James Britt, founder and owner of Britt Films, a freelance cinematography and filmmaking business, identifies himself as a cinematographer. More than just capturing a video, he tries to add an element of cinematic technique and look to it, and he tries to give everything he does an artistic appeal. James has a great deal of passion for teaching anything that he learns, and he loves to share whatever he feels is good information. The advice he gives any budding videographer as to using this skill set to gain money is you absolutely can. You just have to really work at it. You have to market yourself, brand yourself, put your name out there, be producing good work consistently, and let people know that this is something that you do.
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James Britt, Owner Of Britt Films, A Freelance Cinematography And Filmmaking Business (Creating Videos With Cinematic Technique And Look)
We have James Britt, the owner at Britt Films. Incredibly fortunate he took time out of his day to come see us. James, welcome to the podcast.
It’s great to be here.
James, tell us a little bit about your business and who you serve.
I’m the founder and owner of Britt Films, a freelance cinematography and filmmaking business. Primarily I shoot digital videos for hire, all kinds of things. Anything ranging from businesses who need a commercial, a web ad and ad campaign, organizations who need promotional videos, interviews, personal services like wedding videography. I shoot music videos for bands, all kinds of things. Specifically, I identify as a cinematographer, which a lot of people don’t know what that is, but I’m sure if they’ve heard of videographer and usually when you think of videographer, it’s someone that’s capturing the video.
A cinematographer would differ in that I’m more than capturing the video. They are trying to add an element of cinematic techniques, cinematic look to it. The angles and the shots will be a little bit prettier to put it more simply. In everything that I do, I try to give it an artistic appeal. More than you capture whatever we needed recorded, it looks great. It looks good. Actually, I try to make everything look more like a movie as the way that I put it. I would say that I’m doing these services for anybody who needs video. I can’t think of anyone or any type of organization that I wouldn’t be able to benefit if they had a video need.
Backing up a little bit and thinking about as you grew up, were you always drawn to cinematography?
I’m reminded in film school how many times the professor would ask something to the class about, “This is the first day of the semester. Tell me about yourself.” How many people would say, “I knew when I was four years old that I wanted to be a film maker. My dad got me this Super Eight camera, this old Polaroid photography camera.” I wish I could say that. I didn’t. I want to be a rock star or a psychologist or an English teacher, hairstylist for a little bit, I was all over the board. My mom did have a video camera and I’d love to say the moment I picked it up, I knew, but I picked it up and I thought it was fun and then I got bored of it.
It was something that I happen to keep getting drawn towards. Eventually, the way that I decided I wanted to go into it was I was a volunteer in my spare time. I was volunteering at a local church where I lived. I knew how to play guitar and I was helping the high school age group by playing guitar and helping with the band. Every time we’d get a new teenager who had to play an instrument, they needed to learn how to do the songs that we did, and I got tired of teaching the exact same songs over and over again. I figured, “I should record this.” YouTube was out. It was getting popularity and I figured it’s free, I could put something on there.
I found a point and shoot camera that had video function, I tried to use it. I made a simple little video that ended up getting thousands of views. I meant for it to just be for I’d direct a kid to it, but at the time, everything was public on YouTube and so it got some views. I got to thinking, “Maybe I should do some more, dress this up.” As I did that, I found I really like making the image look good, and from there it progressed. Getting more equipment and getting better software, learning what I can until now, it’s my greatest passion.
Where did you take and get your formal training?
I went to Full Sail University out of Winter Park, Florida, just out of Orlando.
For the folks that may not be familiar, it’s well known as enough?
It’s very well known in media-based industries. A lot of the students that come out of there or the grads come out of there go into the film industry or they go into music production, live and recording production. A lot of game designers, graphic artists, all kinds of media. In fact, so many people that graduate from Full Sail are in all sorts of industries if you call them. Instead of waiting music or hold music while you’re waiting for someone to pick up, it’s prattling off about, “This Full Sail grad just won a Grammy for working on Pharrell Williams’ latest album,” or, “This Full Sail grad just worked on Transformer Five.” It was because of the success stories like that, that I knew that that was where I had to go to get my training.
