5 Steps to Job Satisfaction (In Film and Video Production)

When asked what I do for a living, I rarely know exactly what to say. My answer often depends on who’s asking and the confusion or judgement I anticipate. It varies between ‘filmmaker’, ‘self-shooting director’, ‘camera person’, ‘videographer’, ‘video producer’, and the more cryptic ‘I run my own business’. It’s hard to articulate the truth of my job in a single word or phrase. I’ve heard ‘preditor’ being used quite a bit recently to define producers who also edit their own material. But applying such nomenclatural efficiency to my own day to day existence seems frustratingly beyond reach. A ‘managidirectoprecamitor’? There you go. Nailed it.

Anyway, whichever label I choose, I continue to be surprised by the positive response I invariably receive. People assume that I have a very interesting job, that it must be exciting and varied compared to many others. It IS very varied and it CAN be exciting but just like any other job, there are times when the work can feel repetitive, frustrating and uninspiring. And it’s certainly not glamorous –

Sheffield filmmakers Ed Cartledge and Phil Parkin making a documentary about mud

Sheffield filmmakers Ed Cartledge and Phil Parkin making a documentary about mud

It’s also not always easy work. The hours can be long and antisocial. The threat of sudden drops in work and thus income hangs constantly over your head. That said, any gaps in work are often appreciated because it gives you some time to focus on business development, wherein there’s an enormous amount to wrap your head around in terms of camera, light, grip, sound and post-production technology as well as business administration and finance, marketing, growth strategy, choosing and developing employees and freelancers, IT, remembering to buy toilet roll and not losing to Matt at office table tennis. It can be stressful if you let it be. Conversely, when the order book is full, the time gets swallowed by client liasion, project development, scripts and synopses, kit preparation, locations/cast/crew bookings, actually shooting and actually editing. Again, it’s stressful if you let it be.

Job satisfaction in our line of work depends on the individual handling all of the above and much more with a calm, confident and consistent forward momentum and taking pleasure from the small moments: the warm glow on your cheek as you film a summer’s sunset, the relaxed expression of a previously nervous contributor having found their feet on camera, framing a beautiful portrait shot of a teacher to have it massively improved by a photobombing 4 year old. Of course, it also depends upon the quality of the projects and your relationships with clients. At Sort Of…Films, we honestly feel blessed in that department.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that every piece of work sails by without a hiccup, that every client is a joy to work with, that every finished film (of the 1000 or so we’ve made over 14 years) is something we feel overwhelming pride for. But relatively speaking, we’re a lucky, lucky video production company. And we’ve come to realise that satisfaction can be derived from absolutely any project…if you know where to look.

1. CLIENT RELATIONSHIPS

I’d estimate that 95-99% of our experiences with clients are just wonderful. In large part, I put this down to the personal, communication and organisational qualities of our clients, or more specifically, our first points of contact within each client. I also sometimes put it down to the fact that before embarking on a video project, clients can feel quite nervous about what they’re going to get, whether they’re wasting their money or whether they’re going to awkwardly reveal their own inexperience with the process. At the end of a project with Sort Of…Films, clients tend to feel relieved that the project has been finished on time, on budget and to a standard often higher than they were expecting. They also feel like they’ve been supported, heard and not patronised or ignored.

We’ve worked for clients across all sectors but some of our happiest experiences have been when working for major charities such as British Heart Foundation, Shelter, The Children’s Food Trust and The Conservation Volunteers. These are organisations which are inevitably populated with staff who want to help bring about positive change in the world and for whom we end up feeling happy to go the extra mile as a result. They have treated us with respect, embraced our creative input and heard our ideas around logistics and audience-building. Most importantly, they’ve been trusted and empowered by their managers and encouraged to feel as much a part of the process as they are comfortable.

We often get ‘thank you’ emails from such people and decided to create a montage to summarise some of our favourites:

Sort Of…Films: Our Clients from sortoffilms on Vimeo.

