Video Production Then and Now – Making a Living


A young friend wrote to me with a number of questions regarding his future in video production. What follows is my response based on my experience. There is a lot of territory to go over here, so let’s count this as a start.

When was then? 1977 to 1990 approx.

(Letter Excerpt)

Question: Do you still shoot commercial video at all?

Answer: No, I don’t shoot commercial video at all. Why do you ask? Look, if someone tossed a couple of bucks my way I wouldn’t turn it down, but I can certainly do without the pressure of trying to produce video that meets my standards (NB: they’re probably too high). And, for the same token, I can’t and won’t hump cases and spend endless hours coiling cables and counting bulbs at 3 AM.

Question: Did you find the industry very rewarding?

Answer: The answer depends on what you mean: from a financial standpoint or a personal one? Getting work even in the past was always a hassle–now it’s ridiculous. The cost of a “broadcast quality” video tube camera back then was $45-65K . Even “industrial” cameras cost almost $10K. The cost provided a barrier to entry limiting the competition. The cameras and recording equipment required more maintenance than chip and non-tape cameras do, light sensitivity and color balance were more of a factor to consider and control in creating quality images.

Image Courtesy of: Southwest Museum of Engineering, Communications and Computation . The JVC KY-310. My first video camera 2/3-inch vidicon tube tubes

I could go on and on, but for what purpose? As long as I don’t have to compete against the fact that every Tom, Dick, Harry and Sue can own a camcorder or a prosumer camera that can make “acceptable” images, then I don’t have to worry about it. From my current vantage point, I can have the expansive view that everyone should have the opportunity to make video; that perspective cannot work for you.

JVC Professional Video Tape Recorder CR- 4900U U-matic. My first field recorder weighed 18 lbs. approx.; suffered numerous time base errors related to the weakness of its tape transport system.

Rewarding on a personal level? My answer is sometimes, but there was always a cost factor for others applied to it. The cost for people who worked with me was the additional time I took to get things done, to create images that worked…for me. I can assure you that this did not make me very popular except for a friend who could tolerate my goal and a director or two who thought it was worth it. I always tried to push the limits of a budget. I don’t recommend that approach as a financial success strategy.

I recall one other peculiarity that distinguishes video production then from now. There was a major, major issue about what was broadcastable. The preferred camera of the day for broadcast video was the Ikegami 79 EAL. Although the JVC KY-310 could make broadcast-quality images, if you didn’t bring an EAL to a shoot producers and directors worried. Let’s be clear, I once rented my KY-310 to the soap opera the Guiding Light and the image output ended up on air.


I started giving a one-hour, extremely basic video production seminar for small business owners who want to promote their goods or services using web video.

I will subsequently explore the subject of video production then and now and welcome comments from those currently in the field. Please include your contact info so can I get back you to if I have additional questions.

– Donald Schwartz

Regarding Comments - I welcome comments, but I reserve the right to delete postings that are verbally offensive to me or anybody else. You can comment without attacking anyone personally. I have no problem with anyone criticizing my ideas or writings, but request you try to substantiate your views if you do. If I misspell a name or get a fact wrong, correct me and I'll revise the copy. My staff of fact-checkers is always on vacation or taking a break.

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