All posts by SPI Creative









Right off the bat, I’m sure many of you are saying that’s pretty important, being able to see what you’re shooting, right? So, I’m not talking about big projects folks like me shoot on a regular basis. Of course professionals are going to light their scene. This article is designed for the home grown Video Blogger, the business professional who is starting a Youtube V-blog site and doesn’t warrant hiring someone like us to do daily affirmation video clips on the virtues of ROI with their CEOs.

I’ve got professional business friends who shoot video blogs for real-estate firms, law firms, etc. who regularly drag out their DSLRs and shoot a quick little clip and post it on line for customers and stock holders to ogle at. How can I improve my video clips? What can I do to make it better? Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’ve reminded them to take the time and make the investment in two very important things no V-Blogger should be without, lights and microphones.

Like I said, we’re not going to preach ‘Lighting 101’ to seasoned video pros. That’s like telling a beaver how to make a dam. One thing that will vastly improve your shot with very little effort is lighting it. There are many aspects of video production the public takes for granted. Sound is one. Lighting is another.

Of course professional lighting takes time and effort. We light using basic lighting principals and skill sets. Lighting a scene takes knowledge of how light reacts with surfaces, how it bounces and reflects or is absorbed, how color temperatures affect the overall scene and what the difference is between keying, back lighting, filling and gelling. When setting up a simple scene the one thing you should remember is make sure your head-shot is lit. If you only have one lighting instrument place it in front of your subject slightly higher than eye line to avoid harsh spooky shadows similar to lighting from below. Make sure you are not too close to your subject. If the light does not have dimming capabilities place the instrument a good few feet away from the subject and make adjustments as you go. The distance will vary depending on the light. You will have to be the judge. Make sure you can monitor your video coming from your camera. If you feel adventurous put some sort of softening diffusion material over the light (don’t burn the house down). This will diffuse or spread the light more evenly to cover the subject instead of making it look like there is a harsh spot-like effect on him/her. Diffusion is one of many little tricks we pros have in our magic bag. If you know how to use a light meter more power to you.

The trick is to make sure your scene is light naturally and evenly. Take a look at a random web sample here and you’ll see the difference. Take the time to do it right. Your CEO will thank you.



I’ve been in the TV business for over 20 years. Technical I’ve been in the video industry since 1989. But for the sake of this blog, I’ve been rolling tape since 1994. Today it’s not always tape, but you get my point. As a broadcast and professional video entrepreneur I try like hell to find those great and understanding clients with interesting projects and more importantly realistic budgets. It’s like seeing three rainbows, watching a unicorn grazing in the grass or Big Foot eating beef jerky. It doesn’t happen very often.

We all want to work with decent budgets, the best crews and the most talented actors. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this…So is the life in the TV production biz.

In those cases, a Producer (or in my case a Producer/Director) will have to make a lot of tough decisions. Do I hire the best talent and try to squeeze by with a limited crew? Do I ask them to do more than one job? Or do I hire the best professional crew I can afford and turn to something like Craig’s List or Facebook to find some untrained, non-professional talent to work for peanuts. I’m lucky in a sense because SPI-tv Media Group has the crew in-house.

Let’s not sweat all the details and jump right to the chase. After all your prep work is complete, the day has come to start production. You are on set or location with your finely tuned script, you’ve set your shot, the lighting is just right and your audio is ready to go. Now the non-professional Craig’s List, Facebook talent is on his/her mark. Camera rolls and the director yells ‘action’! All you hear are crickets chirping and you can imagine that ‘cost-cutting’ client having a coronary when the footage is reviewed. First thing, DON’T PANIC! Second thing, it’s time to have a chat with the talent.

First, let’s take a step back. When you hold you’re auditions or if it’s as simple as looking at a digital picture that’s the time to remind yourself the “John Smith” you’re about to hire is not Robert DeNiro. These want-to-be Olivier’s are just nine-to-fivers looking to be on TV. They don’t have very much at stake. You do! Be prepared to be challenged. Now back to our scene.

Your non-professional talent, no matter how much they want to, will not be ready when it comes time hear that ‘action’ call. I’m speaking from experience. A local attorney needed a couple of TV spots produced on a shoe string budget. The attorney did not want to be in the spots so it was off to Craig’s List to hire Joe-Shmoe or Jane-Plain! I will not bore you with the details but we hired five or six non-professionals.

Each one had one line in different locations throughout the city. One line! Easy, right? Think again. Now, I don’t want to come down on the non-professional talent because it’s not as easy as you think. Nerves, over-acting, under-acting, not smiling, smiling too much, looking creepy missing your mark, hitting your mark but not remembering your line, speaking too low, too loud and on and on and on. These are just a small sample of the issues that can happen to the non-professional. You need to get a performance from them and you need it ASAP. How do you help them?


