Livin’ the good life: Good Life Productions’ Julia Cruz

8 min read

Voice123: Portraits is an Ongoing Series of Interviews Profiling Our Clients.

Running a home-based video production business is all about identifying a niche in the market, reaching out, and building relationships, says Julia Cruz of Good Life Productions. Persistence and perseverance help, too…

Initially, husband-and-wife team Neal and Julia Cruz wanted to focus on the upside of life by filming video biographies of locals and their families in and around Boston, Massachusetts. The idea was to produce pictorial histories that could be preserved for future generations.

Good Life Productions logo

Based in Somerville and officially established in 2005, the company philosophy has always been to work hard, and take time to enjoy as well as experience all the good things in life — while giving back to the community so others can do the same. Good Life Productions’ creative prowess has long since extended its reach to include promoting businesses, bolstering fundraisers, and profiling the work of non-profits — not only nearby or within the confines of Neal and Julia’s home state, but much further afield.

“We actually started the same year YouTube started,” explains Julia, “so video was becoming more prevalent. Broadband was beginning to reach across the country and people could watch videos on their computers. Now it’s almost impossible to think of a time when we couldn’t do that. When I drew up the business plan for Good Life Productions in 2004, there were very few companies like ours. There were maybe three or four big production companies in the Boston area, but very few mom-and-pop shops.”

Shooting family history videos wasn’t easy at first, she remembers; producing what were essentially small documentaries was expensive and would take a long time. The biographies usually centered around milestone-birthdays, such as 50 or 70. They even filmed one biography of a woman aged 103.

The business also struggled during the financial crisis of 2008, but because theirs were the only mouths to feed, it wasn’t difficult for Neal and Julia to tighten their belts and make ends meet.

“We just pressed on. I had been a TV reporter and Neal had worked as a radio DJ so we did have media connections. A quality product has its own voice, of course. We take pride in that. People started coming to us as a result of word of mouth.”

The digital revolution has also resulted in a lot more competition, Julia readily points out.

“These days, you don’t need to invest half a million dollars to have your own video production company. All you really need is a mobile phone and you can record amazing videos. Even the audio is pretty good. You don’t need an office either. Shared workspaces have cropped up all over the United States and are both convenient and affordable if you can’t work from home. Nevertheless, I honestly believe home-based industries are the way of the future.”

I love storytelling; everyone has a story to tell and there’s a story in just about everything.

Julia spends most of her time on business development. “I’m the main client contact and an executive producer so I sometimes write scripts, but Neal and I collaborate with a skilled team of videographers, editors, graphic designers, animators, and voiceover artists. Most often, all I do is usher the projects through the necessary processes. I sprinkle the fairy dust on top of every video we do so it looks really good and tells a great story. I love storytelling; everyone has a story to tell and there’s a story in just about everything.

The hardest part is finding the crux of the story, Julia explains. Because their medium is visual as well as aural, they need to discover what makes a person or a business unique and then capture that visually. No matter who their clients are or what business they’re in, there’s something about them that makes them special; something that makes them different. A concept like that can be a real challenge for a client when they can’t think visually or they don’t consider their business to be something visual.

In this age of very short attention spans, we have to ask ourselves: what can we do to grab the viewer in the first 10 seconds?

Developing story elements that will connect with the viewer is crucial — and that’s where Good Life Productions’ expertise comes in; how images, graphics, and audio get woven together in an engaging way.

“In this age of very short attention spans, we have to ask ourselves: what can we do to grab the viewer in the first 10 seconds?” Julia says. “I believe that’s all one has. If you don’t grab your viewers in the first 10 seconds and give them a good reason to keep watching, they’ll click by and move on. There are so many options out there now in terms of what you can watch.”

While some of the videos they produce are shown to a captive audience because it’s an event of some kind, the video will still end up living on the internet afterwards. It needs that hook — whatever it might be. More often than not it’s a visual element combined with something someone said — maybe some melodic content. Julia always tells the company’s clients that they should never save the best stuff for last; rather put the best material at the beginning.

“I’d say that the main part of our process is pre-production,” Julia nods. “It’s sitting down with a client and finding the most compelling aspects of a business — the key selling points. Inevitably, that takes time. You always get those clients who are in a hurry because they left all the planning too late and now they have a launch in two weeks’ time so they’re expecting a seven-day turnaround. Our job is then to sit down with them and force them to think about what their value proposition is; what the message is they want their audience to take away. We want their money to be well spent.”

Sure, they could put something together and make it look good, Julia admits, shrugging and rolling her eyes, but if it’s not going to serve their client’s purpose by getting them more clicks or sales, it’s pointless. What Good Life Productions produces needs to have emotional impact — and to find out where that impact lies, the company needs to build good relationships with their clients.

Running a business like ours doesn’t just mean numbers and being entrepreneurial. Running a business is about building relationships.

“I’ve come to realize that running a business like ours doesn’t just mean numbers and being entrepreneurial. You have to understand that running a business is about building relationships — and not only with clients; inside the company too.”

