#AMZG Production Podcast | Episode 07: Coming Attraction Roulette

Cliff and Peter play a fun game of Coming Attraction Roulette – they put the titles of upcoming films into a bowl and pick them at random for an indepth discussion. They discuss Black Mass, Bridge Of Spies, Hateful Eight and more.


#AMZG Production Podcast | Episode 06: What Exactly Does A Creative Strategist Do?

Creative Strategist and pro wrestling megafan, Brandon Clarke joins Cliff and Peter to discuss video marketing and the various video platforms creators can use. They also discuss Spielberg’s Lincoln, The Birdcage, Hercules and Wet Hot American Summer.


Looking Back: Film Production For Ducks Unlimited

Ducks Unlimited is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to wetland conservation. They have chapters in all 50 states, and do work across the country to preserve land for waterfowl. Ducks Unlimited North Carolina approached Amazing Studios about a video production that would work in conjunction with the campaign for their new Sportsman for Tomorrow program.

We asked our Studio Production Director, Peter Scheibner, to look back on this project and give some insight into the projects creation – from conception to the final product. In this article he’ll pull back the curtain and provide some interesting detail into the nuts-and-bolts of this beautiful piece of original branded content.

Legacy | Ducks Unlimited from Amazing Studios on Vimeo.


So where did the concept for this video come from?
As I was sitting there, listening to their needs I felt this was an ideal opportunity to tell a compelling story, in a more narrative format. They were talking about the need to mentor students, and teach them the importance of being outdoors. As I learned more about the conservation efforts of the Sportsman for Tomorrow program, I really felt this was the best direction.

What were your goals going into the script writing process?
I wanted somebody hearing the read for the first time to be able to go back to their childhood, just like I did. So the process started there. Then I began to develop the characters. I knew that we wanted a father and a son, but the idea of the Grandpa was a second draft concept for me. That was when the story really began to come together.

How did you envision the look and feel for DU? Inspirations?
I was very inspired by the Derek Jeter film Re2pect. I wanted the audience to walk away with that same feeling as I left that film with. So as we developed the story, I began to create color palettes and scene looks that I felt would capture that for the outdoor audience.

How did you find the locations?
We knew that finding the correct locations would be pivotal selling the idea that this story was grounded in reality. We worked closely with Rodney Warren with the NCDU to identify several options. We spent two days scouting before we settled on the locations. Honestly, the easiest location to settle on was the Lake Mattamuskeet scene found at the end of the film. It was ideal in every regard. For the kayaking we found a river in Erwin, and the fire scene was in Benson. Everybody that we worked with was great, and the locations were perfect.


What was the most challenging shot to capture?
By far the shots from kayaking. We had just purchased the DJI Ronin, and were shooting with the RED Scarlet out of the back of a canoe while paddling through the rapids. We nearly capsized several times, and had a couple of pieces of equipment go overboard. But at the end of the day, some of my favorite shots came from that shoot, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.


Talk a little about the editing process.
The biggest challenge in the edit was decided what the soul of this film was. When we started, we weren’t setting out to create a true short film. However, as we edited the footage, I quickly came to see that this was more than just an ad for a great organization, it was a film with heart and soul. So there was a bit of a restructure, and the opening was tweaked to add a title sequence, allowing this to enter that realm.

Looking Back

What are some fun facts or hidden nuggets that viewers might not pick up on from watching this piece?
Thats a great question. There are so many small elements that I wish we could just grab the viewer and say “Did you know that?” But we can’t do that yet. I think that coolest thing is that the actors were actually a three generation family. Don Manley, the grandfather, was the longest serving member of DU in North Carolina and his son and grandson were great to work with. It was accidental, but in a way, this film was their story. Another interesting tidbit, is where we got our voice over talent from. He is an outdoor painter in Nashville named Ralph McDonald. He had never done a voice over before, but when he heard what we were up to he wanted to get involved.

