In today’s interview, we’re thrilled to be meeting with Hamil Bros. Studios and specifically Ross Hamil who was a major player in the creation of the MZed/Cinema Sound 85+ hour education. Ross is also a General Audio Certified Cinema Sound Member. In this interview we’ll learn all manner of ways to create great products, deal with clients, get creative, and earn money as an independent creative – and learn some dope things about what gear to own when it matters most!
Cinema Sound: Ross, thanks for taking the time to hang out with us!
Hamil Bros. Studios: Happy to!
CS: We’ve seen a lot of media output from Hamil Bros. Studios. Everything videos, film, audio – the works. Is there something specific that HBS does?
HBS: That’s a tough answer. I like to think of us as a turnkey video solution for businesses and organizations.
CS: We’d add that you’re quite the audio solution as well.
HBS: That’s true as well. We write, we shoot, we edit, and we deliver. However, HBS is not a one-size-fits-all solution for every business owner who comes knocking. We want to work with people who are willing to take a risk on their marketing with the idea that it will return greater results than playing it safe with cookie-cutter ideas and videos.
CS: Is the internet marketing commercial a good example of that kind of risk taking?
HBS: Absolutely. Our most recent venture, as has been discussed in the Cinema Sound Facebook group and on the Compression show, is a new video format of which we’re trying to implement more. We are calling it a Hamil Bros “Brandfomercial.” The goal is to build a strong brand identity and sell a specific product. Ideally, the format will lead to higher conversion rates for the companies that hire Hamil Bros Studios to build these ads for them.
CS: Bandformercial. Totally dope.
HBS: We think so.
CS: You were there LONG before the beginning of Cinema Sound in Houston, TX for Sound Advice. Since you’ve been around longer than anyone, what’s the most important aspect of Cinema Sound for you?
HBS: That’s a bit of a loaded question, but, not in a bad way. We knew the potential for Hamil Bros to grow, technically, was huge after we did our review for the Sound Advice Tour. I specifically remember, during one of the breaks, talking to Mark, he was actually walking backwards while I was talking to him, and I had so many questions. While Sound Advice opened up a lot for us, more than anything, it left me with more questions. I rarely accept things for the way they are and want to know why things work the way they do, so, when Mark approached us about the idea of Cinema Sound, I felt like it had the potential to answer most of my questions. When the opportunity came up for us to be a part of the production, we felt like we would be insane to turn it down.
Since we wrapped, I have completed most of the course, and have since become the first student to receive the General Audio Certification. I know this doesn’t answer the question in the way that it is supposed to, but, the most important aspect of Cinema Sound is the opportunity that the knowledge opens up.
CS: Well, you know how Mark handles that kind of thing: “There’s no stupid questions….[In Unison: “Until you ask one.” [laughing]
HBS: I can’t say that one particular part of the course is more valuable than the other because, at this point, they have all played a huge part in our audio being a game changer for us against our competition.
CS: Lay an example on us if you will.
HBS: Okay. The best example I have of this goes back to the summer of 2018 when we were asked to shoot a series of videos for a crop insurance agency. Yes. Crop insurance.
HBS. Right? We were afraid that the most interesting part of these videos were going to be the end when we could get back to normal life. However, our client came back to us with a solid script and we formed a plan. The brand story video was going to be solid enough. But, what could make it enjoyable to watch? The sound. I’m going to attribute this to Mark, whether he said it or not, but, at Hamil Bros Studios, we firmly believe that audio is 80% of the viewers experience.
CS: Mark has to take the credit for saying that, since the amount of hate mail-responses he gets for that statement is pretty large – and he’s been saying it since before Sound Advice. But honestly, we don’t care if you make it your own – or if everyone does. The more the merrier. Consider it a permanent loan from Cinema Sound.
HBS: Very nice! So loaned. Anyway, that project was the perfect opportunity to really test that theory in a hard way. [The brand video can be watched here] Off the top of my head, the main contributing factors to the sound being successful were
- The choice of music – we wanted the music to be soothing and inspire comfort/confidence.