As the owner of Britt Films there, for the folks that are out there going like, “I have this affinity for videography or cinematography.” What you guys can’t see you on the podcast is we’re surrounded by his equipment and I obviously have a shiny nose. I didn’t get my makeup squared away. Like you said, cinematography is supposed to make us look prettier. He has his work cut out for me. What advice might you offer to that budding videographer that’s thinking about going down the road that you might have gone and how you thought about marketing your business?
Actually, I have a great deal of passion for teaching anything that I’ve learned. Even though I’m young, relatively inexperienced compared to Hollywood gurus and other people who probably have 10 million reasons for why anything I say is inferior to whatever they could say, but when I learn something that I feel is good information, I love to share it. As a result, I’ve had several people online, like on Facebook, through my website, and various places on social media reach out to me and say, “I saw your stuff. I was curious if you’d tell me what camera you’re using.” As soon as I respond to them with more than just listing off model number and they realize I’ll give them some answers, I regularly have people messaging me, “I just shot this video. Can you watch it and tell me what you think? Can you give me some tips?”
I would say that some of the questions that I’m asked the most from other cinematographers or filmmakers who are just getting started, who for them, they are really just in the concept phase of getting this path underway.“How easy is it?” The answer is it’s not very. It’s very, very difficult actually in a number of aspects. It’s difficult from the perspective of it’s going to cost you a lot out of pocket. Unless you happen to have some financial backer who’s supporting your dream, prepare to max out some credit cards or to pull some extra shifts if you can or some odd jobs, but whatever you can to get that equipment.
From the perspective of using this skill set to gain money, you absolutely can, but you really have to work at it. You have to market yourself, brand yourself, put your name out there, be producing good work consistently, and letting people know that that is something that you do, because so many people from some school, friends of mine even, since graduation they still have done nothing with their education, nothing with their degree. The camera that they use all throughout film school is sitting in a closet collecting dust because they can’t find a way to actually put this knowledge into application in any way that pays the bills, so you do have to look for it. A lot of times you have to make those opportunities for yourself. Show people why it’s useful. Show people, “This is what you’re missing out on. I offer it, you can have this, let’s work together.”
I like to give newer cinematographers advice. I would say prepare for a long haul. It’s not going to be easy. You better like it, you better do it even when you don’t like it, like with editing a very long video that takes weeks more than you expected, or when you foolishly take on your first wedding video and they say, “All I have is $100, will that work?” You’re thinking “$100?Wow, that’s great. I haven’t made any money doing this. That sounds like a deal.” Then it’s a month later and you’re realizing “What did I sign up for? There’s so much to go through.” You don’t learn a lot of it until you actually do it. There’s a lot that I could say that you’re just going to have to experience it before you understand it.
For that budding businessperson/videographer/cinematographer, what would be the target market that maybe it’d be the top two or three markets that you would pursue to try to take and start creating cash flow first?
As entry level markets, I have found churches are actually an excellent market for newer cinematographers because of the rise of social media. Things like YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, places where you can’t scroll through without seeing dozens of videos, whether they’re short little, six or seven-second videos that make you laugh or full-on feature films or documentaries that are right there that you click on. People come to expect that any reputable organization, person, or brand have videos represent themselves.
Churches in particular, they’ve noticed that. Not all churches have the financial ability to hire someone who could make professional videos. A lot of times, smaller churches or even medium-sized churches, they’ll ask people in the group, “Does anyone have a camera that know how to shoot it? The pastor would like to make a fun video to play at the start of the service for Christmas or something for new people to watch.” Usually there’s someone with a camera who’s willing to fumble through that.
Everybody’s got a video nowadays with the cell phone.
It’s hard to do that and post a video and then you see another church that it’s like a professional video that compels you to want to be a part of their community and it’s so well done and polished where you’re wondering, “How do they do that?” For the cinematographer that is looking for where he can gain practice on the job for clients that typically their standards are usually relatively low, because like I said, the alternative is Joe Schmo in the congregation with an old camcorder that knows how to stick on a tripod.
If a cinematographer can come in with even a simple $400 or $500 DSLR camera with an interchangeable lens that has some fancy depth of field or they at least know, “I don’t have any lighting equipment, but I know how to position you in front of a window during the right time of day to where I don’t need it,” all it takes is one video like that to show them your value. Even though they might not be able to hire you as a full-time person, this could turn into a regular thing and now all of a sudden you have an ongoing client.
