By Doug Gritzmacher
Denver Video Production
I get absolutely inundated with emails from strangers asking me to either consider them for a job or to have a meeting with them so they can “learn about the video production business in Denver”, which is really just a more subtle way of asking for a job. I know many other video production companies in Denver get the same messages each week. These emails are irritating. They interrupt my work and get deleted quickly. Friends at other video production companies tell me they feel the same way.
If this is you and you are considering sending out similar batch of cold emails, I have some thoughts on what might be more effective strategies for finding work in the video production business in Denver … and staying on people’s good side in the process.
A lot of people are moving to Denver these days for the lifestyle. And a lot of people also want to work in our video production industry. I was one of those people, too, five years ago. I grew up outside of Denver until my family moved to Seattle after my sophomore year of high school. I moved to the East Coast after college where I got my start in the video production business. I climbed my way up from the bottom rung and managed to accumulate quite a rolodex of contacts and clients. For that reason I thought I was stuck in Washington, DC., where I would eventually get shipped off to a nursing home in Rockville, MD, my worst nightmare. But a conversation at dinner with a friends one night changed all that.
I was sitting around the dinner table with a group of ski friends celebrating one of their birthdays. We got on the topic of sking and Colorado. Two of my friends lamented that if it wasn’t for their jobs they’d move to Colorado in a heart beat. I looked at them incredulously. One was an accountant and the other was in IT. I said, “Hey, what are you talking about? Every city needs accountants and IT pros! If I had one of your careers, I’d be outta here tomorrow! Peaces!”
When I heard those words come out of my mouth it turned on a light in my head I couldn’t turn off. Why was I letting my career hold me back from doing what I really wanted to do? I realized that if anyone had the flexibility to move it was, in fact, someone like me who owned their own business. The only person I needed to request a transfer from was, well, me! That settled it. Over the next year I carefully planned my escape.
One thing I did not do in that planning? Send out cold emails. Not. A. Single. One.
For why, I refer you to the old adage: It’s all about who you know. And it couldn’t be more appropriate to the video production industry where the supply of labor greatly outpaces the demand. So, when I get an email from a stranger asking for a video production job, my first thought is, “yea, you and everybody else.” Which means you’re not unique. Instead, you’re perceived as just one in the litany of similar emails I receive throughout the year.
But it also goes back to our survival instincts. We form groups (or tribes) with people we know and trust for purposes of protection (strength in numbers). To gain the attention of a stranger, it helps immensely if you know someone in his or her tribe who can vouch for you. Or you need to find a way to meet them in a safe place. With that in mind, here’s a list of ideas to get you started as you plan your own escape from New York/Los Angeles/ Chicago/Atlanta/Washington, DC/Timbuktu:
1. Search actual job postings. I have no job ads posted anywhere, yet people still write me and often include the sentence, “I don’t know if you are hiring …”. If I were I would post an ad for the specific position I was hiring for. So if you “don’t know if someone is hiring,” it’s probably not worth bothering them. Instead, seek out places where jobs are posted such as Craigslist, Westword, Indeed, ColoradoFilm.org, LinkedIn, and the Denver Egostist.
2. Read the websites of the companies you are interested in. If you are going to send a cold email to a video production company soliciting them for work do so only if they have a “careers” page and/or say something along the lines of they are “always on the lookout for new talent.” Odds are you still won’t get a response simply because they will be inundated even more than we are. But likely they will file your information away for a time when they might be hiring for a position you are qualified for. But will they remember your email then? Probably not. So I didn’t bother with this either when I was making the move to Denver.
2. Work your contacts. Before moving to Denver, I emailed every single client and colleague in the video production industry that I had worked for or with in the previous five years to ask if they knew anyone in Denver. I was able to get several meetings through referrals that way. For the emails that I have responded to it’s always been from somebody who knew somebody I already knew (see that circle of trust thing I wrote about above). Having that connection turns your cold email into a warm email.