- Ambiences – although subtle, they make you feel like you are there on the farm land, with the breeze blowing across your face.
- Distance to Camera Mixing – with long distance shots and drone footage, the tractors and equipment had to feel right.
By the time the video had been viewed and we were getting responses, we had people telling us that they didn’t own any farmland, but, they wanted to just because of how that video made them feel.
CS: That’s amazing, and really brings home the idea of the importance of immersion – and that 80% audience impact!
HBS: Absolutely. I believe that they wouldn’t have felt much of anything had we not made the audio choices that we did, and those decisions are 99% a direct result of what we learned throughout Cinema Sound. For us, being a complete production solution, there isn’t anything about Cinema Sound that isn’t useful (except, possibly the stuff about composing, but, it will come in handy when it comes to hiring composers).
CS: Thank you so much for saying that. And at the very least, knowing how to fashion a deal with an up-and-coming composer will eventually be helpful. Tell us about the products/software you use.
HBS: Adobe – We’ve been avid Adobe users for the last 13 years, it started with After Effects for me. And, yes, pun intended!
CS: I’m glad you corrected that. It sort of hurts to put both Avid and Adobe in same sentence. You might as well have said something like “we use the black magic voodoo of Adobe as Avid users.” [laughing] So confusing.
HBS: Exactly! In 2011, I was able to move into the CS5.5 production suite because, I was on payroll at a high school shooting video content for them and I got the educators discount. I don’t remember when I started using Audition, specifically, but, it has become a completely integrated part of our workflow. Being able to build almost an entire project in Premiere then take it into Audition for proper treatment is invaluable, and the fact that it’s all integrated streamlines our workflow, which is essential as a small production company. Any time wasted costs us.
Direct Sound – I purchased a set of Direct Sound EX29s in 2017. I had been using AKG K240s since 2008 and really liked them, but, they were impractical for location sound because they are open-backed. For location sound, I was using Shure E5 IEMs and those eventually gave out. So, after having used Mark’s during production on Cinema Sound, it wasn’t a hard decision to make. I love that the frequency response is reasonably flat and they are superb for on-set recording because I’m not normally getting audible interference from anything outside of the headphones. As a bonus, when in studio, they really help me ignore Jacob, and, as an added bonus, he can talk at me for quite a while without noticing I can’t hear him and when he does notice it, he gets super annoyed! Having worked at Guitar Center and tried a wide variety of headphones, the Direct Sound are, without a doubt, my favorites.
Waves – I have the Waves Gold pack. I initially started with a standalone copy of the Q10 equalizer. Having gone through Sound Advice, I was familiar with Mark’s Basic Grade process and hated having to instantiate multiple versions of Audition’s parametric EQ to be able to get all of the bands I needed. It was a breakdown in efficiency. After searching, I came across Q10 and it did exactly what I was looking for. Once I started watching Cinema Sound, it didn’t take long to see how Q10 was an integral part of Mark’s process and, thus, a huge part of Hamil Bros’ process. I don’t remember exactly how it played out, but, while watching Cinema Sound (I skipped ahead to the Effects Volume because there was some specific information that I was seeking), I started making notes of the different plugins that I wasn’t familiar with. I would search something and find that it was in the Gold Pack. After encountering this a few times, I decided that I needed to pull the trigger and purchase the pack. Happy Father’s Day to me, right?
CS: You deserve it. Consider Mercury next year.
HBS: I’ll have to have a few more kids to earn enough money to pay for that one on Father’s Day.
CS: Get busy, then! [laughing]
HBS: I love how intuitive the Waves interfaces are and I use several of the plugins ALL THE TIME. Namely Q10, RCompressor, and L1 Limiter. No audio leaves my workstation without all three of those plugins being utilized. For me, the best part is that those plugins are universal across my software choices. I can use them in Resolve, Audition, Premiere, and even Cakewalk Sonar 7 (if necessary). I know exactly how to get the results I want and I don’t have to learn a bunch of new interfaces for each host.