Given the chance, what would you have done differently?
If I had it all to do over again, I would have a larger crew. This piece was amazing, but it was very hard to pull off with the size of crew we were running.

What are your hopes for how the piece is received?
My hope for this film is what I’ve already been told by those who have seen it. That it brings back memories of childhood, and creates a sense of pride in the viewer.


#AMZG Production Podcast | Episode 05: Brian The Intern

Peter and Cliff sit down with Brian The Intern, a talented student from Bob Jones University who spent his summer working at Amazing Studios – and living in Peter’s basement.


#AMZG Production Podcast | Episode 04: A Journey Through Time and Cameras

Cliff and Peter talk about the cameras they’ve used throughout the years — from film and videotape all the way to the RED Epic — and how each one has played a part in their development as filmmakers and storytellers.


#AMZG Production Podcast | Episode 03: Ant Man Review, Movie Confessions

Cliff gives a quick review of Marvel’s Ant Man – what he liked, what worked and what didn’t. Then the guys dive into their Movie Cofessions – guilty pleasures, movies they gon’t “get” and classics that they’ve never seen.



#AMZG Production Podcast | Episode 02: Inspirations – Spielberg, King, Tarantino, etc

Cliff and Peter discuss some of their biggest influences in the world of cinema and storytelling — from Spielberg to Stephen King and Francis Ford Coppola — and how their work has been impacted by the styles and aesthetics of these masters of the craft.



#AMZG Production Podcast | Episode 01: DC Trailers – Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad

Cliff and Peter discuss the new trailers from DC Entertainment/Warner Bros. – Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Suicide Squad. They take a look at DC’s auteur-driven approach to filmmaking in the shadow the Marvel Industrial Complex.



2 redheads walked into Amazing Studios, what happened next you’ll NEVER believe


Brandon Clarke and Jeremiah Berkheimer have joined the talented folks at Amazing Studios.

Clarke and Berkheimer came sort of as a “package deal” from Three Post, an award-winning production studio in Raleigh. Not only do they bring many years of agency and post-production experience to Amazing Studios, but they also bring with them all types of crazy ideas. We’ve been told that’s a good thing.

Berkheimer spent five years working in advertising as an art director, animator, and copywriter in Cincinnati, Ohio before moving to Raleigh. He combines his skills in 2D and 3D animation with his design and writing talents to create aesthetically beautiful and extremely entertaining animations. He is also very handsome. (He is also very persistent and made us write that.) In his new role, Berkheimer will oversee animation and motion graphic production in Amazing Studio’s art department.



Over his career, Clarke has spent time at 3D Communications, ElectriCities and VisionPoint Marketing, in addition to his time spent freelancing in key areas including content strategy, video production and creative services. In his role at Amazing Studios, Clarke will oversee strategic and creative development, brand positioning and branding, and the management of creative, video production, and post-production from concept inception to distribution.

Finding Art In An Interview


As an artist, it is tempting to tell all the stories that I am tasked to tell with the words that I think are best. However, the truth is that most of the time what I have to say isn’t as interesting as what somebody else has to say. Given the option between what I can say about how great a retiring member of the Duke Board of Trustees, or what the President of the Board has to say I think the best option is obvious.

Since joining the team at Amazing Studios, I’ve had the opportunity to conduct hundreds of interviews. I’ve sat down with politicians and teachers, lawyers and farmers, athletes and prisoners. Everybody has a story, and every story is worth listening to. My privilege, is to find that story and get them to tell it. I’ve learned a lot from these incredible interactions, and I’d like to share a few of my interview discoveries here.

Be comfortable

Find a setting that is relaxing for everyone. I like to take my time when setting up and spend that time putting the interviewee at rest. Talk about the weather, or a special interest that they might have. Share some details from your life, be vulnerable and let them see you care. It is imperative that the person that you are going to speak to knows that you are a real person and that they can open up to you. Which leads me to…

Just be you!

