Fellow microbudget filmmakers, at some point (if you don’t quit, you eat your veggies, say a prayer or two, etc.) you’ll gain enough experience behind a camera (whether editing, directing, motion graphics, etc.) you’ll be ready/able to land a job. Maybe on a film set. Maybe as a video producer for Uncle Bob’s Auto. Maybe as a wedding videographer. There are so many niches you can pick with film and video. The sky’s the limit, really.
Question is… what the heck do you do when you’re trying to land those jobs/gigs? What about what NOT to do?
If we’re going to lead larger crews one day and tell stories of hope to millions and billions, we gotta always be training. Always be pitching. Always be trying. Got a job already? Great! Pitch producers for their time so you can learn from them. 5 minutes on a phone with even a talent agent will do wonders for your morale.
Don’t have a film/video job yet? Keep creating. Keep learning. You’ll get there, if you don’t quit.
In between film and video work? Gotcha covered.
Until then, here are some brutally honest learns I’ve picked up along the way. I’m no David Fincher, but I’ve been a microbudget filmmaker for several years now, and I’ve had more misfires than the Millennium Falcon’s Hyperdrive in The Empire Strikes Back. Let’s dive in with the do’s.
1. Leave Your Card Everywhere
I have two sets of business cards. One is awful-looking. I wasn’t smelling the roses when I had these made on a thin card stock. They were made with Vista Print and they look like it.
I leave this one almost everywhere now. When I go to the gas station, I leave my card. When I get groceries, I leave my card. I have piles of them, and if all I need is to get my name and contact info out there, this card is better than nothing.
I’m committed to my family, my future crews, and I’m committed to sharing the message of hope through film and video in non-cheesy ways. If we don’t speak up, no one will hear we’re ready to roll cameras.
My other cards are from Moo. If Vista Print is where you take your kids for their first car, a Geo Metro, then Moo is where you go when you need a solid SUV.
These I give to people when I have a film/video opportunity. The cards simply say I’m in digital film/video, and my contact information is below my “title.”
They’re thick too – about four times thicker than a standard card, and they don’t feel cheap. I chose rounded squares because I want to stand out. The guys at Moo even sent an extra 30 cards with my first order of 100. Great customer service? I’m coming back! You want to go with Moo? Here's an affiliate link - it won't cost you a dime. Instead, this link will give you 20% off your first order and I'll get a small credit on their site. It's a win for both of us.
If you’re looking for a Cadillac, then you go to the guys who print metal business cards. I think they fire up a forge and pound out your cards with Thor’s hammer, one at a time, a la a Dark Ages blacksmithing. These guys are amazing. I’m headed there, and I hope you are too. If we believe in our abilities as producers, then show people you’ll bring the best attitude and service – it’s all in the details.
If you’re brand new to offering your video production skills as a service, never fear. There’s a whole how-to right here.
But Jake the film guy, how does this help me find work?
Whether you have a job or not this very moment in film/video, leave your card everywhere. Businesses, whether chock full of employees or just a business of one (you), die because of obscurity.
2. Make Your Branding Consistent
I started out with a really bad-looking design when the earlier iteration of this site was launched as churchfilms.com.
Egad. Talk about Windows 95 clip-art.
I’m by no means a great graphic designer, but the newer look is serviceable and what’s more, it’s leaps and bound beyond the original “look.”
I have this icon everywhere online - even my personal Facebook and Linkedin. You should be doing the same too. Choose colors that are balanced, meaningful, and pick something you’re not embarrassed to plaster everywhere.
3. Make Your Contact Info Readily Available
Obviously, you want your contact info on the left margin of your business cards, if not the top-left corner.
But make sure this is true on your social media, your website, heck, even the shirts you wear.
I wear the same shirt every day.
On the back, it’s got the old URL. For example, my gym was giving out their branded shirts like Halloween candy, and it hit me shortly after hitting my one-year mark in business that I was advertising for them. If I don’t believe in my abilities as a video producer, wearing their guano makes sense.
