Blue Chalk is an award-winning production and media strategy company based in New York and Oregon. Creative Director, Rob Finch discusses the power of intimate storytelling and how Hightail brings the studio’s bi-coastal teams together.
We specialize in nonfiction visual storytelling
Blue Chalk is two years old but we’ve already done a variety of projects from documentaries and editorial videos for publications like the New York Times, to branded content and commercial projects for companies and non-profits. Most of our videos are short form pieces that typically come in around the four-minute mark. But we’ve just done a 30-minute piece broadcast on BBC World News and are working on an independent feature-length documentary.
The short form video format is exploding
Thanks to the internet, there’s suddenly a Wild West of places to consume video with no rules about fitting into the traditional legacy parameters of 60 seconds or 27½ minutes. Now you just produce whatever works for the story. There’s a high demand for video content right now, so it’s a fun time to be in this business.
We are driven by human stories
Because you can film decent quality video on your iPhone, there’s now a low barrier of entry for video producers. But what’s often lacking in this explosion of creativity is an intimately human storytelling point of view. Our founder, Greg Moyer, established Blue Chalk because he wanted to bring documentary to the digital space and make a positive impact on the world. Everyone at the company comes from a journalism and documentary background so we’re always looking to capture intimate moments that help describe the human experience.
Though we still have to pay the mortgage
Our mission is to share the human experience but it doesn’t mean we can do pro bono work for non-profits all the time. We have to be able to sustain ourselves as a company, which is where our commercial work comes in. But even then we approach these films from a nonfiction perspective. We’re not going to suddenly come up with a big budget animation piece voiced by A-list actors.
Our name represents a basic instrument for communication
We were trying to come up with names for the business and were throwing around ideas that involved colors. We all liked “blue” because of the connection with “blue sky thinking”. I had called into the meeting from outside my home where I saw a drawing that my daughter had made with blue chalk. So I said “blue chalk” and everyone liked how it referenced a really simple way to communicate.
A story often comes together in the cutting room
When a client comes to us with a goal but without fully formed ideas, I’ll meet with Greg, co-founder Pam Huling and others at the company to brainstorm. We will develop an idea throughout the research, casting and production stages. A key focus of our work is post-production so I like to ensure we have a solid team of editors and other post crew.
It’s hard to replace being in a room with someone
We are located in Portland, Oregon and in Brooklyn, New York so constantly face the challenge of trying to creatively collaborate bi-coastally. 97% of the post-production work is done in Portland, where I am based, so putting together first cuts and getting feedback from the folks in New York is key. We’re always looking for tools that can help us bridge that geographical gap.
Sharing Vimeo links gets messy fast
We have nearly 1,000 videos in our Vimeo account and it’s impossible to track which version you need to watch. Using email to provide feedback and constantly having to note the timecode and describe what you want changed drives me bananas. Those conversation threads could end up being 60 emails long, which is overwhelming when all you want to do is make a better video. We started looking for other options and tried a few collaboration services, but none worked out.
We’ve just started our third project with Spaces
Since we started the company, we had used Hightail for file sharing so when Spaces was launched we were happy to try it. It has turned out pretty incredible. The main benefit is clearly the marking up ability. I love being able to give feedback about color correction and actually put the note on part of the screen that needs to be darker. I also used it with a music composer and she loved it. The ability to see all the versions in one place is critical because we like to test different ideas. Being able to bring back the original cut so easily is great.
Collaborating in the same workspace is essential
We use Google Docs for collaborating on scripts, project notes and storyboards. This kind of shared workspace helps minimize the number of conversations that happen on email. We think we can get to the point where Spaces is the Google Docs equivalent for our post-production process, especially as more project management features are added. We want to do all our creative post-production management for a project in one Space.