March: Lion or Lamb? You Make the Call…

Isn’t it March that comes in like a Lion and goes out like a Lamb? I don’t know…it seemed to end the way it began. Sure, the cold, rainy weather subsided, but everything else has been rather steady.  I’ve said it before, “I love challenges.” That’s probably why I get involved in so many things, so I can accomplish more, and possibly learn something new along the way. Of course, I always task myself with so many activities, that managing my schedule is a challenge by itself.


The first half of March saw me scrambling to complete the video presentation for my church’s 45th anniversary. Coordinating times to interview pastors and members early this month was very difficult, and rescheduling sessions, given the rapidly approaching deadline, was nothing less than nerve-wracking. Once I had footage of most of the interviews, I also had to shoot footage of the ministries discussed. I also learned that there were harsh transitions from one topic to the next, which prompted me to write in a narrator, ably performed by Advent Lutheran Church member George Howard.


Of course, as can be expected, I was called to a commercial shoot the day I planned on recording George’s scenes. Claire Michel dutifully stepped in and worked with George that afternoon, ensuring I’d be able to use the much-needed footage. During the next several days, I slowly pieced together the 45-minute presentation, with breaks only for sleep, auditions and quality time with my wife.


Since I was working on software that was bundled with my laptop, some unplanned (but to be expected, I suppose) delays worked their way into the process. The Friday afternoon before the anniversary celebration, I began encoding the final product. My estimate for rendering the video was off by half an hour, which made me tardy to the “rehearsal” that night. After the computer started processing the file, I realized there were some inconsistencies in the audio I just had to correct, especially considering the acoustics of the space where it was planned to be shown, but I dare not interrupt this time-consuming process. Once completed, I raced to church with the video as it was, dropped off the “rough draft,” and returned home to put the final touches on the presentation.


The anniversary celebration was a wonderful time. The food, lovingly prepared, was delicious; the emcees reminded us of the time when the church was formed; and the band entertained us with songs from that era. My contribution was also well received, and complemented those “Remember When…” discussions that were taking place during the luncheon.  I had my camera with me, so I could share the event with people who could not attend, and returned home after the luncheon to assemble the new footage.

 

In years past, I utilized the full-service provided by Kingdom Tapes, a Christian-based business that focuses on premium audio and video equipment and services. While the quality of their products is first-rate, Layla shared with me a “Do-It-Yourself” online duplication service, whose prices, I seriously doubt, can be beat.  Mind you, Kunaki is not intended for novices, but after your first experience with them, no matter your level of expertise, you’ll definitely want to use them again. In fact, after producing the anniversary video, I uploaded previous DVDs I created.

I’d like to share with you my experience with Kunaki, but before I move forward, let me put your minds at ease — I am not an agent for the company, nor do I receive commissions from them. Their prices are so low, they don’t make enough profit to offer an affiliate program.  When you first visit the site, you will be thoroughly underwhelmed by its text-only home page. No Flash, Java or ActiveX here. Navigation is clunky at best. On my third video, I still had to click around to figure out how to get my file uploaded to their server. I think I have it down pat now.


After you create your account, you must download their acquisition program. Power users might save this program to their computer for future use, but it’s so small, I just re-download it from their website each time and select “Run,” rather than “Save.” It asks for publishing information about your project (Title, Run-time, DVD Region, etc.), and then asks for information to create the disk and cover labels and insert. You may select from their limited photo gallery, or upload your own images. A preview shows a sample DVD case, which you can turn over and look inside, to verify how your final product will be presented.


A word of caution before the next step: In regular type, indistinguishable from the rest of the instructions, is the statement, “Upload may take some time.” This qualifies for the understatement of the millennium. Actually, I’m glad the application doesn’t hoard all the bandwidth during the upload process — that likely would have initiated some marital turf wars. Let me just say that, with DSL Lite (128 kbps upstream), it took nearly 24 hours per gigabyte (roughly 20 minutes of video). It was the better part of a week to get the file onto their servers. So, you’ve been forewarned…either have a super-fast Internet connection, or the patience of Job!


Once uploaded, you can order a preview copy for free. The free preview is one per account, not one per video; just as an FYI. You can order as many copies as you would like.   The first ten copies are always offered at $1.00 apiece. Are you not floored? A fully duplicated DVD (or CD), with a custom label, cover art and insert, shrink-wrapped for one dollar per copy…it’s nuts! If you need more than ten copies per shipment, the cost is slightly more…usually between $0.75 and $1.75 per copy. Typical handling time is 24 hours, and you have a variety of shipping options from which to choose.


     As a matter of fact, if you would like, Kunaki will even set up a storefront for you (for free), where you can sell your DVDs and CDs online. They take care of all the order-taking, money-collecting, merchant fees, and handling and shipping…all you have to do is promote the link to your product or online store. To put this into perspective, some of the major players out there (Amazon, CD Baby, etc.) charge about $5.00 per item sold through their service, and you still have to provide the product. Kunaki charges nothing to list with them, does all the work for you for only $1.00 per item, which is automatically taken out of online orders, before a check or PayPal deposit is forwarded to you.


