Freelancing in Video: Tips from some pros and a workshop!

Video producers Léa Khayata and Elettra Fiumi head up their very own production company here in New York, Granny Cart Productions. We’ve written about them here before because they’re alums–both class of 2011–and because their experiences starting a company have taught them many lessons about this industry and freelancing. They’re teaming up with another alumni, Andrew Lampard, and producer Shruti Ganguly to teach a workshop on getting into the video journalism business for the Made in NY Media Center.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given about working in video journalism?

Léa Khayata: Produce, produce, produce. Always keep doing and making stuff. Sometimes it’s hard to keep it up when you’re spending time on other projects, but you have to keep at it. It’s the only way to get better.

Elettra Fiumi: No matter the project, give it your best. You’ll learn from all shoots, and that experience will bring quality. Also, edit while you shoot. If you think ahead, you’ll get ahead.

Andrew Lampard: As with writing, it takes years and dozens of project cycles to become a consistent video journalist. Commit, and don’t let failure or the perceived success of others daunt you; rather, learn from both.

Q: Are there any perceptions about working in video journalism that you’ve learned are untrue? 

LK: Despite all the people doing the same thing here in NYC, it is actually a very supportive community. We’ve met so many amazing people along the way, some who hired us, some we’ve hired for jobs. We learn from each other and grow together.

EF: People think it’s a glamorous job that allows you to be creative. It’s true that we do creative (and sometimes even glamorous!) stuff, but business know-how and tedious tasks are also a big part of the job. In fact, business skills are fundamental. For example, knowing how to present yourself, studying and understanding the marketplace, dealing with clients, negotiating rates and balancing budgets are crucial to making it work.

AL: “You need to have a big media brand name on your resume.” The people I want to work for prioritize work samples (published pieces, reels) and professional reputation (work ethic, reliability, etc).

Q: If I’m just starting out, what is one daily practice I should get into the habit of doing to cultivate success?

LK: We are really good at making to-do lists, thanks to Elettra’s passion for it. It is a simple habit that helps track accomplishments, as well as set goals for the day, the week and the month. When starting with no client or story, days can feel unstructured, anxiety and frustration can built up. Lists help get a clear picture of how much work you are actually getting done, and how far you’ve come.

EF: Only ONE daily practice? Ha. Look, read, watch, listen, converse, shoot, edit. All while remembering the fun and the magic. Repeat.

AL: This comes from Kevin Coyne, a narrative writing professor at the Jschool: Think of a question that interests you and that you can’t fully answer without first doing some reporting on. These questions can be about anything. The process of answering this question can lead to compelling story ideas.

Q: How do I find and cultivate helpful mentorships?

LK: We were very lucky to meet amazing professors at Columbia, and it is very important to take the time while you are there to foster one on one relationships with people you admire. This is your chance! After graduating, try to keep people updated on your progress, and do not hesitate to solicit them for advice.

EF: An important part of being a journalist is not just cultivating relationships with sources, but also developing relationships with people you can learn from or share ideas with. Always keep an eye on what people around you are doing (at school, online, at lectures–anywhere!) and when you spot someone doing something in a way that captivates you, approach them. Be genuine. Come informed, with research on who they are and what they’ve done so you show respect and can move the conversation ahead.  Always be personable, with care and thought about what’s going on in their life and work, not just what you need.

AL: Learn who your taste makers are and offer to buy them coffee near their office. Come prepared with a small list of questions you want answers to. These should be real questions, not something you could answer yourself. Listen more than you speak. Follow up on any connections they give you and show your gratitude after the meeting. Check in now and then; share your finished work with them and share videos or links they might find interesting or helpful. Build this relationship patiently over time. It needs to be a fair exchange. Mentors were also mentees once; they will pay that experience forward to a deserving individual.

Q: Why attend a workshop? What can I get out of it that I haven’t gotten from school or experience?

LK: We created this workshop with a specific question in mind: What do we wish we had known when we started Granny Cart Productions straight out of school? We had no clue on how to build a budget, how to price our services, how to find and keep clients. We reached out to people with experience in the industry to guide us, and today, we often meet with people just starting or looking for a change in their career who have a million questions they are looking to get answers to. Nobody has it completely figured it out, but we’ve learned a thing or two in the last five years that we are happy to share.

EF: In a rapidly changing industry like video journalism, it’s mandatory to keep learning. Workshops are a great opportunity to keep current and in the know. Also, JSchool was the coolest (obviously) because that’s what led me to love video journalism and where I found the best person (Lea!) to pursue this passion. But it’s not a business school. So when we started Granny Cart we had no business training. We had to figure things out on our own and by asking around. Now, so many people turn to us for advice on what we learned. It’s important to stay current by hearing what others are doing and how and, again, relationship building with colleagues is crucial to sanity and to overall moving our industry’s needle forward.

AL: I think good workshops can give aspirational journalists much-needed perspective and encouragement. This job is neither glamorous nor graceful. If you struggle at this, like I do, you need to know you’re not alone. Plus, it never hurts to meet potential collaborators.

If a workshop sounds like a good way to supplement your skills or business know-how, we’ve covered some other options here. If you’re interested, you can also sign up for Léa and Elettra’s workshop for a $20 discount with the promo code ‘GrannyCart’.

Photo by Eva Sakellarides.

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