A large part of our success as a national corporate video production company is the ability to find and recognize talent in far away places, without ever meeting the videographer, working with them, or otherwise knowing them. We have built an extensive videographer network in large cities and remote locations through careful selection that has gradually become a trusted database of professionals. Many videographers may wonder what a producer looks to see in their reel and how to stand out from the dozens of other videographers who apply to any given job posting. Understanding the selection process is valuable not only to videographers but also to clients, who may wonder how the selections are made.
1. Communication Matters
Before any consideration of the quality of work sent, other considerations come into play immediately. At least half of potential videographers are eliminated simply from their e-mails, which often show the person hasn’t read the job posting. If the job says the pay is $500, the pay is non-negotiable; don’t apply if you don’t like the pay. Producers have numerous options, often more than 50 in major markets, so you won’t land any job by haggling over price. Production companies have set budgets for each part of a video project based on what the client is paying, so no matter what your “day rate” or “half day rate” may be, no producer cares.
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You either will work for the pay being offered or not, in which case don’t waste your time or their time sending an e-mail about your day rate. Your day rate is a great starting point for when people learn of your services through your own Website, but when the work comes to you, it’s a take it or leave it situation. Additionally, many videographers send vague e-mails mentioning work they have done, but with no links to any of it. Without seeing your work, you are out of consideration immediately. The excuse that all of your work is confidential is also nonsense and reeks of someone who just hasn’t done much work. If you have no work to display, you have a problem, so fix the problem by shooting your own beautiful spec footage to showcase your talents.
2. Your Reel is Your Resume
Not once have I ever taken the time in nearly eight years of business to look at any videographer’s resume, if they bother attaching it. Some videographers include a partial resume in the body of an e-mail, which I glance over but it never factors into my decision. I believe in selecting the best talent, which means the reel tells me everything I need to know about the skills of the videographer. Some videographers who have done work for major networks, according to their resumes, have among the worst footage I’ve ever seen shot. Old broadcast camera work from the 1980s is not acceptable reel footage. I also don’t value how many years any given videographer has been shooting. Many of our best shooters are young and many of the oldest shooters haven’t adapted their skills to new technology, which means in videography, age is not a factor in the hiring process. A young shooter is just as likely to be a great creative asset as an older, veteran shooter.
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The most important factor in a reel is to showcase a variety of skills that demonstrate mastery. Avoid any shots that look amateur or poorly lit. Unbelievably, about 90% of the reels we see are somewhere between awful and barely above mediocre. Only a handful of reels are good and very few great, even with inexpensive HD cameras available and countless tutorials online and even with our pay rate being $75-100 per hour for our video professionals. One of the biggest mistakes I see are reels focused entirely on student short films and high school sports events, which have nothing to do with corporate or commercial work.
While I am a DGA director and a creative producer and can appreciate artistic work, most producers will not see any relationship between your narrative filmmaking work and your ability to do corporate work. You and I know that lighting a complicated walking and talking scene shot with a steadicam is much more difficult than a three-point lighting setup for an interview, but they don’t always know that.
Producers want to see work as close to what they’re hiring you to do as possible. In other words, if the video shoot consists of B-roll and interviews, send work samples of great B-roll and nicely lit, great sounding, well composed interviews and your odds of attaining the job are high. Send highly relevant samples. If I see B-roll footage incorporating rack focuses, nice pans, clever tilts, a few slider or dolly shots, and maybe a jib shot or two, I know the videographer is capable of almost any type of shot the client may want to see. If the footage is nicely color corrected, well framed, shot in HD, and edited professionally, the presentation is excellent and so is your chance of being hired. Having multiple reels is not a bad idea if you’re applying to different types of gigs, but be sure to send along the appropriate reel.
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3. Short and Sweet Wins
Both in your communication to the producer and your reel itself, be concise. Many of the best e-mails I have received consisted of several sentences that let me know the person read the job posting, then a link or several links to their work. Sending along many pages about yourself will just annoy producers who often receive dozens or even hundreds of e-mails per week from videographers. A sample e-mail may look something like:
“Hello Sir / Madame, I am applying for your videographer position on September 8 in Austin, Texas, and think I would be a good match for the shoot. I find the rate acceptable and am available with reliable transportation. I have filmed dozens of corporate videos incorporating interviews and quality B-roll and I own an HD camera, professional audio gear, and a lighting kit for the shoot. Below are a few samples of similar work I have shot for my clients.”
4. Website Matters
Spending thousands of dollars on a custom Website when your job is primarily videography is not necessary, but having a professional, clean Website should be part of who you are as a professional. I like to hire people who are detail oriented and who are perfectionists with their work. If I see a sloppy Website with typos, poor grammar, and bad programming that looks like something from the late 1990s, I am already assuming the worst about what I will see from the videographer’s reel and work samples; I am right 99% of the time.
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A simple Website with an About section, a reel on the front, a client list somewhere, and other project videos you’ve done recently is a perfectly acceptable Website layout. Simple is great, so long as it is clean and professional.
5. First Impressions Matter
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Along with your communication skills via e-mail, every aspect of your presentation should be professional upfront. The first 20 seconds of the reel is very important and tells me a lot about what I expect to see from the person. A well written, properly capitalized e-mail combined with a nice, clean Website and a great reel is highly encouraging and makes me excited to hire someone. I have received countless e-mails — at least 100 — that read something like: “Yo dawg, I got you. I can totally do this shoot for you just tell me when.”
Addressing a producer as “dawg” or “dude” is extremely unprofessional and downright laughable; you will not be hired. Asking the shoot date when it was already mentioned in the job posting tells me you cannot read properly, which means when I send you pages of instructions for the shoot along with the schedule, I have to worry about whether you’ll understand them or read them at all.
To conclude, what you want to remember is how competitive the film and video industry is for videographers. With the availability of inexpensive cameras, the barrier to entry is fairly low, but the talent and skills required to stand out have remained unchanged. You can’t simply buy your way into the game by acquiring great gear. You have to know how to use it, how to communicate effectively, and how to showcase your skills. The greatest aspect of videography for people new to the profession is the ability to go out, shoot incredible work (even if it’s unpaid at first), and put together a killer reel that puts you ahead of veterans in the field. As a veteran, though, it’s also a sobering warning that you’re still always going to be forced to compete based on showcasing your best work, even if you have many years of experience.