A few days ago I reviewed a video for a friend and colleague who wanted some honest feedback. My review wasn’t particularly good. It wasn’t a bad video, but it just left me flat. I’ve seen other work by this individual that really impressed me, so I also knew it wasn’t up to snuff with what this individual is capable of doing. At the end of my email to this videographer I wrote the encouraging refrain “I’m sure the clients loved it.”
How many times have you found yourself saying that to a colleague for something you knew wasn’t that particularly great? In truth, the client probably did love it. Especially in the event world, most clients are going to love seeing themselves and their loved ones in a well-crafted video (or photos). But we as artists have higher standards and we see flaws that the average Jane or Joe doesn’t. The challenge when you do this for a living is, “How much time and effort should one put into making your art great?”
I have to admit, this topic is particularly challenging for me. I have always been a proponent of balancing art with business. Often times, admittedly, to the detriment of my “art.” It is a very, very hard thing to balance. I distinctly remember a forum thread I was part of a few years ago on a well known filmmakers’ forum. I posted a video I had done, one I was genuinely proud of. One that I knew my clients and their colleagues loved. However, it was pretty much skewered by my fellow filmmakers on this forum. One person even compared it to YouTube crap. (A very poor exaggeration if I do say so myself. I admit it wasn’t necessarily award-worthy, but not anywhere close to being THAT bad. This was well before the days of HD DSLRs. It was right around the time when videographers were starting to make the mass switch from SD to HD. The Sony PD150, the Panny DVX100 and the Canon XHA1 and not the 5D Mark II were the most popular cameras of choice by event filmmakers). My “get the last word in” response was “Well, at least my clients loved it.” Eesh! That just brought on even more bombarding attacks.
- “We as artists need to continue to push the medium.”
- “You as a leader in the industry Ron should be setting an example.”
- “We shouldn’t settle on being just good enough for our clients.
These were just a few of the more common retorts I received. I am big enough to admit that in retrospect, I do have a more empathetic understanding to their comments now than I did back then. No doubt in part to my passion to recapture my roots as a filmmaker. That was during a time when I was way more interested in the business side of my business than the art side. The advent of the HD DSLRs has re-ignited my excitement for filmmaking and to some extent my scales have tipped (I am a Libra after all. 😉 ).
So how do we do it? How do we as professional visual artists balance the two sides of that coin? I can’t claim to know the definitive answer. But I can share with you what helps me.
- Do what you love. Most importantly, make sure you’re doing the kind of work you love. In early 2010 I made a conscious change in my business to proactively go after and do work that is primarily inspirational or cause-driven. When your business is based on work you love to do, you’ll rise to the level of your potential to deliver work that will amaze both colleagues and clients.
- Continue to study. Never consider yourself so experienced that you no longer feel a need to continue learning. Whether it’s attending workshops, watching videos, or reading blogs, always keep yourself in education mode.
- Seek critiques from a chosen few. I think the art of professional critique has sort of been lost. There used to be a time when a mentor or teacher or some other experienced sage of the industry would be in the position to review and provide hard and honest feedback on a student’s work. Today, a lot of people get their “critiques” from the deluge of positive comments on Vimeo or other forums (“Awesome video dude! You rocked it!”). Especially if they are already a well-known filmmaker. (Heaven forbid if anyone were to say anything bad about “so-and-so’s” work). However, as my aforementioned story suggests, you can also get negative comments on forums. Depending on the forum, you can sometimes also get honest and professional criticism. The problem with just forum feedback, IMHO, is that it’s too many people. Everyone’s a critic. One person loves it and another hates it. Personally, I prefer to seek out a few close experienced colleagues whose opinions I trust that I can email privately and get specific, objective critique.
Keep the Balance
In the end though, you must still remember to keep the balance. You can’t afford to spend 100 hours editing your wedding films so that each can be an award-winner. You can’t spend thousands of dollars on gear and rentals to make every corporate shoot look like a Fincher film if your client ain’t paying for it. I’m not saying never do those things. There may be plenty of times when it makes sense to put in a lot of extra work on a project because of the opportunity to impress a special client; or to create a video for your portfolio that will help you land future gigs like that (hopefully ones where clients will pay for it). But on the whole, you need to make sure you’re getting paid for the work you put into your projects. As the topics on this blog suggest, despite the fact that my scales may have tipped more to the artistic side of my personality, I still have a pretty firm grounding in the business aspect of this profession. I have to. So that I can afford to continue to be the artiste.
How do you strike the balance?
It’s no secret that these people LOVED this video (as did the world). But artistically speaking, it’s a mess!
Bill Vincent says
Awesome blog, Dude! You rocked it! 😉 hehe!
