Friday, June 23, 2017

Going Pro: Client Journeys - The Unexpected Call

One of the best-- though unnerving-- pieces of advice for new videographers/photographers is to make a pitch to your day job or a current associate, be that a hobby or a related businesses.  The bottom line is that every organization can benefit from a video, and people who know you will (hopefully) trust you.

I was lucky.  I didn't have to pitch my day job; they approached me to create a video and it was no small project.  They wanted a 4 part series on the statewide program, complete with a mini-narrative (or extended role play).  It took months to plan, weeks to shoot, and I'm still working on translations for them.  It didn't pay well by an independent contractor standard, but it did by a regular employment scale.

But that wasn't the Unexpected Call.  That call came from Hilton Worldwide.  They didn't want a commercial or even an in-house industrial; a senior Vice President was celebrating his 50th anniversary (and likely retirement due to illness), and they wanted a "thank-you" video from his colleagues and staff who were spread out across the U.S.  The video wasn't something they had planned on, either; it was a last minute addition, and it needed to be organized and edited in three weeks.  They wanted staff to film themselves-- using phones or cameras or whatever was available.  They also wanted it to be clever, humorous, and heartfelt.

I had no idea why an international company based outside of LA would cold-call me in the SF Bay.  He said he liked my website (really? the one with five videos?) and I didn't ask any questions.  He also said there wasn't a budget for this, but he wanted to see what it would cost to edit the staff contributions.  We talked about how many staff would contribute; I asked about general themes he thought we should cover; he told me a little about the Vice President, Greg.  I quoted him $1200.  It wasn't a living wage, really, but it wasn't embarrassingly cheap, either.

The next day I sent him filming guidelines for the staff, and based on our discussion, eight questions for them to answer, based on themes about Greg's personal style, computer style, driving technique, etc.  Everyone was to answer three of the eight questions, plus a statement about "one thing they appreciated about Greg."  I set up a Dropbox account for the incoming footage.  A week later, the files started to arrive.

As you can imagine, it was a hot mess.  Footage was shot on iPhones, in offices, in hotel lobbies, conference centers, vertical for Christ sake.  Airplanes roared in the background.  The President of Hilton Worldwide had his professionally done.  The 15 on-camera interviews ballooned to over 20.  Everyone had to be included.

Greg had started as a valet, and I found some archival footage of the Hilton where he worked; I organized the clips around the three major "questions."  And then I edited to the bone. Instead of fighting the bad and inconsistent quality of the footage, I went with it... allowing it to help shape the flow of the video.  

Rather than share the draft video with my client, I shared how I was structuring the piece.  After 10 days, I produced a draft for his review.  It was rough-hewn, a visual jumble tied together with playfulness, and audio earache to the refined.  He loved it.  I don't recall a single suggestion.  They played it at the 50th Anniversary, and the audience fell out; Greg and his family were deeply touched.

My client sent an email, introducing me to four new Hilton owners in the SF Bay (Hilton is a franchise), recommending me.  New businesses hasn't come from that-- at least not yet-- but I appreciated it as a sincere compliment.

Five months later I received an email from my client.  Greg has passed away from the illness that forced his retirement.  They played the video at his memorial.

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