In a few short years we went from 40-50 weddings to working for a bunch of really cool companies on TV features, documentaries, and even some amazing things like an Olympic campaign and the Superbowl.
How did we make that leap?
What tricks and mindsets helped make our transition quicker and more smooth?
Throughout KNOW, at nearly every stop, we got several questions about how we made the move from weddings to commercial work. Our story of the NFL seeing a wedding film on Vimeo makes for quite the story, but it certainly doesn’t act as useful advice to rest your hopes on.
We want to break down our transition into commercial work and make this tangible. Something you can apply immediately to your work if you find yourself wanting to make the same transistion.
Even if you aren’t working in only weddings, these lessons continue to help us push our work forward – and expose us to even larger stages (we still use these lessons in our non-wedding work).
Here is our ‘secret sauce’ if you will, about how to use your background in weddings to gain traction and get clients in the commercial world.
Key #1: Make Wedding Films for the World, Not your Couple
From the beginning of Stillmotion, we’ve always said that we try to make wedding films interesting enough you could show the mailman.
We’ve seen many people fall into traps where they let the stigma of wedding videos get to them and they lower their standards, or they aim most of their creative vision at trying to please the couple.
So many times we’ve been asked to offer feedback on a clip and when we ask ‘why’ a certain decision was made the answer, all too often, is something along the lines of ‘the bride asked for that’ or ‘they’ll be upset and ask me to change it if i didn’t include that’.
We like to say, as harsh as it sounds, forget the couple.
If you can make a film strong enough to keep a stranger’s interest, then the couple and their family will surely love it.
When we say “stranger” we do not just mean other soon-to-be-married brides (stop making films for brides altogether).
If you aren’t making a film for brides, how do we then justify hanging the dress in the window or rolling the rings on a table? Try showing that to somebody without the context of it being a wedding film and see just how quickly they get confused or bored.
In making this clear choice to tell a story above all else, all of a sudden the fluff falls away and we need to find something deeper and more meaningful to drive our film.
Said in another way, showing you can make a good film about the wedding day says you can cover an event.
Making a strong film about who two people are shows that you can tell a story.
If you can tell a story about people that is interesting to more than just the bride and groom, you’ve developed a strong sense of story for other genres of filmmaking.
And, in the end, your couples will be blown away by your work when it stays true to their actual story – and not just a play-by-play of their wedding day… Continue Reading
To this day, I still remember the little white box that changed everything.
It was several years ago, but I remember exactly where I was when the delivery man showed up outside our makeshift studio.
Inside the box? Two EOS 7Ds – pre-production cameras, that Canon had graciously sent us to test out in the field.
It was those cameras and that opportunity that pushed us to shoot JC and Esther’s wedding film on way too short of notice, with the most basic of crew. It was just me, two cameras, and 4 lenses – but I had a mission to make the most of our time with JC and Esther and to put these new pre-production cameras to the best possible use.
Because my resources were so limited, I couldn’t possibly shoot everything.
At first that felt like a negative, but I quickly realized that it was a massive liberation. I had an excuse to skip everything I didn’t want to cover and could very easily pick and choose just those things that I wanted to focus the story on. As the film was a free offering to them and rather improv due to the pre-production cameras, there was no bride offering suggestions on what should be covered and there was no pressure of exactly what needed to be delivered.
By having a situation where less was being asked of me, I was able to do more than I ever had before.
That film is the same one that, when put online, went viral and wracked up over 200,000 views (for a last minute wedding film).
One of those people who viewed that film was employed by the NFL.
That one view changed the entire trajectory of Stillmotion and started our relationship shooting for the NFL. Our work on the football field led to contacts at CBS, our work with CBS led us to the Emmy’s.
That little white box, my decision to shoot that wedding, and how we approached it, has sparked momentum for us that still hasn’t stopped.
While you may not be lucky enough to find yourself in a situation with pre-production cameras, volunteering to do a film, and blessed with absolutely no restrictions, there are several ways you can go about getting yourself more creative freedom on your shoot.
More creative freedom ultimately means you can tell the stories you want, and if we are any example, that can lead to some pretty special opportunities.
Had we shot JC and Esther without this creative freedom, even with double the crew and resources, there is a very likely chance the NFL never would have seen it.
Flash forward in time to this year…
We’d recently been approached to make a Kickstarter film for a team who had created a pretty remarkable innovation for your iPhone. They had found a way to use the light on the phone to illuminate your finger, then the camera would detect the shade of red in your lit finger, and from that would come up with a close estimate of your heart rate.
