Support gives way to empowerment

written by Amy Frances Fraher

Support gives way to empowerment. Regardless of where the support comes from—a spouse, a boss, a friend—the support around you will ultimately become your greatest ally and allow you to prevail in whatever you endeavor.


      Two weeks ago I gave birth to my son at home. It is a statement that blows my mind, moves me to tears, makes me unbelievably grateful, and marks the end of a journey that was transformative, surprisingly fun, and overwhelmingly empowering. The agency I’ve had over my journey to motherhood and the birth itself was due entirely to the support system I chose to have around me. It started with my husband, and then we found Kat and Kimm at Heart Science Midwifery, and our doulas Yael and Elizabeth of Root and Spark. They knew innately what I was capable of, both physically and emotionally, and created the space and the framework for me to find my way. When questions arose or guidance was sought, it was available and freely given, at any hour of any day. Through this fortification I was able to reconnect to what I knew to be true – that I am fierce, I am capable, and in a place deep within me – that I have always known how to do this.

      Two years ago I started working at Versatile Studios. After thirteen years of working in this industry and looking for a fulfilling home, I had finally found it. Mike Dos Santos is the first person I have ever worked for who understands that effectively leading a company is only achieved by compassionately and competently managing its employees.  And managing people requires thoughtful hiring, listening with intent, and supporting the staff as they strive to take initiative and responsibility.

      Had it not been for the support and respect that came from the top down at VS and was echoed by the rest of the staff, my pregnancy would have been a much different experience. There was an immediate buzz of shared excitement and an intuitive understanding of how my role as managing director would evolve and transition throughout the course of my pregnancy. There were numerous gentle nudges from the staff for me to stay calm, rested, and focused, despite the fact that a lot was being asked of the production team, who all rose admirably to the occasion. Amongst the staff there exists an important appreciation for life outside of the office; for the things that we all need to do for our own balance and well-being, and of what offering (and accepting) support should look like.  This is how we as individuals are able to come together and support one another, embody our own empowerment, and successfully empower others. At its core, this is the ethos of Versatile.



FIRESIDE CHATS W/ MDS: guest Dennis Dickinson of Dickinson Wealth Strategies // Live Interview



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Mike speaks to Dennis Dickinson, president and founder of Dickinson Wealth Strategies. Dennis offers up his 15 years of financial planning experience to discuss retirement strategy in the face of covid-19.





Staving Off Cabin Fever

written by John Mastroberti


      For those of us not directly affected by the virus, there is a secondary affliction that many of us are experiencing, Cabin Fever. With “stay-at-home” guidelines now passing the 1-month mark, many people are starting to feel the symptoms. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of NY described these as “feelings of isolation, mood swings, resentment toward others and irrational outbursts”

As producers, we spend a lot of our time figuring out solutions to complex problems, so we thought we would tackle boredom this week and share some of the resources we have been using to get through the time.



Recharge your mind

If you are feeling overwhelmed at the moment, taking some time to free up your mental space could put you back on the right track.


         A subscription app that provides guided meditation programs to help you clear your mind, focus on your tasks, and get to sleep. Headspace offers 2 free weeks, but also is offering a special for NYers with over 10 free sessions –


        Another option for mediation is Calm, while the decision between the two is usually personal preference, the biggest difference we have noticed is Calm has a larger library with many options for guides. Calm offers a 7 day trial before requiring a subscription –



Learn a new skill

If relaxing and meditating is not your bag, there is an endless amount of online learning options out there.



         Looking to expand on your creative skills… Skillshare is a great platform for learning from some of the great creative minds in the industry. From animation to video editing and the business side of creativity, lots of great content to productively make use of your free-time. They are running a promotion of 2 free months when you sign up –


         If you ever wished you could go back to school to study just one more subject but didn’t want to spend the time or money to re-enroll, Khan is a fantastic resource. With a huge library of subjects, you can learn everything from Options Trading to Web design. Best part is classes are free –


         Who doesn’t want the opportunity to tell people they spent the quarantine taking online classes from Harvard & MIT? With edX you can do just that. With free online courses in a diverse set of subjects, covering everything from Art History to learning a new Language, edX has a little something for everyone –




Now that our minds are feeling fulfilled, we must make sure to take care of our physical health as well. There are endless amounts of workout videos on sites like Youtube, but if you are the type that likes a more structure program, the following resources can be worthwhile.



