As a video production company, you are in the business of capturing moments. Whether it’s the moments that make a business special (in the case of promo video), or the special moments of a couple’s big day (in the case of wedding videography), we are all artists in our own way. But what about the issue of art vs commercialism?
While ‘capturing moments’ is a lofty goal in itself (that can, of course, be quite lucrative), there will probably come a time when you will start to wonder if what you are doing is really what you want to be doing.
We want to be great artists, but we also need to make money and put food on the table, too. This is a problem that has been central to any creative’s psyche since time began.
This article seeks to take a look at the issue of art vs. commercialism in a video/filmmaking career. How do you make great creative works and still earn a good living?
Picking up your camera is just the start
Maybe you picked up your first camera because you actually had dreams of seeing your name up in the big or small screen – if so, then it might feel a bit like selling out to be in the business of selling your video making skills.
You might feel like, by taking up video production, you are no longer capable of producing art. But is that really the case?
It’s well known that lots of today’s big Hollywood directors started out shooting wedding films.
In a previous article on Filmmaking Lifestyle, Helen Clark talks about the amount of time and the mindsets needed to successfully get into filmmaking. She points out that a certain level of artistic talent is needed in order to be a successful filmmaker, but that artistic talent is something that can only be gained by putting in the work.
A lack of experience should not discourage someone from going into filmmaking as it is only through doing that one can truly become a good filmmaker.
She points out that, while it might be your artistic expression that makes a film unique or beautiful, monetizing your experience by accepting paying projects on the side is a good way to continue getting filmmaking experience and perfecting your art.
So, commercialism can be a means to an end – a way to improve your skills while earning money to support your more artistic endeavors.
Or, it could just be a means.
Craft vs. Art
The folks over at the Delack Media Group posed an interesting question on their blog when they ask what is the difference between videography and cinematography.
It seems to boil down to the argument that to produce one you are a craftsman, but to produce the other you are an artist.
They could have a point. What with video cameras being everywhere and the possibility of anyone capturing moments and events on video through their phones and other mobile devices anytime and anywhere means there is a lot of video footage out there.
The question is whether it is really good footage and what that means for the industry. No one would doubt that, with social media especially, we’re inundated with video footage these days.
Just because someone has the ability to shoot video does not mean they’re creating ‘art.’ Or even creating a ‘good video.’
Just having the tools are not what makes something good. And just what is it that makes video footage good seems to be the crux of the argument that videography and cinematography are different.
After all, you cannot really argue that, when viewing a home video vs. a movie, there are not noticeable differences in the features such as image quality, shooting techniques, and even the story-telling techniques used.
Delack Media Group also define videography as the “capturing of a moment in time from beginning to end” and note that it is not creative and does not really use storytelling techniques.
In other words, there is not much artistry.
Equipment use is also noted as being different for videography, with cameras that tend to capture footage at a lower resolution and that are less effective in lowlight situations. There is also minimal editing done and not much use for camera angles. Although, I’d disagree with them on most of those points.
Cinematography, on the other hand, is defined as “an art blending shooting creativity with storytelling.”
The aim during shooting is to capture a moment( or moments) through different camera angles that make for more interesting or creative footage. They are also more selective on what moments they capture and are not necessarily shooting footage through the entire event.
They focus on interesting shots and special moments that can be put together to tell a story.
The equipment used is also different, more “professional”, resembling what’s used when shooting movies or TV shows – professional cameras like REDs, large scale camera stabilization tools, pro lighting, etc.
While that may sound kind of “snobbish”, there is actually a point to be made here that art and commercialism in the video production business are not separate concepts, but actually two qualities that complement each other.
It’s true that it’s not as easy as just saying that work done by video production companies is merely ‘commercial,’ whereas work done as cinematography for narrative films automatically has the virtue of being ‘art.’
After all, if anyone can shoot video, why bother paying a professional to make a video for you? Maybe because a professional is an ‘artist’ who will ensure that he’s creating something fantastic and not just ‘shooting anything and everything.’ That’s something worth paying for.
So you cannot justify commercialism – asking to be paid for your video production work – without creating art.
