How To Bring a Cinematic Look to a Small Budget Commercial

cinematic lookThis is part 1 of our ten part series titled “How To Bring a Cinematic Look To A Small Budget Commercial”.  To view the other 9 parts of the series, click on the links at the bottom of the page.

Part 1: Landing The Client & Creative Ideation

In this ten part series I am going to share with how to bring a cinematic look to a small budget commercial. You will get a behind the scenes look at how we at Bleeding Thorn Films make a project happen – warts and all from script to screen. By the end of this series, it is my desire that you will have a better understanding of how to approach your next small budget commercial. So let’s get started with Part 01: Landing The Client, Creative Ideation, & Budgeting.

Landing The Client

The first step to creating any project is, of course, landing the client. This is the most difficult, time consuming, and often nebulous part of the process. There are a number of great resources available today that will help you determine your market, as well as give you the skills to market yourself. It is beyond the scope of this series to go into great depth in how to cultivate these skills, rather I will point you towards people like Owen Klaff. However, I can offer you two pieces of advice that have served me well:

  • Work With People You Have Built Relationships With

Cold calling has never worked well for me. And, quite frankly, that may be because I am awful at it, and I have not put much effort into developing those skills. On the other hand, I have been successful landing clients that come from some sort of relationship, association, or other connection. These are what are called “warm calls.” If you already have an established relationship with someone, they are much more willing to become a client and use your services due to the existing relationship. The key here is to have that relationship in the first place, which will mean getting out there and devoting time to networking. These do not have to be deep, meaningful relationships, but they have to exist on some level.

  • Work With People & Companies You Have A Connection To

I know I am more motivated to do my best work when I am working on projects that I care about. What I care about from project to project will differ. On one project, it might be the issue, or cause that is being addressed. On another project, it might be the product that is being promoted. And on yet another, it might be the people who I am working with. The point is that I have to find some kind of connection to the project. Once I have this connection, this reason for getting myself fully invested in the project, I’ll do better work because I care and I’m fully invested. This results in a better end video for the client, and a better experience for myself throughout the entire project.

I originally met this client, online through Pond5, a re-sellers of my stock footage. He had bought some of my stock footage and liked my work. At the point of our first contact, he had emailed me to show me what he had done with the footage that he bought. We exchanged a couple of pleasant emails, and both went on our way. Not long after this point, he again contacted me to have some custom footage shot for a promotional video he wanted to put together for his new company. This was the “warm call.” We already had a brief relationship, and he knew that I could deliver the results he was after. Which leads to the next step of the process…

cinematic look

Above: frame from commercial

Creative Ideation*

One of the mistakes I made earlier in my career was to talk money and budget upfront before having a solid concept. This is a mistake for two reasons. Firstly, once the number is out there, all the client will see and remember is that number. The second reason is that every project is different, and no two budgets will ever be the same. Producing a video is very similar to building a house. The same house might cost $50,000 in one location, or $500,000 in another location. The parameters around the project will have a direct impact on the cost of the video. This is where creative ideation comes into play. Creative ideation is the process of formulating a concept, aesthetic, and an approach for the video.

For the creative ideation that we do at Bleeding Thorn Films, we like to get as specific as possible. By being detailed in our approach we have the opportunity to understand our clients, get to know their needs, and understand their vision. In the end, it allows us to deliver a video that meets the needs of our clients. We have a three step process for this stage of the production:

  • Research

We will use google to research information about the company, the issue at hand, as well as what already exists in the marketplace. This allows us to have a a big picture understanding of where the client is coming from and the market they are going after.

  • Question/Information Gathering

Just knowing about the client and their market is not good enough for us. We want to really understand our client and their needs. That means we have to ask a lot of questions – even if it means sometimes sounding uninformed. Depending on the client, we may have them fill out a questionnaire  ask them through email, or over the phone. Some of the questions we ask are: Why do you care about this product/service? What makes it different? Why did you start this company? We will tailor the questionnaire to suit the specific client we are working with, as not all questions are applicable to every situation.

