We all need inspiration to do good work. And when it’s your job to be creative or turn out creative work, you’ll need a good supply. For me, inspiration comes in two forms: passive and active. Passive inspiration is when you see a movie about hiking and you’re inspired to go on a hike. You weren’t looking for inspiration, but it found you and you acted on it. Active inspiration, on the other hand, is more of a learned skill. It’s how we combat the “blank page” syndrome when we have an assignment due, or find a new way of telling a story when we need to stand out from the crowd. If you google “inspiration,” you’ll find all kinds of top ten lists. You’ll see items like “yoga and meditation” make the list. I find them enjoyable but they don’t give me the kind of inspiration I’m looking for when I need to be creative on demand. So this is my personal list of ideas on finding inspiration that work for me, and perhaps you’ll find some are inspirational to you.
steal like an artist
There is a great book called “Steal like an Artist” in which author Austin Kleon presents the theory that all art is borrowed or stolen…but when stolen ideas are combined with other stolen ideas, something new is created. Pablo Picasso is widely considered the most unique, innovative and influential artist of the 20th century. Yet he found inspiration from so many sources that there is a book devoted to it called “Picasso’s Variations on the Masters.” I’m not endorsing plagiarism of any sort – but if you borrow themes and ideas from other art or media and apply them to your project, your inspiration can drive you to create something new. And once these ideas pass through your copy editor or animator’s hands, they will usually take on a unique shape of their own.
look at other media
Many great creators borrow from other forms of media. Musicians turn to art, writers turn to music and painters turn to current events for inspiration. When creating videos, I used to turn to other videos or films for inspiration. But more and more, I may refer to a colorful Matisse painting when communicating my vision of a set, or the music of Thelonious Monk when describing a rhythm to video editing. When you are stuck for inspiration, try looking beyond your chosen field or media.
change your routine
This one isn’t for everyone because some people thrive on routine. But have you ever been forced to drive a new route to work or take a different train? Do this on purpose and concentrate on being observant. You’ll see color in a mural on a brick wall or advertisements at bus stops that you haven’t seen before. How could some of these items find their way into your work? This has worked for me in the past – particularly if I’m paying attention during my revised routine.
I’m fortunate to have three seasoned creative directors to brainstorm with here at MK3. But sometimes we find ourselves thinking the same way or coming up with big ideas that might be missing something. I learn a lot when I share my projects with my wife or talk about them with my kids or a friend outside my industry. Sometimes people give you a new perspective, a lightbulb goes off and it becomes a fresh source of inspiration.
write it down
Always try to be open and ready for inspiration to strike. For me, it used to happen when watching football on a Sunday. I’d see a great commercial, be inspired and forget about it later. Now I always keep a notebook handy to jot down the notes needed to find the commercial after the game. Inspiration can be found anywhere, though, so keep a notebook handy in your car or even when you go for a walk. And it doesn’t have to be as “old school” as a notebook – you can also use the “Notes” feature in your phone. The point is to write it down and create an inspiration “stash” that you can review when needed.
I hope these ideas help you to get inspired, stay inspired and do great work.
Working with a team “gone virtual” can sometimes feel like you never leave work. When working from home, people have access to their “office” 24/7 which makes it tempting to send late night emails or feel obligated to respond to one. While this may seem convenient, the lack of separation between work and home hours can have some serious long-term effects on productivity. To avoid burnout, it’s important to step back and find ways to keep your team energized and productive.
When your whole team is together on-site, desk drive-bys and set “office hours” make it easy to be aware of what others are working on and when people are available. At home, availability is seen as more “flexible,” which can make it feel like you always need to be ready to jump in. To avoid blurring the line between work and play, set boundaries for yourself and expectations for your team. Weekly meetings and recurring check-ins can help your team gain a better perspective on the group as a whole. When people have a better understanding of what everyone else is doing, communication is more efficient, reducing the need for frantic midnight emails and round-the-clock availability.
recharge with rest
Without the commute to bookend the workday, or the lure of leaving the office for lunch, it’s easy to forget to take a break while bulldozing through your to-do list. When you’re working in an office, there are natural breaks built into the day — stopping by a coworkers desk for a chat or spending a few minutes at the “water cooler” catching up — while at home it can feel like you’re drowning in an uninterrupted stream of work. Keep your head above water by consciously building breaks into your day. Taking just ten minutes in between video calls to stretch can make all the difference.
shift your focus
Though we’ve all been learning and adjusting over the past year and a half, many still feel they are living and working in an uncertain environment. Under conditions like these, setting large outcome goals can be daunting and leave people feeling overwhelmed…which can lead to…you guessed it — burn out! It’s easy for a team to be discouraged when unforeseen problems wreak havoc on schedules and cause projects to pivot. Instead, try setting smaller weekly or monthly goals for your team as checkpoints throughout a project. These more bite size, cumulative accomplishments can help keep your team motivated and feeling successful, while still leading you to reaching your ultimate goals.
