It was the end of a hot day in So. Cal. I had just arrived back in my hotel room with little time to make myself look like I hadn’t just sweat it out in the hot sun for 12 hours. Not even an hour before, my Director of Photography and production partner in crime Caleb Rasak and I were poolside with the entire Zodiac Academy training team. Now, we were more than fashionably late for the usual after party. But an entire pool equipment replacement was no easy job, even without shooting key portions for more technical training videos. Good thing it wasn’t our first rodeo.
How many technical training videos had CRG produced thus far? I lost count after 100, and that was ages ago. I remember when that first set of 25 videos seemed like a lot. Today, the Zodiac Academy online video library is an expansive resource for pool servicers, with training videos on equipment like heaters, automation systems, salt chlorine generators, cleaners, filters, and so on. Caleb and I are seasoned pool pros at this point. And the pool pros we work with? Well, their acquired production knowledge would make them an asset to any shoot crew. When our two teams get together, I don’t think there’s anything we couldn’t do.
Not to say everything always went smoothly, I thought as I rummaged through my suitcase for something suitable to wear. Skirt or dress? How cold was it? It would get cold. I brought too much black. Where was my long sleeve? I resisted the urge to lay down on the bed for a quick nap.
There was always something to overcome on these shoots. The movement of the sun changing the lighting that was so perfect just a few minutes ago. A missing piece, part, or tool for this particular video topic that we just added to the list just now. Landscapers firing up the mowers just as we’re ready to roll audio. A newly installed light failing just as we’re ready to capture the underwater disco light show. Yup. That was the one that kept us late on this particular occasion. Not a big deal. We’d already come up with a plan B. Like I said, nothing we can’t do.
Rainbow dress. Perfect. Something in complete contrast to Caleb, who would undoubtedly be in black on black. So predictable. I could see him now, he’d have arrived before me, picked the hoppiest California craft beer from the cooler, and struck up a thrilling conversation over business, politics, beer, cameras, perhaps even philosophy. No, that would take at least two or three of those IPAs. I needed to hurry. I pulled a brush quickly through my hair and made the uncommon decision to keep it down. Time to go!
Just down the hall and outside in the hotel’s courtyard, Zodiac had taken over the fire pit area. I surveyed the party as I walked past the large lobby windows. There was Alex on the far side wearing his usual warm smile. He gestured with his hands as he spoke, laughing now and again and sipping from his drink.
When Caleb and I first met Alex we kinda-sorta accidentally shot 50 videos in one day. Completely accidentally. We originally planned for just a few videos. Alex would sit with his iPad and instruct viewers on the use of the Zodiac iAqualink app. Well, we set up Alex, the lights, cameras, everything. Then, he just started programming. And programming. And we kept shooting. And shooting. We didn’t stop until an entire imaginary pool/spa combination was completely set up some 8 hours later. Everything from variable speed pump setup to switching your temperature display from Fahrenheit to Celsius. Alex rocked it all. He was a training video pro from there on out.
Behind the fire pit, Anita and her son were setting out another amazing dinner buffet. Barbecue this time. After working with Anita on our first California shoot, Caleb and I wanted to kidnap her and bring her back to CRG. She worked to connect the dots for us and her team on so many levels. Plus, she fed us. (Good food and strong drinks are the fastest way to make friends with production people. FYI)
There were a handful of folks gathered around the fire pit. A few I didn’t know. A couple more were familiar, but I couldn’t remember their names. I didn’t see Dave and Ron, but they left the location at the same time we did, so of course they’d need to freshen up. Those two had to be exhausted. They did most of the work today, stuck between two fences and a roof of unruly palm branches, sun beating down on them as they pulled out an old and inefficient system in favor of an all-new state of the art Zodiac and Jandy system. Our timelapse camera clicking away in the background. Click… Click… every 5 seconds. Caleb and I mostly stayed back, providing whatever support we could and jumping into action to shoot what we could, when we could.
I opened the door to the courtyard party and made my way to the fire pit to greet everyone. Alex quickly introduced me to everyone, most of whose names I forgot instantly. I’m terrible at names. Good at dates, times, details. Terrible at names. “You have to try the Sangria,” said one of the somewhat-familiar-faced ones. That sounded like a good idea. But before I could make my way to the drink table and coolers, Rocco made his entrance.
He was not having a good week, having injured his back recently. A plane ride from his home on the east coast here to California only aggravated it. Then there was the equipment install today. Did I mention Rocco was today’s principal talent? The star of the videos? He slowly made his way to a chair, hunched over and in obvious considerable pain. Dave and Ron had done most of today’s work, but despite his pain, Rocco had worked and helped just as much as he could. Then he had to stand tall, speak confidently, and put on a convincing smile for Caleb’s camera. As the director, I tried to get him through the content as quickly as I could.
Rocco said hello to the Sangria gal, referencing her recent Circle of Champions company award. Ah yes, I thought. That’s why she looks so familiar. Caleb and I had shot Zodiac’s Circle of Champions award presentation only about 6 months ago. I still couldn’t remember her name.
Sangria, yes. I finally made my way to the drinks. Caleb was there already, opening a beer. He was wearing a casual white and blue flannel button down over his characteristic black t-shirt and jeans. Damn, I was wrong about the all black. First time for everything. He and I shared a quick smile. There are few clients who would host a post-shoot-day BBQ party on our behalf. But Zodiac was not an average client.
