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So when should I go 'Pro'?

composite1's picture
Last seen: 5 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: 12/11/2008 - 7:54pm
Plus Member Moderator

I've been seeing a number of questions in the forum from members who are taking on paying gigs but obviously lack considerable technical skill and working experience. Just for my own curiosity, I dug around to find information on a reasonable time-frame for going from hobbyist to professional. The miniscule amount of info I found wasn't practical or all that informative for that matter. (Before I go on, any of you who write articles for VM, I'd seriously appreciate you not lifting my post topic for an article and not giving me any credit. It happened once before and I let it go. I won't if it happens again.)

So when should you go pro? Good question with no set answer. In the immediate I'd say what's non-negotiable are; Skillsets, Resourcefulness, Experience and a willingness to maintain a consistent standard of quality in your work (otherwise known as 'Professionalism'.) You might add Creativity, but I've seen lots of pro work that didn't scratch the paint on any sense of creativity, but it got the job done.

Skillsets are the technical skills you bring which is what the client/customer is paying for. They may think they're paying for just the final product (i.e. DVD, Blu-Ray, etc.) What they are actually laying down their cash for is the skills you've acquired in video production to produce their project. Your basic skills should include; camerawork, production planning, editing, audio acquisition, basic compositing, basic music arrangement, basic graphic design and still image gathering.

Now, you need not be expert in all the above (few people are when they first go pro), but you'll need to be strong in a few particularly camerawork, and planning. Those two skills will be the 'bread your butter' will lay upon. If you are weak with those, you should either pull in someone who is strong in those areas or hold off until you get a better grasp.

Resourcefulness is the ability to find what you need when you need it and get the job finished at a level satisfactory to the client. You'll never finish a project that meets all your expectations. There will always be some element you see that could have been improved upon. However, long as the client is pleased and pay for services rendered then you can consider the project successful. Getting to that point when you're starting out is an uphill climb because you almost always have limited resources.

Being resourceful means being able to find suitable substitutes for gear needed, finding talent at the last minute, making adjustments to equipment on-set when things go awry or keeping the crew and talent focused when conditions change for the worst. Being resourceful is a skill that takes time and experience.

Experience is having prior knowledge of a process/procedure you wish to perform in order to do it confidently. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut for gaining experience. Repetition and expanding one's knowledge are the only combination for possession of true experience. So that means, you'll have to get out there and plan shoots, go on location/into studio settings to successfully get your footage and clean audio. You'll then have to do reasonable turnarounds in post-production and crank out final products in timely a timely manner. No doubt your question is; 'well if I'm doing all that, why can't I get paid for it?'

The answer is; yes you can, but do so as a hobbyist. Do small projects for friends and family first. Then move up to your church/temple/mosque for somewhat larger projects. After you get a few of those under your belt, then try your hand locally with video for small organizations intended for the internet. Initially, charge nominal fees (to at least cover your travel, food and consumable expenses.) Once you have a good body of work behind you, then seriously consider if you have what you need to work professionally.

Freelancing will be your initial route. You won't have all the burdens of a business, but many of the responsibilities. Once you get a grip on the day-to-day responsibilities of working as a professional at the freelance level, then you can seriously look at starting a business. Starting a biz is a whole other animal, but at least you'll have the Skillset, Resourcefulness, Experience and Professionalism behind you to back up your endeavor.

So don't be in a rush. Yes, there is money to be made in this industry. But unless your terribly lucky, you'll have to take one step at a time before you can make a living with video production. A journey of a thousand miles does start with a single step, but don't end it too soon by trying to 'run' before you get that whole 'walking' thing down pat....


EarlC's picture
Last seen: 5 months 3 days ago
Joined: 10/15/2008 - 1:15am
Plus Member Moderator

I would only add that like getting a job that calls for "experience" as one of its qualifications, but how can a newcomer to the occupation gain experience if he/she cannot be hired, frustrated applicants complain.

