How to be professional — both on and off set

One of the most attractive perks of forging a career in video production is its entrepreneurial nature. As Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan once wrote, “We all have to serve somebody.” So, whether you’re a solo producer who goes out to shoot weddings and special events or a highly-decorated producer of mega-hits, there is always someone to answer to when it comes to getting hired and paid for your work.

Generally speaking, that’s why it’s so important to know the rules of decorum and professionalism. As an entrepreneur, you’ll want to nurture a good list of clients and collaborators who will call upon you again and again over the years. Moreover, these are the clients you can consider your “low-hanging fruit” as your career blossoms.

Be prepared

Pre-production involves drumming up business, communicating with potential clients and agreeing to provide services and/or equipment at a particular time and location.

In fact, unless your client is already savvy about production needs, you may also provide an education. Suggesting gear, lighting, set-up, whether to shoot outdoors or indoors, etc will be part of your job. Sometimes you may spend minutes or hours educating that client, which you can consider a “loss-leader.” That is, you are giving a free service in anticipation of making a sale.

As a result, your telephone manner is important. In short, this is when you will either clinch the sale or your potential client will decide to “go in another direction.”

People can hear you smiling over the phone. So smile. Likewise, when you tell a client that you will send them something via email or text, do it immediately. Then follow up to make sure they have received the information you sent them.

If you have a receptionist who is the “gate-keeper” of your business, make sure they are professional when answering the phone. Also, make sure they take detailed messages for you. Ensure they tell the client “Yes,” you’re available to help them. Otherwise, that client will move on to the next company.

Work on being a good communicator

The client says they want to hire you. That’s cause for celebration. Make sure to send them a Production Services Agreement that spells out what services and gear you will be providing, date, time and location and cost. Of course, payment details should also be specified. If this is a large gig involving expensive rental equipment or additional crew members, get a deposit of half the expected cost prior to the shoot.

Plus, stay in contact with your client as the shoot approaches. Be on-top of any potential changes. Likewise, be ready for anything, including last-minute cancellations. Make sure there’s a clause in your contract that specifies you will keep a percentage of the deposit in case a cancellation occurs within 24-hours of the shoot.

If there is any paperwork that the client wants you to fill out, such as an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement), do so promptly.

If there is any paperwork that the client wants you to fill out, such as an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement), do so promptly.

In short, be available for conference calls, Facetime or Skype sessions that the client wants you in on. This builds trust with your client.

Stick to the budget

Also, make sure that once you and your client have agreed on a certain budget, do not “nickel and dime” them by then charging for peripherals like media, uploads, downloads, meals, mileage or parking. Either include them from the get-go as line items or throw them in at no cost to the client.

Also, you can add a clause that stipulates additional cost may be incurred if the client makes any last-minute changes or asks for additional editing not in the range of the original quote.

Keep your equipment organized

If you are an Owner/Operator, congratulations. You are the type of professional who probably tends to take good care of your equipment. Prior to your shoot, make sure you have all the pieces you need for the shoot, that it’s all in good working order, and your digital gear has been upgraded to the latest version. It’s also a great idea to have a backup of any gear that can possibly go down during a shoot. Batteries, power supplies, adaptors, cables, laptops, even cameras can all fail at a crucial moment. So, have extra equipment. Wouldn’t you rather be the hero and not the goat?

Unfortunately, I’ve been on shoots where shooters have only one battery and it’s dead. Or, perhaps they didn’t bring a light, and they’re missing an XLR cable. Don’t be that person. It’s a sure-fire way to never get hired by that client again.

Professionalism on the set

Show up on time. In our industry, “If you are not 15 minutes early, you’re five minutes late.”

Here in San Diego, I’ve seen guys in cut-offs and white tee-shirts on sets. No! Make a habit of wearing dress blacks. You could get a bunch of polo shirts embroidered with your logo. This is much more professional than a sweaty t-shirt.

Video production is a gear-intensive business, so “Safety First.” Practice good cable management. When you lay cables, make sure nobody can trip over them. Place some gaffer’s tape over any cables that people will be walking over. Also, make sure to use sand or shot bags for any C-stands, etc.

Plus, make sure you have good insurance just in case anything happens on set that is beyond your control. For example, if equipment is broken, stolen, or someone gets hurt, insurance coverage is a must-have.

Get some professional business cards made so you can hand one to your client after the shoot.

The building blocks of professionalism

Professionalism is something you build over time. It’s the seasoned videographer, sound mixer, teleprompter or talent who can outshine any neophyte. So, if you are just beginning your career in video production, watch someone who’s been at it for a long time. Ask questions (not within hearing distance of the client) and always take notes. Go get ‘em, Tiger!

Patty Mooney
Patty Mooney
Patty Mooney is a partner at Crystal Pyramid Productions and has over 40 years of experience in various roles: producer, editor, teleprompter operator, sound mixer, boom pole operator, voice-over artist and camera operator.

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