• Published in Film + Web

Part of a series of posts about great film, web, or design artists and their work abuzz online and in-person.


The most recent “Star Wars” film, “The Force Awakens,” made an effort to bring back practical effects alongside cutting-edge visual effects. came across a showreel which shows how BB-8, Maz Kanata, and the Millennium Falcon were crafted together. This is a must-watch for anyone interested in how complex and massive work like this breaks apart:


PewDiePie, aka Felix Kjellberg, makes $12 million on YouTube for swearing while playing video games. Forbes recently looked at the highest paid YouTube stars to see what they have in common. In a world of carving out your niche and making money in untraditional ways, videos like this one by Felix show you that anything’s possible:

Vertical ad example on Snapchat. Burger King project by Conor Champley via Behance.

Vertical ad example on Snapchat. Burger King project by Conor Champley via Behance.

The strange phenomenon that is Snapchat is experimenting again with vertical video ads. The company — who once charged $750,000 to advertise with them for a day, before dropping their prices to $100,000 — usually takes 10 second ad unit. But now, according to ADWEEK, they’re now trying 2.5 minute trailers. Even though Snapchat has told USA Today that vertical ads have a 9x higher engagement rate, we’ll see how well that goes over. (Hat tip to Chris Thilk for the lowdown.) Here’s more about their pitch for vertical video ads:


Aaron Proctor
Founder, FWD:labs
Director of Photography site

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This year we published 13 articles on film, web, and design, in addition to sharing a few dozen posts on Facebook / Twitter and hosting three more salons. Here are our favorite subjects covered this last year.

  1. Video on Facebook is Getting Better, But It’s Missing One Key Feature
    While there have been a ton of big improvements to video on Facebook, it still sucks for content creators when compared to YouTube.
  2. How to Level Up on Your Creative Projects Without Burning a Hole in Your Pocket
    Our guest post by Jackie Lam of Cheapsters broke down how to learn something new, using the example of learning how to record music.
  3. Behind Surrealism in Car Advertising
    We came across a fairly recent television spot and dug in deeper to find its creative team and other similar work.
  4. Opening Title Sequence for “Halt And Catch Fire”
    We enjoyed how every detail of the AMC show’s opener worked for setting the look and feel. An analysis of the work was also featured over at Art of the Title.
  5. “When you create social media accounts or a website for a film, is it bad PR to just stop updating it after all releases are done? Or should you delete ’em altogether?”
    We enjoyed Luke Winkie’s article at The Daily Dot, citing films that flop at the box office. This one came from us from Chris Thilk of Movie Marketing Madness.
  6. Design in Mind: 5 Steps for Telling A Design Story
    Our guest post by Andrew Linderman framed up how to talk about your work effectively without falling back on visual aids.
  7. “We don’t ask for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”
    We stood behind at least one thing Taylor Swift did — her stance with Apple Music’s initial payment plan for artists, which were even more pitiful for smaller artists.
  8. Motion Poster for “The Forest”
    We shared one of the marketing pieces made for Jason Zada’s upcoming film “The Forest.” We also enjoyed the film’s microsite at
  9. Tips for Your Crowdfunding Video
    We looked at six easy ways to make your crowdfunding video a slam dunk. This post was especially helpful for filmmakers who have been stuck figuring out how to get started with structure and content for a pitch video.
  10. The New Online Indie Frontier
    We interviewed Vivienne Medrano, who has been producing high-quality independent animated works and distributing them directly to her audience online.

Got a favorite that’s not here? Browse the archive and comment below.

Finally, check out our 10 best posts of 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.


Aaron Proctor
Founder, FWD:labs
Director of Photography site

Part of a series of posts about active artists with the tenacity to take their project to completion.


In between doing oversized black-and-white paste-ups in cities around the world or collaborating with filmmakers Agnes Varda and Darren Aronofsky, self-described “pervasive” artist JR (a pseudonym, in case you’re wondering) directed a short film with Robert De Niro at Ellis Island.

“Ellis” is an immigration-centric short film whose voice-over driven narrative touches upon the hyper-relevant refugee crisis of years past that’s still relevant today. It premiered at the New Yorker film festival and even had some free public screenings in places like London’s Lazarides Gallery and New York City’s Galerie Perrotin Pop Up Space. The Tribeca Film Festival also spotted it projected on some walls.