Quick answer; get them relaxed in a conversation. If, as in our case, they have just one line, try to get them to stop acting. Try to show them that this one line is like talking to their neighbor. Just get them to talk to you as the friend or neighbor. The best way to learn is by repetition. So stay with them as they repeat and repeat their line(s) until you are satisfied.


Now let’s say that your non-professional talent have learned their line(s) to your satisfaction, but you have an emotionless stick standing in front of your camera. What do you do now? Performance is just as important as dialogue so loosen up your protégé. Have them do jumping jacks, tell them a joke, do the running man, whatever you need to do to get that natural body movement to sell the performance. Unfortunately, when hiring the non-professional, things like performance will suffer. There is no rehearsal day in the budget plus these “volunteers” do not have the time to put in the extra work. So it’s run-and-gun and rehearsal is on your clock. Remember, the trick is to get them to perform for that one line, probably only a couple of seconds on screen.

The one thing I avoid as a director is telling professional or non-professional talent to “act naturally”. Because in order to act naturally you need to think “how do I do that”? The last thing I want is to have the non-professional thinking too much. If you think it’s easy, here’s a test. Close your eyes, think of your happy place, take a deep breath, open your eyes and say that old tag line from the vintage Tide commercial,“If it’s gotta be clean, it’s gotta be Tide”, and say it acting naturally. See what I mean, not so easy.

Another pitfall to avoid when hiring non-professional talent is scheduling. If you hire one person or multiple talent, making sure they can commit to your schedule is crucial. Without them there is no commercial. Because you have made a commitment to travel down this non-pro talent road, the success or lack thereof falls on the shoulders of the non-professionals. The key here is to tell the prospective thespian to commit one to two hours because we should be able to “crank this baby out”. In a perfect world get your non-professionals to commit an entire day or two if needed. That’s not going to happen.

Compromise and see if you can get a four-hour window for each non-professional talent. If it takes only an hour, awesome, if not, at least they know it’s a process. My advice is to hire more people than you really need. Some will show up and others just won’t. Plus it gives you options in the edit room to find the best performances.

I feel at this point I should state for the record, I always recommend hiring professional talent. As the Producer, you’ll have to decide between hiring union or non-union talent. All in all, hiring non-professional talent and working with them can be good and bad. But when they hit that mark, speak their lines, on time and with passion and vigor. It’s pretty cool I have to admit.


Jim can be reached here


David LeonardOur website regularly features local professionals in a blog series called proTALK, asking our peer group to share not only tips and thoughts on the business, but personal anecdotes about their own life experiences and how it relates to what they do. Our hope is to inspire and give unique insight to a new generation of professionals based on our experiences.This is proTALK.

proTALK: We’ve gotten some great insight from a lot of behind the scenes professionals, editors, directors, photographers, graphic artists, how about showing some love for the talent in front of the camera? This week’s proTALK we’re focusing on a very versatile talent; actor and host in front of the lens, location manager, production coordinator behind the lens. Let’s chat with gentleman extraordinaire David Leonard and how he got started.

proTALK: We mention your behind the lens work but you have quite an impressive list of screen credits, (IMDB). How did you get your start? Or more importantly, how did the acting bug bite you?

I actually got started in acting at a very young age because my mother was an accomplished playwright so I practically grew up in and around the theater.  Back in Harvey, IL where I grew up, she put together a teen theater group that I was a member of called H.O.T.T. (Harvey’s Own Teen Theater) and that was my first foray into acting.  We performed several stage plays locally at different schools.  It honestly started as a hobby at first, but I always knew it was something I wanted to pursue further.  I was kind of a shy kid, but being on stage always seemed to break me out of my shell.

proTALK: The life of an actor is a difficult one yet rewarding as it is with any profession. How do you balance both types of behind the scenes / acting gigs?

It is indeed a challenge because my behind the scenes work pays the bills and does not always allow for me to take on acting gigs consistently, but it does occasionally present the opportunity for me to marry the two.  In other words, staying active behind the scenes keeps me abreast of audition opportunities on other shows and productions that may become available or vice versa.  Whenever I’m between jobs, I take advantage of that time off and either take an acting class or audition for everything I can.  There’s always that fine line between “having a life” and “making a living”.

proTALK: There has been a recent boom in local productions, have you had your share of work in these productions? and can you name some of your favorites?