There is a tendency when sitting down for an interview to put on a character. “Hi, I’m Tom Brokaw, and this is an interview” is the character that I am often tempted to fall into. The problem is, when I’m acting like Tom Brokaw, I tend to try and ask questions like Tom Brokaw, and when I ask questions about Tom Brokaw the interview gets really boring really fast. If you don’t find the career path that led them to becoming the greatest investment banker of our time interesting, don’t ask. Ask the questions that you find interesting, and really delve into things that you can both connect with.

Don’t Over-prepare

This one might seem counter intuitive, but it makes all the difference. When I’m prepping for an interview, I keep my research general. I might read the simple bio listed on their website, or a short article they’ve written. I don’t want to know every little detail about their lives, I want to know just enough to peek my interest to learn more. I find out just enough to ask the right questions, but not so much that I would already know their answers. As a general rule, I don’t write my questions down. I create a simple list of general things that I want to learn, and then just let the conversation flow from there. This approach helps me to stay engaged in the conversation. If I am learning something, then I’ll be asking the questions that my audience wants to learn as well.

Sometimes, just let there be silence

I can’t claim this tip as my own, I had a professor that taught me this one. He called it diarrhea of the mouth. As people, we hate silence, especially awkward silence. Our tendency is to fill that silence with anything that will end it. So when I am in interviews, if I think that the person has more to say on something, I will be silent after they finish a statement. What usually happens is they will sit for a moment, then start to answer the original question again in a more concise and often more insightful way. We have found some of the best nuggets from these moments of silence.

Interviewing is an art form. Just like painting, or cinematography, it takes patience and practice to get it right. I hope these techniques will be as helpful to you as they have been to me.




3 Design Trends You’re Going to See 2015


It’s a new year, and as always, the interwebz are a-buzz about design trends and forecasts. Here’s what I say you should be watching for in 2015.

1. Digital inspires print and video


Print is how we’ve communicated for centuries. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, designers really started stepping up their game on print design, and a passion for print design and information layout was born. As web design went through its “toddler” phase and started learning how to crawl, web design was heavily influenced by print. Print was the way we’d communicated for years. As web designers started exploring new options for information design, we started to see the occasional print piece look more like a web layout, and even some video composition and design mimicking the feel of digital. I think 2015 is the year that this trend reaches it’s full potential—digital will inspire and influence print and video design, not the other way around.

2. Letter-boxing


Cinema scope. 2.35:1. Whatever you want to call it, we will start seeing a lot more photos, videos, and visual media in this wider display. It’s the classic look of most hollywood films. More and more films both big and small will be using this letter-boxed look to focus attention on the subject and to create a more cinematic feel.

3. Telling a Story


Gone are the days of design for design’s sake, video for video’s sake. Consumers want to hear a story worth listening to. They want to feel emotional and relationally connected with the brands and businesses that are vying for their attention. While this trend has been growing for the past few years, I think 2015 is the year we see this in full force. We aren’t selling products anymore, we’re connecting with customers and making their lives fulfilled by the services we offer. And what better way to connect with someone through a great story?

The great thing about design is that it’s always fluid, always progressing, and always changing. You can’t stay put in your design comfort style; you have to be willing to embrace the change. Whether it’s looking to the past for retro-style inspiration, or looking to the future and dreaming up the latest trend, design is good. And I like good.


3 Reasons to Promote the Arts to Kids

We live in a STEM culture. It seems that every children show, every curriculum package, and every learning initiative is focused on Science, Technology, and Math. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I think STEM is very important. If we can’t master these areas we will fall behind in the global market. However, as an artist, I would like to talk about why it is important to keep encouraging the arts for our kids.

Reason #1

Art broadens the imagination.

Albert Einstein summed this up when he said “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Imagination opens up the limitless bounds of the human spirit. And promoting the arts to your kids will help them to create the next big thing.

Reason #2

Art creates a sense of community.

Art draws people together. Great art motivates people to act. If we want our children to be agents of change and culture shifters, what better way to communicate that then with Art. It is well said, “A picture says a thousand words.”

