Take One Digital Media:
Producing national quality on a local budget
Way back in 1981, when the price of a Sony Betamax camera became reasonable, Dan Powell and a friend started a business converting home movies from 8mm or 16mm film to videotape, and taping the occasional wedding.
From that humble beginning, Take One Digital Media has grown gradually to a technologically sophisticated multimedia company, with a staff of seven employees, a number that varies based on the ebbs and flows of business.
“We lost money for the first couple of years,” Powell said. “It was a relatively new technology back then. There just wasn’t enough for both of us.” So, Powell bought his partner’s share of the biz and continued on alone.
A musician, whose high school era 1970s progressive rock band, Ours Again, began receding in priority as he spent more and more time developing Take One, Powell worked on the fledgling business from his home during evenings and weekends. “I was working full-time for AT&T,” he said.
Incidentally, the lead singer of that music ensemble is Powell’s wife, Laurie, who handles Take One’s bookkeeping. The two reconnected after many years and two unsuccessful marriages.
“In 1986, VCR penetration reached over 50 percent of American homes, and I saw a real spike in business,” Powell said.
He generated customers, by developing relationships with mom-and-pop type video and electronic stores in the area. People would drop off their old movie reels at the stores, and he would pick them up after work. Then he would stay up until 1:00am transferring them to videotape.
In 1990, Powell decided to quit his day job and go full-time with Take-One. “Up ‘til then, I was making about $40,000 a year on the side,” he said.
At that point, he invested in broadcast technology, beginning to do more corporate and industrial work, plus shooting commercials for the local cable company. The first year of total dedication to Take One yielded $110,000. “We grew about 20 to 25 percent a year pretty steadily,” he said.
“Back then we were doing commercials for $350,” he explained, “and that included writing, voice-over talent, going out and shooting it for a couple hours, and editing it. It was really tough to make any money, but we were doing 10 or 15 a week.”
During this period, Powell was still working out of his home, mostly on his own, with a receptionist and some part time people as needed. He said his house was being taken over by videotape editing equipment.
“Basically, the price was dictated by the cable company rates,” he continued. “We were competing against the cable company’s own production department. So, we pretty much had to match their price.”
He discovered that advertisers want to spend as little as possible on the production of a commercial and as much as possible on airtime for the commercial. “Our production standards were much higher than the cable company’s standards,” he said, accounting for the continuing increase in business.
The 1990s were a period of growth, and in 1994 Powell purchased a bigger residence. Take One now had three employees, including two editors and a staff writer. The company started charging more for advertising jobs, going beyond the cable TV projects. Work with local automotive dealers attracted attention and led to more and bigger projects.
“We called the company Take One because we really wanted to do it right,” Powell said of the origin of the company’s name. As a result, “people sought me out. I had a reputation. We do virtually no pro-active advertising. We have an ad in the phone book. It’s just all referral based.”
By 1998, Take One had “grown to almost $1 million per year,” Powell noted, and the company purchased the building on Forest Drive that is its current home. Within a year-and-a-half of the move, the company grew to 14 employees. “We diversified into web development.”
Take One’s array of services include web site development, video and film production, multimedia on CD-ROM or DVD, audio, animation, or print. Take One’s versatile shooting 24′ x 19′ soundstage with a Chroma Key green screen accommodates custom-built sets as well as the magic of virtual sets. Projects include corporate, commercial, non-profit, informational, and documentary.
“It’s such a subjective business,” Powell observed. “In fact, I’m not formally trained in anything. While I don’t have any formal education, I can turn on the TV and see what the rest of the world is doing in video production. It’s all out there to be seen, and there aren’t that many ideas that are new.”
One of the keys to quality production is lighting. “Good lighting makes all the difference in the world,” Powell explained. “It is a mixture of technology and subjective art. Lighting makes or breaks anything.”
He noted that anyone can go buy a camera and use editing software on a computer, but “they don’t understand how important lighting is and things like that. I’ve been doing it for 26 years, and I learn something every single day.”
Powell’s philosophy on video production? “My premise has always been to create as much of a national look on a local budget as possible,” he said. “Our production is fairly conservative. We don’t go in for the hype and trends in production – the MTV type stuff. We try for a classical look.”
He concluded: “The most compelling medium still is video. It’s the most dynamic. It can be the most emotional.”
Dan Powell, Owner & Founder
Take One Digital Media
1415 Forest Drive, Annapolis, MD 21403