This is an abbreviated version of the excellent blog post from Andy Baker from Nat Geo whom I met in Austin earlier this month at the best ever Masters In Motion, Austin. Read the full version here and do check out his blog for fascinating insight. Me…I am bugging him to hire me 😉
Have you ever wondered “What the hell is my client thinking!?” If so, well, you’re probably not alone. Recently, I was fortunate to speak at the Masters in Motion filmmakers workshop in Austin, TX, where I went “Inside the Mind of a Client” – shedding a little light on the Client’s perspective, revealing a bit about what they are thinking, and taking a macro look at the ever-evolving role of the Client in the creative process. Masters in Motion is an annual event organized by the www.shooteditlearn founders Cristina Valdivieso and Jon Connor, and it’s a true hand-on workshop as well as opportunity to learn from some of the best, such as Philip Bloom, Vincent Laforet, Shane Hurlbut, Alex Buono, and many more. As both a Creative AND a Client, it’s been one of my recent goals to begin to help redefine the term ‘Client.’ Not all Clients are from hell – there are some that are just as passionate, collaborative, respectful and creative as you are, and this was a perfect audience to spread that message to.
Starting the presentation. Photo by Dustin Bennett
My presentation covered a lot of ground, starting with how best a filmmaker or photographer can get the Client’s attention. There are a million clients out there and there are also 2 million potential creative agencies or production companies out there vying for their business. Which means it’s a buyer’s market, and for those of you on the side trying to land a client, it is often asked how you can stand out in a client’s eyes…what can you do to get their attention in the first place, let alone get hired? Well, the first is pretty obvious: Do Good Work. Essentially, you have to be better than the next guy/girl, and you have to make killer stuff. For most clients, and certainly those in the Cable TV industry, that’s sort of a barrier for entry. Ok, so assuming you’re doing good work – what next? You need to understand the (potential) client’s business. What motivates them? What drives their business? Who is their competition? You really need to know the answers to all of their questions because ultimately, the client is likely passionate about their brand, and their content. And what they want from you is for you to share that passion and then see it translate to the final product. And if you don’t know the product, or the channel, you simply can’t have the passion for it.
Another way to get on the client’s radar is through social media. 3 or 4 years ago, the only way to get your work in front of a client was to blindly send links to work, or send the dreaded DVD mailer. Today, DVD players and discs are a dinosaur, and social media is the best way to make an impression, and leave your fingerprint in the client’s mind. Twitter accounts and Vimeo pages are very obvious but all-too-often ignored mediums for production agencies to use to share work. Which brings us to one of the big takeaways from my presentation: Do Personal Projects.
When Jon first approached me to speak at MIM, one of the topics he specifically wanted me to address was personal projects. He mentioned that there was a bit of a debate in the community about whether filmmakers should use personal projects as tools to drive their business, and whether to share them with clients. Well, in my mind the answer is obvious. ABSOLUTELY, without question.
Personal projects are a must for many reasons. Chiefly, they showcase your interests and give the client a better sense of your own personal interests. I am into relationship building with creatives, and understanding what drives and motivates them is important. Second, personal projects are also entirely YOURS – it says a lot about your own personal aesthetic, and your creative sensibilities. Very often I see work for on a photographer’s reel and I’m not sure how much of the idea is theirs and how much is the client’s. But when I see a personal project, I know that it’s 100% the filmmakers creative, choices and aesthetic.
Up on stage during the playing of the opening sizzle – my ‘Citizen Kane’ moment. Photo by Evan Bourcier.
And another way to get the client’s attention is having a wide diversity of company offerings. Clients love it when they can bundle several creative aspects together. They want to make their lives easier, and the more they can bundle their projects with one or two vendors, the better for them. In our case at least, at Nat Geo, it’s because at any time we probably have more than a dozen or two dozen projects going on at the same time, so having one company handle multiple aspects of a campaign is always going to be preferred.
So ask yourself when approaching new clients – “what is unique about me or my company?” Do you have strong production support built into the DNA of your organization? Do you have strong partnerships with talented still photographers who could be looped into your video production? Or maybe you have in-house designers or compositors who can offer finishing services along with the video you shot. These are all examples of the types of companies we work with a lot – talented specialists in particular areas that can also do much more if given the chance. The goal is not to become ‘jack of all trades and master of none’ – but rather the goal should be to become a ‘jack of all trades and master of more than one.’
On stage, discussing another “Big Takeaway” late in the presentation. Photo by Philip Bloom
BE NICE. HAVE FUN.
There are, of course, other ways to get a client’s attention. Being collaborative, and easy to work with, with an impeccable record of not being a jerk are all essentials in today’s highly competitive market. The fact is, everyone’s budgets are challenging, and there are a lot of pressures on projects. Clients often want to have FUN when they team up for larger productions. They don’t need stress at their office and on-set. Shooting is often the most fun part of big projects, so clients want to work with people they enjoy spending time with. Keep all of these things in mind, and the good work will come to you.
Andy Baker is the SVP/Group Creative Director at the National Geographic Channels based out of Washington, DC. Andy manages and creative directs an in-house creative team as well as hiring and collaborating with external photographers & filmmakers. His own personal creative project, theclientblog.com, examines the creative process from the client’s perspective. Future posts will cover more from his MIM presentation, including what Clients want once they hire you, and helpful tips for dealing with Clients on-set. You can follow Andy on twitter @ajbake
This sizzle reel, produced for my Masters in Motion filmmaking workshop presentation, features some of my personal favorite/coolest shots from NGC promos over the past 2 years. The work on this sizzle reel is the result of some incredibly collaborative partnerships with some of the most talented directors, cinematographers, DPs, designers, compositors, and creatives in the industry, not to mention the many other talented people behind-the-scenes working on these productions. Thank you to each and every one of the many people that made these shots happen, and thank you to NG Senior Creative Editor Brannon Shiflett for cutting this piece together.
Youngblood Hawke – “Blackbeak”
Production teams responsible for the shots (in alphabetical order):
Big Smack TV (Andy Hann & Andrew Turman, Dir and DP)
Evolve, IMG (Joel & Jesse Edwards, Principle DP/Directors + Mike Bove, DP & Chris Adams, DP)
Prologue Films (Kyle Cooper, Dir)
The Mill (Rama Allen, Dir)
Variable (Jon Bregel, Khalid Mohtaseb, Dir/DP)
Danny Yount/Egg Rock Pictures