Reason #3

Art can calm an anxious heart.

According to the Mayo clinic, one of the best ways to combat anxiety and depression is to engage in art. Wether its painting, filming, or graphic design, art is a way to express our emotions.

There are so many other reasons, but these three for me are the ones that motivate me to keep art alive in my home. Check back soon for a follow up post talking about ways to introduce your kids to the arts.



Leading with a Kilt


Being “The Leader” of a company (aka The Boss) is simple… Just delegate everything and then sit back and watch it all come together. And those things you just don’t want to mess with; get someone else to do it. For example… Let me get someone to write this blog for me! ☺

–Enough stalling I guess I need to focus and really do this–

Leading is so much more than just managing people or handing down decrees from your mighty office. It’s even more than making sure your balance sheet is well… Balanced! For me it starts with knowing where you want to go and then knowing why you want to go there. What’s the purpose? I don’t want us just to be a great video production company, I want us to be a great video production company that uses its creativity to accomplish something; to elevate the conversation, maybe bringing awareness to something that might make someone’s life better or inspire them to get involved.

So once you figure out that all-important “vision”, you just have to share it with the team and watch it happen… Nope! It requires a strategy to help everyone understand what we are striving for and to know what role they play in getting there. It’s also about defining the rules or “Core Values” in which a company operates. For us, that means Integrity, Humility, Excellence, Relationships, and Originality.

So what role does the leader play beyond the vision and strategy? To me this is one of the most critical areas of leadership. This is the bridge between great plans and results.
As a leader it’s being honored to serve them… your team! I liked how Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford, expressed it, “At the most fundamental level, it is an honor to serve – you are privileged to lead.” It’s a service-style leadership that assures the team that leadership is there for them and not the other way around. We should be working and sacrificing to be sure our team is set up for success. Jack Welch, former GE chairman and CEO once said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Recently I watched “Braveheart” again and it still inspires me with some of the statements (not sure what’s actual or Hollywood but still good either way). In one scene William Wallace says, “You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom.” Great line, but what does that have to do with leading a company? As I thought about it in this context it dawned on me. My “Position” exists to provide a workplace (Freedom) that encourages them to step outside their comfort zone, to celebrate new victories with them and to pick them back up when they stumble. At the end of the day it’s about “We” and how can “We” reach that next goal.

One last quote from the movie, “…men don’t follow titles, they follow courage.” Be courageous in how you lead them and the company. In the military I saw time and again how important this was. A courageous leader would ignite a passion in the troops for the mission but a “spineless” leader would demoralize the group. I have found that to be true even in the civilian world. Most people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. To accomplish something they couldn’t do on their own. But with a team of like-minded members… anything is possible.

To sum it all up – leading is about getting people to follow you not because they have to but because they want to.

What leaders have inspired you? Let me know in the comments below.

– Mike


Finding Inspiration

Every Moment Counts – Director’s Cut from Cinescapes Collective on Vimeo.
Art inspires art. As an artist, I am deeply moved and inspired by other artists work. This is a film directed by Preston Kanak, that I believe is excellent and worth aspiring too. Let me know in the comments what work inspires you.



How I Found My Life’s Passion in a Cup of Coffee

I have a confession to make. One that, while not embarrassing for me, often garners funny looks from people when I talk about it. The “Serious, dude? This is all you’ve talked about for an hour…” kind of looks.

I LOVE coffee.

There. I said it.

And i’m not talking about just any old cup a joe; I mean the good stuff. Over the years I’ve invested a lot of money and time into being able to craft the best cup I can. I’ve bought the burr grinders, the electric kettles, the manual pour-over bonmacs and chemex set ups—all of that fun stuff. And i’ve spent countless hours researching the best methods to use, the best companies to buy from, and the international farmers that they get there supply from. Heck, I spend 30 minutes a day just making 2 cups of coffee.

I do this not because I want to be a know-it-all or coffee snob, but simply because I’m passionate about making the best mug-full of caffeine I can.