Let’s shift gears a little bit. You’ve worked with other business owners, and for a lot of the business owners they don’t understand necessarily the benefit or the magnitude or gravity of a well-done video. Walk us through basically an approach with the business were, “Before they were doing this and after we did this, this is the result of me being able to bring my cinematography effort for their benefit.”
Video is an excellent medium for advertisement.
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The funny thing is though we’re talking about businesses, the first thing that come to mind is actually a band. This would actually be one of the other markets I’d say that works for up and coming newer cinematographers. Bands, much like any other organization or group, are all about advertisement. They need their sound heard. They need people to buy their demos and their tee-shirts and bumper stickers, but only if people know them are coming to their shows, and so they need advertisement. Video is an excellent medium for advertisement. There was one band when I was first getting started before I even made a penny off of the skills.
I was still trying to decide, “Is this something I like? Is this something I want to pursue?” I happened to be a friend with the singer of the band. They were trying to get themselves known and so they started a YouTube channel and they had a creative Facebook page, places for people to go, just what everybody does. The thing was people weren’t going. You still need people to know you to get there. The videos that they were doing were typically record out on their cell phones or borrowed cameras and camcorders where a review said, “This is the best budget camera for under $150.” I came in and I told them, “I’m still trying to figure this out, but if you guys are willing to let me try out some things with you, I’d be happy to give you what I make free of cost.”
We did that for a while actually. We did some live performances. We did some humorous videos. They wanted to take the comedy route. They realize the comedy attracts people to the charisma of the band or just wanting to see what comes next. There’s something about funny videos that gets people to watch them and share them, so we did a few of those. Then I decided I wanted to try make my first music video. Like, “Let’s make something that looks good.” We referenced a lot of music videos to see what did we like versus what could I do, given that I was the one person and my equipment at the time was very minimal, very basic.
Just one camera, a couple of lenses that were considered on the cheaper end of the spectrum compared to professional lenses. I came up with what I believed I could do, added a little bit of ambition to it for what might push it further than what I’ve done before, and we found a space where we could shoot the video. We dress it up with just a bunch of black cloth. We got tried to guerrilla-make this video. We got some construction lamps that were very cheap compared to professional constant lighting equipment for photographers. These construction lamps were like $20 for 500 watts of light, which just got a bunch of them and decided, “No, we’re not going to use this to light the scene. Instead, we’re going to use it as a light source flashing into the lens so it flares everywhere. Let’s get a fog machine and just make this look epic.” I’m one guy so I can’t do multiple camera angles at once, but we can do a lot of takes and I can cut it to make it look like I was everywhere at once.
It was free for them so no objections and we did it. I was so eager to get this finished product to them, I just have to work on it, to edit it, and it worked exactly as I thought. By the time it was done, I had people asking me, “How many cameras did you use?”“It was just me, one camera, so many takes. Into three in the morning we were shooting.” I had that video done in 48 hours. I was shocked, but they posted that video and not only did it get tons of views, but they were able to share that video as their first professional anything that was not music-related. Anytime they were interviewed for an article on an online magazine or anything like that, they could share this like, “This is an example of our band.”
They were able to put it on their website. I was complimented when a heckler on YouTube, I read the comment that they put on their YouTube video that they said that they were led to this band because they were recommended by some indie music promoter, some independent bands. He goes, “How is this indie? This looks so professional.” I don’t think he meant it as a compliment. I think he meant it as, “I want to see the folk bands, like not these pro bands.” The best compliment I can ever get is, “This looks so professional, this looks like a movie.” They were very pleased and I was happy to continue working with them for a while. That experience helped me to eventually start working with other bands, other clients, started making money, stopped doing the free work, but that was all necessary to get to that step.
I think about the leg work that you hear all the time, and what you’re sharing is overnight success and maybe not. It’s an accumulation of steps.Shifting gears, we’re going to go through a series of questions that we always try to take and cover so everybody understands you better. For you, what is the most recent book or most influential book that has altered your perception on being a business owner or how you run your business, and why?
