Thursday, 14 July 2011

Getting started as a video producer

For some time now I've found myself answering more and more forum questions on how to get started as a video producer. Whether it be as a web video producer or a wedding videographer the entry level purchasing decisions are a cause for concern for many people wanting to enter into this market.

OK, so the question usually goes something like; 'I've done a bit in the past with video and now I want to become more serious and maybe start a video production business, shooting weddings and maybe corporate videos what equipment should I be looking at and how much should I charge?"

Well the answer to the first part of the question depends on budget obviously, but this question is usually asked at between the £5-10k ranges, so I'm going to answer it from that point of view.

Firstly I'd advise that weddings and corporate videos require different skills that will cross over, but nonetheless are distinct from each other, so firstly the advice would be to choose one or the other and then decide from there on equipment and or training.

We'll deal with corporate videos in a moment, but first let's take a quick look at wedding videography. I'm not saying that there aren't video production companies out there that don't do both weddings and corporate videos and do them well. But if you're just starting out then your needs as a wedding videographer will be different to that of a corporate video producer.

For a start you'll need two cameras if you're serious about being a good wedding videographer, you'll also need two tripods, a wide angle lens or adapter, depending on your choice of cameras, wireless mics, at least one computer (you may opt for a desktop and laptop) and some good editing software.

Why two cameras? There are a plethora of wedding videographers out there shooting on just one camera and doing just fine, but if you want to set yourself apart and make wedding videos that have that extra something, then it becomes a must.

One of your cameras remains on a tripod, to get your locked shots, pans and close ups, the other is hand-held getting the beauty and different angles of the big moments. This could be done by one person, but I wouldn't recommend it, if you're starting out, try and find another camera operator who you trust to get a good shot and can be factored into your fee.

The most important benefit of a 2 camera wedding shoot, is that you'll always have a back-up for the big moments if one fails for any reason, so as far as I'm concerned the case for two camera wedding shoots is proven and closed.

Just a little note about weddings, I don't do them, I think they're too much hard work for the money, it's an extremely competitive market and it is mainly the medium to large wedding video companies that really make money. I admire the people that do do them as I think you need the determination of the Terminator 2 and the patience of a saint.

I mean, don't get me wrong, it's tough being a video producer full stop. There's a pressure I put on myself not to mess up and I use that pressure to make sure I do a good job. But mess up someone's corporate video (which I never have) and probably the worst that happens is along with the damage to your reputation you end up out of pocket. Mess up someone's wedding and not only aren't you getting paid, but they want to sue your arse for ruining their big day; now that's pressure; and there's not a judge in the land who isn't going to side with them if you did mess up.

So, anyway, you've considered all of this and you still want to chance your arm as a wedding videographer, fair enough, first things first, what camera?

I'm actually going to recommend a camera that I'm not too fond of, but if I did weddings, I'd probably get a Sony Z7, the first reason is the weight, you're going to be doing a lot of running and gunning (hand-held videography) and you want a nice light camera. The second reason is the good battery life in the Z7, the less you have to change battery, the less chance you have of missing the happy couple's moment.

Add to that interchangeable lenses, long shooting times and good low light control it starts to make real sense. The only question is whether to make the 2nd camera a Z7 as well and that depends very much on the individual.

If for instance you're coming from a photography background then you might want your 2nd camera to be a DSLR, that way you have a low entry cost on the body and can either spend the extra money on the lenses or simply hire the lenses you think you'll need on a job by job basis.

Going the DSLR route should be considered carefully; because of the restrictions with sound you couldn't shoot an entire wedding with a DSLR, unless you captured the sound separately. And you wouldn't do that for each job unless you felt you were in particular need of going mad and slipping off to an early grave.

So your DSLR will always be shooting the soundless B roll, you'll get some great beauty shots, while the Z7 is getting the main action, but you wont have the back up if the Z7 fails, or runs out of battery or tape at a crucial moment. I won't profess to know much about the DSLR choices out there at the moment, but from the tests and films and other various productions I've watched shot on the Cannon, I've really been impressed with the results.

