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Shooting non-repeatable events: weddings, recitals, plays, performances...


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Old June 10th, 2014, 03:27 PM   #1
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The Switch: From Amateur to Professional

For all of those who are becoming familiar with my lengthy posts, you would know that I'm considering an eventual move to professional videography / cinematography.

I've watched tutorials online until the early hours of the morning for about a year and loved photography for close to 10 years... perhaps 3 years seriously, when I also took up videoing my travels. I'm by no means ready for the switch - I imagine another two years would bring me up to scratch, I believe - but it's a serious consideration going forward.

What I'd like to know - and this may be better in the private part of the forum, so feel free to move it there - is your story. How did you turn pro and for what reasons did you make that decision?

How was your first year in business?

What were the reasons for your successes/failures in your first year?

What did you do differently in your second year?

How does this compare to where you are now?

What keeps you shooting weddings every season?

What light bulb moments have you had?

Which light bulb moment was the most important for you?

How would you start up a business now, given your experiences?

How is this different to how you started your company?

What advice would you give to me?

Thanks to anyone who can be open enough to divulge answers to these questions - as someone who already has a profession, it's a big step to give up a steady income to pursue a dream - but it's one that I'd be willing to make should my experiences shooting weddings continue to flourish :)

Light bulb moments for me: I was filming my first wedding recently. Whilst running (literally) from the ceremony to the toasts, I stopped in front of the wedding family to capture the b&g's first walk together; as well as the responses of the family as a whole.

Hidden behind a bush, with my focus point on the family, I framed my shot: the nice, green out of focus area of the bush in the lower part of my frame, with the family in focus at somewhere between f3 and f4 in the centre, with the family around 5 metres in front of me. I shot without the knowledge of most family members. Finally, a groomsmen spotted me and smiled. He looked directly into the camera and winked - it was a funny moment and I knew that I'd 'nailed it': I'd 'nailed' my exposure, focus and other settings; mostly though, I knew that the whole family would enjoy this moment at a later date - it would belong to them forever.

Whilst I was capturing this, I began to laugh nervously / excitedly because I knew... I'd got it. I'd got the shot. It was a great feeling and it made my day - like a hundred other moments did on that day too - like shooting the special, colourful Calvin Klein socks that the groom had bought for his groomsmen, using a slider... it was hilarious to encourage them to do random dances with their feet, whilst they all sat on the bed. I edited the shot, putting 'Footloose' to their 'foot dance' for a little extra to give to the b&g for a keeps sake. We laughed and enjoyed it thoroughly when we watched it back weeks later.

All of these moments were light bulb moments for me: this could be my life.
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Old June 10th, 2014, 04:18 PM   #2
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Re: The Switch: From Amateur to Professional

Too many questions to asnwer :) but I can tell it took me about 8 years (just about 2 years ago) to get up to a point where I get the bookings I need to get my year booked without having to advertise, during those 8 years it has been a constant search of finding my own style and experimenting in a good and bad way, but always learning something.

If I look back at my first weddings I did they looked really amateuristic and my first big example I remember looking up to was still motion, I do recall where I was in awe over his steadicam work (they weren't a big team back then) and while he was not into storytelling yet, even audio was not that prominently used but visually every trailer he made was a little masterpiece and that's what I wanted to be when I grew up :D

So eventually it took me a bit over 9 years to get to a point where I"m finally happy with what I"m achieving right now and I don't feel the need in improving anymore, I finally found my "style" and it works for me, I just maintain and streamline what I do and that seems to be enough to get noticed and to get the bookings in I need.
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Old June 10th, 2014, 04:53 PM   #3
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Re: The Switch: From Amateur to Professional

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Originally Posted by Noa Put View Post
Too many questions to asnwer :) but I can tell it took me about 8 years (just about 2 years ago) to get up to a point where I get the bookings I need to get my year booked without having to advertise, during those 8 years it has been a constant search of finding my own style and experimenting in a good and bad way, but always learning something.

If I look back at my first weddings I did they looked really amateuristic and my first big example I remember looking up to was still motion, I do recall where I was in awe over his steadicam work (they weren't a big team back then) and while he was not into storytelling yet, even audio was not that prominently used but visually every trailer he made was a little masterpiece and that's what I wanted to be when I grew up :D

So eventually it took me a bit over 9 years to get to a point where I"m finally happy with what I"m achieving right now and I don't feel the need in improving anymore, I finally found my "style" and it works for me, I just maintain and streamline what I do and that seems to be enough to get noticed and to get the bookings in I need.
Haha you can tell that I teach for a living! :)

Well, it's clear that your style is complete and I would be amazed and very content if I reached your level of skill.

By saying that your year is booked, how many bookings do you take?