As far as books, most of the books that I’ve read that apply to what I do are less toward the business side and more toward the application of cinematography. I could list several books that have helped me out with learning, trying to think of the title one, there was a photography book that I got. They should have marketed it toward photographers and videographers because it was so interchangeable, but it was marketed for photographers. It’s How to Shoot in Shitty Lighting. It specifically talks about how to capture amazing looking images when you have little to no control over the lighting environment, whether it’s inside of an office or it’s outside and the sun is bearing down on you or there’s no sun at all and it is low light or overcast or mixed lighting. All these types of conditions when you can’t get in your professional lighting. That was very important for me mostly because it helped me to understand that it was less about the gear that I have, even though I’m very appreciative of the gear they have, and more about how I work with what I have.
I think that applies to a whole lot more than lighting for sure. Looking over your business, what failure or at the time apparent failure, has served you or your company best to set you up for the future achievement that you’ve got and why?
I would say maybe not the number one failure, but the one that comes to mind at the moment is I’m very much a perfectionist. It is very hard for me not to try to exceed and excel at anything that I do or if I say I’m going to do something to not do everything humanly possible to see it through and make it happen. I strive for excellence. As a result, when I was first starting out, what I knew looked good versus what I could produce did not add up. It was not the same; it’s not equal. For the first several years of me trying to promote myself, I was doing it with an arm and a leg tied, just because I wouldn’t publicize any of my work. I’d talk about it, I’d show behind the scenes photos, or maybe capture a still frame from a video that I did.
Even if I was very proud of it or got a lot of praise about it, I would always watch it anywhere from the next day to a month later, I would be able to pick apart everything that I should have done better. “Why did I think to use that? Why? Why didn’t I tell him to do this? Why did I edit it like that? Why not use this song?” Because I always felt like, “No. Next time will be better,” I would hold back from posting publicly any videos. When people would ask, “I hear you do this work, can I see some examples?” I have no place to send them. I had a Facebook page about video with still images and no videos, and it was because I’d always hold on until I felt like, “No, I need to be at a certain level.”
I feel like I denied myself a lot of advertisement and a lot of opportunities where without asking me directly to send them a link or maybe private link to something, someone who would have stumbled upon my page or someone else who referred me and they looked me up, but they never communicated with me. They look and find nothing and then just keep moving on and all the opportunities that I potentially missed just by not having something out there. Once I realized that regardless of whether or not I could do better in the future, I will always be able to do better in the future. I had to bite the bullet, to suck it up and start sharing what I made.
Fortunately, I’m doing enough videos nowadays to where I don’t have to post everything, but posting maybe a video that I’m proud of once every month or two after I’ve had several videos. I have a Vimeo page full videos. On my website that I created from scratch, I’m able to select specific ones where I’m like, “I’m sure I could do it better, but of what I’ve got that I really liked that everyone else seems to think is great and I’m just being picky, what do I want to use to promote my work that I think is an excellent example of how I do what I do?” Now I have a portfolio I’m proud of, but I always tell people, “If this is what you can do, show it. Show everybody, because it’ll always get better, but at least they know what they’re going to get or what they could get if they work with you.”
If this is what you can do, show it. Show everybody, because it'll always get better.
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Minimum viable product, get it out the door. If you could put an ad on page one of the local papers sharing your company message or advice, what would it say and why?
I’d probably opt for an ad in some video platform. I actually worked on something similar to what I would like to say. I’ve been thinking about something like that. On my website or on anywhere where you can find my work, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, I try to have a place that lets me pin a video or post the very top. This is the first thing you see. The one that I’m using is something I call my video resume. I can’t say video resume is a new idea, but I feel like the way that I have approached it, I haven’t seen that. Maybe someone else is doing it, but I haven’t bumped into it. The video resume, if you think of a movie trailer where in two minutes or less they’re trying to promote a movie enough to get you to want to go to theaters and see it, I made one of those for me, where I’m not saying, “Hi, my name is James Brit. My favorite color is blue and I love applesauce.”
I’m talking about the why behind what I do. Why I like it, why I love it, why this is what I want to do, why people have worked with me, why other people would want to work with me, why I’m going to continue to do this no matter what, why I try my hardest, and all these why. There’s a lot of my passion, and the music track I put behind it meets that and enhances the video. You walk away from this video resume understanding more of me as a person if you hire me, if you work with me, if I’m going to be delivering some product that you’ve requested to you, you understand the gumption, the force, the energy, the effort, everything I’m going to put behind it, even if I haven’t done that specific thing for who’s making it.