While the trailer has been online for months, the entire 14-minute film is now officially free on iTunes. The project, which included a photo book by JR called “The Ghosts of Ellis Island,” was part of the Save Ellis Island initiative, which hosted his “Unframed – Ellis Island” exhibit, featuring black-and-white photos of immigrants who used to be there. The short, which featured those archival photos, was written by Eric Roth, shot by Andre Chemetoff, and scored by Woodkid.

Having just visited Ellis Island myself for the first time last week, I wondered about the other buildings on the island, which are all unavailable to tourists after being abandoned over half a century ago. In an interview for the MPAA’s Where To Watch blog, the artist shared that he “was documenting something that will never be documented again and has never been before, which is pretty rare.” (In some of the press material for the film, I learned there’s a “hard hat” tour, where you can see some of JR’s installation in person.)

The production process was also not that rushed: to give more wear-and-tear to his work, he installed the paste-ups months before filming the walk throughs. The review in the New York Times also cited an epic snowstorm and that “permission to shoot on a historic site that had been closed to the public for 60 years.” His mantra for releasing the film for free, he told the Times, has been “to just try to get people to see it.”

Impressive. Most impressive.

(The last time we featured JR was in 2011 when he won the TED prize for his global art project.)


Aaron Proctor
Founder, FWD:labs
Director of Photography site


It’s so rare to see surrealism in advertising, let alone broadcast spots for cars and made with practical visual effects. This Honda ad from 2013 does both, ringing true to its name, “An Impossible Made Possible.” The spot only aired in Europe.

Agency: mcgarrybowen London
Client: Honda
Executive Creative Director: Paul Jordan
Executive Creative Director: Angus MacAdam
Copywriter: Richard Holmes
Art Director: Remco Graham
Planner: Max Kennedy
Agency Producer: Richard Firminger
Media Agency: Starcom
Production Company: Gorgeous
Director: Chris Palmer
Editor: Paul Watts
Postproduction: The Mill
Colorist: Seamus O’Kane
VFX: Tom Sparks
Audio Post: Parv Thind
Audio Post: Wave

(Uncredited in the trades, the music in the spot appears to be the main theme [“Carter Takes a Train”] from the 1971 movie “Get Carter,” originally composed by Roy Budd and re-recorded by L’orchestra Cinematique.)

Equally impressive is their behind-the-scenes video, where the illusions are each revealed as in-camera effects.

The ad is reminiscent of one for the Audi A6 called “Illusions,” which was made in 2004. Production company Amarillo Films and director Anthony Atanasio did the spot with agency BBH London and creative director Russell Ramsey. Learn more about the behind-the-scenes work in a case study by the VFX house, Framestore. The spot only aired in the United Kingdom.

(Hat tip for AdWeek pointing out this one in their review for the 2013 Honda spot.)

Other well-known surrealist ads (of which there are very few) include Volkswagen’s Polo BlueMotion. Inspired by René Magritte and Salvador Dali, DDB Berlin was involved with the surreal ad, along with art directors Marian Grabmayer and Marcus Intek, with illustration by Kirill Chudinskiy. More on



(Note that Volkswagen owns Audi. Perhaps they’re fans of surrealism?)


Aaron Proctor
Founder, FWD:labs
Director of Photography site

Part of a series of posts about great film, web, or design artists and their work abuzz online and in-person.
Illustration by Stuart Goldenberg for the New York Times.

Illustration by Stuart Goldenberg for the New York Times.

I remember years ago when I started seeing high-end fashion stores with flat screens mounted vertically to better show runway walks and thinking how well that format suits the visual story. Remember when David Lynch came out saying films should not be watched on phones? Later he made a 6-second film for Vine, which is great. Now when the motion picture narrative is mobile-first, maybe there will be other creative opportunities. There certainly have been in with other devices: interactive films for iPads and mobile/mouse aware videos in 360-degree and full virtual reality.