3. Work your friends. One of the most fruitful meetings I was able to land prior to moving was with a Denver video production company who had an employee that was a friend of a friend that I made a decade prior while on an Outward Bound course in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado (follow that?). On one of my visits I hit him up for checking out a band one night I was in town. During the evening he remembered this friend he had who worked at a video production company in Denver. “I can put you guys in touch,” he said. “Not sure if it will lead to anything but you could try it.” My response? “Hell-to-the-yes! Hook me up, brother!” His friend was a low-level staffer, but it was still enough to get a response to my email from that company’s owner and later a meeting on my next visit.
One tip to add here: If you are going to try and set up meetings do so at times that are convenient for the people with whom you are trying to meet. Last month I got a cold email from a guy who was going to be in town during MLK weekend and wanted to meet sometime that Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. Well, like most people in Denver, I’m busy on the weekends doing something outside, and probably sking that time of year. Especially on a holiday weekend (and I was—two fantastic powder days at Winter Park!). So look, I know it’s convenient for you to come out when you have time off of work but if you want it bad enough, sacrifice some vacation days and come out during the week and be prepared to meet during typical office hours.
4. Join groups/clubs/organizations. Have you worked your contacts and friends and come up empty? Even if you haven’t, your next step should be finding what video production and film industry professional groups exist and become a member. That goes for Denver or any city. These groups often have happy hour or annual schmoozing events where you can get to know local video production professionals in a relaxed and casual setting (see that safe setting thing above). People go to those events expecting to pass out and receive business cards. I’ve made a number of contacts myself through these groups. The organizations I belong to in Denver are Colorado Film and Video Association and Film in Colorado. There are also several Meetup groups comprised of filmmakers and other creative industry types that are worth exploring. Creative Mornings is a good one.
5. Make sure your portfolio is accessible, kickass, and relevant to the video production positions you’re asking for. Video production is an industry that is all about your work (and to a lesser extent, whether you get along well with others). Yet, a significant portion of the cold emails I receive are from people with no portfolio and/or are from a gmail-type account. If you don’t have a website yet, get one. Thanks to WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace, it is as easy as ever to create your own website. Put your work on it and then create an email account with that URL. Even if you neglect to put links and/or your website in your email then at the very least someone can access your work by copying and pasting the URL on the back end of your email address. Whoever you email—whether it’s cold, warm, or hot—is going to scruntize your work in deciding whether to spend the time to meet you. So make sure you are putting your best work out there. And then make it easy to access. Don’t send emails with a ton of links. Instead, include one link that has all your work in one place (uh, like a website!).
6. For voiceover artists only: Ok, listen, I get a ton of emails from V.O. artists. I mean, a ton. As soon as I see the words “voice” and “over” in the subject or the email body it is an instant delete. Buh. Bye. I know why I and other video production companies get so many of these solicitations: the barrier to entry for a V.O. artist is about two inches tall. So here’s the deal if you are a V.O. artist and thinking of cold messaging me (or anyone else in Denver): 1) I seldomley have a need for voiceover. 2) When I do, the tone, sex, and style of voice I am looking for is going to specific to that project. 3) Because of that, I go to websites like Voice123 where I can post a portion of the script, describe exactly what I am looking for, and then have 10 or more people submit auditions. That way I can find exactly the best fit for any particular video production project. So if I were getting into voiceover work, I would get a profile on places like Voice123 and spend my time creating killer auditions for specific projects. Yea, submitting hundreds of auditions against a lot of competition is a tough reality. But there is just too much supply out there.
7. Face reality. I get a lot of emails from video production professionals located in New York and Los Angeles. I’ve worked in both, although my home base was Washington, DC. All three are much larger ponds than Denver. Actually, let me rephrase that—Denver is a pond and those other three areas are oceans. There just isn’t the volume of work here that there is on the coasts. However, I recognize that it is not only video production professionals moving to Denver. Denver has become a popular relocation destination for people in all sorts of industries. Those people will help grow existing businesses and start new ones, which will create more video production opportunities for us and maybe you, too.
8. You will be seen as an invader. I had a meeting a couple months ago with someone who knew a friend of mine. He is looking to move to Denver with his wife from DC. Like me, his background is working as cinematographer and in a lot of similar segments of the business. When I first got his message one of the first thoughts I had I was, crap, more competition.