BUT I DO B’LIEVE in my abilities, so I picked this very simple shirt to wear, and I wear it every day. I have a tank and a hoodie version as well for the seasonal changes. I want to encourage people and be able to refer people to this site.
Where else can you make your contact info readily available? I haven’t gone the car decals/wrap route, but that doesn’t mean you can’t.
4. Customize Your Pitch
So many lazy sales people blast out nameless emails. Don’t be that gal or guy. Find out the decision-maker you’re looking to connect with, and if it’s a W2 job, learn who the other influencers are by name too. I’m willing to bet half or more of all applications fail to address the decision-maker.
If you’re not sure how to find this kind of information, study up my fellow microbudgeter.
5. Always Know What You’re Doing In Your Followups
I once made a followup call to a decision-maker, fully expecting to have to leave a voicemail. I knew EXACTLY what I was going to say in the vm, but guess what, against all odds, the decision-maker answered the phone.
I was a deer-in-the-headlights.
I stumbled my way through the conversation and hung-up on myself before he could offer his salutation. If ever I was in the top 10% for the gig, I was in the bottom 10% by the end of my chat, and I knew, and I knew he knew I knew it.
Hard lesson, but a necessary one.
6. Creatively Persist With Your Followups
I talked about this in another post, but it’s worth repeating here.
a. Frequency – develop a schedule and commit to following up. One and done doesn’t exist when trying to get attention. I was invited to a breakfast with a producer because I committed to the work of following up. One email, one phone call, one of anything is NOT ENOUGH.
b. Vary it up – don’t just call and ask for “a status update.” You’ll be in the trash heap before long. Instead, use email, fax (can do for free within reason), Amazon, hand-delivered messages, showing up at their place of business, call up a radio DJ and ask for a shout-out, leave a Facebook comment, etc.
c. Be creative – send a snail mail invitation to a movie. Send a loaf of bread and say you’d “LOAF to do business with them.” Send a William Shatner e-card and say “hi.”
7. Train Every Working Day
Even with proper training every working day, you’re bound to have problems like I did in the 5th point. Tires blow out every now and again, even if your car is well-maintained.
But that’s no excuse to go to the gym and work out once for three hours and call it good.
Train your brain. Rehearse your pitches. Stay alert. Stay ready. Discipline isn’t kind to those on the weak sauce.
8. Know Your Pitches
I’ve got a 15, 30, and 60-second pitch for my video production services. I’ve got a pitch for Powers & Principalities. Just like I have to train (sales/marketing) every working day, I need to be able to rattle off my pitches – with energy – at the drop of a hat.
At the same time, don’t show up to a party and only talk about yourself. Meaning, if you’re in a place to pitch your services or your film, say what is necessary, ask great questions, and try to close the deal. Don’t take it as an excuse to deliver a 5-minute monologue without checking in with your audience. It was the same with teaching. Talk, ask questions, get feedback and engage your crowd. Every pitch should end with opportunities to close the deal and second to that, give more information if needed.
1. Do Work Without An Agreement
I made a colossal mistake in a W2 job application once. During the interview, I was asked if I’d do a project for the team. It’s natural in our line of work; after all, a coach doesn’t want to hear how well you can tackle. He wants to see you tackle.
If a project is for fun, if it’s not going to be used by the group you’re looking to get in with, then by all means, go for it, but still write up an agreement stating YOUR WORK WILL NOT BE USED.
If it is going to be used, discuss payment up front. Don’t be afraid to blow the deal. Remember, there are 7 billion other people on Earth.
I didn’t discuss payment up front. Blunder.