      (Nike Training Club) Personally, I would recommend this app even during normal times, but even more so now! If you are looking for workouts for all levels, with a large variety, take advantage of the free 90 days of premium training being offered now. –



What better time than now to get your flexibility and core strength up a few notches. Yoga is made for at-home work, even for those of us with tiny NYC apartments. Normally a $20 a month subscription service, Core Power Yoga is offering free classes that will be updated weekly during the “pause” –


The barre-studio chain is offering Pure Barre On Demand for free for 30 days. To enroll, use the code EXTENDEDTRIAL. A credit card is required to enroll- so be sure to cancel before the free trial ends to avoid getting charged.


Also, if your gym has closed during the outbreak, make sure to follow them on social media as many are offering free IG live classes.



Decompress with some binge-worthy TV

And lastly for those looking for entertainment other than “TIGER KING” the following are offering free streaming services to satisfy your binge-watching needs.


The Metropolitan Opera in New York City is offering free nightly live opera performances. The performances can be streamed on the Met website or through the Met Opera on Demand apps for Apple, Amazon, Roku devices and Samsung Smart TVs.


         Download the HBO now app for over 500 hours of free streaming. Find classic HBO shows such as The Sopranos & The Wire as well as new hits Succession and Barry.


         (Apple TV +) Bought a new Apple device lately? Don’t forget to take advantage of their free year of streaming service Apple TV+ – – If you haven’t purchased anything you can still get a 7 day trial.


         Another streaming service offering a free week before the monthly charge kicks in. But if you are a Verizon Wireless customer you can get a free year with your account. Disney+ is great for those with kids, or if you are nostalgic for Disney classics. –


         The newest player in the streaming scene, Quibi short for quick bites, has focused their content to fit in a mobile world. With short 8-10 min episodes, these are perfect to consume when you have a few free minutes and don’t want to jump into a long program. Built for your phone screen, you can watch in both vertical and horizontal. Quibi is offering their service free for 90 days –



Don’t forget to have fun with your friends and family

Lastly, in this time of isolation, it’s important to find new ways to socialize and interact remotely with your friends and family.  A few fun apps below allow you to do just that in new ways.




And if all that content isn’t enough, don’t forget to catch Fireside Chats with MDS – Live on our social channels Thursday Nights @ 8pm EST.

Facebook | Twitter | Vimeo | Instagram




FIRESIDE CHATS W/ MDS: with guest Cameron Woodward of Wrapbook // Live Interview


This live stream has concluded but please enjoy a copy of the event. Thanks for watching!



Meet Cameron Woodward, co-founder of the entertainment payroll and insurance platform, Wrapbook. Get the scoop from Cameron on how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting their business, insights on how insurance can help production companies now and moving forward, and what relief is out there to help producers and their crews weather the storm.



Related Links

COVID-19: What to Do When Your Production Is Cancelled

Try the Wrapbook Demo Free!




COVI-DIY Copy Stand

written/photos by Toby Moore


Anyone else living in a house with ghosts?

At my parents’ house, where my family and I currently shelter, there are photographs of our ancestors all over the place. Some of them I knew and loved—a number are more mysterious. I’m definitely interested in all of them. And when we return to our home—whenever that might be—I might even like to have pictures of my own to contemplate. But how can I get prints?

Now, I don’t have a scanner here—or much in the way of lights, or even a good camera… Guess I gotta have one of them cov-ideas!




  • mobile phone
  • 2 lamps
  • table/flat surface
  • large clear plastic spinach carton or similar
  • file folder or similar solid colored cardboard sheet
  • white trash bag
  • scissors
  • tape




What I do have is a phone. My dad has two lamps and a desk. That’s a good start. I, furthermore, have an empty family-size spinach carton, a trash bag, half of a dark-colored file folder, some scissors, and some tape.

Like my daughters say about their new home-schooling routine: “easy peasy.



Now, a good “copy stand” for photographing mostly 2D art and pictures is supposed to consist of 2 identical light sources positioned on either side of the subject, lighting it at a 45 degree angle to the camera, which sits on a tripod. Google it if you like—you know you’ve got time!

Here’s what I came up with for a “tripod”:

And here’s a close-up of my bad boy.

