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Why You Should Have a Team

Lesson 15 from: The Business of Commercial Photography: The Survival Guide

John Keatley

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Lesson Info

15. Why You Should Have a Team

Next Lesson: Production Schedule

Lesson Info

Why You Should Have a Team

It's really, really important in advertising or commercial photography to have a team or a crew. Now, that might look different as you start out. You probably shouldn't and can't just go out and hire everybody. You're who you are and where you're at in your career would dictate, to some extent, what you can justify in terms of a crew. I don't want to see you going out there and just losing money for the appearances of having a crew or whatnot. It's gotta make sense. So, for me, if I go all the way back, before I even had this concept of "team" or where I wanted to go, one of the first things I did was hire an assistant. And, probably, that is a good place for almost anyone to start. You wanna have an assistant: which is someone who can help you, whether it's lighting, carrying gear, all the little things that need to happen to make the shoot go well. Your goal at any shoot, again, no matter what your size, whether you have an assistant, or three assistants and producer, or whatever els...

e, your goal is to be creative and to connect with the people you are photographing or working with. Or maybe it's not people, maybe the food stylist or whatever that is. That's your goal. You don't want to be tired and fatigued because you just lugged ten cases of gear up five flights of stairs. I used to do that, I used to be my own assistant and producer, and, like I said, there may be a period where you have to do that. But then there comes a point where you realize: this is an investment worth making, because by the time I am taking a picture, I am so exhausted I can barely hold a camera straight or I'm just thinking about a million other things. Or even little things, like, I do portraits and I'm lighting all this stuff and I don't have an assistant. I'm taking a picture, I'm reading it, "Oh, that light needs to move." So, I get up and I move it and I come back and I read it again. I've completely lost any connection or momentum I had with my subject; they're just sitting there waiting for me to do something. As opposed to me being like, "Move that a little to the right," and it happens And I can continue on; I don't lose that connection. Those are really, really important things. And again, as with all things in business, I'm gonna keep reminding you: the most important thing is the work you create. All that marketing and everything, strategy, that's very important but it doesn't mean anything if you don't have the work that you want to be creating to use in that strategy. And the same thing here, the goal is to not just make as much money on a shoot or, "Look, I saved money. I didn't hire an assistant or a produce. Look how much money I saved." That's not really that helpful if you didn't end up getting something that you're excited about. So, that's gotta be the main focus here. During the bidding process, so as soon as you get a call from a potential client about a potential job. If you get a call from a magazine, the good news is: when you get a call from a magazine, you got the job. When you get a call from an ad agency or someone about an advertising job, they're usually telling you, "We're interested in working with you and probably two others." So, you don't have the job, there's a lot to be discussed still, but one of the first things you wanna do is you wanna put your crew on hold. Because, what you don't want to have happen is you get the job, and then we're shooting in five days, and you start calling the crew you that know and they're like, "I'm booked. I'm sorry, I'm not available." Then, you're scrambling and you're trying to find someone else. So, as soon as you get a call and you know some dates, put people on hold. And that doesn't mean that you're -- all that means is that they're literally just penciling it in. So, what could happen is they could get a call from another person about that same date, and if that happened they would challenge your hold. So, they would basically just say, "Hey, I got a call on the 21st, when I'm holding for you. Are you confirmed on that date?" And at that point, you'll have to either say, Yeah, I'm confirmed," and then you're committing to them. Or you say, "I don't have confirmation yet," and so you have to let them take that other job if the want to. I would not recommend confirming if you literally don't have sign off from a client, because then you're on the hook to pay them their day-rate if the shoot doesn't happen. So, you don't want that to happen, we're just holding people. This is also why it's really important to start finding and identifying these crew members; like, right now. It takes time, it takes personal work to practice with these people to make sure that they're people that you want to be working with. They need to be people that you just enjoy being around. My crew feels like family, and we hear that a lot from clients who are like, "Oh my gosh, I just love your crew, like, it just feels like family." we know each other, we love each other, it's fun working together. We have short hand: I can ask for something or even kind of ask for something and they know what I mean. So, it's important to start putting in the time, because often times, especially when you're starting out, someone might hire you and you just have a couple days to put it together. It could take a couple days just to find someone. Maybe they're on shoot all week and they're not calling you back. And then, you have to find someone else's number. And then all of a sudden the shoot day's here and you still don't have a wardrobe stylist; that's a problem. So, the