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!