Looking Good on Your First Video Job….

...Without Breaking the Bank, or Pricing Yourself Out of the Business.

We all start out in the video biz sometime. You may start on on February 1st, but that doesn’t guarantee work the next day. You have competition from day one, offering much the same set of skills that you have. But they exist already in the marketplace, and you don’t. Well, what we want to do here is walk you through the steps you need to take to get from opening day to wrapping up your first video. Some of this will be obvious, but a lot of I learned the hard way, by making mistakes, so you don’t have to.

Make Sure You Want to Do This (Believe in Yourself)

You may be young, or you may be old enough to be starting a new career… age doesn’t matter. What does matter is an absolute belief that you can make a difference. Knowing your stuff (whether from books, the web , youtube or experience) will make you confident in how you approach people, how you treat them, what you say and what you do. You may want to write a manifesto or a “Declaration of Principles”, in the words of Charles Foster Kane. It is a contract with yourself and your eventual coworkers or partners of what you believe your work should accomplish for the customer… what techniques you will you use; what outcomes you will guarantee. It is based on your self-acknowledged strengths, be they writing, shooting, editing, strategizing, or if you are restricting yourself to a niche, say meetings or training, or events, or tributes, your knowledge and abilities in that sector.

Prove You Can do This (Ya Gotta Have a Reel)

This is the ultimate chicken or egg. How can I show I’m good if I haven’t produced anything? This the first fork in the road for you. A good web page and a knowledge of social media will only get you so far. Outbound calling and direct mail may stir up some interest. But when you get an appointment, real or virtual, your potential client is going to want to see something. There are three ways to accomplish that:

  1. PRIOR WORK. You produced something for a class or in a prior career that is good enough to help you survive your first meeting. It may need a little dressing up with additional production techniques, music, or titles, but if you’re serious about things, you’ve already settled on an inexpensive editing program which can help you handle that.
  2. FREEBEE FOR THE ARTS OR FUNDRAISING. Offer to produce a freebee for an arts organization or charity. They may be willing to throw you a few bucks for “supplies”, but what’s important is that you can say to potential customers, “We just finished a project for….”.
  3. FAMILY AND FRIENDS. Find a relative or friend that works for a small company that would love a video but would never pay the going rate. This gives you the ability to see a professional project through, from determining the need, to getting script or concept approval, to showing your rough cut, to delivering a finished project (which may require changes) for approval. This is invaluable experience, in addition to having something to show your work.
  4. THE MY CITY STORY. Create a generic piece on the city or area where you live. After all, this is going to be your marketplace, and your customers live and work in that market. This overcomes the “That’s Not Exactly What I Want” problem of having a training tape when they want a new product introduction. It’s also a real opportunity to show a lot of beauty shots in a synchronized dance with the music, and you could add interviews (brief) of people saying nice things about your city. Suddenly, you’re a hero.

Ask, Listen, and Write a Proposal (Prove You Know Them and What They Want)

Now it’s time to sell by solving their problem. Your demo reel only gets you to this step. There’s still work to do, but this is work that will guide your project down the line.

You need at least one meeting with the potential customer to determine their real needs. There are needs and real needs. The need is what the video is going to accomplish. The real need is what the person who is your customer hopes to accomplish for their self. The need may be a company history, but the real need is almost always about your client’s career progression. They want you to make them look good. Recognizing this will focus you on the importance of your relationship to the client. By the way, the real need is hidden and never discussed, except maybe later over a beer or coffee.


What should this video accomplish? (The Premise)

How do you want the audience to feel and to take away after they see it?

What points do we want to get across in order to persuade the audience to this felling and takeaway? (the Proof)

What resources do you have available that we can view, read, or interview to help in our better understanding the subject matter?

Do you have any preconceived notions of budget? (Ouch, but you’ve got to ask)

The Proposal

Now you can proceed with a proposal and quote. The proposal is a statement of what the customer is trying to accomplish, how you are going to accomplish it, what strategy you will use and what creative and production components are called for to accomplish the result desired.

After you’ve made your case persuasively, the final page should be the proposed budget. This should be somewhere in the range they’ve suggested, but once you’ve built you reputation, and if you’re proposals are good, you can easily bid higher.

(For More on the proposal process, including outlines and quote sheets, read or borrow my book “The VideoBiz” on Amazon available in Kindle and paperback).


Looking the Part (How to Dress Yourself and Your Gear)

It goes without saying that we live in a casual society. But first impressions count, so in the proposal stage I always err on the side of being a bit more formal than my potential customer may expect.

Once you’re in the trenches, you dress for the job. If you’re an account executive, that’s one thing. If you’re a cinematographer, that’s another. Years ago, as the representatives of my company, I and my account executive / directors always wore dress clothes. But that was a long time ago. Now, I’ll try to get along with the casual crowd, with a black t-shirt or polo and a sports jacket. But if I’m on location directing, it’ll definitely be jeans.

When you’re starting out, there will be the question of equipment. Camera, lights, microphones, camera supports and additional gear for the “sexier”moving shots. It’s always nice to own the gear, and real bargains can be had in HD gear now that 4K has come along. Unless you’ve promised 4K and have the spare cash to deliver on that promise (rental or purchase), you might start with a “pre-owned” 1080p camcorder that looks the part. Add to this 2 or 3 point lighting and a decent tripod and microphone and you’re probably good to go. A swell trick I might advise, especially for achieving a nifty look at a bargain price, is to cobble together a gyroscopic gimbal (stabilizer) and an inexpensive 4K action cam… not as your main rig, but for getting crane and slider type shots without the crane and slider. Check past entries here for suggestions in that regard.

If you are looking for a used camera for your main rig, get one that looks the part to the less well informed client. For example:


Sony HDR-FX1 Helps You Look Good

This is a highly regarded HD camcorder that looks the part, and can be had in the $450 range. It uses tape, but that is not a bad thing. Tape can’t be wiped out like an SD card can– it’s all or nothing with SD cards. I’m not saying you shouldn’t graduate to that… one thing at a time. The tapes can be digitized through firewire or a firewire to thunderbolt adapter, or manually through HDMI. I’ve also seen the big brother HDR-FX7 available at similar prices on eBay or Amazon.

Wrapping Up Your First Video Job (In More Ways Than One)

Eventually you finish, and you present your final product. It’s alway good to present in person, to get a feel for the room. Also, use this as an opportunity to review your goals, your plan, and where you took some detours. The roll ’em. Coughs and twitchy rear ends? Uh-oh. Silence and the occasional ahah? Okay!

Congrats. You’re a pro. Rinse and repeat.

THE VIDEOBIZ. Author Brien Lee has spent 40 years creating corporate videos, video tributes for industry leaders and family and friends, major meeting extravaganzas, and documentaries. In this book he shares everything he learned about running a creative video business, from getting business, writing and creating videos, growing a business, and the care and feeding of clients and co-workers. This is a book where Brien lays bare the lessons he has learned, and the way he survived 40 years in the business and the founding and operating of three separate companies. He shares his methods and techniques that led he and his compadres to major success, and confessed his failures (and the lessons learned) as well. The book includes samples of scripts, proposals, timelines, and actual videos. He offers links to additional helpful resources, equipment, and free video library sources. And he does it all in a breezy, anecdotal style. 

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