So You Wanna Be A Filmmaker? Part Deux

By Ron Dawson

A couple of months ago, in part 1 of this story, I talked about how an aspiring filmmaker can be both financially and artistically fulfilled pursuing a career as a wedding and event filmmaker. Today I’d like to explore two options you can take in that direction.

CONTRACTOR VS. STUDIO One of the most important decisions you’ll want to make when getting started is if you want to primarily work as a "gun for hire" (i.e. a subcontractor), or if you want to grow your own studio. When I say "studio," that doesn’t necessarily mean a physical location with high ceilings, rows of editing bays, and a CYC wall. I just mean a company that will solicit business directly from clients, as opposed to shooting and/or editing for someone else.

Subcontractor: When you’re just starting out, unless you’re very ambitious and a pretty good marketer, much of your work just may be subcontracted work for other studios. This is a great way to get "your feet wet," learn from a pro, and establish yourself. If you decide to work for someone else exclusively, but with the hopes of starting your own biz, out of professional courtesy, make sure that understanding is established with the studio. You don’t want to burn any bridges by working with a studio and leaving them in the lurch because you’re ready to pursue your own entrepreneurial dreams.

However, you may decide that the pain of sales, marketing, human resources, and all the other duties required when running your own studio is not worth it. If you just like to shoot, or just like to edit, you may want to just establish yourself as a contractor permanently. Get plugged into a local videographers association and make it known to the group about  your services. It’s a lot easier to market yourself if you can do it all in one location with colleagues you see on a periodic basis. If you do good to great work, are dependable, and TRUSTWORTHY, you can make a very nice living shoot gigs for other studios.

I can’t stress enough that trustworthy part. Studios who hire contractors don’t like it when those contractors solicit business from their clients while on the job, or after a job on which the contractor has already shot. The studio hiring you needs to trust that when you’re on one of their gigs, you represent the studio, not yourself. Also, because the studio is doing all the marketing, customer support, sales, etc, don’t expect to be paid the same amount on an hourly basis from the studio as you would if you were marketing yourself directly to a third party client. The studio has to be able to make a profit too. Your labor is in essence the wholesale cost to the studio hiring you. It will be worth it to you to take contractor jobs because there is significantly less work and headaches involved on your part. In most cases you’ll probably just show up, shoot, then hand the tapes/cards/video files over to the studio. Lastly, as a subcontractor, keep in mind you will need to pay all your own self-employment taxes and insurance.

STUDIO A great many of you, however, if you’re pursuing this business, will have aspirations to grow your own studio. To hang your shingle and build something you can call your own. If that’s the case, there are a whole host of considerations that are important to keep in mind. Here are just a few of the main ones:

Branding: this is by far one of the areas least developed by event filmmakers. A full discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this particular article. Suffice to say that 1) branding is more than just a logo, and 2) branding in essence is the feelings and thoughts conjured up about your studio when its name is mentioned. It’s everything from the colors of your site, to the way you implement customer service, to the quality of your productions. Study other companies with strong brands and see how those brands are developed. Companies like Apple, Mini Cooper, Zappos, and Starbucks, all have strong brands based on amazing service and providing an amazing experience. You need to do the same.

Sales & Marketing: you need to determine how you plan to attract your clientele, and when you get a potential client in the door, how you plan to get them to sign. Just because you make beautiful art, don’t expect people to come knocking down your door. Contrary to what some people may say, just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come. You have to get your work out in front of as many people as possible. Use social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Vimeo, etc., to get your work seen. Get connected with professional communities where your potential clients hang out. If you’re doing weddings, join organizations like NACE (National Association of Catering Executives), local wedding networking groups, etc. If you’re primarily looking to do corporate work, get involved in your local chamber(s) of commerce, or join a networking group like BNI (Business Network International). Especially in today’s economy, you’re going to have to hustle and work as hard, or even harder on your sales and marketing than you do on your art. And if that’s not your cup of tea, then you need to partner with somebody who can do those things for you.

 Systems: every good business has systems in place for operations. How will  you organize your shoots? What will be the policies and procedures for you and your shooters when you prep for a shoot, when you’re on a shoot, and when you get back to your studio (whether that’s a home office or a separate building)? What will be your editing policy? Will you do all the editing or will  you have additional editors? If applicable, how will training be implemented? You need to have answers to all these questions. Our studio has an editing guidelines document that I give to everyone we hire to do any editing work for us. It gives a brief history of our company, explains why we do what we do, and explains in detail how we organize our media files, naming conventions, etc. Systems also include things like accounting and human resources. I know that mere mention of these words can make a creative person’s skin crawl. (I was a business major in school and as a creative myself, the idea of accounting is laborious just to think of it). Hire a bookkeeper and get yourself a great CPA who can do as much of the work for you as possible. A must-read book related to this topic is Michael Gerber’s "The E-Myth Revisited" (Harper Collins, 1995).

 Naturally, there are many more intricacies to starting and growing your own video business than these three aspects. But these are definitely the big ones worth considering.

BOTTOM LINE if you’re primarily in this for the arts, and you don’t have an entrepreneurial itch to scratch, live your life as a subcontractor. But, if you do decide to go for the gusto, do your homework and build your business right. And remember, it IS a business. Speaking of it being a business, in the third and final installment of this series, I’ll address the issue of building a business that can out-live you. If you want to learn more about the details of the topic discussed here, check out the book my wife and I co-wrote (with foreword by Steve Weiss) "ReFocus: Cutting Edge Strategies to Evolve Your Video Business" (Peachpit Press, 2009).

--Ron Dawson

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ron Dawson is an award-winning video producer, writer/director, speaker, and producer/host of two visual arts related podcasts: F-Stop Beyond (for photographers) and Crossing the 180 (for filmmakers). For two consecutive years he was named to the EventDV 25, one of the top 25 event videographers in the industry as voted by his peers. He is the founder and president of Dare Dreamer Media, a boutique new media marketing agency and production company whose clientele have included Apple, Adobe, Kodak, and QuickBooks.

Ron and his wife Tasra co-authored the new book, ReFocus: Cutting Edge Strategies to Evolve Your Video Business, by PeachPit Press. Ron writes a weekly blog about branding, social media, and visual arts at bladeronner.com.

This article was originally published on Zacuto.com : http://www.zacuto.com/so-you-wanna-be-a-filmmaker-part-deux-by-ron-dawson-2#more-4126

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