Reading List 7

July, 2015

The Ghost Network (Catie Disabato) - A confidently written, overall enjoyable book. Some tangents were less interesting than others.

Lean In (Sheryl Sandberg) - Sheryl's unique privilege acknowledged, this is an important book that pushes the conversation on equality forward. I immediately wanted to read more from Sheryl, and specifically about her time helping shape Facebook.

Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates) - I'm at a loss for words. It's safe to say this is among the most important books released this year.

Gutshot (Amelia Gray) - I've never read anything like this. Her use of (often horrific) metaphors is skillful and not distracting or obtuse. She elevates every story to the absurd, but it all feels grounded in truth.

On Intelligence (Jeff Hawkins & Sandra Blakeslee) - Not for me.

Currently reading

Creative Confidence (Tom Kelley & David Kelley)


One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six

Q&A: Do I need a screenplay for my documentary?

I'm looking to shoot my first short documentary, do I need to write a screenplay? Any advice?

My advice: interview people. On camera or not, just do it.

Early in my freelance career, in order to increase my visibility and practice my skills, I started a simple blog featuring a series of video interviews with local creatives. This helped me learn, make mistakes, and improve far faster than reading/writing a script would have.

(Do a little project like that, and maybe you'll even end up getting work out of it. I did.) 

Yes, there are screenplays/outlines for documentary films, but I don't think that's actually going to be what you're looking for here. (Yet, anyway.) The key to interviewing well is playing off the emotion and response from your subject. It's understanding when to lead the conversation and steer them back on course. Or even better, when to let them go further down the rabbit hole of an unexpected tangent. You can't learn that by reading a document.



On diversity in technology

I've had the chance to write about diversity in technology over the past month. It was sparked by a 750ish word post on Medium titled, "A black man walks into Silicon Valley and tries to get a job..." 

It was a personal, honestly slightly embarrassing, accounting of what I experienced trying to get a job in technology for four years. But I didn't write that post for me. I wrote that because, now that I have a job I love with a company I adore, I know there are still people out there struggling to overcome those same hurdles every day. That's why it resonated and spread far throughout the internet. If my writing can help just one person - especially if it can open one more hiring manager's eyes or CEO's minds to unconscious bias and privilege - then it was worth it.

That post was later republished on Fusion, thanks to Kevin Roose wanting to amplify my story.

After that, Meredith Bennett-Smith of Quartz asked if I was interested in republishing  that piece or writing more, and I took that chance to get more specific. In my mind, he only way to properly critique and address the issues of diversity in Silicon Valley is by being direct. Pointing out specific issues and suggesting real solutions is better than beating around the bush or choruses of "we have work to do."

Shortly after my post on Medium gained a lot of attention, USA TODAY technology reporter Jessica Guynn connected with me and offered support. She's long reported on the topics and statistics that others are only beginning to see. She extended an offer for USA TODAY to possibly run some of my writing, which led to me publishing "Three ways to begin fixing Silicon Valley's 'pipeline' problem."

I'm continuing to think about how I can best help those who aren't getting a chance. People who love art and technology but aren't being represented in the work they see. And it's great to know Big Cartel is behind me. 

Below is the original post that started it all.

- - - - -

For a long time, I dreamt to work in Silicon Valley. That dream is dead.

I’d like to tell you a joke. But first, some backstory.

I applied for hundreds of jobs (not an exaggeration) after college, many in the Bay Area. I had a few interviews — I was even flown out twice by one company — but I remained without my first “adult” job for over four years.

Hiring managers didn’t like me because I went to a small private university in Ohio. They said I didn’t have enough experience — despite graduating with Honors from said college, being a member of the National Communication Honor Society, and holding a part-time job and internship for three of my four years in school.

Or, get this — I was also told my experience made me overqualified for the position and they were afraid I’d get bored.

The formula was largely the same. Most I didn’t hear back from at all. With a few, I had an in-person or Skype interview with the team.

Once I got on Skype, one position at a hot tech company changed from full-time to a three-month contract. It was listed on their site as full-time. Oh, and they wouldn’t reimburse any moving costs. One more interesting tidbit: This rejection took place in 2011. Until I found a job last year, I still couldn’t reapply for any new positions. Their hiring system blocked new applications.

Another position suddenly “needed filled immediately,” so they went with someone local. I was told a future position might be available if I planned to relocate. Which I would have if, you know, I had been offered a job. They also wouldn’t reimburse moving costs.

Most of the rest ended the same: silence. Many times I couldn’t even get a courtesy rejection email.

I don’t know that any of this had to do with my race, but twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern. (A fitting misquote I recently heard of an Ian Fleming quote.) At best (or worst?), it revealed the number of ways Silicon Valley takes care of those close to home, and keeps those on the outside away.

The culture Silicon Valley has built doesn’t value what I bring to the table — my experience, perspective, and talent. To them I simply don’t fill enough checkboxes. I’m not a culture fit, a friend of a friend, or a Stanford grad that could afford to live in San Francisco while job hunting.

The culture doesn’t value evenings and weekends as a time for family, personal development and health, or hobbies. Late nights are meant for hackathons and beer bashes.

This is how you develop a culture that isn’t diverse. You make it impossible for people who can’t afford to take a tryout across the country.That leaves most job openings only available to people whose parents pay their bills; for people who didn’t have to finance their way through college; for people who don’t have, or intend to have, a significant other or children in the near future.

The good news: my dream to work in Silicon Valley is dead because I’ve found out what it’s like to work for a company that values me.

