Yes, I am guilty of wittering on about this or that latest project. So I thought I’d invest my time better by getting some helpful, practical advice out there. I’ve noticed that the post that receives the most traffic on my blog by a long way is ‘Best Settings for your Canon 5D Mark III.’ This has made me realize that people want more information on how to do stuff better and achieve success for themselves. And indeed, why not? I’m going to try to turn up the volume on insightful posts for the foreseeable.
Some of the questions I often get asked are, ‘How did you start?’ or, ‘How do I become a successful filmmaker / video producer?’ ‘Where do I look to find commissions?’ etc. – So let me start off by stating one very important point; There really is no one magical solution to success and instant profiteering. If you find it, please let me know because I haven’t found it myself yet either!
And by the way, this post is not about finding the right equipment, etc. This article is purely about the practical steps you can take that, given you possess the talent to make decent video clips, further yourself to getting paid commissions. In fact before you read on, I’m already assuming you have the ability to produce something pretty darned good.
I will begin with the obvious. To gain even the mildest success in video production and/or filmmaking takes tremendous effort, hard work and experience. Yes, this is common sense but it often eludes many.
This business is piled high with countless schmucks who have managed to get their hands on a video camera or DSLR and a week later, they’re a one-stop-shop video production company.
It wasn’t always like this, but it is now.
The gear is cheap and everyone fancies themselves as a bit of a David Attenborough.
But seriously, you wouldn’t believe how many businesses we talk to who have become soured at the thought of having new video production work done after a previous bad experience. There are many wonderfully talented people out there, but there are just as many if not more wannabes. Stand out from the crowd – Work hard and put everything into each and every project. Don’t give up – For every project you complete you’ve risen a few notches higher toward success.
Be honest with your clients about what you can do and what you can’t do for them. Show them examples of your work (yes, your work, not someone else’s!). You’re building your reputation, your brand, your style of film-making Keep at it, keep producing work regularly – even if you’re not getting paid for it – Your distinctive style will emerge and will define you as an independent artist. This is the real goal of what you are trying to achieve – You need to stand out from the crowd to do really well in this industry – It’s what gets you the commission over Mr Average.
As a pending successful video producer, this is your first important practical step. You’re in this business, or trying to get into this business because you love video production. It’s absolutely imperative that you build a body of work and show it off (note that I mentioned TWO steps in that process, not one!)
If you haven’t already got a few nice clips together, then what are you waiting for?! You need to start doing it now!
Do you know why Steven Spielberg’s company is called Avalon? Because that was the name of his first short film. It wasn’t bad, it got him fresh work, but he knew it wasn’t his best work. A little-known fact is that he made concerted efforts to keep Avalon away from general viewing and that’s why it’s quite hard to find a copy of it anywhere.
Moral of the story? If you already have a piece of work that you did, online right now, it has your name on it and you’re not entirely happy with it… GET RID OF IT! Delete it. Take it off YouTube. Destroy your friend’s copy of it. If a prospective client searches on your name, finds it and watches it before you get the job… You won’t get the job.
One other important point about taking on freebies:
That’s important and it’s why you’re offering the freebie! Later on once you get your feet under the table, brands and businesses will often not allow you to upload the finished product you made for them as part of your own promotional material. When they’re paying decent money, they’re paying for the copyright privilege to use the clip for them, not you! So in these early stages, doing the work for nothing is fine, but produce it with the agreement that you can use it to promote yourself too.
Once you have selected your best work (again, I stress that if you’re the slightest bit unsure as to whether it is your best work, leave it out), showcase it ONLINE! Make sure you present it well, use lots of relevant tags, SEO, backlinks if you can from other sites. Send it to friends, family, your local business entrepreneur Every little helps, you’re building your brand awareness. This is vitally important, so it is the first step to success. But please make sure it is professionally presented. So now your question is, how?
Absolutely essential for the pending successful video producer. If you can’t afford a website, if you can’t afford someone to do it for you, do it yourself. There are thousands of free/cheap website templates out there.
Creating your own website is inexpensive and I can’t recommend WordPress highly enough. But why WordPress?
Well, it’s easy to set up, established, fantastic for SEO, there are thousands of business-looking templates for it (many of them free), people can comment on your blog and your progress (and build a fan base)… But most of all, it’s completely free. It just takes your time and effort to put it together. Hell, you’re serious about this, right?
Once you’ve put a WordPress (or other website) together promoting you, don’t forget to regularly update it with new content. I am not very good at this part either, but the best way of doing it is to commit yourself to a time or day in the week (mine is Sunday) to sit down and write a decent post, maybe upload some of your work.
Get the SEO right, use back-links if you can – WordPress has some awesome plugins that will help you take care of this. Ask in the comments if you need more tips. Remember to put your video work on YouTube and repeat the process on Vimeo (with permission from the brand or business you made it for) – Use relevant tags. Allow your work to be discovered! Comment on other people’s blogs and videos – Put a sneaky plug/link to your website too… You never know who’s looking!
This is your second practical step. Networking online through YouTube, Twitter, Facebook etc. is important, yes. But you know about that already and it’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about getting out into the world and meeting real people.
It’s no good producing the work if you’re not showing it off. Talking to and being around other people is essential. Are you one of “those” Creatives who likes to sit in front of his computer, busily editing away, shooting solo, eating solo, drinking solo, hell, even talking solo (in the shower!)?
Don’t do it! There’s a big world out there and you won’t get any of the important networking done sitting on your behind.