Most readers here on FWD:labs are filmmakers who love all kinds of horizontal aspect ratios. But audiences who create, consume, and share more video on their smart phones may buck the trend. Farhad Manjoo wrote a piece for the New York Times entitled “Vertical Video on the Small Screen? Not a Crime.”

In her research, [Zena Barakat, a former New York Times video producer who spent the last year researching vertical videos as part of a John S. Knight journalism fellowship] found that many people didn’t reorient their phones to watch horizontal videos in full-screen mode. “As a person who makes videos, I was like, ‘You’re not seeing it the way we intended it!’” Ms. Barakat said. “And they were like, ‘We don’t care!’ They found it so uncomfortable to hold the phone the other way, and they didn’t want to keep switching their phones back and forth.’”

The argument that vertical videos are visually displeasing is also confounded by the stats. Vertically oriented videos are the lingua franca of at least a half-dozen social and video apps, including Snapchat, whose users watch three billion mostly vertical videos every day. In its Discover section — a spot for professional publishers — Snapchat lets media companies post both horizontal and vertical videos, but the company says vertical videos perform up to nine times better on many measurements of “engagement.”

John Lasseter accepting the Special Achievement award for 'Toy Story' at the 68th Academy Awards in 1996.

John Lasseter accepting the Special Achievement award for “Toy Story” at the 68th Academy Awards in 1996.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has ramped up its online presence in recent years, shared a great excerpt on Medium from John Lasseter’s presentation at “Technology and The Evolution of Storytelling.” It’s from an event of theirs called “The New Audience: Moviegoing In A Connected World,” which was held on May 12, 2015:

“Surround yourself with people you trust.

Be thirsty for knowledge.

It will always make your work better. The market is changing really, really quickly.

Who knows what the business will look like ten years from now?”

While technology keeps changing, it’s still oh-so-important to focus on story and creative teams to keep pushing forward. Gary Horsman, a graphic designer who left a comment on the article, sums it up best: “I think the takeaway from all of this is that even if technology changes and evolves, so long as it serves the immutable art of traditional storytelling, you can create great things that move people through emotion and empathy rather than simply with spectacle. The biggest challenge is surrounding yourself with good, smart, creative people who know how to focus on the storytelling. It’s too easy to find engineers who are invested in technology but have no artistic sense or those who are easily swept by the tools themselves rather than how they serve the bigger cause.”

Universal's dominance of the 2015 box office

Universal’s dominance of the 2015 box office

Todd VanDerWerff at Vox penned a think piece called “Universal made more money than any movie studio ever this year — without a superhero movie.”

Here’s another juicy excerpt from the piece about a fresh strategy amid a field of perpetuating the status quo:

“Universal’s strategy seems to be finding underserved segments of the marketplace and then aggressively courting them at times in the year when audiences don’t have a lot of other options. Certainly Straight Outta Compton appeals to more than just black audiences, but it doesn’t hurt that it’s been the only major release about black characters in months. Similarly, opening the female-friendly Pitch Perfect 2 at the early height of male-centric summer movie season proved to be a counter-programming masterstroke. Release schedules still matter, and so far, Universal has scheduled its films better than any other studio in 2015.”

The article goes into detail about its infographic, which clearly show how each studio cashes out on their films. For Universal, the article notes some stats for six films made them the biggest cash cow:

  • Fifty Shades of Grey ($166 million domestic; $570 million worldwide)
  • Furious 7 ($351 million domestic; $1.16 billion worldwide)
  • Pitch Perfect 2 ($184 million domestic; $285 million worldwide)
  • Jurassic World ($638 million domestic; $1.61 billion worldwide)
  • Minions ($315 million domestic; $963 million worldwide)
  • Straight Outta Compton ($75 million domestic; no worldwide release to speak of yet)

Now, all of this will be obsolete once “Star Wars” comes out, but cheers to trying to diversify.


Aaron Proctor
Founder, FWD:labs
Director of Photography site

  • Published in General


If you’re like me, you get tons of ideas for creative projects you want to work on. I oftentimes feel momentarily possessed, jotting down ideas and business plans without much restraint. Right now what consumes my free time (besides idling on my couch, eating potato chips and thinking about working on things) are blogging, writing fiction, and exercising. If I had an infinite amount of time, which nobody on this planet is privileged of having, I would venture into making music and joining a roller derby team. First world problems, am I right?