I found a company that values me that’s based in Salt Lake City. Yeah, a company in Utah is doing more for diversity than many in Silicon Valley — get over your biases of where you believe real change is championed.

One of the ways my company encourages diversity is by providing fair pay and benefits for all; which includes reimbursement for relocation, the opportunity to work remotely, a generous family leave policy, and flexible scheduling for personal needs. We also own up to a lack of diversity in job postings, rather than hide the problem. We’re supporting projects and events that emphasize inclusion in tech. Also, hiring doesn’t rely solely on existing social networks.

To Silicon Valley: What legacy are you leaving for your children? If you really believe design can change the world — what legacy are you leaving for the history books? Do you want to be looked back on as a white boy’s club? As an embarrassing furthering of unfair privilege by the most valuable companies of our time?

Or do you really want to change the world?

So, to finish my joke from before: A black man walks into Silicon Valley and tries to get a job, and he leaves empty handed.

Nick Fancher's Studio Anywhere

When I first met Nick Fancher, he was working at JackThreads doing almost all of their photography. I was brought in to do some small video projects, so our work overlapped here and there. JackThreads as a company and Nick personally gave me my first shot at doing real independent and creative projects back in 2011 - it was equal parts good luck, hard work, and the right timing.

Towards the end of the year, Nick asked if I would shoot a little behind the scenes video of his photo work. I said yes, of course, but had no idea what it would lead to.

Photo credit: Nick Fancher

Photo credit: Nick Fancher

I filmed Nick for about six hours, and spent a few solid days editing a short behind the scenes documentary that became Street Fashion Photography. He entered it into FStoppers' Behind the Scenes contest and we made it to the final 11. Although we didn't win, the video was featured all over popular photography blogs, and today sits at nearly 130,000 views. I still get comments from people telling me how much they like that video almost four years later. 

Long before I met him, but especially in the four years since, Nick has been working hard to perfect his craft. Earlier this year he released a book based on his approach, methods, and philosophy called Studio Anywhere: A Photographer's Guide to Shooting in Unconventional Locations.

Here's a brief description of the book from Peachpit's website:

Studio Anywhere is a resource for photographers to learn through behind-the-scenes photos and lighting diagrams from a range of photo shoots–but it doesn’t stop there. Because directing a photo shoot involves more than simply knowing how to wield a camera or process a raw file, Nick also lets you in on the aesthetic decisions he makes in his signature photos, inspiring you to develop your own vision. And, finally, he describes his Lightroom and Photoshop workflow so you can learn how to deftly navigate post-processing.

Nick included a shot from our behind the scenes video in his book, which is so rad! A still of my video work in a book!

Photo credit: Nick Fancher

Photo credit: Nick Fancher

A little over a year ago, I caught up with Nick again for my short documentary series Why We Create. He talks more about his process and what drives him to do his best work. Watch it and then go buy his book.

Q&A: What to charge to film a wedding

Over the years, I've answered a handful of freelance video production questions on forums and other websites, but recently realized that information didn't have a place to live that was easily linked to or accessible by everyone. So, I thought I'd share it here. To be clear, these are all public questions and answers, so none of this came from a private email or communication. Still, I've anonymized the questions a bit, and edited my answers to make more sense over time. I have a few more of these I'll post on the blog in the coming weeks.

A bride contacted me and asked me to film her wedding. I'm not sure how much to charge, but I'm thinking $400 is more than what I'm worth, since I've never filmed a wedding before, but I see some videographers in my area charging over $2500 for a wedding! I'm also wondering if I need to rent equipment like a glidecam, and if so, how should I charge for that?

I understand the reluctance to charge "too much" - we were all there once. Let me walk you through a few things.

You're right that $2500 is a different ballgame, but it's not an outlandish price. Once you've done a few weddings, you'll see how far off it is to think $400 is even close to a fair price.

Weddings are loooong days. So before you even talk money, be sure to discuss the schedule. My longest wedding shoot was 7 am to 11 pm, followed by a 2 hour drive home. And however long the wedding lasts, editing can take 2 or 3 times as long. Sometimes longer.

Best case scenario, you're looking at somewhere between a 20-40 hour commitment. 20 is probably way too low, but I don't want to wildly overestimate. At $25 per hour (stick with me here), cost: $500-1000

You'll also need to license music through a service like The Music Bed, Marmoset, or at the very least find low-cost stock music to purchase. No need to violate copyright laws and risk lawyers knocking on your door. Cost: $20-200 per song

Have you discussed how you'll be delivering the film? DVD or blu-ray? Online only? That's something to consider. Maybe not a huge cost there, but say you need to buy some DVDs and postage, that's another $10.

You have to remember as a freelancer, you pay more in taxes. $25/hr isn't really as great as it sounds. Also remember that you're the one providing $1000+ worth of equipment at no additional charge. That's not even to mention the time and experience you do have, which holds some value. Oh, and are you planning on having a second shooter or assistant to help you?

That's all a brief overview to explain why you see $2500 budgets (and higher) and how they can be totally justified.

Now, would I recommended charging $1200 or whatever the total cost might actually be for your first wedding? Not necessarily. That may be way more than they're expecting, and most of all, that's going to put too much pressure on you. But don't charge too little or you may end up spending money. I wouldn't purchase or rent any equipment as long as you have the basics covered. Use what you have. The day is already going to go too fast to get all the shots you want, even worse if you're fiddling with a slider or a glidecam.

Do the best you can with what you have. Maybe $700 sounds fair. Or $1000. Remember that if all goes well, the couple will tell their friends. I'm getting referrals years later from my first big wedding. And that's where pricing too low or cutting corners on quality can really mess you up moving forward.