CS: It sounds like you’ve gotten attached to the plugins and software you use most as we have. Any of them save you on a gig?
HBS: Adobe – Hamil Bros Studios literally uses Adobe for every single project. While it’s been a huge part of all of our work, I’m going to site SEMA 2018 for a time when it saved us. For those that don’t know what SEMA is, it’s the NAB of the car world. At SEMA, Hamil Bros Studios was tasked with producing daily content for the Shell/Pennzoil footprint/booth. We had done it in 2017 and, to increase efficiency, we brought extra help. In 2018, we actually utilized all of the Lubbock-local Cinema Sound production crew: Jacob, Dansby, Massiel, and myself. Jacob and Dansby were shooting, Massiel was assistant editing, and I was online editing and delivering. Our first challenge was how to integrate Massiel’s work with mine without the inconsistencies of XML files and keep things fast. What we ended up doing was directly connecting our laptops -I was on an HP and she was on a MacBook -via Thunderbolt so we could work off of the same drives and minimize file transfer times. She had her Premiere project and I had mine. When she had a timeline ready for me to bring into my Premiere project, I could import her project and simply select which of her sequences I wanted to import and we never had any compatibility problems. Once, in my project, I knew that I had a fixed number of tracks that I needed for each day’s video. 4 Stage microphone tracks, 2 intro and outro DX tracks, 2 music tracks, and no more than 4 SFX tracks, plus busses for DX, MX, and SFX. In Premiere, I built a template with all of these tracks. After the first day, in Audition, I built a template with all of the tracks and busses with all of the effects already pre-built into the tracks from EQs – which none of the mics were changing from day to day – compressors for leveling and also ducking music and SFX, and limiters. I can’t even tell you how much time we saved being able to streamline all of this. All I know is that in 2017, all of our days were 18-22 hours and in 2018, all of our days were 10 hours, with the first day being 14 because of technical difficulties with the internet connection. The seamless integration that Adobe offered saved our collective butts on this project.
CS: Wow. A perfect solution for remote integration.
HBS: Direct Sound – Again, I go to SEMA. Our first year at SEMA, our footprint – I think it was 16,000 sq ft – was right next to the Ford footprint; and that’s Ford as in Ford Motor Company. Why does that matter? Because, they were drifting Roush modded Mustangs and jumping F150 Raptors all day every day. If you’ve never experienced drifting, all I know to tell you is that it’s LOUD! CS: We shot the national drift competition out here in Irwindale years ago. It’s basically muscle cars spinning wheels at 6k RPM and going around a track – with the wheels never stopping their burnout all the way around. You’re covered in black, and your sound is nothing but squealing wheels.HBS: That was our experience exactly. Also, our tech/media room had no roof, because we were outside the main entrance to the Central Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center. All of that noise was bouncing around that room, and it was enough to make your ears bleed. Had it not been for the Direct Sound EX29s, I don’t know how we would have been able to deliver the daily videos.
Waves – How has Waves saved us? Funny you should ask. Recently, on a project, we were shooting a reality-show type episodic set of videos [look up the AutoNation builds by Flat 12 Gallery] and we had a day where we couldn’t keep microphones on everyone that needed them. At one point, one of the principal subjects started talking to camera with no audio on him. Literally, all we had was the on-camera microphone on a Blackmagic URSA Mini. In case you weren’t aware, it’s nothing special. However, I was able to revive the audio with…. Drum roll please….
Yep, I got passable dialog utilizing Vitamin and received no revision notes on that portion of audio from the client. Pretty remarkable, if you ask me.
Beyond that, Q10 saves all of our audio from offensive frequencies.
CS: After your excellent reminding Mark about Vitamin on the Compression show, we’ve had it in our normal hopper. It’s sort of magic.
HBS: And not Black Magic voodoo magic either.
CS: Fortunately, we’re Avid users of it. [laughing] So, what’s the future for HBS?
