An exclusive Q&A with Jason Flakes, President & CEO of Visual14

Posted on Tuesday, November 23, 2021

How to Organize a Large Production: On Set with Hilton Hotels

President & CEO, Visual14, Jason Flakes, is coming off of a big project. He and team worked with Hilton Hotels to create photos and videos for six of their hotel brands. In this exclusive interview with ProductionHUB, Jason discusses the project as a whole, including how he organized a project of this size.

PH: What was the client experience?

Jason Flakes: Experience is much bigger than a final product, and our client Hilton was ecstatic about their experience with us. Firstly, we know from our conversations with them that they had a really fun experience on set and in all the production-related processes. That includes every aspect of working with the team-- meetings, reviews, the actual shoots-- the client has to like you, your team, and your company and enjoy working with you. The finished product matters, but your client has to enjoy the process every step of the way.

Part of being enjoyable to work with for the client is being organized. It helps the client feel confident in you, what you’ve proposed, and what you’re doing. When you lay out the goals and the steps to get there, and the client knows what to expect, you ameliorate the anxiety inherent in any project. The greater the complexity, the greater the uncertainty for the client. If you can decrease the anxiety factor for them, their trust in you skyrockets and automatically makes the experience more enjoyable for them.

There was significant complexity to the Hilton project because it included six distinct brands under one umbrella brand. Each of the six service lines had to be cared for as the unique entities that they are, and there were multiple layers of people advising and consulting. We had to be very cognizant of the distinguishing factors between the brands, such as color palettes, props, and feel. It often felt like working with six different clients at once, because you absolutely have to convey respect for the individualization of the brands and ensure there’s no crossing of brand signifiers. Add on to that the complexities of shooting in an industrial kitchen setting with enough room to house over two weeks worth of perishable food items and for prepping, storing, cooking, and photographing, plus almost thirty people . . . it was no small undertaking. But our client had a great time because right from the start we really projected being organized, deliberate, careful, dedicated, and above all, communicative and approachable.

PH: What was the experience of the professionals?

Jason Flakes: The professionals on this project had a great relationship with the client and with their fellow team members. We meshed well. We were able to collaborate cohesively and develop a good system to tackle a truly complex project, which included being meticulous about communicating with each other and with the client.

Rapport with your client is critical to everyone’s experience. I’ve worked with Hilton previously and having prior successes with them has developed into larger projects, like this one. We’ve been building a trusting relationship with them and becoming friends. A lot of people look at things from a purely “business” perspective, but if you look at the large companies that do really well, they have a family dynamic. They like and trust their employees, and vice versa. Your reputation with all of your clients is critical. If you have a demonstrated track record with other clients, it will drive new relationships as well as build into bigger projects with your existing clients.

Part of having an incredible team-- which can make or break the experience for the company and the client-- is being thoughtful about who you’re selecting. I’ve been mentally flagging people throughout my career as I work with them, knowing that they’d be great for a future project. Make mental notes, think about the future, and be cognizant of who might be a great fit for what kind of project. When you get to that project and you’ve been building a mental network of outstanding, competent, reliable, hard-working people, you’re able to be Nick Fury and assemble the Avengers, your project dream team. It’s so much harder if you don’t. I was able to bring on board a producer I’ve worked with previously, and he was able to help me vet the next round of people we brought on because he had history with many of them. He played a key role in the talent we secured. Seth Weber, our Director of Photography, is another person I’d worked with in the past. We picked the right chef, the right lighting crew, and the right gaffers. I’ve selected subcontractors in the past, but this was definitely the biggest team I’ve assembled so far and with that many people working together, things can go badly, quickly. I think because we had such a great network with demonstrated histories of success and talent, there were no weak links. When your team members are confident in one another, it makes the experience that much better for them and the client.

PH: What was the outcome/final product?

Jason Flakes: I view outcomes as successive steps. Our on-set outcomes were terrific. We shot in-camera so the client could see the material, realtime, thanks to our Director of Photography. That minimized edits later on and the client knew exactly what they were getting and felt comfortable and confident in what we were doing.

Secondly, we met every one of our deadlines. We set up-front expectations about realistic timelines, so there were no surprises. The only hiccup was that we were sent some Pantone colors for backdrops, but one of them was the incorrect palette for the brand. We had to change them all in post-production. Our editor was amazing, so it was fine, and we already had a green screen as a contingency plan, which is what we ended up using. Contingency plans are imperative for meeting deadlines. You have to think about the “what-ifs”, brainstorm, and troubleshoot ahead of time, proactively and as a team, so that you don’t have to be reactive on set.

The client was so happy with the finished product that it was almost challenging for them to make additional decisions. They were ecstatic that we met their expectations in producing a truly polished look. They told us we exceeded their expectations. And our team was definitely proud of the work-- the process and the product.

PH: What were the lessons learned?

Jason Flakes: This project was an invaluable learning experience. The professionalism and talent of the team really stood out as a defining factor. I cannot emphasize enough the value of a great team. Things go wrong because there’s a kink in the chain, and having a good team is what saves you from that.

We made the decision to go in and set up the lighting a day early, which was great. It took us almost a whole day, and our DP did some 3D lighting setups and visualizations ahead of time so we could really get a feel of how it would look. Figuring out the lighting setup ahead of time instead of trying to figure it out the day of was a game changer because even if it’s not perfect, it’s way closer than it would be if you were starting the same day.

Planning the resources to do a behind-the-scenes video across the course of the project is a great investment. It’s a powerful marketing tool that enables you to market your brand by showing people your capabilities. Seeing the finished product is important, but seeing your process and what went into the product is invaluable. Going forward, I’m planning to do this for all of our projects so that the client not only gets the deliverable, they also see how much hard work you put in to bring their vision to life. On this project, seeing the stop motion animation process was incredible for all of us since it’s so labor intensive.

There are a few tweaks I would make in the future to a project of this scale. One is to have a more streamlined editing process and make sure the client is really aware of how the revisions process works. Another is slowing down the decision-making process where possible. When everyone is excited, they feel compelled to make decisions right away. But it’s not always necessary, and you run the risk of being pushed into a corner that’s not real. For example, selecting talent can be difficult, and it can be more or less expensive. If you have more time, you can dwindle that expense down. We got in a bind because it seemed we needed to have talent by a certain time when in actuality, it wasn’t a real constraint.