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Practical advice for professionals working in video and new media
Richard Harrington – @rhedpixel 1st Edition
From Still to Motion– The Business Manifesto
#1. You Can’t Be Good at Everything ..................................................................4 #2. Video is a Team Sport ....................................................................................5 #3. Finding and Hiring Contractors ....................................................................6 #4. Age is Just a Number ......................................................................................7 #5. It’s All About Project Management ................................................................8 #6. The Director Needs to be Conﬁdent ..............................................................9 #7. Playing Fair ...................................................................................................10 #8. Work for Hire ...............................................................................................12 #9. Piracy Hurts Everyone .................................................................................13 #10 Billing ..........................................................................................................14 #11 Keep it Short ...............................................................................................15 #12 If You Have a Bad Feeling... Say Something ..............................................16 Conclusion ..........................................................................................................17 You can keep up with Richard Harrington here: ...............................................17
From Still to Motion– The Business Manifesto
by Richard Harrington — CEO, RHED Pixel
You are about the read the twelve most important things I’ve learned about the business of video production. These are my opinions, but are formed from my lifelong career as a journalist, storyteller, and business owner. I’ve always been an entrepreneur... and have launched many different media ventures through the years from a magazine, to websites, two full-service design companies. I’ve been lucky (at least most of the time). I was there for the start of nonlinear video editing on computers, posting of video to the Internet, the ﬁrst digital video revolution, and the second (the merging of photography and video). I’ve always been a bit of a technologist. Computers came easy (I was literally born into the computer revolution). I am well known as a technology author... but those books and training videos come from the hands-on experience of running a visual communications company called RHED Pixel. In the next few pages, I am going to share what I’ve learned over the last three decades (and yes, I will need to gloss over some of the nitty gritty details). You may know some of these things already, but this is what I wish I knew when I decided to start in the video business. Take advice for what it is… an attempt to save you the pain of failure and the frustration of wasted time. Not all advice works for all situations, but I hope at least a few of these will gain you a client and give you some well-earned peace-of-mind.
#1. YOU CAN’T BE GOOD AT EVERYTHING
Those who “know” me are likely thinking this is a hypocritical statement. But the truth is that you cannot be good at everything. It takes a keen awareness of your personal strengths and weaknesses in order to survive in the world of video. Truly professional productions require a myriad of source elements. Video is much more than just moving pictures. You’ll need high-quality sound, compelling music, a well-written script, compelling graphics, art direction, and more. I recommend a triage approach to developing a skills inventory: • Marketable Services – These are skills that you feel conﬁdent in selling to others. You should aim to keep this list below ten items (after all there’s a reason you have ten ﬁngers). Be sure to develop these skills continuously through exercise (practical use) and training (conferences, books, online learning, and social media). • Potential Services – This category houses skills that you both want to offer and show potential aptitude. Look for opportunities to develop through personal projects and volunteering your time. Look for a mentor that you can serve under and log additional practice time. • Outsourced Services – There will be lots of services you need to make a video project. You can’t be good at all of them. Learn enough so you understand what’s involved, then build a good pool of talent that you can hire. There is no shame in hiring other professionals. In fact it is critical to the success of the industry. Through the mixing of creative professionals, new ideas are born.
#2. VIDEO IS A TEAM SPORT
This is the hardest message for most photographers to accept. You cannot truly make a professional video in isolation. Am I saying that one person can’t do everything? No. But can they do it well? Consider the following: • Video projects often have ﬁrm deadlines – Whether it’s an air date, a live event, a corporate meeting, or a project launch. Deadlines are standard in the world of video, having a team means bench strength and safety in numbers. • You’ll make more money doing what you do best – How many photographers are magazine publishers? Do they sell the advertisements and write all the stories? What about when publishing a book... do they ﬁre up their personal printing press? The point here is that a photographer should do what they do best. That tends to be direct the talent, pick the locations for shooting, lens the project, and carry their creative vision through the editing and graphics stages. I am not saying you should avoid editing or motion graphics, but you may be pretty slow (especially when you ﬁrst start). I say try anything three times… but if you ﬁnd you hate the work or you are turning down other jobs... then its time to move on. You can always ﬁnd people who want to do parts of the job you are weakest at… plus they’ll likely be far faster than you. This will let you shoot more and line up more business through your contacts. • The creative mind is like a hive – Adding additional people that you trust can really lead to a better product. I ﬁnd that having other professionals around keeps me from slipping into my old habits. It also leads to creative discussions that push the envelope and lead to a better outcome.
