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Taking Care of Business
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Old April 23rd, 2008, 01:38 AM   #1
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Video production for State or Federal government agencies

Here's something that's been stumping me lately... I was having a conversation with a few USGS biologists who were getting ready for a couple months of field work out along the far western coast of Alaska. They're going to be studying the nesting habits of a species of bird that migrates from Alaska to New Zealand, and after learning about my career in the field of video production, they began to talk about how great it would be if someone could follow them during their work and make a documentary-style video out of the whole ordeal. I think this would be an AWESOME project to work on, but I have absolutely no idea on how to go about starting a project of this magnitude, or what the process is for people that have done this before.

I've heard of people bidding for/getting contracts from the state and/or federal government to produce all kinds of video, ranging from short training films to full-fledged hour-long documentary pieces. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to go about finding contracts like these. The few people I've talked to that are in the production business won't give up any details, since they understandably see me as competition. Typically, I've heard two things: Look on the internet, and look in the newspaper. I've searched through both, and so far, the best I can find on the net involves paying some company to get access to a mysterious list that may or may not help me at all.

I've also heard of grants being given out to/from governmental agencies for such projects, but the world of grants seems even more confusing and time-consuming.

So, has anyone done work for government agencies like the National Park Service, USGS, BLM, or State Parks/forests? If you have, how does one "break in" to this confusing niche? How would you describe your experiences with it, and are there any hints or tips you would be willing to offer a relative newcomer such as myself? My mind is reeling with questions, but I'd like to keep this first post simple and direct.
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Old April 23rd, 2008, 12:22 PM   #2
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http://www.ccr.gov

Get yourself registered. I've looked at the listings, and there are some video projects. The size ($ amount) of the project determines if they have to list it for bids. Otherwise, the office just picks a service provider.
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Old April 24th, 2008, 12:10 AM   #3
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Thanks Chris,

I'm hoping this will help me to eventually get out of constantly producing 30-second commercials!

Does anyone else out there have anything to add? Do government agencies tend to behave in a similar manner as most private clients, or is there a tendency to run into more red tape or other hurdles?

Care to share any tales of triumph or war stories?
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Old April 24th, 2008, 12:37 AM   #4
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Lets see. I've been doing work for a few government agencies for a few decades, so I guess I'm qualified to weigh in on this.

The first rule is that neither companies nor governments hire people.
PEOPLE hire people. Period. So if you want to get government contract work, you need to meet the people IN government who have the authority to hire you.

For me, that was about 30 years ago when I was introduced to a a couple of guys at the Bureau of Land Management. We hit it off and they started using me for voiceovers. Then they built a regional training center - and they kept calling me. Eventually, they started recommending me to other government agencies, not just for VO work, but for producing projects as well.

Like all business, it's all about personal relationships. When one producer trusts you, they recommend you to others.

That early work led to gigs for a variety of clients ranging from defense contractors to other government agencies.

And yes, billing, bidding on jobs, and paperwork in general can be a bit more complicated than on civilian gigs.

I've been lucky since for the past 15 years, I've had one of only two open purchase order contracts for services that the local BLM office has maintained. It makes things a LOT easier.

But expect limits on the size of POs you can work under without going through formal bidding.

And expect some agony when you know you can do a great job on a particular subject - but the rules say they have to put it out for open bid and some knucklehead bids foolishly low not understanding little things like margins, overhead and a sustainable business model.

Sigh.
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Old April 25th, 2008, 03:53 PM   #5
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Thanks Bill!

I see... So like most other clients, it means more things like networking and getting one's face out there. The way I've heard a couple people talk about it, you'd think they would need some incredibly high security clearance and a bunch of other wacky stuff to even think about doing even the most mundane of projects. Not to say that work like that doesn't exist, but thankfully, not all of it is like that.
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Old April 26th, 2008, 10:16 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Shawn McCalip View Post
Thanks Bill!

I see... So like most other clients, it means more things like networking and getting one's face out there. The way I've heard a couple people talk about it, you'd think they would need some incredibly high security clearance and a bunch of other wacky stuff to even think about doing even the most mundane of projects. Not to say that work like that doesn't exist, but thankfully, not all of it is like that.

In my experience, that kind of work is a VERY small sliver of the kind of work that you'll typically run into in government gigs.

ALthough I remember years ago being called in to my then client McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Company (since absorbed by Boeing) to do VO on an extraordinary video from the Apache Attack Helicopter cameras where, in the early hours of Desert Storm, an entire group of enemy combatants jumped out of their emplacements and literally surrendered en masse after merely seeing a pair of Apache's pop up over the hill.

The Apache building team was pretty pumped at that. Particularly since none of the gunships had to even fire. They were that scary in a real battlefield situation.

But most government video is a LOT more mundane. Typical internal communications stuff, training, and light PR (as in videos designed to help the public understand the impact of regulations, etc.)

So don't sweat it. It's work anyone can do. Just a few more hoops to jump through since there's public funds involved and while as producers, we understand how sometimes it's important to pay for quality - on the other hand, as tax payers, we're all against government waste.

So working for Uncle Sam is always a bit of a mixed blessing.

Good luck.
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Old April 29th, 2008, 01:38 PM   #7
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Thanks Bill,

I figured as much that most projects won't be for super-cool secret military things. I'm just trying to sniff out more opportunities and try and get myself a little further away from doing 30-second TV commercials for the bulk of the time. Getting on to some of these lists and meeting with some of these folks seems like a good step in the right direction.

Thanks again!
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