I’ve been a Media Producer in various guises and filming for 20+ years now, initially as an underwater cameraman with a little bit of topside work thrown in, then diversifying into Time-lapse, run n’ gun, aerials (drone and aircraft), interviews etc aaaad 5 or so years ago I started my own formal legit media production company in Palau.
Palau has changed a lot in the 13 years I’ve been here and this has made me change with it. My company has grown and had to adapt as the environment it operates within has changed.
Here are 10 things (actually 11) I’ve learned about Media Production in that time. If you are thinking of starting a video production company, you might find them helpful:
Everyone has a camera
- Now more than ever people have cameras, as a dedicated cameraman I’m being squeezed by the ready availability of cameras. Everyone over the age of 5 seems to have one (gross over generalization, I know). So now more than ever I have to be inventive with my imaging, flexibility and the old cliche of thinking outside the box are more important than ever before. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques, think about a sequence or image you want to acquire, no matter how crazy or impossible it first appears to be, then work out how to do it. Dare to be different.
Big cameras aren’t everything
- You will be in an environment where the bigger the camera, the better you are as a cameraman. Let me just say that this is Utter Bollocks. I mean yes true there are some great shooters out there with big cameras, but a big camera does not make you a great shooter. After 20+ years of seeing thousands of people attempting to make great imagery with the biggest most expensive cameras out there and failing miserably, I can safely say that many of them are compensating for something with that big camera housing/lens. Not only is that big camera wasted on you, it could also be dangerous for you. When you’re overburdened whilst diving, you are a liability, so don’t think that bigger is better. Your right arm is big enough already….
- The best camera is after all the one in your hand, learn to use it.
It’s expensive, VERY expensive
- Beware the Black Hole of the tech. Oh lovely tech…. most cameramen are gear heads, it’s where all our money goes. New this, new that. Shiny bits with lights…dribble dribble. Things that fly, things that fly further with better cameras on them….oh lordy. 360 anyone? One thing that I’ve had to realize as a commercial business is “Do I need it?” If I buy into the next generation of camera that does this or that, will I make money out of using it specifically or not? Are my clients asking me for 8K or 360 8K, 360-bullet-time even? Some people have more money than they know what to do with, rich relatives or silver spoons, others have worked hard and are now enjoying the fruits of their labors. But if you don’t fit into those categories don’t sink yourself by blowing all your savings on a shiny something that isn’t relevant to what your business is about.
Charge for your work
- Value your work, value your time, value the education you’ve had to give you these skills. You’ve invested your time and money into producing what you do. Don’t give it away for hot air/credits. It’s been said time and time again by multitudes of people and I will say it myself: The people who will take your hard work, in exchange for a line or credit that no-one will notice, are not helping you. You in accepting that line of credit are not helping every other media producer trying to make a living from it. Solidarity Brothers and Sisters! People who won’t pay for work should end up with content lacking effort that befits their lack of appreciation for it. Those who appreciate good work will pay for it, so don’t give it away and lower the standards for everyone else.
- Underwater work. Now….Something I’ve been doing for close to 25 years but something I’m still learning about. I will still say as I always have, because it’s still an issue… Master your buoyancy. Because until you do you will be a liability with a camera. Make your buoyancy control instinctive so you don’t even have to think about it. Don’t be the diver that needs to hang onto a plate coral whilst taking a picture, don’t be the asshole who crashes into other people because you need to take that one last crap picture and definitely don’t be that diver who gets bent because he’s chasing something vertically and gets into a runaway ascent.
- Contact us for one on one or group masterclasses. Read more on how to become a professional underwater cameraman here.
- Drone pilot and aerial imaging…. When I myself started a couple of years ago its was after doing extensive online research. I didn’t want to spend over a $1000 and crash it straight away. I also didn’t want to crash it into anything or anyone. Even small drones/UAVs still have 4 spinning blades. So whilst the old adage of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” may exist, I don’t pay any attention to it and apply myself. Stay safe and don’t cut corners. Don’t fly over crowds, show-off or get into the mind-set that you’ll never crash. I personally ring the local airport before I fly and let them know where I am.
- Research your location to find out where you need to be and at what time. If however you enjoy carting a load of equipment to a remote location, spending hours setting it up, then waiting hours whilst the camera does it’s thing, all the while wondering whether or not it’s going to work then don’t prepare…I guess the same thing applies throughout media production. Get there early so you aren’t rushing. The other big one is don’t give up on a sequence too soon. Too many times I’ve called it and packed up thinking that nothing was happening only for the clouds to part and the rays of golden sunlight to shine down across the landscape and wag it’s finger at me for being impatient. Get permission to shoot on a location so you don’t piss off the landowner.
- Be ready. For crying out loud make sure your batteries (plural) are charged and your cards (plural) are empty before a shoot. If however you want to look like a total plum and miss something because of a simple mistake that’s easily avoidable, disregard this point. Prep the housing and camera the night before and take your time. All it takes is a rogue hair to ruin an otherwise productive day with a flooded camera a flat battery or no space on the card…
- Be prepared to be undercut by someone offering to do it for free or substantially less than you and then doing a bad job of it. Shit happens but they probably won’t get a second shot at it.
Be professional, give 100%
- Aim to go the extra mile for your clients. Fulfill your contract but also aim to give them more than they asked for, surprise them, make them think that you were the right choice for the job. Also don’t charge too much because you are the only person they can use at the time, you won’t be for long and then they won’t use you again.
- Don’t be ashamed to promote your work. I was always very hesitant about that and was embarrassed by my film editing initially until I started to realize that people actually liked what I was producing. Balance it with humility, nobody likes a braggart. Here is my company website. Here however is a recent showreel.
Appreciate others knowledge
- Local knowledge is key, worth it’s weight in Gold. Find people who can give you tips on an area.
- Listen to your guide, tell them what you’d like to see or ask what you are likely to see. They will open up to you if you are courteous. People love to show you all the cool things they know but they will watch your back when you are focused on your imaging. Find out about how we provide fixing services for our clients.
- Don’t forget to tip!
Never give up!
- Remain optimistic. The clouds you see from where you are, may not be there when you get to where you are aiming to be. Go there anyway.