#3. FINDING AND HIRING CONTRACTORS
Find other professionals to work with can seem quite daunting at ﬁrst. This is especially true if you are changing markets or professional focus. It’s important to realize that the ﬁlm and video community is well established with its own professional groups and even unions. Finding qualiﬁed video crew is not difﬁcult (if you know where to look). • Craigslist is Not Your Friend – Before we tackle where to look, lets get where not to look out of the way. I ﬁnd that Craigslist (and others like it) are ﬁlled with ads looking for crews. Nearly all offer no pay (just experience). As such, most professionals don’t even bother looking here for work. It’s hard to ﬁnd true talent when you’re surrounded by wannabes looking for a handout. • Professional Groups – There are numerous professional groups in most markets. A simple web search may turn up user groups for speciﬁc technology like tools from Apple or Adobe. You can also ﬁnd groups that maintain directories and member programming such as MCA-I, Women in Film, and others. • Grip and Rental Houses – Many markets have grip and rental houses that rent lighting and support equipment used in the production of ﬁlm and television projects. These places also rent to other video professionals and usually maintain or even staff crews that can be hired. These are great places to start when you need to hire in a different market. • Teaming – Chances are some of your colleagues are also getting into video production. Work with those you know. I have found that collaboration with colleagues works far better than viewing everyone as your competition. Work openly with those you trust and respect and go out of your way to work together. Those who are worth working with will certainly return the favor in some way.
#4. AGE IS JUST A NUMBER
I have seen myself go from being an upstart kid to a balding professional. But I have learned this... age is just a number. I have worked with wonderfully talented “kids” throughout my career. I have also chosen to surround myself with those who are more experienced than me. Both parties have added to my understanding of this medium and its creative applications. While the guild system of old is all but destroyed, you can still preserve its spirit. Seek out others who you want to work with. Ignore their age and instead look at what they have to offer to the creative process. An open mind goes a long way. I continuously learn things from even the youngest employee or crew member. I also have learned to listen when someone else has something to say. Video is a collaborative medium and one that has undergone a century worth of change in the last ten years. Bluntly... shut up and listen. Put any preconceived notions you may have about age or experience aside and open yourself to opportunity.
#5. IT’S ALL ABOUT PROJECT MANAGEMENT
Video is a multi-headed beast that’s constantly screaming to be fed and nourished. You’ve got people in front of the lens, people behind the cameras, and even more behind the scenes. Video projects are complex with multiple stages of approval along the way. You need to control things and have a plan (and even another plan for when that one fails). Project Management is not unique to video, but it is a critical skill due to the complex interconnected nature of video projects. Chances are that you may have some project management skills… but I want you to go deeper and actually study the formal business practices of project management. The best decision I made in my professional career as a video producer was to formally study Project Management. I chose to get a master’s degree in it, and it saves me nearly every day. Many schools offer consolidated courses and workshops; you can pursue an educational certiﬁcate, or even just start your own independent study. While I’ll emphasize project management, I mean the business practices. It is important to learn how to balance the scope of the project, track your resources, and maintain budget and quality. Simply buying a project management software package will make you no better a business pro than owning Photoshop will make you a photographer. Software is a tool, not the foundation of a professional career. We use project management principles to clearly describe the work to be undertaken. We measure progress and track changes so the end budget reﬂects the work performed. We closely monitor the budget and schedule (as these are often more important or easier for the end client to measure). Quality video is awesome... and the world is ﬁlled with talented folks who can make it. Fortunately (for true business professionals) it takes more than just creative talent to make it in the world of video. Business acumen and client management are just as important.