Working with a partner — or husband, in Julia’s case — isn’t for everybody, she laughs. But it works for them because their individual skill sets complement each other. She emphasizes that she enjoys the operations side of the business.

“Neal is definitely more creative than I am, but we both have artistic abilities. You have to know what you can and can’t do. I may know what a great image looks like, but I’m not a videographer. Neal isn’t a scriptwriter. For the things we’re not great at we have freelancers we call on; we have graphic designers we work with or animators who can take things to the next level.”

Having someone who was solely focused on number-crunching would probably allow the company to expand its footprint and do even better, but Julia and Neal are happy with the size of the business.

The Good Life Productios team filming an interview

“It’s manageable and offers us flexibility,” Julia says. “We now have a baby upstairs we didn’t see coming who’s added a whole new layer to our lives. We’ve talked about how far and how big we want to make our business, but we believe there has to be a balance. We could get bigger and hire more people, but we like having full control over what we do. Where we are right now, it’s nice to have a pretty tight unit. Living a good life ourselves is important to both of us. We came from environments where all we did was work, work, work for a long time. We’re passionate about both sides of our lives and happy to keep it that way.”

Voice123 is super user-friendly. It’s so simple to post a job at the price you’re looking for, filter the auditions, and then present the client with a shortlist.

For Good Life Productions, the beauty of the Internet is that it’s opened up the whole world.

“Take Voice123, for example. We can get hold of voice actors anywhere and have done so. Of course, we have favorites that we keep on file because we’ve worked with them before and what they did for us came out really well, but we can choose just about anyone at all. Some of our clients are amazed when we tell them we’re not limited to finding a voice actor based here in Boston; they find it difficult to comprehend that it no longer matters where in the US or where in the world an actor is.

Voice123 is super user-friendly; it just works for us. It’s so simple to post a job at the price you’re looking for, filter the auditions as they come in, and then present the client with a shortlist so they can make the final decision. Some of our projects also get updated over time and we go back to the same actors again and again.”

Over the past 14 years, the growth of Good Life Productions has been a seamless, organic process; the business comfortably morphed into doing what it does now, which is something of everything.

She pauses, thoughtfully. “I guess we could do a lot more social media-wise; I think we underestimated the importance of that, but there’s just never enough time to focus on it. That in itself would be a full-time job.”

One of the company’s biggest clients is a singer for whom they produce social media videos. His assistant or someone who’s with him on tour shoots material and then sends the footage to Julia so the Good Life team can edit it down and then post it to the applicable platforms.

“We’ve never really pitched producing social media videos or being editors of existing material to the businesses we work with. It may be something we should look into,” Julia smiles, a twinkle in her eye.

There seems to be a great deal of talk in the video production industry about the DIY movement and how many people and businesses have started shooting their own videos. It’s inevitable the way things are, shrugs Julia. She and Neal decided to embrace the changing tide of technology. They’ve adapted accordingly by offering support services to clients who have decided to follow the independent route.

“We offer them a higher degree of production values and quality at an affordable price. They’re obviously doing their own thing in an attempt to save money. We simply tell them that it doesn’t mean our relationship is over — it just means we’re here to help them when they need it or if they have a question just to call us. We’re not going anywhere; we’ll keep on doing what we do.”

As far as the business evolving going forward is concerned, she’d actually like to see the company getting back into filming more biographies and creating something like a Good Life Family section of the business in addition to Good Life Productions which focuses more on corporate projects.

“We won’t get into weddings,” laughs Julia. “That’s a whole thing by itself, but I do love our biographies and I think they’re just such a special thing for a family to have a real heirloom keepsake that outlives the people who were in it.”

Three things when starting your own business? Think it through carefully; don’t be afraid to fail; get out there and meet people.

She gets thoughtful again. “You know, looking back down the road and seeing the distance we’ve traveled, if there were three things I’d say to someone starting out in this business today, they’d be:

“Firstly: think it through very, very carefully; it can’t be a knee-jerk decision. Working for yourself is not for everyone. The highs are certainly higher, but by the same token, the lows are much lower. You have to be patient and persevere. Good Life Productions has been a wild ride and it hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been worth it. I can’t imagine working for anyone else.

“Secondly: don’t be afraid to fail because that’s just part of it. Success teaches you far less than failure; failure is how you learn. You have to work through the hard times. You’ll become more experienced and smarter as a result.  

“And finally: you have to get out there and meet people because a true business mindset is all about relationships and the more relationships you create the better your chances of getting more business. Even if you establish a relationship with someone who never hires you, they may refer someone to you because they know about you and they know what you do. I’ve had people call us and say so-and-so suggested we should contact you.  Sometimes, I don’t even remember who that so-and-so is, but something I told them must have left an impression somewhere along the line. Starting a business is no small undertaking, so get yourself out there — especially in the early days because that’s the only way people will find out about you.”