StillMotion are amazing... agreed. I also love Joe Simon and the Creative Live duo (Ray Roman and Rob Adams). After that, it's down to you guys for people whose work I most admire.

After you guys, I'm amazed by some people who shoot videos professionally - some of the work is :/ well, I don't know how to describe it... but I could have equalled it the first time I got a camcorder.
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Old June 10th, 2014, 08:46 PM   #4
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Re: The Switch: From Amateur to Professional

I keep shooting weddings precisely for those random moments, Craig, like you caught with your winking groomsman. My wife and I have a long way to go before we're all the way there... I consider us really good Uncle Bobs or below average professionals.

Our success in our first year was a combination: opportunities (clients) because we piggy backed my DJ clients. The videos came out OK by sheer amount of footage (plenty to edit with) and a great attitude (we'll try anything! Seriously. I once slept in my car at the groom's farmhouse so I could film the sunrise over the house, because that's where the ceremony was going to be).

We got here because I am already a very successful wedding MC/DJ. My wife, who likes photography, wanted to do a photo booth, but we found our market was already saturated. About the same time, a DJ client couldn't find a videographer, and all my names I referred were retired, so we volunteered to do it with out JVC Handycams for $150 (!?) and it was just as amateur as you'd think. After 2 more DJ clients asked for help, we jumped in and are trying to teach ourselves to do it right.

I don't know what we would do different. I suppose after another year or two, we'll have enough experience to look back and see our mistakes more clearly. We're only 3 years in. So far, maybe skipping experimenting with the 4 minute trailers... and buying the right gear at the start ($40 tripods are the worst)

Our goal is to average 30 wedding DJ clients, and 12+ video clients per year (last year was 32/17 and this year is 28/8 so far). Sometimes a couple books both. We must be doing something right so far. The sister of the groom from last October just booked us for the same DJ+Video package for next year (though our prices have gone up!).
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Old June 11th, 2014, 10:14 AM   #5
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Re: The Switch: From Amateur to Professional

I love this sort of post as it takes me back to when I gave up my day job in IT 4 years ago to go at this full time. I enjoyed sleeping in till 10am and getting up when I like. I now have a 2 year old so my day starts WAY earlier now :)

How was your first year in business?
Fine, we had about 15 weddings booked for the year and knew from the past couple of years that more would come in. Also, Julie was still working full time. We had a choice. Keep going at it part time with no time to grow the business or jack in the day job and go full time and devote more time to growing the business.

What were the reasons for your successes/failures in your first year?
Sucess was giving up the day job. As I said, I had more time to market, produce better edits. Failures were plowing money into things like the national wedding show. It works if your sub 1k in prices or offering 30%+ discounts. Other failures were down to simple lack of knowledge, not just as an artists but as a business person. Remember, you dont just have to be cinematographer, sound engineer, director and producer. You also have to be accountant, secratary, MD, CEO and CFO all in one.

What did you do differently in your second year?
Doubled our prices so we could actually afford to live off of what we did. Doubled them again the 3rd year and now have a 20% increase each year.

How does this compare to where you are now?
Oh boy. Started out filming on an eBay bought VX2100, now we rock a fleet of C100's for Minty and this year launched another studio to handle the overflow of work. In a few weeks we will be recruiting more people to allow A Hint of Mint to double its capacity again. SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION: If anyone is wanting to shoot for us Freelance then get in touch :)

What keeps you shooting weddings every season?
Do something different each time and I love being in business.

What light bulb moments have you had?
Training. Go on some serious training and spend a week having lightbulb moments.

Which light bulb moment was the most important for you?
Training. Seriously, what makes us think we can do this without any? And I dont just mean how to run a business. Next year were off to WPPI, we have hired a business guru to help on the business side.

How would you start up a business now, given your experiences?
Hahah, as weve just launched A Hint of Mint we've done just that. Know your cost price and don't compete on price. Advertise in the right places.

What advice would you give to me?
Dont compete on price. The way you win that war is to be cheaper than the other guy, he will try and beat you by being one step cheaper and so on. The way to be the ultimate winner is to give it away.

Save up some money before you give up your job. Its summer now so you will be filming weddings like no ones business but come winter you could have zero!!! ZERO work and just be editing. Its seasonal so be prepared.

Go on some training, some serious, costs some god damn money training. Not just how to shoot and edit but how to run a business.

Work out your cost price. When we ran our training event we asked everyone their cost price.. not a single person in the room knew, they all based their price on the guy sitting next to them and when they realised they didnt know they all realised they were in a spot of bother. How can you possibly know what to charge if you dont know what it costs? Factor in your Vimeo subscription, studio management software, camera replacement, camera repairs, electricty to charge and run your computer, mobile phone, petrol, cost of demo disks.