The why before the what.
Yeah. If I could somehow get that and maybe a digital newspaper, that would probably be what I would want out there.
What’s the best investment of either time or money that’s helped your company most, and why?
There’s actually a gadget I got. This is going to sound like an advertisement for the gadget, but I’m in no way sponsored, though I’d love to be for this product. This company named Atomos out of Australia. They produce digital recorders. It looks like an external monitor, but it can actually record into it. If you’re used to cameras recording onto an SD card or compact flashcard or an internal hard drive, it doesn’t matter. This thing records it. What makes it so special is that it bypasses the compression settings of the camera, which are usually meant to compress very tightly because you don’t have a computer-sized hard drive inside of a camera.
You got like a little 16-gigabyte, 32-gigabyte memory card in there. Unless you want to completely exhaust your storage space with one video, it’s got to compress it. As someone who is more than just a cinematographer, I’m also something called the colorists, that would probably be one of the things that sets me apart from other cinematographers. Some cinematographers, they’re great directors or they can act or they have something else offered. Mine would be that I’m also colorist. If you think about film stock, how you would have to develop the film and you’d have someone give it a chemical treatment and that would give it the look for the video or the film, it’s the digital version of that. I’m giving it the look; I can make things look a certain way. Let’s say it was a bright sunny day, what if we want it to look gloomy? What if we wanted it to look like nighttime? What if we want it to look golden, black and white, whatever? I’m able to do it on very specific levels.
This recorder, because it bypasses the high compression rate of the camera, it lets me capture all of this data that to a novice will be completely useless, but the data behind the image in the right advanced processing software allows me to manipulate it in all kinds of ways. If this was a very shadowy image, I can make it look bright as day, I can make it however I want to make it look, and that’s how they do it in Hollywood and Los Angeles, places like that where they make the industry standard in videos. They would have a professional colorist. For someone who wants to take his videos the next step so it’s not just a pretty image out of the camera, but I can go beyond that far beyond that, this device has opened that up to me.
I’m surprised by how few people know about it or know this type of thing exists. There’s a little bit of a learning curve, but once you get past it, it steps up the quality of your product. The skills that you develop while learning it prepare you for the next step of the industry. I’ve been now working on in an ultra-high-definition environment, and ultra-HD still isn’t the standard yet. Even though you can buy plenty of those TV’s at Best Buy and Walmart, I’m already in a workflow where once that becomes a standard, much like HD became the standard, I’ve been doing it for years now.
For you, what is your most unusual habit or what others may consider out of the ordinary that has helped you or your company most?
Until early 2017, I was working on a narrative short film was called The Hypnotist and I had a small crew, some actors, and we were filming it. I was the director and the director of photography for it. I like to storyboard as much as I can in advance for anything where there’s going to be narrative aspect. What that means is it’s like a storytelling aspect as opposed to an interview or a standard commercial or a performance-style music video. A narrative would be something where there is beginning, middle, and end, but you see some story arch. Movies would be the best example of a narrative type of video. I like to visualize not just what I want happening in the shot, but how do I want the shot to look. Is that moment going to be a close-up? Is it going to be a wide shot? Am I going to have some movement in it? Does a camera dolly pass? Because I like to plan so much in advance, it can be a big benefit because so long as I can stick to it when it comes to production, it looks exactly as I had prepared.
There are no surprises, but in the many, many times where there are hiccups during production, where things don’t work, location doesn’t work, the lighting doesn’t work or this looks so much better in my head than it did, I had to work on the spot. I can do that, but my boom mic operator pointed out to me that apparently whenever I am trying to solve something visually on the spot, I don’t know if I black out or something, but I start to use my hands. I stopped talking and I use my hands. If you’ve seen Iron Man where Tony Stark was working on some 3D virtual whiteboard where he’s moving things around. I’m doing that, but there’s nothing in front of me and I’m not talking to anybody. I know what I’m doing, but I didn’t realize that it’s noticeable.
