In the 21st century everybody has the means to make a movie. You no longer need a lot of money or connections to Hollywood to get going on your first project. Got an idea and a smart phone? Great, go out and tell your story! Of course that doesn’t mean your movie will automatically be an Academy Award Winning Blockbuster and make over a billion dollars. It’s a little more complicated than just that. But on a fundamental level, whether you are shooting a video of your kid playing in a pool or a scene with Tom Cruise running through the streets of Paris, the basic principles are the same. Light reflects off of objects, gets captured by a camera, and moving images are produced.
The power now found in ordinary people’s hands cannot be overstated. We no longer live in an era of trade secrets only shared to the initiated. The curtain has been pulled back and we see the Wizard of Oz for who he really is. Very technical processes have been demystified and simplified to the point that a child could understand them. Video has been democratized. Hallelujah!
But hold on a second! Thousands of people make a living by creating videos. I’ve devoted most of my life learning how to wield this complicated technology in order to create high quality work. And now you’re telling me that my special skills have little value? Video is a commodity, it is ubiquitous, and anybody can learn how to do it. So, have I wasted my life? This is a scary realization to come to.
I’ve come across many video professionals that feel threatened by our current environment. It is easy to get frustrated with all the changes. Budgets have shrunk. Most videos made today are just noise. Equipment that once costed hundreds of thousands of dollars has depreciated in value and is now worthless. These professionals often react to change by guarding what little they have left and defending old ways of thinking. But that attitude doesn’t get them far or make them happy.
There is a way to succeed amidst all the turmoil. It involves being open to the new and embracing change instead of fighting it. We have to accept that while technology used to take decades to evolve it now only takes mere months. You don’t necessarily have to be on the bleeding edge of adaptation, but you should avoid getting blind sighted by new disruptive technology by staying informed. Keep your head up and always be learning. Share your ideas freely with others and ask questions. We can all benefit from this together. Don’t close yourself off in bitterness because things aren’t the way the used to be.
I think about these philosophies when I see debates about what a video professional should do in different challenging situations. When should I work for free? A client just asked me for the raw footage, should I give it to them? Someone asked for my professional advice, should I charge them? While the circumstances can vary greatly in these situations you can be guided by some core values and principles.
Lets start with working for free. I’ve seen people get really bent out of shape when it comes to this issue. The obvious fear is that someone might take advantage of you. I’m going to make this bold claim that may sound contradictory at first: You should never work for free, but at the same time, you don’t always need to be paid money for doing a job. Instead, look for how this job may benefit you in other ways. Based off of that, decide whether or not it is worth the time you will put into it. If you are just starting out in video production you need to gain a lot of experience. Don’t pass up opportunities to learn just because they pay little or no money. For those of you that are further along in your career there are still reasons to take on a non paying job. You could be working for trade or calling on a favor later. Maybe you are sponsoring a cause you believe in. There are many situations where free work makes sense. Give these kinds of offers some consideration. Evaluate the deal. If you honestly won’t get anything out of it then perhaps it isn’t worth your time after all.
What do you do when a client wants a copy of your original footage? This can be an awkward situation. Especially if you haven’t discussed these terms before hand. You may worry that the client is unhappy with your work. Or maybe they are too cheap to finish paying you. And if they take the footage away from you to edit it themselves the project could turn out to be total crap! In these situations I try to be as easy to work with as possible. I believe that if my client has paid me to shoot the footage they already own it. Of course it is reasonable to charge them for the time it takes to copy off the footage and certainly for the cost of the drive if they’re not providing their own. But in my opinion, I’d feel like I’m nickel and diming them if I’m charging extra simply because I want to protect my work. It really boils down to the trust you have with your client. They could have a completely valid reason for wanting the footage that has nothing to do with you. Maybe you finished your video, they loved it, but they want to repurpose the footage for other simpler videos that really aren’t worth your time. Communicate with your clients and be generous and understanding. If you still believe they are making a huge mistake that’s their problem. If they don’t trust you then you probably don’t want to work with them again anyway. But the truth is that as a result of video literacy we are going to collaborate more closely with our clients as their understanding of the process of making videos grows. And if you are stubborn and difficult to work with they won’t hire you.
I love the free flow of information and ideas. I seek out opportunities to share advice. I find it very fulfilling to help people out. So the idea of charging others for my advice is very foreign to me. Some might argue that since it takes years to learn video why share all that hard earned knowledge freely? Personally I find the desire to protect trade secrets doesn’t really do anybody any good. So much is in constant flux now and as a result we are all having to keep up with the new information. What’s the point of holding on to ideas for ourselves? Everything will be different tomorrow anyway. Of course there are educational services that I would expect to pay for. There are in-depth online courses and seminars that took a lot of effort to prepare and therefore they should come with a price tag. But it doesn’t hurt to take a few minutes to answer a question or to point somebody in the right direction. Why not be the go to person as a source of knowledge? The clout and authority that comes with sharing your ideas open up doors to new opportunities. The reality is that proprietary intellectual knowledge and trade secrets are relics of the past. Those who fail to understand this are doomed to a similar fate.
Ultimately this all has to do with your perception of change. If you choose to evolve with the times you will find new opportunities for business. This is a healthy attitude that will assist you when you have to overcome unforeseen challenges. If you resist change and all you see is doom and gloom ahead then you will become a miserable self-fulfilling prophecy. As for me, I am very optimistic about the future of digital video. It is the current state and a piece of the much bigger art of storytelling. Because it is always changing we must always be learning. And often times learning something new requires us to take a step back in order to leap forward. You must accept this in order to find success.