No1 tip!!! Get studio management software like Tave, https://www.tave.com/join/mintyslippers (30 day free trial).
Honestly, why have a google mail and calendar, a dozen spreadsheets and documents when this thing can do it all for you. Would you believe me if I told you every success we've had, every decision we make to grow and the whole reason we have a second crew was down to Tave which costs us just 15 a month?
It sends out invoices automatically, people pay, money appears! Does our booking, reporting, logs every email we send so we can manage disputes, syncs with my iphone calendar so I can look at a glance, tells me my top booking sources, my top reasons for people not booking.

Sounds like I'm on a major sales pitch for Tave doesnt it. Well people still choose to ignore us to save themselves 15 and spend days doing admin or not growing because they are busy wasting time. Tave my friend, GET TAVE!
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Old June 11th, 2014, 11:17 PM   #6
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Re: The Switch: From Amateur to Professional

Thanks Danny, that's a great post! Almost makes me want to quit my day job right now and take the leap. Almost! I have another 18 months before my current gig is up, then we'll see, then we'll see. But you've inspired me.

Mark
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Old June 12th, 2014, 02:39 AM   #7
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Re: The Switch: From Amateur to Professional

Ill give you a little background on us.

MintySlippers was started in 2007 after filming a friends wedding with a handy cam and a borrowed tripod. I was an IT manager and Julie a facilities manager. Neither of us studies filmmaking in college or Uni. Im a trained IT guy and a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer by trade.

2009 we attended Re-Frame in Austin and heard from some inspirational speakers but more importantly spoke to the other attendees and picked up just as much. We came back to the UK with all sorts of ideas.

Shortly after we decided this was what we wanted to do but I couldn't work 9-5, be on call all night and then film weddings on Saturday, spend Sunday recovering and cleaning out emails ready for work on Monday. It would also mean the business stagnate as we barely had time to edit, let along develop. So we decided that I should give up my job. Not sure why we selected me as I was the main income. Around October that year I left my well paid, secure job. 6 months later Julie joined me.

So there you have it, from no background in filmmaking to our own little empire. We are off to pickup the keys to our new office today. Good times.
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Old June 12th, 2014, 05:16 AM   #8
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Re: The Switch: From Amateur to Professional

Well done Danny. After more than 25 years I never had an office other than one at home. Congratulations on having the vision and drive to build your business. I'd agree with your earlier comments about devoting time and energy to the business side.
Your story is full of good advice which I couldn't better. The advice I would offer to anyone starting or even established is at some point think about an exit strategy. I know it may seem unnecessary when starting out but believe me there will come a point when most people will want or need to get out of the business. I'd suggest building a sustainable stand alone business or brand that is capable of continuing with or without the originator, as it appears you are doing. That way when you want to devote time to other interests or move on to a different project or just lay back and spend your well earned fortune, there will be something tangible to 'cash in'. As a one-man-band once you stop your business stops and there's not much future income from reproducing copies of old weddings videos or school plays.
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Old June 12th, 2014, 07:21 AM   #9
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Re: The Switch: From Amateur to Professional

Love those 'nailed it!' moments.

Its a little frightening how much adrenalin there can be on a days wedding shoot, and most people have no idea. I keep it all inside my head though.

'Booya!', 'Come on!', 'Beaut!' , and even times of giving yourself a talking too like 'Get it together', or 'Man up' or 'Get the finger out!'.

And then theres the feeling of going home knowing you truly 'worked', not in any way a you've worked before for any employer.

And then theres the appreciation, and the remarks. Something you will never get as an employee in most companies.

Job satisfaction, being a self-made man, doing something worth while. This is why I'm making the jump to full time next year. Its a better life.
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Old June 12th, 2014, 01:21 PM   #10
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Re: The Switch: From Amateur to Professional

CLIVE YOU NAILED IT!

Honestly you summed up why I jumped from the rat race about 4 years ago - the day itself can be hard beyond belief (I have definitely told myself to 'Get it together! on more than one occasion) especially when it seems all is going wrong (I've had a few this year - only a few weeks ago a pouring down wedding with a church ceremony at 3 going through to first dance at a very early 7pm with a stop off in a park inbetween and setup for video guest messages, bearing in mind I'm a solo shooter - I actually said to myself 'WHY AM I DOING THIS?) But when you're editing it all together and you see all the good stuff it's soooo worth it - and then the emails/cards/phone calls from happy clients proving that you've made a treasured recording of someone's special day- makes it all worth it :)

My only regret is not doing it years earlier!

Pete
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Old June 12th, 2014, 04:31 PM   #11
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Re: The Switch: From Amateur to Professional

I think the most important thing is to realize that the experience you provide is more important than the footage you shoot. This means being a great person to be around when you meet your clients, during the wedding day, and communicating with the after.

