Solutions

Production company produces highly collaborative global projects using FileMaker Pro

Against All Odds

Ansell Adams, one of America's premier photographers, once said that taking a good photograph was "knowing where to stand." In which case, award winning photographer Rick Smolan not only knows where to stand, he knows where to send others to stand too. Known for the "A Day in the Life" series of large format books, filled with compelling images from every corner of the globe, Rick juggles hugely complex projects with flair and precision. His secret? FileMaker Pro. Against All Odds, the production company of which Rick and his partner Jennifer Erwitt are principals, has been described by Fortune magazine as "one of the 25 coolest companies in the US." It produces some of the most beautiful large format photography books, combining complex logistics, technology, and talented photographers from all across the world, with unfailingly sharp editorial focus, storytelling, and a compelling theme.

Overview

  • Produces highly collaborative global book projects with the world's leading photographers, writers and designers.
  • Hundreds of photographers located round the world
  • Databases accessed by staff on 3 projects for 3 books in 3 locations

Industry

  • Printing/Publishing

Solutions

  • FileMaker Pro provides editors access to vital photographic data from photographers worldwide.

Benefits

  • Multiple simultaneous access points
  • Allows editors many ways to view and extrapolate data

We were in three different locations, London, New York and San Francisco with three different staffs, and FileMaker was easily the most important part of the foundation of the whole thing.

— Rick Smolan, Principal, Against All Odds

Business Challenge

Rick has always used technology to its full potential. An early project, which he photographed for National Geographic, was "From Alice to Ocean," in which he followed Robyn Davidson, four camels and a dog across the Australian Outback. It was the first book to be presented with an Interactive CD.

As his projects grew, so did Rick's need for a scaleable database. He began using FileMaker Pro several years ago, upgrading the software and enhancing his work whenever possible.

Producing the series "A Day In the Life," "America 24/7," and other books, taught Rick that he needed data that could be easily stored, quickly found, and would be completely reliable. A typical book from start to finish, he said, would take about 18 months. Until 2007. That year Rick began three projects, each one research, logistics and image-intensive, each requiring access to data from remote locations, and each using a different skilled team of researchers and staff.

"We did three projects in 18 months — in six month cycles," Rick explained. "We were in three different locations, London, New York and San Francisco with three different staffs, and FileMaker was easily the most important part of the foundation of the whole thing. People needed to work in a database and access it anywhere, whether they were in a hotel, in Europe, in a taxi, or a Starbucks so that we were all able to view each other's work regardless of our location."

Successful Solution

Rick's FileMaker solution was the backbone of the three books.

"We had multiple people working round the world in the database and making changes at the same time. It was incredibly convenient and we couldn't have done these multiple projects without it," he says, making the complex process sound extraordinarily easy. His researchers would access the files to add materials, and embed links to more information on the subjects of the photographs. His staff maintained the database of photographers in FileMaker too, replete with their contact information, links to the work they were doing for the project and internal links across the database to their images.

"Each project is like a relay race," explains Rick, "where you're passing the baton from one person to the next. Having different views of the data was really useful because the researchers might have information that we didn't need to pass on to the photographers so I could go in and review the assignments and maintain control. We also had links to the original sources so we had details of the websites, or statistics that we wanted to be able to reference later."

Chuck Gathard who works closely with Rick, designed the system. "We used two databases on each of the last three projects," he explained. "At the beginning of each project we used a story idea database so researchers and editors could track details, status, contact info, and online research for more than 1000 proposed stories. This information could then be formatted for photographers to take into the field on their assignments. After the shoot we created a caption tool that allowed writers and editors to develop captions for the more than 300 images for each book. The caption tool had a low resolution image for the writers to reference as they wrote, tracked word and character counts for copy–fit rules, as well as contact information on the subjects and photographers."

We had multiple people working round the world in the database and making changes at the same time. It was incredibly convenient and we couldn't have done these multiple projects without it.

— Rick Smolan, Principal, Against All Odds

Customer Benefits

Rick's FileMaker solution speaks for itself. The three latest books are "The Blue Planet Runzz', a fascinating and thought–provoking look at the growing scarcity of clean drinking water on every continent, as well as some of the hopeful solutions and courageous "water heroes" focused on alleviating this crisis, and "UK At Home" and "America At Home," two of the largest collaborative projects in Internet history in which 150 of the top photojournalists and tens of thousands of Americans and Britons documented the concept of home. The results—which included several million photos—are the most extensive records of American and British home life at the beginning of the 21st century. To say any more would spoil the surprise — and reduce the "WOW" factor. Suffice it to say that these are must–see books, and every coffee table is should have one.

For FileMaker:

Kevin Mallon
Public Relations Manager
FileMaker Inc.
408-987-7227
kevin_mallon@filemaker.com
http://www.filemaker.com

For Against All Odds:

Rick Smolan
Principal
Against All Odds
ricksmolan@mac.com
www.MyAmericaAtHome.com