A career in video production – first steps


Finding your first job or winning your first client is something that plays on the minds of pretty much everyone who goes into video production. When you think about it, it really does seem like a mammoth task. With so many companies and freelancers already out there, why would someone choose to work with you? If you’re feeling these doubts or worries, don’t panic! It’s totally normal and you’ll be pleased to know that are steps that you can take to make you much more appealing for potential employers.

The first step that you can take to increase your employment opportunities is actually a really easy one; sit down and think about what you want to do. You may be thinking “I want to do video production” or “I want to be a filmmaker” but really that’s not quite deep enough, and you’ll find out why in a minute. Video production and filmmaking are huge and diverse industries, with a whole heap of jobs bundled into them. Picking the broad topic of video production or filmmaking doesn’t really get you anywhere, and you still have quite a daunting task ahead of you picking the job that would be right for you. Instead, if you spend some time finding what you like to do, the kinds of videos you like & dislike and then research the kinds of jobs that might stem off from these then you’ll have a much easier time of things. You may find that as you progress that this goal changes, but you should always have this in your mind when you look for opportunities or experiences.

With all of that in mind the next thing you should aim to do is get some relevant experience. I stress the word relevant because not all experience is created equal. Due to the varied nature of video production and filmmaking, having just any kind of experience doesn’t necessarily make you interesting for potential employers. In order to get some relevant experience under your belt, you need to be willing to do a little bit more leg work before you get started. Instead of finding all of the companies around you who might be willing to give you some experience, instead, look for companies who work in a style or field that you would like to pursue in the future, as per your research before this stage. When finding companies or individuals that you would potentially want to learn from, you should be asking yourself “does this company/individual work in a field that fits with my future goals and how can they help me?” If, for example, you know that you’d love to work in documentary, would you want to spend your time getting experience from a company who works almost exclusively in event filming? It may be the case that there is a monetary benefit for doing this, which is absolutely great and very worthwhile, but if there isn’t, then you’re not gaining anything meaningful for your career. You have to make sure that you’re actually seeing some kind of benefit from a career perspective, be that decent money or experience, rather than just becoming cheap labour for somebody else to benefit from. Once you’ve found someone who you think can give you the kind of experience you need, find a way to contact them and get in touch.

One thing to bear in mind on this topic, is that you should be open to any help that a company or individual might be able to offer you. You may not be able to get on set experience with every person that you contact, but they might be able to offer you contacts, personal experiences or even mentorship. These things shouldn’t be sniffed at, and, in the end, could be very valuable for your future career.

Another step you can take to help impress potential employers is to take the initiative and create something of your own. Relevant experience with a video production company or filmmaker is valuable, but a lot of employers will also want to see some of your own creativity. This is something that we really strongly believe in, and we always urge people to put just as much focus (if not more) into this than trying to get in with a company. You may be asking why? Well, there are a couple of reasons. Firstly, when you work for a company, there’s a good chance that you wont be able to use any footage that you work on. That’s kind of understandable, as that company has gone to some effort to win that client and produce work that suits their needs. Secondly, even if someone does let you use footage you shot for them, it may not 100% suit the style of film or video work that you want to go into. In that case, does having the footage even really help that much? The alternative to this is that you go out and find a project of your own to work on. Find an organisation, company or individual that you feel you could create a video for (in your own desired style), then contact them, explain that you’re looking to create a specific style of video and then try to get the project underway. Doing things this way means you get to have creative control of the project, you make a potential contact and you can use the footage for your own purposes. For these projects, you may have to use equipment that you have access to, and work with limitations, but the benefits far outweigh this potential problem. To show you that this way of getting experience works, it’s worth telling you that we actually gained our first corporate client by doing this. We created a short film in a style that we wanted to make using a 5D mkiii, and the client felt that the style would work well for them. We worked on a paid project, and this became the basis for a career in video production. In actual fact, we still work on films like this, and, not only do they expand our portfolio, they nearly always help us to get paid work.

There is a caveat to this, be careful about the kind of work that you do for free. Similar to when choosing a company to get experience from, only do work that is going to benefit your future, and make sure that you use your time wisely. Don’t let anybody pressure you into working for experience or exposure, and don’t let a business take advantage of you. Any free work you do has to help you with your career ambitions. Similarly, if you do begin working on a spec project, make sure that you have the confidence to keep it on track with your chosen style. Sometimes, a company/individual might try and shift your project away from what you want to do, which means that you lose the creative control and the benefits that come with that. If this happens, you have try to be confident enough to push the project back on track, or to even walk away from the project. A good rule of thumb is that, if you’ve pitched your style or video, then your subject should want to work with you because they believe in that style, not because they think they can shift the focus of the project later down the line. No project is worth being taken advantage of.

Once you’ve shot a few of these projects, or have been allowed to use footage that you’ve worked on with a video or film production company, the next thing you can do is create a showreel. For us, and other employers, a showreel is a must have, because it’s a really quick way for us to see what your style and capabilities are. When you receive loads of emails from people looking for employment or experience, the emails with websites and showreel typically get viewed first. With so much going on, it just makes a potential employers job that little bit easier. We’ve received emails from people in college who are more appealing than university graduates, because they have included a showreel. It’s worth noting that a first showreel doesn’t have to be earth shatteringly good. Most employers will understand that you don’t necessarily have too much experience under your belt, but a showreel with your very best work will showcase your potential. This can get employers excited, and some of those employers will be willing to take a chance on you based on what they think you can achieve in the future.

To summarise, in order to make yourself more employable for a video production company, use your time wisely and always be thinking about what you want to do. Take the time to choose your source of experience very carefully, and remember that good experience is better than lots of experience. Do your best to showcase your creativity, to express your own unique style and apply for the positions that are right for you as an individual. If you need any help or advice, we’re here and we’d be happy to help in any way that we can. Get in touch, and fire over any questions that you have.

Below is a diagram that a friend showed us when we were just starting out, which should help explain this in a little more detail. The crossover areas show the kinds of jobs where you can gain money, experience or both, and the jobs that you might want to avoid taking on.

When should and shouldn't you do free work?

Be passionate

Don’t panic if you don’t have a degree or a relevant degree. We really benefitted from our time at university, but too many people get hung up on degrees, and doing so could really slow you down. From an employers perspective, a degree is a bonus, but experience and willingness will always win out. Personally, we wouldn’t hire someone purely because they had a film or video production degree, we would prefer to see work they’ve created, that they’ve done their research on potential employers, that they’re willing to learn and that they’re totally committed to the career that they want to follow.