Saint West Filmworks is an award-winning San Diego-based video production company. Co-founder Matt Jensen discusses capturing authentic voices, remaining flexible and transforming their creative process with Hightail.
It’s a young company but we’re not new to this
Saint West was started about three months ago but before that we were all part of a video production studio called FortyOneTwenty. Matt Mangham and I founded that company in 2007 and last year we sold it to a San Diego-based creative agency. They’re still operating the FortyOneTwenty brand, while Scott Rieckens, Matt and I went on to found Saint West Filmworks earlier this year. So we’ve actually been around a while.
The creative scene in San Diego is small but growing
The city has a very vibrant art and music community, which helps fuel our inspiration and connect us with talented folks. We’ve also got some great creative agencies in town that are growing quickly. It’s an exciting time to be a creative here. We love working in our own backyard but I would say that about half of our clients are outside San Diego. We’re so close to LA that we get a lot of spillover. It’s great to be within the sphere of LA…without having to live there.
Our work isn’t focused on any specific niche
We do a little bit of everything, which has led to a pretty diverse client list. We’ve enjoyed working relationships with brands like Ubisoft, Sony and Facebook on the commercial side and networks like NBC and ABC on the TV side. We recently finished up a feature documentary for a client that was about a year and a half in the making.
We mix strong visual aesthetics with authentic storytelling
We try to stay away from scripted or tele-prompted stuff that tends to come off as advertising. We like to go with real stories told by real people as much as possible. Combine that with the very cinematic style of our incredibly talented Director of Photography, Matt Mangham, and you get videos that just draw people in.
No one on our staff went to film school
Matt started dabbling with video in college but it wasn’t what he was studying.I went to school for electrical engineering and Scott Rieckens studied journalism and was focusing on social media marketing. I had dabbled with small video projects in high school, but when I met Matt and saw the amazing stuff he was producing as a non-professional, I was inspired. We started teaming up on stuff and next thing you know we’re running a business.
Our process comes from years of asking the same questions
Whenever I’d meet with new clients, I found that I always needed to know the same project details. So when Scott came on board and I was training him on dealing with clients, we decided to put everything down on paper. Now we have a standard questionnaire that covers everything from their product and goals, to project deliverables, budget and details like using actors or voiceover. It’s a great way to start clients thinking about what’s involved in making a video and often helps them clarify what they want.
We’ve casted productions off Craigslist
We’d find people online and bring them into the office for an audition – all non-union because we had no idea how to handle SAG talent. But soon we had clients who wanted talent that fit a specific profile and had to be good actors. We thought, “we’ll never find this on Craigslist” so we hired a casting director, who found exactly what we needed. Then we started working with a location scout, who saved us from driving all over town trying to convince homeowners to let us into their property for a shoot. Bringing in these specialists really elevates our process.
You do months of planning for a few short days of shooting
Pre-production is all about getting everything lined up, from creative development, scripting and storyboarding to hiring casting directors, location scouts, stylists, set designers, etc. It can be condensed into two weeks or drawn out over months depending on the size of the project. Then all of that work comes together for a handful of intense, focused 10-14 hour days where you actually do the filming. It’s crazy and hectic but we love it.
Another production company introduced us to Hightail
We had been looking at other options, most of which are by smaller companies. If I’m going to spend time investing in a service and asking my clients to use it then I want to be sure that it’ll be around for the long haul. We were in Portland and one of the guys from the stock footage company, Story & Heart, told us that Hightail had just introduced Spaces. Those guys have a good pulse on what tools are available so we were interested to see how a stable company that’s been around for a while approached the problem.
Spaces is now a big part of our post-production process
We use it to deliver edits to our clients and get revisions and commentary from them using the inline video feedback tools. It’s easy for them to use, which is very important. For us, interpreting what they’re saying is now much more intuitive. Before Spaces, we’d upload each new edit to Vimeo and use email to collect feedback, which quickly became unmanageable. Our clients would spend hours describing the specific point in the video that they were discussing. And when you have multiple reviewers, you get 30 emails that you have to compile into something usable, instead of the concise list of thoughts that you get with Spaces.
Everyone commenting in the same place is big
When you can see other people’s comments together, issues get resolved much faster. Clients can go to the exact frame, select the problem area and write a note about it. It’s easy to get everyone on the same page. Being able to add new versions is great because you can go back and view past versions and check the comments to see who said what. With Vimeo, we were uploading a new link every time. On Spaces, all the versions are stacked in the same place so you can track the evolution of a project. It’s one of the features that attracted us in the first place.
I love that Hightail is attacking collaboration
Being able to use Spaces to highlight something on a video and have a conversation about that particular element is a big deal. So is the fact that you can reference all the comments and the evolution of a video with the versioning feature. And because we deal with a lot of high res video, it’s nice to know that the company providing these features is an established brand.