Whatever the basis for gaining "experience" it is a good idea to have some, as you say, but there ARE times when you simply have to gain that via the school of hard knocks ... yes, at the consumer's (possible) expense, but all the same, depending on pricing (or for free) both CAN get something from the early stages of becoming a professional.

I personally don't think EVERY person who wants to get paid as or be considered a professional, HAS to take the coffee gofer, cable roller, cart puller to apprentice, journeyman, master route to gain qualification as a professional video producer. There IS a "path" however and I agree that SOME kind of knowledge, education, experience and learning to walk before running is important to "getting there" but it's not absolutely mandatory for a person with ambition and desire set aside opportunities to earn money simply because they haven't picked up EVERYTHING they need to know ... this is also a viable learn as you go, industry and a good number of us started stupid.


Woody Sanford's picture
Last seen: 1 week 3 days ago
Joined: 10/19/2010 - 7:33am
Plus Member

Sage advise but "Pro" is somewhat of a subjective term. I don't think you really "Go" pro but become one. I can only relate it to the military. You go through boot camp and become a soldier, then specialty school for your career field.

You have the title and the training but no experience. So you do the time OTJ as a journeyman but becoming a "Pro" takes time in the field doing the job. Some areas might take additional training for professional development and some not. None the less, after training you have to jump in and get your feet wet doing the job. That's the first step on the road to becoming a "Pro".


Charles Schultz's picture
Last seen: 1 year 5 months ago
Joined: 10/25/2010 - 10:38pm

I can understand what you are saying Composite but I have to admit I became a paid professional from day one of picking up a video camera. Granted, I have more than 25 years of photography experience and did take video editing in college but sometimes thing are thrust upon you that you discover that you have a passion for. I was hired by a company as a graphic designer and since I had the photography experience they asked me if I would be willing to shoot videos for them as well. I will tell you that the initial camera was totally automatic but I got some really good footage to use. Then I stepped up the game when I purchased a Panasonic HMC150. The cool part is that the company has paid for the webinars on VM and I do a lot of self study.

for something that I did not have any experience in, I have to say that I love the craft and work everyday to achieve better results than yesterday and with the help of you, Earl C, Birdcat and others on here willing to share wonderful advice I will keep getting better.


composite1's picture
Last seen: 5 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: 12/11/2008 - 7:54pm
Plus Member Moderator

Thanks for the great input guys.

Thing is like with Charles, he had a ton of experience with photography. I too had been a photographer for 6 years before I got training for video production. That cut the learning curve down considerably since I had to plan shoots, etc.

Earl's point about 'well when do you get experience?' is the old 'Catch 22'. However these days you don't have to go to film or video school to get hands on experience. With all the DYI vids and seminars out there anyone serious about learning how to do this can. But the best way I found is to do shorts on your own. Lots of them. Get used to how the process from start to finish works. Many prominent mainstream Directors got their break for features after doing commercials. Feature length projects are just longer 'shorts'. Which just means more planning, more resources, more shots, etc. But the process is still the same. You'll be far less likely to make costly mistakes after getting some shorts under your belt (absolutely no pun intended!)

And Sandford has a good point that relates directly. I initially went to military schools for both photography and video/film production. The expectation was since I had been properly trained, I was considered a 'professional' and I was. However, thank the gods there were plenty of experienced individuals around me to point the way! But vice being fortunate enough to get intensive training via school, VoTech or OJT an individual can hardly grab some gear, run out and say they're a 'pro'. I don't believe the word professional is subjective. It's like being pregnant, you are or you aren't.

Too many folks out there after a satisfying set of purchases from Best Buy or wherever pull their gear out of the box and figure they can go out and immediately make a living at this. Would you want some guy like that to come work on your plumbing? Electrical system in your car or get you on an operating table? Absolutely not.

Pro's get paid for their knowledge, experience and expertise. Good news is none of those things are as we all know are impossible to attain. I do have concerns with members who let their excitement get ahead of their capabilities. Of course we all had that excitement when we got started. And, many of us bit off more than we could chew at least once. What makes you a pro is when you get into those situations, you find the means to 'make it happen' and curse yourself for being a fool later. The consequences for failure in this biz can get down right ugly. So if any of us via our experiences as professionals can help the newbies 'slow their roll' just enough to help them avoid a situation they simply were not ready for despite their enthusiasm, mission accomplished.