The structure of the workplace is continuing to change at a rapid pace, and looking forward, we predict many of these changes will remain in place. Some companies have given up office spaces entirely while others are implementing practices to get their team back to their communal workspace. Here at MK3, we’ve adopted a bit of a hybrid model, with the majority of our team working remotely while a few choose to come into the office. Regardless of where you feel most productive, we need to continue to adapt and work together, even while we’re often apart.
Script writing is one of the many creative services offered here at MK3, and since writing is one of my areas of expertise, chances are I’ve touched your script. And chances are there’s a part of my script writing process that may have disappointed you.
I don’t track changes.
I’m sure that tracking changes during the creation of a document is an integral part of your creative process since your work is often passed among partners, departments and collaborators. For you and your team, it’s important to see where the document was and where it’s going, in real time.
But to me, a script with tracked changes looks like an autopsy, with its guts pulled out and spilled all over the margins…or an electrical engineering schematic, one loose connection away from a short circuit.
By the time it gets into my hands, a script is no longer a document to be dissected, but a creative element with a life of its own. Its visual presentation is as important to me as the words all lined up in a row…and I can’t concentrate on a story that looks like a dish of tri-color pasta.
So when a “colorful” first draft arrives in my Inbox, I hit Accept All Changes and Stop Tracking, and then get to the work of writing. And please remember that during each revision and review process, I’ll keep track, lose track, run track, back track, fast track, track time, track down, get side-tracked, stay on the right track, cross the train track, wear a track suit, use a laugh track, create a soundtrack…but I won’t push the Review button and Track Changes.
And so, on behalf of the MK3 Words Department, I apologize…retroactively and in advance.
Imagine a world where people roam freely, travel, interact with each other, and even…socialize! For almost all of 2020, what once was our reality became a fantasy, almost overnight. Now, with the advent of vaccines and COVID-19 treatments, our former reality could be making a comeback. But what will this “new reality” mean for content producers? Will there be a “roaring 20’s” of video production and live action shooting? Will in-person events flood venues around the world? The answer, of course, is…maybe. How we return to producing content is going to change, and in some cases, for the better. The pandemic created a lot of things, including opportunity – an opportunity for you to make your videos more relevant, engaging and inclusive.
In our pre-pandemic world, video production values were always the goal, for good reason. The overriding belief has always been that the more thought, design and effects you could “see on the screen,” the more engaging and effective the story would be. These high-quality productions were either filmed on-location or created entirely through digital post-production.
Stories, however, don’t stop. Companies like yours have always had stories to tell, but during the pandemic, it became difficult to tell them in a relevant way, especially with in-person location shoots nearly impossible to produce. How are you going to interview subject matter experts or get footage of your new manufacturing plant? DIY. People started generating their own video content, and while some was good, most of it did not have the production values any of us are used to. So while it got the job done, something even more interesting happened.
Experienced content producers developed a few DIY ideas of their own…and began using existing technology to remotely capture content at a higher level of quality than ever before. Combining remote recording technology with live remote directing, content producers were able to capture people saying or doing things anywhere in the world…without any COVID concerns, and with much smaller budgets.
Here’s an example of how these new pandemic techniques could be used to everyone’s benefit in a post-pandemic world.
Your company is producing a video showcasing your revolutionary new product. A production crew has already shot interviews on location, captured beautiful b-roll, and the editing process is on schedule to finish the video in time for next week’s sales conference.
But then, you get the call. A key opinion leader in Australia needs to be included in the video and is only available next week. A few years ago, this type of call would turn your entire production process on its head, but now with a little scheduling, a pre-production meeting and ensuring basic equipment is onsite, you can easily and efficiently record the interview remotely. An experienced director can help ensure the new interview footage will be consistent with the rest of the video, and monitor a screen to review the shot and direct the interview…all at a fraction of the time and cost it would have taken to send a crew around the world to shoot one interview.