I see far too many people trying to sell their video rather than sell their themselves (not in that way :). Your services do not matter, You matter. This means that the client should hire you for the way you shoot and the experience you bring. Don't get caught up trying to sell the sliders, Glidecam, multi cams, etc. Be interested in your couple

Don't get angry with vendors, no matter if they wrong you in the worst way. This also means don't rely on them or their word. Good vendor relationships are a great, free way to get more people to know about you and trust your services.
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Old June 13th, 2014, 04:44 AM   #12
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Re: The Switch: From Amateur to Professional

Don't upset the clergy, don't upset the people who help the clergy, don't upset the venue boss, don't upset the DJ, don't upset the toastmaster, don't upset the bride, be on time, do the simple things right, have the right equipment and double the equipment, be ready for things that might or might not happen, be ready for the unexpected because the video guy is the last to know! Yes? The last to know!! Be ready for the next stage in the day, think one step ahead of everyone...
Make sure you have a contract or else, make sure you don't stand on the brides dress or else, make sure you have the dance time in the contract because they will keep you there till whenever they want to dance or the DJ says never mind the video guy you have the dance when you want, even though you will have been with the bride since 9am.
After getting all those things right weak in week out then you can say you are top dog and professional. Welcome to the mad world of filming weddings. Good luck. in our Northern area...
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Old June 13th, 2014, 07:20 AM   #13
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Re: The Switch: From Amateur to Professional

Steve, sounds like you're talking right out of my experience book ^^ :)

I would add something else. Make sure you have real passion for what you do, not just OCD right now because you want a change from what you're currently doing and this looks like a lot of fun. Lots of people start & they absolutely love the first few weddings, then after the initial euphoria they realise it's not quite how they thought it would be.

It's getting both easier (improved equipment) and harder (higher expectations) to do great films with true innovations that make people go wow!

Meanwhile, as the equipment becomes cheaper and makes it easier for amateurs to get reasonable results more and more people are crowding in to the market. This inevitably means prices drop as supply outstrips demand.

As Danny said, make sure you understand your costs, not just the costs on the day, but the hidden costs like insurance, accountants, music licenses, equipment to make your DVDs, how you're going to make the DVDs and cases and how much time this really takes. This is all part of the job, so it's not something you should be figuring in as free time. Will the vehicle you drive be determined by the equipment you need to carry and is this now costing you more than it otherwise could/would? That's a hidden cost most people completely ignore.

You're all set with new gear now, but how much will you need to allocate from each and every job you do towards replacing that equipment in 2,3 or 4 years time. Talk of new gear is constant, but try not to get caught up in each and every new craze.

As a teacher, you're probably all set here, but for others looking on, make sure you're a people person and are happy chatting & interacting with the B+G and guests. If not, you may need to adjust your shooting style so you're more of a fly on the wall. In this case, will you be happy being totally ignored while the photographer is getting all the love & praise on the day? Perhaps the photographer is being fed by the couple and you get nothing, no drinks, no food, no thank you, nothing. It happens.

I don't want to dampen anyone's spirits. I want every one to be successful at what ever they choose to do. But in order to do that, you need to be sure this is your true vocation. If not it can easily be an expensive hobby that ultimately goes nowhere.
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Old June 13th, 2014, 07:37 AM   #14
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Re: The Switch: From Amateur to Professional

+10 Dave spot on
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Old June 13th, 2014, 08:08 AM   #15
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Re: The Switch: From Amateur to Professional

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Originally Posted by Dave Partington View Post
As Danny said, make sure you understand your costs, not just the costs on the day, but the hidden costs like insurance, accountants, music licenses, equipment to make your DVDs, how you're going to make the DVDs and cases and how much time this really takes.
You're all set with new gear now, but how much will you need to allocate from each and every job you do towards replacing that equipment in 2,3 or 4 years time. Talk of new gear is constant, but try not to get caught up in each and every new craze.
I just changed our contract so that if there is an issue, but they keep their wedding videos, they can't get a 100% refund - basically I make them pay for music licensing (per song, for us) and the custom DVD cases (around $200 in cost)

For future expenses, well, I pay myself a paycheck, and the business keeps the rest. Some of that goes into it's savings account for when its time to replace gear.

And when buying new gear.... don't! Wait and wait a while to make sure its something you can really use. If, after a couple of weeks, you still want it, try and sell your partner (or a friend in the business) on it's value. If you can't sell them, it's probably a poor idea.

And close ups of, not just details of objects, but of people. I love being able to cut to a bride's eyes, the B&G holding hands, or some small detail during a real moment. Since my wife and I shoot together, we usually agree on responsibility, so its my job to get the safe shot, and she knows she can take a chance on something that often ends up being really nice. Last week, during the B&G first look, they start a kiss, and my wife panned down to them holding hands. It was a great shot and perfect for a transition.
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