Seriously tho, great post. It reminded me of this quote – “An artist’s work is never finished, just abandoned.” (Leonardo Da Vinci). It’s hard to strike a balance between art and commerce – a continuing battle.
As for reviews, I think online commenting on videos is pretty much just a call for compliments. You know the bride and many times her family will gush over it. If someone with a “name” chimes in to praise your work, others in the biz follow suit. These Twitter-length comments are not an accurate critique, to say the least. And as for reviews on forums, I think they are fan clubs for the well-known/well-liked, and shredders for the rest in many cases. People love to tear down other people’s work, justified or not. There is also a zeitgeist around forum comments – if they start out well or a superstar posts something positive, it will be a love-fest. If they start out negative or said superstar chimes in with a less-than-glowing review, it will usually be a slaughter – and this is regardless of how good or bad the video actually is in reality!
As for giving a truthful critique on a well-known filmmaker’s work, mighty flame wars have started for telling the Emperor they have no clothes – so many people who have negative comments stay silent. In fact, the more successful you become, the harder it is to get honest feedback at all.
You have to take all the critiques with a grain of salt (or a spoonful of sugar). I think your approach of asking a few respected folks to respond privately is a good approach. You’re always going to get some suggestions for improvement, but that’s why you asked them, right? If you wanted glowing, you can post on FB. 😉
Ron Dawson says
I think that’s a great assessment Bill. I actually don’t post my work on forums any more (well, at least not video ones, not including Vimeo. 😉 I really like getting specific feedback from people I know and trust. Your analogy about the “emperors clothes” is also pretty funny. I can see that happening some times too.
Steve Moses says
It’s quite simple really…..your level of artistic abilities is in direct proportion to the fees you were paid. I think all of us always do more than we were actually are paid for to an extent, but trying to make a corporate or event piece a award winner with extra editing hours is just plain bad business when you were not paid enough to do so. Your dilemma Ron is one we have all had & have had to search our artistic souls to look for an answer.
I see far too many incredible Highlights or Short-Forms that I know the filmmakers were not paid enough to do an extensive edit like I viewed. Time editing, is time when you are not marketing or living life. Save those masterpiece edit’s for those that saw the value in your film & actually paid you what you are worth. Stop editing for other filmmakers & edit for that particular client, it’s good business.
Dan Rollins says
Great stuff Ron, this hits close to home 😉 I agree that if we want to grow professionally (and personally) we MUST have a few folks who are willing to tell us we have spinach in our teeth. For my work, I have a small group of people who will always give me honest feedback when I ask. I admit, I need to be consistent and do that with ALL my projects, not just the “big” ones.
Flattery won’t get us anywhere.. it might make us feel good but that is not helpful for growth. A really great book I have been reading says this: “To flatter friends is to lay a trap for their feet.”, by the way.. the book has a great ending 🙂
Thanks for a great post Ron.. I agree.. YOU ROCKED IT 🙂
Evro Moudanidis says
Great blog post again Ron, I think I even remember the forum & video clip you refer to 😉
I have to agree with all comments above. I stopped posting video clips on forums a couple of years ago because at the end of the day, the sort of feedback I would get was directly proportional to my ‘legend’ status. It is difficult to get an honest critique on a film-maker’s forum with thousands of members where diplomacy & politics are always at play.
Steve is 100% correct when he says that there are a lot of event guys spending too much time on making films to impress colleagues. This is something I was also guilty of in the early years of my film-making career. I guess from one point, we all want to have the respect & admiration of our colleagues, but there comes a time when we have to start thinking about spending time with family and putting some money away for retirement, lest we be shooting weddings & events into our 70s.
For the video you post that was not well received, your last word should have been: “I got money for making that, how much did you make off your ‘art?'”
Just like a gifted painter who has to spend most of their time making landscapes and other mall art crap to pay the bills, are make commercial art. More so, if the project is commissioned by someone else, you are making them something; make them happy, don’t be selfish.
I think that the popularity of the video shows that there is something intangible missing from our modern society. We have expensive “Big” films that come out, but they are really not that good. I think there is a certain quality missing from people’s lives, and when they recognize someone going outside the lines it really seems to hit a nerve. Pop culture has become a joke. People have drifted away from TV because it’s just a rehash of tired old formulas.
The next great thing that will captivate huge audiences is being planned right now. But not in the board rooms of Paramount or Warner Bros. It’s being planned in the garage or basement of someone’s house in middle America. It may not have the technical perfection of “Green Lantern” or “Pirates 17” but it will have heart and be original. Hollywood isn’t lacking for good technicians, it looks more beautiful than ever. But it’s kinda like good looking cotton candy. When you’re done there just wasn’t much there.
There is a revolution coming. It’s going to be very interesting…