Getting the Shot: Meeting David Hoffman of Brainstorm
In today’s vlog we bring you insightful advice from David Hoffman, Sales Engineering Manager for Brainstorm US. Shot at our NYC green screen studio 6A.
How can Brainstorm benefit TV producers?
The immediate thing is, some of the advantages of shooting in a virtual environment is that we’re not bounded by any laws of physics. It sounds somewhat fanciful, but it allows us to do things like putting big monitors without having to worry about setting up stands. We have to worry about rigging things in practical set, you know, how we’re going to hang lights, how we’re going to hang monitors, how we’re going to move things around, set pieces — things like that. In a virtual environment you can do that with just a click of a mouse. So we can animate big screens to come in, we can make them disappear; we can move set pieces off to the sides without having bunch of grips come in and move that piece around. It also allows for production staff to really speed up their throughput. So they can shoot a lot more content in less time or more content in the same amount of time that they would’ve normally be able to because they don’t have to trade things out. Also since we’re doing it real time, this is going right to storage as a final composite rather than going through after-process like after-effects or some other third party product, where we have to track all the motion and composite all the scenes and edit them together.
So you can come in and you can do prototype shoots and quickly see if it’s gonna work, make changes to existing shows, very quickly tweak to audience response and things like that.
What do you like about your job?
I started out about 20+ years ago after graduating from the University of Maryland as a filmmaker. And I got into documentary filmmaking. From there I got some great advice from a director I really respected, I was working on his shoot. He said, “You know, if you really want to become a director you should become an editor. Because you’ll know what happens with your material once it gets into post-production process.” OK. So I became an editor and started working as an editor. And I got some advice from an engineer that I really respected, “Hey, you’re a really good editor but you should be better at it. If you’re an engineer, you know how your machines are gonna respond to your editing and things like that. You should really learn about engineering.” OK, great. So I started learning engineering. Next thing I know, I’m back at the engineering racks thinking, well it’s about as far away as I can get from doing TV and film production. About that time I got an opportunity to work on an emerging project with the company called Discreet Logic up in Montreal. And they had a thing called “virtual set”. And it didn’t really exist back in that time, this is 1995-96. And I got back into it and it seemed to be the perfect combination of all the things I like–I really enjoy working with a talent, enjoy being in a studio, I love working with technical teams, behind the camera, in the control rooms, and working with design teams, seeing all that come together and be able to watch and enjoy people’s reactions to something we all work on. People would watch TV shows we worked on and we were just sitting there, say at a local bar, and someone who’s watching goes, “Hey, I really like that show!” or “I really like those graphics.” And you feel like, “OK, I’ve added something of value to someone’s experience.” So this is great. I am really feel very fortunate to do something I like everyday.
What is the funniest experience you’ve had on set?
There was a good one actually. I was working with a national broadcaster for a series of projects for elections at one point. Director walked out of the room and I was there working as a virtual studio person. And so this national talent came in. She’s looking around, “Where is the audio guy? Where is the director?” And I said, “O, they just stepped out for a minute.” And she replies, I only have this much time, we need to do the shoot. And she goes, “Do you know what you’re doing?” I was like, “Sure!” And so I grabbed the audio pack, walked over; I was able to mic her up. And I said, “OK, we gonna have to run the mic here at the back of your dress” and she says, “No problem, we’re all professionals. Let’s get it done.” And then she wanted me to direct the shoot. I was just finishing up the directing, thinking, yeah this thing is gonna get me fired! I’m doing this on a union shop, this is not gonna be good. The rest of the crew came back in, and they were a little touchy about it and they said, “Well, we’ve got to do some pick up shots”. So the director stepped in and she stopped him, she said, “No, he knows what he’s doing, I want him to direct the shot.” I’m like, “O, no!” I directed the shot, the director was happy with it, everything went well. It hit the air and everyone was satisfied.
What do you wish you knew when you first started?
Well, when I first started, I came from a background of, I grew up as a child of a military officer. And the base that I was on had Hollywood production going on there. But it had really not a lot of influence. I was driven to go and shoot, but I didn’t really know what I was doing and I didn’t really know what direction I wanted to go. And I kind of stumble into it when I finally got to college and I found my way into film program. I realized this is what I want to do, this is the professional area of expertise I can go into. So if I can go back some 20+ years and give myself an advice, I’d say: Spend more time researching (and it’s certainly easier now with Internet) researching areas that you find interest in. Weather you gonna find jobs there or not, at least you can find out where that interest is. Associate yourself with the people who are doing the thing you want to do. This is the advice people give all the time but it’s very true. If you want to be something, be around people who are that something. And then be like them, and then find out what it is that makes them successful, and how you can incorporate that into what you are and who you are. That would be it. I think I probably stumbled around a little bit more than I wanted to, trying to find my way, but maybe it made a little bit more challenging for me and made me work a little bit harder.
Any advice to aspiring videographers?
Shoot as much as you can. You know, nothing beats the practice. For every pitch thrown in a major league baseball game that pitcher has thrown a thousand pitches in practice. So given the tools and availability of those tools, the ease of use and being able to do pre-production, production, post-production, and distribution now with just your phone, you can’t complain about not having an opportunity to go out and shoot and be creative. If it’s of an interest to you then do something about it. If you see something, take a picture of it, write a story around it, and develop something around it. As a videographer, study the film credits, see who the other DPs are. Honestly, those people work hard to make the movies you enjoy, if you really aspire to be someone, find out who they are now and do research on them, get involved with Linkedin, other social media platforms that will allow you to reach out to them. I guarantee you, most of them are going to respond and say, “Absolutely! You need some information? I’m happy to give it to you” or “I can direct you to the organizations.” They’re not as unapproachable as you think.