#6. THE DIRECTOR NEEDS TO BE CONFIDENT
Clients look for a conﬁdent vendor who can get the job done. Crews look for a leader to provide the artistic vision. While you may be “inside your head” mulling the creative vision or ﬁnding the shot… that won’t work in many video situations. You need to be assertive and conﬁdent… otherwise your shoot will spin away from you quickly. Video may be a team sport, but the team needs a captain. I can’t tell you how many times I am faced with new challenges. Nearly every project brings up new technical and creative challenges that I’ve never faced. This is the truly exciting part about working in video. Rarely do I have every answer (but I do know where to look and how to solve the problem). No client wants to hear ‘I don’t know.’ What they are looking for is ‘I will ﬁgure it out.’ When presented with a challenge in a project, I exude conﬁdence (but not arrogance). I know that showing conﬁdence to my team as well as my clients is inspirational. A clear study of the challenge ahead will lead to solutions. Then I’ll leverage my networks. I have a collection of peers I trust to ask questions of. I can turn to online forums like Creative COW. I can ping my social network through Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. All of these play a part in ﬁnding answers. Everything I learned in college about video is technologically obsolete. What I learned was how to tell stories and how to solve problems. Every tape format has changed; every software application has upgraded ten or more times. Heck, web browsers didn’t even exist. But I know that I can learn. And because of that I am conﬁdent that I can solve any challenge I face and devise a solution that is an effective compromise between the budget-in-hand and the schedule I have. With a little practice, you can see the world this way too.
#7. PLAYING FAIR
The world of video is going through a revolution when it comes to pricing. When I started my career, tape decks were more expensive than cars and a complete editing system cost more than my townhouse. Oh how the world has changed. The video industry is experiencing a race to the bottom. Gear keeps getting cheaper, which is a good thing in many ways. The problem lies in the cost barrier. Just as you’ve been frustrated by every schmo who buys a DSLR thinking he or she is a pro photographer, so have video professionals felt about photographers thinking they are video pros. Add to this sudden inﬂux hundreds of schools pumping out graduates from media programs and you have a cluttered workplace. I do not say the above to be protectionist or confrontational. The fact is that the video industry needs to evolve and will beneﬁt from fresh talent and fresh ideas. Just don’t piss in the pool after you jump in. Take a look around you and see what business practices others are following. Here are a few that I wish more would follow for the good of the video industry: • Price fairly – Different businesses will need to charge differently for their services. Still, be sure you price services so you can survive for the long term. Be consistent with your prices and be sure to cover related costs like facilities, insurance, and equipment. • Don’t do spec work – There is a lot of pressure to do unpaid work in the video ﬁeld. Others promise ‘points’ or deferred compensation. Taking spec jobs to prove yourself or show interest in a client really only shows desperation. Look at other professions; they don’t face these same
pressures. If you truly need to expand your portfolio, seek out legitimate nonproﬁt organizations and make a donation of your time and skill. You can also take on personal projects and expand your portfolio through self-funded projects that are deigned to show you in the best light. • Don’t badmouth your competition – Your only true competition is yourself. Speaking ill of your peers will only lower the standards of the industry as a whole. • Your problems are your problems – Always pay your subcontractors (even if you haven’t received client payment). Similarly, you should not accept excuses from others above you in the client chain due to delayed payments. Make sure you responsibly keep payments ﬂowing to those you hire. • Act more like a lawyer and less like an artist – I’m not saying shelve your creativity... but remember that you are a trained professional with a code of conduct. You need to remember the important aspects of client management, professional communication, and ethical business practices if you want to succeed in video for the long term.
#8. WORK FOR HIRE
In the video industry, it is very rare for a video professional to retain rights to the footage. Video productions are usually a complex and collaborative process that involves more parties and ﬁnancial involvement than a typical photo. As such, the videographer or director of photography is rarely the copyright holder. Here are a few points to consider. • Cash is Power – Whoever pays for a production is typically the copyright holder. This can be a client, television studio, or independent producer. The standard in the world of video is work for hire. • Unused footage – Most funders will expect that all footage you shoot while on assignment is theirs. On the road to an exotic location for a client? Even if you’re just there to shoot a 60 minute interview, they may expect that all the footage you shot will belong to them. Be sure to clearly spell out your expectations and read any agreements before you sign them. • Request portfolio permission – Be sure you get in writing your rights to show work samples. This may be limited to client selected portions or can be denied all together. It is best to negotiate your rights up front so you can show your work. • Self-funded productions – Nothing keeps you from pursuing other models of production. There are certainly self-funded and distributed projects as well as the opportunity to shoot and license your own stock footage. The limitations on this front are really based on traditions. Because video production and distribution has been such an expensive undertaking, the power usually lies in the hands of the network or studio model. Be prepared for an uphill battle if you want to change the status quo. • Existing business models – If you already have a relationship with a client for your photography, you can try to keep similar licensing terms in place for video projects. It never hurts to ask for what you want (you just may get it).