I’ve had the privilege to work on some really cool television shows and feature films that have shot here in Chicago, mostly doing locations work.  Most recently, I worked on the pilot for the new FOX series “Empire” which was a lot of fun and I’m pretty excited about it.  “Divergent” was another really fun project simply because of all the huge set pieces and the fanfare and buzz around the book series.   That was the first time I had been on a big budget, long term shoot from start to finish and it was really cool to be a part of, not to mention it was a great look for the city.  The short lived “Boss” series was another favorite.  It was such a great show and the cast and crew were amazing to work with.

proTALK: Growing up, who influenced you and encouraged you to follow your dreams? Talk about how important that advice was.

I was fortunate to grow up with both of my parents who always supported me and taught me to believe in myself and to pursue my goals.  I inherited my creative spirit from my mom without question.  Watching her create stories effortlessly from an idea to a finished script or stage production inspired me quite a bit.  Watching some of the success she had helped me to step out and take chances as far as acting goes.  She would take me out on commercial and film auditions when I was a kid, but she was never a “stage mom”.  She didn’t force me to do anything I didn’t feel comfortable doing.  I’ll never forget when I was young she took me to an audition for the Richard Pryor biopic “Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling” and I read for the part to play Richard as a kid.  I had a bad case of nerves and I wasn’t totally comfortable with some of the language in the script so I clammed up and wouldn’t audition.  She didn’t scold me or make me feel bad…she basically told me “whatever you want to do, I will support you and if you don’t feel right about this, don’t go against your judgement…there will be other opportunities”.

proTALK: What type of advice would you give young actors now a days?

Always perfect your craft.  None of us know it all, so what does it hurt to continue learning? I’ve heard some actors say “Oh I don’t need to take classes or I don’t need theater training”…Those are tools that are only going to enhance your ability to deliver effectively on screen, so I think you’re doing yourself an injustice if you think you don’t need those things.  The other thing I would advise young actors to do is to work on their brand in addition to their skills.  “Everyone wants to act” or “Everyone wants to be a star” as they say, which is fine, but “Everyone” is not going to make it.  I think in order to sustain as an actor and make yourself standout, you have to put in the work and create a name for yourself and expand your brand by not only being a talented actor, but being a talented actor who also can write and produce their own projects.  It makes you a more valued asset in the business is you are more than just a “one trick pony”.

proTALK: How would you describe your acting ‘method’? Some actors ‘act, some ‘re-act’. What’s your style?

My acting style is really trying to live inside the characters I play.  I’ve learned to not “act” so much especially when on screen because I want the character I’m playing to come across as real as possible.  I try to create a mix of elements of my character traits and the character I’m playing.  A lot of times I would start off reading a lot of characters sort of over the top like some theater productions call for when a project/character didn’t necessarily call for that, so I had to get out of that habit.  

proTALK: What had been your most rewarding piece of work? Why?

There’s a lot of projects I’ve worked on that have been truly rewarding, but the one that I think changed me as a person and the way I approach acting was a stage production I played the lead in called “Jungle Kings”.  I played a character named “Baby Cockroach” who was a street thug who had been locked up for a decade and was trying to convince a parole board that he finally had made a change in his life and deserved to be released.  That character took me on an emotional rollercoaster and challenged me to a level I didn’t even think I could achieve as an actor.  It taught me to get out of the mindset of always “acting” because it was a stage play and to “live” and “breathe” this character so that it came off real and actually affected the people watching it.  I was already going through a rough point in my life at that time so I was able to pull some of that from experience.  It was truly a life altering experience.

proTALK: When you read a part or script, can you envision the final product? How does the role change from the time you first get a script to the time it is being portrayed on screen?

I don’t think I’ve ever been able to envision what the final product is going to be when I read a script.  I try not to put too much thought into it because I like to always keep my expectations low so that I’ll be pleasantly surprised when I do see the finished product.  I’ve read some really good scripts that have gone far beyond my expectations once I see them on the screen and that’s due to a great cast, good direction and well executed post production.  When I first get a script, I pick it apart and I make notes on how my character approaches each scene…subtle gestures they may make or how they may react to other dialogue in the script.  When I get on set, those notes definitely change based on how the other characters react or what they may throw at me which is great because it makes the scenes more natural.

proTALK: Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? What has been the most challenging part of being a working actor?

In 5 or 10 years, I see myself as a consistent working actor with a couple of my own productions under my belt.  I kind of model myself after some Hollywood actors who may not be “A List” or “household names”, but they’re constantly working and have been for years.  Getting to that stage in my career I think has been the most challenging part of being a working actor.  Transforming your passion into your paycheck doesn’t happen overnight.  You have to put in the work to make that happen.

proTALK: What is your take on the industry today? How has it changed now versus when you started?

