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Budget-minded videos, Part 1

Aug 13, 20033 mins

* How one man built a successful video engineering firm using off-the-shelf equipment and software

MSNBC has nothing on Kevin Brewer. Three years ago the former network television video engineer established a post-production studio in his home for only $5,000, leaving the corporate monoliths and million-dollar broadcast booths behind for a stair-flight commute. 

Now, he engineers outdoor adventure shows for Fox Sports and news reels for NBC using off-the-shelf software and digital video cameras you can buy at Circuit City.

“Advances in consumer technology have brought the cost of high-quality equipment down to a reasonable level,” says Brewer, who owns Creative Visions IMC, a production firm in Clermont, Fla., geared to the network television market.

Brewer started Creative Visions because he wanted to work more creatively on his own terms. With annual revenue approaching $100,000, his creativity is paying off — plus, he gets to spend more time with his co-worker and wife, Julie.

Network studios like ABC and NBC typically spend at least $60,000 (and sometimes millions) to build professional broadcast booths where network engineers add text and overlays to live video footage. Text swooshes around a 3-D logo on CNN; an NBC peacock slowly changes from a black-and-white photo to a modern day three-dimensional logo — all for about $500 per minute.

Brewer is in demand because he creates the same pro videos for a fraction of the cost using all his own original footage. He transfers the video files from his digital camera to his computer hard disk drive over Firewire at 13M bit/sec. Then, he uses Avid Express DV ($1,300) software to cut and paste the video clips into a professionally edited reel.

Adobe After Effects ($700) software lets Brewer add cool layering and motion-capture (frame-by-frame) techniques. Then, using Pinnacle’s Titledeko Pro ($200), Brewer adds anti-aliased text overlays and creates transitional effects from a cadre of 300 preset filters.

Brewer also saves money by burning his own DVD clips instead of sending them to expensive production labs; shops at online outlet stores such as; and makes sure he rides on the cusp of just-good-enough pro quality.

Brewer’s approach frees him up to hire top-flight effects professionals to assist on his ever-growing project list and focus on controlling manpower overhead instead of production costs.

His most important lesson: Video engineering is more about story telling than expensive Betamax equipment. For Fox Sports, Brewer traveled cross-country, visiting top-tier fishing lodges and shooting the best entertainment and dining venues. The results, shot on consumer-level cameras, look exceptional.

“It was the most professional-looking show in the country,” he says, citing how the location made the equipment less important.

Of course, there are quality trade-offs. Some digital video cameras make the final footage look more like local cable access than a Hollywood movie. Brewer thinks he has found the best consumer-level products that match his story-telling style, and his clients are impressed.

Because digital video cameras are designed for specific purposes, choosing the right one is critical.

Next time we’ll explore how the right niche camera can help save on business start-up costs. 


John Brandon is a technologist, product tester, car enthusiast and professional writer. Before becoming a writer, he worked in the corporate sector for 10 years. He has published over 8,500 articles, many of them for Computerworld, TechHive, Macworld and other IDG entities.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of John Brandon and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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