2. STEADY AND CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT

One of the surest ways in which anyone can derive pleasure from their work is by taking note of and enjoying even the smallest sense of improvement over time, particularly when instances of observable improvement occur fairly regularly and frequently. In our line of work, these gradual improvements might be achieved through acquiring and learning new video production technology, delving into new production techniques, genres, formats or approaches, streamlining administrative or logistical work or enhancing channels of communication with clients for the purposes of concept development or feedback on cuts. Many of the improvements are miniscule but if they’re happening daily and within multiple areas of our work, they can snowball into a fantastic sense of forward momentum.

Without a sense of progress like this, a business can stagnate and its staff can become out of touch (with technology, current standards, the media landscape, the cutting edge). We need to be sure that everyone is deriving a sense of reward from any efforts that are put towards this agenda of gradual, incremental improvement.

3. THE GREAT OUTDOORS

We are ‘outdoors people’ and look forward to projects that involve working in the outdoors most of all. The balance that this can bring to our necessary time in the office and the edit suite should not be underestimated. Films we’ve produced such as those for NERC (Natural Environment Research Council), TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) or The University of Sheffield’s Animal & Plant Sciences Department offer us some of the happiest shooting memories that we have. On many, we’re returned home more exhausted, more muddy and more cold than the average office-based production, but refreshed and exhilarated by the quality of footage we’re able to generate using natural daylight and locations that are dominated by natural landscapes and features.

If you’re partial to robust, peer-reviewed research from world-renowned academic institutions, you’re welcome: http://personal.lse.ac.uk/mackerro/happy_natural_envs.pdf

4. MAKING A CONTRIBUTION

Sometimes a job is a job and it pays the bills and there’s nothing of course wrong with that. Sometimes, the bills have been paid and there’s a bit of spare time left over. Where possible, we like to use that time to do something valuable and occasionally, that means volunteering our services towards the production of a film that carries a message close to our own hearts. This year, we made a short Kickstarter film for a project about the revolutionary food growing system of Aquaponics and later helped on a paid basis with more video content they needed –

WeGrow – Aquaponics from sortoffilms on Vimeo.

In the past, we’ve made voluntary films for Shelter, The Miscarriage Association, The Teenage Cancer Trust and more. But it’s not just when we volunteer that we feel able to make a contribution. We know that through moving images, we can help to connect people to projects and ideas that need their support, we can encourage engagement with meaningful work, we can offer a voice to those who deserve to be heard. With a constructive, hopeful and egalitarian attitude towards society and the thousands of individuals we encounter through our work, we can focus our efforts and our attention where they are needed and in turn, feel rewarded and confident that our day to day work can be worthwhile.

5. LEARNING SOMETHING ABOUT SOMETHING

In 2013, we became the preferred suppliers to The University of Sheffield. We have since produced several hundred films for them as our name has increasingly been passed around its 5 faculties and 8000 staff members and the quality of our work has been seen internally as well as externally. In that time, we’ve built up strong relationships with a wide array of their academic and non-academic staff as well as students and other suppliers. It’s an incredible network of which to feel a part. It’s full of welcoming, friendly and enthusiastic people, most of whom are engaged in genuinely fascinating work or study and who have a remit and a passion to share that work with the local community and the world at large. We’re a conduit for those impulses, whether that be helping researchers to articulate their work to diverse audiences or helping marketing staff distill their messages into formats that work for social media sharing amongst target demographics. This sounds like ‘job satisfaction’ enough but actually, something that’s very easy to neglect as established professionals is our capacity to continually learn and what better place to enhance our own worldview than within the walls of a top ranking university? Regularly coming into contact with academics, researchers and students, discussing their work with them, witnessing their processes and facilities means that we often go home at the end of a shoot with new knowledge or new ideas, all of which can feed into our own work as we move forward.

There are ways of deriving job satisfaction from pretty much any line of work. I think it’s far more about attaining the right attitudes towards the ‘day to day’ elements of a job than mercilessly climbing a career ladder. Feel free to comment if you disagree or if we sound like the kind of people you’d like to work with and you have a film, video or documentary project on the cards, get in touch!