An iPhone app that feels the pulse of your heart.
That in itself is pretty nifty, but they went one step further – they used an algorithm they had built earlier that could take this biometric data and turn it into composed music on the fly.
An iPhone app that feels the pulse of your heart… and turns it into music for you.
They called their concept BioBeats and their team was spread across the globe with Nadeem and Sandeep in San Fran, Davide in Pisa, Italy, and David in London, England. From the first phone call, we knew we wanted to tell their story by visiting each one of them.
Visiting each member would allow us to tell this story in the way we KNEW it should be told – but was a rather expensive proposition, something much bigger in scope than they had originally thought when they approached us.
Do we compromise on the story?
Do we wait until additional funds can be raised and allocated?
Neither was a great option. This story deserved to be told right – and deserved to be told now!
We were stuck…
…and then the phone rang.
It was Canon again.
As many of you may have noticed, when Canon releases a new camera they often work with filmmakers to have a piece created with that camera. It serves as a testament to whats possible and gives Canon some real-world footage from their new creation. Win-win!
Canon wanted to know if we were interested in submitting concepts to make a film as part of their C100 launch plans.
There was only one problem…
As I write this, we’re finishing up our 38-city KNOW education tour. At each stop, we run a little test.
One of us holds up a light meter and asks the audience, “Does anyone know what this is?”
Without fail, most of our attendees do know what the device is called – and a simple definition of what it does.
Then we follow up with a different set of questions…
“Does anyone know what a stop of light is?”
“Does anyone know how this can be used to tell deeper stories?”
“Has anyone actually used one of these things recently?”
Across the nation, the answer to these follow up questions is almost always the same.
Um… No… Well… Maybe… Uh…
Usually this gets a good laugh with the crowd, but we don’t hold the unfamiliarity with light meters against our attendees. After all, nearly all digital cameras have built in light meters that offer basic functions.
In addition, our DSLR cameras now give us a great idea of our picture live, so we can get a basic feel for the image. A live image and a built in light meter will help with the majority of work the average student will take on.
I’ll be honest, our team here discounted what light meters could add to story for a long time. A light meter is one of those things we are familiar with intellectually, but that most of us don’t really know how to use effectively.
We want to change that.
Since we’ve started embracing light meters (in the right situations), we’ve been blown away with what they allow us to accomplish.
So we were excited to team up with Sekonic to produce this 14-minute tutorial on the basics of a light meter and how we use it in the field. Check it out below.
What you’ll learn in the video tutorial above:
- The 4 aspects of shooting where a light meter will really shine.
- What a stop of light is – and what happens when we increase or decrease it.
- How Aperture, ISO, and Shutter Speed relate to stops of light (and each other).
- Specific examples (from the field) on why this matters.
- The benefits of isolating specific light sources (think interview ratios).
- Saving time by scouting potential location light quickly and correctly.
The stillmotion team has gone from ignoring light meters – to integrating them into several of our routine processes we do on a daily basis around the globe.
Light meters are not only alive…
They are an essential part of our team!
Recently we got a call from our agency friends at Carbone Smolan Agency. They were working on a film for a group of management consultants called the Boston Consulting Group.
Our first thought was, “What the heck is a management consultant?”
Turns out their teams come in and consult on large, complex decisions that corporations around the world may need to make. Think mergers, expansions, cost cutting, policy, and so many other things where an outside, experienced point of view would be vital.
BCG needed a well produced, impactful recruitment film that would get across everything that their research had illuminated.
That’s why they were on the phone with us.
The Carbone Smolan Agency would handle the research phase of the project and come up with clear objectives for the film. From there they wanted us to help build a narrative that effectively got these across in an understandable, smooth, and impactful way.
We were up for the challenge!
As we started to plan out what gear and camera we would need, they gave us more information about what they had in mind.
We’re 9 stops in, 3 weeks behind us, and as we move from city to city we become more and more inspired by the people we meet. I personally never expected how touching this experience would be. It’s amazing to look in the face of someone who’s just realized something that will make them happier and more connected with what they do. But more on that in a later blog post perhaps. :)
Similarly to last monday, today we answer one of the top questions we’ve been asked over the last week:
Q: What do you wish you knew when you were first starting out?
A: We wish we knew that there was something to wish we knew.
What does that mean exactly? Well, let’s start off by saying that we’ve always had a blast doing what we do. We’ve always approached imaging in a way that made us happy. We thought to ourselves, “how would we want things done if we were on the other side of the camera?”, and that has always guided us well… Continue Reading