Now, I did soak off the spinach carton label as best I could overnight—craftsmanship is obviously key here. That said, I’m not quite sure why I cut the hole at left—but never mind—the one in the center is meant for the lens of my trusty, not-to-say rusty, Samsung Note 5.



If I put my phone on top of the carton and shoot a frame with manual focus and a timer down on the desktop, I get a shot like this:

Not ideal somehow. Guess we need to even out the light.



Here is a passable trash bag diffusion filter:



And here’s where that awesome file folder comes in—because we don’t want the reflected dark shape of the overhead black phone (why do I not have a white phone??) to show up in the lighting:



And we shoot again. Hey hey!

Perhaps not graphic arts standard, but it’s a decently even exposure. If you can get your phone to shoot a raw file, then fixing the white balance, contrast, etc. for whatever shot you put on the desk should be relatively straightforward. I ended up using Capture One. But Google’s Snapseed, which is free to download and use, would serve almost as well. It has surprisingly good raw capability as well as easy filtering and non-destructive editing. That’s not a plug—just an option for the newly somewhat-less-rich. (Remember that Might Magazine list of euphemisms for the 1995(?) recession: “lifestyle down-scaling opportunity”).



Anyhoo, here’s my great-grandfather in DIY repro glory.

Aren’t you curious, too?


‘PRODUCING’ A Healthy Learning Environment

written/photos by John and Lea Mastroberti



      As many working parents can attest to, the balancing act of raising children and focusing on a career is a fine-tuned artone that even the most organized of parents will tell you is a lot of trial and error. So, when the order to close NYC public schools to help stop the spread of Covid-19 came down, many of us were overwhelmed as we struggled to adapt to this “new normal.”

      Most parents have worked from home on the occasional sick-day, but those were far different than what we’re experiencing now.  There’s a guilt-free approach to allowing your sick kids to zone out in front of the tv all daybut now with school closings it’s up to parents to make sure their children are keeping up with schoolwork and not developing bad habits that can negatively affect their long term performance once they return to the traditional classroom.



      To add to the mounting levels of stress, virtual school relies on the parents to take over as teachers and continuously upload completed assignments throughout the day. This can feel especially daunting for parents who need to keep up with their professional work during this time—much of which is busier than usually as brands and businesses go into reactive mode.

      Those parents I described above are me and my wife, Lea. We work fast paced jobs in production and advertising, both of which continued on in a remote working environment with the pace picking up rather than slowing down—something we are super grateful for, but the reality is this “new normal” requires a lot of multitasking and adapting.

      After a few days of complete chaos, my wife and I decided to approach this new process with the same rigor and know-how that we would for producing a major commercial shoot. Lea, an SVP Group Account Director at McCann, has found that years of juggling many fast paced and multifaceted projects at once has given her the time management skills needed to help our daughter stay on top of her work while continuing to manage her job. For me, I’ve used my organizational skills to prep us in advance and keep us moving throughout the day.





Create a schedule – and stick to it. If we are fighting over who is doing math while the other parent is on a call, we have found that neither will get done.

Dress for success – Have your kids get dressed and ready at the same time they would for a normal school day. Children thrive on routine so try to stay as consistent as you can.

A space to work – Living in NYC, we don’t all have the luxury of excess space, but having your kids sit somewhere away from their usual play areas can help reduce distractions.

It takes a village – This is the best time to have your kids engage with as many other people as possible. Both for their sanity and yours. We have regular video calls with Juliet’s grandparents, sitter, cousins, and school friends—some of which provide help on school work while others allow her to socialize.

Communication – Remote learning is not an easy process. Keep your child’s teacher involved in any issues you are having. Feel empowered to push back or speak up about the challenges you are facing so you can get extra support.

Zoom/Skype/Teams – It’s not just for office calls! Have the kids on for fun chats with their friends.

Have fun – Pick up an indoor hobby you can share with the kids -– doing it as a family will ensure all participate and it gives you a chance to bond.



      Despite all of these “new normal” daily challenges, there is a very powerful, growing, sense of community that has developed as we collectively tackle the crisis. Whether it’s the city-wide daily 7pm clap for our essential frontline workers, the sparks of creativity resonating throughout, or just bonding time with your family, it has proven to be a great time to deepen and strengthen relationships.