The slowly recovering economy and current limited spending on live productions (including 3-D projects) have proved to be a recipe for success for Nic Dugger and his Nashville, TN-based TNDVmobile production company. While other production companies struggle with trying to keep their multimillion dollar 52ft production trucks busy, Dugger’s single 30ft vehicle has been busy nonstop for the past few years — so busy, in fact, that he’s now building a second truck and has plans for a third.
Once it hits the road later this month, the new truck, called Aspiration, will be the first mobile production truck in the southeastern United States to support live, multicamera 3-D productions. It’s larger than its first truck, at 40ft with and expandable side compartment, and is being built by Gerling & Associates out of Sunbury, OH.
“It’s small enough to fit in some unusual places, but has an expandable side to accommodate a larger crew,” Dugger said, offering that it is already booked for the next several months. “I can't wait to get it on the road.”
Dugger — who has been involved in professional video production since he was 11 years old (working at TRTV-TV, the local TV station in Jackson, TN) — built his first four-camera, SD truck seven years ago on a “shoestring budget,” producing mainly worship and corporate projects throughout the southeast.
TNDV gradually upgraded that first truck to an all-HD capability and today produces at least two live events per week. TNDV's current workload is made up of approximately 60percent broadcast television —with productions seen regularly on the SPEED, VERSUS, BET, GAC and other major broadcast and cable channels — and 40-percent corporate, worship and live entertainment. In addition to its two trucks, TNDV offers a full complement of mobile flypacks that are customized to fit the needs of the client.
Dugger said competing against the bigger established production companies, which have larger crews and many more trucks in their fleet, has not been as hard as one might expect. His rates are lower — his services are comparable with anyone’s, he said — and his staff is young and energetic, not jaded. They also make use of nontraditional equipment, such as a Blackmagic graphics card and a laptop to produce on-air graphics. He also is considering a number of integrated products from Harris that will substitute for “thousands of dollars worth” of traditional gear.
“Regardless of the equipment we use, I let our work speak for itself,” Dugger said, adding that budgets continue to be limited, and the most successful production companies clearly recognize that.
However, using this off-the-shelf gear sometimes excludes his company from certain high-profile jobs that demand a specific piece of technology. Many major networks will only work with certain production switchers, cameras and record machines, much of which TNDV does not have. Dugger said he can live with that and will continue to support the mid-range clients he always has.
The new Aspiration truck accommodates 17 crew positions and features Hitachi Z-5000 multiformat HDTV cameras, a Harris Platinum router with an integrated Harris SX Hybrid multiviewer, a Ross Vision HD production switcher, a 72-track Soundcraft Vi4 digital audio console, AJA Video Systems Ki-Pro recorders, Panasonic BT-LH2550 LCD monitors, Marshall Electronics V-R1042 in-monitor displays and an RTS Matrix intercom system.
“The ‘big boys’ get so regimented in what they do, for example on large sporting events, that when a new client approaches them with an unusual project [usually smaller in scope], it hard for them to step outside of what they do best, and they can’t handle it cost-effectively,” Dugger said. “I’ve been successful by approaching every single shoot as a unique event. We don't have a standard equipment package. We expand gear and crew as necessary, but I don't hire them full time.”
Indeed, to maintain a tight bottom line, Dugger rents equipment per project to complement the minimal amount of gear onboard his truck and hires a team of freelancers, some from his alma mater Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), that he uses regularly. He even pays to send his team to classes to learn new equipment as it becomes available to them, so that they become proficient at many different technologies. During production his camera shaders can also mix audio, his TDs often also run a graphics platform or an EVS replay server.
“If a client does not need six long lenses, or 12 cameras, why should I show up with a truck that carries equipment we’re not going to use?” Dugger asked, adding that this strategy has led to a lot of repeat business. “For the major truck companies, they have to keep their large rigs working or they end up losing money. I don't have that problem and don’t intend to.”
Dugger also espouses the importance of uncompromising customer service and a laser-like attention to detail. He paints his trucks black, but puts signage of his clients on the side as he works onsite.
“We’re about offering value add for our clients,” he said. “If I show up with a truck with the client’s logo, think about what that says to the client. As a small guy, if I keep an open mind and not necessarily follow ‘the book’ for the way we do things, I can stand out from the crowd and stay busy.”
Dugger’s third truck represent a bit of a trip down memory lane, as he’s buying it from MTSU, the school where he earned his degree in TV production and the very truck he trained on (and later taught other students on). The 35ft rig was built by Shook. The school was retiring the truck and invited alumni to come join in its last production. After it was over, Dugger “agonized” over its demise and with the next 24 hours he decided to buy it.
Through Gerling & Associates, which bought back the truck and is building a new one for MTSU, Dugger has contracted to replace the chassis and redo the interior to bring it up to modern standards.
“It’s either a dream come true or a really crazy idea,” Dugger said. “Either way, I’m determined to make it work.”