This isn’t just for my film-maker friends out there. Imagine making a fun home video to send as gifts, or if you have a recording of your kids’ athletic or dance events, you can quickly and easily share it with the other parents (and make a little uniform/dance outfit money on the side), or create a video to help promote your home business via mail or at vendor fairs.  Well, that’s it. I just had to brag about this service. Again, there are no “kick-backs,” but if you want to help out my church, you can order your own copy of Advent’s 45th Anniversary or support Mike’s Dog House with a copy of Save 2 Lives.


While we’re on this topic, a very good friend of mine, Susan Carcaba, asked me to prepare a demo reel for her. She had new video footage of work she has done recently, and wanted an updated reel to promote her talents as an actress. Although this project wasn’t nearly as complex as the church video, a couple of the segments presented some unique obstacles to overcome.  Given the recent activity, I have considered upgrading to a more comprehensive video-editing suite…now I just have to choose which one…

 

Anyway, somewhere during all that, I was also able to shoot a promotional video for Winn-Dixie, and audition for several commercials, including a regional spot for Time Warner, Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and the television series Burn NoticeIt was the first time I was called to audition for that series, and I am excited at the prospect of working with that production this season.  Although I was not cast for that particular episode, I received a few candid, complimentary and encouraging words before I returned home.

 

…and talk about “biting off more than you can chew…” I worked on a commercial in Central Florida one day during March, when I had a live performance of “Death by Decaf” scheduled that same night near TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.  Of course, you never want to press a director and crew to conform to your “personal” schedule, and then again, you don’t want to slough your commitment to any production.  I nearly got burned that day, and can only be very thankful that traffic along I-4 and I-95 allowed me to honor all my responsibilities.  It was a learning experience, for sure, and I realize how lucky I was that I hadn’t stressed either production’s budget or reputation.

Layla and I also started car (truck, SUV) shopping, in part to prepare for toting a stroller, diaper bag and other baby-support equipment and supplies, at which neither her Mazda RX8 nor my Pontiac Solstice would be effective.  Also, boarding and disembarking from either of our “sportscars” are starting to pose a challenge of a different kind for her.  We found a couple used Ford Explorers (not a difficult task, mind you), which seemed to satisfy most of our requirements for a third vehicle, and at the end of the month, decided between the two.  Since the purchase, a few “quirks” have surfaced, which we are dealing with now.  (You get what you pay for, right?)

 

As a side note, we discovered those “techniques” people share with you about how to handle sales professionals really do work…even though it wasn’t our intent to “play the game.”  We knew exactly how much we could afford (the most important and most difficult decision to make), and let the salesman know that number up front.  He proceeded to show us a vehicle that was outside of our range.  We reminded him of our financial limitation, after which he offered a test drive.  The vehicle was quite sound, and was worth every dollar we were willing to pay, but not what he was asking.

 

Remember this:  Car sales representatives work on commission.  Their time is too precious to show you a vehicle they know you can’t afford.  If you say one number, which is lower than what is written on the car or truck and the salesman insists, he’ll either have to show you a different vehicle, negotiate closer to your offer, or write off that very expensive time he invested in showing you a vehicle he knew you couldn’t afford.  I don’t think you’ll find too many who will take that big of a risk.  He went through the typical routine of “going to talk to his manager,” yadda, yadda, then came back with a slightly better offer, but still nowhere near what we stated was an absolute.

 

We continued our search, and since Layla’s cellphone battery died that day, we had no way of knowing (until the next day), that that salesman called us back, very likely before we drove away from his dealership, with the number we proposed to him from the very beginning.  Like they say, if you are willing to pay more, the dealer will gladly take your money, but if you stick to your budget, the vehicle you find will be a perfect fit, you can appreciate the honesty of the professional who worked with you on the deal, and you will have no regrets.  In the end, we did not purchase that truck, only because we found a comparable one for a little less, but we appreciate that dealership working with us, even if it took us being willing to leave (and actually leaving) in order for us to see eye-to-eye.

Now, we move into April:  The weather is getting warmer (hopefully not too warm too fast), students, teachers and other seasonal employees have Summer in their sights, and the annual frustration-fest called “tax season” has reared its ugly head once more.  After all the receipt-hunting and mileage-tallying that consumes our time when preparing forms for the IRS, many of us look for a better way to manage our financial lives to make this time each year less stressful.  Taking advantage of systems such as Quickbooks, Mint.com or (the soon to be discontinued) Microsoft Money are a great way to keep and organize records.  I’d also encourage you to seek the advice of financial professionals who are familiar with the unique nature of your industry, to help you not only during tax time, but throughout the year to make smart business decisions.

After all, studies show financial concerns are the top stressors for most people, which can lead to health concerns and negatively affect our quality of life.  To lead a long, happy, healthy, fulfilling life, eliminating (or at least reducing) such stressors are an essential first step.  Something to chew on until next we meet…

  

Scott J. Smith

www.ScottJSmith.com

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