November 12, 2012 by Christina Hamlett
A Conversation with Tristan Pelligrino
American psychologist Stanley Milgram is often credited for his observations that society was becoming increasingly interconnected. Although it’s hard these days to hear the catch-phrase “it’s a small world” without getting a certain Disney tune stuck in your head, Milgram’s theories struck a personal note this past month when my husband and I returned from a short vacation in Alexandria, Virginia. Waiting in my inbox was an email inquiry from Tristan Pelligrino, the co-owner/marketing director of a video production company, regarding his interest in penning a guest blog for my Media Magnetism website. It wasn’t until I scrolled down the page that I discovered his business was not only located on King Street a few blocks from our hotel but that we had also walked passed his address – and maybe even him – numerous times without even realizing it. Adding further to the realm of coincidence, yours truly once worked in the same industry but on the opposite coast.
What was it that first ignited your imagination about launching a career in video production?
For as long as I can imagine, I just wanted to own a business. But when I collaborated with a long-time friend who was just finishing up documentary school, we had an opportunity to develop a business around video. The chance to build a company and career around video was just an amazing opportunity that I didn’t want to pass up.
What type of training did you pursue to best position yourself for a successful venture?
My lifelong dream was to be self-sufficient and have my own business. So, I decided to go and get my MBA after a few years of consulting. I felt that an MBA would help round out my overall skill set and give our company a chance to start off with a solid foundation.
Was there anyone in this field whose work you admired, whose business plan you wanted to emulate, and/or whose advice/mentorship was instrumental in making your dream a reality?
At the time we started 522 (eight years ago), video was just starting to be distributed on the web. It was brand new. So, we didn’t have anyone in the industry that we wanted to emulate. In fact, we wanted to be completely different by offering video designed for web consumption. Most of the premier companies in our area focused on broadcast content whereas we decided to move in a different direction.
What’s the story behind the name of the company? Inquiring minds want to know.
When we started out, Chad and I (co-owners of 522) worked full-time from 9-to-5 and freelanced from 5-to-2 (or, 522). Our business started because we loved the work first and foremost.
What do you feel best distinguishes the work that you and your team do?
At the end of the day, we are storytellers. From the outset, Chad and I decided to build a team which focused on storytelling rather than hiring an individual for a specific skill set. The folks that we bring on board have a strong foundation in film or video production, but they have an even stronger ability to communicate. We feel our team has all of the technical capabilities of other competitors, but we excel in the ability to share a story.
How would you define your target demographic and what have you found to be the most effective way of attracting prospective clients?
Our target demographic can really be segmented into two key areas: 1) Internal marketing directors and 2) Account Directors for marketing firms. Since video is traditionally a part of the overall marketing mix, we often work with those who manage their company’s brand. The most effective way we’ve been able to connect with these clients is through our online presence and networking. At the end of the day, we work with people. So, it’s important for us to show people how we work and demonstrate how we can help them develop compelling video content.
When and where did 522 open for business and what do you recall about that moment?
522 opened for business after Chad and I had a few pints at a place called Dr. Dremo’s. We both were at a place in our career where we wanted to steer the boat and dictate the type of work we did. In many cases, professionals don’t have a choice about the type of work they do when they get out of college. Yes, most get a job within their major area of study, but this rarely translates into the exact type of work one envisions. Chad and I felt that if we created our own business, we’d have the ability to control our destiny and do the type of work we always wanted to do.
What is a typical day like for you?
On most days, I do a huge variety of things. I work on our website, interact with clients, research potential clients, work on proposals and of course….watch videos!
What are some of your favorite projects to work on and what makes them so enjoyable/creative/rewarding for you?
For the most part, we enjoy projects where we are given creative freedom. It’s not really an ego thing, but it is more about the challenge. We always enjoy taking on a project where we have to absorb information and develop a concept to tell a story.
What would you say is the most challenging industry to work with in developing video concepts from start to finish?
The most challenging area of work we’re involved in is probably government. There are so many things that need to be balanced on a government project that we often spend as much time managing as we do developing the actual video content.
Are the projects you produce primarily scripted or off-the-cuff? If scripted, is this something that 522 does or do the clients provide this material themselves?
There are a number of ways to tell a story. On many projects, we develop scripts, hire talent and control the delivery. In other cases, we conduct interviews to solicit natural responses from key interviewees. In either case, we handle all of the aspects of story development.
A lot of government and corporate offices use training videos and webinars as a low-cost way to educate their employees without having to keep hiring speakers and scheduling half and full day training days that take away from their jobs. Many of these videos, however (at least the ones I recall from my own experience), are a major snore and fall short of accomplishing their objectives. What are these in-house producers doing wrong?
Well, I think your question hits on the main point – “low cost.” I really don’t feel that should be the primary driver for a training video. Rather, the training video should be designed to educate or inform employees.
If employees fly in and sleep during an in-person session or the fall asleep during a video, what is the difference? Your employees still don’t learn anything.
By creating training video content, you can develop a curriculum that is both entertaining and educational. Ultimately, the cost can certainly be less, but it will most importantly train your employees on important topics.
What inspires you and how do you keep fresh and imaginative ideas flowing on a constant basis?
I feel that a huge part of our job is focused on inspiration. But, that is one of the biggest challenges we face – finding time to generate new ideas while still getting our work done. When you get so busy, you still have to find time to check out other competitors, online video sites, other small businesses, etc. If you can’t keep up with the industry and the trends that are developing, you’ll get passed along the way. So, we have to strike a balance between doing our work and hanging out on Twitter, etc.
Tell us a little about the people on your team and the skill sets they bring to the table.
As mentioned earlier, we have a focus on telling stories. The people we have on our team all have a specialty, but they also all have the ability to tell their own story. For example, our motionographer (primarily responsible for all design/motion graphics projects) works on his own documentaries on the side. He can write, shoot, edit, color grade, etc. We feel it’s important for everyone to understand the big picture and bring their own unique ideas to each and every project.
The popularity of YouTube and the affordability/accessibility of camcorders and online editing programs have turned everyone into armchair producers. Not all of these amateur forays into filmmaking and product branding, however, are well versed on the concept of what, exactly, makes a good – and watchable – story. What are your thoughts on that?
I think your question really hits on one of the biggest challenges faced with video today; specifically, breaking through the noise. Ten years ago, it was perhaps more difficult just to get a project green lit. Now, everyone can create a video and upload it to one of a number of sites. This really speaks to the services we provide for our clients. We like to understand not only the story, but the objectives of the video. Who is the audience? What is the purpose? And how will you determine if the video is successful? For some clients, they don’t even think about how the video will be distributed or what will make it successful. We like to solve that problem up front, before anyone makes an investment.
Share something with us about video production that the average person would be surprised to learn.
In a lot of cases, clients start a project out with “can you shoot next week?” Well, in many cases we can. But, the most important part of video production is pre-production. This is the phase that you should probably spend the most time on and ensure you have a solid foundation before rolling the cameras.
With a wide range of clients, what would you like to do next?
We are actively looking to work with a small local/regional brewery and have some things in the works. After all, we started 522 after a couple of pints!
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
I feel the most powerful thing a business can do is share its story. Even if you can’t create a video or don’t have the time, it is important to get the elements of your story in front of your audience. Create original blog posts, develop a podcast or get interviewed. People really care about why you do what you do.
To learn more about 522 Productions, LLC, readers are invited to visit the company’s website at http://www.522productions.com.