Be right back; 15-minute coffee break…


That’s what we’re really talking about here. The kind of passion that gets you excited to wake up in the morning, to experiment, to try something new, to hone in on your craft—whatever that may be. The kind of passion that makes you feel alive, more in love with the journey you’re taking than dollar amount in each paycheck. For me, my passion is creating. Whether it’s a great cup of coffee, a motion design or animation, a brand logo or company identity, or a song or piece of music I’m working on; it’s all about creating, and it’s all connected. You see, sometimes when I sit down at a piano and play a few chords, it sparks a thought about approaching motion design from a new or unique perspective. Sometimes when I try a new pasta recipe, the collaboration of interesting ingredients makes me think of a new way to interact with my-coworkers or clients. It’s all about creating something new and authentic.

Recently I’ve discovered that to be the person I’m supposed to be, to be the kind of person that can craft a story worth telling, I need to be daily living out my passions, brave enough to fail, persistent enough to succeed. The work involved in pursuing your passions can be strenuous and at times exhausting, but it’s worth it. I’m discovering that I’m never more alive than when I’m creating, than when I’m feeding my passions.

So, what is your passion? Is it creating? Is it crunching numbers? Is it being the best darn Scrabble player you can be? Whatever it is, I hope you’re discovering, recognizing, and living out your passion. Let me know about your passions in the comments below. Your comment may just spark my next creative thought ;)

– Dustin


Writing / Inspiration / Distraction

Today has been one of those days. I’m sitting here with far too many scripts to be written, and no inspiration. I have a host of deadlines, and yet, I can’t seem to get out the first words. So instead, I’m writing a blog to clear my mind, seems like a good idea.

Last night, I was out to dinner with some businessmen from the Raleigh area and we were talking about what we do at our various jobs. One of the men, a civil engineer, after seeing a film that we are currently working on asked, “Where do you get the ideas for your videos?” This is an excellent question, and the answer is not simple. In short, everywhere.

There doesn’t seem to be a magical formula for creative ideas, but it seems that everything we do fosters thought. Sometimes the best ideas are the ones born from collaboration. I know that many times, we will have a brain storming session here at the Studio and go around and around sharing ideas until we hit on one that sticks. Other times, concepts come in the middle of working on something else.

Pause, I think I had an idea for this script that I’m actually supposed to be writing instead of a blog post.

5 minutes later…….

Never-mind, not the moment of brilliance I had been hoping for.

As I was saying, sometimes, when you keep an idea in the back of your mind, something will happen that will spark creativity. If and when that happens, I know it’s important for me to drop what I’m doing and write it down. I fail to write it down, it is usually lost to the void of the mind.

At any rate, no idea is complete until it has been hammered out and broken down, and rebuilt. This is the hardest stage for me. In my mind, my ideas are the best, and to hear from somebody else that something is better is impossible. But sometimes (every time) it is imperative that I set aside my own preconceived ideas and let the team develop out the spark into a real flame. And that is how we come up with the “ideas” for our work.

And now, I’m out of excuses, back to writing out the next idea.



Working for the Harvest / Working with Ken

It seems like most of the projects I get to work on are pieces with a quick turn around. The film industry as a whole has become so accessible that clients often expect high quality productions in a fraction of the time it used to take. Sometimes, it can feel as though I’m being smothered by the deadlines and my creatively held back by the pace. Working for the Harvest, and its long form schedule, was a much needed breath of fresh air.

We met with Kenneth Stephenson in December of 2013 to discuss the idea of producing a film that he could use to promote himself as a financial advisor by the end of 2014. We knew that this process would be somewhat delicate, as from a legal perspective, you can’t use any customer experience interviews to promote a financial entity. So we went to the drawing board and started to concept the best way to tell promote Complete Financial. However, the more we talked with Ken, the more we realized that just telling Ken’s story would be the best way to promote his business.