other thing is you might be on a call with a client, and they'll say, "Hey, who do you like to work with for a wardrobe stylist?" And you don't want to be like, "Oh, geeze, I've never actually worked with a wardrobe stylist before." That doesn't exactly instill confidence. You want to be able to say, "Well, I really like so-and-so. I like the work that they do." And so that shows them that you have -- that they can trust you. "Oh, I've worked with that person too. Okay, that makes me feel better." You say, "Oh, my friend is a great wardrobe stylist," if they don't know your friend, they might be like, "Oh, interesting..." So, there's a lot of reason why you need to have a crew, but it's never too early. And then, finally, it's not enough to just have crew show up just simply by having contact information. Like I mention, you wanna work with them on personal shoots. There's been lots of times where I worked with someone, and they might be really, really talented, but we just didn't connect. It's like any relationship: you connect better with some people than others. And you generally want to be working with people you connect with, who don't stress you out and you don't stress them out, and you can trust that they're gonna be appropriate in front of your client. Because every single person and thing you bring on set with you, reflects on you. That's a part of your brand, whether you want 'em to be or realize it or not, you made the choice to bring them there. So, you've gotta make sure that these people are tried and true. You know what they're like when it gets stressful, you know what it's like to work with them when it's great, and all that kind of stuff. So, it's never too early to start putting this crew together. And I know the follow up question might be, "Well, what if I can't afford to work with someone, like, what do I say?" You would just find people that do work that you really love and just contact them. You could even be as -- I mean you should be as honest and as simply as this, just say, "I'm not ready in my career yet to hire a wardrobe stylist or a hair and make-up artist, but I really love your work. I'm working toward doing more advertising work and I just wanted to connect with you. And hopefully when I reach out another time, you'll maybe recognize me name." Or, better, I would say that same thing but, "Would you be up for just grabbing coffee? It'd be great to just connect sometime." Or maybe even, "Hey, I have this personal shoot that I would love to work with you on. Would you be interested in collaborating?" You can find excuses -- anything's possible, if you ask. You just have to be able and willing to ask those questions. So, get started on that; it takes a lot of time. And, like I said, you're gonna find people that aren't cohesive or work well with you; and that's fine too. Just make sure that you have a good group of people that you can trust and call when you're in a pinch. Any questions on that? Do you have different crews in different areas? Or do you kind of -- so do you have a different crew if your doing job out in New York or if you're doing a job in L.A. Sure, I mean, it's obviously -- for me, at this point, it depends on your situation. So, I do have crews that I like to work with in different cities, but it's impossible for me to have a crew in every city; you can't do that. You never know where you're gonna end up going, depending on the job that comes in. But, for me, I have an agent, and she represents 15 or more artists. And, so, over time, because of the exponential reach that she has through those different artists, she does have connections. We're bidding right now in Ireland, and so she's like, "I actually know a producer in Ireland that we should talk to." Or we're bidding on something in Toronto, and she has people in Toronto. I don't know people in Ireland and Toronto, specifically, but I trust if it's someone that Maren would vouch for. Or now, we have other producers that we've worked with and we were like, "Hey, we got this call, we really need a local producer. Do you have anyone that you've worked with?" And, usually, once you kind of get into this world and this network it's easy to find those kinds of connections. But, in general, I think the most important thing is to cover your home base. And, maybe, if you can kind of project an area that you'd like to be working in, or could see yourself working in, outside of that, make some moves there as well. And then, part of it too is just experience. The more that we shoot in L.A. or Vancouver or wherever that is, the more we get to know those people. And there's some people that we're like, "Aw, I loved working with that person." Or there's some people that it's like, "Ah, I might wanna try someone next time." So, you just continue to keep contact with them; keep those people in your database. Any other questions? When you're building your crew, about how many deep do you get in? For instance, I've connected with a make-up artist and a wardrobe artist, but that's just one each. If they're not available, do you get connected with, say, three or four make-up artists or three or four of these people. And then, so-and-so would be great for this, if so-and-so is not available. Basically, how many people do you have as far as backup crew? Sure, I don't have a magic number, in terms of how many you should have of each. I think it's never a bad idea to have the best talent available in whatever that market is. So, sometimes, because of attrition and time, all of a sudden I'll be like, "Oh my gosh, we only have two PAs or two assistants in this place or one." We need to make sure we put a little more time, because people move on, they move, or sometimes assistants go on to do other things, or whatever it is. You're right, you absolutely want to make sure that you don't just have one, because that's almost just as dangerous as having