Technology has made the biggest impact on the industry today without question…from the “internet stars” that have turned their 15 minutes of fame into a life of celebrity to the “reality TV stars” that become overnight Hollywood sensations.  Some of it I think is good for the marketplace, but with so much content at people’s fingertips every second, I feel like the days of artists having longevity with the new generation are gradually becoming extinct.  The upside to all of it is that the playing field is more level and so much new and untapped talent can get discovered without all of the red tape.

proTALK: As we perfect our craft we inevitably make some errors and learn from them in retrospect. What are some of the ‘learning’ experiences you’ve had that have made you a better artist?

Trusting myself and taking more risks is something I’ve had to learn how to do as an artist and in my personal life. When performing, an audience can tell when you’re on stage/camera and you’re thinking about the lines or how you want to deliver a line.  I’ve had to learn how to let go and trust my instincts more as an actor.  It’s something I continue to work on and perfect.

proTALK: In closing we want to say thank you for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Be on the lookout for a few upcoming films I’m in including “Uncovered”, “The Vulva Chronicles” and “Do You Love Me?” including a few that I’m slated to shoot such as “Goldie” and “Not Another Zombie Movie About The Living Dead”.

Follow me on Twitter @dcapreeyo 


David Leonard




BNatale-at-podiumSPI-tv Media Group regularly features local professionals in a blog series
called proTALK, asking our peer group to share not only tips and thoughts
on the business, but personal anecdotes about their own life experiences
and how it relates to what they do. Our hope is to inspire and give unique
insight to a new generation of professionals based on our experiences.
This is proTALK.

proTALK: You are currently enjoying a wonderful career at the Illinois
Center for Broadcasting experiencing first hand the work and enthusiasm of the future generation of broadcasters. We will get to that in a minute.Tell me about how you got started.

I developed a passion for broadcasting while attending St. Patrick H.S. in Chicago. In my freshmen year, St. Pat’s received from WGN-TV, two cameras, an audio board and a TV switcher along with a number of lighting instruments. WGN was going to trash the old equipment when somebody wondered if possibly a school might want the equipment. All of the equipment was old but it worked just fine. So, I became a member of the TV Club (extra curricular) and wound up spending a good time in the little studio that had a balcony that looked onto the gymnasium. We broadcast educational classes as well as basketball games and wrestling matches. I knew then I was hooked. When I went to the University of Illinois, I got a part-time job working in the TV studio on campus. Upon graduation, I looked and looked for a job but no one was hiring. I finally got a job, after a 9 month search, with WSBC-AM and its sister FM station as an audio board operator. Both stations broadcast programming in foreign languages. Both stations brokered the time, so if you could afford $65.00 per hour (which at that time was a good deal of money), you could broadcast over the 1240 AM or 93.1 FM frequency. Later on the 93.1 FM frequency was converted to a Classic Rock station known by all in Chicago as WXRT. From that first job, I wound up working for a small station in Woodstock, IL (WSTK-FM) and realized that I was not inclined to be a DJ but had a penchant for managing a station, which I did as the GM of 105.5 FM. The fancy title didn’t pay a lot but I learned enough to take that experience and cash it in when I moved from WSTK to a job at WGN. From there I worked for a number of TV stations in Rockford, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Chicago prior to becoming the Regional Executive Director for Public Affairs for the Ohio/Illinois Centers for Broadcasting.

proTALK: You’ve worked your way up through the ranks working with many many people and many, many personalities. What is your favorite aspect of the business? What is the secret to professional longevity?

The secret to longevity is the ability to adapt to new challenges. I have three different union cards: NABET (National Association of Broadcast Employees & Technicians), IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and the DGA (Directors Guild of America). I garnered these different cards due to my ability to work in the trenches as a board operator, audio tech, camera operator, as well as a director of news and entertainment programming. I also have over 16 years of experience on the management side, so, each time I took on a new challenge, I learned everything in the business from the most basic (how to read a log) to complex and difficult positions that oversaw large budgets and at one point a staff of 21 individuals. Don’t be afraid to try something new. You might be surprised at how that opportunity will help you develop skills you didn’t even think you had and thus make you a valued employee or entrepreneur if you create your own business opportunity as I did at one point in my career as the head of my own production company.

proTALK: You have authored a book for children from your days at the Infant Welfare Society. Tell me about that and why only one? I’m sure you have other tales to tell zipping around in your head.

