Jumping into a gig with your first big production client can feel daunting, and independent filmmakers and producers can often feel like a fish out of water. But, creatives all need to start somewhere in order to build their reputation in the production industry. Although there are no guarantees that a booking with your first big client will be smooth sailing, we’ve discovered that this first experience isn’t actually foreign territory. Good advice is hard to find in an industry that’s so fast paced, so it’s not everyday that we get the chance to hear from a producer who’s new on the scene and making amazing things happen. What is it actually like booking a big production client for the first time?
Enter, Ryan Cowan, an indie music video producer with Secodo Productions, and a 2018 graduate from Sheridan College in Toronto, Canada. (Yes, you read that right… TWENTY EIGHTEEN)
Fresh out of school, he and his team at Secodo Productions have already been noticed by Universal Music Canada, Warner Music Canada, and Coalition Music as the go-to music video production company for up-and-coming artists.
Check out their latest project below.
After a production internship at Fifth Ground Entertainment and finishing up this last year at Sheridan, Ryan and his best buddy Mac shot their first music video ever for a rapper friend of theirs. This first video comes with a hilarious story that most producers could relate to from their early days.
Ryan and his team found a field with an abandoned school bus, set up two chairs, a barbecue, and a beach umbrella. The artist and his brother casually drank Old English from the bottle while the barbecue smoked away in the background.
Why? Because sometimes creative just looks cool.
Unfortunately, they risked their production because of two rookie mistakes: not getting permits and parking their cars out in the open. In the midst of their shot, blue and red lights illuminated the scene. The police crashed the production. Luckily, Ryan and his team were able to sweet talk their way into finishing the take while the officer curiously supervised to make sure no one was hurt under these rookie’s watch.
I was thinking, ‘my first production outside of school and I’m going to get arrested. I’m going to go to jail for who knows how long!’Ryan Cowan
The entire shoot cost Ryan $50 out-of-pocket, the cost of the umbrella and some food for the cast and crew. In fact, Ryan returned the umbrella to Walmart as reasoned, “I just don’t need this umbrella in my life anymore”. All-in-all, his cost was a $20 production and a short-lived anxiety attack with the cops.
That production sparked Ryan and Mac’s Secodo Productions and they quickly became the go-to producers for their fellow graduates.
The word spread.
They landed their first big gig through some personal connections: an indie pop video through Universal Music Canada. At the same time, a rap artist Ryan and his team worked with in the past signed to Warner Music Canada, leading a chain reaction in the number of videos being commissioned by labels and ultimately a variety of other music management clients, like Coalition Music.
Many budding producers and cinematographers are ready for their first big client but nervous about how that interaction will look – do you need to wear your best suit to a corporate high-rise and pitch? Will they understand your modern vision?
Here’s how Ryan described his first shoot and what it was like booking a big production client:
“That day was crazy because it was the first time I had to deal with someone who wasn’t the artist or a friend. I was working for someone in an office who was giving us their money to make something. We were given a ‘small budget’ of $5,000. My initial reaction was, ‘Holy, that’s a lot of money.’ I didn’t think that we even needed it. I almost told them ‘I’ll take 50 bucks.’”Ryan Cowan
Warner Music Canada were impressed by the quality Ryan’s team was able to deliver given the budget. Secodo had captured exactly what the artist was looking for, all while being easy to work with. After a few videos with the same artist, Warner offered Secodo to pitch on another artist… and another.
“Now we’re just branching out and every time we meet someone at a label they have another artist looking to create videos. It’s a spider web of connections expanding outward and in the center is good creative”.
Not only does this mean that as independent producers and creatives, Ryan and Secodo Productions built a valuable reputation of trust, but it also means that clients respected their creative vision. That creativity leads to book more jobs with higher budgets and, eventually, more creative liberties.
Networking in the industry and booking a big production client? Through Ryan’s experience, it seems like good creative and flexibility beats out networking in the end. Developing relationships and growing a client base has almost happened to Ryan by accident. Although he insists that he’s made no significant effort to “network”, and just focuses on making videos, ‘I produce a video and I keep that relationship going’.
Good work speaks for itself and people will tell each other about it.
We asked if Ryan has noticed a difference in communication style between his teams from independent projects and corporate clients – he says it’s a matter of managing your nerves at first, but once you gather your confidence, it’s not much different.
“When I first would get in contact [with big clients], I was scared – writing more formal emails. But you eventually build your confidence and realize that they are just trying to make cool things too.Ryan Cowan
Now with my clients, they’re just people I know and work with. Our conversations look like: ‘Oh, you want another video? Cool. What are you guys thinking? Let’s go for brunch and talk about it’.
Brunch is actually very common, I guess because it’s relaxed yet official. We’ll sit down with the artist and label manager, catch up and keep it personal. Then we’ll talk about the song, what it means and vibe of the song that will need to be translated into the story of the video. Generally clients come with some ideas of the theme and look they’re interested in, like bright colours, or a moody feel with smoke, etc., and then we throw ideas around together. Afterwards, my team and I put a pitch together.
I’ve been surprised with certain clients and the way that they engage with you. I’ll be on set and one of the label guys just texts me. Once upon a time I was writing a long, formal letter to them and now it’s just a quick text like, ‘What should the artist be wearing?’. My first shoot with Warner Music Canada was pitched through an email and coordinated over a phone call. “
No suit-and-tie office meeting.
Texting has been a surprising way to communicate with his higher end clients, but after some thought, Ryan figured it makes sense for the industry, “at this point, people just want things to happen fast”. Everybody in the production industry is on-the-go pretty much all the time.
What will your production day look like with a corporate client? Ryan says that usually, the client will have a team on set, but don’t get freaked out by it! They’re just there to make sure you’re making what you pitched to them and help with the artist or brand. They’re a team you can talk to and rely on. “The best thing on set for everyone is when there’s order but everyone can laugh – your crew, the team from the client, and the artists themselves – I think that’s the greatest thing ever.”
If you’re building your own production company, and looking to book your first, big production client, here are some notes to take away:
- Build relationships with the clients you already have, whether they are friends, peers, or others. The love of the craft and good work will open up your network, expand opportunities, and bring forward new projects.
- The best networking happens when it’s built on common ground. Great relationships grow when you’re both passionate about what you’re working on.
- Be respectful and confident with your clients, but relax and treat them like regular people. When you’re trying to be too serious, you lose the traits that make you personable.
Stay creative, and keep making cool sh*t.
Get started on your next big production by booking your location here!