When we met with Ken for Pre-Production he started to talk to us about growing up on the farm. He enamored us with tales of early morning, hard work, and dedication to family. As I sat there trying to find ways to adequately capture the emotion that he was sharing, the concept for the opening sequence was born. I knew that we needed that warm autumn sky as the sun was just breaking over the horizon. But that would mean that we would have to wait several months to capture the scene. I don’t know about you, but waiting to capture a beautiful sequence that you’ve envisioned for a long time is torture. Well we worked the footage that needed to be captured throughout the spring and summer. We traveled the country, from Maine to California to create the national feel this piece needed. Discussed story elements, shot interviews here in Raleigh and in Virginia, created scores, even graded large segments of the piece, but always in the back of my mind was the sequence that had to wait.

Finally, October came. The leaves had all changed, the mornings were cold, the time had come. So on an early morning, we loaded our gear out into an empty corn field and waited for the sun to come up. As a filmmaker, I often have higher expectations of what a shot will look like than is actually reality. But sometimes, on very special occasions, a shot is exactly like I see it in my head. This was one of those moment. The sun lit the horizon as Ken walked, axe in hand, silhouetted against the sky. It epitomized the story that was to come, and appropriately work to explain the very essence of Complete Financial. After putting a lot of thought and preparation into this shot, it created the look and feel we needed for the piece. Conversely, as Ken put thought and preparation into his clients finances, he was able to secure their financial futures.

I look forward to working with Ken again in the future, and hope that we can create great visuals together for many years to come. Do you have example of shots that came out just the way to envisioned them in your head? Share a link in the comments below.



Depth of Field

I have discovered a new phenomenon with the advent of Digital Photography. As I’m shooting my portrait shots people will walk over and want to see a particular picture of themselves or a loved one. When they look at my shots they tend to ask, “I have the exact same shot; why does yours look so much better?” The difference is almost always the same thing: an incredibly deep depth-of-field. As I look at their shots I can see everything into the great unknown in sharp detail.  The problem with having your entire scene in focus like this is that your viewers won’t quickly know what the subject of your portrait is. Landscape photography is the only reason that you’d really want to have long-depth-of-field (i.e. having that flower in the foreground in focus as well as the mountain behind). So here are a couple helpful hints on how to control your depth-of-field and make your portraits look more professional.

1. Aperture: All Digital SLR cameras have the ability to adjust your aperture. Aperture is measured in what’s known as “stops”. Stops are measured in increments of 1, 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, etc. The lower the number on the aperture, the shallower the depth-of-field will be. Most consumer lenses will have what’s called a “variable aperture” ranging from 4-5.6 which means the aperture will change as you zoom the lens. The more zoomed-in you are the higher the aperture will go. To make sure that you are shooting on the lowest aperture possible, change the shooting mode on your camera to “Aperture Priority.” It’s usually the one on the wheel labeled “A”. This will put the camera in a mode where everything will be automatic except for the aperture. This means that you will still have the advantages of automatic light recognition, without the aperture changing in the middle of your shots. So in short, the lower the number the aperture is set at, the shallower the depth-of-field.

2. Zoom: There are two types of lenses: zoom lenses and prime lenses. A prime lens is a lens with a fixed-focal-length (no zoom) while a zoom lens has a variable-focal-length (zoom). When you “zoom in” on your subject you are compressing the background of your scene, compressing the depth-of-field. This will cause your depth of field to become shallower. So if you are taking a portrait and you want to “blur” out the background, try taking your zoom lens, backing away from your subject, zooming in and taking the shot. This will allow your backgrounds to compress and create a soft background for your subject.

There are other ways to control your depth-of-field such as hyper focusing/lens babies/etc., but none of these are simple techniques that you can carry into your everyday shooting. Aperture and Zoom are just the simple techniques that professionals use to achieve a professional look to our photos.

I’d love to know what you think about this post, or hear if you have more questions. Feel free to leave your questions in the comments. If there is a subject you’d like me to cover or a camera accessory you’d like to have reviewed, let me know.