Many people fear change, but the founder and CEO of Versatile Studios Michael Dos Santos embraces it. In fact, it’s right there in the name of his production company.
Truth be told, the entire trajectory of Versatile Studios reads like a masterclass on how a company must be willing to welcome the inevitable twists and turns of the marketing world. Rather than it being just a fact of business life, though, it’s an attitude that can help a company thrive.
For Dos Santos, that mindset started taking hold before he even graduated college...
Though Dos Santos initially went to college to study and major in computer science, he minored in photography.
“Photography been a passion of mine since I was a kid.”
Though back then, he didn’t initially think much of it as a career.
But at the encouragement of his professors at Northeastern and New England School of Photography, after graduation, Dos Santos moved to New York City to pursue commercial photography.
At the outset of his career, Dos Santos found that digital photography was beginning to make a surge. His computer background became a huge advantage for him. As he applied for jobs, employers leaned heavily on his computer science expertise.
In almost no time, he found himself in the digital services business.
He then began purchasing his own equipment, and coupled with his expertise, Dos Santos now had everything he needed to run a shoot. Clients would even come to him for his retouching and post-production work.
Dos Santos quickly became a full-service vendor, and in 2004, Versatile Studios was born as a digital services and post-production company for the print industry.
A mere four years later, that same print industry began incorporating video and online assets into client campaigns. Without hesitation, Versatile Studios added these services to its already booming business.
Part of it came out of necessity, as the company was increasingly getting asked by clients to handle this part of their campaigns. But Dos Santos also happened to have many cinematographer friends--people with exactly the type of background that would allow Versatile Studios to assemble a video team.
It seems hard to believe that a little more than 10 years ago video and online assets weren’t a requisite part of marketing, but that was exactly the case and Dos Santos had to educate himself on how to produce them.
He soon learned that he would also have to educate his clients on what it meant to ask for these types of assets, including both the scope of work and expense required for them. “It got to a point where that’s all I was producing—video.”
Versatile Studios essentially became a video production company for the print world.
The company understood print well—in fact, it was still the primary reason it was getting the jobs in the first place—but eventually clients began to trust Versatile Studios to produce both their print and video needs.
The company had long ago established itself as a resource, and a true partner to anyone needing support. Dos Santos’ reputation for working with the utmost integrity further added to the level of trust felt by clients and vendors alike. So much so, that many print producers were comfortable bringing their video business to Versatile Studios.
This level of trust and regard that has kept Versatile Studios busy and thriving.
In less than 20 years, Versatile Studios has been part of two major transitions in the marketing world.
First, the switch from film to digital, which largely began in 2004.
And second, the growth of video marketing in 2008 in response to increasing online and social media demand.
Versatile Studios became known as a creative partner that could help others with those transitions.
During those early years, Versatile Studios was also a vital resource for clients who didn’t necessarily want to switch over to digital photography for aesthetic reasons.
Because of his background in both photography and computer science, Dos Santos and his team took on the challenge of helping clients who wanted to replicate the look of film with digital photography. “We seamlessly made that happen.”
A feat his clients appreciated. It was this unique knowledge of both film and digital photography that Dos Santos and the rest of the Versatile team had -- the ability to transition to the latter medium while still maintaining the preferred aesthetics of the former -- that in part helped to boost Versatile Studios’ position as a service provider.
When it comes to client collaboration, Dos Santos notes that much of how budget, logistics, or creative vision are discussed depends on the nature of the relationship.
Are they new? Have they been working with them for a while?
“A lot of it is developing trust.”
It’s also a lot of patience and understanding the other person’s point of view. Giving people the benefit of the doubt.
He adds that providing an education for the client is a significant and consistent part of the business and has been since Versatile Studios opened its doors.
It’s this part of being a business owner that demands tact. Some clients understand that they don’t know how certain processes work and ask to be educated.
Other clients don’t know what they don’t know. It’s particularly important that clients understand that a clear vision and story must be told, but they need a creative partner to help them get there.