I use to tell my children a bed time story about a character called, “Woolly Wurm.” “Woolly” was a caterpillar who fell in love with a butterfly and longed to be able to fly….little did he know that one day he too would be a butterfly. The theme of the book is simple….when you help others (as Woolly did), you invariably help yourself. One day, while working for Angel Harvey (Exec. Producer of the Paul Harvey Show – heard for years on WGN and over 200 radio stations in America) I shared with her the story. She told me to quit looking for a publisher and do the job myself. I had just finished an assignment for Ms. Harvey as the executive producer for the audio recording and production of a CD for Paul Aurandt Harvey, her son’s classical music compositions (a task that I initially wondered if I could do). So, with funding from Angel Harvey, I secured a graphic artist for the design/layout, a printer and a distributor for the 15,000 copies that were sold at various children’s museums and museum and zoo gift shops. All of the money from the first printing went to the Infant Welfare Society. I wasn’t interested necessarily in making money for myself, I just wanted to get the book published and make a difference. I learned a great deal about print production and to my surprise, years later, my daughter, Renee, a teacher for the Chicago Public Schools, asked me if I would sign copies of the books for two of her students who approached her and asked if she was related to a Bill Natale. Jesse White, Secretary of State of Illinois, purchased 500 copies for placement in the Illinois Library system. I do have other stories and have just recently finished writing a 210 page book about a story that takes place in Chicago, immediately following the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King and the race riots that ravaged a number of our cities.

proTALK: What is the one thing that you wish young up and coming pros take away from their learning experience? What do you tell them?

Be willing to learn new things by continually reading about new technology and enrolling in on-going educational classes or projects that one can learn from video tutorials. Don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never done before. Be on time for any opportunity that comes your way and keep your commitments….your bond is your word and it is extremely important in the business world.

proTALK: What do you do to unwind? Favorite leisure activity?

I love spending time with my family, especially my oldest daughter who is just so damn smart and fun to be with; I spend a good deal of time with my son who is also in the business and he’s an outstanding audio and video tech; I love to cook; I love to read novels and well-written articles; I love to bowl; I love to play cards with my friends and siblings; I love taking my dog for a walk in the morning and evening and there is no question that I love the theater, fine cinema and outstanding TV productions that are worth taking time to watch.

proTALK: You have a son that seems to be taking up the media mantle…how does that make you feel? What kinds of learning experiences is he having that may remind you of your experiences?

My son is terrific at audio production. He has worked with me on a number of productions as well as some independent film work that he’s done without my participation. He’s also got a passion for photography and is a very good cinematographer who knows his way around computer technology (he’s built computers from scratch) that is essential in today’s media world. I’m happy that my son has these marketable skills and I hope he is able to do more film work, which is his dream.

proTALK: Getting back to the Illinois Center for Broadcasting, what is your favorite part of that gig?

The favorite part for me at ICB is having a chance to make a difference in the lives of aspiring broadcasters. Internships are very important and ofter lead to full-time employment, so, I’m always pleased when I’m able to open a door for a deserving student. Our students are great and have such a penchant to learn that working with and for them is a delight.

proTALK: Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

It was a pleasure to participate in proTALK and I wish the program great success.



Sorin Brouwers

proTALK: What was your very first VO that made you say; wow…I’m legit now?

I did a series of spots for Angels baseball a few years back.  They were the ‘I love this game’ spots. Its always fun when friends call you to tell you they heard you on the radio.

proTALK:  How has technology changed your business?

I’m also a musician and composer, so I’ve always had a home studio in which to record either auditions or actual spots. Home recording technology has become so accessible over the last few years that almost anyone can set up a decent little studio with their laptops. I know some folks who use handheld recorders for auditions.  The technology is that good now. With enough tweaking, you can get a decent enough sound that can work for most auditions.

proTALK: What types of projects are you most fond of? What is on your wish list?

I’m also an actor in the three dimensional sense.  I work in television and film as well as motion capture (I’ve been a motion capture artist with Warner Bros Interactive for a few games; Mortal Kombat, MK vs DCU and Injustice; Gods Among Us), so I’m always excited about the next gig. And with a varied skill set, you never know what awaits.

proTALK: A lighting director has lights, a photographer has his cameras your tool of trade is your voice. What are some of the things you have learned about your voice since you started?

I feel like I’m always discovering little things about my voice. The big trend these days is ‘to sound natural’ and to ‘not act’. Coming from a theater background, this was initially a little tough. So, adopting a ‘less is more’ approach has helped.  And now, depending on the spot, I’ll dial back a bit for a more casual or conversational approach. But some clients still want an ‘announcer’ from time to time. Being the Voice of God can be fun too.
proTALK: Finish this sentence; ‘if I weren’t a voiceover artist, I’d be a____.’