As the interview process got down to the negotiation table, I learned of final revisions to be made before the video would be live in the group. I.e. used in their world. So, like any electrical contractor would do, I sent my invoice for the work rendered. I gave them a fair market value, shaved off hours from the total bill, and it was very comparable to what it would have cost them to have me in that role, working for that amount of time (remember, your “cost” to an employer is at least 1.2x what your salary is… meaning if your salary is $60,000, your employer actually spends $72,000 or more on you every year).
They pushed back.
Rightly so – I didn’t have a written agreement. I lost the job opportunity, but I wasn’t afraid to lose the deal. I was more concerned I didn’t approach the project with a written agreement. We agreed on a sum for almost half what I billed them because I didn’t have an agreement.
Guess whose fault it was? Mine.
Give a potential opportunity 2-4 hours of “work” if it’ll allow them to see what you can do and beyond that, get a written agreement your work
a. won’t be used for commercial purposes,
b. will be compensated to the tune of x dollars.
If you’re lost in the sauce when it comes to video production contracts, get a solid template for FREE to save yourself from these kinds of dilemmas.
Then use the darn thing.
2. Shotgun Everyone
Don’t make a template and blast everyone with the same template. Remember, customize your pitch.
In addition to customizing, you’ll want to go a mile deep with 5-15 different people. Applying for a W2 job? Pick a handful and follow up ‘til the job is closed. Don’t blast out your resume to 100 different groups: I guarantee you’ll get ZERO bites. Learn about a few different organizations, set yourself apart from the other weak-sauce applications they’re fielding, and smoke that first conversation with facts. Show ‘em you did your homework. You can only do that when you go a mile deep with a handful of groups.
This principle is true even with one-off jobs like the ones you can find at staffmeup.com. You don’t want to blast 50 different editing jobs. Pick 5, learn who the decision-makers are, and go all-in.
Everyone can submit a resume. But you’re not everyone, and it’s your job to show them.
3. Get Obsessed With Gear
Gear changes all the time. The GH4 made a big splash in 2014, then Panasonic made a few smaller derivatives, and then they released the GH5. They’ll be on the GHX 3000 in 5 years. It’s a vicious cycle, and technology always changes. Pick gear that will last a solid 6+ years (entirely possible) and farm out the bigger jobs that require the bigger guns. If you want to be a director or producer, you won’t be running cameras forever. Get used to finding and working with a DP. A great DP keeps all her or his own gear relevant anyways OR know what’s relevant.
If you’re a DP, you probably already have a great C300 package or something similar, or you (or the production) will rent a Red or Alexa package anyways. So, don’t bother with the newest mirrorless camera. Get better at using the gear you have like Sir Simon Cade. That kid is still using a Rebel T2i, and he’s jolly good at it.
In case I haven’t beat a dead horse yet, gear doesn’t find you the next job; it may be a tool on the next job, but YOU are the reason you’ll get the next job – your technical competence is important, but your ability to sell your skills, over-deliver, show up ahead of time, stay late, work hard, and contribute are far more valuable.
For example, I once had a subcontractor who could easily deliver all the technical requirements of the job (and did), but I didn’t over-communicate expectations. I was at fault for not going the extra mile, and as a result, I sweated the deadlines, heard a lot of excuses, and I nearly paid for it with losses. Even though I’m responsible to over-communicate expectations, the experience was awful and you can bet I’m not hiring the sub again.
4. Go Into Piles Of Debt
Every big business leverages debt to grow their business. I too have used debt at various points in my business, but obviously not on the scale of Coca-Cola. Dave Ramsey will tell you to never get into debt (except possibly for a house), but Dave Ramsey also doesn’t coach you on building a video production business or a feature-length film. Use some debt (like Paypal credit) to finance purchases as needed and then be an adult and pay it off. Don’t fall into the previous trap of going gear-frenzy, financing $45,000 worth of gear, and then failing to make a single ad for a client. Savvy?
5. Show Up Late
15 minutes early is on-time. Showing up on-time is late. This isn’t just for military folks. In the business world, the person who shows up late (or later) doesn’t care (or doesn’t care as much).