As far as wireless lav mics are concerned I would consider whether as a solo start-up wedding videographer, you need to purchase your mics outright, right at the beginning. I wouldn't pay any less than £800 for a half way decent pair of UHF wireless microphones.

You can buy much cheaper mics, but if I can quote the maxim, 'buy cheap, buy twice.' At some point, probably quite early on in your ownership of those cheap radio mics you bought from Maplins; you'll regret buying them and from then on you'll hire, till you can afford some good ones.

If you feel like you just want your own kit and can afford it, then the Senheiser G2 is a solid entry level UHF wireless kit.

My sound guy tells me that all the frequencies are changing in the UK soon or have just changed; it isn't my field so I wasn't paying that close attention! Anyway it means that you have to be careful when buying a mic that it is up to the new standard, especially if you're buying 2nd hand.

Now comes the editing software and the machine or machines to drive it on, I say machines because some wedding videographer and photographers alike, will use dead time throughout the day to ingest footage into their external drives via laptop, then getting home and working on the more powerful desktop, thus saving one of the most valuable commodities of the video producer; time.

This if you go the Mac way will cause you to remortgage your house and sell your newly acquired camera equipment to pay for it. There's nothing to stop you getting just a laptop and doing all your work on that, but I'm from the school that believes it's better to do your work on a desktop, simply because it's faster and more comfortable.

In the not too distant past, I would have recommended getting a Mac (or two) and getting a copy of Final Cut Pro, however Apple in their infinite wisdom, have decided to ditch Final Cut 7 and in its place put Final Cut X, which for reasons too numerous to go into here and now, just isn't a pro tool, it's a beefed up imovie pro at best.

I would now tentatively recommend Premiere Pro, their Creative Suite version 5, comes with Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere Pro, which from all the blogs I've read of final cutters migrating to Premiere, and it seems to be the one to go for. Avid is needlessly complex for your needs and Sony Vegas isn't quite pro enough yet.

When it comes to corporate video production my advice differs and that's because the two disciplines require different skills and throw up different situations. With wedding videography you have very little control over events that are taking place surrounding the actual wedding ceremony itself. 

Apart from people being late or simmering family feuds coming to bare, there is the low level church lighting, the sun going in and out behind clouds, people getting in your way or worse tripping over your gear.

With corporate videos you're in control, you have a set brief to follow and you have a set way in order to fulfill that brief, that's not to say things can't go wrong, but you're not thinking about the same problems. Therefore my camera choice is different, for the type of video you'll be shooting then for me the Panasonic P2 cameras, the Panasonic HVX  201 and also the HPX series just can't be beaten.

I prefer the sensor on the HVX and HPX over the Z7 and features such as the light scope on the HPX 170 are an absolute dream, no need for two cameras as with a controlled shoot there are no big moments you've only got one chance to get.

The ease of workflow from camera to computer is a dream with Panasonic, whereas I've never used a Sony that hasn't given me hassle at some point of trying to offload the footage.

As far as lighting's concerned, I would have a small portable lighting kit, similar to what you're going to use with weddings, Rotolight do a nice interview lighting kit. Any other kit you need, extra lighting, sound etc. can be hired on an ad-hoc basis.

When it comes to setting your rates, you need to charge what it'll take to make you successful and I'm not talking about objective success, but rather subjective success and there is a difference.

No one in their right mind would argue that Bill Gates or Warren Buffett aren't successful, that is a clear objective truth, but what might count as success to one person, may not to another.

For instance, if you're about to set up your business and your 21, with no family or mortgage, then clearing a couple of grand a month could well be enough for you, however if you do have a child or two and a mortgage and various other outgoings, then you'll need to clear considerably more than that before you can count yourself successful.

So work out what you're offering as a service and then work out how much you need to live on each month for a start. Then, and this will probably only be fine tuned once you've done a few jobs, work out how much you want to charge for a web video, wedding, corporate video or whatever it may be. Work out how long the job is going to take, then divide the figure by the number of days or hours it's going to take and you'll come up with a per hour or per day figure, which only you will know if that's acceptable.

So, just like with everything, a bit of planning and forethought will help you immensely when it comes to setting yourself up as a video producer, good luck and happy producing!

Double R Productions website