There was a time, long ago, when a barber – the professional who takes your terrible hair and makes it presentable- also practiced surgery and even dentistry. It makes sense, no? Both professions make improvements to your body, both require a certain tolerance and skill, and when done properly, both can provide the practitioner with a nice income and professional esteem. Why then, would that business model and philosophy change? Simple, in today’s world the mentality has changed to, “you get what you pay for.”
So what then do barbers have to do with video production? Nothing. But the dual role once played by the same person, albeit a very long time ago, leads me to a topic that hits close to home for me and, I hope, a lot of you reading this as well.
Below is a real job posting from a medium-sized, industry-recognized marketing and e-commerce ad agency in the Philadelphia area:
VIDEO PRODUCER WANTED
4/20/2013: Seeking experienced video editor and camera operator to conduct commercial shoots and edit :30 and :60 radio spots, :30 TV spots, and long form narrative video.
Ideal candidate combines the below qualities:
- Capable with a Canon DSLR
- Proficient at lighting
- Ability to interact with clients; give direction to talent; and “crowd-control” a set
- Proficient motion graphic animator, proficient in Final Cut Studio and Creative Suite 5
- Familiarity with Maya/Cinema 4D a plus
- Excellent time management skills to consistently produce quality by deadline
In just this one posting for a video producer I found at least six different areas of expertise.
As a Video Producer myself, I understand that every company, no matter the size, wants to get the most bang for their buck. It’s a natural way of conducting business. ROI affects the bottom line, I get it, and that’s not my pain point.
My real issue is with the fact that with each job description I read in my field, the duties and roles in video production are becoming increasingly blurred. We’ve all heard the name ‘Predator’ given to the producer/editor combo, and I’ll bet that seven out of 10 times that person is also the Director of Photography (DP). This combination of talent is fine and has its place; there is an arena for these ‘mashup’ skills, such as a wedding or bar mitzvah video that would never require a crew of more than two or three. However one person, managing multiple duties, would never be able to pull off a larger scale production. So how do you find the balance between saving your client money and delivering quality work?
My rule of thumb with any production is to simply give the client(s) what they want. Now, hear me out: basic staffing is based on work volume and scale, right? If you have hundreds of balls in the air you need more than one person juggling, and if you have only a few balls in the air, you can get away with one, hopefully skilled, juggler. Lame metaphor, but it’s true.
My least favorite question is the one I get asked most frequently, “How much does a video cost?” This is the most loaded question a client can ask, and they have hundreds of ways of asking it. When I was first starting out producing local TV spots, I would be asked this question point blank, and on more than five occasions I choked and stuttered and agreed to a price that killed the crew and myself.
What makes this question seem loaded, and why it might throw a novice, is that what is really being asked is, “How do I get a top-quality video for the lowest cost?”
In some industries, this question is a fairly straightforward one. The clients’ needs are assessed, and an appropriate quote is provided based on the equipment, time, and labor needed to get the job done. This question becomes murky in the world of video production, however, because when someone asks, “How much will this cost?” what they’re really asking is, “How much do you think your skills and expertise are worth?”
Now, when the budget question is asked, no matter how ambiguous the person makes it sound, I always point to the construction industry, I always ask, “Well, how much does a house cost to build?” A lot of times they get where I’m headed and we go about discussing the right size ‘house’ for them. If they don’t seem to understand what I’m getting at, I continue following that metaphor explaining that in order to build a house you start with an architect to design the home—the producer or writer. Then, you need the lead contractor—the director and the sub contractors—the crew. Is it important your home have curb appeal? Then call the best landscaper—set designer and DP and if the interior is your priority, invest in an interior designer—writer. There are countless ways to chop this metaphor up, but you get the point.
Unfortunately, a lot of the job listings for our profession—and even clients—say they want a handyman, when their needs require a full-scale commercial property developer.
And there’s a reason why large developers turn to licensed professionals—from plumbers to electricians—for their many needs: they’re experts who have made a career out of developing specific skills, and are the ones charged with staying on top of the technological advancements, innovations, and the laws that govern their craft.
Because video production is still a bit foreign to some clientele, you have to tread lightly. Like most businesses, we thrive on repeat clients and referrals. I’m assuming most of you reading this have worked very hard to get to wherever you are. If someone said you can only choose one role to hold in production for the rest of your career, I’m willing to bet you can narrow it down. I’d also go as far as to say that after having chosen that one role, you’d quickly be invested in becoming the best in the field. You’d go to trade shows more specific to your role, you’d peruse holistic production websites, like this one, then click on others that speak to your craft within production. Maybe even read specific books, try new techniques, and stay on the cutting edge of anything that pertains to your role. In essence you would become a master in your role.
Knowing everything we do, it’s up to us as the professional to a) determine the kind of editor, producer, writer, DP, etc. that we want to be, and to more importantly b) educate industry employers and clients on the type of ‘builder’ they need for the final product they want. Until we do, we risk being under valued and undersold professionally.