“As soon as you get a chance, go in and sign the card,” Caleb said to me softly. I had no clue what he was talking about, but nodded as he headed to the food table. Dave and Ron arrived and we all began filling our plates with the assortment of grilled chicken, BBQ ribs, veggies, and salad. I hadn’t realized how incredibly hungry I was. I dug in ravenously and quickly was so covered in barbecue sauce that I felt it necessary to apologize for my messy eating to Dave, who was sitting right next to me/
But hey, it was the perfect excuse to go inside. I excused myself from the conversation to “wash my hands”… (And sign the card.) I had a sneaky suspicion what it was. The night before, we found out it was Alex’s 23rd anniversary with the company. We had joked about plans for his big 25th. We’d get a big boat involved, a fishing trip. Maybe strippers? We came up with several ridiculous scenarios and shared a few good laughs. Sure enough, once my hands were clean, the woman at front desk led me to the back room where I found a “card.”
In typical Anita fashion, the card was not just an off-the-shelf greeting variety. This was a poster-sized presentation board on which a photo montage had been printed. “The Many Faces of Alex” read the headline. I couldn’t help but smile. Many of the photos were freeze frames pulled from our video Programming series. In the white space, many greetings, messages, anecdotes, and other well wishes from the Zodiac team. Some folks even drew on the photos, silly faces, speech bubbles, even hair on Alex’s bald head. This was awesome. I read a few of the notes and then added one of my own.
Then it hit me again. A client just invited Caleb and I to celebrate in an anniversary of one of their own. We are not just their “production company.” We work hard together, truly together. Everyone shares their ideas. Everyone is valued. We joke around. No one is offended. When problems arise, there is no blame. We just sit down and figure it out. We are part of one team. And when the work day ends, we want nothing more then to relax together for a few. We connect on a personal as well as a professional relationship, making that professional relationship all the stronger.
Shouldn’t this be how it works all the time, I thought wistfully. I looked down at the card again. I was excited to share this moment with Alex. Boy was he going to be surprised! And that gave me another idea.
I returned the courtyard and found Caleb finishing his dinner. I leaned down and into his ear, “Hey, I want you to shoot Anita presenting Alex with the card.”
“Yup,” he said simply, patting the camera strapped around his shoulder. He could take photos and video with the sleek DSLR. To think he’d brought it to the party on a whim. This was perfect. I hurried back inside where Anita was showing Ron the card.
“Let me know when you’re ready to give it to him,” I said. “Caleb has his camera. He’ll shoot it!” Anita looked at me blankly for a second. So did Ron. That wasn’t the reaction I had expected. I expected them to be just as excited as I was. There was a very odd moment of silence. Then Anita said, “Ok” before returning her attention to the card. She didn’t even smile.
That was weird. I returned to the fire pit area and continued in conversations with everyone, but couldn’t help feeling the sting of the awkward conversation. The minutes rolled by and everyone finished eating. I relaxed, but kept an eye and ear out for Anita so I could signal Caleb with the camera.
Then, I saw her. She had somehow snuck herself unnoticed outside of the inner circle of people, clutching something close to her. Something wrapped up in a towel. I repositioned myself next to Caleb and told him to get his camera ready. This was it.
Caleb swung the camera up from its place at his side, took a few shots to test, good to go. “Man, that’s cool.”
Ron had appeared next to Caleb out of nowhere. Had he been sitting next to him? Seriously, where had he come from?
“Can I take a couple shots?” he asked.
“Sure!” Caleb stood up and effortlessly released the camera from its strap. He began showing Ron the basic buttons and functions.
What are they doing?? I thought, heart racing. We had one chance to shoot this little anniversary presentation and we were about to miss it. But I couldn’t say anything out loud; I would give away the surprise.
“Go for it, dude,” Caleb sat back down, relinquishing complete camera control.
We’re going to miss it. We’re going to miss it.
Ron held the camera towards us. Caleb had put it into video mode and it was recording. Anita started moving into the inner circle. Ok, maybe Caleb will grab it at the last second, it’s already recording. It will be fine.
“May I have everyone’s attention please,” Anita said. Everyone turned, quieted. Then, she unveiled it.
It was an award for us.
For Creative Resources Group.
And as she’s thanking us for our hard work and dedication, our relationship with and commitment to Zodiac Pool Systems and Zodiac Academy, I steal a glance over at Ron. There he is, with the camera pointed at us, rolling away. We just got duped. Moreover, we got conned into getting filmed on our own camera!
Anita’s words are a blur. All of a sudden everyone is clapping and she’s handing Caleb and I the beautiful award. In typical Anita fashion, it’s more than just some piece-of-paper-in-a-frame award; it’s a stunning plaque with Zodiac and CRG logos… And by the way, where’d she steal our logo from?! I’m holding it and I still can’t believe it.
I managed to clear my head enough to thank everyone back and commend everyone for the true team effort. I wished I’d had something more eloquent prepared! I was two Sangrias in and still in total shock.
And they got it all on video.
As my small speech ended, everyone gave us another round of applause and Ron handed the camera back to Caleb. Good thing too, because Anita segued right into Alex’s card.
“This is funny because he knew about you,” Anita said, pointing at us. “And you guys knew about this.” Then she brought out the card from around the corner. The crowd again exploded in laughter and applause as Anita brought the card over to Alex, who was smiling from ear to ear.
And yes, we were still rolling.
For CRG, there is no bigger joy then a heartfelt and genuine Thank You from a client. But this one was really special. CRG provides services. Advertising and marketing, video production, web design, media purchase and placement, graphic design and so on and so forth. But what we offer is so much more. It is ourselves. Our thinking, our perspective, and our commitment to helping clients achieve their goals. More then for just our production services, the award from Zodiac recognizes the strength of our relationship. It was an honor to receive.
Thank you again to our friends at Zodiac Pool Systems. We look forward to many more years together!