How Photographer-Directors Develop Relationships with Commercial Production Companies.
The following is an article from Photo District News by Conor Risch reproduced here because it highlights our Managing Director Chris Zander and our Director Amanda Marsalis extensively and it’s awesome.
For photographers who are building careers as directors, relationships with film production companies can have a substantial impact. Production companies bring in advertising work for directors and then produce the shoots. Advertisers looking to produce live-action commercials often take that work to production companies and the directors they represent. Production companies also have agents that promote them and the directors that they work with.
There are roughly 30 production companies in the U.S. “that control the majority of the work,” says Chris Zander, the managing director of Backyard Productions, which represents 12 directors. Like finding a photography rep, getting on a production company’s roster is a challenge, Zander says, and those relationships are often exclusive. “The majority of our directors depend on us for booking millions of dollars worth of work, and vice versa—we need them to be able to do that—[so] it’s a very exclusive relationship to be on a roster,” he explains. However, many production companies also work with talent on a non-exclusive basis. “Sometimes if we don’t represent the exact talent that someone is looking for and it’s available to us on a freelance basis, we’ll provide it,” says Charlie Curran, an executive producer with Pointblank Productions.
Photographer-directors who are creating sophisticated live-action work may find opportunities with production companies that are interested in their ability to deliver both video and stills work, and in their experience directing talent. It’s been common for a number of years for clients to ask photographers to shoot video on a stills production, but increasingly clients are asking live-action commercial production companies if they can deliver stills and other content in addition to video. “Even four years ago we didn’t have a lot of those types of projects put in front of us, just because [the productions] were always kept very separate, but I’m seeing a lot more of that now where they’re trying to create content, TV commercials, print—all under one budget,” Zander says. That trend creates a good opportunity for photographer-directors to build relationships with production companies, Zander adds. “What I’m finding more and more these days is that a director that brings a really different point of view from another creative craft is incredibly valuable to us.”
Integrated productions appeal to advertisers for financial and creative reasons. “I think it’s definitely a combination of factors; of course money is a big one,” explains Curran. “They’re just trying to look for a more efficient way of doing it,” by combining the sets, locations and casts for both still and video. “And frankly it keeps a certain singular vision throughout a campaign when they’re that closely tied together.”
Pointblank, which is based in London and New York, has represented both photographers and directors since they went into business, and many of their artists are on both the photography and director rosters. Curran says that not only are more photographers moving into live-action, but directors who are talented photographers are adding stills to their productions as well. “There are directors that have a great compositional, visual skill, and may also be cinematographers, so there is really no reason why they can’t wrap their heads around the different specs and deliverables that go into a print shoot. So while it’s more popular for still photographers to become directors, it’s going the other way as well right now with a couple of people I’m working with, with great success.”
When a production company is deciding whether to work with a photographer-director, the decision is first and foremost about the work. “I think any producer or rep will attest to this…. You have to appreciate the work subjectively, and then you have to find it marketable,” Curran says. Often photographers fall into the trap of filming people moving in front of the camera, setting it to music and calling it motion work. Aspiring directors have to demonstrate a grasp of cinematic blocking, of setting up cameras for different points of view, and for editing the shots in a way that will “engage the viewer and be able to string them along the story,” explains Michael Bini, an executive producer with Kontent Partners, a Seattle-based film and photography production company. Photographers need to ask themselves how their work compares to the reels and samples of commercial directors, in other words.
One of the advantages photographers have, Zander says, is they can have more experience directing talent than directors do. Zander’s Backyard Productions recently began representing photographer-director Amanda Marsalis, who has a feature film, and commercial and editorial video work to her credit. As a photographer, Marsalis “shoots a hundred people a year,” Zander explains. “I have directors that have been working in this industry for 25 years that have probably shot 150 people total.”
Zander wanted to work with Marsalis for “the unique vision that she brought to her filmmaking” after her years shooting portraits for commercial and editorial clients. “By working with so much talent over the years, she just naturally developed this process of finding and pulling out authenticity, which is what I really loved about her work.” Since Backyard began representing Marsalis, Zander says, several advertisers have found the prospect of working with her “even more compelling” because she can direct the film shoot and create stills.
Chris Floyd, one of the photographer-directors that Pointblank represents, has a similar strength, Curran notes. While they were producing a pair of short films for a commercial client, Floyd’s ability to connect with his subjects made a big difference in the production, Curran says. “In a really short time he established a rapport with them and managed to bang out two really phenomenal films.”
In addition to recognizing their strengths, photographers who are new to directing need to acknowledge what they don’t know. Photographers “who are being smart and deliberate in their approach” to directing, Bini says, are often those “that engage cinematographers and videographers to come on their shoots with them.” He recalls working with Anna Wolf three years ago on an integrated stills and video project. Wolf brought in a cinematographer to work with her, “which I thought was fantastic,” Bini says. “She thought more like a director in that way.”
Photographers often don’t realize the level of detail that directors put into their treatments when they are bidding on jobs, Zander says. “Our directors are always writing 30-page treatments that include story development, choice of visuals, a complete tearing apart of the narrative that the agency has done, and a rebuilding of that. It’s a really intense document. And that doesn’t come naturally at first to photographers, I don’t think.”
Production companies also appreciate when photographer-directors think of them when they have projects, rather than just pitching themselves for representation or when they want work. Many production companies are happy to collaborate on jobs with directors they don’t represent. “I do run into some [photographers] who don’t see that connection and they think of us more as a client, someone who is going to be able to get them work, but it is pretty reciprocal and it helps build a stronger relationship” when photographers also bring work to a production company, Bini says.
When photographers get in touch with production companies, it helps if they have a specific reason for reaching out and an ability to talk about why they want to work with the producers. “What always makes an impression is if someone has actually taken the time to look at our work at Kontent Partners,” Bini says. He appreciates it when photographer-directors “see the breadth of work that we’ve done and that there’s a range, from highly stylized shoots to catalogue-type shoots, and [can] tell us why they want to come work with us, if there are some clients they want to work with that we’ve worked with. Or [if they want to] maybe team up with us to go after a client, that’s always exciting.”