Getting Started in the Video Business

Of all the great mysteries to solve, it often seems like getting started in the video business is one of the hardest. For whatever reason, there seems to be a distinct lack of agreed-upon advice on how to do it. However, as a videographer who has put a significant amount of years in trying to find the right place to put my foot in the door, I felt it was time to share my findings with the world.

Granted, I have yet to make it really big in any area of video but I have been privileged enough to direct live productions at concerts with 100,000 people in attendance, win national video contests (including a Telly award for Videomaker's Wedding Videography DVD), make regional commercials, travel to places as far as Africa, and of course, shoot and edit video for companies like Videomaker. Nonetheless, there are people in more influential positions than myself so I can't really say I know all there is when it comes to getting started in the video business.

With all that being said, I think it would be best to break the advice I have to give into two parts: fine-tuning your video skills and finding jobs in the industry. These are the two most crucial parts to getting started in any video business. The first thing you'll have to tackle is learning how to shoot, write, and/or edit. This is the hardest part for almost any aspiring videographer and is inevitably where most people fail. It takes a lot of drive to see this part of the process through and without it, there is little chance of success.

Basically, if you want to learn how to shoot, write, or edit, you'll have to initially find training material either online, on a DVD, or in a book. This is where websites like Videomaker (in which I may have just a bit of a bias) have you covered. They have training from how to come up with story ideas all the way to keyframing advanced titles in After Effects, so a site like ours is a great place to start. In addition, you can also find someone who is already making video professionally and offer your help on any video projects that they'll be shooting or editing. This way, you can eventually learn how to shoot and edit from someone who is currently in the industry.

This is a great place to start for those looking to get into the film industry. Many aspiring filmmakers have started as production assistants for small budget film sets in Hollywood and once they've proven their worth, have made their way up to an assistant director or director of photography after a number of years. Of course knowing the theory behind good shots and edits won't make your first production as good as "Gone with the Wind." The hard facts are that you'll have to get out there and do it.

For me, and I suspect for most people, this starts by putting a lot of effort into making great looking personal videos. These are the videos where you might parody a popular movie, put together an entertaining edit of your friend's soccer game, or put landscape shots to some soothing music. Then, once you feel a bit more comfortable in making decent videos, you can begin to do some free work for friends and businesses. This is the hardest part of getting started since it takes so much time and gives very little in return. However, if you can hold long enough, and put your best into every production, you'll most likely end up with a killer demo reel that can get you the kind of paying gigs you're looking for. In fact, this is the end goal for any of the early work that you do and will be your passport into more professional gigs.

Of course getting started in video production doesn't mean you have to be sleeping under a bridge. As an alternative, some people take on part time or even full time jobs that don't require your every waking hour to do. This way, they can hone their video skills in their free hours. Going this route allows you to be more picky about the kind of projects you take from clients or that you do for yourself since you don't need the money to get by. This can lead to a number of great looking videos that will not only get you noticed but that can be used on a demo reel. You may know everything there is to know about video but without knowing where to get work, you'll never get noticed.

As I mentioned before, many aspiring filmmakers will start by going to where a lot of production is being done like Los Angeles, Vancouver, or San Francisco and start out as production assistants for small films. This method requires some good old hard work to get to the top but is a great way to satisfy your curiosity about how films are made. You never know. You may find out that you don't like the hustle and bustle of shooting in Hollywood and decide another path is right for you. You can also use work for non-profit groups and churches to get offers for commercial projects. I know that I was able to get into a business making regional commercials through a contact I had made while doing free projects for my church.

This just proves that it's always good to keep in touch with promising people even in the initial stages of perfecting your skills in video. You may also want to think about going to trade shows where a lot of the most important people in the commercial, film, or live production industry go to meet. Shows like NAB in Las Vegas, the American Advertising Federation, Cine Gear and more can help you get in touch with companies that could lead to jobs.

Lastly, you don't want to forget about the traditional job board applications. These can sometimes lead to jobs in industries that can help you both build your reel and get one step closer to your goal. My advice: try for some of the biggest video jobs out there. You never know if one of them will bite. At this point you might be thinking that you've heard of most of these tips before, but I want to emphasize how there are really only two main points to what I've said: that you need to have a drive and a passion to make it in the early stages of becoming a videographer and you need to constantly be forming relationships with important people in video production.

Simply said, there are no easy ways to make it in this industry. However, if you know where you want to end up in video production and are ready to put in the effort to get yourself there, anything is possible. Quite honestly, there aren't that many people in the world who stick to their dreams so if you do, you'll be one step ahead of the pack.

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Dan Bruns is an award winning cinematographer and editor.

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