I’m in my head. I’m framing the shot. I’m basically acting as if I am at my editing station, like zooming in, cropping in, I’m moving it, I’m visualizing how this is going to cut. How’s this going to play into it? If I shoot from this angle, will that completely throw it off? I’m just trying to make sure that it all works out. Like a mathematician doing math in his head. It helps me, and as a result, I have gained a reputation as someone who can shoot for the edit. Instead of getting all this footage and then afterward figuring out how do we make it look good, I’m shooting and I already know exactly how I want it cut. That’s why I’m able to edit so quickly, because I’ve already seen it before it’s gone to my computer.
That’s an interesting skill set. Over the past few years, what belief or protocol have you established in your company, and how has it most impacted you or your company’s success?
There are a few answers I could give to that, but I feel like this might be counter to anyone who might be listening where they’re looking for advice on how to gain more money doing what they do. As someone who has a great deal of passion in what he’s doing and happens to get a profit from it, establishing for myself and more so my wife that it’s not about the money. That changed a lot because when I was first starting, it wasn’t about the money because there wasn’t no money when I was first starting. The goal was at some point there will be money and then once you start to get it, you get all this advice from other people. “Your work is so good. You should be charging this much.”
Actually, I was shooting a wedding and the wedding party were very impressed with the equipment I used, how I was everywhere, how they didn’t even notice me getting the shots. I was like a ninja with a camera. By the end of it, when everything was done, the bride and groom had driven off, everyone applauded. They’re on their way to Mexico for a honeymoon. I’m packing up my gear, I was actually approached. I was asked, “How much do you make?” Their response was, “You got to be charging a lot more.” I wasn’t sure if that meant like, “You should be charging our brother for whom you’re shooting this video more.” A lot of times it is the idea that I’m in this industry that because movies or videos can grow so much or because it’s advertisement and they can make so much money in the long run for the client, that even though it seems like a lot for a simple thing like a video because it’s so well done, because of the investment I put into it with the equipment, with my time, with the consistent quality that I provide, that I should be charging so much.
I like to charge fairly, but the concept of it’s not about the money has allowed me to accept different projects where if I was unwilling to sell myself short, I would not have done them at all, and they would not have led to other connections or networking opportunities. If you look at my portfolio, you’ll see a variety of types of work that I do. Although I always like to start the conversation with more so standards of what I’m expecting as far as compensation or what I think this is worth, I’m always willing to work with people. I don’t want to be the one where just because they couldn’t afford me, I can’t make this happen for them, and I really believe in whatever they’re trying to promote through video. It has also helped me as well to not get consumed with constantly being driven by the money.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to make more money. If someone wants to offer me a big tip, I’m not going to say no. I might politely say, “You don’t have to,” as I take it. I would love to do larger and larger projects where the expectation is a large compensation for someone that does what I do, but I don’t ever want to get to the point to where I refuse to work with people that can’t afford me if there’s some mutual benefit or in some way that I can benefit other people. I love knowing that whether with my skills through conversation or anything, that I’m able to walk away from another person knowing that I have somehow benefited them in where they’re going.
That’s an interesting perspective, but not terribly common nowadays. For you, what’s the most common misconception that folks have about what you do?
That it is simple. A lot of times when someone is unwilling to pay a reasonable rate, not because they can’t, but because, “It’s just a video. How hard can it be?” They believe that I shoot the video and it comes out of the camera looking the way that it does. “It’s just the camera. We don’t even need the guy. We just don’t have that specific camera. Otherwise, we’d do it ourselves.” They don’t realize that it’s so much more. For example, going back to weddings, a lot of times the cost of a wedding video can really surprise people.
People expect to pay sometimes thousands of dollars for a wedding photographer, because it’s a wedding photographer, everyone has paid. Wedding videography on the other hand, that’s new. “That can be too much, because we’re getting hundreds of photos from this photographer, but we’re getting a couple of minutes of video from this one guy. That’s $150 or something.” When I would say the average nationwide for a high quality video that range is three to five minutes for a romantic, very well done recap of the entire day probably goes around $1,500. You say that price and people are shocked because all they think is it’s just one day of work.
Say you get a day’s worth of video, what do you think your average edit time is on that much footage?
It depends on the product and the project. In the last wedding, I filmed for about a nine-hour day. I got behind the scenes before the ceremony, I got some shots of the bridal party as they were putting on makeup, some nice stuff that would maybe be a surprise for the groom when he sees the video or family or anyone who cares about the bride but didn’t get to be there for that special moment. Then the same, I got some video of the groom when he first saw the bride before the ceremony even started. There was no one there to witness this moment, but I have a camera and now everyone can.