I don’t think of myself as a very ambitious person. I certainly don’t aspire to cure cancer to to solve world hunger, but I love getting knee-deep making stuff and making sure I have enough time for what I love to do. So how do you level up on projects that could potentially take up a lot of time and resources? Here are a few ways to help you get started:

Example: Learn to record music.

Well, 20 years ago you essentially needed to have access to top-notch audio recording equipment that only professional engineers in the industry could afford. These days, all you really need is a computer, home audio recording software, and a few basic items.

  1. Start small.

    Schedule some time each week to work on your project. I had started a 40 Days of Dating Your Passion Project series, which offers some parameters on how to approach working on your project. Find free or very inexpensive ways. For instance, if I want to learn about home audio recording, I can watch videos on YouTube the Pensado’s Place or fiddle around with Garage Band on your computer.

  2. Give yourself a time limit.

    After X amount of time, access how your progress and your interest. Is the momentum still there? Do you still want to keep doing it, to invest more, and to keep learning? It’s totally okay if you don’t feel like doing it. You can either drop it, take a break, or try to figure out what’s working and what’s not. If you want to keep working on it, proceed to the next step.

  3. Level up

    Alright, so you are getting more into recording music. What to do now? Allocate a little more funds and time to the project. If you were spending 30 minutes each week before and zero money, maybe you can spend an hour each week and invest in a USB audio interface for a few hundred bucks.

  4. Borrow stuff.

    If you have pals who are into the same things as you, ask them if you can borrow equipment or buy their used wares. Or you can join a meetup to meet fellow hobbyists. You can also hunt for used equipment on Craigslist, Freecycle, or at one of those rock ‘n’ roll flea markets (yes, they exist). When I started getting into roller derby last year, I was able to loan gear during practice until I felt committed enough to spend $300 on my own gear. I waited close to a year before doing so. I would’ve felt bad throwing money away if I bought all that gear and didn’t end up using really.

So the idea is that you eventually “level up,” gradually spending more time and resources into the project. Ideally there should be a natural momentum.

Hope this helps get you started. Have fun!

What project are you working on, and what are some challenges you have for starting out?

(Originally published at Cheapsters.)

Jackie Lam
Personal finance blogger helping people thrive in the gig economy

  • Published in Film

“What’s the first rule of being a cameraman? That’s right! A cameraman does not speak! If you want to speak, you will speak with your eyes!” This ad campaign from 2011 for New Zealand’s Sky Television and their coverage of the 2011 Rugby World Cup is making the rounds today.

Like so many viral things, these fun ads are making the rounds today void of attribution, re-cut and re-uploaded without a hint of what we’re even watching. Here’s the lowdown on that campaign:


Director: Tim Bullock
Production Company: Prodigy Films
DP: Geoffrey Hall
Editor: Adam Wills
Producers: Jonathan Samway and Mark Matthews
Post: Perceptual Engineering
Color: Toybox
Sound: Liquid Studios

Agency: DDB New Zealand
Executive Creative Director: Toby Talbot
Creative Director: Regan Grafton
Copywriter: Gavin Siakimotu
Art Director: Natalie Knight
Agency Producer: Judy Thompson
Account Director: Danielle Richards
Account Manager: Brad Armstrong
Managing Partner: Scott Wallace


“Sound Speed”

“Camera Combat”

“Sound Exercise”

“Shooting Exercise”


For the campaign, the agency even threw together a fake Twitter account with a whopping 11 tweets, including this gem:

The folks over at InspirationRoom showcase more of the ad variants and marketing collateral.


Aaron Proctor
Founder, FWD:labs
Director of Photography site

  • Published in Film + Web

Part of a series of posts about great film, web, or design artists and their work abuzz online and in-person.


Always a fan of film websites that rock the boat. Shudder is one: a paid, online video platform that focuses collections of films into horror-specific genres, like “alien intruders,” “romantic bloodsuckers,” and “zombie jamboree.”

The site itself is actually a spin-off of Dramafever, a Korean-based site that focuses on Korean dramas and Latin American telenovelas — just with a little less creative copywriting involved.

