“The Commercial Process: A Director’s Point of View – Part Three” by Tony Johns.
Ok, so you’ve been to film school. Maybe you’ve shot a few spec commercials and music clips and slowly you’ve built up a show reel. You now you feel you are experienced enough to earn a living from your directing skills. However, before anybody will take you seriously (and give you heaps of money to make TV commercials and music promos, etc) it helps to have a production company behind you.
What does a production company do for you? It is up to the production company to promote you and to find you work. They will outlay the costs on show reels and advertising, etc and basically look after your interests they are your agent. Some, not all, will have you sign a contract that will bind you to the company. The reason being, you won’t be able to go off and join the opposition.
Each production company has their own set of guidelines regarding what you can and cannot do. For example: some production companies do not like you approaching advertising agencies without their say so. Others won’t let you do any self-promotion at all. They believe it is their responsibility (which is true) but it can be very frustrating when you haven’t worked for a while and you find that the producers of the company are too busy elsewhere to promote you. It is becoming more and more common for production companies around the world to employ a full time rep to sell their directors. Alternatively they sign with a freelance agent.
Regarding fees, once again each production company is different. A director can usually earn ten percent of the overall budget on a commercial campaign but this can vary from production company to production company. Some will give you a percentage of the overall profit plus your fee – this will give a director an incentive to keep cost down and not go over budget. The director can also work on a day rate: for every day that he shoots (principal photography) he charges a fee.
In my part of the world this can be anywhere from three thousand to ten thousand dollars a day. Obviously this would vary from country to country. The director would not charge for time spent in pre-production or post-production. Production companies have been known to require the director to pay for any costs over and above what has been budgeted for. This would be deducted from the director’s fee. Some production companies will cover your day-to-day expenses; i.e. mobile phones, petrol, entertaining clients, etc.
So how do you choose a production company? First, find out who is hot and who is not. How many directors do they represent? You don’t want to be just another director on their books. Find out the types of producers they have what experience do they have? Do they have useful connections? What is their background? Remember you don’t have to settle for the first offer that comes along.
Big is not always best either. There are smaller production companies that do very well in the commercial market and in some ways, when you are starting out, joining a smaller production company might be your best bet! They say the life expectancy of a commercial director in one city is between three and five years. You will find that you are hot one moment and cold the next. This is no reflection on your talent. It is simply the way the industry works. Agencies always want to work with the latest, hottest director (its an ego thing). It is important that you do not rely on one city or one country to sustain your career. The more markets you can cover the more work options you will have. Make sure that the production company you work with has connections in other markets.
There are various types of producers but I believe most come under two titles. Creative producer; money producer. A creative producer not only looks after the money side of a production but also likes to have a say in the creative process. This can be a great asset to a director if the producer is well experienced but look out if they’re not! A money producer is only interested in counting numbers and leaves all of the creative decisions to the director, which is as it should be. However, I do believe that on occasions it can help to have other people to bounce ideas around with.
So the best advise I can give to anyone looking for a production company to join is to take your time and don’t rush your decision. Weigh up the pros and cons and if all else fails – flip a coin!
That’s it for now. Good luck
Tony Johns Bio: An award winning international television commercial Director, Tony Johns came to this profession through his involvement as a successful recording artist in the 1980’s. Tony began directing music promos for his own band and was the first independent director in New Zealand to do so. Until that time all band promos had been directed by Television New Zealand staff. Impressed with his refreshingly innovative and creative music promos airing on Television New Zealand, Tony was invited by music promos for other recording artists of the day. Advertising agencies Saatchi & Saatchi and Colenso, attracted by Tony’s success with music promos, commissioned him to direct television commercials.
The demand for Tony’s directing talents compelled him to defer his musical ambitions to concentrate on his burgeoning directing career. It was a natural career change he was more than willing to make given the new opportunities to indulge his passion for story telling. Tony’s ability to see beyond the basic script, visualising all the details from the selection of professional talent, to the details of art direction, visualizing camera angles and creative lighting design, to the final edit design in the planning stages of every project, sets him apart.
Tony has directed commercials in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Indonesia. Tony has recently come under the umbrella of WeDoFilms in the USA. Samples of Tony’s work can be viewed at www.wedofilms.com and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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