Adapting to the market in 2012

As long as we are not too slow to adapt to the market we will survive. What kind of adaption is required? Here are the four kinds recommended by Ande Schurr in How Freelancers Can Succeed.


By Ande Schurr

Adapting to the market is not a business strategy but an entire overhaul of your work ethic. It means being aware of anything pertinent to your business.

From eyeing the competition, keeping close to clients and tools of your craft, to knowing the latest funding criteria changes.

Certainly, there is never a dull moment for a freelance company or individual in the film, TV and advertising industry. Even when there is no work on per se, there is always the business to work on.

The great news is that there is a general positive feeling in the air. Perhaps it is more acceptance and ‘moving on’ in this new landscape, where digital demarcation lines are blurred. Perhaps it's just a new year. Regardless, long may it last! Producers are looking at ways to diversify their business, transmedia is by now surely becoming a staple diet for traditional production houses and advertising agencies.

Yes it is demanding, but as long as we are not too slow to adapt to the market, we will survive. What kind of adaption is required? Here are four kinds:

1. Know your market, your clients and your competition

We each have our eye on a different ball. A producer of dramas or documentaries is watching to see which shows are funded by NZ on Air and Te Mangai Paho so they know what the 'flavour of the month' is, and that may help them shape their own scripts and proposals for the next submission date. At a deeper level, relationships need to be developed with the commissioners of the major TV stations so any incoming proposals are not seen purely as a 'cold-call'.

The advertising agencies seem to move at a very rapid pace. Based on my experience with agencies on TV commercials, and through Campaign Brief, they are often very large companies who look after a medley of NZ and world famous brands. Those people in charge of winning new business at the ad agencies would look carefully at the results of their competitors' campaigns. If they feel that the creative on a particular brand is consistently being rehashed and lacking flair and appeal, it may be appropriate to put together a pitch to the brand's marketing team to show why they could do a better job. Of course, that might be easier said than done. With very strong loyalties, such a move could backfire if confidentiality was breached. It might be easier to wait until these brands come to the natural end of their contract with their ad agency and the job is put up for tender again.

Line Production TV Commercials is another whole market until itself. Those successful NZ companies who focus on this business will have developed strong relationships with the big production companies overseas. Their calling card will of course be the beautiful NZ location, the highly skilled crews, along with other benefits which are outlined in detail in my interview with three prominent line production companies. See 'How to Keep New Zealand as the Filming Destination of Choice'. Some prefer to focus on the US market, others on Europeans and still others on the Chinese, Japanese or Korean markets. Each have their peculiarities and I would imagine must be studied carefully over a long period of time.

Those in the business of corporate videos have formidable competition. Because the budget of a corporate video can be anywhere from non-existent to $50,000 and beyond, it attracts a huge diversity of producers - some who have been here for decades and others fresh out of film school. However, if you break-up the market into large companies (e.g. 500+ staff), medium companies (e.g. 50+ staff) and small businesses (e.g. 1-49 staff), then it may be more time efficient to hone in on one of those levels, and pitch solely to them. Or perhaps choose a common theme such as 'employee moral', and become the national expert in producing those videos for companies of all sizes.

The feature film market is for the truly brave at heart. Hopefully you have some private funds or investors because I feel for those people who wait often years to get their film made because the funding round keeps leaving them behind. However I know from my friends who are seeking to make their own films, it pays to look at successful examples of small movies that worked well overseas. In this case, looking purely at the market in NZ may limit you.

2. Be better at what you do; take on-board the client's feedback instantly and receptively

When the client wants you to change something on the spot, do it without question, if it's feasible of course. Within the scope of my sound work there are not too many variables. I either boom or radio mic the talent. Yet still it is left to the sound person to decide what is best. In a recent example, when the director saw I was going to boom a two-talent interaction, they adamantly said I should radio mic both. Without hesitation I did that and it turned out to be a good decision. I don't take any of that personally. I value my client, and I appreciate that I do not know the whole picture nearly as well as them. In this case both talent did a lot more moving around in their particular scene than I had anticipated so radio mics made the process much easier for me.

The variations to this rule are important. When a director is working with actors on a TV commercial, they need space to carefully craft the actor's performances into the time frame allowed (15, 30 or 60 second commercial) without missing any important 'beats'.

If the client or ad agency creatives keep making suggestions during the take, it may interrupt the director's train of thought and momentum. Some directors have quite bizarre yet very effective ways of bringing out the best in their talent, be that through a funny story, a metaphor or some other technique that helps to put the talent in the right mind-space. That is why directors often ask me to turn down the sound in-between takes when they are discussing performance changes with the talent. That way, the director knows that when the agency has some feedback to pass on, it is not coming from a misunderstanding caused by hearing an isolated comment over their wireless headset, but rather from an objective observation of the talent's performance on their playback monitor.

This clean line of communication with the agency would give the director the ability to respond immediately and receptively to their feedback without fearing they had been misunderstood.

3. Develop an 'active patience'

My business advisor, David Samuel, tells me, "Those who patiently wait for the right opportunity and things to be just right, end up with other people's leftovers".

His attitude of 'making your own breaks in life', however, does not mean to adopt an aggressive stance or rush into something in a thoughtless kind of way. Instead, it means that we are very active in seeking out new opportunities but are fully aware that great patience is required until a client is truly comfortable with you, enough to trust you with the sound, camera, directing or whatever you it is that you do.

I find a practice such as meditation good for this. Meditation, in the way I understand it, is simply training your mind to focus on one point. I think it is great for developing patience.

To summarise, the 'active patience' required to successfully adapt to the market, is riding that fine line of 'nature never acts in hast' vs. a proactive, 'hungry' attitude for more business.

4. Resolve to achieve your goals, whatever they may be

You may ask, 'how does a resolution to fulfil my personal or professional goals help me adapt to the market?’ The answer is that this resolve fills you with a great desire and enthusiasm, such that you become almost a different person. The person who successfully adapts to the market is able to because they are already moving at a tremendous 'rate', if you know what I mean. It's very easy to change direction - veer to the right or left - when you are already moving. It's much harder if you have no energy behind you to make the turns necessary.

These are the four ways we can adapt to the market in 2012. I wish you well in your work.

Written by

Ande Schurr

14 Feb 2012

Ande Schurr is a professional and experienced sound recordist with a passion for the film and TV industry. His columns on The Big Idea focus on 'How Freelancers Succeed'.

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