Will this workflow replace traditional video production? No, probably not. Will it become another valuable and effective tool storytellers can strategically use to make sure your story is told efficiently? Yes, I think it will.
Content providers and their clients are going to have a hard time letting go of some of their new pandemic-inspired “best practices.” And that’s a good thing. Because many of the inspired innovations made us all think of projects in a different way and gave us increased flexibility as a result. Like everything else in our post-pandemic life, it will be a balancing act between “business as usual” and “lessons learned.” The pandemic didn’t teach us anything – our reaction to it did – and it may have opened up a world of possibilities…especially in a world that soon will be fully open.
When everyone is in the office, there’s a buzz of ongoing communication and problem-solving that happens organically…popping your head in an office to ask questions, bumping into a colleague in the hallway, or hashing things out over a lunch conversation. Most of us have been physically away from the office over the past year and have developed new ways to communicate with our colleagues and clients. And while there may have been an overload of video conference calls with our most talkative co-workers on mute; we’ve all upped our “technology” game and are successfully getting our jobs done.
When the pandemic is over, or at least “over-ish,” some of us will return to the office full time, while many will remain remote. How do we switch gears to foster relationships and find the communication approaches that work for in-person and remote teams simultaneously?
1. Make the Connection
The most important step is to take the time and get to know your team again. The pandemic has made an impact on all of us and has forced many to reevaluate their priorities. Take the time to understand what’s important to your team members – in the workplace and their personal lives. Showing a genuine interest will naturally form connections, enabling you to uncover what you have in common and how you are different.
Tip: Don’t always be “all business” – remember to be human and socialize. The stronger you connect with each member of your team, the easier it will be to foster strong partnerships!
2. Be on time, be prepared, be present, and participate
These are best practices for all meetings, whether remote or in-person. If you are facilitating the meeting, make sure you have a clear agenda that can be accomplished during the scheduled time. Don’t make people afraid to attend your meetings because you always run late. If you are attending the meeting understand that you are accountable to be actively engaged, to listen and to participate.
Tip: End each meeting by confirming key decisions and next steps. This ensures that both you and your team walk away from the meeting with the same expectations and allows anyone who is unclear the opportunity to ask questions.
3. Discover what makes your team the most productive
Discover what types of communication work best for your team. Stop sending the same email that no one responds to or scheduling the weekly team meeting without an agenda. Pick up the phone and have a conversation, reach out for relevant topics the team wants to address, or schedule morning coffee with a colleague to catch up. Bottom line: if team communication becomes stagnant, change it up. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find the sweet spot to jump-start conversations and engagement.
Tip: This will likely be different for each of your team members and clients, so being flexible is an important part of being an impactful and productive leader.
Following best practices for team communication – remotely and in-person, helps build strong connections and fosters collaboration. Always use your team’s time wisely and be respectful of everyone’s work and life boundaries. By making yourself accessible and open to communicating in a way that works best for them, you’ll continue to hold your team’s respect – as an expert and as someone who’s genuinely concerned about their well-being.
A familiar face. A familiar smile. From summer intern to full-time employee, MK3 is welcoming back our very own Alex Miller. In her second take, Alex seamlessly transitioned into the role of Associate Producer and Operations Manager here at MK3. And that means assisting and supporting our creative teams and owner Joel Kaplan – all of which plays a crucial role in MK3’s success.
Alex was quickly welcomed back because it seemed like she never left. And now that she’s experiencing even more of the company, she’s finding it to be a place that thrives on team chemistry, open communication and lots of good humor.
“Everyone knows each other so well and works together so seamlessly that you always know you have the full team behind you on every project.”
Alex Miller, Associate Producer and Operations Manager
When the offer to join MK3 full-time presented itself, it was an opportunity she couldn’t turn down. MK3’s creative capabilities and attention to detail was an attractive mix for her, and she knew she wanted to contribute to the team. Alex found her transition from student/intern to full-time MK3 employee a smooth one, not only because she’d already interned here, but she felt well prepared after four years at Emerson College.
Now her focus is to take that preparation and apply that excellence while paving her own path. Part of her duties when she was an intern was to help tell the MK3 story, through our social media marketing. It’s “take two” here at MK3 for Alex, and she’s ready to help us tell yours!
People like to say “there’s strength in numbers,” but in the fast-moving world of digital marketing, sometimes “less is more.” Here at MK3, we provide clients with in-house creative solutions, and we do it all with a tight-knit team!
