Ed Rapport pulls open a desk drawer, revealing its contents: dozens of business cards. His boss, Carl Whitney, has accumulated the cards while zooming from one video or film set to another.
Since the early 1990s, Whitney has built an extensive client base as a freelance cinematographer and camera crew leader for projects ranging from corporate videos to independent films. Since January, he has been seeking a wider profit margin by adopting the broader label of production company under the name Flagg Media.
The new, sole proprietorship requires better organization and a more concerted sales effort, says Whitney, who describes his sales skills as “zero.”
“Without someone like Ed around, I’d be doing my work and never get the word out,” Whitney says.
Whitney, who would rather focus on executing film and video shoots, hired Rapport in January as his first employee. Rapport previously sold advertisements on Milwaukee radio stations and for Stall Tactics, a restroom advertising firm.
The office of Flagg Media — the name is from Whitney’s middle name — is housed in one unit at the Milwaukee Enterprise Center, 2821 N. Fourth St., Milwaukee. The shoe factory-turned-business-incubator offers low rent for startup firms, which keeps down Flagg Media’s costs.
Whitney stores lighting equipment, wires and other gadgets on shelves up to the tall ceiling of his office. He edits film and video on computers at his desk. He stores two large trucks in Caledonia that carry his load of lighting, sound and camera equipment to jobs.
Dan Kattman, a Milwaukee entertainment industry attorney, says Whitney owns one of the best packages of lighting and camera equipment in the Midwest “and he has the know-how to use it all real well.”
Whitney is capable of providing the equipment and cinematography to shoot a Hollywood-style feature film, says Kattman, who refers Whitney to movie projects and vice versa. A cinematographer is the chief camera operator and is responsible for camera placement and lighting.
“He’s fun to work with and very good at working with talent,” says Kattman.
Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau will vouch for that. Whitney served as cinematographer on her independent film “Side Effects.” The movie stars Katherine Heigl and was shot in and around Madison. It received positive reviews at film festivals this year and may open in theaters in August.
“He had a wonderful creative input when we needed to quickly grab a shot on the fly,” Slattery-Moschkau says of Whitney.
Whitney entered the production industry as a lighting director at Marx Communication Studios, Glendale, and Marx was his first freelance client when he started freelancing. Whitney also was involved in the early to mid-1990s in a Milwaukee temporary help firm with his then wife.
Whitney said he was grossing about $100,000 per year as a freelancer and his first revenue goal is $1 million for the production firm. He has financed the firm primarily through cash flow.
Selling Whitney’s skills as a video and film production firm to the corporate and entertainment industries is a bit tricky for two reasons.
First, he’s known in the industry as a hired hand who can summon his freelance crew on short notice to shoot a corporate video at a Menomonee Falls factory on a Saturday and a segment for “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in Kenosha on a Sunday. He has essentially always worked for others, including advertising agencies and the production firms the agencies hire to videotape and produce commercials.
Now he’s on his own and in some cases competing with his former customers. Whitney says some are likely to be surprised that he’s competing with them, but he’s up to the challenge.
“I’m leaving the nest I know to go into something I was doing anyway for other people,” Whitney says.
Passion for film
In addition, while Whitney has derived the bulk of his revenue from corporate training and promotional videos, his true passion is working on music videos and independent films. He was busy last week editing video from the most recent Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) awards program. He also led the videotaping of the BoDeans’ New Year’s show at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee that may be used on a new concert DVD.
In terms of film work, in addition to “Side Effects,” Whitney served as cinematographer on a Milwaukee independent film, “The Sleeper,” and is scheduled to work on two more movies this summer.
Whitney acknowledges that his versatility might also appear to be a lack of specialization. Salesman Rapport faces the task of touting not only Whitney’s skills as a cinematographer but also Whitney’s capabilities as a full-service video and film production company that handles everything from the shoot to editing.
Rapport thus far hasn’t brought in any new business, but is working several deals. Flagg Media was just invited to bid on a television commercial for a Madison consumer products firm. Rapport also spends a significant amount of time on administrative assistant functions that Whitney didn’t have to deal with as a freelancer.
Rapport is excited about spreading the word on Flagg Media.
“You have to sell a personality of a business,” Rapport says.