I stayed all the way until after the ceremony when they had left. I got some mean shots of some couples dancing and things like that, so I ended up with hours of footage and they were all very good shots. It’s not like photography where very often you take a thousand photos and maybe 50 of them are good. A lot of the shots that I get, because it’s video, I have to know how to have entire moments, seconds, minutes even, be good all the way through. From there, it’s a matter of now sorting through it, putting it together. “Am I going to do this chronologically? Am I going to do it in some story? This isn’t exactly the order I filmed it or how it happened, but this tells a better story.”
I have to pick a music track. Often people ask for licensed music, like Photograph by Ed Sheeran or something like that and they don’t understand. That would be great, but if you put it somewhere publicly, you are toast. I would be because I made money off of it, so I have to find music to which I can purchase the rights and licensed to, to reproduce for profit. Then I have to time all the edits to not like “I’m cutting it because it looks best here, but it looks best. That was as precise moment. It works in time with the music. It works in the arc of everything.” Not only that, but then deciding between, “These two shots look great, but I can only use one, and this one does the trick.” A lot of it isn’t just how I make something look pretty, but it could look so great no matter how I edit it. It could look very wrong if I edit it wrong, but I’m making it look as best as possible based on how they actually turned out and how I believe they will like it.
Normally, for a three to five-minute video, the quote is anywhere from a three weeks to a month and a half to wait for the video, but like I said, I’m remarkably fast. I don’t mean to boast about it, but I am very fast at it. Depending on the workload at the time and I just happened to have a very low workload at that time, I was about to take on another project so I wanted to get it done. I was able to deliver that polished video to them inside 48 hours. That didn’t mean it was less work, it meant that I worked really hard in a short amount of time.
I think about my limited edit experience on a video years ago trying to use iMovie and Apple. It was forever. I never want to be an editor.
It’s an acquired taste and sometimes the longer you’re editing the same project, the more you start to resent the project and want it done. So long as it’s a work worth doing, if it’s a project you appreciate, and that’s not always the case. I like to take on projects where either there’s something about it that captures my interest or if it doesn’t at first but I want to work with this client. How can I make it work for their purposes but capture my interest? Because once my interest is there, I’m going to want to stay up late editing it. I’m going to want at work overtime doing this. I’m going to want to get it to them faster than they expected. I’m going to want to exceed all expectations.
Looking back over the past few years, what should you have said no to?
Many of these answers could probably sound like contradictions to other answers, but it’s figuring out how to spin all these different plates and how to create a balance, it’s not that the water’s too hot or too cold or lukewarm. It’s knowing when to say no to a project that there is very little gain, very little to no money. I’ve already done this type of project so many times that it’s not going to offer me anything in the way of a new addition to my portfolio. It’s going to mean a missed opportunity that could have given me gain, mostly because of time that it would take to complete it.
When I was first starting out, I worked with a band and I made videos for them for free. I did that type of thing with several different people where I felt like working with them gave me experience. It gave me opportunities to put things that I was learning by myself before film school into action or even during film school, things were more to me experimental, but it’s hard to break that habit for yourself then for the people who expect a free video and then to say, “These videos are turning out pretty good now, this is at the level that people would pay for it, and they actually had been for a little bit. Do you think it’d be fair to maybe start compensating me for my work because if I wasn’t doing this, you would have to pay someone else to do it?”
It can get very hard to have those conversations a lot of times because usually if you’ve developed friendships from these more professional relationships, you’ve developed bonds, you don’t want to make it seem like almost like a bait and switch, which it’s really not because they got a lot out usually before you have that conversation, but knowing when to be flexible as I described earlier, and to maybe give a little bit more than you get, though you will be getting in the long run, but also when to pass. That would be where I would say it takes some experience, because there’s no defined way to describe which projects to say yes to or no to, because I would hate to put a checkbox and like, “Are you making this much? Do you have this much free time? Have you done this many types of this project?” Is up to the person, but the projects that I might do or not do now are probably very different from what I would do or not do ten years from now or twenty years from now, 30 years from now. That one’s one that is going to keep changing, but I believe that the principle behind it, just knowing when to pass will stay the same.