When does it become art?
Over at Vanilla Video, they also attempt to distinguish between a videographer and cinematographer in terms of what it should mean to potential clients of a video production company.
They make the distinction that a videographer works with video while a cinematographer works with film stock. Although we know that that’s not wholly accurate these days.
They also make a distinction between how each works and what the final product is.
According to them, they use the term cinematographer in the traditional way as a director of photography, and – while he is accountable for the final outcome of the shots taken, he is not usually the one operating the camera. That would be the job of a camera operator who would work under the direction of the cinematographer.
A videographer, on the other hand, works with a smaller crew or even as a solo act. A videographer tends to be the one operating the camera during the shoot. They often also handle the other production elements such as creating the lighting and mixing the sound. As well as editing the final footage.
In recent years, they go on, the lines between videographers and cinematographers has actually blurred. They argue that with the advent of the DSLR video camera there has been less and less difference between the quality of footage taken by a videographer and a cinematographer. DSLR cameras allow everybody to create more ‘film like’ work.
They detect an element of snobbery in the need to distinguish a videographer from a cinematographer as well. They trace the reluctance of people to call themselves videographers or the work they do as videography to what is probably the most commercial part of the video production industry – the wedding video.
Seems like people are reluctant to be part of that ‘pack’ and still want to be considered ‘special’ or artistic. Hence the trend for people who do the work of a videographer to insist that they be called cinematographers. We’re seeing that a lot with the wedding video industry.
You call yourself a cinematographer!?
Calling yourself a cinematographer, Vanilla Video argues, is mostly just a marketing tool now. A way for different video production companies to claim that they are superior to others.
Instead of providing event coverage and creating videos, they like to feel and claim that they produce ‘story videos’ and ‘short films.’ They tell their clients that they create art and capture a feeling while what ‘common’ videographers do is simply record an event.
And that’s fine. Marketing is a much needed part of any video production company. The sooner video producers realize that they need to sell both their services and themselves, the better they’ll do.
It’s so appealing for us creatives to shun the marketing and business part as being somehow dirty. It’s one of the biggest mistakes I see with wannabe video production companies. They want to make art, but forget that they also need to put food on the table like everybody else.
Yes, be Christopher Nolan. But make sure you’re running a business, too!
A good video production company is just as focused on making a compelling video as any filmmaker, no matter what they call themselves. Which is obviously one of the central aspects for a company’s success. Not what they call themselves or what they call their work.
Art or Commercialism – Do you really need to pick?
So, in the struggle of art vs commercialism, it seems like the wisest choice would be to see both these paths as intertwined rather than divergent.
You will need to find a balance between the two. As we have pointed out in a previous post, all filmmakers can benefit from learning to promote or market themselves, their skills, and their work. After all, if you do not, there’s no point in creating amazing work if no one is ever going to see it.
Actually, as an independent video production studio or freelance videographer, you are actually given the best of both worlds. You will have more of a say in your output. While you still have to listen to what a client wants, most of the time allowed more wriggle room to make suggestions and steer the project in a more creative direction.
And if you want to become the next Christopher Nolan? It’s okay to see your videography as a practice ground and a source of income as you move more towards the things you really want to do – narrative films, documentaries, arthouse cinema, etc etc.
Speaking of practice ground, event videography is an amazing learning experience for more conventional narrative filmmaking. You are thrust into situations where you have to quickly think on your feet and you often have just seconds to “get the shot.”
Still a bit leery on the importance of being able to balance the artistic and the business side of video production? You should check out some of our previous posts on the subject of starting your own video production business.
These articles from Giordany Orellana of Anchorbolt Studio and Jordy Vandeput of Cinecom on how they managed to start their own successful video production businesses contain some useful tips and advice. They also go into balancing your creative and artistic vision with the marketing and networking savvy needed to run a successful business.
This is a vast topic and this post covers just the tip of the iceberg. I hope it’s been useful in shaping your decisions as you tackle the issue of art vs commercialism.
How do you balance your creative and commercial interests? Let us know in the comments section just below this article.