Making films “for clients” versus “for yourself”

If you’re a typical indie filmmaker, you were inspired by a dream to become a film director.  You started making your own films and you got pretty good at it.  Maybe won a few awards.

And then you realised you wanted to do this full-time and wondered how you might make a living making films.

“Welcome to professional filmmaking”

A client meeting

A client gives notes on your video

The biggest difference between making your own films and making films for money is that somewhere in the mix there’s a “client”.  Clients have needs and demands.  Clients give notes.  Clients “wade in and crowd your headspace”.

We’ve all heard those stories about control-freak directors who’ve argued with “the suits” over how to make their films.

There’s even that famous episode in the making of “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” when the producer and money men fell out so badly with the director that the producer threatened to burn the original negative on live TV unless the director agreed to their notes!

You don’t want to end up like that.  So, how do you accomplish it?

“Adopting the client mindset”

Perhaps I was very fortunate in my career, because the first film I ever made was a corporate video.  There was a client.  Who had needs and demands.  Who gave notes.  (You know the rest.)

What that meant was that from the very first shot to the last I was thinking about how the client would feel about what I was doing.  Whether my meaning would be clear to him when he watched it.  Whether he’d find it interesting or entertaining.  Whether he’d feel it was too long.

In effect, by starting out making corporate videos, I developed the knack of making films for an interested audience through focussing on my individual client’s demands and expectations.  In the case of corporate videos, in large part, your audience is your client.

But, here’s the really important learning point.  In the case of making your own films, you also have a “client” – your intended audience.  And, when thinking about your audience, you need to work as if you are satisfying a client’s needs and demands.

Brian Barnes directing his first feature film ‘The Redeeming’

Brian Barnes directing his first feature film ‘The Redeeming’

When I made my first feature film ‘The Redeeming’, I always thought about my ideal viewer.  Her name was “Mary”, a 35-year-old woman who likes psychological thrillers like Misery and The Shining.  Every time I had to make a difficult decision during the making of the film, I thought about what Mary would want.

In effect, Mary was my “client” and I was taking her notes to help me improve the film.

Just like making any corporate video.


[Meeting image credit: franky242 at freedigitalphotos]

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