H.Wolfgang Porter, Composite Media Producer Dreaded Enterprises Unlimited, Inc. www.dreadedenterprises.com


dellwovideo's picture
Last seen: 4 months 2 weeks ago
Joined: 05/20/2011 - 6:35pm

I love your post. Well done. A lot of good responses, too.

I shot my first short 25 years ago on a VHS camcorder and I've been doing video (etc.)ever since. It's always been a part of what I do but I still don't consider myself a true 'PRO.'

It's interesting to think about the word, though. I do market my wedding workas professional, and my other jobs as professional quality. So am I a pro, or do I do professional quality work? Is there a difference?

I have a day job that provides me with a good, steady paycheck, paid vacation and insurance. Even when I worked full time in television news I only made half of what I make now (adjusted for benefits.)

Most of the 'PROS' I know and are friends with live a subsistence lifestyle. They're never quite sure where the next big gig is coming from and have side jobs to fill in during the lean times. Even my good friend with her long list of IMDB credits has twoother jobs to fill the space between movies.

I think the IRS considers my photo and video work a 'Hobby Business.' :-) I do make money from video here and there but it's certainly not my primary source of income. So I guessin my heart I consider myself a'Semi-Pro.'But it's taken me 25 years worth of education, hard workand experience to get me where I am today.

So for people starting down the path towards being a 'PRO', I would caution you not to oversell yourself. Don't make promises and commitments you can't keep. Make sure you know the legal side of the work and not just theproduction side. If you get hired because you've told someone you're a pro they'llexpect you prove it. And if you can't, you might find yourself in real trouble.


Charles Schultz's picture
Last seen: 1 year 5 months ago
Joined: 10/25/2010 - 10:38pm

Joseph, I got to hand it to you as I don't even want to play in the wedding videographer game, heard way too many horror stories that I don't think I want to get mixed up with it. I like my commercial work and music video production. I kind of stumbled into music video and like it but my passion is corporate staff as I love to learn new things and find it very informative.

Composite1, I have to agree that we are here to help people from bitting off more than they can chew but I have to think many people can shorten the learning curve by being here on VM. I have learned tons of stuff just by being part of these discussions, watching the tutorials, and being part in the webinars. Of course nothing beats experience but once I find something here, I have to try it to see if I can pull it off. I also do a lot of experimenting on my own to see what I can do. For example, trying a zolly, I played in my garden for about 2 hours trying it with a rack focus and finally it came out pretty good.

As a friend of mine says "you don't know that you don't know" at least here we can be exposed to what we don't know and learn that we don't know it and maybe learn how to do it. Cheers


daxalain5's picture
Last seen: 3 years 1 day ago
Joined: 09/20/2011 - 7:24pm

Just a quick question to you guys that has tons of experience in video production... Do you consider this video as "Pro?"http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekD4LgmQrFM&list=UUC9K0GaZ5XWr33HDDyvsh3w&index=8&feature=plcp


composite1's picture
Last seen: 5 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: 12/11/2008 - 7:54pm
Plus Member Moderator

Dax,

Definitely professional-grade work. Probably looks a lot better off the 'Tube, but the pacing was good. Production values were raised to a higher standard by using those nice dolly shots and those timelapse clips all in context with what they were trying to pitch. Is that your work?

What makes the person(s) who produced that professional is their ability to consistently turn out quality work. Now, every member who's done this kind of work can look at the vid and see at least 5 different ways they could have went with this creatively. Another thing about being a pro is you're never 'satisfied' with your work. You'll always see something that you could have done 'better' or a different route you might have taken. Yet, pro's also know when the work is or isn't finished and can move on that knowledge appropriately. That ability definitely comes from experience....

H.Wolfgang Porter, Composite Media Producer Dreaded Enterprises Unlimited, Inc. www.dreadedenterprises.com