The True Detective season 2 opening credits are pretty impressive visuals, crafted by Patrick Clair and the folks at Elastic. KPCC’s John Horn recently interviewed Clair for the radio program “The Frame,” which cites aerial photographer David Maisel as a key influence for some of the intro. Wired Magazine’s write-up also cites photographer Jake Sargeant.

Careful when you claim “first.” Jameson’s ad agency, 360i, got some press for a Facebook and Instagram “first” video ad that gives off a 3D look. But, as one astute commenter noted, they weren’t “first.” There’s already a whole Reddit for these things, which are coined split-depth GIFs. Here’s one that’s more well crafted for example made by a fan, ScottInLNK:



Aaron Proctor
Founder, FWD:labs
Director of Photography site

  • Published in Film + Web


Since the jumpstart to crowdfunding — whether the platform of choice is Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Patreon, Seed & Spark, or the old fashioned way with cash and check — asking for money to produce your project has only become harder. There’s more peer competition and funder fatigue from the market being so saturated. That means it’s make-or-break to pitch clearly, quickly, and convincingly, especially if it’s all sitting online. Even if you’re just passing the hat (or flooding the social feed?) with friends and family, it’s important to knock it out the park that what you’re working on creates value.

At FWD:labs, we have experienced projects that have successfully funded and completely failed. What’s clear is that ones with passion, professionalism, and persistence all have a much better chance of reaching or exceeding their goal. There’s even research that’s been done to show that netting a certain percentage right out of the gate ensures a likelihood of making the goal. This makes the pitch video all the more important.

Instead of putting everything in the video — like who’s attached and what equipment you want to use, which all could change by the way — here are some tips for starting short and sweet. Remember, you’ll want to send out reminders anyway with your updates, which is the best way to go into more detail and share incremental progress.

  1. Start with the Kickstarter standard, e.g. who you are and what you do — in one sentence. Cut to the chase of what the fundraising is toward, e.g. what you’re making — like a logline framed with emotional specs or features. Give a little context to provide legitimacy, e.g. what you’ve done.
  2. Highlight why you’re making this project and how it solves a problem. Mention a competitor or trend that people can relate to, then why the world need you instead (or in addition) to have your project, e.g. “these other kinds of films have X, but we will disrupt all that with Y.” Stress the simplicity to help or enjoy the project, e.g. “you don’t need to in the industry to help.” Provide some context (and visuals for cutaways), e.g. “we’re working on X, Y, Z now and A, B, C can start once we’re funded.”
  3. Share what’s unique about the project’s values or features, e.g. “we believe in X, Y, and Z” or “we have A, B, and C.” Give an example of each of at least three points, which could be illustrated with b-roll.
  4. Briefly discuss the budget in a clear and transparent way, suggesting elaboration on the website body copy. Consider sharing the total goal in an itemized way as to explain and justify the total dollar goal. Perhaps justify why you’re crowd-funding versus self-funding.
  5. Incentivize the “give” and connect back to the big picture, e.g. “you’re going to get X, Y, Z from investing.” Perhaps put together a really cool starter kit, e.g. early bird special only available this time. Connect the reward of investing to a higher value — for people who don’t want to just see your project, e.g. “we’re setting the stage for [fill in the blank] with this effort.”
  6. End with a vision for the future, e.g. “this isn’t ‘the end,’ we’re just beginning.” Tease the roadmap without dropping dates, e.g. “invest now, here’s where we’ll go.” Leave a sense of urgency and importance, e.g. “we’re laying the building blocks for X, Y, Z.” And don’t forget to tie in the supporter as much as possible to the language, e.g. “we are building….. and you can become a part of that vision” or “with your help, we will all build the future.”

Remember to rehearse or bullet point out your script. Give ample care to video and audio quality, perhaps with similar aesthetics to the final project. And aim for three minutes or less.

Once it’s published, get the word out. Consider thanking individual donors, either individually or via social media. And don’t forget to schedule out some progress to share and remind your fans with project updates that are not all about the Benjamins.

What works for you? Share it in the comments below.


Aaron Proctor
Founder, FWD:labs
Director of Photography site