HBS: In 5 years, I would love for us to be taking on about 10 commercial clients a year and grossing over $1,000,000 annually. In addition, I would like for us to have a hybrid studio that is suited for audio and video.
CS:How did you get started?
HBS: I got started in high school. I was required to take 2 foreign language classes in order to graduate. My second year in Spanish, I had a teacher that assigned video projects. At the time our first project was assigned, I remember watching the example videos from previous students and thinking that the videos sucked. They were boring. If you weren’t privy to the inside jokes, then the humor was lost on everyone except those who were involved in the videos. Lastly, I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. Not because I didn’t understand Spanish, but, the sound was unintelligible because these kids were using the microphone on their camcorder and trying to talk over a boombox that was playing music in the room with them. The project was a “fashion show” to help us learn articles of clothing. So, I decided I wanted to dress up as current icons: movie/tv/cartoon characters, musicians, etc. I also wanted the video to sound good. I don’t really know why, but, that’s what I wanted. Let me preface this next part by explaining that the insanely cutting edge technology I had available to me was a SONY Digital8 camcorder. I’m sure it had a 3.5mm microphone input, but, I didn’t have a 3.5mm microphone and that didn’t solve the problem of how to add music. So, being a resourceful sophomore in the year 2000, I gathered what I knew I had: a VCR, an Optimus karaoke machine with the included microphone, and a CD Player. I connected the yellow RCA from the camcorder directly to the VCR and ran the red and white into the karaoke machine. From the karaoke machine, I ran the respective RCAs to the VCR thus being able to patch in music and a voice over… Super technological stuff… In the end, I’m pretty sure I scored over a 100 on the project and, I was told, that the teacher used that video as the example for that project until her retirement a few years ago.
CS: Ross, if you look up “resourceful” in the dictionary, you know your picture is there, right?
HBS: Yeah. I need to update that picture. It’s still me as a Sophomore. [laughs].
CS: If you had to give once piece of advice to the membership of Cinema Sound – who are doing their best to create powerfully immersive content for their audience – what would it be?
HBS: One piece of advice, learn to fail quickly so you can succeed faster. I’ve been listening to the book Creativity Inc., by Ed Catmull who’s the co-founder of PIXAR, and there is so much valuable information in that book it will make your head spin. One of the concepts he discusses is learning how to fail quickly. No project is going to go 100% smoothly, so, the faster you can mess up, the faster you can fix it and get better at your craft. How that applies here? Don’t wait for a low risk project to start trying to apply what you are learning in Cinema Sound. Trust me, I murdered a lot of dialog right after the Sound Advice tour because I was way over-doing it with the basic grade. The good news is, all of the audio in our market was already a steaming pile of crap, so, if the audio wasn’t superb, none of our clients cared. They didn’t expect any better, and at the same time, at worst, if our audio was really bad because after the post process, it’s a simple reset button in the DAW. There were a few times that I would finish EQing a bunch of dialog and come in the next day and want to punch yesterday-me in the face for how terrible it sounded. So, I would redo it. The strange thing though, even if I didn’t think it was that great, our clients, at least, thought that it was better than what they were expecting, which leads me to a supplemental piece of advice: have more faith in your skills. In Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, they quote Socrates as saying “true wisdom comes in knowing that you know nothing.” The fact that you’re taking the Cinema Sound course is proof that you recognize a weakness in your abilities and that you have a desire to do better. I find that people who fall into that are typically better than they think they are in the area they are trying to improve in.
CS: Wow. You should write a book.
HBS: Later. After I get Waves Mercury from my kids.
CS: [laughing] Is there something about what you do that you wish people knew – but don’t?
HBS: I love a lot about the filmmaking process. I love writing, directing, editing, color grading, post audio, and visual effects. I don’t know that any of that is unknown, but, I love a challenge and I love doing the work that scares that crap out of us.
CS: Thank you so much for hanging with us. All the best luck in your travels with Hamil Bros. Studios.
HBS: All the same to you.