none. So, you probably at least wanna have two of each role that you can call on. And then, finally, aside from just knowing what to expect from each person and knowing what their personalities are. And, again, like she mentioned, sometimes there's two people that are really great, but one is more specific to characterism. Maybe for me there's one make-up artist that's really good with facial prosthetics; putting little dimples or changing someone's face. That's a specific thing, so I have someone that I know that's what they're really good at. And then, I have some else that I know is just really good at basic lifestyle hair and make-up, and they can kind of facilitate a lot of different looks with existing hair versus using wigs and prosthetics. So, there are specialties, and things like that, that you want to be aware of too. And it's the same advice I'll give you for any other job role: accountants, or retouchers, or designers. Just expect them to do what they do for you. Don't hire someone that focuses on wigs and facial prosthetics, not saying they couldn't do it, but don't expect them to do some beauty, lifestyle thing that's totally different. You just need to make sure that whatever it is you're asking is fair to expect. And then, finally, in addition to all that, it's really important to communicate expectations with people. You wanna make sure that you're communicating clearly with your crew. And, if I'm being honest, this is something I sometimes don't do the best job at. Because our crew is so familiar and comfortable with each other, I sometimes assume, "Ah, everyone's got it." But you always wanna make sure that you're communicating what's going on, what the expectations are, or anything that they need to be sensitive about, or things that have been communicated from the client or the agency. The more information people have the better job they can do. So, make sure that that information is getting spread around with your crew as well. Before I move on from crew: any questions about any of that? I know sometimes it can be daunting, especially if you're not thinking about crew yet. There's a question about -- do you pay your crew for your personal shoots? I'd assume so, but That's a great question. So, when I started out doing personal projects I was asking for favors and asking for discounted rates. And often times people would do that. Not everybody, but some people would. And then, there was a mindset of "it's a personal project", so you're asking for those favors. But we're at a point, now, where as we've kind of lived into some of these ideas that we're talking about; marketing and especially with fine art. Yeah, I'm paying for a project out of my own pocket but I know that there's a great benefit to me from that work. It's not fair to those people just to say, "Oh, on a technicality, I'm not getting paid for this right now," because I know, and probably they know, that there is benefit. Even on some scary personal project that I'm paying a lot of money on out of pocket. I know and believe in this process and system that it will turn into some great work for me down the road. May not be next month, may not be for two years, but it'll happen. And same thing, like I said, with fine art. And so, now, we may still ask for just a slight break or something. Depending on the budget we have, we might say like, "Hey, could you work for this or could you do your rate but just do, like, a super long day?" or something like that, instead of charging overtime. And that's just a conversation we have, but I feel like, right now, in my career, for me, it's really important to value those people. Because those are relationships we want to take care of and people we like working with. And, so, that, again, is something that you have to reevaluate as with all these processes. Just because something worked at one point, doesn't mean that's the best way to do it at a later point. But that's a great question. And, I think, just along that, if I didn't say it already, anything's possible. If you have an idea and you, for whatever reason, can only do it for free or $50 or whatever: ask. Just express excitement about that person and what they do. Tell them you're situation. Don't ever pressure someone, just be honest. And if they're excited and they want to do it, that's their choice. But it doesn't hurt to ask; it's not insulting to do that.

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Bonnie Aunchman

John & Creative Live - Thank you - Best. Class. Ever.! This is a GREAT class! If you are a photographer, this is definitely a MUST GET class, but even if you work with photographers as part of a creative team - you have to take this class. (I'm a Photo Stylist) John covers it ALL in this class - it really, truly is a Survival (Success) Guide. John is so detailed, honest, and generous in his knowledge/experience/wisdom in the commercial photography industry in helping you understand the business and really succeed (& stand out). When I see that John is teaching a class on Creative Live - I'm in! (I have his other valuable courses as well)

a Creativelive Student

I was lucky to be part of the studio audience for this course. John is an awesome teacher and did an outstanding job of making sense of a very difficult side of photography for a creative to understand. He shared his 18+ years of experience, including the good and bad he has gone through. The "special guests" alone are worth the cost of this class. John has an amazing team working beside him behind the scenes. Their perspective on his business was priceless!

Joseph Brewster

John gave an enormous amount of insight and practical advice in this comprehensive course. I really enjoyed a course focused more on commercial and editorial rather than wedding and family, which is more common. Great info and great work all around!

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