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How Do I Get Started?

Visit any discussion board for media production and inevitably you will see that question posted any number of times. It’s a good question and there are usually quite a number of good answers. I thought I’d share an approach I took as I entered the second phase of my career.

For a long time I had been working at post houses in Burbank and while they were good jobs I had been thinking about expanding my horizon. I wanted to form a “boutique” video production business doing small projects and eventually, if it went well, go full time with it. But of course I found myself asking that very question: “How do I get started? I knew I could edit but I needed to develop my production chops. I could deal with clients but I had never “produced” a video form start to finish.

One day I came across an article in which a local Search and Rescue team was seeking a volunteer to serve as a videographer. I called them and the next thing I know I’m being scheduled for an interview. I was upfront about my limited production knowledge but that didn’t seem to be a problem. I think they were just glad to have someone come forward – a warm body! They had a list of videos they wanted done for public relations, education, training and more. I was a little skeptical about how much time this was going to take but mostly this seemed like a great opportunity to develop my skills.

To illustrate how new I was to production, I had just bought my first “real “video camera several days before my first shoot with the team. They were going to be rappelling out of a rescue helicopter and I was asked to tape the pre flight instructions from the crew chief as well as tape their jumps for training purposes. This was going to be fun! I got in position, powered up the camera, looked in the viewfinder and saw one the ugliest video images I had ever seen. I had been experimenting with the camera indoors at home but this was a bright exterior day and I couldn’t get the camera to color balance. It took me about 10 minutes to figure out what was going on but it was then that I learned about zebras and ND filters. It was ok, they patiently waited until I figured out what was happening. That probably isn’t going to happen on a pro set with the money meter running.

I have been with the team for five years now and have some great stories but what I wanted to share here is about how this ties into the “how do I get started” question. By agreeing to be a volunteer I’ve been exposed to situations, people, events and places that I would never have seen on my own. I’ve set up and conducted interviews with business leaders and politicians, I’ve met business owners who have hired me to do work for their companies, I‘ve provided video for local and national news feeds and at one point I was contracted to produce a children’s safety video for the National Association of Search and Rescue. For me, it was always about gaining experience, not about getting a paying job - that would come later. Since then I have learned so much about producing videos, had such unique experiences and met so many true heroes that sometimes I think I should be paying them – well, maybe not, but you get the idea!

So, based on my personal experiences, if someone asks me about how to get started I of course am going to strongly suggest volunteering some of your time to an organization that can use your help. There are plenty of them out there who would love to have someone help them produce a video, or write some articles etc. Volunteering can be one the single best ways to get started. That is true for kids starting out, career changers or anyone who wants to get into a new area of work or life experiences. It’s also true for MCA-I members. Volunteering to take on projects with us will reward you many times over. There are plenty of opportunities to shoot, write, organize etc. Just give us a call and we’ll get you started!

--Mark Alexander, Alexander Video Productions
President, OC/LA Chapter of MCAI