A full time furniture maker. I make furniture out of wood in my free time and love it.  I’d love the chance to develop certain designs for market. I’d also love to compose more for film.  I’ve written a few film scores and countless theatrical sound designs, so that’s a world I’m comfortable in as well.

proTALK: What are some of the challenges in this business? What do you least look forward to?

We’re in a business where we’re always looking for work.  Having equal parts left and right brain is pretty helpful when negotiating the realities of the business. The seeming conflict between the artist and business person inside us can be the real consistent challenge.

proTALK: What is your favorite piece of gear? Mic, Console, etc.

I love this little PreSonus tube pre-amp thing. It’s simple. It just boosts and sweetens the sound, that’s it.  It’s a great, affordable, almost necessary piece of gear.  But I’m not a gear-head, so take that with a grain of salt.

proTALK: What are you doing when your not voicing? How do you unwind?

Well, I mentioned the furniture stuff and the composition stuff.  I do those things occasionally to unwind. But I love the outdoors as well and being in California affords me the option to really get out and experience some beautiful stuff.  I love hiking, exploring.

proTALK: Are you working on any personal projects?

I’m always cranking away at something or another. With bands, I’ve produced and recorded several records and toured to support them. I’ve had the pleasure of writing and directing a handful of short films recently. I also just wrapped the score on a feature and I’m really proud of it.  It should hit festivals soon. In the furniture realm, I just put the finishing touches on a three-legged chair design, using sustainable materials and inspired by an Italian $4000 chair. But right at this moment, I’m writing a bunch of funk tunes inspired by Shuggie Otis, so we’ll see how that all winds up.


Sorin’s work can be found here





Victor Powell Promo Port 011913

proTALK: As a professional photographer what is your philosophy going into a new job? What are some of the personal goals you set prior to that first click of the shutter?

When I take on a new job, the first thing I consider is the end use of the images. Beginning with the end in mind allows me to create the road map from what I capture to the end results. The type of assignment has a lot to do with what I capture, the beginning with the end process is a part of every job.

The personal goal I set prior to the first click of the shutter varies with the assignment. When I am covering an event my goal is to create a series of images that when viewed make you feel like you were there. I also think in terms of capturing images to tell the story of the event with one shot, so I end up with a lot of one shot story image options. When I photograph people, my goal is to create an end result that feels like the subject. I say, anybody can get what you look like, I want to capture what you feel like and that is where the work starts.

proTALK: What are some of the misconceptions about professional 
photography? What kinds of things do you see younger photographers do that you know you’ve done in the past as a young pro coming into your own?

The worst misconception is ‘an expensive camera makes you a photographer’. That is why there are many picture takers and not as many photographers. A professional photographer uses the knowledge of their craft to produce great images despite the gear used to create it.

As a professional I see younger photographers doing the same thing I did when I was starting out which was setting the value for the service they provide too low. I can remember the time I sat down and really looked at what I was charging for my wedding photography and the time I invest to get to the finished product. I was making a profit but when I did I was making barely minimum wage. I immediately tripled all of my rates.  I didn’t lose any business when I did.

proTALK: Describe the feeling you get when a job is complete. Also include how you feel when you’re looking through the viewfinder at a shot you think is going to be ‘it’. Can you tell before it happens?

There is a great sense of satisfaction when I complete an assignment and the end results match or exceed my goals. I believe that you are only as good as you last best effort, so I am always striving to improve on my results. That creates the personal challenge that keeps the assignment interesting. Getting the shot comes with having a sense of it before it happens. If you see it you’ve missed it because you can’t respond fast enough to capture the moment. Knowing it coming comes with years of experience, it’s the sixth sense that comes with it.

proTALK: Your portfolio includes some notable people. How do the famous differ from the not so famous when it comes to your photo sessions?

The difference photographing famous and not famous people is mostly about the time they give you to work with and the entourage that accompanies the famous ones. For me all of my subjects receive the same creative focus. I had one session with a famous person where I was ready for the ‘get them in and get them out’ treatment, but they stayed and allowed me to shoot without a clock at my back and we got some great results.

proTALK: How have you seen technology change your industry? And how do you feel about it?

Digital has made a significant difference in the photography industry. Many of the support services required prior to digital are no longer in business. The photographer is responsible for more aspects of the finished products. Since I am skilled darkroom tech the transition was easy. I embraced digital very early on so I would be ready when it took over. I feel good about the change since more of the control goes back to the photographer, but it also makes people think anyone can do it.

proTALK: Have you embraced those changes? How?

