Before the stars started shining on the big screen, playing field or concert halls, they likely came from humble beginnings, and most likely someone made a video for them.
Getting spotted by big league producers, scouts and casting directors doesn't happen by chance. Odds are the names you see on the screens - big and small - had their talents discovered on a tape or DVD right after someone said, "You gotta check this one out!" The real stars, often overlooked, are the creative minds giving those talent's scouting video direction and life. As video professionals, we seldom set out to produce talent scouting tapes. In fact, it's usually done out of chance or as a favor to a friend or colleague who is chasing the bright lights of stardom. Whether you're dealing with high school sports stars , or novice indie film actors, talent can shine through even the grainiest, dimly lit videos. However, as video professionals, our favors tend to reflect our own talents as much as the individuals we're highlighting.
Just like you strive for excellence in your own video projects, you can carve out a name for yourself directing film talent in the creation of scouting tapes. In this column, we'll talk with some industry professionals who've been on both sides of the camera and who know what it takes to deliver results, and earn a few bucks at the same time.
Shooting Stars in the Making
From coast to coast, communities make their weekly autumnal trek to the local football field, sitting under the Friday night lights, watching the "boys of fall" battle it out against their cross town rivals. Many have vested interests in watching every week. Their kids are playing, the neighborhood paperboy is the linebacker, and so on. However, there's a select number of attendees who are there to spot the proverbial diamonds in the rough.
While the top flight talent tend to get noticed at an early age and tend to get their names in the paper ad nauseam, there are lesser-know players who strive to follow their superstar sidekicks on to the next level. While a recruiter or coach may see them make a big play, parents and coaches may commission a video professional proficient in sports videography to document their season and create scouting tapes.
Sports videography isn't just about capturing the action as it happens, it's about setting the stage with effective cutaways, reactions, and ambient sound woven together to make the viewer feel like they were there. Give your video direction by isolating the talent you're highlighting - perhaps by using graphics like an arrow or circle - which can help the individual stand out in a crowded huddle.
Beyond the Banner Season
Another spin on the sports scouting tape is to produce a team highlight reel, showcasing a group of players and recapping an entire season of games, instead of just an individual. Matt Sacks, a former broadcast sports anchor and sideline reporter, started a company that does just that.
"The best thing to do is start with your best footage," Sacks, owner of Be Noticed Productions based in South Florida, said in a statement sent to Videomaker. "The person watching the tape will know right away if they want to continue watching."
Sacks said applying journalistic principles can greatly improve the storytelling element of your videos. Sports videography looks pretty similar regardless of what level you're shooting, but it's the subtle touches a true storyteller can add that sets the finished product apart.
"Most of these tapes have a similar look to them," added Sacks. "Throwing in a unique wrinkle to the video is great customer service. Getting referrals years down the road because of something you did for someone else is great. It's a win-win-win-win for the players, coaches, parents, and my business."
Sports videography skills can translate to more than just highlight reels and recruiting tapes. Coaches on every level are always looking for a competitive edge and have been known to outsource the video direction of their talent evaluation process for current and potential players.
Todd Tryon is a former indoor football star who has moved into the front office for the Sioux Falls Storm, a championship-caliber team from the Indoor Football League. Tryon and his staff document every workout on tape, isolating players who need extra attention, or possibly replacement, if they don't perform up to expectation.
"While most of our players come to us through referrals, we do lean on video quite a bit," said Tryon over an e-mail conversation with Videomaker. "It's a good backup policy for us."
Obviously, we can't all align our services with professional sports franchises or upper echelon collegiate programs. Consider contacting your local little league association, or youth sports programming director and offer up your services. You may offer up the option of shooting a series of games, then sell the highlights for a premium. Either way, everyone wins. You make some money, and the young sluggers have timeless memories to share for years to come.
Beyond the Highlight
Sports videography is certainly a valuable skill, but so is directing film talent and indie film actors. Being able to pull out the natural feel of a scene and capturing it on film is an amazing skill that can serve as a launching pad for both talent and director. Aspiring talent need to share their abilities with casting directors, agents and other directors in order to get in the door for auditions.
In the olden days (translated as five years ago) a headshot and list of roles were good enough to get you in the door. Nowadays, if on-camera talent, musicians, and indie film actors don't have an online reel showing the depth of their skills, they may not even get a second glance. The real money for video producers is in taking the existing content that talent have and directing video reels that decision makers will want to watch.
"I submit my reel to virtually every role," said Ed Deraney in an e-mail to Videomaker. Deraney has worked on shows like NBC's Boomtown, as well as several short films. "I'm positive the video has played a role in getting an audition, or not getting it."
Deraney said that a professionally produced reel is something almost all casting directors are asking for.
Deraney added. "If you don't have one professionally made, it shows that you're new. That's an opinion I've heard at workshops across the board."
Deraney is a believer in working with professional video talent.
"I have an editor with the equipment and experience to put my reel together. I give him the footage I want to use, and he puts it all together - even giving suggestions on changes." Deraney mentioned his editor charges by the hour, so being prepared before stepping into the edit suite is key. "You may decide to use music in the background, or a specific font for your graphics, so know what styles you want in advance!"
