A Morris County, NJ man with a childhood passion for doodling and Super 8 filming is back at the drawing board 40 years later. Now, he is cashing in on the fun, making animated and live action videos for companies that span the globe.
Steve Carafello of Denville, NJ is using his creative skills along with his twenty-year experience in the B2B software space to expand a grassroots business, Green Iguana Productions, that he started in 2010. The company produces animated videos, custom live action productions and radio jingles, with a sweet spot in producing integrated multi-screen videos for large conferences and arena venues.
The clientele varies, from small businesses needing a light-hearted pitch, to big players like LinkedIn, Harvard VC, AARP, Ericsson and Vodafone, as well as large international organizations like the PCI Security Standards Council. Green Iguana spots have appeared on national and regional television, and are a predominant presence in internet video marketing.
Carafello has always had a passion for production and as a young boy began making home movies. “Back before videotape came to the home, I was a 12-year-old making animated and live action Super8 films,” Carafello said. “For years I hijacked our dining room table as a miniature set for my stop-motion dinosaur films. This was my passion up until the teen years when my best buddies formed a rock band and I discovered that was a helluva lot of fun and a more popular social choice.”
After seven years as a full-time professional musician, Carafello returned to college and settled into a project management role for a New Jersey based software company for 20 years. Always keeping his fingers in the latest production technologies, he continued over the years to produce songs and videos for family, friends and special occasions, or just as a quirky joke here and there. In 2009, with the support and encouragement of his wife, Donna, he was prepared to take the leap from his corporate job to start the production company from whole cloth.
“The internet has opened up the market for media, and has really made this possible—not only from the perspective of acquiring new clients, but for finding and hiring talent as well as implementing collaborative and organized workflows and file sharing,” Carafello said. “Our first official job was to create a custom musical score for an Australian based yacht manufacturer. I found the job posted online. After that, the pipeline really exploded and we found our first sweet spot in short and humorous animated promo videos. Because you’re competing with artists around the world, the competition is stiff, but if you provide a quality service at a fair price, and manage your projects professionally, the referrals and repeat business will come. Happy clients mean more clients. Eventually we expanded and acquired enough cameras and production gear to go anywhere and shoot anything. We fly all over the world for our clients and do on-site footage acquisition engagements in places like London, Dublin, Vancouver, Puerto Rico, Barcelona and all over the US on a regular basis.”
Now, Green Iguana is comprised of a talented team of artists, animators, technicians and contractors from around the country and the world.
It’s a life come full circle. When asked if he enjoys the work, Carafello’s reply says it all: “Work? Are you kidding me? Everyday I am doing what was my childhood hobby and passion. Now, that’s my job. I am a very lucky man on all fronts, and I’m grateful each and every day.”
Where did the idea for Green Iguana Productions come from?
Our son, Matt, had an iguana named Kevin (we later learned that Kevin was a “girl “). Matt was quite a talented drummer when he was 8 years old, so we decided to write some song together and make a music video as a holiday present that he could give to his relatives. As a joke, we took a picture of Kevin and made a logo called “Green Iguana Studios.” Years later, when starting this business, we thought – why reinvent the wheel? We already had a company name and a logo!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
There is no “typical” day. There are always various projects in the pipeline at different stages in the production workflow. We are concepting, or designing, or writing scripts, or building storyboards, or travelling, or shooting footage, or editing, or processing, or in meetings, or mixing audio, or producing music (among many other things). There are an infinite number of variables that go into a production, and each project is a different animal.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m not sure how to answer this. We all have a different nature. I have always been a creative fiend. I was making puppets and doing puppet shows for the neighborhood kids when I was 5, and then drawing in the margins of paperbacks to do stickman animations. It’s a very organic thing for me to “get” an idea and then execute it. If we are talking about the project cycle for the business, then we work in a milestone-driven collaborative approval-based model with our clients. We learn their business and the goals for their productions. We pitch them multiple ideas and concepts. Once they’ve zeroed in on an idea they like, we do mock-ups and design samples. Once those are approved, we’ll build the entire storyboard and collaborate until it’s just right. Then we launch production, revise and tweak the draft production and take that to the final.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The opportunity to collaborate and work with artists from all over the world to build a production.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
The “habit” of loving your job. Nothing makes you more productive than loving what you do, being passionate about it and taking pride in everything your organization delivers.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If I were to be honest, I’d grab my younger self by the shoulders, shake him and scream, “STOP SMOKING CIGARETTES, NOW!” I am an ex-smoker for going on 20 years now, but smoking is one of my biggest regrets. More to the point, I’d say: Follow your passions. Be smart along the way, and not whimsical, but find a way to do the things you love to do.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Do the full-blown polished sound design for your first rough draft video production to a client. There’s no way for a viewer to get a sense of the pacing and engagement factor of a video without all the sounds and music in place. It’s worth the risk of any rework nixing your efforts because there will be less rework.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Consider saying “yes” to EVERYTHING. Every opportunity, no matter how insignificant it seems, can be that project that leads to big things. There were so many times along the way that I thought, “Ugh – I can do this job, but it’s so small and I just don’t want the hassle.” But I’d always take them anyhow, and one of those instances has led to our largest client for over 10 years.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
: See previous answer. . You can’t do everything yourself. Hire people who are better at their jobs than you can be. This increases the quality of your output, and the quantity of your output.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Forgetting that “the client is always right.” Sometimes it’s hard to deal with clients constantly changing their minds or reversing decisions. It can be tough. My biggest failure is that when these changes and reversals come, I can become frustrated, even before I assess the labor that it will take to produce the change. Sometimes it’s 15 minutes – see? Nothing to worry about. Take a breath and think everything through. You are not always going to agree with the client, and they will change their minds on previously decided issues. Just go with the flow. State your case and always remember in the end they are the boss.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Chocolate cake with vanilla frosting that has zero calories and high nutritional content. If you can get that to happen you’ll be set for life. Seriously, in my world – always be thinking “stock footage” – many times you can construct your agreements in such a way that you can acquire footage for a client’s project, and then take some of that b-roll or the animation segments and upload for sale to the stock sites. This allows you to continue to benefit from work already done.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I can’t match the amount precisely, but I will say that the best $12 I ever spent was on a Green Iguana Productions Commercial Media ID card. This has saved us thousands of dollars in air travel luggage fees for our equipment. Who knew?
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
YouTube is vital. We’ve uploaded all drafts and iterations for client review to YouTube as unlisted links. All of our portfolio is hosted in YouTube. It’s so easy to just work with links rather than heavy video files.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Naked” by David Sedaris—-for no other reason than it will make you laugh long and heartily, and that is one of the most therapeutic things we can do. (And, why we love to do humorous and comedic projects best!)
What is your favorite quote?
“Do you want to be right? Or, do you want to have a nice weekend?” From a client who was advising me how to handle another client who was breaking contract terms.
“Success breeds success…” My Dad – Blase Carafello.
- Follow your passion.
- Take pride in your work – small and large projects alike.
- Say YES to everything, because you never know which seemingly insignificant opportunity can lead to a gold mine.
- Never forget that the client is always right (even when they are wrong).
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.