The formula is simple: fewer people leads to higher efficiency. Despite our smaller team size, MK3 continues to stand out and stand up against our much larger competitors. Within our mid-sized team, everyone is aware not only of their own responsibilities, but of those around them as well – which makes for ease of collaboration and project sharing. By having a smaller, more nimble group, we’re capable of turning small projects around quickly, and turning large projects into team efforts.
jack of all trades
With a mid-sized team also comes flexibility. Every member of our team plays a crucial role not only in our success, but in our clients’ success. To ensure we’re meeting deadlines and communicating with our clients effectively, we all have the ability to wear more than one “hat” at once. For a mid-size team, our most important skill might be adaptability – the ability to adapt, pivot, and move quickly from one project, and one skill set, to the next. At MK3, when it comes to “hats” – one size fits all.
the three c’s
Collaboration, communication, and culture. They’re vital to any team, but at MK3 they’re the keys to our success. Our “open team” culture encourages a free flow of information and ideas – creative directors brainstorm with producers, and interns often work directly with our owner. By cutting out the dreaded “middle man,” we’re able to be direct and transparent with our clients as well. This helps build strong relationships, allowing our clients to not only trust us with their projects, but with their vision as well.
“MK3 offers an open line of communication between the client and the creatives, so there’s nothing lost in translation.” Joel Kaplan, Principal/Founder
MK3 can tackle any project by working together and being flexible. At MK3 we’ve created a fun and fast-paced work environment where each member is essential and appreciated, and every voice has the ability and authority to make an impact…on our business and yours.
Here at MK3, we offer in-house creative and full production capabilities. You could say we’re a “hybrid” and it’s what helps to set us apart from other agencies. We work hard to deliver high quality creative and production for our clients, and in the process…things don’t always go as planned. Take video shoots for example. We take all the necessary steps to ensure an easy breezy video shoot, but we’ve also learned to think on our feet and adapt when things go a little sideways. Here are a few things we’ve learned when faced with production day “speed-bumps.”
when you’re a bundle of nerves…
We often shoot on-camera interviews with SMEs (subject matter experts), so we know how hard it is to deliver information on-camera. We also know that sometimes the nerves kick in. Our goal is to make the “talent” feel as comfortable as possible, so our directors take a few minutes to build a relationship with the interviewee before we start recording. We try to loosen them up by asking them about their hobbies, last night’s game or tomorrow’s weather – anything but the topic at hand. If we get a natural conversation going, the “natural” part often rolls right into the interview itself. Another trick: ask the first 3 interview questions again at the end, because by this time your “talent” will have loosened up enough to give better answers than the first 3 tries.
when you’re just not finding your light…
When it comes to video, it’s all about the light. No one wants to look shiny or washed out…or feel like they’re sitting in the dark. For in-person shoots, we always conduct a site survey in advance to plan all our shots, but with remote virtual shoots that’s not possible. So before every remote interview, we conduct a “tech check” to ensure the lighting looks good, the interviewee’s face is lit and there are no distracting shadows. We also check that their background is appropriate and looks put-together, but not staged. We may ask our on-camera subject to move around the room to find the best lighting and background for the video. When there are limited lighting options, having your “talent” sit in the soft light of a sunny window is a simple solution!
when you’re all shook up…
With so many user-generated videos being shot on smartphones or tablets, footage can end up looking unsteady or “shaky.” When it comes to stabilizing the video, skip the “selfie” approach and try placing your camera on any available flat surface. People are learning to be more resourceful, and are making “tripods” out of almost anything! Try resting your phone/camera against your laptop screen or a stack of books. No matter where you lean or prop up the camera (and especially if you have to hold it), you should always line up the camera lens to your eye height. This way, you’re not looking up or down at the camera and you’ll always be in frame no matter how you move.
when you’re at a loss for words…
When producing videos, we spend a lot of time on how it’s going to “look.” But for interview-driven videos, what it “says” can be even more important. What do you do if you set up the shoot, sit down for the interview, ask all the right questions…and get all the wrong answers? Conduct an interview before the interview. Set up a pre-interview phone call prior to shoot and ask all your questions in advance. This gives your subject a chance to practice their answers and you a chance to guide them if answers are straying from the main message. This way, your on-camera interview doesn’t turn into a fishing expedition and you know the answers in advance, so if nerves or memory issues kick in, you can guide the answers in the direction you need.
when one size does NOT fit all…
Each client and video shoot is different – with unique goals, needs and schedules. The more user generated and remote virtual “interview” shoots we produce, the more our clients find themselves not only on-camera, but as a crucial member of the crew. Make sure you know the tech needs and limitations of each client, as well as the person you’re interviewing. Are they using a Mac or PC? Can you send them higher quality recording equipment? When it comes to remote shoots, it’s important to know just how user-generated or professional the end product needs to look. But as always, the goal is to get the best sound and video possible for our clients’ needs.