As with any new video venture, never invest in gear that's greater than the work you expect to do. If your aim is to land on the sidelines of an NFL stadium, having top shelf gear is a necessity. That said, if you're going to record and share the local community theater performances, a six-figure camera package is overkill. Here are a few items you'll need to get started:
- HD Camcorders - The content you're capturing must look its best. Good HD camcorders tend to start around $1,500 for professional grade results, though some consumer cameras run significantly less. Consider a camera with interchangeable lenses so you can add greater zoom distance and depth of field; crucial to isolating an athlete on the field or an actor on stage. Sacks added: "No one wants to think your videos are amateurish or slopped together using cheap gear."
- Wireless Microphone Package - Audio is crucial if you're recording interviews. Talking with the coach about that stud three-point shooter in an empty locker room after the game? Without a good lav mic, your audio will sound amateurish at best. Spend a bit more on a high-quality microphone. Your audience will thank you.
- Steady Tripod - There are situations where shooting on sticks simply won't work (sidelines of a football game, tight quarters in a classroom, passenger side of a stock car). However, there will be more times than not that you'll want a good tripod with a fluid head to capture your footage. If you can find a tripod system that allows you to raise your perspective up and down at extreme angles, that's ideal.
- Three Light Kit - The basic lighting package any video person needs has to include three lights. Sure, you can get by with one or two. But lighting your subject with a key light, fill light, and backlight will give your productions a level of professionalism that every paying client deserves. Consider a kit that comes with additional lights to serve as accent lights, allowing you to splash color and light in the background for depth and an added aesthetic element.
Striking a Deal
Embarking down the talent scouting path can be both lucrative and frustrating. Be sure that you take the proper precautions to protect your business from unnecessary expenses and hassles. Consult with a legal professional familiar with the video production industry to help you draft the proper documents, releases, and contracts you'll want to have signed before ever pressing record.
Every project needs to include an agreed upon Statement of Work (SOW). Without this, you shouldn't start any project. The SOW allows the client to know what you plan to do for them, while also protecting you against extra work slid in at the last second. Having a signed agreement stating what your client will get for your services also demonstrates forward thinking initiative, which shows that you're organized, prepared, and professional.
Appearance and Location Release Forms protect you against your talent from seeking compensation from your hard work, based on income you receive from your work. While the point of a talent scouting tape is to ultimately land the subject a great opportunity, it also allows you to use their likeness for personal and professional gain. By agreeing - up front - that all parties agree to use the footage for the intended use will protect everyone when the footage arrives in front of its' end consumer.
Additionally, signing a contract that outlines the work to be performed and obligations by the clients to uphold their end of the deal protects you when someone tries to sidestep paying for the video. While this seldom happens, you can never be too cautious.
Finally, figuring out how much you should charge for your services should be determined on a case by case basis. Many of my industry colleagues will say you should post an hourly or day rate on your promotional collateral. While this is fine for "show and tell" purposes, at times, a client may not have the money you're asking for a project. Ask yourself this: did you spend all that money to have your gear collect dust in the corner because your hourly rates are too high? If you can get a few bucks here, and a few bucks there, isn't that better than nothing? Check out Videomaker's free Video Rate Calculator. It's a good place to start when considering what to charge.
Helping the Star Shine
When editing your talent videos, stay away from unnecessary graphics, wipes or transitions. It's not about you and your editing program. At the end of the day, a college coach, casting director, or record label executive isn't going to comment on how well a talent scouting video was produced. What they want to see is the pure, unbridled potential in the individual or personalities they're watching. Being able to showcase those skills in a way that allows you to continue to produce these videos and make money doing so is the ultimate idealistic end game for the time, energy, and resources you've invested.
"We're actors you've never heard of," Derany added. "That usually equates to being broke. We barter, trade, work off and owe on most things we own. A busy actor's reel will change 2-3 times a year, maybe more. If you're a good at directing indie film actors like me, and you're fair about price, you got me for life."
Sidebar: A Recipe for Success
In the world of broadcast news, the shelf life for a TV personality is cyclical. On-air personalities will typically sign a multiple-year contract - anywhere from two to five years, depending on their role. Reporters who aren't able to edit their own scouting tapes - known in the industry as resume tapes - sometimes due to union restrictions, or lack of familiarization with the software, rely on colleagues to help produce their resume tapes.
Barry Wolf, a photojournalist at WKYC-TV in Cleveland, Ohio, is often asked by colleagues to help produce resume tapes. While Barry seldom takes payment for his efforts - he prefers someone buying him dinner for his time - he does have the critical eye needed to piece together great reels.
"Industry pros know what it takes to get hired," said Wolf during a Facebook exchange with Videomaker. "Remember, though, that every market is different and everyone is a critic. Do research on the market you're trying to land in and figure out what kind of projects the hiring managers would want to see."
Wolf added that while innovation is great for ratings, it won't always ensure you'll get an interview or even a second look for the decision makers.
"Resume tapes tend to focus on the wrong things. Highlighting both the talent and the content is something that shows a reporter or anchor can truly offer substance, not just a pretty face. Give the person watching the tape a different approach...content is key in a resume tape."
Dave Sniadak heads up the video production division of a PR & marketing agency in Minneapolis, as well as shoots game day highlights for an NFL franchise.