If you hate talking to people because you’re one of “those” Creatives, then you’re going to have to force yourself to do this part or at least find someone else to do it for you. I really mean this, do not leave this step out – You need to get out. Put down the keyboard and get networking. Force yourself to attend at least one networking event per month and stick to it.
So now you’re asking me, “Where do I go?”
You could start by attaching yourself to your local business network. This is where many business owners and representatives network with each other in order to introduce and pitch their own products and services. There are breakfast mornings, networking lunches, seminars etc. Video production is huge now and it’s getting bigger every year as the internet gets faster and technology improves. You’re in a great business. Firms and business owners are realizing that they need to get professional video onto their home page – Video content is highly visible in the biggest search engines of Google and YouTube.
Another thing you can do to network is attend events like NAB, or BVE in the UK (Broadcast Video Expo). Just walking around and talking with exhibitors, other visitors at the bars and coffee areas will help you to meet others, gain perspective as to what’s current in the industry and may generate ideas and leads too. Even this ‘Philip Bloom’ chap was there chained to the Canon exhibit this year (who’s he?!)
Talk to production companies.
Some of the bigger ones near you often get too much work and so farm it out to other production companies or talented videographers. Many of them will ask to see your portfolio, which… <ahem> …is why you need to have one!
There are lots of other ways to network, perhaps some of you can suggest one or two more in the comments section below.
An electrician can’t tap on the shoulder of a business person at a busy networking meeting and demonstrate how good they are. In fact most businesses aren’t able to do this. Fortunately you are in one of the few industries that can.
Get your best video work onto an iPad or even an iPhone or other smart device and show case your work to interested people at these networking sessions. You’d be amazed how much work you can pick up this way. Some of these projects may be dull, but every project you do, no matter how mundane, is building your body of work up and gaining you experience, trust and reputation.
If you’re still with me up to this point, you’re in luck – Read on. For it is here I will impart my golden nugget tip for you. Creating speculative works is touting for business by producing work free of charge under your own steam for promotional gain. No, I’m not repeating myself from earlier on in this post as you will see. I would add that doing work on spec is probably the primary method that has earned me regular work over the years. It really does work. There are two ways of going about it and both have a great success rates.
The first is a direct marketing approach. What you are doing is spotting an opportunity, making a ‘taster’ video yourself and then selling the idea with your taster video to a potential client.
Here’s a real life example: Somewhere on my blog is a video entitled ‘Cartagena in the Autumn’ – It’s a clip I made some years ago. That video I put together in one day and edited it the next, but that clip alone has netted me more than £60,000 worth of work, some of it completely accidental. In fact, I still get inquiries today as the clip seemed to sort of go viral within the tourism industry.
A person who operated a forum for residents and tourists of Cartagena found my video on a search engine – He also happened to be an employee of the tourist board. The video found its way to the top official who commissioned media work for the district and I found myself commissioned to make tourism videos to mark a Centenary year.
From the success of that opportunity, I found myself being commissioned by other neighboring districts (through recommendation and word of mouth) who also wanted videos that beautified their towns and cities. So you see, all that work came from my original speculative video. Not too shabby for a couple of day’s work!
The second way to find work from spec is to sign up to one of the many online crowdsourcing websites that seem to be everywhere now. Their members create videos for top brands and music labels. You can start by looking at Poptent.net, Genero.tv, Wooshii.co.uk, Tongal.com and Mofilm.co.uk to name just a few. There are so many now and all of them offer pretty decent prizes. Although winning may appear to be the goal, you don’t have to win to benefit. In fact the winning part was secondary to me. There’s more mileage in producing videos that executives from big brands will be watching. It is a great way to get seen, get noticed and build a profile.
Real life example #1: I won $10,000 making a spot for Autotrader on poptent.net that took me a few hours to film and a day to edit. The success from that got me other work making commercials for TV and online.
Real life example #2: I won several thousand pounds making an on-spec music video that became the official music video for superstar Katherine Jenkins on genero.tv – I got a TV appearance from that, commissions to make other music videos for Warner Bros. and Time Records (Italy). I went on to make music videos for Duran Duran, Sigur Ros and Supafly. All that from my original speculative offering.
(A little side tip though – Music videos, whilst great fun to make and award you uber ‘street cred’ are a lot of hard work for very little pay. Unless you’re regularly making promos for the likes of Madonna, Justin Beiber or Lady Gaga – Most up-and-coming bands are strap-cashed and can barely afford a few hundred quid to have a music clip made for them).
So there you have it – My little secret that is working on spec. You’re fronting the cost of the production yourself, but you’re doing it to improve your skills as a filmmaker, build a solid portfolio and get future work from it.
You also get “out there,” meet people who can get you other work. For example, I joined a competition to make an ad on spec for Breyer’s ice-cream. I used Linda Lusardi and her husband Sam Kane (lovely people) to feature in it. The following day after filming, I got a call from Sam where he knew someone who needed a film crew for a promotional job coming up the following week. I would never have got that work if it weren’t for my creating the spec commercial spot.
Hopefully these tips will help you to see how I was able to get a leg up once I went out on my own. Essentially, I was starting again from scratch. But with some perseverance and dedicated, hard graft in the industry you love, you too will soon be making new contacts and getting commissions. That’s how to become a successful video producer after all.
If you have any questions, feel free to hit me up in the comments section – Will do my best as long as I’m not away on a shoot. My advice will always be free, but getting paid to do something you love? Priceless!