Of course preparation is vital when planning any type of shoot, but here at MK3 we’re not afraid to think on our feet. You can’t prepare for every problem that occurs, but you can prepare to be prepared…and that’s always part of the plan.
Working from home isn’t always as easy, or as relaxing, as it sounds. Video conferencing platforms and document sharing tools help us to connect and collaborate with our clients and co-workers, but how do we stay focused and motivated? Here are a few tips from our hard-at-work team!
rise and shine
As simple as it sounds, how you start the day can help create the day you’re looking for. We’re all creatures of habit, but whether you’re a morning glory or a night owl, try waking up 30 minutes earlier than you usually do and set the tone for the day.
Every morning, Mary starts her day at 5:45 am by working out and walking her dog Séamus. And then, she gets ‘dressed’ for work. Dressing professionally, even if she’s working from home, gives her an added sense of “normalcy”.
“When I make the time to do pilates and walk my dog Séamus at sunrise – my day always turns out better.”
Group Program Director
create your own distractions
Make sure your home workspace is comfortable, but not too comfortable. Many people’s “home offices” are actually quieter than their “work offices,” so having no distractions can actually…be a distraction. Play music, open a window, or find a spot with a view that engages you without sidetracking you.
Jonathan describes his at-home workspace as peaceful, though he misses the constant hum of the office, and the accidental hallway meetings and watercooler collaborations.
“I have an actual office I work in that’s quiet and free of distractions, on the top floor of our home. My desk faces windows, so I play ‘70s soft rock music throughout the house and enjoy a sunny, leafy bird’s-eye view of the neighborhood.”
Executive Creative Director
separate but equal
Working from home does have its perks, but drawing a line between personal and professional space is key. Set up a unique workspace away from your kitchen and out of your bedroom, avoiding the clutter and personal baggage that come with each.
Mark has made sure his workspace is for working, and his living space is for living. With a laptop, your office can be anywhere, so making a workspace that works is up to you.
“It’s helpful for me to separate my “home office” from my “home” and keep to “normal” work hours. Taking breaks is an important part of being comfortable and allows me to refuel, recharge and stay productive throughout the day.”
one screen at a time
Keeping up with clients and projects is a constant, but consider limiting your screen time beyond that. Social media is one of the best ways to stay connected and informed, but one of the easiest ways to get distracted. Take advantage of your own discipline or your smart phone’s screen limit feature to restrict time on your phone.
Like all of us, Jenn relies on email for the majority of her internal communications, so there’s not a lot of reason for her to be on her phone during the day. Jenn also unplugs by closing out of work tabs on her computer when she’s done for the day.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to being a project manager, so scheduling out when I’m going to be working on a specific thing is important. When I’m online, I tend to give myself a time limit for a certain task.”
Having creative pursuits outside of work can help keep your mind fresh. Working from home has allowed John to spend some of his newfound time (what commute?) focusing on his hobbies. By being closer to his home studio, he can spend more time painting after work.
“I’ve always had creative pursuits and hobbies outside of work. For years it was live music, and now it’s oil painting. When I have a few paintings I’m working on in my off hours, it gives my brain a fresh perspective for the design and storytelling I create during the day.”
give me a break
Routines are great for establishing balance, but we recommend taking breaks to make your day a bit more enjoyable and productive. From writer’s block to energy lags, we all have obstacles to overcome throughout the day, so do things that let your mind escape from work, even for a few moments.
The pandemic has allowed Joel to establish a new work/life balance – he now takes a more traditional lunch break and regularly checks in with his wife, while still maintaining his productive day.
“I think it’s critical to get away from the computer every 2-3 hours. I find myself getting fatigued with the computer screen and a lot of virtual events. Some days I try to finish my day at home for a change of scenery.”
Change is hard, and adapting takes focus and motivation. We’ve all had to adapt to a new environment – many of us by moving our workplace into our homes, where we lead an entirely different life. Not letting these worlds collide has been one of the many challenges of 2020. Here at MK3, each one of us has found our own form of balance, so that we are capable of doing what we’ve always done – getting things done. We hope our tips help you find a balance of your own.