One of the other main change is the line between the various creative disciplines has gotten blurred. Since I was already skilled in areas beyond photography, I now say I am a creative service professional with a foundation in photography. We now offer photography, video, graphic design, digital output and multimedia as the core of our services. This is what is getting us moving forward in an ever-changing market when good enough is now the business model. Our multiple creative services offering set us apart and keep client service high on our priority list.

proTALK: Victor’s work can be seen at the links below:

Ryan Duff / 3D Animator and Illustrator

Ryan Duff / 3D Animator and Illustrator

ProTalk: So you are a 3D animator. What have been the three biggest challenges in your career? To add to that, you are a freelancer, what can you say you’ve learned from being a freelancer versus a regular employee?

One challenge that I am facing all the time is building my reputation.  Studios and producers tend to want to work with a person they have worked with in the past or someone who was recommended to them.  I have never been given a job because I asked for it.  I feel you need to make yourself someone they WANT to work with.  So building your reputation is VERY important.  Clients want to know how good your work is, how professional you are, and how easy you are to get along with.  Every interaction you have with a client can help or hurt you getting that next project.  Once you prove yourself as a reliable resource for a client, they could be coming back to you for years if you’re lucky.

I love freelancing. There are those who like freelancing and those who don’t.  But I think it’s an important experience especially for those just getting out of school.  You get to work on very different jobs; it’s a great way to build experience fast.  If you expect your 4 smoking breaks, and only work 8 hours a day then freelancing may not be for you.  Clients call freelancers in to solve a problem, if you don’t make their problem your number one concern they are not going to call you back.  So it can be very stressful at times.  People react to stress differently, and knowing yourself is very important. I use some of that energy to help focus harder.

Money is a big deal when freelancing.  With a 9-5 job you know how you’re going to pay the rent next month.  Freelancing can be a scary proposition if you don’t know how manage your money.  I know at least a half a dozen former freelancers who after a huge job bought cars as soon as they got their big checks.  Six months later, they are driving themselves to the unemployment office.  What I tell myself is “This check is not a new 70 inch TV, or a down payment on a new BMW,  this is 3 months of my bills being taken care of while I look for more freelance work.”

ProTalk: Recently there has been some talk about how 3D animation and graphics are ignored by the public, which is a double-edged sword. In the one case you’re work is so seamless that it is even being used in Hollywood on dramas and non-genre type films to add and enhance certain scenes. The general public really has no clue. How do you feel about this?

Its funny it’s not just the public!  When I send my reel out to some clients they ask me “okay but what parts did YOU do?”  I tend to work as a One-Man-Studio, so the work that’s on my reel is almost always 100% me.  I always talk about the team I worked on or the freelancers that helped me but very often I was responsible for the work from start to finish.  That’s why I am starting to use before and afters in my reel.  This was looked on as kinda showing off a few years ago, but now you need to actually point out what you did.   I do a lot of commercials where their is NOT much of a budget to begin with. So the clients or producers want to biggest bang for their buck.  They can’t afford to make a 200 foot Pinball machine, so I make them one in CG.  This is what the TV viewers expect to stay interested.  So I need to come up with solutions. Not all CG is about making cool robots that transform.

One time a client came up with an idea for a spot where the on-screen talent was walking past a glass wall where you can see Chicago, and images were lighting up as he walked past them.  “I can’t find a location, so we are going to shoot it on green screen.”  A somber spot that dealt with the pain of families facing high gas prices,  was 100% CG with the talent ‘comped’ into the shot and him pointing to a 3D car at the end.  Every time I show this spot I need to show the green screen footage first to prove everything else is 3d animation. So it’s not just the TV viewers, it’s clients and producers that are expecting to get anything they want.

Another aspect that you really need to think about these days to make your work stand out is strong design.  What can you do to add more ‘sexy’ to the work?  This is where the artist in you needs to come out.  It’s not enough to just recreate a bottle in the 3D work environment. You need to go the extra mile and create a mood.

ProTalk: What is your general workflow like on any given project? I know that there are countless hours spent on design and layout. A big chunk is also rendering. How do you handle large files like that?

I learned the hard way; start your organization UP FRONT!  This sounds like a silly place to start, but when I start a project I create a new folder that has about 10 sub folders for that project.  All 3D files go into the “3D” folder.   All After Effects compositions and edit timelines go into the “AE_Edit” folder.   This way if you need to pass files to the client, or another freelancer, they can find them fast.   And at 3am when your brain is not working like it should this will also help you. It also makes it easy to archive when the job is done.  That’s my official kick off to a project.