  • Development

For the final stage of creative ideation, we take what we’ve learned from the research and questioning phase and come up with an approach that best fits the story we want to tell in order to serve the needs of our client. This game plan will be as specific as reasonably possible at this stage of the process. We will outline the flow of the story, as well as detail what it will take to accomplish the story. And it is knowing these specifics that will help us to make more informed decisions when crafting the budget.

When this client originally approached me, he had a very specific vision he wanted to accomplish. The original idea was going to be a product geared towards the everyday consumer. So we met, discussed the concept, and I offered my insight and thoughts on the approach we were going to take. After doing some more research about his end client, and following up on some questions I asked him, he decided to take the video in a completely different direction. The end target market was now going to be business professionals, specifically those in the financial services industry. So we scrapped the original idea, and the original budget, to head in a more effective direction. Had the conversation started out on the topic of money it would have done a disservice to us both. But by defining the parameters of the project first, we could both have a clear understanding of what it would take to get the job done.

*I want to thank Still Motion for helping me put words to this process. This has been an integral part of my process for years, but it wasn’t until I attended their Know tour that I was able to put words to what I had been doing all along.

cinematic look

Above: frame from commercial

This is part 1 of a 10 part series, click the links below to view the entire series.

Part 2: Budgeting and Creating The Proposal

Part 3: How to Location Scout

Part 4: Story-boarding On A Small Budget

Part 5: How To Create a Lighting Diagram

Part 6: How To Create a Shooting Schedule and Call Sheet

Part 7: How To Conduct A Camera Test

Part 8: How To Build a Rain Bar

Part 9: How To Approach Data Management On A Budget

Part 10: How To Black Out A House On A Budget

 About Ryan

Ryan E Walters bio

Ryan began telling visual stories at the age of 7 with his comic strip series “The Flip Side.” His passion for storytelling has taken him around the U.S. and the world shooting for The Discovery Channel, The Travel Channel, TLC, Oxygen, Adidas, Nike, & Autodesk among many others. Ryan enjoys spending time with his wife and he is a connoisseur of strategy-based board games and whiskey.

(bio and picture courtesy of Bleeding Thorn Films)

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4 Responses to “How To Bring a Cinematic Look to a Small Budget Commercial”

  1. Bring a Cinematic Look to a Small Budget Commercial, 2 | Zacuto USA on May 2nd, 2013 10:19 am

    […] Part 1 covered landing the client and creative ideation, and here in part 02 I’ll be covering budgeting and creating the proposal. […]

  2. Bring a Cinematic Look to a Small Budget | Zacuto USA on August 15th, 2013 10:22 am

    […] or Vimeo Channel to follow us on our latest storytelling adventures. Catch up on Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 […]

  3. How To Bring a Cinematic Look to a Small Budget Commercial | wolfcrow on August 15th, 2013 11:56 pm

    […] 1: Landing the Client Part 2: Budgeting Part 3: Location Scouting Part 4: Storyboarding Part 5: Lighting Diagrams Part 6: […]

  4. Bring a Cinematic Look to Small Budget | Zacuto USA on September 6th, 2013 4:38 pm

    […] to follow us on our latest storytelling adventures. Catch up on Part 1, 2, 3,4, 5, 6, and […]

About the Author

Born in 1980 in Seattle, Washington, Ryan has had a love and passion for the visual arts since a young child when his grandmother, an avid photographer, took him along on photo expeditions. As he grew up, his parents furthered that passion by enrolling him in various art programs and lessons. While he enjoyed painting and drawing, something was always missing - the ability to capture motion. Once introduced to the art of cinematography in high school he never looked back.Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer Since that time, Ryan has developed this passion and turned it into his career. As an award-winning cinematographer his work has allowed him the opportunity to travel worldwide in the pursuit of telling stories that are visually compelling. Ryan's distinct experience includes feature films, documentaries, commercials, and shooting for Comcast, TLC, Oxygen, and the Discovery Channel. Not only does Ryan seek to deliver cinematic images for his clients, but his commitment, organization, and professionalism means he constantly goes the extra mile to ensure that the results he delivers exceed his clients expectations.


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