#9. PIRACY HURTS EVERYONE
As a content creator respect the rights of others. I repeatedly see the rights of others abused all the time in video production. Be sure to preserve the rights of others as you’d expect your rights to be upheld. • Music – This is the greatest area of abuse across the video industry. There are affordable stock music options for purchasing or licensing music. You can also hire a composer or use software tools to create your own music. What you cannot do is used recorded music made by others. Giving credit is not enough. I am sickened by the number of videos I see created using copyrighted music and the number of excuses and loopholes others try to give to justify its use. • Stock Footage – Make sure the footage you choose to use is properly acquired. There are numerous libraries and sources for licensing footage. Some are buy out libraries, others offer per clip purchases; even still you can ﬁnd public domain collections. Make sure your footage is properly licensed. • Client Provided Assets – Just because the client gives you materials doesn’t mean they are free to use. I’ve faced many instances of clients providing copyrighted materials that they did not have rights to use. Their assurances of “it’s okay” or “this is an internal use only video” would hold no bearing to my being held liable for violating the law. Be certain that what you are given to use is materials that are properly cleared.
Every video project should be split into progress payments. By splitting the ﬁnancial payments across progress you ensure protection for your ﬁnancial security. Typically, I recommend the use up to ﬁve, equal payments. If project’s have extremely short timelines or do not involve a full-service production (such as shooting only) then adjust your payment schedule. • Project Initiation — Once the project scope and budget is agreed upon, a deposit for 20% of the project should be submitted. • Preproduction — This stage encompasses the bulk of project planning. Tie a progress payment to the deliver of the script or other relevant preproduction tasks. Issue a progress payment upon delivery of ﬁnal preproduction items to the client. • Production — I recommend the submittal of an invoice once shooting begins. This is typically the most expensive stage of a project. Be sure that you have received some form of payment before production begins. Do not hand off project footage until at least 50% of a project’s budget is in hand. • Postproduction — Once editing begins, another progress payment should be issued. Some choose to watermark projects until at least 66% of a project’s budget is received. • Closeout — A ﬁnal bill that reﬂects any change orders should be generated at the completion of a project. Be sure that your agreement states that you retain certain rights to a production until payment is received in full.
#11 KEEP IT SHORT
I have never met a video that wouldn’t beneﬁt from some editing. The whole purpose of video is to compress time and distill a message to its essence. It is important that you reﬁne a project by continuing to strip away its unneeded parts. Never have I heard an audience complain that a video was too short. There is a reason to edit and it becomes increasingly clear when you actually watch people as they watch your project. Do your best to strip a project down to its essence and only add what is needed.
#12 IF YOU HAVE A BAD FEELING... SAY SOMETHING
This last piece of advice is quite simple. If you have a bad feeling... say something about it. We are born into this world with simple communication skills. When we needed something, we cried about it. Man started out with a simple ability towards self-preservation. If you felt danger, run away (or turn and ﬁght). I don’t mean to oversimplify things here, but I’ve rarely regretted confronting problems when I suspected them to be hovering. If the client actually says something is bothering them, then you waited too long to react and will have to regain their trust. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, just be sure to establish an open door policy of communication for all team members and between you and your client.
There you have it... twelve tenets to improve your professional career as a video producer. Sure there’s lots more to it, but I think this is pretty sage advice. Combine this knowledge with your existing professional expertise and mix in a little bit of unexpected chaos and you just may have a career. I sincerely wish you the best and I welcome you to the video industry... just remember that both karma and gremlins are real.
YOU CAN KEEP UP WITH RICHARD HARRINGTON HERE:
• Twitter – @rhedpixel • Facebook – Richard Harrington Stuff • LinkedIn – http://www.linkedin.com/in/richardharrington • Books – Amazon Page
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