blog we will be focusing on roles more common in commercial video production as well as our take on the value they bring to a production.

Producers oversee all of the details from the point of inquiry to final delivery. This includes being an intermediary between clients and creative/production teams, building the teams to execute projects, securing permits and insurances as well as locations and budgets. Producers are what keep the wheels from falling off, they ensure everyone involved is moving towards a common goal.

Line Producers are in charge of keeping the project on track creatively, on schedule, safely and on budget. On set they oversee all Production Departments and will typically report directly to Producers. Line Producers are critical to the success of the productions running smoothly on a day to day basis.

Production Managers are in charge of handling day to day operations of Productions. They coordinate lodging and transportation for cast and crew, work on budgets for locations and equipment and work with Producers to develop a logistical plan and schedule for a shoot, handling all releases and permits as well as creating Daily Production Reports. Production Managers turn chaos into a perfect blend of systems and processes to keep productions from being shut down.

A Director’s main task is to execute the vision of the project. This includes getting the best performances out of actors as well as production departments. They are involved with casting, overseeing rehearsals, location scouts, as well as helping formulate the tone for the look and feel of the project. Directors are like the conductors of an orchestra and while each player may have mastered their part, Directors help them play in perfect rhythm and harmony.

Assistant Directors are the right hand of Directors. They act as the liaison between the Director and Production Departments and can often be called upon to handle conflict or issues on set so as to allow the Director to focus on the bigger picture. They help create and manage production schedules and shot lists. Assistant Directors allow the Director to focus on the big picture and free from getting caught up in the weeds.

Script Supervisors are in charge of maintaining the latest copy of a script as well as logging notes in a production book with detailed information regarding coverage, set ups and continuity. Without Script Supervisors productions are more likely to overlook details that can heavily impact the quality of the final product.

Production Designers oversee the Art Department and the duties include managing wardrobes and props, creating designs and layouts of sets, researching visual elements critical to the production, creating storyboards, mood boards, or look books to guide the art department and camera department as well as ensure that all elements on a set are done right and on time. Production Designers create the spaces and visual elements which the cameras film. Their eyes for design and detail leads to the best possible outcomes.

Directors of Photography oversee the Camera department and work with Directors to choose the best lighting and camera sets ups for the project. Directors of Photography use lighting and the camera to help guide the viewer’s eyes, drawing them into the story.

ACs or Camera Assistants work with Directors of Photography to ensure all cameras and essential gear are set up and ready for filming, help pull focus for the main camera and often operate additional cameras. Camera Assistants will often be in charge of backing up all footage for projects to ensure its integrity. AC’s allow Directors of Photography to focus on making creative choices instead of having to worry about camera equipment and accessories.

Grips are part of the Camera Department and are in charge of building all camera support systems such as tripods and gimbals. Grips make filming run more efficiently and safely.

Gaffers handle the lighting and electrical on productions. From setting up power generators and power cords to rigging lights according to the production design. Gaffers power and light the spaces to be filmed and help camera and art departments create the mood of the film.

Sound Recordists or Location Sound Mixers oversee all audio for a project. They work with Boom Operators to position microphones and are tasked with capturing the best possible audio. Sound Recordists ensure the highest quality of audio possible for a project and can eliminate the need to spend additional money in post production to fix issues after the fact.

Boom Operators hold the microphones during filming and report to Sound Recordists/Location Sound Mixers. Without Boom Operators productions can be highly limited in the type of shots you can capture or the quality of the audio being recorded.

Each of these roles is critical to the success of a production and they cover a wide span of all the things that need to be executed. When budgets are limited and don’t allow for all of the roles to be filled, it only passes the duties of that role along to another crew member, limiting their ability to excel in their department and hindering overall quality the project. That being said, not every production requires each of these roles to be filled. On most of our productions, crew members wear multiple hats to help keep us nimble as well as to help stay on budget.

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DAOU Mountain

Small vs Large Footprint

05.04.2023|By Daniel Mendoza|5 Minutes

When it comes to video production there is no “one size fits all” option. Each project is unique and its specific needs should always be taken into account when choosing the best approach. The main factors to consider when choosing the option that is best for you will be budget; size and type of project; timeline; and locations. Below is how we break down the three main options.

The One Man Band is exactly what it sounds like. One person running camera, sound, lighting and even directing. This is a lot of responsibility for one person and although it may seem tempting due to the low cost it will definitely be your project’s most limiting factor. One person doing it all will undoubtedly reach fatigue sooner and may be more likely to make mistakes without additional eyes on set. If your project is simple in terms of production then this may be a very cost effective way of generating content quickly and affordably. This option can be optimal for basic content creation to use on social media platforms as well as on your website.

A Skeleton Crew can be anywhere from two to five crew members. This takes all of the weight off of one individual and offers a very nimble approach to help things move quickly. This approach may still be hindered by the lack of full departments but it is a decent compromise as it still yields reasonable cost and effective results. If your project includes some complexities such as actors or models and multiple set ups, then this approach offers great value and nimbleness to move quickly without a great deal of obstruction to your business or the public depending on where you film. This option is well suited for basic scripted content as well as company about us promo videos.

With a Full Production Team you have actual departments tending to their respective specialties so this will yield the best creative results but getting there can be cumbersome at times and it will likely be the most costly approach. If you’ve ever seen images of an actual film set you know just how imposing this approach can be and how many resources it requires to accommodate such a large team. If your project is very complex and requires features such as complex lighting, multiple actors, choreography or stunts and production design, this option is best suited for those job. This approach is definitely prime for complex scripted content such as long format productions as well as commercial spots for broadcast or any advertising campaigns, specifically those targeted to national and international markets.

You can find a detailed breakdown of the various departments and crew positions here.

Historically, crew members working in the film/production industry spent their entire careers in their respective roles, or working their way up the department ranks until they reached their desired position. It is becoming fairly common now to be able to fill more than one role since it is almost entirely made up of independent contractors and it is the best way to stay busy enough to make a career of it. We believe there are pros and cons to both so it really isn’t a matter of right or wrong, but what is best for your project. The old adage “jack of all trades, master of none” is always worth noting but not every project requires mastery for every position. The flexibility and cost effectiveness of individuals filling more than one role is always worth considering for smaller businesses and productions.

Being based in the Phoenix, Arizona area, we have found that it is beneficial to offer flexible solutions to suit each client, project and budget. Our company’s approach is built around scalability allowing us to offer maximum value and successful outcomes. We continue working to find new ways to bring high level results to businesses of all sizes without breaking the bank. To learn more about your options and to maximize your investment in video production, please reach out to learn more about our approach!