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Sustaining Big Projects through Small Gigs

A machine’s dial turns, and a white powder is added to a spinning beaker of water as a woman’s voice overhead talks about toothpaste and animal testing. It looks like a documentary you might find on PBS, but instead, it’s a commercial for Tom’s of Maine.

Producer Gita Pullapilly and Director Aron Gaudet, of Dungby Productions, were working on their latest film, The Way We Get By, in Bangor, Maine, when they were approached by Tom’s, a company known for its natural products, to do a series of commercials for its website. In order to highlight the company’s environmental consciousness and support of volunteerism, Tom’s wanted the commercials to have a documentary-type feel to them.

According to Pullapilly, shooting the documercials was a good experience because the filmmakers were given free reign to not only document the inner workings of the company, but also pick different topics to highlight and company experts to interview. After a week’s worth of work, Pullapilly and Gaudet produced 12 online videos.

Increasingly, businesses are jumping on the click-and-play online-video bandwagon. According to CNNMoney.com, Kelsey Group, an advertising research firm, reported that in 2007, small businesses spent $10.9 million on Internet video ads and are predicted to spend $1.5 billion in 2012. The trend also focuses on portraying a company’s corporate message in a more sincere format, much like the user-submitted videos on YouTube. According to Dave Jackel, a freelance filmmaker for TurnHere, an Internet video production and advertising company, choosing a documentary-style commercial has a number of benefits. “It’s become an aesthetic,” he says. “It’s also compelling because it’s real, it’s informative and you can get a high production value without paying absurd prices.”

As far as Pullapilly is concerned, such commercials are also great for the independent film community, as many companies are seeking documentary filmmakers to produce the documericals, not just standard production companies. “[Businesses] aren’t looking for a fancy commercial, they’re looking for short documentaries showcasing their company and their organization,” she says. And documentary-style production companies such as TurnHere, which picks up clients and assigns filmmakers to the job, are springing up in order to meet this demand.

Pullapilly also thinks taking on one or two corporate projects a year is a great way to boost a filmmaker’s income — and allow for more time to work on independent film projects. “It’s worth taking a week off and [working a corporate project], because at the end of the day it can save you six months of work down the line,” Pullapilly says. In addition to these projects being a means supplementing income, Jackel sees another advantage: practice. “You’re making a living related to what you would be doing otherwise, so you have the added advantage of bolstering your skills in general,” he says.

Jackel, who also has his own production company, Shave Media, and produces these types of videos full-time, says a lot of the diverse skills he uses now, he picked up through his freelance gigs with TurnHere. “My partner and I have [created] probably five to 20 videos in any category of business, from lawyers, doctors, general contractors, roofers, gyms, restaurants, and salons,” he says. “We [now] have a good sense of how to make a salon video, a doctor’s video…and that’s helped us with other kinds of videos marketed to those groups.” As a result of his freelance jobs with TurnHere, Jackel has also been able to increase workflow and build his business.

How to Get a Gig Like That

Pullapilly is fortunate enough to have been approached by corporations based on appreciation for her previous documentary work, but she admits getting corporate projects can be difficult, and filmmakers often have to have their foot in the door, or be recommended by somebody. “A lot of big companies that pay well already have a bunch of production companies that they’re working for,” she says. “[It’s] all about networking and trying to find the right place.” Another way could be through a company such as TurnHere, which has a network of 8,000 freelance filmmakers and produces video for both big brands and small businesses. Marc Prager, Vice President of the Filmmaker Network at TurnHere, says the company offers jobs to filmmakers so they don’t have to go out and market themselves. Though not all 8,000 are always working, Prager says a good number of them are active. Filmmakers who do the best work are in line for the best jobs, but new-to-the-company freelancers aren’t left fighting too hard with the regulars, Prager says. “We make it a point that new filmmakers get a shot to show what they can do,” he says. “If you’re good, we’re going to keep giving you good work. There’s always room for new filmmakers.”

Jackel says he became involved with TurnHere through volunteering his services, and he sees a clear advantage to volunteering. “I’ve picked up a lot of my clients and many of my contacts through either interning or volunteering as an assistant for a low price,” he says. “You get a chance to develop your skills and let people know what you’re capable of.”

If you’re interested in joining TurnHere’s freelance community, Prager says newcomers are put through a vetting process where they attend a webinar, have to present previous work, references, and must have worked with experienced filmmakers.

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