“We’ve gotten ‘we need a video’ and through an open dialogue, and sharing our experience, we’re able to help them elaborate on what that video is, how it needs to feel and why it needs to exist."
Guess work does not equal quality work. Clear storyboards and shot lists are often essential.
If as a vendor you’re not on the same page with a client...
You’re never going to hear from them again.
“A job is enjoyable when we know the client appreciates the level of service we put forward. You get to the end of the day and everybody feels good. Those are the fun ones.”
And for someone who doesn’t come from the marketing world? How would you begin to explain what a company like Versatile Studios does?
Dos Santos offers that most of what he and his team work on is marketing content. Branded content, such as behind-the-scenes pieces for television shows or interviews with high profile figures, also constitute a portion of the work that Versatile Studios delivers for clients.
The company sprinkles in editorial work when possible, though it can be challenging on account of how small the budgets for those pieces can be.
Same goes for documentary-type work. “I like telling stories,” notes Dos Santos, which circles back to why Versatile Studios has been so successful over the course of nearly two decades.
But surely the last year has impacted the trajectory of Versatile Studios?
Well, yes and no.
“I don’t think we’ll ever go back to what it was pre-pandemic.”
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
While the company suffered its share of requisite restructuring in response to the pandemic, Dos Santos notes that a completely unexpected boon came out of an otherwise challenging time.
Before the pandemic, much of Dos Santos’s work consisted of communicating to clients why he and his team needed a certain budget or shooting schedule.
“Those conversations aren’t happening much anymore.”
COVID-19 represented yet another big shift for Versatile Studios. Just as with the transition to digital photography and the rise in demand for video assets, the pandemic yet again became a moment when clients turned to the Versatile Studios to lead the way on how to move forward.
Though the company would have no reason to expect a pandemic to come along, it’s yet one more change that Dos Santos and his team have managed to embrace and use to bolster business.
Clients new and old have been turning to Versatile Studios for answers on how to carry on in the face of often evolving safety protocols, and have been looking to the company for clarity on how elements like workers’ compensation have to adjust in the light of COVID-19.
While quickly educating himself on these many changes, Dos Santos became nothing short of a trailblazer in helping others also understand how to keep their heads above water during these challenging times.
“For the first time in my career, we were being asked to set the budget--it showed our worth as a production company.”
Versatile Studios has offices in both New York City and Los Angeles, but current conditions still dictate a heavy reliance on remote shoots. Many of its hires are local to circumvent the need for unnecessary travel.
In some cases, staff are able to drive to a location, but the rule of thumb is that you keep the numbers down on set—only have as many people as vitally necessary.
To that end, live streaming has been critical during the last year. Dos Santos mentions that using easily accessible software like Wrapbook has been a convenient benefit for the Versatile crew as well.
Part of Dos Santos’s professional life since COVID-19 has included hosting and being on panels of webinars. Both for Versatile’s own, and for various other organizations.
One resource Dos Santos looked to regularly, and asserts has provided vital support during the pandemic is the AICP. He was a highly involved part of the many webinars it hosted in those beginning months of the pandemic.
“The AICP did an amazing job during COVID.”
As we all slowly but surely return to a more normal state, Dos Santos reflects on what he’s learned and would tell future business owners. And that is?
“I put my employees first.”
He strongly recommends that any business owner surround themselves with the right people. Moreover, he notes how important it is to listen to them—to listen when they have reservations about a project, to listen when they might be burning out. There is nothing more important than taking care of the people working alongside you.
In wrapping up, Dos Santos also extolls the benefits of being an entrepreneur, which largely includes creating one’s own future. And it comes as no surprise that in being part of an industry that has witnessed incredible change since he first entered into it.
“What I love most about it is that nothing is the same every day. Every day is different.”
Many thanks to Michael Dos Santos and the rest of the Versatile Studios team! Learn more about the production company here.
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