In the day to day operations of your company as owner, what is your personal habit or self-talk dialogue that keeps you on your company focused?
I’m very competitive. I am a very competitive person. It’s shocking to a lot of people who know me well mostly because I’m very friendly. I’m not big on conflicts. If someone says something insulting to me, I’m not going to pick a fight. I’m not going to run from it, but at the same time, it rolls right off. At the same time, I get very, very competitive. Some people believe that I’m trying to compete with them or trying to one up someone else when really, I’m competing with myself always, and I mean that.
In film school, a lot of time my assignments would be one where my instructor would ask, “Do you mind if I use this as an example to the next class? This is what I’m looking for.” I’d be flattered, but sometimes I get other students thinking I was either kissing up or I was trying to make everyone else look bad when really, I wasn’t even looking left or right as I was running this race. I was looking at my own best record beforehand. I’m trying to beat it every single time. Whenever I am taking on any new project or deciding what work I want to go forward doing or any new decisions with my brand, with my business, with the services I offer, and with the clientele that I’m trying to promote myself within, I’m really just looking at how can I get a step ahead of my own self where I was yesterday. “Yesterday’s James. How can I show that guy up today? I got to watch out tomorrow’s James is probably going to try and do the same thing, so how can I do my absolute best today, but somehow it’s better than I’ve ever done before?
That has shown and changed my whole approach to everything, so now whether I’m doing an unexciting interview video or I’m doing a recap highlight video for an event, as you had mentioned before we started the podcast, you had seen on my website a promotional recap for Concert Sullivan called splatter paint where the artists are on the stage spraying liquid paint and glitter all over the crowds, whether I am shooting a short film or I’m making my own video resume for myself, I’m always trying to think of how can I make this the best that I can possibly make it.
Whenever I am taking on any new project, I’m looking at how can I get a step ahead of my own self where I was yesterday.
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Even though maybe the audience that’s intended for the product is very small, like I’ve done some projects where I can’t share them, they’ve asked me not to share that publicly or put it on my portfolio because for various reasons, either they’re working in a country where that type of work would receive a lot of scrutiny if it was made public or they just don’t like to receive attention outside of how they control it, even though the audience or things like that might be small, how can I tackle this project so that I walk away with something good for me? In a way, I am my own client for every single project I do and I’m always trying to satisfy myself, and I’m very hard to please.
I think about that trying to take it and step it up. There are worse things for sure. For the folks who are going like, “I need to talk to James and I need to get some work or talk with him about what he does,” how do folks find you on social media?
The number one place I would direct anybody is to my website, BrittFilms.com. From there, we’ll direct you actually to my other main social media platforms on the top right hand corner. There should be a place for a Vimeo, which for the people who don’t know, it’s the more professional competitor to YouTube, where you just don’t see a bunch of videos of kittens, but instead usually these are creative people who are either film makers or people like myself or cinematographers doing all kinds of things.
You can see a variety of my work there. I have a Facebook page as everybody does, though I wouldn’t direct people there because I don’t have a dedicated social media specialist working night and day posting people engagement posts of, “What’s your favorite movie that you’ve recently started theaters now?” I don’t care to waste people’s time like that, so I would say the number one place would be to go to the website. On there you can see examples of work, you can see how you can contact me, what I’m all about, or be directed to other platforms.
That website is worth going through. James, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you coming down and for you folks that are listening and don’t see the video, we have cameras pointed at us everywhere. We did the standards before to make sure that everything was so, but James, I appreciate you taking time to come in and be a guest on the show.
It’s been a pleasure.
About James Britt
James is the owner and operator of BRITT FILMS. He is a Colorado-based filmmaker who has lived from coast to coast, learning new things, making friends along the way, and working to leave his mark on the film industry. James holds a Bachelors of Science in Digital Cinematography, graduated magna cum laude, and earned the Salutatorian Award and the Advanced Achievement Award for filmmaking. He is well-versed in modern cinematic styles and editing techniques. He has a fascination with learning new ways of doing things in order to keep his cinematographic signature constantly evolving. He is best known for his focuses on cinematic composition and artistic vision, giving attention to technical details that others might overlook.
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