TIME MANAGEMENT. This was a very hard lesson for me to learn. There is an old saying that goes “the last 10% of the job takes 90% of the time.”  I take that to heart.  I try to look at the whole job and see where the ‘hard part’ is.  If a client says they need to job done in 4 weeks, I say to my self 2 weeks. Because your going take 12 days not 10 so your already late, then there will be changes, revisions, and the final layer of polish…and now by they way the client wants the logo BIGGER!   If you use the 4-week number your doomed.   So you need to get your client something to see as early as possible to manage changes and expectations.

DO THE HARD STUFF FIRST.  A client I’m working with wants to see cigarette smoke burning from a hat. The client wants to see the hat, but a hat is easy.  Smoke is hard. So I spend the time to look over the 3-4 apps, plug-ins, & stock video, trying to find the best way to do the smoke. So identifying what you CAN do in the TIME and BUDGET is very important.

CHOP THE WORK INTO SMALL BITES.  Every job can be looked at as a bunch of mini-jobs.  So a car commercial is a little editing job, a small 3D car turntable job, and a simple text animation job. I try to take one task at a time, and leave a placeholder for the other parts.  This is where you need to identify if you need help, if you can bring someone in to handle some of those little jobs you may be able to get your job done faster.

RENDERING! It’s not free. It still requires a great number of hours to do all that. Time is money, especially in the 3D world.

ProTalk: What are some of your own personal projects that energize you during periods when you need that little extra push?

I love my personal projects.  I feel it’s VERY important to ‘play’. How often have you been working on a project and said “It would be so much cooler if they did this…”  Well no one is stopping you when it comes to your personal projects.  I also used my personal projects to lean new techniques or software.  Right now I’m working on a super cool car commercial for a company I don’t officially work with.  But I’m really using it to test out Vray’s distributed rendering with my 5-computer home render farm.  I have another project waiting in the wings that I’m going to use to lean more about he new version of Realflow.  But finishing the project in this instance is not the point, as long as I learn something new and had a fun time doing it then it was a success.

Keeping your creative juices flowing is very important. Look at the work of your co-workers or peers.  Surf on Vimeo at least once a week looking for cool stuff.  I have a link on my browser bar ( It’s is nothing but crazy art projects and cool design. Whatever your interests are make time to re-charge your batteries.

A strategy that I adhere to, to help prevent burnout is to limit your personal projects.  You can have one personal project that directly relates to your professional work, one project that you can use for work but is not directly related to your current work (learning web programming), and one project or activity that has NOTHING to do with your work (mine is playing pool). If you spread your personal time between all three, you can slowdown your eventual burn out.


proTALK: You can check out Ryan’s work at




tn_small_conferenceEarlier in 2013 SPI Creative had some presence at the Chicago Minority Business conference held at Navy Pier. Specifically we were asked to speak at the Crowd Funding Conference where participants learned the critical role that visuals play on social media and crowd funding sites. We examined the overall impact that video makes on sites like Kickstarter and Funder Hut. We had some great interactions with guests and the founders of Funder Hut also participated. Check them out right here.

Thanks to Powel Photography for the use of the picture above.


tn_small_memabirdSPI Creative had the unique opportunity to assist MEMA-Music, a 501 (c)3 organization that has come up with a unique program that integrates socially conscious music from the 60’s and 70’s and uses it to help teach history to middle school kids. One of the featured schools where it was introduced was north side’s Stone Scholastic Academy and it’s 8th grade classes.  Songs from artists like Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Crosby Stills and Nash, Sly and the Family Stone to name a few were introduced to the kids, most for the first time, whose lyrics were examined as a tool to explore the social political climate of the time during the Vietnam War era and the Civil Rights movement.

Kids were asked to explore lyrics’ meaning through self expression, individual and group study and discussion. Cumulative projects included posters, multimedia presentations and television PSAs that the kids put together. SPI Creative provided video and audio recording assistance. Many of these projects will be available on the MEMA-Music site soon.



In 2010, Travel Show host Katrina Wright from Travel Delight Media stopped by our shop to record her voice over for the Dubai travel DVD now available on Amazon. Get is here. We cut and helped her master the VO for the Dubai DVD. She promised to come back when her next project was shot. Cut to 2012. All her footage has been shot at a new location and is being edited and finished here at SPI Creative and will again be available on Amazon for purchase.

It is a beautiful trip to a place of deep history, culture and relevance. The location will also be featured as a backdrop for the new James Bond opening sequence.  How’s that? You’ll have to wait on both accounts for the release of the film and the travel video. Pleasant travels.