Once I was nervous enough I had to pull over at a gas station and relieve myself. The stop cost me and I ended up being late. I owned the tardiness, but I was still late, and I set a bad first impression. Guess who didn’t land the job?
My friend Terry routinely shows up a half-hour ahead of when he’s needed. I bet he hasn’t been late for an appointment in decades. Smart man.
6. Point The Finger
Biggest drawback of any leader or public figure (next to a scandal that closes down their business and destroys their livelihood, not to mention the livelihoods of all who worked for ‘em)? Failure to take responsibility.
Don’t make up excuses. Don’t blame Uncle Bob. Just don’t. You’re at fault, always. Accept it now. When poop hits the fan, you’re at fault. When your subcontractor shows up late, it’s your fault for not over-communicating.
I have a super-simplified formula below for what it takes to be a filmmaker on the international level like Nolan or Scorsese, and responsibility is a huge component of it. Start practicing now, with your family, with your team at work, with your customer service rep at Verizon, and with the guy ringing up your groceries at the store.
7. Give Up Trying… Unless…
a. You absolutely blow it. Sometimes you just know there’s no going back. Count your losses, learn from your mistakes and press on.
b. You get zero communication from the other party. You can only follow up so long. I pick someone new to pitch only after getting ZERO responses to about 14 varied, consistent and creative ways of following up. If I really want to work for Uncle Bob on a project, Uncle Bob’s going to hear some straight-laced, some zany, and some creative followups over the course of 16-26 weeks (about 14 contacts in all… and the timeline is super compressed as needed). If I can’t budge Uncle Bob in that time frame, the gig’s already over and I failed to be loud enough. There’s 7 billion other people in the world – move along.
Grant Cardone believes in following up ‘til you die. Grant Cardone also has an army of people that make up his businesses. ‘Til we get there, sometimes, you just have to know your side of the Mason-Dixon line.
c. You get a cease-and-desist letter. I only have one to my name. I’m not a bully, but I believe in following up because I believe I’m better than my competitors, and I believe I’m meant to learn how to pitch big ideas that’ll require lots of guts. I don’t take option a. or b. lightly, and I’m bound to get another cease-and-desist in my lifetime. It’s a slap on the wrist; if you get one, smile, nod, and move along (they’re not the droids you’re looking for).
8. Quit Praying
There’s a story of this guy named Daniel from centuries ago who lived as an outsider of sorts. He wasn’t alone either; a lot of his countrymen were exiles too. He made it a point to pray for his host nation… and himself. He prayed regularly too, even when the long arm of the law was on the hunt for folks like Daniel who were bent on praying.
I encourage you to keep praying. There’s a lot at play when we pray, even when we don’t see fruit immediately. There are a lot of moving parts in the world, both seen and unseen, and when the answers are “no” or non-descript, see it as a chance to get some grit in you.
Grit & responsibility & creativity & problem-solving = a butt-kicking filmmaker.
If you’re serious about film/video, and if you know you’re capable of leading others on a film set, and if your ambitions are bigger than “I want to make a movie,” then I hope and pray (every day) you’ll dig your heels in. Grit is something we all need in this business, much more than the latest tech. I’m convinced responsibility is equally important, but I already said as much in the formula.
On that note, when you join the Bold Nation newsletter below, you’ll get instant access to the first two chapters of my second book, Nobody Told Me There Was Mustard On This Sandwich: Take Responsibility At All Levels Of Filmmaking. Plus, I’ll send you a copy of a one-page resume I’ve used that’s as polished as can be with clear cause-and-effect relationships for every job description. Furthermore, you’ll have a link to this post’s video if you’re of the visual-learning persuasion (you don’t like reading!?). Last but not least, I’ll even send you a bonus video, one I created specifically for a pitch. Mimic it, tear it up, whatever you gotta do.
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Your Turn - What Is The Biggest DO NOT In Your Playbook? Comment below!