It’s natural for people to be protective of their livelihoods. It provides us with security, roofs over our heads and food for ourselves and our families. This goes for people working in any industry. But in an industry where there is an overabundance of labor people will be especially weary of others moving in “on their turf.”
Even though I’m guilty of feeling this way, I try to remind myself that just because I arrived in Denver first, it doesn’t give me any more right to available work than someone who arrived here 10 minutes ago. In fact, when I was making the transition to Denver, I got my first gig in Colorado before I arrived in Denver. While on a stopover in Gunnison, I got a call from a producer in Denver who also used to live in Washington, DC. Because of our similar backgrounds there was already an element of trust involved, which maybe made her feel more secure in hiring me than perhaps another cinematographer already living and working in Denver. Moral of the story, “invaders” like you come with your own backgrounds and unique strengths that will bring you clients who are attracted to what only you can offer.
But, again, that’s not my first instinctual thought and I suspect it isn’t for others, either. I figured this would be an attitude I would encounter when I was making my own transition to Denver, which is partly why I developed strategy #9, next.
9. Set up your own company: When I first moved to Denver, I was working primarily as a freelance cinematographer. I worked on a lot of documentaries, reality shows, and shot a massive amount of VIP interviews. I knew going into Denver that those same opportunities were not going to be available to me, at least not at the volume I was used to (and I was eager to get out of reality TV, anyway, but when the phone continues to ring it is hard to turn down paid work).
But I also had experience producing, directing, and editing thanks to a few documentary films I had created and had success with. I was looking for opportunities to do more of that and less pure hired gun work. With that in mind I created my own Denver video production company just before moving. My goal was to make that company my main jam and today, it is. This move proved advantageous for a a couple of reasons: 1) When I reached out to other video production freelancers in Denver it was not because I wanted them to give me work, it was because I wanted to get to know them for when I need to hire a cinematographer, sound recordist, or gaffer. People were much more inclined to meet with me since I represented an opportunity to provide them with work. 2) I could spend my time marketing to my own clients directly rather than to other video production companies just for a chance to crew on a production for their clients.
Hopefully this list will give you some helpful ideas of how to begin to look for work in the Denver video production industry that are more productive than spraying the town with cold emails. And, to be honest, I’m hoping it also lessens the volume of messages in my inbox! But if you do know someone I know, by all means, shoot me a message. Or better yet, have our mutual friend/contact introduce us. I’m having a meeting next month with just such a person moving from New York.
If, however, for some crazy reason you still see some value in sending out cold emails for video production work in Denver, then I will share with you a cold email I received last month that I thought was written better than most. It almost got me to respond until I saw he wanted to meet over MLK weekend.
I’m a video producer and director currently based in Los Angeles, looking to relocate to the Denver area (editor’s note: I dislike cold emails, but I especially dislike cold emails with superfluous commas). I found your company in a search and was struck by the welcoming feeling across the whole website (editor’s note: Even though he likely wrote this to everyone on his list no matter what their website looked like, it hit me especially well as I do my own website design and spend a lot of time and energy on it and, indeed, with the goal of making it feel welcoming. So thanks!). It seems like you enjoy what you do!
I didn’t see any openings posted, but I will be visiting Denver this coming weekend Jan 19-21, in the area from Saturday afternoon to Monday afternoon. If it’s not too much to impose I would love to meet up for coffee with someone to get advice and to see what the production and creative culture are like with Z-Channel Films and in Denver in general (editor’s note: So if I’m not hiring he wants advice on how to find someone who is. Honestly, no matter what I say, I’m not sure it is wise for him our anyone to listen to it or trust it. That’s because whomever he talks to is in their own little bubble and has their own unique experience that likely is not helpful for creating macro generalizations. That said, I understand the inquiry. It’s scary picking up and moving somewhere new and you want any morsel of information you can get yours hands that will lead to peace of mind that you will be able to make a living. For more on my thoughts on this, see #7 above).
Coffee (or tea, or a beer, or whatever you like) is on me, I appreciate you taking the time (editor’s note: Surprisingly, very few people offer to buy. It’s good practice). I’m also happy to come to the office location if you prefer. If you’d like to get an idea of my background, I’ve attached my resume, and my reel is at www.someguylookingforwork.com.
Thanks for reading!”